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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesVandover And The Brute - Chapter 18
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Vandover And The Brute - Chapter 18 Post by :esoteric Category :Long Stories Author :Frank Norris Date :May 2012 Read :1550

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Vandover And The Brute - Chapter 18

Chapter Eighteen


That winter passed, then the summer; September and October came and went, and by the middle of November the rains set in. One very wet afternoon toward the end of the month Charlie Geary sat at his desk in his own private office. He was unoccupied for the moment, leaning back in his swivel chair, his feet on the table, smoking a cigar. Geary had broken from his old-time habit of smoking only so many cigars as he could pay for by saving carfare. He was doing so well now that he could afford to smoke whenever he chose. He was still with the great firm of Beale & Storey, and while not in the partnership as yet, had worked up to the position of an assistant. He had cases of his own now, a great many of them, for the most part damage suits against that certain enormous corporation whom it was said was ruining the city and entire state. Geary posed as one of its bitterest enemies, pushing each suit brought against it with a tireless energy, with a zeal that was almost vindictive. He began to fit into his own niche, in the eyes of the public, and just in proportion as the corporation was hated, Geary was admired. Money came to him very fast. He was hardly thirty at this time, but could already be called a rich man.

His "deal" with Vandover had given him a taste for real estate, and now and then, with the greatest caution, he made a few discreet investments. At present he had just completed a row of small cottages across the street from the boot and shoe factory. The cottages held two rooms and a large kitchen. Geary had calculated that the boot and shoe concern would employ nearly a thousand operatives, and he had built his row with the view of accommodating a few of them who had families and who desired to live near the factory. His agents were Adams & Brunt.

It was toward half-past five, there was nothing more that Geary could do that day, and for a moment he leaned back in his swivel chair, before going home, smiling a little, very well pleased with himself. He was still as clever and shrewd as ever, still devoured with an incarnate ambition, still delighted when he could get the better of any one. He was yet a young man; with the start he had secured for himself, and with the exceptional faculties, the faculties of self-confidence and "push" that he knew himself to possess, there was no telling to what position he might attain. He knew that it was only a question of time--of a short time even--when he would be the practical head of the great firm. Everything he turned his hand to was a success. His row of houses in the Mission might be enlarged to a veritable settlement for every workman in the neighbourhood. His youth, his cleverness, and his ambition, supported by his money on the one hand, and on the other by the vast machinery of the great law firm, could raise him to a great place in the world of men. Gazing through the little blue haze of his cigar smoke, he began to have vague ideas, ideas of advancement, of political successes. Politics fascinated him--such a field of action seemed to be the domain for which he was precisely suited--not the politics of the city or of the state; not the nasty little squabbling of boodlers, lobbyists, and supervisors, but something large, something inspiring, something on a tremendous scale, something to which one could give up one's whole life and energy, something to which one could sacrifice everything--friendships, fortunes, scruples, principles, life itself, no matter what, anything to be a "success," to "arrive," to "get there," to attain the desired object in spite of the whole world, to ride on at it, trampling down or smashing through everything that stood in the way, blind, deaf, fists and teeth shut tight. Not the little squabbling politics of the city or state, but national politics, the sway and government of a whole people, the House, the Senate, the cabinet and the next--why not?--the highest, the best of all, the Executive. Yes, Geary aspired even to the Presidency.

For a moment he allowed himself the indulgence of the delightful dream, then laughed a bit at his own absurdity. But even the entertainment of so vast an idea had made his mind, as it were, big; it was hard to come down to the level again. In spite of himself he went on reasoning in stupendous thoughts, in enormous ideas, figuring with immense abstractions. And then after all, why not? Other men had striven and attained; other men were even now striving, other men would "arrive"; why should not he? As well he as another. Every man for himself--that was his maxim. It might be damned selfish, but it was human nature: the weakest to the wall, the strongest to the front. Why should not he be in the front? Why not in the very front rank? Why not be even before the front rank itself--the leader? Vast, vague ideas passed slowly across the vision of his mind, ideas that could hardly be formulated into thought, ideas of the infinite herd of humanity, driven on as if by some enormous, relentless engine, driven on toward some fearful distant bourne, driven on recklessly at headlong speed. All life was but a struggle to keep from under those myriad spinning wheels that dashed so close behind. Those were happiest who were farthest to the front. To lag behind was peril; to fall was to perish, to be ridden down, to be beaten to the dust, to be inexorably crushed and blotted out beneath that myriad of spinning iron wheels. Geary looked up quickly and saw Vandover standing in the doorway.

For the moment Geary did not recognize the gaunt, shambling figure with the long hair and dirty beard, the greenish hat, and the streaked and spotted coat, but when he did it was with a feeling of anger and exasperation.

"Look here!" he cried, "don't you think you'd better knock before you come in?"

