Under the Skylights by Henry Blake Fuller
Little O'Grady vs. The Grindstone
Eudoxia Pence, after receiving the news of Virgilia's engagement, felt more easy in her mind; she knew, now, just what ground she stood on and saw just what she had to do. She realized that she had rather liked Daffingdon Dill all along and had secretly been hoping that he and Virgilia would hit it off. What she must see to was that Daffingdon got the commission from the Grindstone, or his proper share in it: those nine old men must accept his ideas and his sketches if this marriage were to become a fact. Virgilia, who always ran with wealthy people, often gave the impression of possessing greater means than she really commanded; this was doubly serious when it came to her taking up with a man who was altogether dependent on his wits, his skill and his invention, and subject to the passing whims of a fickle public taste. She went down to the library, to discuss the affair with her husband.
"It isn't as if Palmyra had been left with abundant means and only one daughter," she submitted. "It's different when Virgilia is one of four. And her brother is too taken up with his own wife and children to be of----Are you listening, Palmer?"
"Eh? What's that?" asked her husband, lifting his elderly face from a mass of papers that lay in the bright circle made by the library lamp. He was generally deep in his own concerns, and they were large ones. He seldom gave more than scant attention to such domestic details as developed from relations through marriage.
Eudoxia sighed and forbore to tax him further. And when, next morning, Virgilia came round to report the fate of the second decorative scheme she sighed again.
For the new plan had not been successful, after all; it had failed ignominiously at the eleventh hour. A great deal of effort had been expended in the private office of this director and that, and a futile attempt made to bring four or five of them together at the office of the bank itself, that the matter might be clenched and the contract signed. But the directors were elusive, and cost a great deal of time; and when found, evasive, and cost a great deal of patience. But it was the delay that had worked the ruin. It gave opportunity for tangles and hitches, for the reconsideration of points already settled, for the insinuation of doubts as to this, that and the other. Andrew P. Hill developed a sulky dislike for all the laboured superfluities that now encumbered the chaste simplicity of his original conception, and Roscoe Orlando Gibbons began to question (though, to tell the truth, he was just about to bring forward a candidate of his own) whether the artists thus far considered were sufficiently skilled to carry out the work. As a matter of fact, the only striking and convincing demonstration of ability witnessed thus far was that reported by his daughter from the studio of Festus Gowan.
No, that overwrought presentation of early local history was not quite what they wanted. The contract remained unsigned, and presently it slid off into the waste-paper basket under Andrew P. Hill's desk.
The whole circle boiled at this outrage. Joyce, who was highly articulate and who possessed a tremendous capacity for indignation, would have made himself a mouth-piece to voice the protests of his infuriate friends; but Little O'Grady wrenched the task from him.
O'Grady could not contain himself--nor did he try to. "This is business-dealing with business-men, is it?" he cried to Dill. "This is what comes of treating with solid citizens of means and method, is it? Where is my hat? I'll go round to that bank and just tell them what I----"
"O'Grady!" protested Dill. "Behave! or you'll have the fat in the fire for good and all."
"No, Daff," insisted Little O'Grady. "I got you into this, and now----"
"I don't understand it so," said Dill coldly.
"Oh yes, I did. And now I'll see you through. Where is my hat?"
While Daffingdon was trying to hold O'Grady in check, Virgilia was making moan to her aunt.
She sat down on Eudoxia's bed with a desperate flounce. "They don't want it! What, in heaven's name, do they want?" she asked angrily. "I think it is time for you, aunt, to make yourself felt. You are as much interested in the bank as any of them, and as much entitled to speak. Go down there as a stock-holder and find out what they are trying to do,"
"I will if you wish," said her aunt. "In the meantime, why don't you go round and talk to Mr. Gibbons? He's an agreeable enough man, and the only one of the lot that knows anything about such things. Learn from him, if you can, what the trouble is."
Virgilia found Roscoe Orlando Gibbons in the midst of his plats and charts--he was pushing a new subdivision to the northward; but he gallantly dropped his work at the entrance of a lady.
Virgilia asked for his support; she appealed to him both as a man of business who should be willing to carry on things in a business way, and as a cultivated amateur whose influence should not fail in supporting a fine scheme contrived by reputable artists.
"Ah--um, yes," replied Roscoe Orlando vaguely. "The town is developing a number of strong talents--really, we are pushing ahead wonderfully. I--ah, in fact, I may say," he went on, with some little grandiloquence, "that I have just been the means of bringing such a talent to light myself--an absolute discovery, and one of no little importance."
