Vandover and the Brute by Frank Norris - HTML preview
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Vandover stayed for two weeks at Coronado Beach and managed to pass the time very pleasantly. He was fortunate enough to find a party at the hotel whom he knew very well. In the morning they bathed or sailed on the bay, and in the afternoon rode out with a pack of greyhounds and coursed jack-rabbits on the lower end of the island. Vandover's good spirits began to come back to him, his appetite returned, his nerves steadied themselves, he slept eight hours every night. But for all that he did not think that things were the same with him. He said to himself that he was a changed man; that he was older, more serious.
During this time he received several letters from his father which he answered very promptly. In the course of their correspondence it was arranged that they should both leave for Europe on the twenty-fifth of that month, and that consequently, Vandover should return to the city not later than the fifteenth. Vandover was having such a good time, however, that he stayed over the regular steamer in order to go upon a moonlight picnic down on the beach. The next afternoon he took passage for San Francisco on a second-class boat.
This homeward passage turned out to be one long misery for Vandover. He had never been upon a second-class boat before and had never imagined that anything could be so horribly uncomfortable or disagreeable. The Mazatlan was overcrowded, improperly ballasted, and rolled continually. The table was bad, the accommodations inadequate, the passengers hopelessly uncongenial. Cold and foggy weather accompanied the boat continually. The same endless procession of bleached hills still filed past under the mist, going now in the opposite direction, and the same interminable game of whist was played in the smoking-room, only with greasier, second-class cards, amidst the acrid smoke of second-class tobacco. At supper, the first day out, a little Jew who sat next to Vandover, and who invariably wore a plush skull-cap with ear-laps, tried to sell him two flawed and yellow diamonds.
The evening after leaving Port Hartford the Mazatlan ran into dirty weather. It was not stormy—simply rough, disagreeable, the wind and sea directly ahead. Half an hour after supper Vandover began to be sick. For a long time he sat on the slippery leather cushions in the nasty smoking-room, sucking limes, drinking seltzer, and trying to be interested in the card games. He dozed a little and awoke, feeling wretched, covered with a cold sweat, racked by a pain in the back of his head, and tortured by an abominable nausea. He groped his way out upon the swaying, gusty deck, descended to his cabin, and went to bed.
The Mazatlan had booked more passengers than could be accommodated, the steward being obliged to make up beds on the floor of the dining saloon and even upon some of the tables. Vandover had not been able to get a stateroom, and so had put up with a bunk in the common cabin at the stern of the vessel.
About two o'clock in the morning he woke up in this place frightfully sick at the stomach and wretched in body and mind. He had an upper bunk, and for a long time he lay on his back rolling about with the rolling of the steamer, vaguely staring straight above him at the roof of the cabin, hardly a hand's-breadth above his face. The roof was iron, painted with a white paint very thick and shiny, and was studded with innumerable bolt-heads and enormous nuts. By and by, for no particular reason, he rose on his elbow and, leaning over the side of his berth, looked about him.
The light streaming from two strong-smelling ship's lanterns showed the cabin, long and narrow. There were two cramped passageways, on either side of which the tiers of bunks, mere open racks filled with bedding, rose to the roof, those occupied by women hung with spotted turkey-red calico.
The cabin was two decks below the open air and every berth was occupied, the only ventilation being through the door. The air was foul with the stench of bilge, the reek of the untrimmed lamps, the exhalation of so many breaths, and the close, stale smell of warm bedding.
A vague murmur rose in the air, the sound of deep breathing, the moving of restless bodies between the coarse sheets, the momentary noise of the scratching of blunt fingertips, a subdued cough, the moan of a sleeping child. All the while the shaft of the screw, seemingly close beneath the floor, pounded and rumbled without a moment's stop.
Immediately underneath Vandover two men, saloonkeepers, awoke and lit their cigars and began a long discussion on the question of license. Two or three bunks distant, a woman, a Salvation Army lassie, one of a large party of Salvationists who were on board, began to cough violently, choking for breath. Across the aisle the little Jew of the plush skull-cap with ear-laps snored monotonously in alternate keys, one a guttural bass, the other a rasping treble. The Mazatlan was rolling worse than ever, now up and down, now from side to side, and now with long forward lurches that combined the other two motions. During one of these latter the little Jew was half awakened. He stopped snoring, leaving an abrupt silence in the air. Then Vandover could hear him threshing about uneasily; still half asleep he began to mutter and swear: "Dat's it, r-roll; I woult if I were you; r-roll, dat's righd—dhere, soh—ah, geep it oop—r-roll, you damnt ole tub, yust r-rroll."
The continued pitching, the foul air, and the bitter smoke from the saloonkeepers' cigars became more than Vandover could stand. His stomach turned, at every instant he gagged and choked. He suddenly made up his mind that he could stand it no longer, and determined to go on deck, preferring to walk the night out rather than spend it in the cabin. He drew on his shoes without lacing them, and dressed himself hurriedly, omitting his collar and scarf; he put his hat on his tumbled hair, swung into his overcoat, and, wrapping his travelling-rug around him, started up toward the deck. On the stairs he was seized with such a nausea that he could hardly keep from vomiting where he stood, but he rushed out upon the lower deck, gaining the rail with a swimming head.
He sank back upon an iron capstan with a groan, weak and trembling, his eyes full of tears, a bursting feeling in his head. He was utterly miserable.
It was about half-past two in the morning, and a cold raw wind was whistling through the cordage and flinging the steamer's smoke down upon the decks and upon the water like a great veil of crêpe. A sickly half-light was spread out between the sea and the heavens. By its means he could barely distinguish great, livid blotches of fog or cloud whirling across the black sky, and the unnumbered multitude of white-topped waves rushing past, plunging and rising like a vast herd of black horses galloping on with shaking white manes. Low in the northeast horizon lay a long pale blur of light against which the bow of the steamer, inky black, rose and fell and heaved and sank incessantly. To the landward side and very near at hand, so near that he could hear the surf at their feet, the long procession of hills continually defiled, vague and formless masses between the sea and sky. The wind, the noise of the waves rushing past, the roll of the breakers and the groaning of the cordage all blended together and filled the air with a prolonged minor note, lamentable beyond words. The atmosphere was cold and damp, the spray flying like icy bullets. The sombre light that hung over the sea reflected itself in long blurred streaks upon the wet decks and slippery iron rods. Here and there about the rigging a tremulous ball of orange haze showed where the ship's lanterns were swung. Directly under him in the stern the screw snarled incessantly in a vortex of boiling water that forever swirled away and was lost in the darkness. From time to time the indicator of the patent log, just beside him, rang its tiny bell.
Vandover drew his rug about him and went up to the main deck, dragging his shoelaces after him. The wind was stronger here, but he bent his head against it and went on toward the smoking-room, for the idea had occurred to him that he could shut himself in there and pass the rest of the night upon the cushions; anything was better than returning to the cabin downstairs.
The deck was jerked away from beneath his feet, and he was hurled forward, many times his own length, against a companionway, breaking his thumb as he fell. A second shock threw him down again as he rose; everything about him shook and danced like glassware upon a jarred table. Then the whole ship rose under his feet as no wave had ever lifted it, and fell again, not into yielding water, but upon something that drove through its sides as if they had been paper. A deafening, crashing noise split the mournful howl of the wind, and far underneath him Vandover heard a rapid series of blows, a dreadful rumbling and pounding that thrilled and quivered through all the vessel's framework up to her very mast-tips. On all fours upon the deck, holding to a cleat with one hand, he braced himself, watching and listening, his senses all alive, his muscles tense. In the direction of the engine-room he heard the furious ringing of a bell. The screw stopped. The Mazatlan wallowed helplessly in the trough of the sea.
Vandover's very first impulse was a wild desire of saving himself; he had not the least thought for any one else. Every soul on board might drown, so only he should be saved. It was the primitive animal instinct, the blind adherence to the first great law, an impulse that in this first moment of excitement could not be resisted. He ran forward and snatched a life-preserver from the pile that was stored beneath the bridge.
As he was fastening it about him, the passengers began to pour out upon the deck, from their staterooms, from the companionways, and from the dining saloon. In an instant the deck was crowded. Men and women ran about in all directions, pushing and elbowing each other, calling shrilly over one another's heads. Near to Vandover a woman, clothed only in her night-dress, clung to the arm of a half-dressed man, crying again and again for a certain "August." She wrung her hands in her excitement; at times the man shouted "August!" in a quavering bass voice. "August, here we are over here!" "Oh, where is Gussie?" wailed the woman. "Here, here I am," another voice answered at length; "here I am, I'm all right." "Oh," exclaimed the woman with a sob of relief, "here's Gussie; now let's all keep together whatever happens."
All about the decks just such scenes were going on; most of the women wore only their night-gowns or dressing-gowns, their hair tumbling down and blowing about their cheeks, their bare feet slipping and sliding on the heaving wet decks. The men were in shirt and drawers, standing in the centre of their family groups, silent, excited, very watchful; others of them ran about searching for life-preservers, shouting hoarsely, talking to themselves, speaking all their thoughts aloud.But there was no panic; there was excitement, confusion, bewilderment, but no excess of fear, no unreasoning terror, deaf, blind, utterly reckless.
All at once a man parted the crowd with shoulders and elbows, passing along the deck with great strides. It was the captain. The next instant Vandover saw him on the bridge, hatless, without his vest or his coat, just as he had sprung from his berth. From time to time he shouted his orders, leaning over the rail, gesturing with his arm. The crew ran about, carrying out his directions, jostling the men out of the way, knocking over women and children, speaking to no one, intent only upon their work.
In a few moments the deck steward and one of the officers appeared amid the crowd of passengers. They were very calm, and at every instant shouted, "There is no danger; every one go back to his berth; clear the deck, please; no danger, gentlemen; everybody be quiet; go back to your berths!" The steward even came up to Vandover and pulled at the straps of his life-preserver, exclaiming, "Take this off! There is no danger; you're only exciting the other passengers. Come on, take it off and go back to your berth."Vandover obeyed him, slowly loosening the buckles, looking around him, bewildered, but still holding the preserver in his hands.
Best of all, however, was the example of a huge old fellow wearing the cap and clothes of a boatswain's mate of a United States battleship; he seemed to dominate the excited throng in a moment, going about from group to group, quieting them all, spreading a feeling of confidence and courage throughout the whole ship. He was an inspiration to Vandover, who began to be ashamed of having yielded to the first selfish instinct of preservation.
Just as the boatswain's mate was offering his flask to the woman whom Vandover had heard calling for "August," the Mazatlan lurched heavily once or twice, and then slowly listed to the port side, going over farther and farther every instant. Vandover heard a renewed rumbling and smashing noise far beneath him, and in some way knew that the cargo was shifting. Instead of righting herself, the ship began to heave over more and more. The whole sea on the port side seemed to rise up to meet the rail; under Vandover's feet the incline of the deck grew steeper and steeper. All at once his excitement came back upon him with the sharpness of a blow, and he caught at the brass grating of a skylight exclaiming: "By God! We're going over." The women screamed with terror; one heard the men shouting, "Look out! hold on! catch hold there!" An old man, wearing only a gray flannel shirt, lost his footing; he fell, and rolled over and over down the deck stupidly, inertly, without making the slightest effort to save himself, without uttering the least cry; he brought up suddenly against the rail, with a great jar, the shock of his soft, withered body against the hard wood sounding like the sodden impact of a bundle of damp clothes. There was a cry; they thought him killed—Vandover had seen his head gashed against a sharp angle of iron—but he jumped up with sudden agility, clambering up the slope of the deck with the strength and rapidity of an acrobat.
There had been a great rush to the other side of the ship, a wild scrambling up the steep deck, over skylights and between masts and ventilators. People clung to anything, to cleats, to steamer chairs, to the brass railings, to the person who stood next to them. They no longer listened to the protestations of the brave boatswain's mate; that last long roll had terrified them. The sense of a great catastrophe began to spread and widen all about like the rising of some fearful invisible mist. "What had happened? What was to become of them?"
While Vandover clung to the starboard rail, rolling his eyes wildly, trying to control himself again, a young man, a waiter in the dining saloon, rushed up to him from out of the crowd, holding out his hand. "It's all up!" he shouted.
Vandover grasped his extended palm, shaking hands with him fervently, without knowing why. The two looked straight into each other's eyes, their hands gripped close; then the waiter turned away, and dropping on his knees began to pray silently to himself.
Vandover saw a great many others praying; there was even a large group gathered about the band of Salvationists trying to raise a hymn. Every now and then their voices could be heard, singing all out of tune, a medley of discords.
At one time Vandover caught sight of the little Jew of the plush cap with the ear-laps; he was grovelling upon the deck, huddling a small black satchel to his breast; without a moment's pause he screamed, "God 'a' mercy! God 'a' mercy!"
The sight revolted Vandover and in a great measure helped to calm him. In a few moments he had himself in hand again, cool and self-collected, resolved not to act like a fool before the others, but to help them if he could.
Near to him a Salvation Army lassie was down upon her knees trying to cord up a huge bundle wrapped in sail-cloth. "Here," exclaimed Vandover coming up to her, "let me help. I'll tie this for you—you put this on." He took the wet, stiff ropes from between her fingers and held the life-preserver toward her; but she refused it.
"No," she cried enthusiastically, "I'm going to be saved anyhow; I ain't going to drown; Jesus is watching over me. Oh!" she suddenly exclaimed with a burst of fervor, "Jesus is going to save me. I know I'm going to be saved. I feel it, I feel it here," and she struck her palm on the breast of the man's red jersey she was wearing."Well, I wish I could have such a confidence," answered Vandover, sincerely envying the plain little woman under the ugly blue bonnet.