Vandover raised a hand slowly as if in deprecation, and answered slowly and with a feeble, tremulous voice, the voice of an old man: "I did knock, Mister Geary; I didn't mean no offence." He sat down on the edge of the nearest chair, looking vaguely and stupidly about on the floor, moving his head instead of his eyes, repeating under his breath from time to time, "No offence--no, sir--no offence!"

"Shut that door!" commanded Geary. Vandover obeyed. He wore no vest, and the old cutaway coat, fastened by the single remaining button, exposed his shirt to view, abominably filthy, bulging at the waist like a blouse. The "blue pants," held up by a strap, were all foul with mud and grease and paint, and there hung about him a certain odour, that peculiar smell of poverty and of degradation, the smell of stale clothes and of unwashed bodies.

"Well?" said Geary abruptly.

Vandover put the tips of his fingers to his lips and rolled his eyes about the room, avoiding Geary's glance; then he dropped them to the floor again, looking at the pattern in the carpet.

"Well," repeated Geary, irritated, "you know I haven't got all the time in the world." All at once Vandover began to cry, very softly, snuffling with his nose, his chin twitching, the tears running through his thin, sparse beard.

"Ah, get on to yourself!" shouted Geary, now thoroughly disgusted. "Quit that! Be a man, will you? Stop that! do you hear?" Vandover obeyed, catching his breath and slowly wiping his eyes with the side of his hand.

"I'm no good!" he said at length, wagging his head and blinking through his tears. "I'm--I'm done for and I ain't got no money; yet, of course, you see I don't mean no offence. What I want, you see, is to be a man and not give in and not let the wolf get me, and then I'll go back to Paris. Everything goes round here, very slow, and seems far off; that's why I can't get along, and I'm that hungry that sometimes I twitch all over. I'm down. I ain't got another cent of money and I lost my job at the paint-shop. There's where I drew down twenty dollars a week painting landscapes on safes, you know, and then--"

Geary interrupted him, crying out, "You haven't a cent? Why, what have you done with your bonds?"

"Bonds?" repeated Vandover, dazed and bewildered. "I ain't never had any bonds. What bonds? Oh, yes," he exclaimed, suddenly remembering, "yes, I know, my bonds, of course; yes, yes--well, I--those--those, I had to sell those bonds--had some debts, you see, my board and my tailor's bill. They got out some sort of paper after me. Yes, I had forgotten about my bonds. I lost every damned one of them playing cards--gambled 'em all away. Ain't I no good? But I was winner once--just in two nights I won ten thousand dollars. Then I must have lost it again. You see, I get so hungry sometimes that I twitch all over--so, just like that. Lend me a dollar."

For a few moments Geary was silent, watching Vandover curiously, as he sat in a heap on the edge of the chair, fumbling his greenish hat, looking about the floor. Presently he asked:

"When did you lose your job at the paint-shop?"

"Day before yesterday."

"And you are out of work now?"

"Yes," answered Vandover. "I'm broke; I haven't a cent. I'm blest if I know how I'm to get along. Lately I've been working for a paint-shop, painting landscapes on safes. I drew down fifty dollars a week there, but I've lost my job."

"Good Lord, Van!" Geary suddenly exclaimed, nodding his head toward him reflectively, "I'm sorry for you!"

The other laughed. "Yes; I suppose I'm a pitiable looking object, but I'm used to it. I don't mind much now as long as I can have a place to sleep and enough to eat. If you can put me in the way of some work, Charlie, I'd be much obliged. You see, that's what I want--work. I don't want to run any bunco game. I'm an honest man--I'm too honest. I gave away all my money to help another poor duck; gave him thousands, he was good to me when I was on my uppers and I meant to repay him. I was grateful. I signed a paper that gave him everything I had. It was in Paris. There's where my bonds went to. He was a struggling artist."

"Look here!" said Geary, willing to be interested, "you might as well be truthful with me. You can't lie to me. Have you gambled away all those bonds, or have you been victimized, or have you still got them? Come, now, spit it out."

