Playing in New York one evening on this her return, Carrie was putting the finishing touches to her toilet before leaving for the night, when a commotion near the stage door caught her ear. It included a familiar voice.
"Never mind, now. I want to see Miss Madenda."
"You'll have to send in your card."
"Oh, come off! Here."
A half-dollar was passed over, and now a knock came at her dressing-room door. Carrie opened it.
"Well, well!" said Drouet. "I do swear! Why, how are you? I knew that was you the moment I saw you."
Carrie fell back a pace, expecting a most embarrassing conversation.
"Aren't you going to shake hands with me? Well, you're a dandy! That's all right, shake hands."
Carrie put out her hand, smiling, if for nothing more than the man's exuberant good-nature. Though older, he was but slightly changed. The same fine clothes, the same stocky body, the same rosy countenance.
"That fellow at the door there didn't want to let me in, until I paid him. I knew it was you, all right. Say, you've got a great show. You do your part fine. I knew you would. I just happened to be passing to night and thought I'd drop in for a few minutes. I saw your name on the programme, but I didn't remember it until you came on the stage. Then it struck me all at once. Say, you could have knocked me down with a feather. That's the same name you used out there in Chicago, isn't it?"
"Yes," answered Carrie, mildly, overwhelmed by the man's assurance.
"I knew it was, the moment I saw you. Well, how have you been, anyhow?"
"Oh, very well," said Carrie, lingering in her dressing-room. She was rather dazed by the assault. "How have you been?"
"Me? Oh, fine. I'm here now."
"Is that so?" said Carrie.
"Yes. I've been here for six months. I've got charge of a branch here."
"Well, when did you go on the stage, anyhow?" inquired Drouet.
"About three years ago," said Carrie.
"You don't say so! Well, sir, this is the first I've heard of it. I knew you would, though. I always said you could act—didn't I?"
"Yes, you did," she said.
"Well, you do look great," he said. "I never saw anybody improve so. You're taller, aren't you?"
"Me? Oh, a little, maybe."
He gazed at her dress, then at her hair, where a becoming hat was set jauntily, then into her eyes, which she took all occasion to avert. Evidently he expected to restore their old friendship at once and without modification.
"Well," he said, seeing her gather up her purse, handkerchief, and the like, preparatory to departing, "I want you to come out to dinner with me; won't you? I've got a friend out here."
"Oh, I can't," said Carrie. "Not to-night. I have an early engagement to-morrow."
"Aw, let the engagement go. Come on. I can get rid of him. I want to have a good talk with you."
"No, no," said Carrie; "I can't. You mustn't ask me any more. I don't care for a late dinner."
"Well, come on and have a talk, then, anyhow."
"Not to-night," she said, shaking her head. "We'll have a talk some other time."
As a result of this, she noticed a shade of thought pass over his face, as if he were beginning to realise that things were changed. Good-nature dictated something better than this for one who had always liked her.
"You come around to the hotel to-morrow," she said, as sort of penance for error. "You can take dinner with me."
"All right," said Drouet, brightening. "Where are you stopping?"
"At the Waldorf," she answered, mentioning the fashionable hostelry then but newly erected.
"Well, come at three," said Carrie, pleasantly.
The next day Drouet called, but it was with no especial delight that Carrie remembered her appointment. However, seeing him, handsome as ever, after his kind, and most genially disposed, her doubts as to whether the dinner would be disagreeable were swept away. He talked as volubly as ever.
"They put on a lot of lugs here, don't they?" was his first remark.
"Yes; they do," said Carrie.
Genial egotist that he was, he went at once into a detailed account of his own career.
"I'm going to have a business of my own pretty soon," he observed in one place. "I can get backing for two hundred thousand dollars."
Carrie listened most good-naturedly.
"Say," he said, suddenly; "where is Hurstwood now?"
Carrie flushed a little.
"He's here in New York, I guess," she said. "I haven't seen him for some time."
Drouet mused for a moment. He had not been sure until now that the ex-manager was not an influential figure in the background. He imagined not; but this assurance relieved him. It must be that Carrie had got rid of him—as well she ought, he thought. "A man always makes a mistake when he does anything like that," he observed.
