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.
Just before Lent, and about three months after the death of Vandover’s father, Henrietta Vance gave a reception and dance at her house. The affair was one of a series that the girls of the Cotillon had been giving to the men of the same club. Vandover had gone to all but the last, which had occurred while he was at Coronado. He was sure of meeting Geary, young Haight, Turner Ravis, and all the people of his set at these functions, and had always managed to have a very jolly time. He had been very quiet since his father’s death and had hardly gone out at all; in fact, since Ida Wade’s death and his trip down the coast he had seen none of his acquaintances except the boys. But he determined now that he would go to this dance and in so doing return once more to the world that he knew. By this time he had become pretty well accustomed to his father’s death and saw no reason why he should not have a good time.
At first he thought he would ask Turner to go with him, but in the end made up his mind to go alone, instead; one always had a better time when one went alone. Young Haight would have liked to have asked Turner, but did not because he supposed, of course, that Vandover would take her. In the end Turner had Delphine act as her escort.
Vandover arrived at Henrietta Vance’s house at about half-past eight. A couple of workmen were stretching the last guy ropes of the awning that reached over the sidewalk; every window of the house was lighted. The front door was opened for the guest before he could ring, and he passed up the stairs, catching a glimpse of the parlours through the portieres of the doors. As yet they were empty of guests, the floors were covered with canvas, and the walls decorated with fern leaves. In a window recess one of the caterer’s men was setting out two punch bowls and a multitude of glass cups; three or four musicians were gathered about the piano, tuning up, and one heard the subdued note of a cornet; the air was heavy with the smell of pinks and of La France roses.