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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesVandover And The Brute - Chapter 12
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Vandover And The Brute - Chapter 12 Post by :esoteric Category :Long Stories Author :Frank Norris Date :May 2012 Read :2500

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Vandover And The Brute - Chapter 12

Chapter Twelve


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 tea-table 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 window-seat, 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 pates, 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.

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Chapter Eleven 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
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