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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesVandover And The Brute - Chapter 2
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Vandover And The Brute - Chapter 2 Post by :alex77 Category :Long Stories Author :Frank Norris Date :May 2012 Read :3626

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Vandover And The Brute - Chapter 2

Chapter Two

There was little of the stubborn or unyielding about Vandover, his personality was not strong, his nature pliable and he rearranged himself to suit his new environment at Harvard very rapidly. Before the end of the first semester he had become to all outward appearances a typical Harvardian. He wore corduroy vests and a gray felt hat, the brim turned down over his eyes. He smoked a pipe and bought himself a brindled bull-terrier. He cut his lectures as often as he dared, "ragged" signs and barber-poles, and was in continual evidence about Foster's and among Leavitt and Pierce's billiard-tables. When the great football games came off he worked himself into a frenzy of excitement over them and even tried to make several of his class teams, though without success.

He chummed with Charlie Geary and with young Dolliver Haight, the two San Francisco boys. The three were continually together. They took the same courses, dined at the same table in Memorial Hall and would have shared the same room if it had been possible. Vandover and Charlie Geary were fortunate enough to get a room in Matthew's on the lower floor looking out upon the Yard; young Haight was obliged to put up with an outside room in a boarding house.

Vandover had grown up with these fellows and during all his life was thrown in their company. Haight was a well-bred young boy of good family, very quiet; almost every morning he went to Chapel. He was always polite, even to his two friends. He invariably tried to be pleasant and agreeable and had a way of making people like him. Otherwise, his character was not strongly marked.

Geary was quite different. He never could forget himself. He was incessantly talking about what he had done or was going to do. In the morning he would inform Vandover of how many hours he had slept and of the dreams he had dreamed. In the evening he would tell him everything he had done that day; the things he had said, how many lectures he had cut, what brilliant recitations he had made, and even what food he had eaten at Memorial. He was pushing, self-confident, very shrewd and clever, devoured with an inordinate ambition and particularly pleased when he could get the better of anybody, even of Vandover or of young Haight. He delighted to assume the management of things. Vandover, he made his protege, taking over the charge of such business as the two had in common. It was he who had found the room in Matthew's, getting it away from all other applicants, securing it at the eleventh hour. He put Vandover's name on the waiting list at Memorial, saw that he filled out his blanks at the proper time, helped him balance his accounts, guided him in the choice of his courses and in the making out of his study-card.

"Look here, Charlie," Vandover would exclaim, throwing down the Announcement of Courses, "I can't make this thing out. It's all in a tangle. See here, I've got to fill up my hours some way or other; _you straighten this thing out for me. Find me some nice little course, two hours a week, say, that comes late in the morning, a good hour after breakfast; something easy, all lectures, no outside reading, nice instructor and all that." And Geary would glance over the complicated schedule, cleverly untangling it at once and would find two or three such courses as Vandover desired.

Vandover's yielding disposition led him to submit to Geary's dictatorship and he thus early began to contract easy, irresponsible habits, becoming indolent, shirking his duty whenever he could, sure that Geary would think for the two and pull him out of any difficulty into which he might drift.

Otherwise the three freshmen were very much alike. They were hardly more than boys and full of boyish spirits and activity. They began to see "college life." Vandover was already smoking; pretty soon he began to drink. He affected beer, whisky he loathed, and such wine as was not too expensive was either too sweet or too sour. It became a custom for the three to go into town two or three nights in the week and have beer and Welsh rabbits at Billy Park's. On these occasions, however, young Haight drank only beer, he never touched wine or spirits.

It was in Billy Park's the evening after the football game between the Yale and Harvard freshmen that Vandover was drunk for the first time. He was not so drunk but that he knew he was, and the knowledge of the fact so terrified him that it kept him from getting very bad. The first sensation soon wore off, and by the time that Geary took charge of him and brought him back to Cambridge he was disposed to treat the affair less seriously. Nevertheless when he got to his room he looked at himself in the mirror a long time, saying to himself over and over again, "I'm drunk--just regularly drunk. Good Heavens! what _would the governor say to _this_?"

In the morning he was surprised to find that he felt so little ashamed. Geary and young Haight treated the matter as a huge joke and told him of certain funny things he had said and done and which he had entirely forgotten. It was impossible for him to take the matter seriously even if he had wished to, and within a few weeks he was drunk again. He found that he was not an exception; Geary was often drunk with him, fully a third of all the Harvard men he knew were intoxicated at different times. It was out of the question for Vandover to consider them as drunkards. Certainly, neither he nor any of the others drank because they liked the beer; after the fifth or sixth glass it was all they could do to force down another. Such being the case, Vandover often asked himself why he got drunk at all. This question he was never able to answer.