"Charlie, I haven't a cent!" answered Vandover, looking him squarely in the face. "Would I be around here and trying to get work from you if I had? No; I gambled it all away. You know I had eighty-nine hundred in U.S. 4 per cents. Well, first I began to pawn things when my money got short--the Old Gentleman's watch that I said I never would part with, then my clothes. I couldn't keep away from the cards. Of course, you can't understand that; gambling was the only thing that could amuse me. Then I began to mortgage my bonds, very little at first. Oh, I went slow! Then I got to selling them. Well, somehow, they all went. For a time I got along by the work at the paint-shop. But they have let me out now; said I was so irregular. I owe for nearly a month at my lodging-place." His eyes sought the floor again, rolling about stupidly. "Nearly a month, and that's what makes me jump and tremble so. You ought to see me sometimes--_b-r-r-r-h!_--and I get to barking! I'm a wolf mostly, you know, or some kind of an animal, some kind of a brute. But I'd be all right if everything didn't go round very slowly, and seem far off. But I'm a wolf. You look out for me; best take care I don't bite you! Wolf--wolf! Ah! It's up four flights at the end of the hall, very dark, eight thousand dollars in a green cloth sack, and lots of lights a-burning. See how long my finger nails are--regular claws; that's the wolf, the brute! Why can't I talk in my mouth instead of in my throat? That's the devil of it. When you paint on steel and iron your colours don't dry out true; all the yellows turn green. But it would 'a' been all straight if they hadn't fired me! I never talked to anybody--that was _my business, wasn't it? And when all those eight thousand little lights begin to burn red, why, of course that makes you nervous! So I have to drink a great deal of water and chew butcher's paper. That fools him and he thinks he's eating. Just so as I can lay quiet in the Plaza when the sun is out. There's a hack-stand there, you know, and every time that horse tosses his head so's to get the oats in the bottom of the nose-bag he jingles the chains on the poles and, by God! that's funny; makes me laugh every time; sounds gay, and the chain sparkles mighty pretty! Oh, I don't complain. Give me a dollar and I'll bark for you!"

Geary leaned back in his chair listening to Vandover, struck with wonder, marvelling at that which his old chum had come to be. He was sorry for him, too, yet, nevertheless, he felt a certain indefinite satisfaction, a faint exultation over his misfortunes, glad that their positions were not reversed, pleased that he had been clever enough to keep free from those habits, those modes of life that ended in such fashion. He rapped sharply on the table. Vandover straightened up, raising his eyes:

"You want some work?" he demanded.

"Yes; that's what I'm after," answered Vandover, adding, "I must have it!"

"Well," said Geary, hesitatingly, "I can give you something to do, but it will be pretty dirty."

Vandover smiled a little, saying, "I guess you can't give me any work that would be too dirty for me!" With the words he suddenly began to cry again. "I want to be honest, Mister Geary," he exclaimed, drawing the backs of his fingers across his lips; "I want to be honest; I'm down and I don't mean no offence. Charlie, you and I were old chums once at Harvard. My God! to think I was a Harvard man once! Oh, I'm a goner now and I ain't got a friend. When I was in the paint-shop they paid me well. I've been in a paint-shop lately painting the little pictures on the safes, little landscapes, you know, and lakes with mountains around them. I pulled down my twenty dollars and findings!"

"Oh, don't be a fool!" cried Geary, ashamed even to see such an exhibition. "If you can't be a man, you can get out. Now, see here, you came up here once and insulted me in my office, and called me a swindler. Ah, you bet you had the swelled head then and insulted me, attacked my honesty and charged me with shoving the queer. Now I never forget those things generally, but I am willing to let that pass this time. I could be nasty now and tell you to rustle for yourself. If you want half a dollar now to get something to eat, why, I'll give it to you. But I don't propose to support you. Ah, no; I guess not! If you want to work I'll give you a chance, but I shall expect you to do good work if I give you my good money for it. You may be drunk now or--_I don't know what's the matter with you. But you come up here to-morrow at noon, and if you come up here sober or straight or"--Geary began to make awkward gestures in the air with both hands--"come up here to talk _business_, I may have something for you, but I can't stop any longer this evening."

Vandover got upon his feet slowly, turning his greenish hat about by the brim, nodding his head. "All right, all right," he answered. "Thank you very much, Mister Geary. It's very good of you, I'm sure. I'll be around at noon sure."

When Geary was left alone, he walked slowly to his window, and stood there a moment looking aimlessly down into the street, shaking his head repeatedly, astonished at the degradation of his old-time chum. While he stood there he saw Vandover come out upon the sidewalk from the door of the great office building. Geary watched him, very interested.

Vandover paused a moment upon the sidewalk, turning up the collar of his old cutaway coat against the cold trade wind that was tearing through the streets; he thrust both his hands deep into his trousers pockets, gripping his sides with his elbows and drawing his shoulders together, shrinking into a small compass in order to be warm. The wind blew the tails of his cutaway about him like flapping wings. He went up the street, walking fast, keeping to the outside of the sidewalk, his shoulders bent, his head inclined against the wind, his feet dragging after him as he walked. For a moment Geary lost sight of him amid a group of men who were hoisting a piano upon a dray. The street was rather crowded with office boys, clerks, and typewriters going home to supper, and Geary did not catch sight of him again immediately; then all at once he saw him hesitating on a corner of Kearney Street, waiting for an electric car to pass; he crossed the street, running, his hands still in his pockets, and went on hurriedly, dodging in and out of the throng, his high shoulders, long neck, and greenish hat coming into sight at intervals. For a moment he paused to glance into the show window of a tobacconist and pipe-seller's store. A Chinese woman passed him, pattering along lamely, her green jade ear-rings twinkling in the light of a street lamp, newly lighted. Vandover looked after her a moment, gazing stupidly, then suddenly took up his walk again, zigzagging amid the groups on the asphalt, striding along at a great pace, his head low and swinging from side to side as he walked. He was already far down the street; it was dusk; Geary could only catch glimpses of his head and shoulders at long intervals. He disappeared.

