Under the Skylights by Henry Blake Fuller
Little O'Grady vs. The Grindstone
A few days later, and his bold step seemed justified. The directors were an elusive body, and even when got together they found it hard to act with anything like unanimity and despatch; but one afternoon Stephen Giles encountered Mr. Holbrook in the office of one of the hotels and was told that the plan was receiving favourable consideration and was not unlikely to be accepted. As Mr. Holbrook was the most passive member of the directorate, drifting quietly along with the general current, it seemed safe to accept him as representing the feeling of that body.
Giles carried the good news to Adams, at the Academy. Adams hurried home with it to his wife and little Frankie.
A few days more, and it laboriously transpired that old Jeremiah McNulty was readjusting himself to the plan as modified and elaborated by Dill and his associates. Old Jeremiah was particularly taken by the idea of the First Ferry--suggesting only that the scene be slightly enlarged, so as to take in the site of his early "yard."
"At last we're gathering them in!" declared Adams to his wife. They began to figure up their share of the spoils and to study how they would lay this immense sum out.
First of all they would bring a smile to the wan face of a patient landlord by paying the back rent in full. As for the rest, Frankie must have a pair of new shoes; and a thousand dollars at least must be placed on deposit in some good savings bank.
"For we have never been able to put anything by, and now at last comes this chance to provide for the rainy day." They looked at each other in mutual content and admiration--this was prudence, this was thrift.
Next, word came to Dill that the attorney for the bank was actually engaged in drawing up the contract. "We may even be able to sign it to-morrow," he said to Virgilia. "We shall have Japan in good season, and much more in between. Tell me; are we not selfish in keeping our happiness to ourselves? Shall you not----"
"I am ready to let the whole world know, dear Daff," she responded. "And oh, to think that I have had my part in bringing your great good fortune about!"
At the very moment when Daffingdon and Virgilia were taking notes on the aborigines and planning for Japan, Preciosa McNulty was strolling with Ignace Prochnow through the galleries of the Art Academy. The portrait was now finished. The submerged "resemblance" had risen once more to the surface, as Little O'Grady had foretold, and the canvas had been borne home in triumph to Preciosa's fond, admiring family.
"Who did it?" asked her grandfather, boundlessly pleased.
"That young man," replied Preciosa.
"What young man?"
"The one who came here that night and threw those big sheets of paper all over the furniture."
"It's you to the life, my child," he said.
"Grandpa," proceeded Preciosa, "I want him to come here again and throw some more sheets over the furniture. He's awfully smart, and he's just bursting with ideas."
Her grandfather scratched his chin. There were so many smart young men bursting with ideas--the wrong sort of ideas. "Let him go to Mr. Hill."
"They're better than those others were."
Still the old man shook his head. "Let him go to Mr. Hill," he repeated.
"With a letter or something from you?"
"Let him go and talk for himself."
"No. You just sit down and write it now." Then, to herself: "There! I think Virgilia Jeffreys will find she can't wind me round her finger quite as easily as she thought she could!"
Preciosa gave Prochnow his letter in front of the Parthenon pediment (where the current of visitors was thinnest), and counselled him to advance on the Grindstone. He was as quick and clever as any of them, she declared, and was entitled to take his share.
Prochnow tossed his head. "I don't know that I care for a 'share,'" he said.
"Do you want to do it all?" asked Preciosa, awe-struck.
"All or none," replied Prochnow loftily. "I am not one to co-operate. I could do the whole as easily as a part."
They strolled on through one spacious hall after another; none seemed too roomy for the manoeuvres of this young genius. The largest studio in the Burrow, Gowan's own, cramped him--most of all on the days when Mrs. Gowan came down, set forth the tea-pot, lit up her candles and gave her moving little imitation of the handsomer functions that took place through the upper tiers of the Temple of Art. Prochnow had scant patience with the mild hospitalities that accompanied, obbligato-like, art's onward course; he could not accommodate himself, he could not fit in. There were days when the streets and the parks themselves seemed none too spacious, and Preciosa, who was beginning to accompany him abroad, soon got the widest notion of his limitless expansiveness. He saw things with an eye that was new, informed, penetrating, and he spread comments acute, critical, pungent, with the freest possible tongue. He showed her the tawdry, restless vulgarity of the architecture along the most splendid of her favourite thoroughfares, and the ludicrousness of much of the sculpture that cumbered the public parks; and with the mercilessness of youth for mediocrity in his seniors, the arrives, he would run through the canvases of current exhibitions, displaying an abrupt arrogance, a bald, raw, cursory cruelty that only the Uebermensch of art would have ventured to employ.
"And what do you think of our front parlour furniture?" asked Preciosa; "and of all that fancy woodwork on our cupola?"
Prochnow placed his hand over his mouth and turned away. It seemed as if these things were too awful for characterization, yet he would spare them for her sake. Let him laugh, though, if he wished; and she would laugh with him.
Thus her world daily became smaller, more insignificant, less to be regarded, while Ignace himself grew bigger, more preponderant. How could she refuse confidence in one who had such boundless confidence in himself?
In the course of these strolls he told her something about his own early life. He had been born, she made out, somewhere between the Danube and the Oder; he spoke familiarly of the frontier of Silesia. He had studied in Munich and Vienna, and some of his things--sumptuous, highly-charged, over-luscious--showed clearly enough the influence of Makart and the lawless vicinity of gipsy Hungary. He had crossed to America with his family five years before; they were still in New Jersey. "They came half-way," he declared; "and I have come all the way--an adventurer in a new land."
Preciosa tried to realize the newness, which she had always taken for granted, and the remoteness, which had never made itself particularly plain to her consciousness; all this that she might reach some appreciation of his venturesomeness,--a gallant, spirited quality not misplaced in one so youthful, so self-confident, so fitted for success and mastery.
"Well, you're ready for one adventure, anyway," declared Preciosa, motioning toward the letter still held in Prochnow's brown, veined hand. She saw herself helping him into the saddle and passing him up his lance.
"So I am," he acquiesced. He brought his eyes back from the large, pale, formidable Amazonian figures before him to the warm-hearted, warm-coloured little creature by his side. Her wealth of chestnut hair was glowing in its most artful disorder; and there was limitless enticement in the turn of her long curling eyelashes, just on a level with his moustache-to-be. Her slim little body was subordinated to her head and to her spreading hat in precisely the degree imposed by modern taste and recognised by the canons of modern art; nothing less grandiose, pallid, remote was to be imagined. Her dress, full of rich, daring colours and latter-day complications of design, completed the spell; those very large white women in crinkled draperies might remain where they were, when such a one as this was here, as close to him as his own self, as contemporaneous as the last stroke of the clock, as rich and brilliant in colouring as any of the canvases of his master's master, as necessary as bread and wine. He must put to its best use the weapon she had placed in his hand, when there was so much--all the world, in fact--to gain.
"Do your best," said Preciosa, mindful of the portfolios that Little O'Grady had lugged downstairs and had opened in Festus Gowan's studio. "Leave them all behind," she added, feeling as keenly as ever the smart of her feeble complaisance toward Virgilia Jeffreys.
"Can I fail with such encouragement?" asked Prochnow, in an intonation unwontedly tender, as he tried to look under those long curling lashes.
Preciosa flushed--a thing those great, over-admired marble women would have tried in vain to do. Yes, she was no closer to him than she was necessary to him. He began to look forward to the time when he might take her by the hand, restraining such modest impulse as she was now showing to move on to the next room, and reproduce that blush by telling her all she was to him and must be ever. Only the wills, the whims, the prejudices of a few unenlightened old men stood in his way; these he must bend, dissipate, brush aside. He felt himself equal to the task.