She seemed as if inspired, her face glowing. "Only believe; that's all," she told him. "It isn't too late for you now. Ah," she went on, smiling, "ah, you don't know what it is in a time like this! What a comfort! What a support! Oh, look, look!" she cried, breaking off and starting to her feet. "That man is going to jump!"
It was the boatswain's mate, the hero who had filled all the passengers with his own coolness and courage, who had been Vandover's inspiration. Some strange reaction seemed to have seized upon him. Of a sudden he rushed to the rail, the starboard rail that was heaved so high out of the water, stood upon it for a moment, and then with a great shout jumped over the side. His folly was as infectious as his courage. Four more men followed him, three going over all at the same time, and a fourth a little later, hanging an instant upon the outside of the rail, then dropping down feet first, disappearing with a great splash that made itself heard in the great silence that had suddenly fallen upon the throng.
Every one had seen what had happened; a thrill of fear and apprehension passed over them all like a cold breath. They were silent, struck dumb, feeling the presence of death close by.
Suddenly a long flash of yellow upon the bridge made a momentary streak on the darkness, and there was the report of a gun. A minute later it was fired again, and alternating with it the Mazatlan's whistle began to roar, like a hoarse shout for help. Between these sounds could be heard the renewed clamour upon the decks, the shouting, the screaming, and the rush of many feet; the little children clung about the knees of their mothers, shrieking and wailing monotonously, "Oh, mama—oh, mama!" rolling their eyes fearfully behind them.
But many of the children, even some of the older passengers, were absolutely silent, dazed, stupefied with terror and excitement, their eyes vague and distended, looking slowly about them, scarcely daring to move a limb.
Meanwhile the Mazatlan was settling forward, and already the spray was beginning to fly over the decks. Little by little the terror increased; people threw themselves down upon the deck, rising up again, their arms raised to heaven, praying aloud, screaming the same things over and over again. The Salvationists tried to raise another hymn, but the sound of their voices was drowned out by the tumult, the roaring of the whistle, the barking of the minute guns, the straining and snapping of the cordage, and the sound of waves drawing closer and closer. Prone upon the deck, his arms still clasped about his black satchel, the little Jew of the plush cap went into some kind of fit, his eyes rolled back, his teeth grinding upon each other. Vandover turned from him in disgust. Then he looked around and above him, drawing a long breath, saying aloud to himself:"It looks as though it were the end—well!" All at once Vandover knew that the water had reached the boilers; there came a noise of hissing: deafening, stunning; white billows of steam poured up over the deck.
It was no longer the Mazatlan, no longer a thing of wood and iron, but some strange huge living creature that was dying there under his feet, some enormous brute that was plunging and writhing in its last agony, its belly ripped open by a hidden enemy that struck from beneath, its entrails torn out, its life-breath going from it in great gasps of steam. Suddenly its bellow collapsed; the great bulk was sinking lower; the enemy was in its very vitals. The great hoarse roar dwindled to a long death rattle, then to a guttural rasp; all at once it ceased; the brute was dead—the Mazatlan was a wreck.
Almost at the moment, he heard an order shouted twice from the bridge, where he could see the shadowy figures of the captain and officers moving about through the clouds of steam and smoke and mist. Immediately there followed the shrill piping of the boatswain's whistle; one of the officers, the first engineer, and some half dozen of the crew came dashing through the crowd, and there was a great shout of "The boats! The boats!"
The crowd broke up, rushing here and there about the ship, reforming again in smaller bands by the boats and life-rafts. Vandover followed the first engineer, running forward toward one of the boats in the bow."Come on!" he shouted to the little Salvationist lassie, pausing a moment to help her with her heavy canvas-covered bundle. "Come on! they're going to lower the boats."
She started up to follow him and the boom of the foremast, which the accident had in some way loosened, swung across the deck at the same moment. Vandover was already out of its path but it struck the young woman squarely across the back. She dropped in a heap upon the deck, then her body slowly straightened out, stiff and rigid, her eyes rapidly opened and shut, and a great puff of white froth slowly started from her mouth. Vandover ran forward and lifted her up, but her back was broken; she was already dead. He rose to his feet exclaiming to himself, "But she was so sure—she knew she was going to be saved," then suddenly fell silent again, gazing wonderingly at the body, disturbed, very thoughtful.
When Vandover finally reached the lifeboat, he found a great crowd gathered there; three people were already in the boat itself. The first engineer, who commanded that boat, and three of the crew stood by the falls preparing to cast off. Just below on the deck of the Mazatlan stood two sailors keeping the crowd in order, continually shouting, "Women and children first!" As the women passed their children forward, the sailors lifted them into the boats, some shrieking, others silent and stupid as if stunned. Then the women were helped up; the men, Vandover among them, climbing in afterward. The davits were turned out and the boat was swung clear of the ship's side.
Vandover looked out and below him and then made an involuntary movement to regain the ship's deck. Far below him, or so at least it seemed, were mountains of tumbling green water, huge, relentless, irresistible, rushing on by thousands, to shatter themselves with dreadful force against the ship's side. It seemed simple madness to attempt to launch the boat; even the sinking wreck would be safer than this chance. Vandover was terrified, again deserted by all his calmness and self-restraint.
The sailors standing in the bow and the stern let out the ropes little by little, the vast black hulk of the ship began to loom up above them all, higher and higher, and to their eyes the lifeboat began to grow smaller and smaller, more and more frail, more and more pitiful.
All at once it struck the water with a crash, in an instant it was tossed up again in the air, heaving on the crest of a wave, was carried in and dashed up against the ship, all the oars on that side snapping in an instant. It was a fearful moment; the little boat was unmanageable in an instant, leaping and plunging among the waves like a terrified horse, banged and battered between the heaving water and the hull of the steamer itself. Vandover believed that all was over; he partially rose from his seat preparing to jump before the boat should swamp.
There was an interval of shouting and confusion, the first engineer and the crew leaning over the sides fending off the boat with the stumps of the oars and with long boathooks. Some oars were shipped to the other side to take the place of the broken ones, and a score of hands tugging at them, the boat was at length pulled away out of danger.
The lifeboat had been built to hold thirty-five people; more than forty had crowded into it, and it needed all prudence and care to keep it afloat in the heavy seas that were running. The sailors and two of the passengers were at the oars, while the first engineer took command, standing in the stern at the steering-oar. He was dressed in a suit of oilskins, a life-preserver strapped under his arms; he wore no hat, and at every gust his drenched hair and beard whipped across his face.
Just as the boat was pulling away from the wreck, Vandover and the others saw the little Jew of the plush cap with the ear-laps standing upon the rail of the steamer, holding to a stanchion. He believed that he had been abandoned, and screamed after them, stretching out his hands. The engineer turned and saw him, but shook his head. "Give way there!" he commanded the men; "there's no more room."
The Jew flung his satchel from him and jumped; for a moment he disappeared, then suddenly came up on the crest of a wave, quite close to them, gasping and beating his hands, the water running out of his mouth, and his plush cap, glossy with wet, all awry and twisted so that one ear-lap hung over his eye like a shade. In another moment he had grasped one of the oar-blades. Every one was watching and there was a cry, "Draw him in!" But the engineer refused."It's too late!" he shouted, partly to the Jew and partly to the boat. "One more and we are swamped. Let go there!" "But you can't let him drown," cried Vandover and the others who sat near. "Oh, take him in anyhow; we must risk it."
"Risk hell!" thundered the engineer. "Look here, you!" he cried to Vandover and the rest. "I'm in command here and am responsible for the lives of all of you. It's a matter of his life or ours; one life or forty. One more and we are swamped. Let go there!""Yes, yes," cried some. "It's too late! there's no more room!"
But others still protested. "It's too horrible; don't let him drown; take him in." They threw him their life-preservers and the stumps of the broken oars. But the Jew saw nothing, heard nothing, clinging to the oar-blade, panting and stupid, his eyes wide and staring.
"Shake him off!" commanded the engineer. The sailor at the oar jerked and twisted it, but the Jew still held on, silent and breathing hard. Vandover glanced at the fearfully overloaded boat and saw the necessity of it and held his peace, watching the thing that was being done. The sailor still attempted to tear the oar from the Jew's grip, but the Jew held on, panting, almost exhausted; they could hear his breathing in the boat. "Oh, don't!" he gasped, rolling his eyes."Unship that oar and throw it overboard," shouted the engineer. "Better not, sir," answered the sailor. "Extra oars all broken." The Jew was hindering the progress of the boat and at every moment it threatened to turn broad on to the seas. "God damn you, let go there!" shouted the engineer, himself wrenching and twisting at the oar. "Let go or I'll shoot!"
But the Jew, deaf and stupid, drew himself along the oar, hand over hand, and in a moment had caught hold of the gunwale of the boat. It careened on the instant. There was a great cry. "Push him off! We're swamping! Push him off!" And one of the women cried to the mate, "Don't let my little girls drown, sir! Push him away! Save my little girls! Let him drown!"It was the animal in them all that had come to the surface in an instant, the primal instinct of the brute striving for its life and for the life of its young.
The engineer, exasperated, caught up the stump of one of the broken oars and beat on the Jew's hands where they were gripped whitely upon the boat's rim, shouting, "Let go! let go!" But as soon as the Jew relaxed one hand he caught again with the other. He uttered no cry, but his face as it came and went over the gunwale of the boat was white and writhing. When he was at length beaten from the boat he caught again at the oar; it was drawn in, and the engineer clubbed his head and arms and hands till the water near by grew red. The little Jew clung to the end of the oar like a cat, writhing and grunting, his mouth open, and his eyes fixed and staring. When his hands were gone, he tried to embrace the oar with his arms. He slid off in the hollow of a wave, his body turned over twice, and then he sank, his head thrown back, his eyes still open and staring, and a silver chain of bubbles escaping from his mouth."Give way, men!" said the engineer. "Oh, God!" exclaimed Vandover, turning away and vomiting over the side.
A little while later some one on the bow of the boat called to the engineer asking why it was they were not heading for the shore. The engineer did not answer, but Vandover in some way understood that it was too dangerous to attempt to run the breakers in such heavy weather, and that they must keep in the open, holding the boat head on to the seas until either the wind fell or they were picked up by some other vessel.
It was still very dark, and seen under the night from the little boat, the ocean and the sky seemed immense and terrible; the great waves grew out of the obscurity ahead of them, rushing down upon the boat, big, swelling, silent, their crests occasionally hissing and breaking into irruptions of cold white froth. As one of them would draw near, the boat would rise upon it as though it would never stop, would hang a moment upon its summit and then topple into the black gulf that followed, sending the bitter icy spray high into the air. The wind blew steadily. Suddenly toward three o'clock it began to rain.
Vandover, the engineer, all the five sailors, and two of the passengers were clothed. The rest of the passengers were little better than naked. Here and there a man had snatched a blanket from his berth, and one or two of them were wearing their trousers, but the rest were clothed for the most part only with their shirts and drawers. There were eighteen women and five little girls in the boat. The little girls were well looked after. Two were wrapped in Vandover's travelling-rug and a couple of men had put their coats around the third. But there were not wraps enough to go around among the women, by far the larger part of them were covered only by their night-dresses or their bed-gowns. It was abominably cold; the rain fell continually, and the wind blew in long gusts, piercing, cutting. Every plunge of the boat threw icy bullets of spray into the air, which the wind caught up and flung down broad upon the boat. Sometimes even a huge wave would break just upon their quarter, and then great torrents of bitter, freezing water would fall over them in a deluge, leaving a sediment of salt that cracked the skin. The women were huddled upon the bottom of the boat near the waist, where they had been placed for greater safety. They were fouled with the muddy water that gathered there, their long hair dishevelled, dripping with sleet, clinging to their wet cheeks and throats, their bodies showing pink with cold, through their thin, soaked coverings, their limbs racked with long incessant shudderings, a wretched group, miserable beyond words. One of them close by Vandover's feet, he noticed particularly, had but a single garment to cover her. She was drenched through and through, her bare feet were blue with the cold, her head was thrown back, her eyes closed. She was silent except when an unusual gust of wind whipped the rain and spray across her body like the long, fine lash of a whip. Then with every breath she moaned, drawing in her breath between her teeth with a little whistling gasp, too weak, too exhausted, too nearly unconscious to attempt to shield herself in any way.
Vandover could do nothing; he had almost stripped himself to help clothe the others. Nothing more could be done. The suffering had to go on, and he began to wonder how human beings could endure such stress and yet live.
But Vandover himself suffered too keenly to take much thought for the sufferings of the others, while besides that anguish which he shared with the whole boat, the pain in his broken thumb gnawed incessantly like a rat. From time to time he stared listlessly about him, looking at the dark sky, the tumbling ocean, and the crowded groups in the plunging, rolling lifeboat.
There was nothing picturesque about it all, nothing heroic. It was unlike any pictures he had seen of lifeboat rescues, unlike anything he had ever imagined. It was all sordid, miserable, and the sight of the half-clad women, dirty, sodden, unkempt, stirred him rather to disgust than to pity.
At last the dawn came and grew white over a world of tumbling green billows and scudding wrack. Some three miles distant, seen only when the boat topped a higher wave, the same procession of bleached hills moved gradually to the south under the fog, their feet covered by the white line of the surf. Not far behind in the wake of the boat the stern of the Mazatlan rose out of a ring of white foam, the waves breaking over her as if she had been there for ages, the screw writhing its flanges into the air like some enormous starfish already fastened upon the hulk.One of the other boats could be seen now and then between them and the shore, a momentary dot of black on the vast blur of green and gray.