"Like what?" said Carrie, unwitting of what was coming.
"Oh, you know," and Drouet waved her intelligence, as it were, with his hand.
"No, I don't," she answered. "What do you mean?"
"Why that affair in Chicago—the time he left."
"I don't know what you are talking about," said Carrie. Could it be he would refer so rudely to Hurstwood's flight with her?
"Oho!" said Drouet, incredulously. "You knew he took ten thousand dollars with him when he left, didn't you?"
"What!" said Carrie. "You don't mean to say he stole money, do you?"
"Why," said Drouet, puzzled at her tone, "you knew that, didn't you?"
"Why, no," said Carrie. "Of course I didn't."
"Well, that's funny," said Drouet. "He did, you know. It was in all the papers."
"How much did you say he took?" said Carrie.
"Ten thousand dollars. I heard he sent most of it back afterwards, though."
Carrie looked vacantly at the richly carpeted floor. A new light was shining upon all the years since her enforced flight. She remembered now a hundred things that indicated as much. She also imagined that he took it on her account. Instead of hatred springing up there was a kind of sorrow generated. Poor fellow! What a thing to have had hanging over his head all the time.
At dinner Drouet, warmed up by eating and drinking and softened in mood, fancied he was winning Carrie to her old-time good-natured regard for him. He began to imagine it would not be so difficult to enter into her life again, high as she was. Ah, what a prize! he thought. How beautiful, how elegant, how famous! In her theatrical and Waldorf setting, Carrie was to him the all desirable.
"Do you remember how nervous you were that night at the Avery?" he asked.
Carrie smiled to think of it.
"I never saw anybody do better than you did then, Cad," he added ruefully, as he leaned an elbow on the table; "I thought you and I were going to get along fine those days."
"You mustn't talk that way," said Carrie, bringing in the least touch of coldness.
"Won't you let me tell you——"
"No," she answered, rising. "Besides, it's time I was getting ready for the theatre. I'll have to leave you. Come, now." "Oh, stay a minute," pleaded Drouet. "You've got plenty of time."
"No," said Carrie, gently.
Reluctantly Drouet gave up the bright table and followed. He saw her to the elevator and, standing there, said:
"When do I see you again?"
"Oh, some time, possibly," said Carrie. "I'll be here all summer. Good-night!"
The elevator door was open.
"Good-night!" said Drouet, as she rustled in.
Then he strolled sadly down the hall, all his old longing revived, because she was now so far off. The merry frou-frou of the place spoke all of her. He thought himself hardly dealt with. Carrie, however, had other thoughts.
That night it was that she passed Hurstwood, waiting at the Casino, without observing him.
The next night, walking to the theatre, she encountered him face to face. He was waiting, more gaunt than ever, determined to see her, if he had to send in word. At first she did not recognise the shabby, baggy figure. He frightened her, edging so close, a seemingly hungry stranger.
"Carrie," he half whispered, "can I have a few words with you?"
She turned and recognised him on the instant. If there ever had lurked any feeling in her heart against him, it deserted her now. Still, she remembered what Drouet said about his having stolen the money.
"Why, George," she said; "what's the matter with you?"
"I've been sick," he answered. "I've just got out of the hospital. For God's sake, let me have a little money, will you?"
"Of course," said Carrie, her lip trembling in a strong effort to maintain her composure. "But what's the matter with you, anyhow?"
She was opening her purse, and now pulled out all the bills in it—a five and two twos.
"I've been sick, I told you," he said, peevishly, almost resenting her excessive pity. It came hard to him to receive it from such a source.
"Here," she said. "It's all I have with me."
"All right," he answered, softly. "I'll give it back to you some day."
Carrie looked at him, while pedestrians stared at her. She felt the strain of publicity. So did Hurstwood.
"Why don't you tell me what's the matter with you?" she asked, hardly knowing what to do. "Where are you living?"
"Oh, I've got a room down in the Bowery," he answered. "There's no use trying to tell you here. I'm all right now."
He seemed in a way to resent her kindly inquiries—so much better had fate dealt with her.