* * * * *

About ten minutes before one the next day as Geary came back from lunch he was surprised to see Vandover peeping through the half-open door of his office. He had not thought that Vandover would come back.

Of the many different stories that Vandover had told about the disappearance of his bonds, the one that was probably truest was the one that accounted for the thing by his passion for gambling. For a long time after his advent at the Reno House this passion had been dormant; he knew no one with whom he could play, and every cent of his income now went for food and lodging. But one day, about six months before his visit to Geary's office, Vandover saw that the proprietor of the Reno House had set up a great bagatelle board in a corner of the reading-room. A group of men, sailors, ranchmen, and fruit venders were already playing. Vandover approached and watched the game, very interested in watching the uncertain course of the marble jog-jogging among the pins. The clear little note of the bell or the dry rattle as the marble settled quickly into one of the lucky pockets thrilled him from head to foot; his hands trembled, all at once his whole left side twitched sharply.

From that day the fate of the rest of Vandover's little money was decided. In two weeks he had lost twenty dollars at bagatelle, obtaining the money by selling a portion of his bonds at a certain broker's on Montgomery Street. As soon as he had begun to gamble again the old habits of extravagance had come back upon him. From the moment he knew that he could get all the money he wanted by the mere signing of a paper, he ceased to be economical, scorning the former niggardliness that had led him to starve on one day that he might feast the next; now, he feasted every day. He still kept his room at the Reno House, but instead of taking his meals by any ticket system, he began to affect the restaurants of the Spanish quarter, gorging himself with the hot spiced meals three and four times a day. He quickly abandoned the bagatelle board for the card-table, gambling furiously with two of the ranchmen. Almost invariably Vandover lost, and the more he lost the more eager and reckless he became.

In a little time he had sold every one of his bonds and had gambled away all but twenty dollars of the money received from the last one sold. This sum, this twenty dollars, Vandover decided to husband carefully. It was all that was left between him and starvation. He made up his mind that he must stop gambling and find something to do. He had long since abandoned his work at the paint-shop, but at this time he returned there and asked for his old occupation. They laughed in his face. Was that the way he thought they did business? Not much; another man had his job, a much better man and one who was regular, who could be depended on. That same evening Vandover broke his twenty dollars and became very drunk. A game of poker was started in a back room of one of the saloons on the Barbary Coast. One of the players was a rancher named Toedt, a fellow-boarder at the Reno House, but the two other players were strangers; and there in that narrow, dirty room, sawdust on the floor, festoons of fly-specked red and blue tissue paper adorning the single swinging lamp, figures cut from bill-posters of the Black Crook pasted on the walls, there in the still hours after midnight, long after the barroom outside had been closed for the night, the last penny of Vandover's estate was gambled away.

The game ended in a quarrel, Vandover, very drunk, and exasperated at his ill luck, accusing his friend Toedt, the rancher, of cheating. Toedt kicked him in the stomach and made him abominably sick. Then they went away and left Vandover alone in the little dirty room, racked with nausea, very drunk, fallen forward upon the table and crying into his folded arms. After a little he went to sleep, but the nausea continued, nevertheless, and in a few moments he gagged and vomited. He never moved. He was too drunk to wake. His hands and his coat-sleeves, the table all about him, were foul beyond words, but he slept on in the midst of it all, inert, stupefied, a great swarm of flies buzzing about his head and face. It was the day after this that he had come to see Geary.

"Ah," said Geary, as he came up, "it's you, is it? Well, I didn't expect to see you again. Sit down outside there in the hall and wait a few minutes. I'm not ready to go yet--or, wait; here, I tell you what to do." Geary wrote off a list of articles on a slip of paper and pushed it across the table toward Vandover, together with a little money. "You get those at the nearest grocery and by the time you are back I'll be ready to go."

That day Geary took Vandover out to the Mission. They went out in the cable-car, Geary sitting inside reading the morning's paper, Vandover standing on the front platform, carrying the things that Geary had told him to buy: a bar of soap, a scrubbing brush, some wiping cloths, a broom, and a pail.

Almost at the end of the car-line they got off and crossed over to where Geary's property stood. Vandover looked about him. The ground on which his own block had once stood was now occupied by an immense red brick building with white stone trimmings; in front on either side of the main entrance were white stone medallions upon which were chiselled the head of a workman wearing the square paper cap that the workman never wears, and a bent-up forearm, the biceps enormous, the fist gripping the short hammer that the workman never uses. An enormous round chimney sprouted from one corner; through the open windows came the vast purring of machinery. It was a boot and shoe factory, built by the great concern who had bought the piece of property from Geary for fifteen thousand dollars, the same property Geary had bought from Vandover for eight.

