Under the Skylights by Henry Blake Fuller
Little O'Grady vs. The Grindstone
"We must get at the girl herself," declared Eudoxia,--"that is, if it isn't too late, if she isn't utterly infatuated with him."
"I don't think I've heard as much as that said," replied Virgilia. She knew of but one young woman who might justly go to such a length. "What shall you do first? Shall you ask her to pour tea?"
"No need, yet, of going as far as that. Can't you get together a little party and give her a sort of lunch out at the Whip and Spur? Then one of us, I suppose, might call on her mother--if she's got one."
"Whatever you suggest," said Virgilia, with a suppressed sob. "You may think I'm a perpetual fount of ideas, but I'm not." The Grindstone's rejection of her second scheme had hurt her cruelly. She put her handkerchief to her eyes--as if she had become, instead, a fount of tears.
And as such she next appeared to Dill. "I felt so sure, dear Daff, that we could put it through," she mourned. "And now--and now----"
Daffingdon drew her discouraged head down against his shoulder, in his most noble and manful mode. "Let the lions take us, if they will," he seemed to say, casting his eyes around the arena.
Little O'Grady came over, bearing a martyr's palm. The universal sadness was reflected in his face. Little Frankie Adams was to go along wearing his old shoes, and Kitty Gowan, who had been figuring on a belated winter suit, had tearfully thrown a handful of samples in the fire and put the fond notion aside.
Little O'Grady wiped a sympathetic eye. "Oh, Daff, I'm so sorry for you; just at the time, too, when----" He dared not proceed, awed by Dill's protesting pathos. "Come, now," he ventured presently, "why shouldn't we let Ignace in on this? He's so inventive; he's so full of ideas----"
Daffingdon recalled the sensuous Oriental masterpiece at the club and saw no reason why the possessor of such a particular talent could be expected to succeed in a bank. He shook his head; no member of another sect--no heretical Viennese--should share his martyrdom with him. This left Prochnow free to rush upon the lions on his own account. Little O'Grady, returning to the Rabbit-Hutch, found his neighbour's loins fully girded for the task--the fine frenzy of inspiration had already turned the place upside down.
"That's right, Ignace!" he called from the threshold; "sail in. What is the plan this time?" he asked, tiptoeing along over the scattered sheets that littered the floor.
Prochnow ran his nervous fingers through his wild black forelock, and cast on Little O'Grady a piercing, inspirational glance from a pair of glittering eyes.
"The two great modern forces," he pronounced, "are Science and Democracy. I shall show how each has contributed to the progress of society. Science shall have the six lunettes on the right and Democracy the six on the left."
"H'm," said Little O'Grady; "an allegory?"
"Precisely. No better basis for a grand monumental work."
"Well, Ignace," declared Little O'Grady, "you'll put it through if anybody can!"
He hurried back to his own room, shrugged himself into his plaster-flecked blouse of robin's-egg blue, threw "The First Issue of Wild-Cat Currency" (a group of frontier financiers in chokers and high beaver hats) back into the clay-box, and began at once on a bold relief of "Science and Democracy Opening the Way for the Car of Progress."
"Science," he explained to Prochnow, next day, "will be clearing the air of the bats of ignorance, and Democracy will be clearing the ground of the imps of aristocracy--or maybe they'll be demons. And between the two, right in the middle, of course, the Car of Progress will advance in very low relief. I haven't quite got it all where it will pull together yet, and I can see the foreshortening of the horses will be something terrible; but I'm pretty sure I shall find some way out within a week or so. Let me tell you one thing, though, about your own job, Ignace. Your allegory will go down easier if----Say, you wouldn't take Hill's hints, would you?"
"No," said Prochnow, with the loftiest contempt.
"It will go down easier, I say, if you'll just work in some portraits of our Nine Worthies. Ghirlandajo did that racket, for instance; so did Holbein. So did plenty of others. Wouldn't Andrew P. Hill's chin-beard come in great on Fortitude? And if you've got any gratitude in your composition, Roscoe Orlando ought to go in as Prosperity. Give him two cornucopias, instead of one, to balance those side-whiskers----"
"Hush!" called Prochnow reprovingly. He never jested about his patrons and he never made facetious observations about art.
"Well, don't get mad," said Little O'Grady, slightly abashed. "I'm doing just that thing with Simon Rosenberg; he's going to be my archdemon of aristocracy."
Prochnow remained smilelessly severe; and Little O'Grady, after one or two more feeble efforts to save his "face," slunk away--vastly impressed, as he never failed to be when he met the rare person that could put him down.
"What makes Ignace so grouchy to-day, I wonder?" he muttered, as he returned to the Car of Progress.
Prochnow soon forgot this interruption and jumped back into his work with redoubled vigour. He took a serious view of himself, of his art, of things in general; above all, he took a serious view of his immediate future and of the place that Preciosa McNulty might come to have in it. Little O'Grady, an easygoing bachelor, everybody's friend, and too much the champion of the whole gentler sex to set any one of its members apart from all the rest, might indulge in such jestings about his own life and his own work as he saw fit. But for himself, a man of the warmest and highest ambitions, yet with the most restricted means for realizing them, play by the roadside was quite out of the question.