There was no conversation; the men relieved each other at the oars or bailed out the water with their caps and hands, scarcely interchanging a word. The only utterance was an occasional moaning from among the women and children. There was nothing to eat; long since the two whisky flasks had been exhausted. The rain fell steadily into the sea with a prolonged rippling noise.Vandover was leaning upon the gunwale of the boat, his head buried in his arms, when suddenly he raised himself and asked of the man who sat next to him: "What was the matter last night? What caused the accident?" The other shook his head, wearily, turning away again. However, the engineer answered: "We couldn't carry coal enough to keep up the right pressure of steam and drifted in upon a reef. I said once before that it would happen some time."
About an hour later Vandover dropped off to sleep, in spite of the cold, the wet, and the torment in his thumb. He dozed and woke, and dozed again all through the morning. About noon he was awakened by a more violent rolling of the boat, the sound of voices, and a stir among the other passengers.
It was still raining; the boat was no longer cutting the waves with her nose, but was being rowed seaward flank on; a sailor stood in the bow holding a coil of rope. Close in and seen over the tops of the waves were the shaking and slatting sails of a pilot-boat, lying to. One of the sails bore an enormous number six.
Vandover slept all that day and the night following, rolled in hot blankets. The next morning he awoke with a strange sense of unreality and of having dropped a day somewhere. As he lay in his stuffy little bunk between decks, and felt the rolling of the pilot-boat under him, he still fancied himself upon the Mazatlan; he felt the pain in his bandaged thumb and wondered how it came there. Then his fall on the deck came back to him, the wreck of the steamer, the excitement on board, the reports of the rifle fired as a minute gun, the clouds of steam that smelt of a great laundry, and the drowning of the little Jew of the plush cap with the ear-laps. He shuddered and grew sick again for a minute, telling himself that he would never forget that scene.
Such of the passengers as could get about breakfasted as best they could in the cabin with the boatkeeper and four of the pilots. Here they were informed as to what was to be done with them. The schooner would not go in for two weeks, and it was out of the question to keep the castaways on board for that length of time. However, at that moment the pilots were cruising in the neighbourhood on the lookout for two Cape Horners that were expected to be up at any moment. It was decided that when the first of these should be met with the party should be transferred.
An hour after they had been picked up, the wind had begun to freshen. By noon of the second day it had come on to blow half a gale. One could hope only for the best as regarded the rest of the Mazatlan's boats and rafts. Not another sign of the wreck was seen by the schooner.
The castaways filled the little schooner to overflowing, hindering her management, and getting in the way at every step. The pilot crew hustled them about without ceremony, and after dinner one had to intervene to prevent a fight between one of them and a sailor from the Mazatlan over the question of a broken pipe. The women of the Mazatlan kept in their berths continually, rolled in hot blankets, dosed with steaming whisky punches. In the afternoon, however, Vandover saw two of them in the lee of the house attempting to dry their hair; one of them was the woman he had particularly noticed in the lifeboat clad in a night-dress, and he wondered vaguely where the dress had come from she now was wearing.
About three o'clock of the afternoon of the following day Vandover was sitting on the deck near the stern, fastening on his shoes with a length of tarred rope, the laces which he had left trailing having long before broken and pulled out. By that time the wind was blowing squally out of the northeast. The schooner was put under try sails, "a threereefed mitten with the thumb brailed up," as he heard the boatkeeper call it. This latter was at the wheel for a moment, but in a little while he called up a young man dressed in a suit of oilskins and a pea jacket and gave him the charge. For a long time Vandover watched the boy turning the spokes back and forth, his eyes alternating between the binocle and the horizon.
In the evening about half-past ten, the lookout in the crow's nest sang out: "Smoke—oh!" sounding upon his fish horn. The boatkeeper ran aft and lit a huge calcium flare, holding it so as to illuminate the big number on the mainsail. Suddenly, about a quarter of a mile off their weather-bow, a couple of rockets left a long trail of yellow against the night. It was the Cape Horner, and presently Vandover made out her lights, two glowing spots moving upon the darkness, like the eyes of some nocturnal sea-monster. In a few minutes she showed a blue light on the bridge; she wanted a pilot.
The schooner approached and was laid to, and the towering mass of the great deep-sea tramp began to be dimly seen through the darkness. There was little confusion in making the transfer of the castaways. Most of them seemed still benumbed with their recent terrible exposure. They docilely allowed themselves to be pushed into the pilot tender and again endured the experience of being lowered to the shifting waves below. Silently, like frightened sheep, they stood up in turn in the rocking tender and allowed the life preserver to be fitted about their shoulders to protect them from the bite of the rope's noose beneath their arms. There followed a sickening upward whirl between sea and sky, and then the comforting grasp of many welcoming hands from the deck above. By three o'clock in the morning the transfer had been made.Vandover boarded the Cape Horner in company with the pilot and the rest and reached San Francisco late on the next day, which happened to be a Sunday.
About ten o'clock Vandover went ashore in the ship's yawl and landed in the city on a literally perfect day in early November. It seemed many years since he had been there. The drizzly morning upon which the Santa Rosa had cast off was already too long ago to be remembered. The city itself as he walked up Market Street toward Kearney seemed to have taken on a strange appearance.
It was Sunday, the downtown streets were deserted except for the cable-cars and an occasional newsboy. The stores were closed and in their vestibules one saw the peddlers who were never there on week-days, venders of canes and peddlers of glue with heavy weights attached to mended china plates.
Vandover had had no breakfast and was conscious of feeling desperately hungry. He determined to breakfast downtown, as he would arrive home too late for one meal and too early for the other.
Almost all of his money had been lost with the Mazatlan; he found he had but a dollar left. He would have preferred breakfasting at the Grillroom, but concluded he was too shabby in appearance, and he knew he would get more for his money at the Imperial.
It was absolutely quiet in the Imperial at the hour when he arrived. The single bartender was reading a paper, and in the passage between the private rooms a Chinese with a clean napkin wound around his head was polishing the brass and woodwork. In the passage he met Toby, the red-eyed waiter, just going off night duty, without his usual apron or white coat, dressed very carefully, wearing a brown felt hat."Why, how do you do, Mr. Vandover?" exclaimed Toby. "Haven't seen you round here for some time." Vandover was about to answer when the other interrupted: "Well, what's happened to you? Look as though you'd been drawn through hell backward and beaten with a cat!"
In fact Vandover's appearance was extraordinary. His hat was torn and broken, and his clothes, stained with tar and dirt, shrunken and wrinkled by sea-water. His shoes were fastened with bits of tarred rope; he was wearing a red flannel shirt with bone buttons which the boatkeeper on the pilot boat had given him, tied at the neck with a purple handkerchief of pongee silk; his hair was long, and a week's growth of beard was upon his lip and cheeks."That's a fact," he answered grimly. "I do look queer. I was in a wreck down the coast," he added hastily.
"The Mazatlan!" exclaimed Toby. "That's a fact; the papers have been full of it. That's so, you were one of the survivors."
"The survivors!" echoed Vandover with wondering curiosity. "Tell me—you know I haven't heard a word yet—were there many lives lost?" He marvelled at the strangeness of the situation, that this bar waiter should know more of the wreck than he himself who had been upon it.
"You bet there were!" answered Toby. "Twenty-three altogether; one boat capsized; Kelly, 'Bug' Kelly, son of that fellow that runs the Crystal Grotto, he was drowned, and one of Hocheimer's—Hocheimer, the jeweller, you know—one of his travelling salesmen was drowned; a little Jew named Brann, a diamond expert; he jumped overboard and—""Don't!" said Vandover with a sharp gesture. "I saw him drown—it was sickening."
"Were you in that boat?" exclaimed Toby. "Well, wait till I tell you; the authorities here are right after that first engineer with a sharp stick, and some of the passengers, too, for not taking him in. A woman in one of the other boats saw it all and gave the whole thing away. A thing like that is regular murder, you know." Vandover shut his teeth against answering, and after a little Toby went on, willing to talk. "You know, we've got a new man for the day-work down here now—George isn't here any more. No, he's going to start a roadhouse out on the almshouse drive in a few months; swell place, you know. I'll have him send you cards for the opening."
Vandover ordered oysters, an omelette, and a pint of claret from the new waiter who did the day-work, and ate and drank the meal—the like of which he had not tasted since leaving Coronado—with delicious enjoyment.
He delayed over it long, taking a great pleasure in satisfying the demands of the animal in him. The wine made him heavy, warm, stupid; he felt calm, soothed, and perfectly contented, and had to struggle against a desire to go to sleep where he was. The atmosphere of the Imperial was warm and there was a tepid languor in the air as of the traces of many past debauches, a stale odour of sweetened whisky and of musk. After the roughness and hardships of the last week he felt a pleasant sense of quiet, of relaxation, of enervation. He even began to wish that Flossie would come in. This, however, made him rouse himself; he shook himself, and started home, paying his carfare with his last nickel.
He sat on the outside of the car, wondering if any one he knew would see him, half hoping that such a thing might happen, realizing the dramatic interest that would centre about him now in his present condition as a survivor of a wreck. The idea soon attracted him immensely and he began to look out for any possible acquaintance as the car began to climb over Nob Hill.
At the crossing of Polk Street he saw Ida Wade's mother in deep mourning, standing near a grocery store holding a little pink parcel.
It was like a blow between the eyes. Vandover caught his breath and started violently, feeling again for an instant the cold grip of the hysterical terror that had so nearly overcome him on the morning after Ida's death. It slowly relaxed, however, and by the time he had reached the house on California Street he was almost himself again.
It was about church time when Vandover arrived at home once more. There was a Sunday quiet in the air. The bells were ringing, and here and there family groups on their way to church, the children walking in front, very sedate in their best clothes, carrying the prayer-books carefully, by special privilege.
The butler was working in the garden, as he sometimes did of a Sunday morning, pottering about a certain bed of sweet-peas, and it was the housekeeper who answered his ring. She recognized him with a prolonged exclamation, raising her hands to heaven.
"O-oh, and is it you, Mr. Vandover, sir? Ah, how we've been upset about you and all, and it's glad to see you back again your father will be! Oh, such times as we had when we heard about the wreck and knowing you were on it! Yes, sir, your father's pretty well, though he was main poorly yesterday morning. But he's better now. You'll find him in the smoking-room now, sir."
Vandover pushed open the door of the smoking-room quietly. His father was sitting unoccupied in the huge leather chair before the fireplace. He was dead, and must have died some considerable time before, as he was already cold. He could have suffered no pain, hardly a muscle had moved, and his attitude was quite natural, the legs crossed, the right hand holding the morning's paper. However, as soon as Vandover touched the body it collapsed and slid down into a heap in the depth of the chair, the jaw dropping open, the head rolling sidewise upon his shoulder.
Vandover ran out into the hall, waving his arms, shouting for the servants. "Oh, why didn't you tell me?" he cried to the housekeeper "Why did you let me find him so? When did he die?" The housekeeper was distraught. She couldn't believe it. Only a little while ago he had called her to say there were no more matches in the little brass matchsafe. She began to utter long cries and lamentations like a hen in distress, raising her hands to heaven. All at once they heard some one rushing up the stairs. It was the butler, in his shirt-sleeves and his enormous apron of ticking, still carrying his trowel in his hand. He was bewildered, his eyes protruding, while all about him he spread the smell of fresh earth. At every instant he exclaimed:"What? What? What's the matter?" "Oh, my dear old governor—and all alone!" cried Vandover through shut teeth.
"Oh, oh, the good God!" exclaimed the housekeeper, crossing herself and rolling her eyes. "And him asking for matches in the little brass box only a minute since. Oh, the good, kind master!"
Suddenly Vandover rushed down the stairs and through the front hall, snatching his hat from the hatrack as he passed. He ran to call the family doctor, who lived some two blocks below on the same street. He caught him just as he was getting into the carry-all with his family, bound for church.
Vandover and the physician rode back together in the carry-all, the two gray horses going up the steep hill at a trot. The doctor was dressed for church; he wore red gloves with thick white seams, a spray of lilies-of-the-valley in his lapel."I'm afraid we can do nothing," he said warningly. "It's your father's old enemy, I suppose. This was—it was sure to happen sooner or later. Any sudden shock, you know." Vandover scarcely listened, holding the door of the carry-all open with one hand, ready to jump out, beating the other hand upon his knee. "Go back and take the rest of them to church now," said the doctor to his coachman when the carry-all stopped in front of Vandover's house.
The whole house was in the greatest agitation all the rest of the day. The curtains were drawn, the door bell rang incessantly, strange faces passed the windows, and the noise of strange footsteps continually mounted and descended the staircase. The hours for meals were all deranged, the table stood ready all day long, and one ate when there was a chance. The telephone was in constant use, and at every moment messenger boys came and went, people spoke in low tones, walking on tiptoe; the florist's wagon drove to the door again and again, and the house began to smell of tuberoses. Reporters came, waiting patiently for interviews, sitting on the leather chairs in the dining-room, or writing rapidly on a corner of the dining-table, the cloth pushed back. The undertaker's assistants went about in their shirt-sleeves, working very hard, and toward the middle of the afternoon the undertaker himself tied the crêpe to the bell handle.
