"Why, you little sinner," the latter exclaimed, as she saw Carrie coming toward her across the now vacant stage. "How in the world did this happen?"
Carrie laughed merrily. There was no trace of embarrassment in her friend's manner. You would have thought that the long separation had come about accidentally.
"I don't know," returned Carrie, warming, in spite of her first troubled feelings, toward this handsome, good-natured young matron.
"Well, you know, I saw your picture in the Sunday paper, but your name threw me off. I thought it must be you or somebody that looked just like you, and I said: 'Well, now, I will go right down there and see.' I was never more surprised in my life. How are you, anyway?"
"Oh, very well," returned Carrie. "How have you been?"
"Fine. But aren't you a success! Dear, oh! All the papers talking about you. I should think you would be just too proud to breathe. I was almost afraid to come back here this afternoon."
"Oh, nonsense," said Carrie, blushing. "You know I'd be glad to see you."
"Well, anyhow, here you are. Can't you come up and take dinner with me now? Where are you stopping?"
"At the Wellington," said Carrie, who permitted herself a touch of pride in the acknowledgment.
"Oh, are you?" exclaimed the other, upon whom the name was not without its proper effect.
Tactfully, Mrs. Vance avoided the subject of Hurstwood, of whom she could not help thinking. No doubt Carrie had left him. That much she surmised.
"Oh, I don't think I can," said Carrie, "to-night. I have so little time. I must be back here by 7.30. Won't you come and dine with me?"
"I'd be delighted, but I can't to-night," said Mrs. Vance studying Carrie's fine appearance. The latter's good fortune made her seem more than ever worthy and delightful in the others eyes. "I promised faithfully to be home at six." Glancing at the small gold watch pinned to her bosom, she added: "I must be going, too. Tell me when you're coming up, if at all."
"Why, any time you like," said Carrie.
"Well, to-morrow then. I'm living at the Chelsea now."
"Moved again?" exclaimed Carrie, laughing.
"Yes. You know I can't stay six months in one place. I just have to move. Remember now — half-past five."
"I won't forget," said Carrie, casting a glance at her as she went away. Then it came to her that she was as good as this woman now — perhaps better. Something in the other's solicitude and interest made her feel as if she were the one to condescend.
Now, as on each preceding day, letters were handed her by the doorman at the Casino. This was a feature which had rapidly developed since Monday. What they contained she well knew. MASH NOTES were old affairs in their mildest form. She remembered having received her first one far back in Columbia City. Since then, as a chorus girl, she had received others — gentlemen who prayed for an engagement. They were common sport between her and Lola, who received some also. They both frequently made light of them.
Now, however, they came thick and fast. Gentlemen with fortunes did not hesitate to note, as an addition to their own amiable collection of virtues, that they had their horses and carriages. Thus one:
"I have a million in my own right. I could give you every luxury. There isn't anything you could ask for that you couldn't have. I say this, not because I want to speak of my money, but because I love you and wish to gratify your every desire. It is love that prompts me to write. Will you not give me one half hour in which to plead my cause?"
Such of these letters as came while Carrie was still in the Seventeenth Street place were read with more interest — though never delight — than those which arrived after she was installed in her luxurious quarters at the Wellington. Even there her vanity — or that self-appreciation which, in its more rabid form, is called vanity — was not sufficiently cloyed to make these things wearisome. Adulation, being new in any form, pleased her. Only she was sufficiently wise to distinguish between her old condition and her new one. She had not had fame or money before. Now they had come. She had not had adulation and affectionate propositions before. Now they had come. Wherefore? She smiled to think that men should suddenly find her so much more attractive. In the least way it incited her to coolness and indifference.
"Do look here," she remarked to Lola. "See what this man says: 'If you will only deign to grant me one half-hour,'" she repeated, with an imitation of languor. "The idea. Aren't men silly?"
"He must have lots of money, the way he talks," observed Lola. "That's what they all say," said Carrie, innocently.
"Why don't you see him," suggested Lola, "and hear what he has to say?"
"Indeed I won't," said Carrie. "I know what he'd say. I don't want to meet anybody that way."
Lola looked at her with big, merry eyes.
"He couldn't hurt you," she returned. "You might have some fun with him."
