Hurstwood liked Drouet. The latter's genial nature and dressy appearance pleased him. He knew that Drouet was only a travelling salesman--and not one of many years at that--but the firm of Bartlett, Caryoe & Company was a large and prosperous house, and Drouet stood well. Hurstwood knew Caryoe quite well, having drunk a glass now and then with him, in company with several others, when the conversation was general. Drouet had what was a help in his business, a moderate sense of humour, and could tell a good story when the occasion required. He could talk races with Hurstwood, tell interesting incidents concerning himself and his experiences with women, and report the state of trade in the cities which he visited, and so managed to make himself almost invariably agreeable. To-night he was particularly so, since his report to the company had been favourably commented upon, his new samples had been satisfactorily selected, and his trip marked out for the next six weeks.
"Why, hello, Charlie, old man," said Hurstwood, as Drouet came in that evening about eight o'clock. "How goes it?" The room was crowded.
Drouet shook hands, beaming good nature, and they strolled towards the bar.
"Oh, all right."
"I haven't seen you in six weeks. When did you get in?"
"Friday," said Drouet. "Had a fine trip."
"Glad of it," said Hurstwood, his black eyes lit with a warmth which half displaced the cold make-believe that usually dwelt in them. "What are you going to take?" he added, as the barkeeper, in snowy jacket and tie, leaned toward them from behind the bar.
"Old Pepper," said Drouet.
"A little of the same for me," put in Hurstwood.
"How long are you in town this time?" inquired Hurstwood.
"Only until Wednesday. I'm going up to St. Paul."
"George Evans was in here Saturday and said he saw you in Milwaukee last week."
"Yes, I saw George," returned Drouet. "Great old boy, isn't he? We had quite a time there together."
The barkeeper was setting out the glasses and bottle before them, and they now poured out the draught as they talked, Drouet filling his to within a third of full, as was considered proper, and Hurstwood taking the barest suggestion of whiskey and modifying it with seltzer.
"What's become of Caryoe?" remarked Hurstwood. "I haven't seen him around here in two weeks."
"Laid up, they say," exclaimed Drouet. "Say, he's a gouty old boy!"
"Made a lot of money in his time, though, hasn't he?"
"Yes, wads of it," returned Drouet. "He won't live much longer. Barely comes down to the office now."
"Just one boy, hasn't he?" asked Hurstwood.
"Yes, and a swift-pacer," laughed Drouet.
"I guess he can't hurt the business very much, though, with the other members all there."
"No, he can't injure that any, I guess."
Hurstwood was standing, his coat open, his thumbs in his pockets, the light on his jewels and rings relieving them with agreeable distinctness. He was the picture of fastidious comfort.
To one not inclined to drink, and gifted with a more serious turn of mind, such a bubbling, chattering, glittering chamber must ever seem an anomaly, a strange commentary on nature and life. Here come the moths, in endless procession, to bask in the light of the flame. Such conversation as one may hear would not warrant a commendation of the scene upon intellectual grounds. It seems plain that schemers would choose more sequestered quarters to arrange their plans, that politicians would not gather here in company to discuss anything save formalities, where the sharp- eared may hear, and it would scarcely be justified on the score of thirst, for the majority of those who frequent these more gorgeous places have no craving for liquor. Nevertheless, the fact that here men gather, here chatter, here love to pass and rub elbows, must be explained upon some grounds. It must be that a strange bundle of passions and vague desires give rise to such a curious social institution or it would not be.
Drouet, for one, was lured as much by his longing for pleasure as by his desire to shine among his betters. The many friends he met here dropped in because they craved, without, perhaps, consciously analysing it, the company, the glow, the atmosphere which they found. One might take it, after all, as an augur of the better social order, for the things which they satisfied here, though sensory, were not evil. No evil could come out of the contemplation of an expensively decorated chamber. The worst effect of such a thing would be, perhaps, to stir up in the material-minded an ambition to arrange their lives upon a similarly splendid basis. In the last analysis, that would scarcely be called the fault of the decorations, but rather of the innate trend of the mind. That such a scene might stir the less expensively dressed to emulate the more expensively dressed could scarcely be laid at the door of anything save the false ambition of the minds of those so affected. Remove the element so thoroughly and solely complained of--liquor--and there would not be one to gainsay the qualities of beauty and enthusiasm which would remain. The pleased eye with which our modern restaurants of fashion are looked upon is proof of this assertion.
Yet, here is the fact of the lighted chamber, the dressy, greedy company, the small, self-interested palaver, the disorganized, aimless, wandering mental action which it represents--the love of light and show and finery which, to one outside, under the serene light of the eternal stars, must seem a strange and shiny thing. Under the stars and sweeping night winds, what a lamp-flower it must bloom; a strange, glittering night-flower, odour-yielding, insect-drawing, insect-infested rose of pleasure.
"See that fellow coming in there?" said Hurstwood, glancing at a gentleman just entering, arrayed in a high hat and Prince Albert coat, his fat cheeks puffed and red as with good eating.
"No, where?" said Drouet.
"There," said Hurstwood, indicating the direction by a cast of his eye, "the man with the silk hat."
"Oh, yes," said Drouet, now affecting not to see. "Who is he?"
"That's Jules Wallace, the spiritualist."
Drouet followed him with his eyes, much interested.
"Doesn't look much like a man who sees spirits, does he?" said Drouet.
"Oh, I don't know," returned Hurstwood. "He's got the money, all right," and a little twinkle passed over his eyes.
"I don't go much on those things, do you?" asked Drouet.
"Well, you never can tell," said Hurstwood. "There may be something to it. I wouldn't bother about it myself, though. By the way," he added, "are you going anywhere to-night?"
"'The Hole in the Ground,'" said Drouet, mentioning the popular farce of the time.
"Well, you'd better be going. It's half after eight already," and he drew out his watch.
The crowd was already thinning out considerably--some bound for the theatres, some to their clubs, and some to that most fascinating of all the pleasures--for the type of man there represented, at least--the ladies.
"Yes, I will," said Drouet.
"Come around after the show. I have something I want to show you," said Hurstwood.
"Sure," said Drouet, elated.
"You haven't anything on hand for the night, have you?" added Hurstwood.
"Not a thing."
"Well, come round, then."
"I struck a little peach coming in on the train Friday," remarked Drouet, by way of parting. "By George, that's so, I must go and call on her before I go away."
"Oh, never mind her," Hurstwood remarked.
"Say, she was a little dandy, I tell you," went on Drouet confidentially, and trying to impress his friend.
"Twelve o'clock," said Hurstwood.
"That's right," said Drouet, going out.
Thus was Carrie's name bandied about in the most frivolous and gay of places, and that also when the little toiler was bemoaning her narrow lot, which was almost inseparable from the early stages of this, her unfolding fate.