Across the street from the factory was a long row of little cottages, very neat, each having a tiny garden in front where nasturtiums grew. There were fifteen of these cottages; three of them only were vacant.

"That was _my idea," observed Geary, as they approached the row, willing to explain even though he thought Vandover would not comprehend, "and it pays like a nitrate bed. I was clever enough to see that cottages like these were just what's wanted by the workmen in the factory that have families. I made some money when I sold out my block to the boot and shoe people, and I invested it again in these cottages. They are cheap and serviceable and they meet the demand." Vandover nodded his head in assent, looking vaguely about him, now at the cottages, now at the great building across the street. Geary got the keys to one of the vacant cottages and the two went inside.

"Now here's what I want you to do," began Geary, pointing about with his stick. "You see, when some of these people go out they leave the rooms nasty, and that tells against the house when parties come to look at it. I want you to go all over it, top and bottom, end to end, and give it a good cleaning, sweep the floor, and wash the paint, you know. And now these windows, you see how dirty they are; wash those inside and out, but don't disturb the agents' signs; you understand?"

"Yes, I understand."

"Now come out here into the kitchen. Look at these laundry tubs and that sink. See all that grease! Clean that all out, and underneath the sink here. See that rubbish! Take that out, too. Now in here--look at that bathtub and toilet. You see how nasty they have left them. You want to make 'em look like new!"

"Yes."

"Now come downstairs. You see I give 'em a little floored basement, here; kind of a storeroom and coalroom. Here's where most of the dirt and rubbish is. Just look at it! See all that pile over there?"

"I see."

"Take it all out and pile it in the back yard. I'll have an ashman come and remove it. Whew! there is a dead hen under here; sling that out the first thing."

They went back through the house again, and Geary pointed out the tiny garden to Vandover. "Straighten that up a bit, pick up those old newspapers and the tin cans. Make it look neat. Now you understand just what I want? You make a good job of it, and when you are through with this house, you begin on the next vacant one farther down the row. You can get the keys at the same place. You get to work right away. I should think you ought to finish this house this afternoon."

"All right," answered Vandover.

"I'm going to look around a little. I'll drop in again in about an hour and see how you're getting on."

With that Geary went away. It was Saturday afternoon, and as the law office closed at noon that day, Geary very often spent the time until evening looking about his property. He left Vandover and went slowly down the street, noting each particular house with immense satisfaction, even entering some of them, talking with the womenfolk, all the men being at the factory.

Vandover took off his coat, his old and greasy cutaway, and began work. He drew a pail of water from the garden faucet in a neighbour's yard, and commenced washing the windows. First he washed the panes from the inside, very careful not to disturb Adams & Brunt's signs, and then cleaned the outside, sitting upon the window ledge, his body half in and half out of the house.

Geary enjoyed himself immensely. The news of the landlord's visit had spread from cottage to cottage, awakening a mild excitement throughout the length of the row. The women showed themselves on the steps or on the sidewalks, very slatternly, without corsets, their hair coming down, dressed in faded calico wrappers just as they had come from the laundry tubs or the cook-stove. They bethought them of their various grievances, a leak here, a broken door-bell there, a certain bad smell that was supposed to have some connection with a rash upon the children's faces. They waited for Geary's appearance by ones and twos, timid, very respectful, but querulous for all that, filling the air with their lamentations.

Vandover had finished with the windows. Now he was cleaning out the sink and the laundry tubs. They smelt very badly and were all foul with a greasy mixture of old lard, soap, soot, and dust; a little mould was even beginning to form about the faucets of the tubs. The escape pipe of the sink was clogged, and he had to run his finger into it again and again to get it free. The kitchen was very dirty; old bottles of sweet oil, mouldy vinegar and flat beer cluttered the dusty shelves of the pantry.

Meanwhile Geary continued his rounds. He went about among the groups of his tenants, very pleased and contented, smiling affably upon them. He enlarged himself, giving himself the airs of an English lord in the midst of his tenantry, listening to their complaints with a good-humoured smile of toleration. A few men were about, some of whom were out of work for the moment; others who were sick. To these Geary was particularly condescending. He sat in their parlours, little, crowded rooms, smelling of stale upholstery and of the last meal, where knitted worsted tidies, very gaudy, covered the backs of the larger chairs and where one inevitably discovered the whatnot standing in one corner, its shelves filled with shell-boxes, broken thermometers and little alabaster jars, shaped like funeral urns, where one kept the matches. The wife brought the children in, very dirty, looking solemnly at Geary, their eyes enlarged in the direct unwinking gaze of cows.

By this time Vandover had finished with the sinks and tubs and was down upon his hands and knees scrubbing the stains of grease upon the floor of the kitchen. It was very hard work, as his water was cold. He was still working about this spot when Geary returned. By this time Vandover was so tired that he trembled all over, his spine seemed to be breaking in two, and every now and then he paused and passed his hand over the small of his back, closing his eyes and drawing a long breath.