Carrie shook her head.
"You're awfully queer," returned the little, blue-eyed soldier.
Thus crowded fortune. For this whole week, though her large salary had not yet arrived, it was as if the world understood and trusted her. Without money — or the requisite sum, at least — she enjoyed the luxuries which money could buy. For her the doors of fine places seemed to open quite without the asking. These palatial chambers, how marvelously they came to her. The elegant apartments of Mrs. Vance in the Chelsea- -these were hers. Men sent flowers, love notes, offers of fortune. And still her dreams ran riot. The one hundred and fifty! the one hundred and fifty! What a door to an Aladdin's cave it seemed to be. Each day, her head almost turned by developments, her fancies of what her fortune must be, with ample money, grew and multiplied. She conceived of delights which were not — saw lights of joy that never were on land or sea. Then, at last, after a world of anticipation, came her first installment of one hundred and fifty dollars.
It was paid to her in greenbacks — three twenties, six tens, and six fives. Thus collected it made a very convenient roll. It was accompanied by a smile and a salutation from the cashier who paid it.
"Ah, yes," said the latter, when she applied; "Miss Madenda — one hundred and fifty dollars. Quite a success the show seems to have made."
"Yes, indeed," returned Carrie.
Right after came one of the insignificant members of the company, and she heard the changed tone of address.
"How much?" said the same cashier, sharply. One, such as she had only recently been, was waiting for her modest salary. It took her back to the few weeks in which she had collected — or rather had received — almost with the air of a domestic, four-fifty per week from a lordly foreman in a shoe factory — a man who, in distributing the envelopes, had the manner of a prince doling out favors to a servile group of petitioners. She knew that out in Chicago this very day the same factory chamber was full of poor homely-clad girls working in long lines at clattering machines; that at noon they would eat a miserable lunch in a half-hour; that Saturday they would gather, as they had when she was one of them, and accept the small pay for work a hundred times harder than she was now doing. Oh, it was so easy now! The world was so rosy and bright. She felt so thrilled that she must needs walk back to the hotel to think, wondering what she should do.
It does not take money long to make plain its impotence, providing the desires are in the realm of affection. With her one hundred and fifty in hand, Carrie could think of nothing particularly to do. In itself, as a tangible, apparent thing which she could touch and look upon, it was a diverting thing for a few days, but this soon passed. Her hotel bill did not require its use. Her clothes had for some time been wholly satisfactory. Another day or two and she would receive another hundred and fifty. It began to appear as if this were not so startlingly necessary to maintain her present state. If she wanted to do anything better or move higher she must have more — a great deal more.
Now a critic called to get up one of those tinsel interviews which shine with clever observations, show up the wit of critics, display the folly of celebrities, and divert the public. He liked Carrie, and said so, publicly — adding, however, that she was merely pretty, good- natured, and lucky. This cut like a knife. The "Herald," getting up an entertainment for the benefit of its free ice fund, did her the honor to beg her to appear along with celebrities for nothing. She was visited by a young author, who had a play which he thought she could produce. Alas, she could not judge. It hurt her to think it. Then she found she must put her money in the bank for safety, and so moving, finally reached the place where it struck her that the door to life's perfect enjoyment was not open.
Gradually she began to think it was because it was summer. Nothing was going on much save such entertainments as the one in which she was the star. Fifth Avenue was boarded up where the rich had deserted their mansions. Madison Avenue was little better. Broadway was full of loafing thespians in search of next season's engagements. The whole city was quiet and her nights were taken up with her work. Hence the feeling that there was little to do.
"I don't know," she said to Lola one day, sitting at one of the windows which looked down into Broadway, "I get lonely; don't you?"
"No," said Lola, "not very often. You won't go anywhere. That's what's the matter with you."
"Where can I go?"
"Why, there're lots of places," returned Lola, who was thinking of her own lightsome tourneys with the gay youths. "You won't go with anybody."
"I don't want to go with these people who write to me. I know what kind they are."
"You oughtn't to be lonely," said Lola, thinking of Carrie's success. "There're lots would give their ears to be in your shoes."
Carrie looked out again at the passing crowd.
"I don't know," she said.
Unconsciously her idle hands were beginning to weary.