Little by little a subdued excitement spread throughout the vicinity. The neighbours appeared at their windows, looking down into the street, watching everything that went on. It was a veritable event, a matter of comment and interest for the whole block. Women found excuses to call on each other, talking over what had happened, as they sat near their parlour windows, shaking their heads at each other, peering out between the lace curtains. The people on the cable-cars and the pedestrians looked again and again at the crêpe on the bell handle, and the curtained windows, craning their necks backward when they had passed. The neighbours' children collected in little groups on the sidewalk near the house, looking and pointing, drawn close together, talking in low tones. At last even a policeman appeared, walking deliberately, casting the shadow of his huge stomach upon the fence that was about the vacant lot. He frowned upon the children, ordering them away. But suddenly he discovered an acquaintance, the driver of an express-wagon that had just driven up with an enormous anchor of violets. He paused, exclaiming: "Why, hello, Connors!""Why, hello, Mister Brodhead!"
Then a long conversation was begun, the policeman standing on the curbstone, one foot resting upon the hub of a wheel, the expressman leaning forward, his elbows on his knees, twirling his whip between his hands. The expressman told some sort of story, pointing with his elbow toward the house, but the other was incredulous, gravely shaking his head, putting his chin in the air, and closing his eyes.
Inside the house itself there was a hushed and subdued bustling that centred about a particular room. The undertaker's assistants and the barber called in low voices through the halls for basins of water and towels. There was a search for the Old Gentleman's best clothes and his clean linen; bureau drawers were opened and shut, closet doors softly closed. Relatives and friends called and departed or stayed to help. A vague murmur arose, a mingled sound of whispers and light foot-steps, the rustle of silks, and the noise of stifled weeping, and then at last silence, night, solitude, a single gas-jet burning, and Vandover was left alone.
The suddenness of the thing had stunned and dizzied him, and he had gone through with all the various affairs of the day wondering at his calmness and fortitude. Toward eleven o'clock, however, after the suppressed excitement of the last hours, as he was going to bed, the sense of his grief and loss came upon him all of a sudden, with their real force for the first time, and he threw himself upon the bed face downward, weeping and groaning. During the rest of the night pictures of his father returned to him as he had seen him upon different occasions, particularly three such pictures came and went through his mind.
In one the Old Gentleman stood in that very room, with the decanter in his hand, asking him kindly if he felt very bad; in another he was on the pier with his handkerchief tied to his cane, waving it after Vandover as though spelling out a signal to him across the water. But in a third, he was in the smoking-room, fallen into the leather chair, his arm resting on the table and his head bowed upon it.
After the funeral, which took place from the house, Vandover drove back alone in the hired carriage to his home. He would have paid the driver, but the other told him that the undertaker looked out for that. Vandover watched him a moment as he started his horses downhill, the brake as it scraped against the tire making a noise like the yelping of a dog. Then he turned and faced the house. It was near four o'clock in the afternoon, and everything about the house was very quiet. All the curtains were down except in one of the rooms upstairs. The butler had already opened these windows and was airing the room. Vandover could hear him moving about, sweeping up, rearranging the furniture, making up the bed again. In front of him, between the horse-block and the front door, one or two smilax leaves were still fallen, and a tuberose, already yellow. Behind him in the street he had already noticed the marks of the wheels of the hearse where it had backed up to the curb.
The crêpe was still on the bell handle. Vandover did not know whether it had been forgotten, or whether it was proper to leave it there longer. At any rate he took it off and carried it into the house with him.
His father's hat, a stiff brown derby hat, flat on the top, hung on the hatrack. This had always been a sign to Vandover that his father was at home. The sight was so familiar, so natural, that the same idea occurred to him now involuntarily, and for an instant it was as though he had dreamed of his father's death; he even wondered what was this terrible grief that had overwhelmed him, and thought that he must go and tell his father about it. He took the hat in his hands, turning it about tenderly, catching the faint odour of the Old Gentleman's hair oil that hung about it. It all brought back his father to him as no picture ever could; he could almost see the kind old face underneath the broad curl of the brim. His grief came over him again keener than ever and he put his arms clumsily about the old hat, weeping and whispering to himself:"Oh, my poor, dear old dad—I'm never going to see you again, never, never! Oh, my dear, kind old governor!"
He took the hat up to his room with him, putting it carefully away. Then he sat down before the window that overlooked the little garden in the rear of the house, looking out with eyes that saw nothing.
The following days as they began to pass were miserable. Vandover had never known until now how much he loved his father, how large a place he had filled in his life. He felt horribly alone now, and a veritable feminine weakness overcame him, a crying need to be loved as his father had loved him, and also to love some one as he himself had loved his father. Worst of all, however, was his loneliness. He could think of no one who cared in the least for him; the very thought of Turner Ravis or young Haight wrought in him an expression of scorn. He was sure that he was nothing to them, though they were the ones whom he considered his best friends.
Another cause of misery was the fact that his father's death in leaving him alone had also thrown him upon his own resources. Now he would have to shoulder responsibilities which hitherto his father had assumed, and decide questions which until now his father had answered.
However, he felt that his father's death had sobered him as nothing else, not even Ida's suicide, had done. The time was come at length for him to take life seriously. He would settle down now to work at his art. He would go to Paris as his father had wished, and devote himself earnestly to painting. Yes, the time was come for him to steady himself, and give over the vicious life into which he had been drifting.
But it was not long before Vandover had become accustomed to his father's death, and had again rearranged himself to suit the new environment which it had occasioned. He wondered at himself because of the quickness with which he had recovered from this grief, just as before he had marvelled at the ease with which he had forgotten Ida's death. Could it be true, then, that nothing affected him very deeply? Was his nature shallow?However, he was wrong in this respect; his nature was not shallow. It had merely become deteriorated.
Two days after his father's death Vandover went into the Old Gentleman's room to get a certain high-backed chair which had been moved there from his own room during the confusion of the funeral, and which, pending the arrival of the trestles, had been used to support the coffin.
As he was carrying it back his eye fell upon a little heap of objects carefully set down upon the bureau. They were the contents of the Old Gentleman's pockets that the undertaker had removed when the body was dressed for burial.
Vandover turned them over, sadly interested in them. There was the watch, some old business letters and envelopes covered with memoranda, his fountain-pen, a couple of cigars, a bank-book, a small amount of change, his pen-knife, and one or two tablets of chewing-gum.
Vandover thrust the pen and the knife into his own pocket. The bank-book, letters, and change he laid away in his father's desk, but the cigars and the tablets of gum, together with the crumpled pocket-handkerchief that he found on another part of the dressingcase, he put into the Old Gentleman's hat, which he had hidden on the top shelf of his clothes closet. The watch he hung upon a little brass thermometer that always stood on his centre table. He even wound up the watch with the resolve never to let it run down so long as he should live.
The keys, however, disturbed him, and he kept changing them from one hand to the other, looking at them very thoughtfully. They suggested to him the inquiry as to whether or no his father had made a will, and how much money he, Vandover, could now command. One of the keys was a long brass key. Vandover knew that this unlocked a little iron box that from time out of mind had been screwed upon the lower shelf of the clothes closet in his father's room. It was in this box that the Old Gentleman kept his ready money and a few important papers.
For a long time Vandover stood undecided, changing the keys about from one hand to the other, hesitating before opening this iron box; he could not tell why. By and by, however, he went softly into his father's room, and into the clothes closet near the head of the bed. Holding the key toward the lock, he paused listening; it was impossible to rid his mind of the idea that he was doing something criminal. He shook himself, smiling at the fancy, assuring himself of the honesty of the thing, yet opening the box stealthily, holding the key firmly in order that it might not spring back with a loud click, looking over his shoulder the while and breathing short through his nose.
The first thing that he saw inside was a loaded revolver, the sudden view of which sent a little qualm through the pit of his stomach. He took it out gingerly, holding it at arm's length, throwing open the cylinder and spilling out the cartridges on the bed, very careful to let none of them fall on the floor lest they should explode.
Next he drew out the familiar little canvas sack. In it were twenty-dollar gold-pieces, the coin that used to be "Good for the Masses." Behind that was about thirty dollars in two rolls, and last of all in an old, oblong tin cracker-box a great bundle of papers. A list of these papers was pasted on one end of the box. They comprised deeds, titles, insurance policies, tax receipts, mortgages, and all the papers relating to the property. Besides these there was the will.
He took out this box, laying it on the shelf beside him. He was closing the small iron safe again very quietly when all at once, before he could think of what he was doing, he ran his hand into the mouth of the canvas sack, furtively, slyly, snatched one of the heavy round coins, and thrust it into his vest pocket, looking all about him, listening intently, saying to himself with a nervous laugh, "Well, isn't it mine anyway?"
In spite of himself he could not help feeling a joy in the possession of this money as if of some treasure-trove dug up on an abandoned shore. He even began to plan vaguely how he should spend it.
However, he could not bring himself to open any of the papers, but sent them instead to a lawyer, whom he knew his father had often consulted. A few days later he received a typewritten letter asking him to call at his earliest convenience.
It was at his residence and not at his office that Vandover saw the lawyer, as the latter was not well at the time and kept to his bed. However, he was not so sick but that his doctor allowed him to transact at least some of his business. Vandover found him in his room, a huge apartment, one side entirely taken up by book-shelves filled with works of fiction. The walls were covered with rough stone-blue paper, forming an admirable background to small plaster casts of Assyrian bas-reliefs and large photogravures of Renaissance portraits. Underneath an enormous baize-covered table in the centre of the room were green cloth bags filled apparently with books, padlocked tin chests, and green pasteboard deed-boxes. The lawyer was sitting up in bed, wearing his dressing-gown and occasionally drinking hot water from a glass. He was a thin, small man, middle-aged, with a very round head and a small pointed beard."How do you do, Mr. Vandover?" he said, very pleasantly as Vandover passed by the servant holding open the door and came in. "How do you do, Mr. Field?" answered Vandover, shaking his hand. "Well, I'm sorry to see you like this."
"Yes," answered the lawyer, "I'm—I have trouble with my digestion sometimes, more annoying than dangerous, I suppose. Take a chair, won't you? You can find a place for your hat and coat right on the table there. Well," he added, settling back on the pillows and looking at Vandover pleasantly, "I think you've grown thinner since the last time I saw you, haven't you?""Yes," answered Vandover grimly, "I guess I have."
"Yes, yes, I suppose so, of course," responded the lawyer with a vague air of apology and sympathy. "You have had a trying time of it lately, taking it by and large. I was very painfully shocked to hear of your father's death. I had met him at lunch hardly a week before; he was a far heartier man than I was. Eat? You should have seen—splendid appetite. He spoke at length of you, I remember; told me you expected to go abroad soon to study painting; in fact, I believe he was to go to Paris with you. It was very sad and very sudden. But you know we've all been expecting—been fearing—that for some time."
They both were silent for a moment, the lawyer looking absently at the foot-board of the bed, nodding his head slowly from time to time, repeating, "Yes, sir—yes, sir." Suddenly he exclaimed, "Well—now, let's see." He cleared his throat, coming back to himself again, and continued in a very businesslike and systematic tone:"I have looked over your father's papers, Mr. Vandover, as you requested me to, and I have taken the liberty of sending for you to let you know exactly how you stand." "That's the idea, sir," said Vandover, very attentive, drawing up his chair.
Mr. Field took a great package of oblong papers from the small table that stood at the head of his bed, and looked them over, adjusting his eyeglasses. "Well, now, suppose we take up the real property first," he continued, drawing out three or four of these papers and unfolding them. "All of your father's money was invested in what we call 'improved realty.'"
He talked for something over an hour, occasionally stopping to answer a question of Vandover's, or interrupting himself to ask him if he understood. At the end it amounted to this:
The bulk of the estate was residence property in distant quarters of the city. Some twentysix houses, very cheaply built, each, on an average, renting for twenty-eight dollars. When all of these were rented, the gross monthly income was seven hundred and twentyeight dollars. At this time, however, six were vacant, bringing down the gross receipts per month to five hundred and sixty dollars. The expenses, which included water, commissions for collecting, repairs, taxes, interest on insurance, etc., when expressed in the terms of a monthly average, amounted to one hundred and eighty-six dollars.
"Well, now, let's see," said Vandover, figuring on his cuff, "one hundred and eighty-six from five hundred and sixty leaves me a net monthly income of three hundred and eightyfour—no, seventy-four. Three hundred and seventy-four dollars."The lawyer shook his head while he drank another glass of hot water: "You see," he said, wiping his moustache in the hollow of his palm, "you see, we haven't figured on the mortgages yet." "Mortgages?" echoed Vandover.
"Yes," answered Mr. Field, "when I spoke of expenses I was basing them upon the monthly statements of Adams & Brunt, your father's agents. But they never looked after the mortgages. Your father acted directly with the banks in that matter. I find that there are mortgages that cover the entire property, even the homestead. They are for 6-1/2 and 7 per cent. In some cases there are two mortgages on the same piece of property.""Well," said Vandover. "Well," answered the lawyer, "the interest on these foots up to about two hundred and ninety dollars a month." Vandover made another hasty calculation on his cuff, and leaned back in his chair staring at the lawyer, saying: "Why, that leaves eighty-four dollars a month, net." "Yes," assented Field. "I made it that, too." "Why, the governor used to allow me fifty a month," returned Vandover, "just for pocket money."
"I'm afraid you mustn't expect anything like that, now, Mr. Vandover," replied Field, smiling. "You see, when your father was alive and pursuing his profession, he made a comfortable income besides that which he derived from his realty. His law business I consider to have been excellent when you take everything into consideration. He often made five hundred dollars a month at it. Such are the figures his papers show. He could make you a handsome allowance while he was alive, but all that is stopped now!""Well, but didn't he—didn't he leave any money, any—any—any lump sum?" inquired Vandover incredulously.
