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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesVandover And The Brute - Chapter 10
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Vandover And The Brute - Chapter 10 Post by :esoteric Category :Long Stories Author :Frank Norris Date :May 2012 Read :752

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Vandover And The Brute - Chapter 10

Chapter Ten


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 crepe 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 crepe 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 crepe 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.

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Chapter Nine 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
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