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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesVandover And The Brute - Chapter 8
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Vandover And The Brute - Chapter 8 Post by :esoteric Category :Long Stories Author :Frank Norris Date :May 2012 Read :1519

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Vandover And The Brute - Chapter 8

Chapter Eight


"We will begin all over again, Van," his father said later that same day. "We will start in again and try to forget all this, not as much as we _can_, but as much as we _ought_, and live it down, and from now on we'll try to do the thing that is right and brave and good."

"Just try me, sir!" cried Vandover.

That was it, begin all over again. He had never seen more clearly than now that other life which it was possible for him to live, a life that was above the level of self-indulgence and animal pleasures, a life that was not made up of the society of lost women or fast girls, but yet a life of keen enjoyment.

Whenever he had been deeply moved about anything, the power and desire of art had grown big within him, and he turned to it now, instinctively and ardently.

It was all the better half of him that was aroused--the better half that he had kept in check ever since his college days, the better half that could respond to the influences of his father and of Turner Ravis, that other Vandover whom he felt was his real self, Vandover the true man, Vandover the artist, not Vandover the easy-going, the self-indulgent, not Vandover the lover of women.

From this time forward he was resolved to give up the world that he had hitherto known, and devote himself with all his strength to his art. In the first glow of that resolution he thought that he had never been happier; he wondered how he could have been blind so long; what was all that life worth compared with the life of a great artist, compared even with a life of sturdy, virile effort and patient labour even though barren of achievement?

And then something very curious happened: The little picture of Turner Ravis that hung over his mantelpiece caught his glance, looking out at him with her honest eyes and sweet smile. In an instant he seemed to love her as he had never imagined he could love any one. All that was best in him went out toward her in a wave of immense tenderness; the tears came to his eyes, he could not tell why. Ah, he was not good enough for her now, but he would love her so well that he would grow better, and between her and his good father and his art, the better Vandover, the real Vandover, would grow so large and strong within him that there should be no room for the other Vandover, the Vandover of Flossie and of the Imperial, the Vandover of the brute.

During the course of talk that day between himself and his father, it was decided that Vandover should go away for a little while. He was in a fair way to be sick from worry and nervous exhaustion, and a sea trip to San Diego and back seemed to be what he stood most in need of. Besides this, his father told him, it was inevitable that his share in Ida's death would soon be known; in any case it would be better for him to be away from the city.

"You take whatever steamer sails next," said his father, "and! go down to Coronado and stay there as long as you like, three weeks anyway; stay there until you get well, and when you get back, Van, we'll have a talk about Paris again. Perhaps you would like to get away this winter, maybe as soon as next month. You think it over while you are away, and when you want to go, why, we'll go over together, Van. What do you think? Would you like to have your old governor along for a little while?"

* * * * *

The _Santa Rosa cast off the company's docks the next day about noon in the midst of a thick, cold mist that was half rain. The Old Gentleman came to see Vandover off.

The steamer, which seemed gigantic, was roped and cabled to the piers, feeling the water occasionally with her screw to keep the hawsers taut. About the forward gangway a band of overworked stevedores were stowing in the last of the cargo, aided by a donkey engine, which every now and then broke out into a spasm of sputtering coughs. At the passenger gangway a great crowd was gathered, laughing and exchanging remarks with the other crowd that leaned over the railings of the decks.

There was a smell of pitch and bilge in the air mingled with the reek of hot oil from the engines. About twelve o'clock an odour of cooking arose, and the steward went about the decks drumming upon a snoring gong for dinner.

Half an hour later the great whistle roared interminably, drowning out the chorus of "good-byes" that rose on all sides. Long before it had ceased, the huge bulk had stirred, almost imperceptibly at first, then, gathering headway, swung out into the stream and headed for the Golden Gate.

Vandover was in the stern upon the hurricane deck, shaking his hat toward his father, who had tied his handkerchief to his cane and was waving it at him as he stood upon an empty packing-case. As the throng of those who were left behind dwindled away, one by one, Vandover could see him standing there, almost the last of all, and long after the figure itself was lost in the blur of the background he still saw the tiny white dot of the handkerchief moving back and forth, as if spelling out a signal to him across the water.

The fog drew a little higher as they passed down the bay. To the left was the city swarming upon its hills, a dull gray mass, cut in parallel furrows by the streets; straggling and uneven where it approached the sand-dunes in the direction of the Presidio. To the right the long slope of Tamalpais climbed up and was lost in the fog, while directly in front of them was the Golden Gate, a bleak prospect of fog-drenched headlands on either side of a narrow strip of yellow, frothy water. Beyond that, the open Pacific.

