It would be useless to explain how in due time the last fifty dollars was in sight. The seven hundred, by his process of handling, had only carried them into June. Before the final hundred mark was reached he began to indicate that a calamity was approaching.
"I don't know," he said one day, taking a trivial expenditure for meat as a text, "it seems to take an awful lot for us to live."
"It doesn't seem to me," said Carrie, "that we spend very much."
"My money is nearly gone," he said, "and I hardly know where it's gone to."
"All that seven hundred dollars?" asked Carrie.
"All but a hundred."
He looked so disconsolate that it scared her. She began to see that she herself had been drifting. She had felt it all the time.
"Well, George," she exclaimed, "why don't you get out and look for something? You could find something."
"I have looked," he said. "You can t make people give you a place."
She gazed weakly at him and said: "Well, what do you think you will do? A hundred dollars won't last long."
"I don't know," he said. "I can't do any more than look."
Carrie became frightened over this announcement. She thought desperately upon the subject. Frequently she had considered the stage as a door through which she might enter that gilded state which she had so much craved. Now, as in Chicago, it came as a last resource in distress. Something must be done if he did not get work soon. Perhaps she would have to go out and battle again alone.
She began to wonder how one would go about getting a place. Her experience in Chicago proved that she had not tried the right way. There must be people who would listen to and try you—men who would give you an opportunity.
They were talking at the breakfast table, a morning or two later, when she brought up the dramatic subject by saying that she saw that Sarah Bernhardt was coming to this country. Hurstwood had seen it, too.
"How do people get on the stage, George?" she finally asked, innocently.
"I don't know," he said. "There must be dramatic agents."
Carrie was sipping coffee, and did not look up.
"Regular people who get you a place?"
"Yes, I think so," he answered.
Suddenly the air with which she asked attracted his attention.
"You're not still thinking about being an actress, are you?" he asked.
"No," she answered, "I was just wondering."
Without being clear, there was something in the thought which he objected to. He did not believe any more, after three years of observation, that Carrie would ever do anything great in that line. She seemed too simple, too yielding. His idea of the art was that it involved something more pompous. If she tried to get on the stage she would fall into the hands of some cheap manager and become like the rest of them. He had a good idea of what he meant by THEM. Carrie was pretty. She would get along all right, but where would he be?
"I'd get that idea out of my head, if I were you. It's a lot more difficult than you think."
Carrie felt this to contain, in some way, an aspersion upon her ability.
"You said I did real well in Chicago," she rejoined.
"You did," he answered, seeing that he was arousing opposition, "but Chicago isn't New York, by a big jump."
Carrie did not answer this at all. It hurt her.
"The stage," he went on, "is all right if you can be one of the big guns, but there's nothing to the rest of it. It takes a long while to get up."
"Oh, I don't know," said Carrie, slightly aroused.
In a flash, he thought he foresaw the result of this thing. Now, when the worst of his situation was approaching, she would get on the stage in some cheap way and forsake him. Strangely, he had not conceived well of her mental ability. That was because he did not understand the nature of emotional greatness. He had never learned that a person might be emotionally—instead of intellectually—great. Avery Hall was too far away for him to look back and sharply remember. He had lived with this woman too long.
"Well, I do," he answered. "If I were you I wouldn't think of it. It's not much of a profession for a woman."
"It's better than going hungry," said Carrie. "If you don't want me to do that, why don't you get work yourself?"
There was no answer ready for this. He had got used to the suggestion.
"Oh, let up," he answered.
The result of this was that she secretly resolved to try. It didn't matter about him. She was not going to be dragged into poverty and something worse to suit him. She could act. She could get something and then work up. What would he say then? She pictured herself already appearing in some fine performance on Broadway; of going every evening to her dressing-room and making up. Then she would come out at eleven o'clock and see the carriages ranged about, waiting for the people. It did not matter whether she was the star or not. If she were only once in, getting a decent salary, wearing the kind of clothes she liked, having the money to do with, going here and there as she pleased, how delightful it would all be. Her mind ran over this picture all the day long. Hurstwood's dreary state made its beauty become more and more vivid.
