Under the Skylights by Henry Blake Fuller
Little O'Grady vs. The Grindstone
By this time every "art circle" in the city knew from its centre to its circumference that the Grindstone National Bank was moving toward the elaborate decoration of its new building and that the board of directors was thinking of devoting some twenty thousand dollars or more to this purpose. The Temple of Art took on its reception smile; the Rabbit-Hutch began a nervous rummaging for ideas among cobwebs and dusty portfolios and forgotten canvases; decorators of drawing-rooms and libraries put on their thinking-caps and stood up their little lightning-rods; and one or two of the professors at the Art Academy began to overhaul their mythology and to sketch out broad but hazy schemes for a succession of thumping big masterpieces, and to wonder whether the directors would call on them or whether they should be summoned to meet the directors.
"Gee!" said Little O'Grady (whose forte was reliefs in plastina), as he hopped around Dill's studio on one leg; "but ain't it a godsend for us!"
Little O'Grady was celebrated for keeping the most untidy and harum-scarum quarters throughout the entire Rabbit-Hutch, and for being wholly beyond the reach of reproof or the range of intimidation. The stately sobriety of Dill's studio had no deterring effect upon him. Nothing could impress him; nobody could repress him. He said just what he thought to anybody and everybody, and acted just as he felt wherever he happened to be. Just now he felt like dancing a jig--and did so.
"But, dear me, where do you come in?" asked Dill, moving his easel a bit farther out of Little O'Grady's range.
"Where do I come in? Everywhere. I come in on the capitals of the columns round that court, which will all be modelled after special designs of me own----"
"I hadn't heard about them. I should suppose such things would follow established patterns."
"So does the architect. But I shall convince him yet that he's mistaken." O'Grady gave a pirouette in recognition of his own powers of persuasion.
"And I come in on the mantel-piece in the president's private parlour," he continued. "It will be a low relief in bronze: 'The Genius of the West Lighting the Way to Further Progress,' or else, 'Commerce and Finance Uniting to Do Something or Other'--don't know what just yet, but shall hit on some notion or other in due time----"
"You've seen the plans, then? You've been striking up an acquaintance with the architect himself?" Dill frowned repugnance upon such a bit of indelicacy, such an indifference to professional etiquette.
"Well, perhaps I have. Why not? But if there's a president--I s'pose there is?"
"I suppose so."
"Then there'll sure be a parlour. And where there's a parlour there's a fireplace--see? A large official cavern with never any fire in it. And I come in on the drinking-fountains at each side of the main entrance: bronze dolphins twisted upside down and spouting water into marble basins."
"They're included too, are they?"
"Well, I suggested them. Don't those old coupon-clippers ever get thirsty? Sure they do. Well, can't I wet their whistles for them? I guess yes--and I told 'em so."
"You've seen them?"
"I attended a meeting of the board, as I suppose I might as well tell you," said Little O'Grady grandly.
"You did, eh?" returned Dill, balanced between reprobation of Little O'Grady's push and admiration for his nerve.
"Yep. I spoke a good word for myself. And one for the others--Gowan and Giles and you and Stalinski and----"
"Um," said Dill, none too well pleased. The last thing he desired was co-operation from the Rabbit-Hutch and association with the band of erratic, happy-go-lucky Bohemians that peopled it. "You're laying out a good deal of work for yourself," he remarked coldly, dismissing the Bunnies.
"Work? That's what I'm here for," declared O'Grady brightly. "And if I slip up on any of these little notions, why I'll just take a hand in the painting itself--didn't I help on a panorama once? Sure thing. There was a time when I could kind o' swing a brush, and I guess I could do it yet. Let's see: 'The Goddess of Finance,' in robes of saffron and purple, 'Declaring a Quarterly Dividend.' Gold background. Stock-holders summoned by the Genius of Thrift blowing fit to kill on a silver trumpet. Scene takes place in an autumnal grove of oranges and pomegranates--trees loaded down with golden eagles and half-eagles. Marble pavement strewn with fallen coupons. Couldn't I do a fairy-scene like that? I should say!" Little O'Grady threw out his leg again with sudden vehemence and toppled over among Dill's heaped-up cushions.
Dill laughed. "How are the other fellows over your way feeling about it?"
"Same as me--hopeful. We may have to sleep on excelsior for a while yet, but we shall soon stop eating it. And the first thing we do with the coin will be to give old Warren heart-disease by going down in a body and paying up all our back rent. I'm figuring on pulling out about two thousand for my share. Then if I want pie I can have it, without stopping to feel in my pocket first."
Little O'Grady babbled along as he delineated the mental state of the other Bunnies. They all felt the situation in the air--they all felt it in their bones. They all wanted a hand in things--a finger in the pie. There was Festus Gowan, who did little beyond landscapes, but who thought he could make some headway with faces and draperies if pushed to it. There was Mordreth, who did little but portraits--and "deaders" at that--but who fancied he might come out reasonably strong on landscape and on architectural accessories if somebody would only give him a chance. There was Felix Stalinski, who had lately left "spot-knocking" for general designing and who thought that if a man was able to turn out a good, effective poster he might consider himself equal to almost anything. And there was Stephen Giles, who had recently been decorating reception halls and dining-rooms for the high and mighty and who saw no reason why he shouldn't take a higher flight still and adorn the palaces where the money was made instead of those where it was spent. "No use in my talking to you about him, though," broke off Little O'Grady. "He ain't one of us any more. He's one of you, now."
"I hope you fellows don't feel that way----" began Dill.
"He's a renegade," declared Little O'Grady. "But never mind; we like him all the same. Some day he may be glad to leave the Temple and come back to us again at the Warren. That'll be all right. We'll welcome him; we'll share our last mouthful of excelsior with him." Little O'Grady gave another joyful kick into the air. "Well, his room didn't stay empty long; Gowan moved down right away, and a new man took Gowan's room only day before yesterday--so old Ezekiel won't lose more'n about fourteen dollars' rent, after all. Chap's got his name out already: Ignace Pr--Pr----Well, anyway, it begins with a P. He makes rattling strong coffee, by the smell, and tinkles now and then on the thing-a-ma-jig. They say he's terrible smart--full of the real old stuff."
"Has Gowan been thinking up anything in particular?"
"Well, he's thinking he sees that money piled up in the bank vaults. We all do. And we want to get at it. Say, great thing to be working for a bank, eh? No flighty, shilly-shallying, notional women, but a lot of steady, sober business-men who'll make a good straight contract and keep it. No saying, 'Well, my daughter doesn't altogether fancy this,' or, 'I will take your sketches home to my husband and we will think about them,'--and then never telling us what they think. Sure pay, too. And prompt, as well. Quarter down, let us say, on submitting the general scheme of decoration; another quarter as soon as we begin actual work----Yes, sir, I almost feel as if I saw my way to meat once a day right through the week!"