After a while, Hurstwood said:
"Don't worry about it. Maybe the grocer will wait. He can do that. We've traded there long enough to make him trust us for a week or two."
"Do you think he will?" she asked.
"I think so." On this account, Hurstwood, this very day, looked grocer Oeslogge clearly in the eye as he ordered a pound of coffee, and said:
"Do you mind carrying my account until the end of every week?"
"No, no, Mr. Wheeler," said Mr. Oeslogge. "Dat iss all right."
Hurstwood, still tactful in distress, added nothing to this. It seemed an easy thing. He looked out of the door, and then gathered up his coffee when ready and came away. The game of a desperate man had begun.
Rent was paid, and now came the grocer. Hurstwood managed by paying out of his own ten and collecting from Carrie at the end of the week. Then he delayed a day next time settling with the grocer, and so soon had his ten back, with Oeslogge getting his pay on this Thursday or Friday for last Saturday's bill.
This entanglement made Carrie anxious for a change of some sort. Hurstwood did not seem to realize that she had a right to anything. He schemed to make what she earned cover all expenses, but seemed not to trouble over adding anything himself.
"He talks about worrying," thought Carrie. "If he worried enough he couldn't sit there and wait for me. He'd get something to do. No man could go seven months without finding something if he tried."
The sight of him always around in his untidy clothes and gloomy appearance drove Carrie to seek relief in other places. Twice a week there were matinees, and then Hurstwood ate a cold snack, which he prepared himself. Two other days there were rehearsals beginning at ten in the morning and lasting usually until one. Now, to this Carrie added a few visits to one or two chorus girls, including the blue-eyed soldier of the golden helmet. She did it because it was pleasant and a relief from dullness of the home over which her husband brooded.
The blue-eyed soldier's name was Osborne — Lola Osborne. Her room was in Nineteenth Street near Fourth Avenue, a block now given up wholly to office buildings. Here she had a comfortable back room, looking over a collection of back yards in which grew a number of shade trees pleasant to see.
"Isn't your home in New York?" she asked of Lola one day.
"Yes; but I can't get along with my people. They always want me to do what they want. Do you live here?"
"Yes," said Carrie.
"With your family?"
Carrie was ashamed to say that she was married. She had talked so much about getting more salary and confessed to so much anxiety about her future, that now, when the direct question of fact was waiting, she could not tell this girl.
"With some relatives," she answered.
Miss Osborne took it for granted that, like herself, Carrie's time was her own. She invariably asked her to stay, proposing little outings and other things of that sort until Carrie began neglecting her dinner hours. Hurstwood noticed it, but felt in no position to quarrel with her. Several times she came so late as scarcely to have an hour in which to patch up a meal and start for the theatre.
"Do you rehearse in the afternoons?" Hurstwood once asked, concealing almost completely the cynical protest and regret which prompted it.
"No; I was looking around for another place," said Carrie.
As a matter of fact she was, but only in such a way as furnished the least straw of an excuse. Miss Osborne and she had gone to the office of the manager who was to produce the new opera at the Broadway and returned straight to the former's room, where they had been since three o'clock.
Carrie felt this question to be an infringement on her liberty. She did not take into account how much liberty she was securing. Only the latest step, the newest freedom, must not be questioned.
Hurstwood saw it all clearly enough. He was shrewd after his kind, and yet there was enough decency in the man to stop him from making any effectual protest. In his almost inexplicable apathy he was content to droop supinely while Carrie drifted out of his life, just as he was willing supinely to see opportunity pass beyond his control. He could not help clinging and protesting in a mild, irritating, and ineffectual way, however — a way that simply widened the breach by slow degrees.
A further enlargement of this chasm between them came when the manager, looking between the wings upon the brightly lighted stage where the chorus was going through some of its glittering evolutions, said to the master of the ballet:
"Who is that fourth girl there on the right — the one coming round at the end now?"
"Oh," said the ballet-master, "that's Miss Madenda."
"She's good looking. Why don't you let her head that line?"
"I will," said the man.
"Just do that. She'll look better there than the woman you've got."
"All right. I will do that," said the master.
The next evening Carrie was called out, much as if for an error.
"You lead your company to night," said the master.
"Yes, sir," said Carrie.
"Put snap into it," he added. "We must have snap."
"Yes, sir," replied Carrie.
Astonished at this change, she thought that the heretofore leader must be ill; but when she saw her in the line, with a distinct expression of something unfavorable in her eye, she began to think that perhaps it was merit.
She had a chic way of tossing her head to one side, and holding her arms as if for action — not listlessly. In front of the line this showed up even more effectually.
"That girl knows how to carry herself," said the manager, another evening. He began to think that he should like to talk with her. If he hadn't made it a rule to have nothing to do with the members of the chorus, he would have approached her most unbendingly.
"Put that girl at the head of the white column," he suggested to the man in charge of the ballet.
This white column consisted of some twenty girls, all in snow white flannel trimmed with silver and blue. Its leader was most stunningly arrayed in the same colors, elaborated, however, with epaulets and a belt of silver, with a short sword dangling at one side. Carrie was fitted for this costume, and a few days later appeared, proud of her new laurels. She was especially gratified to find that her salary was now eighteen instead of twelve.
Hurstwood heard nothing about this.
"I'll not give him the rest of my money," said Carrie. "I do enough. I am going to get me something to wear."
As a matter of fact, during this second month she had been buying for herself as recklessly as she dared, regardless of the consequences. There were impending more complications rent day, and more extension of the credit system in the neighborhood. Now, however, she proposed to do better by herself.
Her first move was to buy a shirt waist, and in studying these she found how little her money would buy — how much, if she could only use all. She forgot that if she were alone she would have to pay for a room and board, and imagined that every cent of her eighteen could be spent for clothes and things that she liked.
At last she picked upon something, which not only used up all her surplus above twelve, but invaded that sum. She knew she was going too far, but her feminine love of finery prevailed. The next day Hurstwood said:
"We owe the grocer five dollars and forty cents this week."
"Do we?" said Carrie, frowning a little.
She looked in her purse to leave it.
"I've only got eight dollars and twenty cents altogether."
"We owe the milkman sixty cents," added Hurstwood.
"Yes, and there's the coal man," said Carrie.