Curiously this idea soon took hold of Hurstwood. His vanishing sum suggested that he would need sustenance. Why could not Carrie assist him a little until he could get something?
He came in one day with something of this idea in his mind.
"I met John B. Drake to-day," he said. "He's going to open a hotel here in the fall. He says that he can make a place for me then."
"Who is he?" asked Carrie.
"He's the man that runs the Grand Pacific in Chicago."
"Oh," said Carrie.
"I'd get about fourteen hundred a year out of that."
"That would be good, wouldn't it?" she said, sympathetically.
"If I can only get over this summer," he added, "I think I'll be all right. I'm hearing from some of my friends again."
Carrie swallowed this story in all its pristine beauty. She sincerely wished he could get through the summer. He looked so hopeless.
"How much money have you left?"
"Only fifty dollars."
"Oh, mercy," she exclaimed, "what will we do? It's only twenty days until the rent will be due again."
Hurstwood rested his head on his hands and looked blankly at the floor.
"Maybe you could get something in the stage line?" he blandly suggested.
"Maybe I could," said Carrie, glad that some one approved of the idea.
"I'll lay my hand to whatever I can get," he said, now that he saw her brighten up. "I can get something."
She cleaned up the things one morning after he had gone, dressed as neatly as her wardrobe permitted, and set out for Broadway. She did not know that thoroughfare very well. To her it was a wonderful conglomeration of everything great and mighty. The theatres were there—these agencies must be somewhere about.
She decided to stop in at the Madison Square Theatre and ask how to find the theatrical agents. This seemed the sensible way. Accordingly, when she reached that theatre she applied to the clerk at the box office.
"Eh?" he said, looking out. "Dramatic agents? I don't know. You'll find them in the 'Clipper,' though. They all advertise in that."
"Is that a paper?" said Carrie.
"Yes," said the clerk, marvelling at such ignorance of a common fact. "You can get it at the news-stands," he added politely, seeing how pretty the inquirer was.
Carrie proceeded to get the "Clipper," and tried to find the agents by looking over it as she stood beside the stand. This could not be done so easily. Thirteenth Street was a number of blocks off, but she went back, carrying the precious paper and regretting the waste of time.
Hurstwood was already there, sitting in his place.
"Where were you?" he asked.
"I've been trying to find some dramatic agents."
He felt a little diffident about asking concerning her success. The paper she began to scan attracted his attention.
"What have you got there?" he asked.
"The 'Clipper.' The man said I'd find their addresses in here."
"Have you been all the way over to Broadway to find that out? I could have told you."
"Why didn't you?" she asked, without looking up.
"You never asked me," he returned.
She went hunting aimlessly through the crowded columns. Her mind was distracted by this man's indifference. The difficulty of the situation she was facing was only added to by all he did. Self-commiseration brewed in her heart. Tears trembled along her eyelids but did not fall. Hurstwood noticed something.
"Let me look."
To recover herself she went into the front room while he searched. Presently she returned. He had a pencil, and was writing upon an envelope.
"Here're three," he said.
Carrie took it and found that one was Mrs. Bermudez, another Marcus Jenks, a third Percy Weil. She paused only a moment, and then moved toward the door.
"I might as well go right away," she said, without looking back.
Hurstwood saw her depart with some faint stirrings of shame, which were the expression of a manhood rapidly becoming stultified. He sat a while, and then it became too much. He got up and put on his hat.
"I guess I'll go out," he said to himself, and went, strolling nowhere in particular, but feeling somehow that he must go.
Carrie's first call was upon Mrs. Bermudez, whose address was quite the nearest. It was an old-fashioned residence turned into offices. Mrs. Bermudez's offices consisted of what formerly had been a back chamber and a hall bedroom, marked "Private."