"There was his bank account," answered the other. "You see, he invested most of his savings in this same realty, and since he stopped building he seems to have lived right up to his income.""But eighty-four dollars!" repeated Vandover; "why, look at the house on California Street where we live. It costs that much to run it, the servants and all."
"Here's your father's domestic-account book," answered Field, taking it up and turning the leaves. "One hundred and seventy-five dollars a month were the average running expenses."
"One hundred and seventy-five!" shouted Vandover, feeling suddenly as if the ground were opening under him. "Why, great heavens! Mr. Field, where am I going to get—what am I going to do?"Mr. Field smiled a little. "Well," he said, "you must make up your mind to live more modestly." "Modestly?" exclaimed Vandover, scornfully. "You'll have to rent the house and take rooms." Vandover gave a gasp of relief.
"I hadn't thought of that," he answered, subsiding at once. "How much would it bring— the house?"
The lawyer hesitated as to this. "That I could hardly tell you definitely," he answered, shaking his head. "Adams & Brunt could give you more exact figures. In fact, I would suggest that you put it into their hands. California near Franklin, isn't it? Yes; the neighbourhood isn't what it used to be, you know. Every one wants to live out on Pacific Heights now. Double house? Yes, well—with the furniture, I suppose—oh, I don't know—say, a hundred and fifty. But, you know, my estimate is only guesswork. Brunt is the man you want to see."
"Well," answered Vandover, solaced, "that makes—two thirty-four; that's more like it. But," he added, hastily, "you say the homestead is mortgaged as well; how about the interest on that?"
"You needn't be bothered about that," answered Mr. Field. "The interest on that mortgage is included in the two hundred and ninety that I spoke of, and the insurance interest on the homestead is included in Adams & Brunt's statement. That was on the whole estate with the homestead, you understand? But there is another thing you must look out for. Most of the mortgages are for one year, and every time they are renewed there is an expense of between forty and fifty dollars.""Yes, I see," assented Vandover.
"Now," resumed the lawyer, "here is your father's bank account. He had in the First National to his credit between nine and ten thousand dollars; nine thousand seven hundred and ninety, to be exact. His professional account book shows that there is now due him in bills and notes eight hundred and thirty dollars; on the debit side he owes in all nine hundred; the difference, you see, is seventy. Nine thousand seven hundred and ninety less seventy leaves a balance of nine thousand seven hundred and twenty. All clear?" he asked, interrupting himself. Vandover nodded and the other continued:
"Now, your father left a will; here it is. I drew it for him a year ago last September. He has given fifteen hundred dollars to some cousin in the southern part of the state, and six hundred to a few charities here in the city. The remainder, seven thousand five hundred and twenty, and all the rest of the estate is left to you with the wish that you pursue your art studies abroad. Brunt, of Adams & Brunt, and myself are appointed executors. So now, that is just how you stand as far as I can see: seventy-five hundred dollars in ready money and, if we suppose you rent the California Street house, income property that nets you two hundred and thirty-four a month. The will will have to be probated some time next month and you will have to appear; however, I shall let you know about that in time."
During the next two weeks Vandover was plunged into the affairs of business for the first time in his life. It interested and amused him, and he felt a certain self-importance in handling large sums of money, and in figuring interest, rents, and percentages. Three days after his interview with Mr. Field the sale of his father's office effects took place, and the consequent five hundred dollars Vandover turned over into the hands of the lawyer, who was already looking for an investment for the eighty-nine hundred. This matter had given Vandover considerable anxiety.
"I don't want anything fancy," he said to Field. "No big per cents. and bigger risks. If I've got to live economically I want something that's secure. A good solid investment, don't you know, with a fair interest; that's what I'm looking for.""Yes," answered the lawyer grimly; "I've been looking for that myself ever since I was your age."
They both laughed, and the lawyer added: "Has Brunt found a tenant for the California Street house yet? No? Well, perhaps you had better keep that five hundred for your running expenses until he does. It will probably take some time."
"All right," answered Vandover. "There were a couple of women up to look at the place yesterday, but they wanted to use it for a boarding-house. I won't hear to that. Brunt says they would ruin it, dead sure.""I suppose you are looking around, yourself, for rooms?" inquired Mr. Field. "Have you found anything to suit you?"
"No," answered Vandover, "I have not. I don't like the idea of living in one of the downtown hotels, and as far as I have looked, the uptown flats are rather steep. However, I haven't gone around very much as yet. I've been so busy. Oh, how about the paving of the street in front of those Bush Street houses of mine? Brunt says that the supervisors have passed a resolution of intention to that effect. Now shall I let the city contractor have the job or give it to Brunt's man?""Better let the city people do it," advised Field. "They may charge more, but you needn't pay them for a long time."
By the end of three weeks Vandover had sickened of the whole thing. The novelty was gone, and business affairs no longer amused him. Besides this, he was anxious to settle down in some comfortable rooms. It was now the middle of winter and he had determined that it was not the season for a European trip. He would wait until the summer before going to Paris.
Little by little Vandover turned over the supervision and management of his affairs and his property to Adams & Brunt, declaring that he could not afford to be bothered with them any longer. This course was much more expensive and by no means so satisfactory from a business point of view, but Vandover felt as though the loss in money was more than offset by his freedom from annoyance and responsibility.
He was eager to get settled. The idea of taking rooms that should be all his own and that he could fit up to suit his taste attracted him immensely. Already he saw himself installed in charming bachelor's apartments, the walls covered with rough stone-blue paper forming an admirable background for small plaster casts of Assyrian bas-reliefs and photogravures of Velasquez portraits. There would be a pipe-rack over the mantelpiece, and a window-seat with a corduroy cushion such as he had had in his room in Matthew's.
Very slowly his father's affairs were settled, and by degrees the estate began to adjust itself to the new grooves in which it was to run. By the middle of December everything was beginning to go smoothly, and the day before Christmas Mr. Field announced to Vandover that he had invested his eighty-nine hundred in registered U.S. 4 per cents. They had had several long talks concerning this sum of money, and in the end had concluded that it would be better to invest it in some such fashion rather than to take up any of the mortgages that were on the houses.
During the first weeks of the new year the house on California Street was rented for one hundred and twenty-five dollars to an English gentleman, the president of a fruit syndicate in the southern part of the state. There were but three in the family, and though the rent was below that which Vandover had desired, Brunt advised him to close the transaction at once, as they were desirable tenants and would probably stay in the house a long time.On the last evening which he was to spend in his home, Vandover cast up his accounts and made out a schedule as to his monthly income.
Rent from realty, net average $ 84.00 Rent from homestead property on California Street 125.00 Interest on U.S. bonds, 4 per cent. 23.00
_______ Total $232.00
In small iron safe $170.00
Received from sale of office effects $500.00
Expenses, outstanding bills, lawyer's fees, undertaker's bill, expenses for collecting, etc. 587.00 _______ Balance, January 16th $83.00 Then with a shrug of the shoulders he dismissed the whole burdensome business from his mind. Brunt would manage his property, sending him regularly the monthly statement in order to keep him informed. The English gentleman of the fruit syndicate would add his hundred and twenty-five, and the 4 per cents., faithfully brooding over his eighty-nine hundred in the dark of the safety deposit drawer, would bring forth their little quota of twenty-three with absolute certainty. Two thirty-two a month. Yes, he was comfortably fixed and was free now to do exactly as he pleased.
His first object now was to settle down for the winter in some pleasant rooms. He had decided that he would look for a suite of three—a bedroom, studio, and sitting-room. The bedroom he was not particular about, the studio he hoped would have plenty of light from the north, but the sitting-room must be sunny and overlook the street, else what would be the use of a window-seat? As to the neighbourhood, he thought he would prefer Sutter Street anywhere between Leavenworth and Powell.
In the downtown part this street was entirely given over to business houses; in the far, uptown quarter it was lined with residences; but between these two undesirable extremes was an intermediate district where the residences had given place to flats, and the business blocks to occasional stores. It was a neighbourhood affected by doctors, dentists, and reputable music-teachers; drug stores occupied many of the corners, here and there a fine residence still withstood the advance of business, there were a number of great apartment houses, and even one or two club buildings.
It was a gay locality, not too noisy, not too quiet. The street was one of the great arteries of travel between the business and the residence portions of the city, and its cable-cars were frequented by ladies going to their shopping or downtown marketing or to and from the matinées. Acquaintances of Vandover were almost sure to pass at every hour.
He took rooms temporarily at the Palace and at once set about locating on Sutter Street. He had recourse again to Brunt, who furnished him with a long list of vacancies in that neighbourhood. Apartment-hunting was an agreeable pastime to Vandover, though in the end it began to bore him. Altogether, he visited some fifteen or twenty suites, in each case trying to fit himself into the rooms, imagining how the window-seat would look in such a window, how the pipe-rack would show over such a mantel, just where on such walls the Assyrian bas-reliefs could be placed to the best advantage, and if his easel could receive enough steady light from such windows. Then he considered the conveniences, the baths, the electric light, and the heat.After a two weeks' search, he had decided upon one of two suites; both of these were in the desired neighbourhood but differed widely in other respects.
The first was reasonable enough in the matter of rent, and had even been occupied by an artist for some three or four years previous. However, the room that Vandover proposed to use as a sitting-room was small and had no double windows, thus making the windowseat an impossibility. There did not seem to be any suitable place for the Assyrian basreliefs, and the mantelpiece was of old-fashioned white marble like the mantelpiece in Mrs. Wade's front parlour, a veritable horror. It revolted Vandover even to think of putting a pipe-rack over it. These defects were offset by the studio, a large and splendid room with hardwood floors and an enormous north light, the legendary studio, the dream of an artist, precisely such a studio as Vandover had hoped he would occupy in the Quarter.
The other suite was in a great apartment house, a hotel in fact, but very expensive, with electric bulbs and bells, and with a tiled bathroom connecting with the bedroom. The room which he would be obliged to use as his studio was small, dark, the light coming from the west. But the sitting-room was perfect. It had the sun all day long through a huge bay window that seemed to have been made for a window-seat; there were admirable, well-lighted spaces on the walls for casts and pictures, and the mantelpiece was charming, extremely high, and made of oak; in a word, the exact sitting-room that Vandover had in mind. Already he saw himself settled there as comfortably and snugly as a kernel in a nutshell. It was true that upon investigation he found that the grate had been plastered up and the flue arranged for a stove. But for that matter there were open-grate stoves to be had that would permit the fire to be seen and that would look just as cheerful as a grate. He had even seen such a stove in the window of a hardware store downtown, a tiled stove with a brass fender and with curious flamboyant ornaments of cast-iron—a jewel of a stove.
For two days Vandover hesitated between these two suites, undecided whether he should sacrifice his studio for his sitting-room, or his sitting-room for his studio. At length he came to the conclusion that as he was now to be an artist a good studio ought to be the first consideration, and that since he was to settle down to hard, serious work at last he owed it to himself to have a fitting place in which to paint; yes, decidedly he would take the suite with the studio. He went to the agent, told him of his decision, and put up a deposit to secure the rooms.
The same day upon which he took this decided step he had occasion to pass by both places in question. As he approached the apartment house in which the rejected suite was situated it occurred to him to tell the clerk in the office that he had decided against the rooms; he could take a last look at them at the same time.
He was shown up to the rooms again, and walked about in the sitting-room, asking the same questions about the heat, the plumbing, and the baths. He even went to the window and looked out into the street. It was a first-rate berth just the same, and how jolly it would be to lounge in the window-seat of a morning, with a paper, a cigarette, and a cup of coffee, watching the people on their way downtown; the women going to their shopping and morning's marketing. Then all at once he remembered that at most he would only have these rooms for five months, and reflected that if his whole life was to be devoted to painting he might easily put up with an inconvenient studio for a few months. Once at Paris all would be different.
At that the rooms took on a more charming aspect than ever; never had they appeared cheerier, sunnier, more comfortable; never had the oak mantel and the tiled stove with the flamboyant ornaments been more desirable; never had a window-seat seemed more luxurious, never a pipe-rack more delectable, while at the same time, the other rooms, the rooms of the big studio, presented themselves to his imagination more sombre, uncomfortable, and forbidding than ever. It was out of the question to think of living there; he was angry with himself for having hesitated so long. But suddenly he remembered the deposit he had already made; it was ten dollars; for a moment he paused, then dismissed the matter with an impatient shrug of the shoulders. "So much the worse," he said. "What's ten dollars?" He made up his mind then and there and went downstairs, walking on his heels, to tell the clerk that after all he would engage the rooms from that date.
Vandover took formal possession of his rooms on Sutter Street during the first few days of February. For a week previous they had been in the greatest confusion: the studio filled with a great number of trunks, crates, packing cases, and furniture still in its sacking. In the bedroom was stored the furniture that had been moved out of the sitting-room, while the sitting-room itself was given over to the paperhangers and carpenters. Vandover himself appeared from time to time, inquiring anxiously as to the arrival of his "stuff," or sitting on a packing-case, his hands in his pockets, his hat pushed back, and a cigarette between his lips.
He had passed a delightful week selecting the wall paper and the pattern for the frieze, buying rugs, screens, Assyrian bas-reliefs, photogravures of Renaissance portraits, and the famous tiled stove with its flamboyant ornaments. Just after renting his home he had had a talk with the English gentleman of the fruit syndicate and had spoken about certain ornaments and bits of furniture, valuable chiefly to himself, which he wished to keep. The president of the fruit syndicate had been very gracious in the matter, and as soon as Vandover had taken his rooms he had removed two great cases of such articles from the California Street house and had stored them in the studio.