"Well, how are you getting on?" asked Geary, as he came into the kitchen, drawing on his gloves, about ready to go home.

"Oh, I'm getting along," replied Vandover, rising up to his knees.

"You want to hurry up," answered Geary. "You must be done with this house by this evening. You see, I want to advertise it in to-morrow's papers."

"All right; I'll have it done."

"Pretty dirty, wasn't it?"

"Yes, pretty dirty."

"You may have to work here a little later than usual this afternoon, but be sure you have everything cleaned up before you leave," Geary said.

"All right," answered Vandover, bending to his work again.

Just as Geary was leaving he had the admirable good fortune to meet on the steps of the cottage a little group who were house-hunting; two young women and a little boy. The mother of the little boy, so she explained to him, was married to one of the burnishers in the factory; the other woman was her sister.

Geary showed them about the little house, very eager to secure them as tenants then and there. He began to sing its praises, its nearness to the factory, its excellent plumbing, its bathroom and its one stationary washstand; its little garden and its location on the sunny side of the street. "I'm a good landlord," he said to them, as he ushered them into the kitchen. "Any one in the row will tell you that. I make it a point to keep my houses in good repair and to keep them clean. You see, I have a man here now cleaning out." Vandover glanced up at the women an instant. The two of them and the little boy looked down at him on all fours upon the floor. Then he went on with his work.

"This is the kitchen, you see," pursued Geary. "Notice how large it is; you see, here are your laundry tubs, your iron sink, your boiler, everything you need. Of course, it's a little grimy now, but by the time the man gets through, it will be as clean as your face. Now come downstairs here and I'll show the basement."

In a moment their voices sounded through the floor of the kitchen, an indistinct, continuous murmur. Then the party returned and passed by Vandover again and stood for a long time in the front room haggling. The cottage rented for fifteen dollars. The young woman was willing to take it at that, but with the understanding that Geary should pay the water rent. Geary refused, unwilling even to listen to such a thing. Every other tenant in the row paid for his own water. The young women went away shaking their heads sadly. Geary let them get half-way down the front steps and then called them back. He offered a compromise, the young women should pay for the water, but half of their first month's rent should be remitted. The burnisher's wife still hesitated, saying, "You know yourself this house is awfully dirty."

"Well, you see I'm having it cleaned!"

"It'll have to be cleaned pretty thoroughly. I can't stand _dirt._"

"It _will be cleaned thoroughly," persisted Geary. "The man will work at it until it is. You can keep an eye on him and see that the work is done to suit you."

"You see," objected the burnisher's wife, "I would want to move in right away. I don't want to wait all week for the man to get through."

"But he is going to be through with this house to-night," exclaimed Geary delighted. "Come now, I know you want this cottage and I would like to have such nice-looking people have it. I know you would make good tenants. I can find lots of other tenants for this house, only you know how it is, a nasty, slovenly woman about the house and a raft of dirty children. And you don't like dirt, I can see that. Better call it a bargain, and let it go at that."

In the end the burnisher's wife took the house. Geary even induced her to deposit five dollars with him in order to secure it.

Vandover was down in the basement filling a barrel with the odds and ends of rubbish left by the previous tenants: broken bottles, old corsets, bones, rusty bedsprings. The dead hen he had taken out first of all, carrying it by one leg. It was a gruesome horror, partly eaten by rats, swollen, abnormally heavy, one side flattened from lying so long upon the floor. He could hardly stand; each time he bent over it seemed as though his backbone was disjointing. After cleaning out the debris he began to sweep. The dust was fearful, choking, blinding, so thick that he could hardly see what he was about. By and by he dimly made out Geary's figure in the doorway.

"Those people have taken the house," he called out, "and I promised them you would be through with it by this evening. So you want to stay with it now till you're finished. I guess there's not much more to do. Don't forget the little garden in front."

"No; I won't forget!"

Geary went away, and for another hour Vandover kept at his work, stolidly, his mind empty of all thought, knowing only that he was very tired, that his back pained him. He finished with the basement, but as he was pottering about the little garden, picking up the discoloured newspapers with which it was littered, the burnisher's wife returned, together with her sister and the little boy; the little boy eating a slice of bread and butter. They re-entered the house; Vandover heard their voices, now in one room, now in another. They were looking over their future home again; evidently they lived close by.

Suddenly the burnisher's wife came out upon the front steps, looking down into the little garden, calling for Vandover. She was not pretty; she had a nose like a man and her chin was broad.

"Say, there," she called to Vandover, "do you mean to say that you've finished inside here?"

"Yes," answered Vandover, straightening up, nodding his head. "Yes, I've finished."

"Well, just come in here and look at this."

