Chapter II 

WHAT POVERTY THREATENED--OF GRANITE AND BRASS

Minnie's flat, as the one-floor resident apartments were then 
being called, was in a part of West Van Buren Street inhabited by 
families of labourers and clerks, men who had come, and were 
still coming, with the rush of population pouring in at the rate 
of 50,000 a year. It was on the third floor, the front windows 
looking down into the street, where, at night, the lights of 
grocery stores were shining and children were playing. To Carrie, 
the sound of the little bells upon the horse-cars, as they 
tinkled in and out of hearing, was as pleasing as it was novel. 
She gazed into the lighted street when Minnie brought her into 
the front room, and wondered at the sounds, the movement, the 
murmur of the vast city which stretched for miles and miles in 
every direction. 

Mrs. Hanson, after the first greetings were over, gave Carrie the 
baby and proceeded to get supper. Her husband asked a few 
questions and sat down to read the evening paper. He was a 
silent man, American born, of a Swede father, and now employed as a cleaner of refrigerator cars at the stock-yards. To him the 
presence or absence of his wife's sister was a matter of 
indifference. Her personal appearance did not affect him one way 
or the other. His one observation to the point was concerning 
the chances of work in Chicago. 

"It's a big place," he said. "You can get in somewhere in a few 
days. Everybody does." 

It had been tacitly understood beforehand that she was to get 
work and pay her board. He was of a clean, saving disposition, 
and had already paid a number of monthly instalments on two lots 
far out on the West Side. His ambition was some day to build a 
house on them. 

In the interval which marked the preparation of the meal Carrie 
found time to study the flat. She had some slight gift of 
observation and that sense, so rich in every woman--intuition. 
She felt the drag of a lean and narrow life. The walls of the 
rooms were discordantly papered. The floors were covered with 
matting and the hall laid with a thin rag carpet. One could see 
that the furniture was of that poor, hurriedly patched together 
quality sold by the instalment houses. 

She sat with Minnie, in the kitchen, holding the baby until it 
began to cry. Then she walked and sang to it, until Hanson, 
disturbed in his reading, came and took it. A pleasant side to 
his nature came out here. He was patient. One could see that he 
was very much wrapped up in his offspring. 
"Now, now," he said, walking. "There, there," and there was a 
certain Swedish accent noticeable in his voice. 
"You'll want to see the city first, won't you?" said Minnie, when 
they were eating. "Well, we'll go out Sunday and see Lincoln 
Park. 

Carrie noticed that Hanson had said nothing to this. He seemed to 
be thinking of something else. 

"Well," she said, "I think I'll look around tomorrow. I've got 
Friday and Saturday, and it won't be any trouble. Which way is 
the business part?" 

Minnie began to explain, but her husband took this part of the 
conversation to himself. 

"It's that way," he said, pointing east. "That's east."  

Then he went off into the longest speech he had yet indulged in, 
concerning the lay of Chicago.  

"You'd better look in those big manufacturing houses along Franklin Street and just the other side of the river," he concluded. 
"Lots of girls work there. You could get home easy, too. It isn't very far." 

Carrie nodded and asked her sister about the neighbourhood. The 
latter talked in a subdued tone, telling the little she knew 
about it, while Hanson concerned himself with the baby. Finally 
he jumped up and handed the child to his wife. 

"I've got to get up early in the morning, so I'll go to bed," and 
off he went, disappearing into the dark little bedroom off the 
hall, for the night. 

"He works way down at the stock-yards," explained Minnie, "so 
he's got to get up at half-past five." 

"What time do you get up to get breakfast?" asked Carrie. 

"At about twenty minutes of five." 

Together they finished the labour of the day, Carrie washing the 
dishes while Minnie undressed the baby and put it to bed. 
Minnie's manner was one of trained industry, and Carrie could see 
that it was a steady round of toil with her. 

She began to see that her relations with Drouet would have to be 
abandoned. He could not come here. She read from the manner of 
Hanson, in the subdued air of Minnie, and, indeed, the whole 
atmosphere of the flat, a settled opposition to anything save a 
conservative round of toil. If Hanson sat every evening in the 
front room and read his paper, if he went to bed at nine, and 
Minnie a little later, what would they expect of her? She saw 
that she would first need to get work and establish herself on a 
paying basis before she could think of having company of any 
sort. Her little flirtation with Drouet seemed now an 
extraordinary thing. 

"No," she said to herself, "he can't come here." 

She asked Minnie for ink and paper, which were upon the mantel in the dining-room, and when the latter had gone to bed at ten, got 
out Drouet's card and wrote him. 

"I cannot have you call on me here. You will have to wait until 
you hear from me again. My sister's place is so small." 

She troubled herself over what else to put in the letter. She 
wanted to make some reference to their relations upon the train, 
but was too timid. She concluded by thanking him for his 
kindness in a crude way, then puzzled over the formality of 
signing her name, and finally decided upon the severe, winding up 
with a "Very truly," which she subsequently changed to 
"Sincerely." She scaled and addressed the letter, and going in 
the front room, the alcove of which contained her bed, drew the 
one small rocking-chair up to the open window, and sat looking 
out upon the night and streets in silent wonder. Finally, wearied by her own reflections, she began to grow dull in her 
chair, and feeling the need of sleep, arranged her clothing for the night and went to bed. 

