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PinkMonkey Digital Library-Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

Chapter I

When Caroline Meeber boarded the afternoon train for Chicago,
her total outfit consisted of a small trunk, a cheap imitation
alligator-skin satchel, a small lunch in a paper box, and a yellow
leather snap purse, containing her ticket, a scrap of paper with her
sisterís address in Van Buren Street, and four dollars in money. It
was in August, 1889. She was eighteen years of age, bright, timid,
and full of the illusions of ignorance and youth. Whatever touch
of regret at parting characterised her thoughts, it was certainly not
for advantages now being given up. A gush of tears at her
motherís farewell kiss, a touch in her throat when the cars clacked
by the flour mill where her father worked by the day, a pathetic
sigh as the familiar green environs of the village passed in review,
and the threads which bound her so lightly to girlhood and home
were irretrievably broken.

To be sure there was always the next station, where one might
descend and return. There was the great city, bound more closely
by these very trains which came up daily. Columbia City was not
so very far away, even once she was in Chicago. What, pray, is a
few hours-a few hundred miles? She looked at the little slip
bearing her sisterís address and wondered. She gazed at the green
landscape, now passing in swift review, until her swifter thoughts
replaced its impression with vague conjectures of what Chicago
might be.

When a girl leaves her home at eighteen, she does one of two
things. Either she falls into saving hands and becomes better, or
she rapidly assumes the cosmopolitan standard of virtue and
becomes worse. Of an intermediate balance, under the
circumstances, there is no possibility. The city has its cunning
wiles, no less than the infinitely smaller and more human tempter.
There are large forces which allure with all the soulfulness of
expression possible in the most cultured human. The gleam of a
thousand lights is often as effective as the persuasive light in a
wooing and fascinating eye. Half the undoing of the
unsophisticated and natural mind is accomplished by forces
wholly superhuman. A blare of sound, a roar of life, a vast array
of human hives, appeal to the astonished senses in equivocal
terms. Without a counsellor at hand to whisper cautious
interpretations, what falsehoods may not these things breathe into
the unguarded ear! Unrecognised for what they are, their beauty,
like music, too often relaxes, then weakens, then perverts the
simpler human perceptions.

Caroline, or Sister Carrie, as she had been half affectionately
termed by the family, was possessed of a mind rudimentary in its
power of observation and analysis. Self-interest with her was
high, but not strong. It was, nevertheless, her guiding
characteristic. Warm with the fancies of youth, pretty with the
insipid prettiness of the formative period, possessed of a figure
promising eventual shape-liness and an eye alight with certain
native intelligence, she was a fair example of the middle
American class-two generations removed from the emigrant.
Books were beyond her interest-knowledge a sealed book. In the
intuitive graces she

was still crude. She could scarcely toss her head gracefully. Her
hands were almost ineffectual. The feet, though small, were set
flatly. And yet she was interested in her charms, quick to
understand the keener pleasures of life, ambitious to gain in
material things. A half-equipped little knight she was, venturing to
reconnoitre the mysterious city and dreaming wild dreams of
some vague, far-off supremacy, which should make it prey and
subject-the proper penitent, grovelling at a womanís slipper.

"That," said a voice in her ear, "is one of the prettiest little resorts
in Wisconsin."

"Is it?" she answered nervously.

The train was just pulling out of Waukesha. For some time she
had been conscious of a man behind. She felt him observing her
mass of hair. He had been fidgetting, and with natural intuition
she felt a certain interest growing in that quarter. Her maidenly
reserve, and a certain sense of what was conventional under the
circumstances, called her to forestall and deny this familiarity, but
the daring and magnetism of the individual, born of past
experiences and triumphs, prevailed. She answered.

He leaned forward to put his elbows upon the back of her seat and
proceeded to make himself volubly agreeable.
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PinkMonkey Digital Library-Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

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