"Better go on in," he said. "I'm much obliged, but I won't bother you any more."
She tried to answer, but he turned away and shuffled off toward the east.
For days this apparition was a drag on her soul before it began to wear partially away. Drouet called again, but now he was not even seen by her. His attentions seemed out of place.
"I'm out," was her reply to the boy.
So peculiar, indeed, was her lonely, self-withdrawing temper, that she was becoming an interesting figure in the public eye—she was so quiet and reserved.
Not long after the management decided to transfer the show to London. A second summer season did not seem to promise well here.
"How would you like to try subduing London?" asked her manager, one afternoon.
"It might be just the other way," said Carrie.
"I think we'll go in June," he answered.
In the hurry of departure, Hurstwood was forgotten. Both he and Drouet were left to discover that she was gone. The latter called once, and exclaimed at the news. Then he stood in the lobby, chewing the ends of his moustache. At last he reached a conclusion—the old days had gone for good.
"She isn't so much," he said; but in his heart of hearts he did not believe this.
Hurstwood shifted by curious means through a long summer and fall. A small job as janitor of a dance hall helped him for a month. Begging, sometimes going hungry, sometimes sleeping in the park, carried him over more days. Resorting to those peculiar charities, several of which, in the press of hungry search, he accidentally stumbled upon, did the rest. Toward the dead of winter, Carrie came back, appearing on Broadway in a new play; but he was not aware of it. For weeks he wandered about the city, begging, while the fire sign, announcing her engagement, blazed nightly upon the crowded street of amusements. Drouet saw it, but did not venture in.
About this time Ames returned to New York. He had made a little success in the West, and now opened a laboratory in Wooster Street. Of course, he encountered Carrie through Mrs. Vance; but there was nothing responsive between them. He thought she was still united to Hurstwood, until otherwise informed. Not knowing the facts then, he did not profess to understand, and refrained from comment.
With Mrs. Vance, he saw the new play, and expressed himself accordingly.
"She ought not to be in comedy," he said. "I think she could do better than that."
One afternoon they met at the Vances' accidentally, and began a very friendly conversation. She could hardly tell why the one-time keen interest in him was no longer with her. Unquestionably, it was because at that time he had represented something which she did not have; but this she did not understand. Success had given her the momentary feeling that she was now blessed with much of which he would approve. As a matter of fact, her little newspaper fame was nothing at all to him. He thought she could have done better, by far.
"You didn't go into comedy-drama, after all?" he said, remembering her interest in that form of art.
"No," she answered; "I haven't, so far."
He looked at her in such a peculiar way that she realised she had failed. It moved her to add: "I want to, though."
"I should think you would," he said. "You have the sort of disposition that would do well in comedy-drama."
It surprised her that he should speak of disposition. Was she, then, so clearly in his mind?
"Why?" she asked.
"Well," he said, "I should judge you were rather sympathetic in your nature."
Carrie smiled and coloured slightly. He was so innocently frank with her that she drew nearer in friendship. The old call of the ideal was sounding.
"I don't know," she answered, pleased, nevertheless, beyond all concealment.
"I saw your play," he remarked. "It's very good."
"I'm glad you liked it."
"Very good, indeed," he said, "for a comedy."
This is all that was said at the time, owing to an interruption, but later they met again. He was sitting in a corner after dinner, staring at the floor, when Carrie came up with another of the guests. Hard work had given his face the look of one who is weary. It was not for Carrie to know the thing in it which appealed to her.
"All alone?" she said.
"I was listening to the music."
"I'll be back in a moment," said her companion, who saw nothing in the inventor.
Now he looked up in her face, for she was standing a moment, while he sat.
"Isn't that a pathetic strain?" he inquired, listening.
"Oh, very," she returned, also catching it, now that her attention was called.
"Sit down," he added, offering her the chair beside him.
They listened a few moments in silence, touched by the same feeling, only hers reached her through the heart. Music still charmed her as in the old days.
"I don't know what it is about music," she started to say, moved by the inexplicable longings which surged within her; "but it always makes me feel as if I wanted something—I——"
"Yes," he replied; "I know how you feel."
