Under the Skylights by Henry Blake Fuller
Little O'Grady vs. The Grindstone
Prochnow spent the whole day working for Preciosa, oblivious of Virgilia's snares or of the debut of Robin Morrell. He heaved history, tradition, legend, mythology into the furnace, worked the bellows with indefatigable hand, blew his brains to a white heat and kept them there, and dropped down at dusk with his project complete. He had outlined two or three of his cartoons as well, and had even dashed out, on a small scale, the colour-scheme of the one that made the most immediate appeal.
Little O'Grady, who had had all the trouble he anticipated with the chariot of Progress--and a good deal more--came in for a cup of Prochnow's potent, bewitching coffee.
"Ignace!" he cried, wiping his clay-encrusted hands on the blue blouse, "you beat us all! You'll run away ahead of any one of us! Only, you'll kill yourself doing it!"
"My first great chance," replied Prochnow. "I mustn't let it slip by."
Within a few days this third scheme was brought into intelligible shape and sent off in pursuit of the scattered sons of finance. "It's a dead go!" cried Little O'Grady; "this time we get 'em sure!" His confidence was the light from the blazing furnace, just as Prochnow's intensity was its heat. When each believed so fully in himself and in the other how could the thought of failure intrude?
"Ignace," said Little O'Grady, "this time they'll treat us right. You must take a better room than you have here. You must move downstairs, where people can find you, and where you will be able to let them in when they do. Ladies, now--how could you possibly receive them in such quarters as these?"
Prochnow easily allowed himself to be persuaded. He was already beginning to see about how the cat jumped and to understand how much depended upon the gentle patronage of the luminaries of society. There was one little star, surely, whose light he should be glad to focus on himself once more--nor be indebted to another's kindness for the privilege. He had indeed ventured to call on Preciosa once or twice at her own home--in particular there was the evening on which, defying niggardly Fortune, he had invited her to the theatre, her passion; but Euphrosyne McNulty had not seemed fully able to understand him. She appeared to view him as a sort of unclassifiable young artisan and to find slight justification for his presence. She had other ideas for her daughter.
"Come, make a stagger," said Little O'Grady encouragingly. "Take that other big room down there next to Gowan's. I'll cough up a few for you, and I'll let you have all the traps of mine you need. Take the Aztec jars and both the priceless Navajos that I have clung to through all my days of misery and privation."
Prochnow made the move. Preciosa was among his first callers. His studio came to little compared with Dill's, and to little more compared with Gowan's; but the jars and the blankets did their part, the mandolin and the coffee-pot theirs; the portfolios were broken open to decorate the walls, and,----
"You'll do," said Little O'Grady.
Preciosa's back missed the tall mahogany chair with the brass rosettes. "We've loaned it to Gowan," explained Little O'Grady; "we're helping him out on a portrait."
Preciosa's feet missed the thick-piled Persian rug. "It was getting full of moths and dust," said Little O'Grady. "We've given it to some poor chaps upstairs for a coverlet."
"Are they very destitute?" asked Preciosa tenderly.
"Turrible," replied Little O'Grady. "There's one sufferer up there who's just about cleaned out--nothing left but his bed and one chair. He's eating his mattress. It'll last a week longer."
Preciosa leaned back luxuriously on the wood-box, which was covered by one of the blankets, and tapped her delicate little foot on the other, spread over the floor. How fortunate that Ignace was spared all these privations!
Prochnow himself could not feel that he was poor. She was here; his drawings were with the bank; his Odalisque was at the club; and his Fall of Madame Lucifer, in a bright new frame, adorned the chaste walls of Roscoe Orlando Gibbons. The future was bright with promise. He dared to speak now. He would. He did.
As soon as Little O'Grady had the grace to make a move toward departure, Prochnow hastened it on. O'Grady went upstairs to banish one or two more obstacles from the way of the Car of Progress, and Prochnow took Preciosa over to the Academy to see the Winter Exhibition.
Preciosa, as has already been said, was not a girl of many ideas; yet a single one, detached, isolated, and presented to her with some ardour and directness, was easily within her grasp. The idea was now presented, and Preciosa forgot all about the pictures. For surely he who offered it was a most complete and admirable mechanism; the pulse of his heart, the beat of his brain, the flash of his eye, the tremor of his masterful hands--all these now worked in fullest harmony and told her here was a man. Preciosa, never inclined to make too much of worldly considerations, now set them aside altogether. Any idea of mere lucre slipped from her mind, and if she thought at all of a mother's strained social ambitions for a favourite child, it was but to feel with a wilful joy that she was extricating herself from the selfish grasp of Virgilia Jeffreys. Her own humble and obscure origin stirred within her,--her, the granddaughter of peasants who had trotted their bogs,--and she gave no heed to her lover's gentility or lack of it, in her unconscious tendency, even her active willingness, to "revert."
Prochnow felt the utmost confidence in his own powers, in his future, in the great scheme now under the scrutiny of the Grindstone. He glanced round the walls of the gallery, and here and there a canvas due to one hand or another that had co-operated in the rival scheme came to his view. He made silent, acidulous comments on certain manifestations of mediocrity placed there by men so much better quartered, better known, better circumstanced than himself. "Never mind," he said; "next year I shall be here, and then the difference will be seen by everybody." Well might the director welcome work from one who had distanced all others in a fair race and who unaided had brought to a triumphal issue the greatest piece of monumental decoration the town had ever known. And this little thing close by his side, panting, palpitating, flushing divinely, had helped him to conquer his success.
"It will be your triumph, too!" he told her.
"Mine?" she asked, in self-depreciation. "Why, I have not made you a single suggestion." Too truly she was no Virgilia Jeffreys.
"You have had a hand in every drawing," he insisted warmly. "You have moved the crayon over every sheet. The whole work is full of you--it is You yourself."
Preciosa accepted this full, round declaration with easy passivity; she was not clever, only happy. If he thought thus, and felt thus--why, that was enough. He was a strong young man--let him have his way. It all fell in with his "handling" of the whole situation. Little enough had he depended upon soft seduction, upon gallantry, upon flattery; still less had he tried to wheedle, to propitiate. He had grasped her with an intent, smileless severity, and he was not to be opposed. His words, like his works, were full of sweep and decision, and empty of all light humours, and they lifted her up and carried her away.
"Yes," she said, "it will be my triumph too." And she seemed to have said the words he wished to hear.