When she awoke at eight the next morning, Hanson had gone. Her 
sister was busy in the dining-room, which was also the sitting- 
room, sewing. She worked, after dressing, to arrange a little 
breakfast for herself, and then advised with Minnie as to which 
way to look. The latter had changed considerably since Carrie had 
seen her. She was now a thin, though rugged, woman of twenty- 
seven, with ideas of life coloured by her husband's, and fast 
hardening into narrower conceptions of pleasure and duty than had ever been hers in a thoroughly circumscribed youth. She had 
invited Carrie, not because she longed for her presence, but 
because the latter was dissatisfied at home, and could probably 
get work and pay her board here. She was pleased to see her in a 
way but reflected her husband's point of view in the matter of 
work. Anything was good enough so long as it paid--say, five 
dollars a week to begin with. A shop girl was the destiny 
prefigured for the newcomer. She would get in one of the great 
shops and do well enough until--well, until something happened. 

Neither of them knew exactly what. They did not figure on 
promotion. They did not exactly count on marriage. Things would 
go on, though, in a dim kind of way until the better thing would 
eventuate, and Carrie would be rewarded for coming and toiling in 
the city. It was under such auspicious circumstances that she 
started out this morning to look for work. 

Before following her in her round of seeking, let us look at the 
sphere in which her future was to lie. In 1889 Chicago had the 
peculiar qualifications of growth which made such adventuresome 
pilgrimages even on the part of young girls plausible. Its many 
and growing commercial opportunities gave it widespread fame, 
which made of it a giant magnet, drawing to itself, from all 
quarters, the hopeful and the hopeless--those who had their 
fortune yet to make and those whose fortunes and affairs had 
reached a disastrous climax elsewhere. It was a city of over 
500,000, with the ambition, the daring, the activity of a 
metropolis of a million. Its streets and houses were already 
scattered over an area of seventy-five square miles. Its 
population was not so much thriving upon established commerce as upon the industries which prepared for the arrival of others.  
The sound of the hammer engaged upon the erection of new structures was everywhere heard. Great industries were moving in. The huge railroad corporations which had long before recognised the prospects of the place had seized upon vast tracts of land for 
transfer and shipping purposes. Street-car lines had been 
extended far out into the open country in anticipation of rapid 
growth. The city had laid miles and miles of streets and sewers 
through regions where, perhaps, one solitary house stood out 
alone--a pioneer of the populous ways to be. There were regions 
open to the sweeping winds and rain, which were yet lighted 

throughout the night with long, blinking lines of gas-lamps, 
fluttering in the wind. Narrow board walks extended out, passing 
here a house, and there a store, at far intervals, eventually 
ending on the open prairie. 
In the central portion was the vast wholesale and shopping 
district, to which the uninformed seeker for work usually 
drifted. It was a characteristic of Chicago then, and one not 
generally shared by other cities, that individual firms of any 
pretension occupied individual buildings. The presence of ample 
ground made this possible. It gave an imposing appearance to 
most of the wholesale houses, whose offices were upon the ground floor and in plain view of the street. The large plates of window glass, now so common, were then rapidly coming into use, and gave to the ground floor offices a distinguished and prosperous look. The casual wanderer could see as he passed a polished array of office fixtures, much frosted glass, clerks hard at work, and genteel businessmen in "nobby" suits and clean linen lounging about or sitting in groups. Polished brass or nickel signs at the square stone entrances announced the firm and the nature of the business in rather neat and reserved terms. 

The entire metropolitan centre possessed a high and mighty air 
calculated to overawe and abash the common applicant, and to make the gulf between poverty and success seem both wide and deep. 

Into this important commercial region the timid Carrie went. She 
walked east along Van Buren Street through a region of lessening 
importance, until it deteriorated into a mass of shanties and 
coal-yards, and finally verged upon the river. She walked bravely forward, led by an honest desire to find employment and delayed at every step by the interest of the unfolding scene, and a sense of helplessness amid so much evidence of power and force which she did not understand. These vast buildings, what were they? These strange energies and huge interests, for what purposes were they there? She could have understood the meaning of a little stone-cutter's yard at Columbia City, carving little pieces of marble for individual use, but when the yards of some huge stone corporation came into view, filled with spur tracks and flat cars, transpierced by docks from the river and traversed overhead by immense trundling cranes of wood and steel, it lost all significance in her little world. 

It was so with the vast railroad yards, with the crowded array of 
vessels she saw at the river, and the huge factories over the 
way, lining the water's edge. Through the open windows she could see the figures of men and women in working aprons, moving busily about. The great streets were wall-lined mysteries to her; the vast offices, strange mazes which concerned far-off individuals 
of importance. She could only think of people connected with 
them as counting money, dressing magnificently, and riding in 
carriages. What they dealt in, how they laboured, to what end it 
all came, she had only the vaguest conception. It was all wonderful, all vast, all far removed, and she sank in spirit inwardly and fluttered feebly at the heart as she thought of entering any one of these mighty concerns and asking for something todo--something that she could do--anything.

 RETURNFORWARD