It was the same with gambling. At first the idea of playing cards for money shocked him beyond all expression. But soon he found that a great many of the fellows, fellows like young Haight, beyond question steady, sensible and even worthy of emulation in other ways, "went in for that sort of thing." Every now and then Vandover's "crowd" got together in his room in Matthew's, and played Van John "for keeps," as they said, until far into the night. Vandover joined them. The stakes were small, he lost as often as he won, but the habit of the cards never grew upon him. It was like the beer, he "went in for it" because the others did, without knowing why. Geary, however, drew his line at gambling; he never talked against it or tried to influence Vandover, but he never could be induced to play "for keeps" himself.

One very warm Sunday afternoon in the first days of April, when the last snows were melting, Vandover and Geary were in their room, sitting at opposite ends of their window-seat, Geary translating his Monday's "Horace" by the help of a Bonn's translation, Vandover making a pen and ink drawing for the next _Lampoon_. A couple of young women passed down the walk, going across the Yard toward the Square. They were cheaply and showily dressed. One of them wore a mannish shirtwaist, with a high collar and scarf. The other had taken off her gloves and was swinging a bright red cape in one of her bare hands. As the couple passed they stared calmly at the two young fellows in the window; Vandover lowered his eyes over his work, blushing, he could not tell why. Geary stared back at them, following them with his eyes until they had gone by.

All at once he began laughing and pounding on the window.

"Oh, for goodness sake, quit!" exclaimed Vandover in great alarm, twisting off the window-seat and shrinking back out of sight into the room. "Quit, Charlie; you don't want to insult a girl that way." Geary looked at him over his shoulder in some surprise, and was about to answer when he turned to the window again and exclaimed, grinning and waving his hand:

"Oh, just come here, Skinny; get on to this, will you? Ah, come here and look, you old chump! Do you think they're nice girls? Just take a _look at them." Vandover peered timidly around Geary's head and saw that the two girls were looking back and laughing, and that the one with the red cape was waving it at them.

At supper that night they saw the girls in the gallery of Memorial. They pointed them out to young Haight, and Geary at length managed to attract their attention. After supper the three freshmen, together with two of their sophomore acquaintances, strolled slowly over toward the Yard, lighting their pipes and cigarettes. All at once, as they turned into the lower gate, they came full upon the same pair of girls. They were walking fast, talking and laughing very loudly.

"Track!" called out one of the sophomores, and the group of young fellows parted to let them pass. The sophomore exclaimed in a tone of regret, "Don't be in such a hurry, girls." Vandover became scarlet and turned his face away, but the girls looked back and laughed good-naturedly. "Come on," said the sophomore. The group closed around the girls and brought them to a standstill; they were not in the least embarrassed at this, but laughed more than ever. Neither of them was pretty, but there was a certain attraction about them that pleased Vandover immensely. He was very excited.

Then there was a very embarrassing pause. No one knew what to say. Geary alone regained his assurance at length, and began a lively interchange of chaff with one of them. The others could only stand about and smile.

"Well," cried the other girl after a while, "I ain't going to stand here in the snow all _night_. Let's take a walk; come along. I choose _you_." Before Vandover knew it she had taken his arm. The sophomore managed in some way to pair off with the other girl; Haight had already left the group; the two couples started off, while Geary and the other sophomore who were left out followed awkwardly in the rear for a little way and then disappeared.

Vandover was so excited that he could scarcely speak. This was a new experience. At first it attracted him, but the hopeless vulgarity of the girl at his side, her tawdry clothes, her sordid, petty talk, her slang, her miserable profanity, soon began to revolt him. He felt that he could not keep his self-respect while such a girl hung upon his arm.

"Say," said the girl at length, "didn't I see you in town the other afternoon on Washington Street?"

"Maybe you did," answered Vandover, trying to be polite. "I'm down there pretty often."

"Well, I guess yes," she answered. "You Harvard sports make a regular promenade out o' Washington Street Saturday afternoons. I suppose I've seen you down there pretty often, but didn't notice. Do you stand or walk?"

Vandover's gorge rose with disgust. He stopped abruptly and pulled away from the girl. Not only did she disgust him, but he felt sorry for her; he felt ashamed and pitiful for a woman who had fallen so low. Still he tried to be polite to her; he did not know how to be rude with any kind of woman.

