THE MAGNET ATTRACTING: A WIFE AMID FORCES
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 sister's address in Van
Buren Street, and four dollar in money. It was in August, 1889. She was
eighteen years or age, bright, timid, and full of the illusions of
ignorance and youth. Whatever touch of regret at parting characterized
her given up. A gush of tears at her mother's farewell kiss, 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 sister's 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 girls 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
soul fullness 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
to the astonished scenes in equivocal terms. Without a counselor at hand
to whisper cautious interpretation what falsehoods may not these things
breathe into the unguarded ear! Unrecognized for what they are, their
beauty, like music, too often relaxes, then wakens, 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 shapeliness 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 reconnoiter the
mysterious city and dreaming wild dreams of some vague, far-off
supremacy, which should make it prey and subject the proper penitent,
groveling at a women's slipper.
"That," said a voice in her ear, "is one of the prettiest little resorts
"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 fidgeting, 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 experience and
triumphs, prevailed. She answered. He leaned forward to put his elbows
upon the back of her seat and proceeded to make himself volubly
"Yes, that is a great resort for Chicago people. The hotels are swell.
You are not familiar with this part of the country, are you?"
"Oh, yes I am," answered Carrie. "That is, I live at Columbia City. I
have never been through here, though."
"And so this is your first visit to Chicago," he observed. All the time
she was conscious of certain features out of the side of her eye.