Chapter 20. THE LURE OF THE SPIRIT—THE FLESH IN PURSUIT
Passion in a man of Hurstwood's nature takes a vigorous form. It is no musing, dreamy thing. There is none of the tendency to sing outside of my lady's window—to languish and repine in the face of difficulties. In the night he was long getting to sleep because of too much thinking, and in the morning he was early awake, seizing with alacrity upon the same dear subject and pursuing it with vigour. He was out of sorts physically, as well as disordered mentally, for did he not delight in a new manner in his Carrie, and was not Drouet in the way? Never was man more harassed than he by the thoughts of his love being held by the elated, flush-mannered drummer. He would have given anything, it seemed to him, to have the complication ended—to have Carrie acquiesce to an arrangement which would dispose of Drouet effectually and forever.
What to do. He dressed thinking. He moved about in the same chamber with his wife, unmindful of her presence.
At breakfast he found himself without an appetite. The meat to which he helped himself remained on his plate untouched. His coffee grew cold, while he scanned the paper indifferently. Here and there he read a little thing, but remembered nothing. Jessica had not yet come down. His wife sat at one end of the table revolving thoughts of her own in silence. A new servant had been recently installed and had forgot the napkins. On this account the silence was irritably broken by a reproof.
"I've told you about this before, Maggie," said Mrs. Hurstwood. "I'm not going to tell you again."
Hurstwood took a glance at his wife. She was frowning. Just now her manner irritated him excessively. Her next remark was addressed to him.
"Have you made up your mind, George, when you will take your vacation?"
It was customary for them to discuss the regular summer outing at this season of the year.
"Not yet," he said, "I'm very busy just now."
"Well, you'll want to make up your mind pretty soon, won't you, if we're going?" she returned.
"I guess we have a few days yet," he said.
"Hmff," she returned. "Don't wait until the season's over."
She stirred in aggravation as she said this.
"There you go again," he observed. "One would think I never did anything, the way you begin."
"Well, I want to know about it," she reiterated.
"You've got a few days yet," he insisted. "You'll not want to start before the races are over."
He was irritated to think that this should come up when he wished to have his thoughts for other purposes.
"Well, we may. Jessica doesn't want to stay until the end of the races."
"What did you want with a season ticket, then?"
"Uh!" she said, using the sound as an exclamation of disgust, "I'll not argue with you," and therewith arose to leave the table.
"Say," he said, rising, putting a note of determination in his voice which caused her to delay her departure, "what's the matter with you of late? Can't I talk with you any more?"
"Certainly, you can TALK with me," she replied, laying emphasis on the word.
"Well, you wouldn't think so by the way you act. Now, you want to know when I'll be ready—not for a month yet. Maybe not then."
"We'll go without you."
"You will, eh?" he sneered.
"Yes, we will."
He was astonished at the woman's determination, but it only irritated him the more.
"Well, we'll see about that. It seems to me you're trying to run things with a pretty high hand of late. You talk as though you settled my affairs for me. Well, you don't. You don't regulate anything that's connected with me. If you want to go, go, but you won't hurry me by any such talk as that."
He was thoroughly aroused now. His dark eyes snapped, and he crunched his paper as he laid it down. Mrs. Hurstwood said nothing more. He was just finishing when she turned on her heel and went out into the hall and upstairs. He paused for a moment, as if hesitating, then sat down and drank a little coffee, and thereafter arose and went for his hat and gloves upon the main floor.
His wife had really not anticipated a row of this character. She had come down to the breakfast table feeling a little out of sorts with herself and revolving a scheme which she had in her mind. Jessica had called her attention to the fact that the races were not what they were supposed to be. The social opportunities were not what they had thought they would be this year. The beautiful girl found going every day a dull thing. There was an earlier exodus this year of people who were anybody to the watering places and Europe. In her own circle of acquaintances several young men in whom she was interested had gone to Waukesha. She began to feel that she would like to go too, and her mother agreed with her.
