Under the Skylights by Henry Blake Fuller
Little O'Grady vs. The Grindstone
When Ignace Prochnow found himself able to move into the Rabbit-Hutch, he congratulated himself on having made a marked advance in fortune.
"Oh, Lord!" thought Little O'Grady, upon Prochnow's venturing this disclosure, which he made in all sincerity and simplicity and with a complete absence of false shame; "how must he have lived before!"
The Rabbit-Hutch, the Warren, the Burrow--it went by all of these names--was a hapless property that was trying to pay taxes on itself between the ebbing of one tide of prosperity and the hoped-for flood of another. Centres were shifting, values were see-sawing, and old Ezekiel Warren was waiting for the nature of the neighbourhood to declare itself with something like distinctness. Meanwhile,--as regarded its upper floors, at least,--broken panes of glass were seldom mended, sagging doors seldom rehung, smoky ceilings seldom whitewashed, and the corridors rarely swept, save when the tenants formed themselves into a street-cleaning brigade, as Little O'Grady called it, and co-operated to make an immense but futile dust and stir.
"You're in a palace, sure," declared Little O'Grady, on the occasion of his first call upon the newcomer. This took place the third day of Prochnow's tenancy--he had scarcely got his poor belongings into shape and had barely affixed his name to the door. But Little O'Grady cared nothing for conventions; he was ready to overstep any boundary, to break through any barrier. "How did it occur to you to come among us?" he asked, sitting down on the bed. "What made you want to be a Bunny?"
"I found I must be where I could reach people, and where I could give them a chance to reach me."
Prochnow spoke with a slight accent--slight, but quaint and pungent. To have come among the Anglo-Saxons three or four years sooner would have been an advantage; to have deferred coming three or four years longer, a calamity.
"Yep, they 'reach' us good and hard," said O'Grady; "processions of millionairesses and peeresses marching through the halls with gold crowns on their heads and bags of double-eagles in both hands--nit. We did have a real swell, though--once. She called when Giles was here--it convulsed the premises. We all lost our sleep and appetite and thought of nothing else for a month. It was Mrs. Pence--expect you haven't heard of her. Money to burn--husband head of some tremendous trust or other--house as big as a hotel--handsomest profile in six states. 'Stevy,' says I to Giles, 'Stevy, for the love of heaven, introjooce me. Take a quart of me heart's blood, but only give me a chance to do her lovely head.' He wouldn't. She came when he had one of those good big rooms lower down--very fair, nothing like these of ours up here. He did wonders about fixing it up, too. But now we've lost him; he's gone, and taken my best chance with him." Little O'Grady rocked to and fro in melancholy mood and the cot creaked and swayed in unison.
"Show me something," he said suddenly, jerking himself back to his own bright humour. "I've smelt your coffee and I've heard your mandolin, and now I want to see your pictures."
"I've just sold one or two of my best ones," said Prochnow. "That's why I was able to come here."
"Sold a picture!" cried Little O'Grady, with staring eyes. "Sold a----Have you spent the money?"
"Most of it."
"Well, let it pass. Only we generally look for a supper after the sale of a picture. We had one six months ago. We're getting hungry again. But let that pass too. Show me something."
Prochnow looked at Little O'Grady, openly and unaffectedly appraising him. Little O'Grady jovially blinked his gray-green eyes and tossed his fluffy, sandy hair. "Don't make any mistake about me; I can appreciate a good thing. What's that big roll of brown paper behind the washstand?"
Prochnow reached for it. "Just a scheme for decoration I got up two or three years ago. It didn't quite--how do you say?--come off."
"Such things seldom do," said the other. "That's the trouble. Let's look."
"It isn't much," said Prochnow, undoing the roll. "It isn't quite what I would do now. It's the sort of thing I show to ordinary people."
"It will do to begin on. H'm, I see; just a lot of ladies playing at Commerce and Education and Industry and so on. Still, those cherubs up in the air are well done." He glanced over behind the wood-box. "Bust open that portfolio."
Prochnow looked at his visitor again--longer, more studiously.
"Oh, come now," said Little O'Grady, "you'll have me red-headed in a minute. I'm no chump; I know a good thing when I see it."
Prochnow opened the portfolio and handed out several sketches one after another. "These are more recent," he said;--"all within the last few months."
Little O'Grady snatched them, devoured them, immediately took fire. Prochnow caught the flame and burned and blazed in return. "Whew! this is warm stuff!" cried Little O'Grady, who had not an envious bone in his body; "and you--you're a wonder!" Little O'Grady made a last sudden grab. "Oh, this, this!" He dropped the sheet and threw up both hands. Then, being still seated on the cot, he threw up both feet. Then he placed his feet upon the floor and rose on them and gave Ignace Prochnow a set oratorical appreciation of his qualities as a thinker and a draughtsman, and then, swept away by a sudden impulse to spread the news of this magnificent new "find" right under their own roof, he rushed downstairs to communicate his discovery to Festus Gowan.
"Will return in half an hour," said the card on Gowan's door; so Little O'Grady sped back upstairs and burst in on Mordreth.
Mordreth was sitting composedly before a half-finished portrait of an elderly man of rustic mien. About him were disposed a number of helps and accessories: a pair of old-fashioned gold spectacles, an envelope containing a lock of gray hair, two or three faded photographs, and a steel engraving extracted from the Early Settlers of Illinois. With these aids he was hoping to hit the taste and satisfy the memory of certain surviving grandchildren.
Little O'Grady ignored the presence of any third person and let himself out. "He's a genius, Mark; he's full of the real stuff. He can draw to beat the band, and he's got ideas to burn--throws them out as a volcano does hot stones. And I expect he can paint too, from what little I saw--says he's just sold off all his best things. Yes, sir, he's an out-and-out genius and we've got to treat him right; we must let him in on this bank scheme of ours--that's all there is about it!"