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PinkMonkey Digital Library-Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

Chapter XIX

At last the curtain was ready to go up. All the details of the make-
up had been completed, and the company settled down as the
leader of the small, hired orchestra tapped significantly upon his
music rack with his baton and began the soft curtain-raising strain.
Hurstwood ceased talking, and went with Drouet and his friend
Sagar Morrison around to the box.

"Now, we’ll see how the little girl does," he said to Drouet, in a
tone which no one else could hear.

On the stage, six of the characters had already appeared in the
opening parlour scene. Drouet and Hurstwood saw at a glance that
Carrie was not among them, and went on talking in a whisper.
Mrs. Morgan, Mrs. Hoagland, and the actor who had taken
Bamberger’s part were representing the principal roles in this
scene. The professional, whose name was Patton, had little to
recommend him outside of his assurance, but this at the present
moment was most palpably needed. Mrs. Morgan, as Pearl, was
stiff with fright. Mrs. Hoagland was husky in the throat. The
whole company was so weak-kneed that the lines were merely
spoken, and nothing more. It took all the hope and uncritical
good-nature of the audience to keep from manifesting pity by that
unrest which is the agony of failure.

Hurstwood was perfectly indifferent. He took it for granted that it
would be worthless. All he cared for was to have it endurable
enough to allow for pretension and congratulation afterward.

After the first rush of fright, however, the players got over the
danger of collapse. They rambled weakly forward, losing nearly
all the expression which was intended, and making the thing dull
in the extreme, when Carrie came in.

One glance at her, and both Hurstwood and Drouet saw plainly
that she also was weak-kneed. She came faintly across the stage,

"And you, sir; we have been looking for you since eight o’clock,"
but with so little colour and in such a feeble voice that it was
positively painful.

"She’s frightened," whispered Drouet to Hurstwood.

The manager made no answer.

She had a line presently which was supposed to be funny.

"Well, that’s as much as to say that I’m a sort of life pill."

It came out so flat, however, that it was a deathly thing. Drouet
fidgeted. Hurstwood moved his toe the least bit.

There was another place in which Laura was to rise and, with a
sense of impending disaster, say, sadly:

"I wish you hadn’t said that, Pearl. You know the old proverb,
‘Call a maid by a married name.’"

The lack of feeling in the thing was ridiculous. Carrie did not get
it at all. She seemed to be talking in her sleep. It looked as if she
were certain to be a wretched failure. She was more hopeless than
Mrs. Morgan, who had recovered somewhat, and was now saying
her lines clearly at least. Drouet looked away from the stage at the
audience. The latter held out silently, hoping for a general change,
of course. Hurstwood fixed his eye on Carrie, as if to hypnotise
her into doing better. He was pouring determination of his own in
her direction. He felt sorry for her.

In a few more minutes it fell to her to read the letter sent in by the
strange villain. The audience had been slightly diverted by a
conversation between the professional actor and a character called
Snorky, impersonated by a short little American, who really
developed some humour as a half-crazed, one-armed soldier,
turned messenger for a living. He bawled his lines out with such
defiance that, while they really did not partake of the humour
intended, they were funny. Now he was off, however, and it was
back to pathos, with Carrie as the chief figure. She did not
recover. She wandered through the whole scene between herself
and the intruding villain, straining the patience of the audience,
and finally exiting, much to their relief.
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PinkMonkey Digital Library-Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

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