Accordingly, Mrs. Hurstwood decided to broach the subject. She was thinking this over when she came down to the table, but for some reason the atmosphere was wrong. She was not sure, after it was all over, just how the trouble had begun. She was determined now, however, that her husband was a brute, and that, under no circumstances, would she let this go by unsettled. She would have more lady-like treatment or she would know why.
For his part, the manager was loaded with the care of this new argument until he reached his office and started from there to meet Carrie. Then the other complications of love, desire, and opposition possessed him. His thoughts fled on before him upon eagles' wings. He could hardly wait until he should meet Carrie face to face. What was the night, after all, without her—what the day? She must and should be his.
For her part, Carrie had experienced a world of fancy and feeling since she had left him, the night before. She had listened to Drouet's enthusiastic maunderings with much regard for that part which concerned herself, with very little for that which affected his own gain. She kept him at such lengths as she could, because her thoughts were with her own triumph. She felt Hurstwood's passion as a delightful background to her own achievement, and she wondered what he would have to say. She was sorry for him, too, with that peculiar sorrow which finds something complimentary to itself in the misery of another. She was now experiencing the first shades of feeling of that subtle change which removes one out of the ranks of the suppliants into the lines of the dispensers of charity. She was, all in all, exceedingly happy.
On the morrow, however, there was nothing in the papers concerning the event, and, in view of the flow of common, everyday things about, it now lost a shade of the glow of the previous evening. Drouet himself was not talking so much OF as FOR her. He felt instinctively that, for some reason or other, he needed reconstruction in her regard.
"I think," he said, as he spruced around their chambers the next morning, preparatory to going down town, "that I'll straighten out that little deal of mine this month and then we'll get married. I was talking with Mosher about that yesterday."
"No, you won't," said Carrie, who was coming to feel a certain faint power to jest with the drummer.
"Yes, I will," he exclaimed, more feelingly than usual, adding, with the tone of one who pleads, "Don't you believe what I've told you?"
Carrie laughed a little.
"Of course I do," she answered.
Drouet's assurance now misgave him. Shallow as was his mental observation, there was that in the things which had happened which made his little power of analysis useless. Carrie was still with him, but not helpless and pleading. There was a lilt in her voice which was new. She did not study him with eyes expressive of dependence. The drummer was feeling the shadow of something which was coming. It coloured his feelings and made him develop those little attentions and say those little words which were mere forefendations against danger.
Shortly afterward he departed, and Carrie prepared for her meeting with Hurstwood. She hurried at her toilet, which was soon made, and hastened down the stairs. At the corner she passed Drouet, but they did not see each other.
The drummer had forgotten some bills which he wished to turn into his house. He hastened up the stairs and burst into the room, but found only the chambermaid, who was cleaning up.
"Hello," he exclaimed, half to himself, "has Carrie gone?"
"Your wife? Yes, she went out just a few minutes ago."
"That's strange," thought Drouet. "She didn't say a word to me. I wonder where she went?"
He hastened about, rummaging in his valise for what he wanted, and finally pocketing it. Then he turned his attention to his fair neighbour, who was good-looking and kindly disposed towards him.
"What are you up to?" he said, smiling.
"Just cleaning," she replied, stopping and winding a dusting towel about her hand.
"Tired of it?"
"Not so very."
"Let me show you something," he said, affably, coming over and taking out of his pocket a little lithographed card which had been issued by a wholesale tobacco company. On this was printed a picture of a pretty girl, holding a striped parasol, the colours of which could be changed by means of a revolving disk in the back, which showed red, yellow, green, and blue through little interstices made in the ground occupied by the umbrella top.
"Isn't that clever?" he said, handing it to her and showing her how it worked. "You never saw anything like that before."
"Isn't it nice?" she answered.
"You can have it if you want it," he remarked.
"That's a pretty ring you have," he said, touching a commonplace setting which adorned the hand holding the card he had given her.
"Do you think so?"
"That's right," he answered, making use of a pretence at examination to secure her finger. "That's fine."
The ice being thus broken, he launched into further observation pretending to forget that her fingers were still retained by his. She soon withdrew them, however, and retreated a few feet to rest against the window-sill.
