The idea of passing the night alone terrified Vandover. He started toward home, walking up Sutter Street, proceeding slowly, his hands in his pockets. All at once he stopped, without knowing why; he roused himself and looked about him. There was a smell of eucalyptus in the air. Across the street was the huge white house, and he found that he had stopped just before the door of the building on the top floor of which his studio was situated. All day Vandover’s mind had been in the greatest agitation, his ideas leaping and darting hither and thither like terrified birds in a cage. Just now he underwent a sudden reaction. It had all been a matter of fancy, nothing but nervousness; he had not drawn for some time, his hand lacked cunning from long disuse. The desire for work came upon him again overpoweringly. He wanted to see again if he could not draw just as truly and freely as in the old days. No, he could not wait till morning; he must put himself to the test again at once, at the very instant. It was a sudden feminine caprice, induced, no doubt, by the exalted, strained, and unnatural condition of his nerves, a caprice that could not be reasoned with, that could not be withstood. He had his keys with him, he opened the outside door and groped his way up the four long flights of stairs to his studio.
The studio was full of a sombre half-light, like a fog, spreading downward from the great north light in the sloping roof. The window was still wide open, the stretcher showed a pale gray blur. Vandover was about to light the gas when he checked himself, his arm still raised above his head. Ah, no; he did not dare to look at the result of his day’s work. It would be better to start in afresh from the beginning. He found the chamois skin on the tray of the easel and rubbed out all the drawing on the canvas. Then he lit the gas.
As he turned to his work once more a little thrill of joy and of relief passed over him. This time his hand was sure, steady, his head was clear. It had been nervousness after all. As he picked up his charcoal he even exclaimed to himself, “Just the same, that was a curious experience this afternoon.”
But the curious experience repeated itself again that night as soon as he tried to work. Once more certain shapes and figures were born upon his canvas, but they were no longer the true children of his imagination, they were no longer his own; they were changelings, grotesque abortions. It was as if the brute in him, like some malicious witch, had stolen away the true offspring of his mind, putting in their place these deformed dwarfs, its own hideous spawn.