THE GRIND OF THE MILLSTONES — A SAMPLE OF CHAFF
Carrie pondered over this situation as consistently as Hurstwood, once she got the facts adjusted in her mind. It took several days for her to fully realize that the approach of the dissolution of her husband's business meant commonplace struggle and privation. Her mind went back to her early venture in Chicago, the Hansons and their flat, and her heart revolted. That was terrible! Everything about poverty was terrible. She wished she knew a way out. Her recent experiences with the Vances had wholly unfitted her to view her own state with complacence. The glamour of the high life of the city had, in the few experiences afforded her by the former, seized her completely. She had been taught how to dress and where to go without having ample means to do either. Now, these things-ever-present realities as they were — filled her eyes and mind. The more circumscribed became her state, the more entrancing seemed this other. And now poverty threatened to seize her entirely and to remove this other world far upward like a heaven to which any Lazarus might extend, appealingly, his hands.
So, too, the ideal brought into her life by Ames remained. He had gone, but here was his word that riches were not everything; that there was a great deal more in the world than she knew; that the stage was good, and the literature she read poor. He was a strong man and clean- -how much stronger and better than Hurstwood and Drouet she only half formulated to herself, but the difference was painful. It was something to which she voluntarily closed her eyes.
During the last three months of the Warren Street connection, Hurstwood took parts of days off and hunted, tracking the business advertisements. It was a more or less depressing business, wholly because of the thought that he must soon get something or he would begin to live on the few hundred dollars he was saving, and then he would have nothing to invest — he would have to hire out as a clerk.
Everything he discovered in his line advertised as an opportunity, was either too expensive or too wretched for him. Besides, winter was coming, the papers were announcing hardships, and there was a general feeling of hard times in the air, or, at least, he thought so. In his worry, other people's worries became apparent. No item about a firm failing, a family starving, or a man dying upon the streets, supposedly of starvation, but arrested his eye as he scanned the morning papers. Once the "World" came out with a flaring announcement about "80,000 people out of employment in New York this winter," which struck as a knife at his heart.
"Eighty thousand!" he thought. "What an awful thing that is."
This was new reasoning for Hurstwood. In the old days the world had seemed to be getting along well enough. He had been wont to see similar things in the "Daily News," in Chicago, but they did not hold his attention. Now, these things were like gray clouds hovering along the horizon of a clear day. They threatened to cover and obscure his life with chilly grayness. He tried to shake them off, to forget and brace up. Sometimes he said to himself, mentally:
"What's the use worrying? I'm not out yet. I've got six weeks more. Even if worst comes to worst, I've got enough to live on for six months."
Curiously, as he troubled over his future, his thoughts occasionally reverted to his wife and family. He had avoided such thoughts for the first three years as much as possible. He hated her, and he could get along without her. Let her go. He would do well enough. Now, however, when he was not doing well enough, he began to wonder what she was doing, how his children were getting along. He could see them living as nicely as ever, occupying the comfortable house and using his property.
"By George! it's a shame they should have it all," he vaguely thought to himself on several occasions. "I didn't do anything."
As he looked back now and analyzed the situation which led up to his taking the money, he began mildly to justify himself. What had he done — what in the world — that should bar him out this way and heap such difficulties upon him? It seemed only yesterday to him since he was comfortable and well-to-do. But now it was all wrested from him.
"She didn't deserve what she got out of me, that is sure. I didn't do so much, if everybody could just know."
There was no thought that the facts ought to be advertised. It was only a mental justification he was seeking from himself-something that would enable him to bear his state as a righteous man.
One afternoon, five weeks before the Warren Street place closed up, he left the saloon to visit three or four places he saw advertised in the "Herald." One was down in Gold Street, and he visited that, but did not enter. It was such a cheap looking place he felt that he could not abide it. Another was on the Bowery, which he knew contained many showy resorts. It was near Grand Street, and turned out to be very handsomely fitted up. He talked around about investments for fully three-quarters of an hour with the proprietor, who maintained that his health was poor, and that was the reason he wished a partner.
"Well, now, just how much money would it take to buy a half interest here?" said Hurstwood, who saw seven hundred dollars as his limit.
"Three thousand," said the man.
Hurstwood's jaw fell.
"Cash?" he said.
He tried to put on an air of deliberation, as one who might really buy; but his eyes showed gloom. He wound up by saying he would think it over, and came away. The man he had been talking to sensed his condition in a vague way.
"I don't think he wants to buy," he said to himself. "He doesn't talk right."
The afternoon was as gray as lead and cold. It was blowing up a disagreeable winter wind. He visited a place far up on the east side, near Sixty-ninth Street, and it was five o'clock, and growing dim, when he reached there. A portly German kept this place.
"How about this ad of yours?" asked Hurstwood, who rather objected to the looks of the place.
"Oh, dat iss all over," said the German. "I vill not sell now."
"Oh, is that so?"
"Yes; dere is nothing to dat. It iss all over."
"Very well," said Hurstwood, turning around.
The German paid no more attention to him, and it made him angry.
"The crazy ass!" he said to himself. "What does he want to advertise for?"
Wholly depressed, he started for Thirteenth Street. The flat had only a light in the kitchen, where Carrie was working. He struck a match and, lighting the gas, sat down in the dining-room without even greeting her. She came to the door and looked in.
"It's you, is it?" she said, and went back.
"Yes," he said, without even looking up from the evening paper he had bought.
Carrie saw things were wrong with him. He was not so handsome when gloomy. The lines at the sides of the eyes were deepened. Naturally dark of skin, gloom made him look slightly sinister. He was quite a disagreeable figure.
Carrie set the table and brought in the meal.
"Dinner's ready," she said, passing him for something.
He did not answer, reading on.
She came in and sat down at her place, feeling exceedingly wretched.
"Won't you eat now?" she asked.
He folded his paper and drew near, silence holding for a time, except for the "Pass me's."
"It's been gloomy to-day, hasn't it?" ventured Carrie, after a time.
"Yes," he said.
He only picked at his food.
"Are you still sure to close up?" said Carrie, venturing to take up the subject which they had discussed often enough.