"I didn't see you for a long time," she said, coquettishly, repulsing one of his exuberant approaches. "You must have been away."
"I was," said Drouet.
"Do you travel far?"
"Do you like it?"
"Oh, not very well. You get tired of it after a while."
"I wish I could travel," said the girl, gazing idly out of the window.
"What has become of your friend, Mr. Hurstwood?" she suddenly asked, bethinking herself of the manager, who, from her own observation, seemed to contain promising material.
"He's here in town. What makes you ask about him?"
"Oh, nothing, only he hasn't been here since you got back."
"How did you come to know him?"
"Didn't I take up his name a dozen times in the last month?"
"Get out," said the drummer, lightly. "He hasn't called more than half a dozen times since we've been here."
"He hasn't, eh?" said the girl, smiling. "That's all you know about it."
Drouet took on a slightly more serious tone. He was uncertain as to whether she was joking or not.
"Tease," he said, "what makes you smile that way?"
"Have you seen him recently?"
"Not since you came back," she laughed.
"Why, nearly every day."
She was a mischievous newsmonger, and was keenly wondering what the effect of her words would be.
"Who did he come to see?" asked the drummer, incredulously.
He looked rather foolish at this answer, and then attempted to correct himself so as not to appear a dupe.
"Well," he said, "what of it?"
"Nothing," replied the girl, her head cocked coquettishly on one side.
"He's an old friend," he went on, getting deeper into the mire.
He would have gone on further with his little flirtation, but the taste for it was temporarily removed. He was quite relieved when the girl's named was called from below.
"I've got to go," she said, moving away from him airily.
"I'll see you later," he said, with a pretence of disturbance at being interrupted.
When she was gone, he gave freer play to his feelings. His face, never easily controlled by him, expressed all the perplexity and disturbance which he felt. Could it be that Carrie had received so many visits and yet said nothing about them? Was Hurstwood lying? What did the chambermaid mean by it, anyway? He had thought there was something odd about Carrie's manner at the time. Why did she look so disturbed when he had asked her how many times Hurstwood had called? By George! He remembered now. There was something strange about the whole thing.
He sat down in a rocking-chair to think the better, drawing up one leg on his knee and frowning mightily. His mind ran on at a great rate.
And yet Carrie hadn't acted out of the ordinary. It couldn't be, by George, that she was deceiving him. She hadn't acted that way. Why, even last night she had been as friendly toward him as could be, and Hurstwood too. Look how they acted! He could hardly believe they would try to deceive him.
His thoughts burst into words.
"She did act sort of funny at times. Here she had dressed, and gone out this morning and never said a word."
He scratched his head and prepared to go down town. He was still frowning. As he came into the hall he encountered the girl, who was now looking after another chamber. She had on a white dusting cap, beneath which her chubby face shone good-naturedly. Drouet almost forgot his worry in the fact that she was smiling on him. He put his hand familiarly on her shoulder, as if only to greet her in passing.
"Got over being mad?" she said, still mischievously inclined.
"I'm not mad," he answered.
"I thought you were," she said, smiling.
"Quit your fooling about that," he said, in an offhand way. "Were you serious?"
"Certainly," she answered. Then, with an air of one who did not intentionally mean to create trouble, "He came lots of times. I thought you knew."
The game of deception was up with Drouet. He did not try to simulate indifference further.
"Did he spend the evenings here?" he asked.
"Sometimes. Sometimes they went out."
"In the evening?"
"Yes. You mustn't look so mad, though."
"I'm not," he said. "Did any one else see him?"
"Of course," said the girl, as if, after all, it were nothing in particular.
"How long ago was this?"
"Just before you came back."
The drummer pinched his lip nervously.
"Don't say anything, will you?" he asked, giving the girl's arm a gentle squeeze.
"Certainly not," she returned. "I wouldn't worry over it."
"All right," he said, passing on, seriously brooding for once, and yet not wholly unconscious of the fact that he was making a most excellent impression upon the chambermaid.
"I'll see her about that," he said to himself, passionately, feeling that he had been unduly wronged. "I'll find out, b'George, whether she'll act that way or not."