A brisk cannonade was going on from the Presidio and from Black Point, and both forts were hidden behind a great curtain of tumbling white smoke that rolled up to mingle with the fog. Everybody was on that side of the deck watching and making guesses as to the reason of it. It was perhaps target practice. Ah, it was a good thing that the steamer was not in line with the target. Perhaps, though, that was the safest place to be. Some one told about a derelict that was anchored as a target off the heads, and shot at for fifteen hours without being touched once. Oh, they were great gunners at the Presidio! But just the same the sound of cannon was a fine thing to hear; it excited one. A noisy party of gentlemen already installed in the smoking-room came out on deck for a moment with their cards in their hands, and declared laughingly that the whole thing was only a salute in the _Santa Rosa's honour.

By the middle of the afternoon, Vandover began to see that for him the trip was going to be tedious. He knew no one on board and had come away so hurriedly that he had neglected to get himself any interesting books. He spent an hour or two promenading the upper deck until the cold wind that was blowing drove him to the smoking-room, where he tried to interest himself in watching some of the whist games that were in progress.

It surprised him that he could find occasion to be bored so soon after what had happened; but he no longer wished to occupy his mind by brooding over anything so disagreeable and wanted some sort of amusement to divert and entertain him. Vandover had so accustomed himself to that kind of self-indulgence that he could not go long without it. It had become a simple necessity for him to be amused, and just now he thought himself justified in seeking it in order to forget about Ida's death. He had dwelt upon this now for nearly four days, until it had come to be some sort of a formless horror that it was necessary to avoid. He could get little present enjoyment by looking forward to the new life that he was going to begin and in which his father, his art, and Turner Ravis were to be the chief influences. The thought of this prospect did give him pleasure, but he had for so long a time fed his mind upon the more tangible and concrete enjoyments of the hour and minute that it demanded them now continually.

He sat for a long time upon the slippery leather cushions of the smoking-room trying desperately to become interested in the whist game, or gazing awestruck at the man at his elbow who was smoking black Perrique in a pipe, inhaling the smoke and blowing it out through his nose. After a while he returned to the deck.

There it was cold and wet and a strong wind was blowing from the ocean. Four miles to the east an endless procession of brown, bare hills filed slowly past under the fog. The sky was a dreary brown and the leagues of shifting water a melancholy desert of gray. Besides these there was nothing but the bleached hills and the drifting fog; the wind blew continually, passing between the immense reaches of sea and sky with prolonged sighs of infinite sadness.

Three seagulls followed the vessel, now in a long line, now abreast, and now in a triangle. They sailed slowly about, dipping and rising in the vast hollows between the waves, turning their heads constantly from side to side.

Vandover went to the stern and for a time found amusement in watching the indicator of the patent log, and listening for its bell. But his interest in this was soon exhausted, and he returned to the smoking-room again, reflecting that this was only the first afternoon and that there still remained two days that somehow had to be gone through with.

About five o'clock, as he was on his way to get a glass of seltzer, he saw Grace Irving, the girl of the red hat whom he had met at the Mechanics' Fair, sitting on a camp-stool just inside of her stateroom eating a banana. The sight of her startled him out of all composure for the minute. His first impulse was to speak to her, but he reflected that he was done with all that now and that it was better for him to pass on as though he had not seen her, but as he came in front of her she looked up quickly and nodded to him very pleasantly in such a way that it was evident she had already known he was on board. It was impossible for Vandover to ignore her, and though he did not stop, he looked back at her and smiled as he took off his hat.

He went down to supper in considerable agitation, marvelling at the coincidence that had brought them together again. He wondered, too, how she could be so pleasant to him now, for as a matter of course he had not kept the engagement he had made with her at the Fair. At the same time, he felt that she must think him a great fool not to have stopped and spoken to her; either he should have done that or else have ignored her little bow entirely. He was firmly resolved to have nothing to do with her, yet it chafed him to feel that she thought him diffident. It seemed now as though he owed it to himself to speak to her if only for a minute and make some sort of an excuse. By the time he had finished his supper, he had made up his mind to do this, and then to avoid her for the rest of the trip.

As he was leaving the dining saloon he met her coming down the stairs alone, dressed very prettily in a checked travelling ulster with a gray velvet collar, and a little fore and aft cap to match. He stopped her and made his excuses; she did not say much in reply and seemed a little offended, so that Vandover could not refrain from adding that he was very glad to see her on board.

"Ah, you don't seem as if you were, very," she said, putting out her chin at him prettily and passing on. It was an awkward and embarrassing little scene and Vandover was glad that it was over. But the thing had been done now, he had managed to show the girl that he did not wish to keep up the acquaintance begun at the Fair, and from now on she would keep out of his way.

He took a few turns on the upper deck, smoking his pipe, walking about fast, while his dinner digested. The sun went down behind the black horizon in an immense blood-red nebula of mist, the sea turned from gray to dull green and then to a lifeless brown, and the _Santa Rosa's lights began to glow at her quarters and at her masthead; in her stern the screw drummed and threshed monotonously, a puff of warm air reeking with the smell of hot oil came from the engine hatch, and in an instant Vandover saw again the curved roof of the immense iron-vaulted depot, the passengers on the platform staring curiously at the group around the invalid's chair, the repair gang in spotted blue overalls, and the huge white cat dozing on an empty baggage truck.