After the workmen were gone away Vandover began the labour of arrangement, aided by one of the paperhangers he had retained for that purpose. It was a work of three days, but at last everything was in its place, and one evening toward the middle of the month Vandover stood in the middle of the sitting-room in his shirt-sleeves, holding the tweezers and a length of picture-wire in his hand, and looked around him in his new home.
The walls were hung with dull blue paper of a very rough texture set off by a narrow picture moulding of ivory white. A dark red carpet covered with rugs and skins lay on the floor. Upon the left-hand wall, reaching to the floor, hung a huge rug of sombre colours against which were fixed a fencing trophy, a pair of antlers, a little water colour sketch of a Norwegian fjord, and Vandover's banjo; underneath it was a low but very broad divan covered with corduroy. To the right and left of this divan stood breast-high bookcases with olive green curtains, their tops serving as shelves for a multitude of small ornaments, casts of animals by Fremiet and Barye, Donatello's lovely femme inconnue, beer steins, a little bronze clock, a calendar, and a yellow satin slipper of Flossie's in which Vandover kept Turkish cigarettes. The writing-desk with the huge blue blotter in a silver frame, the paper-cutter, and the enormous brass inkstand filled the corner to the right of the divan, while drawn up to it was the huge leather chair, the chair in which the Old Gentleman had died. In the drawer of the desk Vandover kept his father's revolver; he never thought of loading it; of late he had only used it to drive tacks with, when he could not find the hammer. Opposite the divan, on the other side of the room, was the famous tiled stove with the flamboyant ornaments; back of this the mantel, and over the mantel a row of twelve grotesque heads in plaster, with a space between each for a pipe. To the left in the angle of the room stood the Japanese screen in black and gold, and close to this a teatable of bamboo and a piano-lamp with a great shade of crinkly red paper that Turner Ravis had given to Vandover one Christmas. The bay window was filled by the windowseat, covered with corduroy like the divan and heaped with cushions, one of them of flaming yellow, the one spot of vivid colour amidst the dull browns and sombre blues of the room. A great sideboard with decanters and glasses and chafing-dishes faced the window from the end wall. The entrance to the studio opened to the left of it, which entrance Vandover had hung with curtains of dust-brown plush.
The casts of the Assyrian bas-reliefs were against the wall upon either side of the window. There were three of them, two representing scenes from the life of the king, the third the wounded lioness which Vandover never wearied of admiring.
Upon the wall over the mantel hung two very large photogravures, one of Rembrandt's "Night Watch," the other a portrait of Velasquez representing a young man with a hunting spear. Above one of the bookcases was an admirable reproduction of the "Mona Lisa"; above the other, a carbon print of a Vandyke, a Dutch lady in a silk gown and very high ruff.By the side of the "Mona Lisa," however, was a cheap brass rack stuffed with photographs: actresses in tights, French quadrille dancers, high kickers, and chorus girls.
In the studio, Vandover had tacked great squares and stripes of turkey-red cloth against the walls to serve as a background for his sketches. Some dozen or more portfolios and stretchers were leaned against the baseboard, and a few ornaments and pieces of furniture, such things as Vandover set but little store by, were carelessly arranged about the room. The throne and huge easel were disposed so as to receive as much light as was possible.
Beyond the studio was the bedroom, but here there was only the regulation furniture. Some scores of photographs of Vandover's friends were tacked upon the walls, or thrust between the wood and glass of the mirror.
A new life now began for Vandover, a life of luxury and aimlessness which he found charming. He had no duties, no cares, no responsibilities. But there could be no doubt that he was in a manner changed; the old life of dissipation seemed to have lost its charm. For nearly twenty-six years nothing extraordinary had happened to break in upon the uneventful and ordinary course of his existence, and then, suddenly, three great catastrophes had befallen, like the springing of three successive mines beneath his feet: Ida's suicide, the wreck, and his father's death, all within a month. The whole fabric of his character had been shaken, jostled out of its old shape. His desire of vice was numbed, his evil habits all deranged; here, if ever, was the chance to begin anew, to commence all over again. It seemed an easy matter: he would merely have to remain inactive, impassive, and his character would of itself re-form upon the new conditions. But Vandover made another fatal mistake: the brute in him had only been stunned; the snake was only soothed. His better self was as sluggish as the brute, and his desire of art as numb as his desire of vice. It was not a continued state of inaction and idleness that could help him, but rather an active and energetic arousing and spurring up of those better qualities in him still dormant and inert. The fabric of his nature was shaken and broken up, it was true, but if he left it to itself there was danger that it would re-form upon the old lines.
And this was precisely what Vandover did. As rapidly as ever his pliable character adapted itself to the new environment; he had nothing to do; there was lacking both the desire and necessity to keep him at his easel; he neglected his painting utterly. He never thought of attending the life-class at the art school; long since he had given up his downtown studio. He was content to be idle, listless, apathetic, letting the days bring whatever they chose, making no effort toward any fixed routine, allowing his habits to be formed by the exigencies of the hour.
He rose late and took his breakfast in his room; after breakfast he sat in his window-seat, reading his paper, smoking his pipe, drinking his coffee, and watching the women on their way downtown to their morning's shopping or marketing. Then, as the fancy moved him, he read a novel, wrote a few letters, or passed an hour in the studio dabbling with some sketches for the "Last Enemy." Very often he put in the whole morning doing pen and inks of pretty, smartly dressed girls, after Gibson's manner, which he gave away afterward to his friends. In the afternoon he read or picked the banjo or, sitting down to the little piano he had rented, played over his three pieces, the two polkas and the air of the topical song. At three o'clock, especially of Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, he bestirred himself, dressed very carefully, and went downtown to promenade Kearney and Market streets, stopping occasionally at the Imperial, where he sometimes found Ellis and Geary and where he took cocktails in their company.He rarely went out in the evenings; his father's death had changed all that, at least for a while. He had not seen Turner Ravis nor Henrietta Vance for nearly two months.
Vandover took his greatest pleasure while in his new quarters, delighted to be pottering about his sitting-room by the hour, setting it to rights, rearranging the smaller ornaments, adjusting the calendar, winding the clock and, above all, tending the famous tiled stove.
In his idleness he grew to have small and petty ways. The entire day went in doing little things. He passed one whole afternoon delightfully, whittling out a new banjo bridge from the cover of a cigar-box, scraping it smooth afterward with a bit of glass. The winding of his clock was quite an occurrence in the course of the day, something to be looked forward to. The mixing of his tobacco was a positive event and undertaken with all gravity, while the task of keeping it moist and ripe in the blue china jar, with the sponge attachment, that always stood on the bamboo tea-table by the Japanese screen, was a wearing anxiety that was yet a pleasure.
It became a fad with him to do without matches, using as a substitute "lights," tapers of twisted paper to be ignited at the famous stove. He found amusement for two days in twisting and rolling these "lights," cutting frills in the larger ends with a pair of scissors, and stacking them afterward in a Chinese flower jar he had bought for the purpose and stood on top of the bookcases. The lights were admirably made and looked very pretty. When he had done he counted them. He had made two hundred exactly. What a coincidence!
But the stove, the famous tiled stove with flamboyant ornaments, was the chiefest joy of Vandover's new life. He was delighted with it; it was so artistic, so curious, it kept the fire so well, it looked so cheerful and inviting; a stove that was the life and soul of the whole room, a stove to draw up to and talk to; no, never was there such a stove! There was hardly a minute of the day he was not fussing with it, raking it down, turning the damper off and on, opening and shutting the door, filling it with coal, putting the blower on and then taking it off again, sweeping away the ashes with a little brass-handled broom, or studying the pictures upon the tiles: the "Punishment of Caliban and His Associates," "Romeo and Juliet," the "Fall of Phaeton." He even pretended to the chambermaid that he alone understood how to manage the stove, forbidding her to touch it, assuring her that it had to be coaxed and humoured. Often late in the evening as he was going to bed he would find the fire in it drowsing; then he would hustle it sharply to arouse it, punching it with the poker, talking to it, saying: "Wake up there, you!" And then when the fire was snapping he would sit before it in his bathrobe, absorbing its heat luxuriously and scratching himself, as was his custom, for over an hour.
But very often in the evening he would have the boys, Ellis, Geary, and young Haight, up to a little improvised supper. They would bring home tamales with them, and Vandover would try to make Welsh rabbits, which did not always come out well and which they oftentimes drank instead of ate. Ellis, always very silent, would mix and drink cocktails continually. Vandover would pick his banjo, and together with young Haight would listen to Geary.
"Ah, you bet," this one would say, "I'm going to make my pile in this town. I can do it. Beale sent me to court the other morning to get the judge's signature. He had a grouch on, and wanted to put me off. You ought to have heard me jolly him. I talked right up to him! Yes, sir; you bet! Didn't I have the gall? That's the way you want to do to get along—get right in and not be afraid. I got his signature, you bet. Ah, I'm right in it with Beale; he thinks I'm hot stuff."
Now that there was nothing to worry him, and little to occupy his mind, Vandover gave himself over considerably to those animal pleasures which he enjoyed so much. He lay abed late in the morning, dozing between the warm sheets; he overfed himself at table, and drank too much wine; he ate between meals, having filled his sideboard with canned patés, potted birds, and devilled meats; while upon the bamboo table stood a tin box of chocolates out of which he ate whole handfuls at a time. He would take this box into the bathroom with him and eat while he lay in the hot water until he was overcome by the enervating warmth and by the steam and would then drop off to sleep.
It was during these days that Vandover took up his banjo-playing seriously, if it could be said that he did anything seriously at this time. He took occasional lessons of a Mexican in a room above a wigmaker's store on Market Street, and learned to play by note. For a little time he really applied himself; after he had mastered the customary style of play he began to affect the more brilliant and fancy performances, playing two banjos at once, or putting nickels under the bridge and picking the strings with a calling-card to imitate a mandolin. He even made up some comical pieces that had a great success among the boys. One of these he called the "Pleasing Pan-Hellenic Production"; another was the imitation of the "Midway Plaisance Music," and a third had for title "A Sailor Robbing a Ship," in which he managed to imitate the sounds of the lapping of the water, the creaking of the oarlocks, the tramp of the sailor's feet upon the deck, the pistol shot that destroyed him, and—by running up the frets on the bass-string—his dying groans, a finale that never failed to produce a tremendous effect.
Just before Lent, and about three months after the death of Vandover's father, Henrietta Vance gave a reception and dance at her house. The affair was one of a series that the girls of the Cotillon had been giving to the men of the same club. Vandover had gone to all but the last, which had occurred while he was at Coronado. He was sure of meeting Geary, young Haight, Turner Ravis, and all the people of his set at these functions, and had always managed to have a very jolly time. He had been very quiet since his father's death and had hardly gone out at all; in fact, since Ida Wade's death and his trip down the coast he had seen none of his acquaintances except the boys. But he determined now that he would go to this dance and in so doing return once more to the world that he knew. By this time he had become pretty well accustomed to his father's death and saw no reason why he should not have a good time.
At first he thought he would ask Turner to go with him, but in the end made up his mind to go alone, instead; one always had a better time when one went alone. Young Haight would have liked to have asked Turner, but did not because he supposed, of course, that Vandover would take her. In the end Turner had Delphine act as her escort.
Vandover arrived at Henrietta Vance's house at about half-past eight. A couple of workmen were stretching the last guy ropes of the awning that reached over the sidewalk; every window of the house was lighted. The front door was opened for the guest before he could ring, and he passed up the stairs, catching a glimpse of the parlours through the portières of the doors. As yet they were empty of guests, the floors were covered with canvas, and the walls decorated with fern leaves. In a window recess one of the caterer's men was setting out two punch bowls and a multitude of glass cups; three or four musicians were gathered about the piano, tuning up, and one heard the subdued note of a cornet; the air was heavy with the smell of pinks and of La France roses.
At the turn of the stairs the Vances' second girl in a white lawn cap directed him to the gentlemen's dressing-room, which was the room of Henrietta Vance's older brother. About a dozen men were here before him, some rolling up their overcoats into balls and stowing them with their canes in the corners of the room; others laughing and smoking together, and still others who were either brushing their hair before the mirrors or sitting on the bed in their stocking feet, breathing upon their patent leathers, warming them before putting them on. There were one or two who knew no one and who stood about unhappily, twisting the tissue paper from the buttons of their new gloves, and looking stupidly at the pictures on the walls of the room. Occasionally one of the gentlemen would step to the door and look out into the hall to see if the ladies whom they were escorting were yet come out of their dressing-room, ready to go down.
On the centre table stood three boxes of cigars and a great many packages of cigarettes, while extra hairbrushes, whiskbrooms, and papers of pins had been placed about the bureau.
As Vandover came in, he nodded pleasantly to such of the men as he knew, and, after hiding his hat and coat under the bed, shook himself into his clothes again and rearranged his dress tie.
The house was filling up rapidly; one heard the deadened roll of wheels in the street outside, the banging of carriage doors, and an incessant rustle of stiff skirts ascending the stairs. From the ladies' dressing-room came an increasing soprano chatter, while downstairs the orchestra around the piano in the back parlour began to snarl and whine louder and louder. About the halls and stairs one caught brief glimpses of white and blue opera cloaks edged with swan's-down alternating with the gleam of a starched shirt bosom and the glint of a highly polished silk hat. Odours of sachet and violets came and went elusively or mingled with those of the roses and pinks. An air of gayety and excitement began to spread throughout the house.
