Under the Skylights by Henry Blake Fuller
Little O'Grady vs. The Grindstone
Virgilia, after dismissing Daffingdon with the detailed memoranda of her great decorative scheme, went through the vain forms of going upstairs and getting to bed. But sleep was out of the question. Her brain still kept at work, elaborating the ideas already proposed and adding still others to the plan. Why hadn't she laid more stress on the Medici? How had she contrived to overlook John Law and the South Sea Bubble, with all its attendant wigs, hooped petticoats and shoe-buckles? Then the Pine-Tree Shilling jumped to her eyes, and Virginia's use of tobacco as a currency;--possibly the entire scheme might be arranged on a purely American basis, in case sympathy for her wider outlook were to fail.
Virgilia ate her breakfast soberly enough; she checked all tendency toward expansiveness with her own people, who were sadly earth-bound and utilitarian. But immediately after breakfast she put on her things and stepped round the corner to have a confab with her aunt. She found Eudoxia upstairs, clad in a voluminous dressing-gown and struggling with her over-plump arms against the rebelliousness of her all but inaccessible back hair. Virgilia was very vivid and sprightly in her report on the evening's conference, and Eudoxia, studying her with some closeness, was barely able to apply the check when she found herself asking:
"Has he--has he----?"
Virgilia dropped her eyes. No, he hadn't.
But the acceptance of these magnificent proposals might easily make another proposal possible, and again Eudoxia Pence asked herself:
"Do I want it, or don't I? Certainly only the bank's acceptance of Daff's scheme will make possible Virgilia's acceptance of Daff himself."
That evening Dill called again on Virgilia, bringing the Hill-McNulty plan.
"So this is the sort of thing they want?" she cried. "They insist on it, after all, do they?" She cast her eye over the paper and hardly knew whether to laugh or to weep. "'The First Fire-Engine House,'" she read. '"Old Fort Kinzie'; 'The Grape-Vine Ferry'; 'The Early Water-Works'--oh, this is terrible!" she exclaimed.
"Read on," said Dill plaintively.
"What in heaven's name is that?"
"A place where they used to hold conventions, I believe. 'The Succotash Tavern'----"
"What does that mean?"
"I've heard it spoken of, I think," said Virgilia faintly. "It was built of cottonwood logs and stood at the fork in the river. 'The Hard-Shell Baptist Church,'----" she read on.
"Do you know anything about that?"
"I think I've seen it in old photographs. It stood on one side of Court-House Square."
"Did it have a steeple?" asked Dill droopingly.
"I believe it did--quite a tall one."
"Of course it did!" he groaned. "And so it goes. One building hugs the ground and the next cleaves the sky. Yet they've all got to be used for the decorative filling of a lot of spaces precisely alike."
"What does Giles think of this?" asked Virgilia.
"And Adams, at the Academy?"
"He's gone out to buy a rope."
"And Little O'Grady?"
"He fell over in a dead faint. He's lying in it yet. But before he lost consciousness he made one suggestion----"
"What was it?"
Dill paused. "Have you ever heard of a painter named Proch--Prochnow?" he presently asked, with some disrelish. "A newcomer, I believe."
"I don't think I have."
"He has lately taken a studio in the Warren. O'Grady has seen his work and speaks well of it."
"What particular kind of work?"
"Decorative. Portraits too, I understand. He has been doing one of that little Miss McNulty."
Virgilia frowned. "What!" she was thinking to herself, "have I been taken in by that viper, that traitress?--by a child who looked like an innocent flower and is turning out to be the serpent under it? Prochnow!--the hard name that nobody could pronounce! It's easy enough: Prochnow; Prochnow. She could have pronounced it fast enough if she had wanted to! And now she has gone over to the other side and taken O'Grady with her--and her grandfather too!" Then, aloud:
"O'Grady says he's full of--ideas----"
"And what has O'Grady got to do with it?" asked Virgilia tartly. "Has anybody asked his help? Why is he mixing up in the matter, anyway? And if he wants to suggest, let him stop suggesting painters and suggest a few sculptors. I haven't heard of his doing anything like that!"
Dill sighed wearily. "You can't keep O'Grady out if he wants to get in. But I must say I hadn't expected to be loaded down with any more of the Warren people. Gowan is more a drag than a help, and O'Grady is doing all he can to bring us under a cloud. The directors can't understand such freedom, such language, such shabbiness, such Bohemianism. Take it all around, they are making it a heavier load than I can carry through."
"And now they want to add another of their miserable crowd to it. Well, there will be no room for Prochnows and their ideas," declared Virgilia, wounded in her tenderest point. "We will attend to the ideas. Let us take Hill's absurd notion, if we must, and rush in and wrench victory from defeat. Let us take his cabins and taverns and towers and steeples and use them in the background----"
"That would be the only way."
"--and then put in people--Hill and McNulty can't be insisting upon mere 'views.' Fill up your foregrounds with traders and hunters and Indians and 'early settlers' and 'prairie-schooners'----"
"Giles has gone out to bring them round to something like that."
"They really won't have the Bank of Genoa? They won't listen to Phidion of Argos?"
"I couldn't bring them within hailing distance of him."
"Where is Roscoe Orlando Gibbons in such an hour as this?"
"I haven't been able to find him."
"I shall find him. Aunt Eudoxia is a large stock-holder in that wretched bank, and he's the only man of taste and refinement on the board. If we have lost Jeremiah, that's all the more reason why we should have Roscoe Orlando. I shall get her and go to his office at once. He can't refuse support to our plan; he won't let this barbarous notion of Hill's make any headway."
Dill looked at Virgilia with mounting appreciation. Where was her equal for resource, for elasticity, for devotion, for erudition? She was at home in Grote and Sismondi, and she was just as much at home in the early local annals of the town itself. She knew about the Parthenon and Giotto's Tower, and she knew about the Succotash Tavern and the Hard-Shell Baptist Meeting-House too. With matchless promptitude and resiliency she began the broad sketching out of an entirely new scheme--a thoroughly local one. Was there not Pere Marquette and the Sieur Joliet and La Salle and Governor D'Artaguette? Was there not the Fort Kinzie Massacre and the Last War-Dance of the Pottawatomies? Was there not the prairie mail-coach and the arrival of the first vessel in the harbour? Were there not traders and treaties and Indian commissioners? "There!" she cried, "you and Stephen Giles just sharpen your teeth on such matters as those! We have almost got the Nine Old Ogres on the run, and we mustn't slow up on them for a single minute!"
Dill stared at her with dazzled eyes. Such vim, such spirit, such knowledge, such loyalty!--and all for him, all in his service! He felt confusedly that he was upon the verge of taking her hand and saying in broken trembling tones that she was his guiding star, his ruling spirit, his steadfast hope--what lesser expressions could fitly voice his gratitude, his admiration, his devotion? Then he caught himself: things were still in the air. His fortune was yet to be made, and who could say but that its making might yet be marred? Let him once come to an understanding with those trying old fellows, let him but have a hard-and-fast agreement with them in downright black and white, and then--who could tell what might be said and done?