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A TOUCH OF SPRING: THE EMPTY SHELL
Those who look upon Hurstwood’s Brooklyn venture as an error
of judgment will none the less realise the negative influence on
him of the fact that he had tried and failed. Carrie got a wrong
idea of it. He said so little that she imagined he had encountered
nothing worse than the ordinary roughness-quitting so soon in the
face of this seemed trifling. He did not want to work.
She was now one of a group of oriental beauties who, in the
second act of the comic opera, were paraded by the vizier before
the new potentate as the treasures of his harem. There was no
word assigned to any of them, but on the evening when
Hurstwood was housing himself in the loft of the street-car barn,
the leading comedian and star, feeling exceedingly facetious, said
in a profound voice, which created a ripple of laughter:
"Well, who are you?"
It merely happened to be Carrie who was courtesying before him.
It might as well have been any of the others, so far as he was
concerned. He expected no answer and a dull one would have
been reproved. But Carrie, whose experience and belief in herself
gave her daring, courtesied sweetly again and answered:
"I am yours truly."
It was a trivial thing to say, and yet something in the way she did
it caught the audience, which laughed heartily at the mock-fierce
potentate towering before the young woman. The comedian also
liked it, hearing the laughter.
"I thought your name was Smith," he returned, endeavouring to
get the last laugh.
Carrie almost trembled for her daring after she had said this. All
members of the company had been warned that to interpolate lines
or "business" meant a fine or worse. She did not know what to
As she was standing in her proper position in the wings, awaiting
another entry, the great comedian made his exit past her and
paused in recognition.
"You can just leave that in hereafter," he remarked, seeing how
intelligent she appeared. "Don’t add any more, though."
"Thank you," said Carrie, humbly. When he went on she found
herself trembling violently.
"Well, you’re in luck," remarked another member of the chorus.
"There isn’t another one of us has got a line."
There was no gainsaying the value of this. Everybody in the
company realised that she had got a start. Carrie hugged herself
when next evening the lines got the same applause. She went
home rejoicing, knowing that soon something must come of it. It
was Hurstwood who, by his presence, caused her merry thoughts
to flee and replaced them with sharp longings for an end of
The next day she asked him about his venture.
"They’re not trying to run any cars except with police. They don’t
want anybody just now-not before next week."
Next week came, but Carrie saw no change. Hurstwood seemed
more apathetic than ever. He saw her off mornings to rehearsals
and the like with the utmost calm. He read and read. Several times
he found himself staring at an item, but thinking of something
else. The first of these lapses that he sharply noticed concerned a
hilarious party he had once attended at a driving club, of which he
had been a member. He sat, gazing downward, and gradually
thought he heard the old voices and the clink of glasses.
"You’re a dandy, Hurstwood," his friend Walker said. He was
standing again well dressed, smiling, good-natured, the recipient
of encores for a good story.
All at once he looked up. The room was so still it seemed
ghostlike. He heard the clock ticking audibly and half suspected
that he had been dozing. The paper was so straight in his hands,
however, and the items he had been reading so directly before
him, that he rid himself of the doze idea. Still, it seemed peculiar.
When it occurred a second time, however, it did not seem quite so
Butcher and grocery man, baker and coal man-not the group with
whom he was then dealing, but those who had trusted him to the
limit-called. He met them all blandly, becoming deft in excuse. At
last he became bold, pretended to be out, or waved them off.