The wind freshened and he returned to the smoking-room to get warm. The same game of whist was going on, and the man with the Perrique tobacco had filled another pipe and continued to blow the smoke through his nose.

After a while Vandover went back to the main deck and wandered aft, where he stood a long time looking over the stern, interested in watching the receding water. It was dark by this time, the wind had increased and had blown the fog to landward, and the ocean had changed to a deep blue, the blue of the sky at night; here and there a wave broke, leaving a line of white on the sea like the trail of a falling star across the heavens, while the white haze of the steamer's wake wandered vaguely across the intense blue like the milky way across the zenith.

Vandover was horribly bored. There seemed to be absolutely nothing to amuse him, unless, indeed, he should decide to renew his acquaintance with Grace Irving. But this was out of the question now, for he knew what it would lead to. Even if he should yield to the temptation, he did not see how he could take any great pleasure in that sort of thing again, after what had happened.

Of all the consequences of what he had done, the one which had come to afflict him the most poignantly was that his enjoyment of life was spoiled. At first he had thought that he never could take pleasure in anything again so long as he should live, that his good times were gone. But as his pliable character rearranged itself to suit the new environment, he began to see that there would come a time when he would grow accustomed to Ida's death and when his grief would lose its sharpness. He had even commenced to look forward to this time and to long for it as a sort of respite and relief. He believed at first that it would not be for a great many years; but even so soon after the suicide as this, he saw with a little thrill of comfort that it would be but a matter of months. At the same time Vandover was surprised and even troubled at the ease with which he was recovering from the first shock. He wondered at himself, because he knew he had been sincere in his talk with his father. Vandover was not given to self-analysis, but now for a minute he was wondering if this reaction were due to his youth, his good health and his good spirits, or whether there was something wrong with him. However, he dismissed these thoughts with a shrug of his shoulders as though freeing himself from some disagreeable burden. Ah, he was no worse than the average; one could get accustomed to almost anything; it was only in the books that people had their lives ruined; and to brood over such things was unnatural and morbid. Ah! what a dreadful thing to become morbid! He could not bring Ida back, or mitigate what he had done, or be any more sorry for it by making himself miserable. Well, then! Only he would let that sort of thing alone after this, the lesson had been too terrible; he would try and enjoy himself again, only it should be in other ways.

Later in the evening, about nine o'clock, when nearly all the passengers were in bed, and Vandover was leaning over the side of the boat finishing his pipe before turning in himself, Grace Irving came out of her stateroom and sat down at a little distance from him, looking out over the water, humming a little song. She and Vandover were the only people to be seen on the deserted promenade.

Vandover saw her without moving, only closing his teeth tighter on his pipe. It was evident that Grace expected him to speak to her and had given him a chance for an admirable little tete-a-tete. For a moment Vandover's heart knocked at his throat; he drew his breath once or twice sharply through his nose. In an instant all the old evil instincts were back again, urging and clamouring never so strong, never so insistent. But Vandover set his face against them, honestly, recalling his resolution, telling himself that he was done with that life. As he had said, the lesson had been too terrible.

He turned about resolutely, and walked slowly away from her. The girl looked after him a moment, surprised, and then called out:

"Oh, Mr. Vandover!"

Vandover paused a moment, looking back.

"Where are you going?" she went on. "Didn't you see me here? Don't you want to come and talk to me?"

"No," answered Vandover, smiling good-humouredly, trying to be as polite as was possible. "No, I don't." Then he took a sudden resolution, and added gravely, "I don't want to have anything to do with you."

In his stateroom, as he sat on the edge of his berth winding his watch before going to bed, he thought over what he had said. "That was a mean way to talk to a girl," he told himself, "but," he added, "it's the only thing to do. I simply couldn't start in again after all that's happened. Oh, yes, that was the right thing to do!"

He felt a glow of self-respect for his firmness and his decision, a pride in the unexpected strength, the fine moral rigour that he had developed at the critical moment. He _could turn sharp around when he wanted to, after all. Ah, yes, that was the only thing to do if one was to begin all over again and live down what had happened. He wished that the governor might know how well he had acted.

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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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Chapter Seven On a certain evening about four months later Ellis and Vandover had a "date" with Ida Wade and Bessie Laguna at the Mechanics' Fair. Ellis, Bessie, and Ida were to meet Vandover there in the Art Gallery, as he had to make a call with his father, and could not get there until half-past nine. They were all to walk about the Fair until ten, after which the two men proposed to take the girls out to the Cliff House in separate coupes. The whole thing had been arranged by Ellis and Bessie, and Vandover was irritated. Ellis ought
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