"You'll have to excuse me," he said, taking off his hat. "I don't believe I can take a walk with you to-night. I--you see--I've got a good deal of work to do; I think I'll have to leave you." Then he bowed to her with his hat in his hand, hurrying away before she could answer him a word.

He found Geary alone in their room, cribbing "'Horace" again.

"Ah, you bet," Geary said. "I shook those chippies. I sized them up right away. I was clever enough for that. They were no good. I thought you would get enough of it."

"Oh, I don't know," said Vandover after a while, as he settled to his drawing. "She was pretty common, but anyhow I don't want to help bring down a poor girl like that any lower than she is already." This saying struck Vandover as being very good and noble, and he found occasion to repeat it to young Haight the next day.

But within three days of this, at the time when Vandover would have fancied himself farthest from such a thing, he underwent a curious reaction. On a certain evening, moved by an unreasoned instinct, he sought out the girl who had just filled him with such deep pity and such violent disgust, and that night did not come back to the room in Matthew's. The thing was done almost before he knew it. He could not tell why he had acted as he did, and he certainly would not have believed himself capable of it.

He passed the next few days in a veritable agony of repentance, overwhelmed by a sense of shame and dishonour that were almost feminine in their bitterness and intensity. He felt himself lost, unworthy, and as if he could never again look a pure woman in the eyes unless with an abominable hypocrisy. He was ashamed even before Geary and young Haight, and went so far as to send a long letter to his father acknowledging and deploring what he had done, asking for his forgiveness and reiterating his resolve to shun such a thing forever after.

What had been bashfulness in the boy developed in the young man to a profound respect and an instinctive regard for women. This stood him in good stead throughout all his four years of Harvard life. In general, he kept himself pretty straight. There were plenty of fast girls and lost women about Cambridge, but Vandover found that he could not associate with them to any degree of satisfaction. He never knew how to take them, never could rid himself of the idea that they were to be treated as ladies. They, on their part, did not like him; he was too diffident, too courteous, too "slow." They preferred the rough self-assertion and easy confidence of Geary, who never took "no" as an answer and who could chaff with them on their own ground.

Vandover did poor work at Harvard and only graduated, as Geary said, "by a squeak." Besides his regular studies he took time to pass three afternoons a week in the studio of a Boston artist, where he studied anatomy and composition and drew figures from the nude. In the summer vacations he did not return home, but accompanied this artist on sketching tours along the coast of Maine. His style improved immensely the moment he abandoned flat studies and began to work directly from Nature. He drew figures well, showed a feeling for desolate landscapes, and even gave promise of a good eye for colour. But he allowed his fondness for art to interfere constantly with his college work. By the middle of his senior year he was so loaded with conditions that it was only Geary's unwearied coaching that pulled him through at all--as Vandover knew it would, for that matter.

Vandover returned to San Francisco when he was twenty-two. It was astonishing; he had gone away a pimply, overgrown boy, raw and callow as a fledgling, constrained in society, diffident, awkward. Now he returned, a tall, well-formed Harvardian, as careful as a woman in the matter of dress, very refined in his manners. Besides, he was a delightful conversationalist. His father was rejoiced; every one declared he was a charming fellow.

They were right. Vandover was at his best at this time; it was undeniable that he had great talent, but he was so modest about it that few knew how clever he really was.

He went out to dinners and receptions and began to move a little in society. He became very popular: the men liked him because he was so unaffected, so straightforward, and the women because he was so respectful and so deferential.

He had no vices. He had gone through the ordeal of college life and had come out without contracting any habit more serious than a vague distaste for responsibility, and an inclination to shirk disagreeable duties. Cards he never thought of. It was rare that he drank so much as a glass of beer.

However, he had come back to a great disappointment. Business in San Francisco had entered upon a long period of decline, and values were decreasing; for ten years rents had been sagging lower and lower. At the same time the interest on loans and insurances had increased, and real estate was brought to a standstill; one spoke bitterly of a certain great monopoly that was ruining both the city and state. Vandover's father had suffered with the rest, and now told his son that he could not at this time afford to send him to Paris. He would have to wait for better times.