"Indeed?" said Virgilia coldly.
"Yes; a young Pole--a young Bohemian--a young I-don't-know-what." Roscoe Orlando waved his fingers with a vague, easy carelessness. "His name is Prochnow. Very, very gifted. I found him living out on the West Side--incredible distance--impossible neighbourhood--starving in the midst of masterpieces," pursued Roscoe Orlando complacently. "I bought a few."
"Prochnow!" thought Virgilia angrily; "that fellow who painted Preciosa McNulty's portrait!" He had doubtless won over old Jeremiah by that stroke, and now he was running off with Roscoe Orlando Gibbons. It was little less than a landslide; she and her aunt must stop it.
"One of his pictures is in my own drawing-room," said Gibbons. "The other I have presented to our club. Such colour!" he cried, rolling his eyes. "Such composition!" he added, running his fat fingers through his whiskers. "A talent of the first order; more--an out-and-out genius!" he concluded.
Yes, it was Roscoe Orlando who had purchased Prochnow's pictures and thus enabled him to take quarters in the Burrow. They were large unwieldy things, painted in the latter days of his Viennese apprenticeship, and they had cost him cruelly for freight and storage; but he had always clung to the belief that he could sell them sometime, to somebody: at least, they would serve to show what he could do. Or rather, what he had once done and been satisfied to do. He should hardly care to do such things now; he was not ashamed of them--he had merely left them a little behind.
"Oh, Ig, Ig, Ig!" Little O'Grady had cried upon learning of all this, "why won't you be fair and above-board? Why will you be so secretive, so self-sufficient? Why didn't you tell me it was Roscoe Orlando Gibbons who had bought those pictures?"
"Why, what difference does it make?" asked the other, in wonder.
"It makes all the difference in the world--to anybody who knows this town and its people. Has nobody ever told you that Roscoe Orlando Gibbons was one of the directors of the Grindstone?"
"Well, he is, and you've got him on your side. Did you say he had given one of 'em to some club?"
"The----. Is there such a club as the Michigan?"
"Yes. And old Oliver Dowd is the president of it. Now you can get him too."
"Yes; he's another of the directors. Oh, Ignace, you poor lost lamb, why haven't you told your Terence all these things before?"
As a fact, Roscoe Orlando's gift to the club (it had not cost him any great sum) had been accepted with empressement and given a good place in the general lounge. The younger members welcomed it gladly. It presented an odalisque, very small in the waist and with a wealth of tawny hair black in the shadows; the foreground was a matter of fountain basins and barbaric rugs; infants with prominent foreheads waved palm-branches in the corners; and one or two muscular bronzed slaves loomed up in the dim background. Dill, who had some acquaintance among the members of the club and was now and then asked in to lunch, was promptly brought up to look at it. To him it had a public, official aspect, not amiss in that place--surely the lady offered herself most admirably to the general male gaze. The thing was done knowingly, and with a certain brio, he acknowledged; but it seemed rather exotic and already slightly out of date. He saw Roscoe Orlando Gibbons openly gloating over its floridity, and bringing up other members, old and young, to gloat with him; but he thought it more than doubtful whether its dripping lusciousness would prove grateful to the dry mind and sapless person of Oliver Dowd. And he was glad to notice that Abner Joyce, who had lately joined (in the hope that the club's well-known interest in public affairs would offer him some opportunity to work for civic and national betterment), turned away from Gibbons's ill-judged offering with disdain and disgust.
"The fellow has training and facility," said Daffingdon; "but a great monumental scheme conceived in such a spirit as that----No, we have nothing to fear from him."
But there was much to fear from the complacency of Roscoe Orlando Gibbons. Could he, as he asked Virgilia with a maddening, self-satisfied smile, withdraw his support from a talent that he had introduced into his own house and indorsed in the eyes of the commercial and professional public? Virgilia saw that what she had to contend against was vanity, and she went away in very low spirits. If Prochnow had but come to Roscoe Orlando's notice through the ordinary channels! If his patron were not glowing, palpitating, expanding with the conscious joy of discovery! But crude ore brought to light by our own pick and shovel is more precious to us than refined gold that enters into circulation through the assayer and the mint.
"Ugh!" said Virgilia to her aunt; "you should have heard him. He simply--blatted. It was disgusting. And now, what are we going to do?"