Under the Skylights by Henry Blake Fuller
Little O'Grady vs. The Grindstone
"Well, it comes to this, then," said Virgilia. "We must give them something definite--a fully outlined--projet; and we must give it to them as soon as possible." She cleared away the ruck of evening papers from the library table, sent her younger sister off with arithmetic and geography to the dining-room, extracted a few sheets of monogrammed paper from the silver stationery-rack close by, and turned on two or three more lights in the electrolier overhead. "Now, then. We'll choke off that foolish notion of theirs; we'll smother it before it has a chance to mature."
She put a pen into Daffingdon's hand, with the open expectation of immediate results. She herself always thought better with a pen in her hand and a writing-pad under it; no doubt a painter would respond to the same stimulus.
Daffingdon bit at the end of the penholder and made a dog-ear on the topmost of the steel-gray sheets.
"Come," said Virgilia. "Whatever follies may have begun to churn in their poor weak noddles, we will not draw upon the early pages of the local annals, we will not attempt to reconstruct the odious architecture of the primitive prairie town. Come; there are twelve large lunettes, you say?"
"Well, now, just how shall we handle them?"
"I had thought of a general colour-scheme in umber and sienna; though Giles's idea of shading the six on the left into purple and olive and the six on the right into----"
"Dear me! Can we hope to impress Andrew P. Hill with any such idea as that? No; we must have our theme, our subject--our series of subjects."
"I don't want to be simply pictorial," said Daffingdon reluctantly; "and surely you can't expect me to let my work run into mere literature."
"They're business-men," returned Virgilia. "For our own credit--for our own salvation, indeed--we must be clear-cut and definite. Even if we are artists we mustn't give those hard-headed old fellows any chance to accuse us of wabbling, of shilly-shallying. We must try to be as business-like as they are. So let's get in our work--and get it in first."
Daffingdon's eyes roamed the rugs, the hangings, the furniture. "'The Genius of the City,'" he murmured vaguely, "'Encouraging--Encouraging'--"
"Yes, yes," spoke Virgilia, doing a little encouraging herself.
"Or, 'The--The Westward Star of Empire Illuminating the'----" proceeded Daffingdon mistily, raising his eyes toward the electrolier.
"Yes, yes," responded Virgilia quickly, by way of further encouragement.
"Or--or--'The Triumphal March of Progress through Our'----" Daffingdon confusedly dipped the wrong end of the penholder into the big sprawling inkstand.
Virgilia's teeth began to feel for her lips, and her eyebrows to draw themselves down in an impatient little frown of disappointment. Not through "Our Midst," she hoped. What was the matter with her idol? What had he done with all his fund of information? What had become of his ideas, his imagination? She felt that if she were to approach a bit closer to his pedestal and sound him with her knuckles he would be found hollow. What a calamity in such a discovery! She put her hand behind her back and kept her distance.
"'The Genius of the City,'" she mused; "'The Star of Empire.' Those might do for single subjects but not for a general scheme. 'The March of Progress '--that might be better as a broad working basis, although----" She saw the "lady" seated on the cogged wheel beneath the factory chimney and stopped.
"'The Prairie-Schooner'--'The Bridging of the Mississippi'--'The Last of the Buffaloes'--' The Corner-Stones of New Capitols'----" pursued Daffingdon brokenly.
"Would you care very much for that sort of thing?" asked Virgilia.
"Nor I. Come, let me tell you; I have it: 'The History of Banking in all Ages'! There, what do you think of that?" she asked, rising with an air of triumph.
Dill hesitated. "I don't believe I know so very much about the history of banking."
"Don't you? But I do--enough and more than enough for the present purpose. Come, tell me, isn't that a promising idea? What a series it would make!--so picturesque, so varied, so magnificent!"
Daffingdon looked up at his Egeria; her visible inspiration almost cowed him. "Isn't that a pretty large theme?" he questioned. "Wouldn't it require a good deal of thought and study----?"
"Thought? Study? Surely it would. But I think and study all the time! Let me see; where shall we begin? With the Jews and Lombards in England, Think what you have!--contrast, costumes, situations, everything. Then take the 'Lombards' in Italy itself; the founding of the earliest banks in Venice, Lucca, Genoa, Florence; the glamour of it, the spectacularity of it, the dealings with popes and with foreign kings! And there were the Fuggers at Augsburg who trafficked with emperors: houses with those step-ladder gables, and people with puffed elbows and slashed sleeves and feathers of all colours in those wide hats. And then the way that kings and emperors treated the bankers: Edward the Second refusing to repay his Florentine loans and bringing the whole city to ruin; Charles the First sallying out to the Mint and boldly appropriating every penny stored there--plain, barefaced robbery. Then, later, the armies of Revolutionary France pillaging banks everywhere--grenadiers, musketeers and cuirassiers in full activity. Among others, the Bank of Amsterdam--the one that loaned all those millions of florins to the East India Company. And that brings in, you see, turbans, temples, jewels, palm-trees, and what not besides----"
"So much trouble," breathed Daffingdon; "so much effort; such an expense for costumes."
"And if you want to enlarge the scheme," pursued Virgilia, waiving all considerations of trouble, effort and expense, "so as to include coining, money-changing and all that, why, think what you have then! The brokers at Corinth, the mensarii in the Roman Forum. And think of the ducats designed by Da Vinci and by Cellini! And all the Byzantine coins in Gibbon--the student's edition is full of them! Why, there are even the Assyrian tablets--you must have heard about the discovery of the records of that old Babylonian bank. Think of the costumes, the architecture, the square curled beards, the flat winged lions, and all. Why, dear me, I see the whole series of lunettes as good as arranged for, and work laid out for a dozen of you, or more!" cried Virgilia, as she pounced upon a sheet of paper and snatched the pen from Dill.
"A dozen?" he murmured. "A hundred!"
"Nonsense!" she returned. "Four or five of you could manage it very handily. You, and Giles, and----"
"The Academy would expect recognition," said Dill. "One of the professors for a third. And somebody or other from the Warren, I suppose, for a fourth."
"Three subjects apiece, then," said Virgilia. "Go in and win!--By the way, did I mention Phidion of Argos? He was one of the primitive coiners. And then there was Athelstane, who regulated minting among the early Saxons...."