Vandover and the Brute HTML version

Chapter Sixteen
That particular room in the Lick House was well toward the rear of the building, on one
of the upper floors, and from its window, one looked out upon a vast reach of roofs that
rose little by little to meet the abrupt rise of Telegraph Hill. It was a sordid and grimy
wilderness, topped with a gray maze of wires and pierced with thousands of chimney
stacks. Many of the roofs were covered with tin long since blackened by rust and soot.
Here and there could be seen clothes hung out to dry. Occasionally upon the flanking
walls of some of the larger buildings was displayed an enormous painted sign, a violent
contrast of intense black and staring white amidst the sooty brown and gray, advertising
some tobacco, some newspaper, or some department store. Not far in the distance two tall
smokestacks of blackened tin rose high in the air, above the roof of a steam laundry, one
very large like the stack of a Cunarder, the other slender, graceful, with a funnel-shaped
top. All day and all night these stacks were smoking; from the first, the larger one, rolled
a heavy black smoke, very gloomy, waving with a slow and continued movement like the
plume of some sullen warrior. But the other one, the tall and slender pipe, threw off a
series of little white puffs, three at a time, that rose buoyant and joyous into the air like so
many white doves, vanishing at last, melting away in the higher sunshine, only to be
followed by another flight. They came three at a time, the pipe tossing them out with a
sharp gay sound like a note of laughter interrupted by a cough.
But the interior of the room presented the usual dreary aspect of the hotel bedroom—
cheerless, lamentable.
The walls were whitewashed and bare of pictures or ornaments, and the floor was
covered with a dull red carpet. The furniture was a "set," all the pieces having a family
resemblance. On entering, one saw the bed standing against the right-hand wall, a huge
double bed with the name of the hotel in the corners of its spread and pillowcases. In the
exact middle of the room underneath the gas fixture was the centre-table, and upon it a
pitcher of ice-water. The blank, white monotony of one side of the room was jarred upon
by the grate and mantelpiece, iron, painted black, while on the mantelpiece itself stood a
little porcelain matchsafe with ribbed sides in the form of a truncated cone. Precisely
opposite the chimney was the bureau, flanked on one side by the door of the closet, and
on the other in the corner of the room by the stationary washstand with its new cake of
soap and its three clean, glossy towels. On the wall to the left of the door was the electric
bell and the directions for using it, and tacked upon the door itself a card as to the hours
for meals, the rules of the hotel, and the extract of the code defining the liabilities of
innkeepers, all printed in bright red. Everything was clean, defiantly, aggressively clean,
and there was a clean smell of new soap in the air.
But the room was bare of any personality. Of the hundreds who had lived there, perhaps
suffered and died there, not a trace, not a suggestion remained; their different characters
had not left the least impress upon its air or appearance. Only a few hairpins were
scattered on the bottom of one of the bureau drawers, and two forgotten medicine bottles
still remained upon the top shelf of the closet.