Vandover followed her into the little parlour. Her sister was there, very fat, smelling somehow of tallow candles and cooked cabbage; nearby stood the little boy still eating his bread and butter.

"Look at that baseboard," exclaimed the burnisher's wife. "You never touched that, I'll bet a hat." Vandover did not answer; he brought in the pail of water, and soaping his scrubbing brush, went down again on his hands and knees, washing the paint on the baseboard where the burnisher's wife indicated. The two women stood by, looking on and directing his movements. The little boy watched everything, never speaking a word, slowly eating his bread and butter. Streaks of butter and bread clung to his cheeks, stretching from the corners of his mouth to his ears.

"I don't see how you come to overlook that," said the burnisher's wife to Vandover. "That's the dirtiest baseboard I ever saw. Oh, my! I just can't naturally stand _dirt_! There, you didn't get that stain off. That's tobacco juice, I guess. Go back and wash that over again." Vandover obeyed, holding the brush in one hand, crawling back along the floor upon one palm and his two knees, a pool of soapy, dirty water very cold gathered about him, soaking in through the old "blue pants" and wetting him to the skin, but he slovened through it indifferently. "Put a little more elbow grease to it," continued the burnisher's wife. "You have to rub them spots pretty hard to get 'em out. Now scrub all along here near the floor. You see that streak there--that's all gormed up with something or other. Bugs get in there mighty quick. There, that'll do, I guess. Now, is everything else all clean? Mister Geary said it was to be done to my satisfaction, and that you were to stay here until everything was all right."

All at once her voice was interrupted by the prolonged roar of the factory's whistle, blowing as though it would never stop. It was half-past five. In an instant the faint purring of the machinery dwindled and ceased, leaving an abrupt silence in the air. A moment later the army of operatives began to pour out of the main entrance; men and girls and young boys, all in a great hurry, the men settling their coat collars as they ran down the steps. The usually quiet street was crowded in an instant.

The burnisher's wife stood on the steps of the vacant house with her sister, watching the throng debouch into the street. All at once the sister exclaimed, "There he is!" and the other began to call, "Oscar, Oscar!" waving her hand to one of the workmen on the other side of the street. It was her husband, the burnisher, and he came across the street, crowding his lunch basket into the pocket of his coat. He was a thin little man with a timid air, his face white and fat and covered with a sparse unshaven stubble of a pale straw colour. An odour as of a harness shop hung about him. Vandover gathered up his broom and pail and soap preparing to go home.

"Well, Oscar, I've taken the house!" said his wife to the burnisher as he came up the steps. "But I couldn't get him to say that he'd let me have it for fifteen, water _included_. The landlord himself, Mr. Geary, was here to-day and I made the dicker with him. He's had a man here all day cleaning up." She explained the bargain, the burnisher approving of everything, nodding his head continually. His wife showed him about the house, her sister and the little boy following in silence. "He's a good landlord, I guess," continued the young woman; "anybody in the row will tell you that, and he means to keep his houses in good repair. Now you see, here's the kitchen. You see how big it is. Here's our laundry tubs, our iron sink, our boiler, and everything we want. It's all as clean as a whistle; and get on to this big cubby under the sink where I can stow away things." She opened its door to show her husband, but all at once straightened up, exclaiming, "Well, dear me _suz_--did you _ever see anything like that?" The cubby under the sink was abominably dirty. Vandover had altogether forgotten it.

The little burnisher himself bent down and peered in.

"Oh, that'll never do!" he cried. "Has that man gone home yet? He mustn't; he's got to clean this out first!" He had a weak, faint voice, small and timid like his figure. He hurried out to the front door and called Vandover back just as he was going down the steps. The two went back into the kitchen and stood in front of the sink. "Look under there!" piped the burnisher. "You can't leave that, that way."

"You know," protested his wife, "that this all was to be done to our satisfaction. Mr. Geary said so. That's the only way I came to take the house."

"It's about six o'clock, though," observed her fat sister, who smelt of cooked cabbage. "Perhaps he'd want to go home to his dinner." But at this both the others cried out in one voice, the burnisher exclaiming: "I can't help _that_, this has got to be done first," while his wife protested that she couldn't naturally stand dirt, adding, "This all was to be done to our satisfaction, and we ain't satisfied yet by a long shot." Delighted at this excitement, the little boy forgot to eat into his bread and butter, rolling his eyes wildly from one to the other, still silent.

Meanwhile, without replying, Vandover had gone down upon the floor again, poking about amid the filth under the sink. The four others, the burnisher, his wife, his sister-in-law and his little boy, stood about in a half-circle behind him, seeing to it that he did the work properly, giving orders as to how he should proceed.

"Now, be sure you get everything out that's under there," said the burnisher. "Ouf! how it smells! They made a regular dump heap of it."