Suddenly he turned to considering the peculiarity of her disposition, expressing her feelings so frankly.
"You ought not to be melancholy," he said.
He thought a while, and then went off into a seemingly alien observation which, however, accorded with their feelings.
"The world is full of desirable situations, but, unfortunately, we can occupy but one at a time. It doesn't do us any good to wring our hands over the far-off things."
The music ceased and he arose, taking a standing position before her, as if to rest himself.
"Why don't you get into some good, strong comedy-drama?" he said. He was looking directly at her now, studying her face. Her large, sympathetic eyes and pain-touched mouth appealed to him as proofs of his judgment.
"Perhaps I shall," she returned.
"That's your field," he added.
"Do you think so?"
"Yes," he said; "I do. I don't suppose you're aware of it, but there is something about your eyes and mouth which fits you for that sort of work."
Carrie thrilled to be taken so seriously. For the moment, loneliness deserted her. Here was praise which was keen and analytical.
"It's in your eyes and mouth," he went on abstractedly. "I remember thinking, the first time I saw you, that there was something peculiar about your mouth. I thought you were about to cry."
"How odd," said Carrie, warm with delight. This was what her heart craved.
"Then I noticed that that was your natural look, and to-night I saw it again. There's a shadow about your eyes, too, which gives your face much this same character. It's in the depth of them, I think."
Carrie looked straight into his face, wholly aroused.
"You probably are not aware of it," he added.
She looked away, pleased that he should speak thus, longing to be equal to this feeling written upon her countenance. It unlocked the door to a new desire. She had cause to ponder over this until they met again—several weeks or more. It showed her she was drifting away from the old ideal which had filled her in the dressing-rooms of the Avery stage and thereafter, for a long time. Why had she lost it?
"I know why you should be a success," he said, another time, "if you had a more dramatic part. I've studied it out——"
"What is it?" said Carrie.
"Well," he said, as one pleased with a puzzle, "the expression in your face is one that comes out in different things. You get the same thing in a pathetic song, or any picture which moves you deeply. It's a thing the world likes to see, because it's a natural expression of its longing."
Carrie gazed without exactly getting the import of what he meant.
"The world is always struggling to express itself," he went on. "Most people are not capable of voicing their feelings. They depend upon others. That is what genius is for. One man expresses their desires for them in music; another one in poetry; another one in a play. Sometimes nature does it in a face—it makes the face representative of all desire. That's what has happened in your case."
He looked at her with so much of the import of the thing in his eyes that she caught it. At least, she got the idea that her look was something which represented the world's longing. She took it to heart as a creditable thing, until he added:
"That puts a burden of duty on you. It so happens that you have this thing. It is no credit to you—that is, I mean, you might not have had it. You paid nothing to get it. But now that you have it, you must do something with it."
"What?" asked Carrie.
"I should say, turn to the dramatic field. You have so much sympathy and such a melodious voice. Make them valuable to others. It will make your powers endure."
Carrie did not understand this last. All the rest showed her that her comedy success was little or nothing.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"Why, just this. You have this quality in your eyes and mouth and in your nature. You can lose it, you know. If you turn away from it and live to satisfy yourself alone, it will go fast enough. The look will leave your eyes. Your mouth will change. Your power to act will disappear. You may think they won't, but they will. Nature takes care of that."
He was so interested in forwarding all good causes that he sometimes became enthusiastic, giving vent to these preachments. Something in Carrie appealed to him. He wanted to stir her up.
"I know," she said, absently, feeling slightly guilty of neglect.
"If I were you," he said, "I'd change."
The effect of this was like roiling helpless waters. Carrie troubled over it in her rocking-chair for days.
"I don't believe I'll stay in comedy so very much longer," she eventually remarked to Lola.
"Oh, why not?" said the latter.
"I think," she said, "I can do better in a serious play."
"What put that idea in your head?"
"Oh, nothing," she answered; "I've always thought so."
Still, she did nothing—grieving. It was a long way to this better thing—or seemed so—and comfort was about her; hence the inactivity and longing.