"Hello, old man!" "Hello, Van!" Charlie Geary, young Haight, and Ellis came in together. "Hello, boys!" answered Vandover, hairbrush in hand, turning about from the mirror, where he had been trying to make his hair lie very flat and smooth.
"Look here," said Geary, showing him a dance-card already full, "I've got every dance promised. I looked out for that at the last one of these affairs; made all my arrangements and engagements then. Ah, you bet, I don't get left on any dance. That's the way you want to rustle. Ah," he went on, "had a bully sleep last night. I knew I was going to be out late to-night, so I went to bed at nine; didn't wake up till seven. Had a fine cutlet for breakfast."
It was precisely at this moment that Geary got his first advancement in life. Mr. Beale, Jr., head clerk in the great firm of Beale & Story, came up to him as he was drawing off his overcoat:"How is Fischer?" asked Geary.
Beale, Jr., pulled him over into a corner, talking in a low voice. "He's even worse than yesterday," he answered. "I think we shall have to give him a vacation, and that's what I want to speak to you about. If you can, Geary, I should like to have you take his place for a while, at least until we get through with this contract case. I don't know about Fischer. He's sick so often, I'm afraid we may have to let him go altogether."
Suddenly the orchestra downstairs broke out into a clash of harmony and then swung off with the beat and cadence of a waltz. The dance was beginning; a great bustle and hurrying commenced about the dressing-rooms and at the head of the stairs; everybody went down. In the front parlour by the mantel Henrietta Vance and Turner stood on either side of Mrs. Vance, receiving, shaking hands, and laughing and talking with the different guests who came up singly, in couples, or in noisy groups.
No one was dancing yet. The orchestra stopped with a flourish of the cornet, and at once a great crowding and pushing began amidst a vast hum of talk. The cards were being filled up, a swarm of men gathered about each of the more popular girls, passing her card from hand to hand while she smiled upon them all helplessly and good-naturedly. The dance-cards had run short and some of the men were obliged to use their visiting cards; with these in one hand and the stump of a pencil in the other, they ran about from group to group, pushing, elbowing, and calling over one another's heads like brokers in a stock exchange.
Geary, however, walked about calmly, smiling contentedly, very good-humoured. From time to time he stopped such a one of the hurrying, excited men as he knew and showed him his card made out weeks before, saying, "Ah, how's that? I am all fixed; made all my engagements at the last one of these affairs, even up to six extras. That's the way you want to rustle."Young Haight was very popular; everywhere the girls nodded and smiled at him, many even saving a place on their cards for him before he had asked.
Ellis took advantage of the confusion to disappear. He went up into the deserted dressingroom, chose a cigar, unbuttoned his vest and sat down in one chair, putting his feet upon another. The hum of the dance came to him in a prolonged and soothing murmur and he enjoyed it in some strange way of his own, listening and smoking, stretched out at ease in the deserted dressing-room.
Vandover went up to Turner Ravis smiling and holding out his hand. She seemed to be curiously embarrassed when she saw him, and did not smile back at him. He asked to see her card, but she drew her hand quickly from his, telling him that she was going home early and was not dancing at all, that in fact she had to "receive" instead of dance. It was evident to Vandover that he had done something to displease her, and he quickly concluded that it was because he had not asked her to go with him that evening.
He turned from her to Henrietta Vance as though nothing unusual had happened, resolving to see her later in the evening and in the meanwhile invent some suitable excuse. Henrietta Vance did not even see his hand; she was a very jolly girl, ordinarily, and laughed all the time. Now she looked him squarely in the face without so much as a smile, at once angry and surprised; never had anything seemed so hateful and disagreeable. Vandover put his hand back into his pocket, trying to carry it all off with a laugh, saying in order to make her laugh with him as he used to do, "Hello! how do you do this evening? It's a pleasant morning this afternoon." "How do you do?" she answered nervously, refusing to laugh. Then she turned from him abruptly to talk to young Haight's little cousin Hetty.
Mrs. Vance was neither embarrassed nor nervous as the girls had been. She stared calmly at Vandover and said with a peculiar smile, "I am surprised to see you here, Mr. Vandover."
An hour later the dance was in full swing. Almost every number was a waltz or a twostep, the music being the topical songs and popular airs of the day set to dance music. About half-past ten o'clock, between two dances, the cornet sounded a trumpet call; the conversation ceased in a moment, and Henrietta Vance's brother, standing by the piano, called out, "The next dance will be the first extra," adding immediately, "a waltz." The dance recommenced; in the pauses of the music one heard the rhythmic movement of the feet shuffling regularly in one-two-three time.
Some of the couples waltzed fast, whirling about the rooms, bearing around corners with a swirl and swing of silk skirts, the girls' faces flushed and perspiring, their eyes halfclosed, their bare, white throats warm, moist, and alternately swelling and contracting with their quick breathing. On certain of these girls the dancing produced a peculiar effect. The continued motion, the whirl of the lights, the heat of the room, the heavy perfume of the flowers, the cadence of the music, even the physical fatigue, reacted in some strange way upon their oversensitive feminine nerves, the monotony of repeated sensation producing some sort of mildly hypnotic effect, a morbid hysterical pleasure the more exquisite because mixed with pain. These were the girls whom one heard declaring that they could dance all night, the girls who could dance until they dropped.Other of the couples danced with the greatest languor and gravity, their arms held out rigid and at right angles with their bodies.
About the doors and hallways stood the unhappy gentlemen who knew no one, watching the others dance, feigning to be amused. Some of them, however, had ascended to the dressing-room and began to strike up an acquaintance with each other and with Ellis, smoking incessantly, discussing business, politics, and even religion.
In the ladies' dressing-room two of the maids were holding a long conversation in low tones, their heads together; evidently it was concerning something dreadful. They continually exclaimed "Oh!" and "Ah!" suddenly sitting back from each other, shaking their heads, and biting their nether lips. On the top floor in the hall the servants in their best clothes leaned over the balustrade, nudging each other, talking in hoarse whispers or pointing with thick fingers swollen with dish-water. All up and down the stairs were the couples who were sitting out the dance, some of them even upon the circular sofa in the hall over the first landing.The music stopped, leaving a babel of talk in the air, the couples fell apart for an instant, but a great clapping of hands broke out and the tired musicians heroically recommenced.
As soon as the short encore was done there was a rush for the lemonade and punch bowls. The guests thronged around them joking each other. "Hello! are you here again?" "Oh, this is dreadful!" "This makes six times I've seen you here."
A smell of coffee rose into the air from the basement. It was about half-past eleven; the next dance was the supper dance and the gentlemen hurried about anxiously searching the stairs, the parlours, and the conservatory for the girls who had promised them this dance weeks before. The musicians were playing a march, and the couples crowded down the narrow stairs in single file, the ladies drawing off their gloves. The tired musicians stretched themselves, rubbed their eyes, and began to talk aloud in the deserted parlours.
Supper was served in the huge billiard-room in the basement and was eaten in a storm of gayety. The same parties and "sets" tried to get together at the same table; Henrietta Vance's party was particularly noisy: at her table there was an incessant clamour of screams and shouts of laughter. One ate oysters à la poulette, terrapin-salads, and croquettes; the wines were Sauternes and champagnes. With the nuts and dessert the caps came on, and in a few minutes were cracking and snapping all over the room.
Six of the unfortunates who knew no one, but who had managed through a common affliction to become acquainted with each other, gathered at a separate table. Ellis was one of their number; he levied a twenty-five assessment, and tipped the waiter a dollar and a half. This one accordingly brought them extra bottles of champagne in which they found consolation for all the ennui of the evening.
After supper the dancing began again. The little stiffness and constraint of the earlier part of the evening was gone; by this time nearly everybody, except the unfortunates, knew everybody else. The good dinner and the champagne had put them all into an excellent humour, and they all commenced to be very jolly. They began a Virginia Reel still wearing the magician's caps and Phrygian bonnets of tissue paper.
Young Haight was with Turner Ravis as much as possible during the evening, very happy and excited. Something had happened; it was impossible for him to say precisely what, for on the face of things Turner was the same as ever. Nothing in her speech or actions was different, but there was in her manner, in the very air that surrounded her, something elusive and subtle that set him all in a tremor. There was a change in his favour; he felt that she liked to have him with her and that she was trying to have him feel as much in some mysterious way of her own. He could see, however, that she was hardly conscious of doing this and that the change was more apparent to his eyes than it was to hers."Must you really go home now?" he said, as Turner began to talk of leaving, soon after supper. They had been sitting out the dance under a palm at the angle of the stairs. "Yes," answered Turner; "Howard has the measles and I promised to be home early. Delphine was to come for me and she ought to be here now." "Delphine?" exclaimed young Haight. "Didn't you come with Van?"
"No," answered Turner quietly. Only by her manner, and by something in the way she said the word, Haight knew at once that she had broken definitely with Vandover. The talk he had had with her at her house came back to him on the instant. He hesitated a moment and then asked:
"There is something wrong? Has Van done anything—never mind, I don't mean that; it's no business of mine, I suppose. But I know you care for him. I'm sorry if—" But he was not sorry. Try as he would, his heart was leaping in him for joy. With Vandover out of the way, he knew that all would be different; Turner herself had said so."Oh, everything is wrong," said Turner, with tears in her eyes. "I have been so disappointed in Van; oh, terribly disappointed." "I know; yes, I think I know what you mean," answered young Haight in a low voice. "Oh, please don't let's talk about it at all," cried Turner. But young Haight could not stop now. "Is Van really out of the question, then?" he asked. "Oh, yes," she exclaimed, not seeing what he was coming to. "Oh, yes; how could I— how could I care for him after—after what has happened?"
Very much embarrassed, young Haight went on: "I know it's unfair to take advantage of you now, but do you remember what you said once? That if Vandover were out of the question, that 'perhaps' you might—that it would be—that there might be a chance for me?"Turner was silent for a long time, and then she said: "Yes, I remember." "Well, how about that now?" asked young Haight with a nervous laugh. "Ah," answered Turner, "how do I know—so soon!" "But what do you think, Turner?" he persisted. "But I haven't thought at all," she returned. "Well, think now!" he went on. "Tell me—how about that?" "About what?"
"Ah, you know what I mean," young Haight replied, feeling like a little boy, "about what you said at your house that Sunday night. Please tell me; you don't know how much it means to me.""Oh, there's Delphine at the door!" suddenly exclaimed Turner. "Now, really, I must go down. She doesn't know where to go; she's so stupid!" "No," he answered, "not until you tell me!" He caught her hand, refusing to let it go.
"Ah, how mean you are to corner me so!" she cried laughing and embarrassed. "Must I— well—I know I shouldn't. O-oh, I just detest you!" Young Haight turned her hand palm upward and kissed the little circle of crumpled flesh that showed where her glove buttoned. Then she tore her hand away and ran downstairs, while he followed more slowly.On her way back to the dressing-room she met him again, crossing the hall. "Don't you want to see me home?" she said. "Do I want to?" shouted young Haight. "Oh, but I forgot," she cried. "You can't. I won't let you. You have your other dances engaged!" "Oh, damn the other dances!" he exclaimed, but instead of being offended, Turner only smiled.
Toward one o'clock there was a general movement to go. Henrietta Vance and Mrs. Vance were inquired for, and the blue and white opera cloaks reappeared, descending the stairs, disturbing the couples who were seated there. The banging of carriage doors and the rumble of wheels recommenced in the street. The musicians played a little longer. As the party thinned out, there was greater dance room and a consequent greater pleasure in dancing. These last dances at the end of the evening were enjoyed more than all the others. But the party was breaking up fast: Turner had already gone home; Mrs. Vance and Henrietta were back at their places in front of the mantel, surrounded by a group of gentlemen in capecoats and ladies in opera wraps. Every one was crying "Good-bye" or "Good night!" and assuring Mrs. Vance and Henrietta of the enjoyableness of the occasion. Suddenly the musicians played "Home Sweet Home." Those still dancing uttered an exclamation of regret, but continued waltzing to this air the same as ever. Some began to dance again in their overcoats and opera wraps. Then at last the tired musicians stopped and reached for the cases of their instruments, and the remaining guests, seized with a sudden panic lest they should be the last to leave, fled to the dressing-rooms. These were in the greatest confusion, every one was in a hurry; in the gentlemen's dressing-room there was a great putting on of coats and mufflers and a searching for misplaced gloves, hats and canes. A base hum of talk rose in the air, bits and ends of conversation being tossed back and forth across the room. "You haven't seen my hat, have you, Jimmy?" "Did you meet that girl I was telling you about?" "Hello, old man! have a good time to-night?" "Lost your hat? No, I haven't seen it." "Yes, about halfpast ten!" "Well, I told him that myself!" "Ah, you bet it's the man that rustles that gets there." "Come round about four, then." "What's the matter with coming home in our carriage?"
At the doors of the dressing-rooms the ladies joined their escorts, and a great crowd formed in the halls, worming down the stairs and out upon the front steps. As the first groups reached the open air there was a great cry: "Why, it's pouring rain!" This was taken up and repeated and carried all the way back into the house. There were exclamations of dismay and annoyance: "Why, it's raining right down!" "What shall we do!" Tempers were lost, brothers and sisters quarrelling with each other over the question of umbrellas. "Ah," said Geary, delighted, peeling the cover from his umbrella in the vestibule, "I thought it was going to rain before I left and brought mine along with me. Ah, you bet I always look out for rain!" On the horse-block stood the caller, chanting up the carriages at the top of his voice. The street was full of coupés, carriages, and hacks, the raindrops showing in a golden blur as they fell across the streaming light of their lamps. The horses were smoking and restless, and the drivers in oilskins and rubber blankets were wrangling and shouting. At every instant there was a long roll of wheels interrupted by the banging of the doors. Near the caller stood a useless policeman, his shield pinned on the outside of his wet rubber coat, on which the carriage lamps were momentarily reflected in long vertical streaks.