As Carrie entered she noticed several persons lounging about—men, who said nothing and did nothing.
While she was waiting to be noticed, the door of the hall bedroom opened and from it issued two very mannish-looking women, very tightly dressed, and wearing white collars and cuffs. After them came a portly lady of about forty-five, light-haired, sharp-eyed, and evidently good-natured. At least she was smiling.
"Now, don't forget about that," said one of the mannish women.
"I won't," said the portly woman. "Let's see," she added, "where are you the first week in February?" "Pittsburg," said the woman.
"I'll write you there."
"All right," said the other, and the two passed out.
Instantly the portly lady's face became exceedingly sober and shrewd. She turned about and fixed on Carrie a very searching eye.
"Well," she said, "young woman, what can I do for you?"
"Are you Mrs. Bermudez?"
"Well," said Carrie, hesitating how to begin, "do you get places for persons upon the stage?"
"Could you get me one?"
"Have you ever had any experience?"
"A very little," said Carrie.
"Whom did you play with?"
"Oh, with no one," said Carrie. "It was just a show gotten——"
"Oh, I see," said the woman, interrupting her. "No, I don't know of anything now."
Carrie's countenance fell.
"You want to get some New York experience," concluded the affable Mrs. Bermudez. "We'll take your name, though."
Carrie stood looking while the lady retired to her office.
"What is your address?" inquired a young lady behind the counter, taking up the curtailed conversation.
"Mrs. George Wheeler," said Carrie, moving over to where she was writing. The woman wrote her address in full and then allowed her to depart at her leisure.
She encountered a very similar experience in the office of Mr. Jenks, only he varied it by saying at the close: "If you could play at some local house, or had a programme with your name on it, I might do something."
In the third place the individual asked:
"What sort of work do you want to do?"
"What do you mean?" said Carrie.
"Well, do you want to get in a comedy or on the vaudeville or in the chorus?"
"Oh, I'd like to get a part in a play," said Carrie.
"Well," said the man, "it'll cost you something to do that." "How much?" said Carrie, who, ridiculous as it may seem, had not thought of this before.
"Well, that's for you to say," he answered shrewdly.
Carrie looked at him curiously. She hardly knew how to continue the inquiry.
"Could you get me a part if I paid?"
"If we didn't you'd get your money back."
"Oh," she said.
The agent saw he was dealing with an inexperienced soul, and continued accordingly.
"You'd want to deposit fifty dollars, anyway. No agent would trouble about you for less than that."
Carrie saw a light.
"Thank you," she said. "I'll think about it."
She started to go, and then bethought herself.
"How soon would I get a place?" she asked.
"Well, that's hard to say," said the man. "You might get one in a week, or it might be a month. You'd get the first thing that we thought you could do."
"I see," said Carrie, and then, half-smiling to be agreeable, she walked out.
The agent studied a moment, and then said to himself:
"It's funny how anxious these women are to get on the stage."
Carrie found ample food for reflection in the fifty-dollar proposition. "Maybe they'd take my money and not give me anything," she thought. She had some jewelry—a diamond ring and pin and several other pieces. She could get fifty dollars for those if she went to a pawnbroker.
Hurstwood was home before her. He had not thought she would be so long seeking.
"Well?" he said, not venturing to ask what news.
"I didn't find out anything to-day," said Carrie, taking off her gloves. "They all want money to get you a place."
"How much?" asked Hurstwood.
"They don't want anything, do they?"
"Oh, they're like everybody else. You can't tell whether they'd ever get you anything after you did pay them."
"Well, I wouldn't put up fifty on that basis," said Hurstwood, as if he were deciding, money in hand.
"I don't know," said Carrie. "I think I'll try some of the managers."
Hurstwood heard this, dead to the horror of it. He rocked a little to and fro, and chewed at his finger. It seemed all very natural in such extreme states. He would do better later on.