"What's that over in the corner there?" cried the wife, bending down. "I can't see, it's so dark under there--something gray; can't you see, in under there? You'll have to crawl way in to get at it--go way in!" Vandover obeyed. The sink pipes were so close above him that he was obliged to crouch lower and lower; at length he lay flat upon his stomach. Prone in the filth under the sink, in the sour water, the grease, the refuse, he groped about with his hand searching for the something gray that the burnisher's wife had seen. He found it and drew it out. It was an old hambone covered with a greenish fuzz.

"Oh, did you _ever_!" cried the burnisher, holding up his hands. "Here, don't drop that on my clean floor; put it in your pail. Now get out the rest of the dirt, and hurry up, it's late." Vandover crawled back, half the way under the sink again, this time bringing out a rusty pan half full of some kind of congealed gravy that exhaled a choking, acrid odour; next it was an old stocking, and then an ink bottle, a broken rat-trap, a battered teapot lacking a nozzle, a piece of rubber hose, an old comb choked with a great handful of hair, a torn overshoe, newspapers, and a great quantity of other debris that had accumulated there during the occupancy of the previous tenant.

"Now go over the floor with a rag," ordered the little burnisher, when the last of these articles had been brought out. "Wipe up all that nasty muck! Look there by your knee to your left! Scrub that big spot there with your brush--looks like grease. That's the style--scrub it hard!" His wife joined her directions to his. Then it was over here, and over there, now in that corner, now in this, and now with his brush and soap, and now with his dry rag, and hurry up all the time because it was growing late. But the little boy, carried away by the interest of the occasion, suddenly broke silence for the first time, crying out shrilly, his mouth full of bread and butter, "Hey there! Get up, you old lazee-bones!"

The others shouted with laughter. _There was a smart little boy for you. Ah, he'd be a man before his mother. It was wonderful how that boy saw everything that went on. He took an _interest_, that was it. You ought to see, he watched everything, and sometimes he'd plump out with things that were astonishing for a boy of his years. Only four and a half, too, and they reminded each other of the first day he put on knickerbockers; stood in front of the house on the sidewalk all day long with his hands in his pockets. The interest was directed from Vandover, they turned their backs, grouping themselves about the little boy. The burnisher's sister-in-law felt called upon to tell about her little girl, a matter of family pride. _She was going on twelve, and would you suppose that little thing was in next to the last grade in the grammar school? Her teacher had said that she was a real wonder; never had had such a bright pupil. Ah, but one should see how she studied over her books all the time. Next year they were to try to get her into the high school. Of course she was not ready for the high school yet, and it was against the rule to let children in that way, she was too young, but they had a pull, you understand. Oh, yes, for sure they had a pull. _They'd work her in all right. The burnisher's wife was not listening. She wanted to draw the interest back to her own little boy. She bent down and straightened out his little jacket, saying, "Does he like his bread 'n butter? Well, he could have all he wanted!" But the little boy paid no attention to her. He had made a _bon-mot_, ambition stirred in him, he had tasted the delights of an appreciative audience. Bread and butter had fallen in his esteem. He wished to repeat his former success, and cried out shriller than ever:

"Hey, there! Get up, you old lazee-bones!"

But his father corrected him--his mother ought not to encourage him to be rude. "That's not right, Oscar," he observed, shaking his head. "You must be kind to the poor man."

Vandover was sitting back on his heels to rest his back, waiting till the others should finish.

"Well, all through?" inquired the burnisher in his thin voice. Vandover nodded. But his wife was not satisfied until she had herself carefully peered into the cubby, while her husband held a lighted match for her. "Ah, that's something like," she said finally.

It was nearly seven. Vandover prepared to go home a second time. The little boy stood in front of him, looking down at him as he made his brush and rags and broom into a bundle; the boy slowly eating his bread and butter the while. In one corner of the room an excited whispered conference was going on between the burnisher, his wife, and his fat sister-in-law. From time to time one heard such expressions as "Overtime, you know--not afraid of work--ah! think I'd better, looks as though he needed it." In a moment the two women went out, calling in vain for the little boy to follow, and the burnisher crossed the room toward Vandover. Vandover was on his knees tying up his bundle with a bit of bale rope.

"I'm sorry," began the burnisher awkwardly. "We didn't mean to keep you from your supper--here," he went on, holding out a quarter to Vandover, "here, you take this, that's all right--you worked overtime for us, that's all right. Come along, Oscar; come along, m'son."

Vandover put the quarter in his vest pocket.

"Thank you, sir," he said.

The burnisher hurried away, calling back, "Come along, m'son; don't keep your mama waiting for supper." But the little boy remained very interested in watching Vandover, still on the floor, tying the last knots. As he finished, he glanced up. For an instant the two remained there motionless, looking into each other's eyes, Vandover on the floor, one hand twisted into the bale rope about his bundle, the little boy standing before him eating the last mouthful of his bread and butter.


(THE END)
Frank Norris's Novel: Vandover and the Brute

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