Under the Skylights by Henry Blake Fuller
Little O'Grady vs. The Grindstone
A week or two went by. The paladins of finance found it as hard as ever to get together. Nothing moved ahead save the new building itself. Even the Car of Progress stood stock-still in the roadway, while Little O'Grady gnawed his nails. Only the contractors and their men had any advance to show. They had put on the roof and had begun to plaster the interior. The vagaries and uncertainties of a few struggling, befogged old gentlemen had no terrors for them--their contracts had been signed hard and fast months before, and their receipts of money had kept close and exact step with the progress of the work itself. "I wish I was a bricklayer--or even a hod-carrier!" said Little O'Grady, throwing a despairing eye upon the Car, stuck fast in the mire.
Prochnow was still confident. He saw a bride, a home, a year of satisfying and profitable activity; he even saw more than one new ring on Preciosa's dear, overloaded little fingers. Yes, he had fully justified his summary snatching of this child of luxury from that front parlour full of contorted chairs with gilded arms and with backs of pink brocade. He even heard Euphrosyne McNulty say to him in a voice tremulous with generous feeling: "Dear Ignace, you are all I hoped to find you--and more. You have made little Preciosa's mother completely content."
At last the Grindstone made a revolution. Andrew P. Hill, weary of waiting for the help of his associates, none of whom save Roscoe Orlando Gibbons could be brought to the scratch, took hold of the handle and struck out a few sparks.
Together Hill and Gibbons considered "Science and Democracy." Prochnow had devised a scheme that was properly severe and monumental; though the intellectual cherubs and the muscular blacks were present in modified form, all odalisques and such had been suppressed. Still, the general tone was too luscious for Andrew, who, even in his young days, had been a pattern of sapless rectitude; and on the other hand, it was not luscious enough for Roscoe Orlando, who, in his young days, had been quite the reverse. Andrew had no affinity for fluttering garments and sensuously waving palm-fronds--little did they consort with the angular severity of "business." Roscoe Orlando, on the other hand, had an intense affinity for such things as the Fall of Madame Lucifer, and was hoping for something more of the same sort. Madame was falling in red tights and Parisian slippers, with black bat-wings inserted between her straight, slim legs and her outstretched arms, while Lucifer himself, a much smaller figure, fell some distance behind her; and her staring eyes and open mouth and streaming hair were a sight to see--even upside down. As Roscoe Orlando turned over Prochnow's sketches with a discontented hand he asked querulously where was the chic, the snap that he had hoped to see. No, no; the boy had done his best work already; he was on the down grade--that was plain.
"And then, all this allegory," objected Andrew. "It's too blind; it's too complicated. People can't stop to figure it out. Besides, I'm not so sure that every bit of it is perfectly proper."
So the Grindstone made another revolution and took off the tip of poor Prochnow's nose. He came into Little O'Grady's dirty and disorderly place, and O'Grady, even before he could scramble forward through his ruck of dusty casts and beplastered scantlings, saw that the blow had fallen.
He gave one look at Prochnow's face, drawn, haggard, black with disappointment and anger, and began to work himself out of his blouse. "Where is my hat?" he muttered wildly.
"Where are you going?" asked Prochnow. His voice was hoarse. O'Grady looked at him a second time, to make sure who was speaking.
"I got you into this, Ignace; and now I----"
"You did not," said Prochnow. His pride of intellect, still unhumbled, forbade his acknowledgment of any such claim.
"Oh, yes, I did, Ignace; and now I must get you out of it."
"Are you going to see those men?"
"Don't. There is still some hope left," said Prochnow thickly, "and you would only make matters worse. A great deal of unsuspected talent has been developed, it appears, by these experiments, as I have heard them called," he went on chokingly, with blazing eyes, in a gallant attempt at cold irony; "and much more may be waiting still. Enough, in fact, to justify a concours--how do you say?--a competition." He clenched his fists against his rigid thighs and turned his face away.
"A competition? They say that now?" Little O'Grady threw off his blouse and jumped on it with both feet. "Where is my hat?" he cried, running his fingers through his long, fluffy hair and toppling over a disregarded cast or two.
Prochnow caught him by the arm. "You must not go," he said.
But Little O'Grady was obsessed by a vision of the Grindstone directors--the whole Nine--assembled round the council-board in that shabby, out-of-date parlour. It had been hard to get them together for Dill and Giles and Prochnow and Adams, but there they sat now, waiting for him. A new figure entered the vision, the little Terence O'Grady they were expecting: the spokesman for honour, for fair play; the champion of the poor girls whose tenderest hopes had been blighted; the whip of scorpions that was to lash the ignorance, the ineptitude and the careless cruelty that had brought so many hearts and talents to fury and despair.
"Get out of my way!" cried Little O'Grady. He pushed Prochnow aside, clapped on his hat and rushed from the room.
He tumbled down five flights of stairs. At the bottom he met Gowan.
"A competition!" cried O'Grady, with raging scorn.
"I know," returned Gowan. "But there's something later. They have formed a committee, under the lead of an 'expert'--somebody that I never heard, of--to pass the Winter Exhibition in review. They want to see which of us do the best work and to determine whether any of us at all can do good enough for their wants."
"Ow!" shrieked O'Grady.
"Furthermore, old Rosenberg has proposed to cut down the appropriation for decorations from twenty-five thousand to four. If they're bad, after all, so much less will the loss be."
"Ow!" shrieked O'Grady again, as he tried to bolt past.
"Where are you going?" asked Gowan.
"To the Bank! To the Bank!" It was as if Revolutionary Paris were yelling, "A la lanterne! a la lanterne!"
Again O'Grady saw the Nine in conference. Again he heard their voices. "There's nobody here," said Holbrook, making, to do him justice, his first and only suggestion; "send East." "There's nobody here," said Gibbons,--oh, how Little O'Grady hated him now!--"send abroad." "No," came the voice of Hill, "we need not go outside of our own city. Surely we can find within the corporate limits somebody or other to do our bidding;" and Jeremiah McNulty agreed with him. "Why spend four thousand dollars?" asked Simon Rosenberg; "why spend one? Calcimine and have done, and save the money;" and Oliver Dowd took the same view. All these enormities rang clearly in Little O'Grady's ears and put wings to his heels.
"Get out of my way, Gowan!" he cried, and ran full speed down the street.