In a short time all the guests were gone except the one young lady whose maid and carriage had somehow not been sent. Henrietta Vance's brother took this one home in a hired hack. Mrs. Vance and Henrietta sat down to rest for a moment in the empty parlours. The canvas-covered floors were littered with leaves of smilax and La France roses, with bits of ribbon, ends of lace, and discarded Phrygian bonnets of tissue paper. The butler and the second girl were already turning down the gas in the other rooms.
Long before the party broke up Vandover had gone home, stunned and dazed, as yet hardly able to realize the meaning of what had happened. Some strange and dreadful change had taken place; things were different, people were different to him; not every one had been so outspoken as Turner, Henrietta Vance and her mother, but even amongst others who had talked to him politely and courteously enough, the change was no less apparent. It was in the air, a certain vague shrinking and turning of the shoulder, a general atmosphere of aversion and repulsion, an unseen frown, an unexpressed rebuff, intangible, illusive, but as unmistakable as his own existence. The world he had known knew him now no longer. It was ostracism at last.
But why? Why? Sitting over his tiled flamboyant stove, brooding into the winking coals, Vandover asked himself the question in vain. He knew what latitude young men were allowed by society; he was sure nothing short of discovered crime could affect them. True enough he had at one time allowed himself to drift into considerable dissipation, but he was done with that now, he had reformed, he had turned over a new leaf. Even at his worst he had only lived the life of the other young men around him, the other young men who were received as much as ever, even though people, the girls themselves, practically knew of what they did, knew that they were often drunk, and that they frequented the society of abandoned women. What had he done to merit this casting off? What could he have done? He even went so far as to wonder if there was anything wrong about his father or his sudden death.
A little after one o'clock he heard Geary's whistle in the street outside. "Hello, old man!" he cried as Vandover opened the window. "I was just on my way home from the hoedown; saw a light in your window and thought I'd call you up. Say, have you got anything wet up there? I'm extra dry.""Yes," said Vandover, "come on up!"
"Did you hear what Beale said to me this evening?" said Geary, as he mixed himself a cocktail at the sideboard. "Oh, I tell you, I'm getting right in, down at that office. Beale wants me to take the place of one of the assistants in the firm, a fellow who's got the consumption, coughing up his lungs all the time. It's an important place, hundred a month; that's right. Yes, sir; you bet, I'm going to get in and rustle now and make myself so indispensable in that fellow's place that they can't get along without me. I'll crowd him right out; I know it may be selfish, but, damn it! that's what you have to do to get along. It's human nature. I'll tell you right here to-night," he exclaimed with sudden energy, clenching his fist and slowly rapping the knuckles on the table to emphasize each word, "that I'll be the head of that firm some day, or I'll know the reason why."When Geary finally became silent, the two looked into the fire for some time without speaking. At last Geary said: "You came home early to-night, didn't you?" "Yes," answered Vandover, stirring uneasily. "Yes, I did." There was another silence. Then Geary said abruptly: "It's too bad. They are kind of stinky-pinky to you." "Yes," said Vandover with a grin. "I don't know what's the matter. Everybody seems nasty!"
"It's that business with Ida Wade, you know," replied Geary. "It got around somehow that she killed herself on your account. Everybody seems to be on to it. I heard it—oh, nearly a month ago.""Oh," said Vandover with a short laugh, "that's it, is it? I was wondering."
"Yes, that's it," answered Geary. "You see they don't know for sure; no one knows, but all at once every one seemed to be talking about it, and they suspect an awful lot. I guess they are pretty near right, aren't they?" He did not wait for an answer, but laughed clumsily and went on: "You see, you always have to be awfully careful in those things, or you'll get into a box. Ah, you bet I don't let any girl I go with know my last name or my address if I can help it. I'm clever enough for that; you have to manage very carefully; ah, you bet! You ought to have looked out for that, old man!" He paused a moment and then went on: "Oh, I guess it will be all right, all right, in a little while. They will forget about it, you know. I wouldn't worry. I guess it will be all right."
"Yes," answered Vandover absently, "I guess so—perhaps." A few days later Vandover was in the reading-room of the Mechanics Library, listlessly turning over the pages of a volume of l'Art. It was Saturday morning and the place was full of ladies who were downtown for their shopping and marketing, and who had come in either to change their books or to keep appointments with each other. On a sudden Vandover saw Turner just passing into the Biography alcove. He got up and followed her. She was standing at the end of the dim book-lined tunnel, searching the upper shelves, her head and throat bent back, and her gloved finger on her lip. The faint odour of the perfume she always affected came to him mingled with the fragrance of the jonquils at her belt and the smell of leather and of books that exhaled from the shelves on either side. He did not offer to take her hand, but came up slowly, speaking in a low voice.
It was the last time that Vandover ever met Turner Ravis. They talked for upward of an hour, leaning against the opposite book-shelves, Vandover with his fists in his pockets, his head bent down, and the point of his shoe tracing the pattern in the linoleum carpet; Turner, her hands clasped in front of her, looking him squarely in the face, speaking calmly and frankly.
"Now, I hope you see just how it is, Van," she said at length. "What has happened hasn't made me cease to care for you, because if I had really cared for you the way I thought I did, the way a girl ought to care for the man she wants to marry, I would have stood by you through everything, no matter what you did. I don't do so now, because I find I don't care for you as much as I thought I did. What has happened has only shown me that. I'm sorry, oh, so sorry to be disappointed in you, but it's because I only think of you as being once a very good friend of mine, not because I love you as you think I did. Once—a long time ago—when we first knew each other, then, perhaps—things were different then. But somehow we seem to have grown away from that. Since then we have both been mistaken; you thought I cared for you in that way, and I thought so, too, and I thought you cared for me; but it was only that we were keeping up appearances, pretending to ourselves just for the sake of old times. We don't love each other now; you know it. But I have never intentionally deceived you or tried to lead you on; when I told you I cared for you I really thought I did. I meant to be sincere; I always thought so until this happened, and then when I saw how easily I could let you go, it only proved to me that I did not care for you as I thought I did. It was wrong of me, I know, and I should have known my own mind before, but I didn't, I didn't. You talk about Dolly Haight; but it is not Dolly Haight at all who has changed my affection for you. I will be just as frank as I can with you, Van. I may learn really to love Dolly Haight; I don't know, I think perhaps I will, but it isn't that I care for him just because I don't care for you. Can't you see, it's just as if I had never met you. You know it's very hard for me to say this to you, Van, and I suppose it's all mixed up, but I can't help it. You don't know how sorry I am, because we have been such old friends—because I really did care for you as a friend; it's a proof of it, that there is no other man in the world I could talk to like this. I think, too, Van, that was the only way you cared for me, just as a good friend—except perhaps at first, when we first knew each other. You know yourself that is so. We really haven't loved each other at all for a long time, and now we have found it out before it was too late. And even if everything were different, Van, don't you know how it is with girls? They really love the man who loves them the most. Half the time they're just in love with being loved. That's the way most girls love nowadays, and you know yourself, Van, that Dolly Haight really loves me more than you do." She gathered up her books and went on after a pause, straightening up, ready to go: "If I should let myself think of what you have done, I feel—as if—as if— why, dreadful—I—that I should hate you, loathe you; but I try not to do that. I have been thinking it all over since the other night. I shall always try to think of you at your best; I have tried to forget everything else, and in forgetting it I forgive you. I can honestly say that," she said, holding out her hand, "I forgive you, and you must forgive me because once, by deceiving myself, I deceived you, and made you think that I cared for you in that way when I didn't." As their hands fell apart Turner faced him and added, with tears in her eyes: "You know this must be good-bye for good. You don't know how it hurts me to tell you. I know it looks as if I were deserting you when you were alone in the world and had most need of some one to influence you for the good. But, Van, won't you be better now? Won't you break from it all and be your own self again? I have faith in you. I believe it's in you to become a great man and a good man. It isn't too late to begin all over again. Just be your better self; live up to the best that's in you; if not for your own sake, then for the sake of that other girl that's coming into your life some time; that other girl who is good and sweet and pure, whom you will really, really love and who will really, really love you."
All the rest of that month Vandover was wretched. So great was his shame and humiliation over this fresh disaster that he hardly dared to show himself out of doors. His grief was genuine and it was profound. Yet he took his punishment in the right spirit. He did not blame any one but himself; it was only a just retribution for the thing he had done. Only what made it hard to bear was the fact that the chastisement had fallen upon him long after he had repented of the crime, long after he had resolved to lead a new and upright life; but with shut teeth he determined still to carry out that resolve; he would devote all his future life to living down the past. It might be hard; it might be one long struggle through many, many years, but he would do it. Ah, yes, he would show them; they had cast him off, but he would go away to Paris now as he had always intended. As invariably happened when he was deeply moved, he turned to his art, blindly and instinctively. He would go to Paris now and study his paintings, five, ten years, and come back at last a great artist, when these same people who had cast him off would be proud to receive him. Turner was right in saying that he had in him the making of a great man. He knew that she was right; knew that if he only gave the better part of him, the other Vandover, the chance, that he would become a great artist. Well, he would do so, and then when he came back again, when all the world was at his feet, and there were long articles in the paper announcing his arrival, these people would throng around him; he would show them what a great and noble nature he really had; he would forgive them; he would ignore what they had done. He even dramatized a little scene between himself and Turner, then Mrs. Haight. They would both be pretty old then and he would take her children on his lap and look at her over their heads—he could almost see those heads, white, silky and very soft—and he would nod at her thoughtfully, and say, "Well, I have taken your advice, do you remember?" and she was to answer, "Yes, I remember." There were actually tears in his eyes as he saw the scene.
At the very first he thought that he could not live without Turner; that he loved her too much to be able to give her up. But in a little while he saw that this was not so. She was right, too, in saying that he had long since outlived his first sincere affection for her. He had felt for a long time that he did not love her well enough to marry her; that he did not love her as young Haight did, and he acknowledged to himself that this affair at least had ended rightly. The two loved each other, he could see that; at last he even told himself that he would be glad to see Turner married to Dolly Haight, who was his best friend. But for all that, it came very hard at first to give up Turner altogether; never to see her or speak to her again.
As the first impressions of the whole affair grew dull and blunt by the lapse of time, this humble penitential mood of Vandover's passed away and was succeeded by a feeling of gloomy revolt, a sullen rage at the world that had cast him off only because he had been found out. He thought it a matter of self-respect to resent the insult they had put upon him. But little by little he ceased to regret his exile; the new life was not so bad as he had at first anticipated, and his relations with the men whom he knew best, Ellis, Geary, and young Haight, were in nowise changed. He was no longer invited anywhere, and the girls he had known never saw him when he passed them on the street. It was humiliating enough at first, but he got used to it after a while, and by dint of thrusting the disagreeable subject from his thoughts, by refusing to let the disgrace sink deep in his mind, by forgetting the whole business as much as he could, he arrived after a time to be passably contented. His pliable character had again rearranged itself to suit the new environment.
Along with this, however, came a sense of freedom. Now he no longer had anything to fear from society; it had shot its bolt, it had done its worst, there was no longer anything to restrain him, now he could do anything.
He was in precisely this state of mind when he received the cards for the opening of the roadhouse, the "resort" out on the Almshouse drive, about which Toby, the waiter at the Imperial, had spoken to him.
Vandover attended it. It was a debauch of forty-eight hours, the longest and the worst he had ever indulged in. For a long time the brute had been numb and dormant; now at last when he woke he was raging, more insatiable, more irresistible than ever.
The affair at the roadhouse was but the beginning. All at once Vandover rushed into a career of dissipation, consumed with the desire of vice, the perverse, blind, and reckless desire of the male. Drunkenness, sensuality, gambling, debauchery, he knew them all. He rubbed elbows with street walkers, with bookmakers, with saloonkeepers, with the exploiters of lost women. The bartenders of the city called him by his first name, the policemen, the night detail, were familiar with his face, the drivers of the nighthawks recognized his figure by the street lamps, paling in the light of many an early dawn. At one time and another he was associated with all the different types of people in the low "sporting set," acquaintances of an evening, whose names grew faint to his recollection amidst the jingle of glasses and the popping of corks, whose faces faded from his memory in the haze of tobacco smoke and the fumes of whisky; young men of the city, rich without apparent means of livelihood, women and girls "recently from the East" with rooms over the fast restaurants; owners of trotting horses, actresses without engagements, billiard-markers, pool-sellers and the sons of the proprietors of halfway houses and "resorts." With all these Vandover kept the pace at the Imperial, at the race-track, at the gambling tables in the saloons and bars along Kearney and Market streets, and in the disreputable houses amid the strong odours of musk and the rustle of heavy silk dresses. It lasted for a year; by the end of that time he had about forgotten his determination to go to Paris and had grown out of touch with his three old friends, Ellis, Geary, and Haight. He seldom saw them now; occasionally he met them in one of the little rooms of the Imperial over their beer and Welsh rabbits, but now he always went on to the larger rooms where one had champagne and terrapin. He felt that he no longer was one of them.
That year the opera came to San Francisco, and Vandover hired a messenger boy to stand in line all night at the door of the music store where the tickets were to be sold. Vandover could still love music. In the wreckage of all that was good that had been going on in him his love for all art was yet intact. It was the strongest side of his nature and it would be the last to go.