At first this was a sharp grief to Vandover; for years he had looked forward to an artist's life in the Quarter. For a time he was inconsolable, then at length readjusted himself good-naturedly to suit the new order of things with as little compunction as before, when he had entered Harvard. He found that he could be contented in almost any environment, the weakness, the certain pliability of his character easily fitting itself into new grooves, reshaping itself to suit new circumstances. He prevailed upon his father to allow him to have a downtown studio. In a little while he was perfectly happy again.

Vandover's love for his art was keen. On the whole he kept pretty steadily to his work, spending a good six hours at his easel every day, very absorbed over the picture in hand. He was working up into large canvases the sketches he had made along the Maine coast, great, empty expanses of sea, sky, and sand-dune, full of wind and sun. They were really admirable. He even sold one of them. The Old Gentleman was delighted, signed him a check for twenty dollars, and told him that in three years he could afford to send him abroad.

In the meanwhile Vandover set himself to enjoy the new life. Little by little his "set" formed around him; Geary and young Haight, of course, and some half dozen young men of the city: young lawyers, medical students, and clerks in insurance offices. As Vandover thus began to see the different phases of that life which lay beyond the limits of the college, he perceived more and more clearly that he was an exception among men for his temperance, his purity, and his clean living.

At their clubs and in their smoking-rooms he heard certain practices, which he had always believed to be degrading and abominable, discussed with shouts of laughter. Those matters which until now he had regarded with an almost sacred veneration were subjects for immense jokes. A few years ago he would have been horrified at it all, but the fine quality of this first sensitiveness had been blunted since his experience at college. He tolerated these things in his friends now.

Gradually Vandover allowed his ideas and tastes to be moulded by this new order of things. He assumed the manners of these young men of the city, very curious to see for himself the other lower side of their life that began after midnight in the private rooms of fast cafes and that was continued in the heavy musk-laden air of certain parlours amid the rustle of heavy silks.

Slowly the fascination of this thing grew upon him until it mounted to a veritable passion. His strong artist's imagination began to be filled with a world of charming sensuous pictures.

He commenced to chafe under his innate respect and deference for women, to resent and to despise it. As the desire of vice, the blind, reckless desire of the male, grew upon him, he set himself to destroy this barrier that had so long stood in his way. He knew that it was the wilful and deliberate corruption of part of that which was best in him; he was sorry for it, but persevered, nevertheless, ashamed of his old-time timidity, his ignorance, his boyish purity.

For a second time the animal in him, the perverse evil brute, awoke and stirred. The idea of resistance hardly occurred to Vandover; it would be hard, it would be disagreeable to resist, and Vandover had not accustomed himself to the performance of hard, disagreeable duties. They were among the unpleasant things that he shirked. He told himself that later on, when he had grown older and steadier and had profited by experience and knowledge of the world, when he was stronger, in a word, he would curb the thing and restrain it. He saw no danger in such a course. It was what other men did with impunity.

In company with Geary and young Haight he had come to frequent a certain one of the fast cafes of the city. Here he met and became acquainted with a girl called Flossie. It was the opportunity for which he was waiting, and he seized it at once.

This time there was no recoil of conscience, no shame, no remorse; he even felt a better estimation of himself, that self-respect that comes with wider experiences and with larger views of life. He told himself that all men should at one time see certain phases of the world; it rounded out one's life. After all, one had to be a man of the world. Those men only were perverted who allowed themselves to be corrupted by such vice.

Thus it was that Vandover, by degrees, drifted into the life of a certain class of the young men of the city. Vice had no hold on him. The brute had grown larger in him, but he knew that he had the creature in hand. He was its master, and only on rare occasions did he permit himself to gratify its demands, feeding its abominable hunger from that part of him which he knew to be the purest, the cleanest, and the best.

Three years passed in this fashion.

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Chapter Six Everybody in San Francisco knew of the Ravises and always made it a point to speak of them as one of the best families of the city. They were not new and they were not particularly rich. They had lived in the same house on California Street for nearly twenty years and had always been comfortably well off. As things go in San Francisco, they were old-fashioned. They had family traditions and usages and time-worn customs. Their library had been in process of collection for the past half century and the pictures on the walls were oil paintings of

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Vandover And The Brute - Chapter 1
Chapter One It was always a matter of wonder to Vandover that he was able to recall so little of his past life. With the exception of the most recent events he could remember nothing connectedly. What he at first imagined to be the story of his life, on closer inspection turned out to be but a few disconnected incidents that his memory had preserved with the greatest capriciousness, absolutely independent of their importance. One of these incidents might be a great sorrow, a tragedy, a death in his family; and another, recalled with the same vividness, the same accuracy of