Under the Skylights by Henry Blake Fuller
Little O'Grady vs. The Grindstone
"Yes, they're all in there," said the watchman who stood, decorated with a police star, in front of the partition of black walnut and frosted glass. "But you can't see them now; they're busy."
"I can't, eh?" said Little O'Grady. "We'll find out if I can't!" He dodged the watchman, wrenched open the flimsy door and threw himself upon the board.
Yes, they were all there, including the two or three that Little O'Grady had not seen the time before--that first time of all. And the Morrell Twins were there too, one of them remorseful and the other defiant. And Andrew P. Hill, who presided, was in a blue funk--O'Grady could see his chin-beard waggle and could almost hear his teeth chatter; for it was Andrew who had amassed all that Pin-and-Needle collateral, accepting it at the street's own mad valuation. Pin-and-Needle, pushed too far, blown too big, was now shaky at the knees, and Andrew and all the Nine were trembling sympathetically from top to toe. The Grindstone might survive in a single serviceable mass, or it might fly to pieces, dispersed in a thousand useless fragments.
Little O'Grady looked round upon the other faces; they were all like Andrew's. Remorse, shame, contrition sat upon them. Ah, these men knew they had not given fair treatment to him and to Ignace and to Dill and to Preciosa and all the rest. "Just see how they're looking at me!" he said to himself. "Never mind; I won't let up on them. I'll rub it in; I'll drive it home."
What drawn faces! What anxious eyes! What sharp noses!--who had been grinding them? Answer: the Morrell Twins. Not for nothing their long practice in sharpening pins and needles! It had come into play here. Richard had turned the crank and Robin had held down each official proboscis, and the board had winced. Then Richard and Robin had changed places, and the board had groaned. Now Richard and Robin were changing back, and soon the board might scream. "I'll take a hand too," said O'Grady.
He began at once; he gave the discomfited directors no chance to forestall him. He taxed them roundly with their delays, their double-dealings, their invertebrate wabblings. They had blown hot and cold. They had played fast and loose. He and his friends had worked, had thought, had studied, had invented, had torn their very brains from their heads; and what had they to show for it? Nothing; nothing at all. On the contrary----
"Get out of here," said Andrew P. Hill sternly. "This is a business meeting."
"Business meeting!" cried Little O'Grady scornfully. "What do any of you know about business, I'd like to ask? Nobody who wanted to do business by business methods would come here to do it, I'm thinking! No, sir; he'd go to our shop, where we do as we say we will, and do it up sharp and ship-shape, no matter how unreasonable the demands of the shilly-shallying old grannies we have to deal with. Business! You don't bluff me!"
"Take care, young man," said Hill, "or----"
"Or nothing!" cried Little O'Grady undaunted. "And now, for a finisher, you offer us a competition. You wind us, and then ask us to run against a fresh batch that haven't even left the stable! After we've pulled our brains out of our heads strand by strand, you'd have us stuff them back and pull them out all over again, would you? Nobody but a man with cotton-batting for brains could ask a thing like that!"
"Brains!" said Dowd contemptuously. He had always looked upon himself as a lofty intellectual force. In his view there was no great play for intellect outside of finance and law.
Little O'Grady pounced upon this insolence at once. "There's not one of you here, I'll venture, that has had an idea in the last twenty years. You just sit beside your little old machine and turn the crank--why, the crank almost turns itself. We, on the other hand, live on our ideas. We keep alive on our own brains and hearts and blood and emotions----"
"Emotions!" said Dowd, carelessly crumpling up a paper and throwing it into the waste-basket. He himself had not had an emotion--foolish, superfluous things--in his life. Little O'Grady looked at his nose. It was the sharpest of the lot.
"Get out of here, young man," said Simon Rosenberg. "This is no place for you."
O'Grady passed over Rosenberg's nose in contempt.
"We turn in scheme after scheme," he pursued;--"schemes to be welcomed and appreciated anywhere--but here. And what is your own? All you can think of is a mongrel heap of cabins and spires and chimneys and shacks that would set a tombstone to grinning. What chance is there for art in such a hotch-potch as that? What could a self-respecting----"
Up rose Andrew P. Hill. He expressed all his nervous dread, his vexation, his irritability by one tremendous whack of his fist on the table.
"To hell with art!" he said. "What I wanted to do was to advertise my business."
Dead silence. Nobody had ever heard Andrew P. Hill swear before; nobody had supposed that he could. But the unlooked-for, the impossible had happened.
To Little O'Grady this profanity was no more than the profanity of anybody else. It did not stop him.
"To advertise your business?" he mocked. "Then why didn't you say so before? It ain't too late to do so yet, is it? I'll do it for you myself. I'll advertise you and your business and your building fit to make you dizzy. I'll make you celebrated. I'll make you talked about. You won't have to pay twenty-five thousand dollars for it, either. Nor four. Nor one. Just give me a week's time and a scaffolding--I worked on a panorama once--and I'll see that you're advertised. I'll do it with my eyes bandaged and with one hand--either one--tied behind me. I'll see to it that you get the Merry Laugh. I'll see that you get the Broad Grin. I'll see that you get the Unrestrained Cachinnation. I'll get you into the guide-books and the art journals--nit! Why, you poor creatures"--Little O'Grady's liberal glance took in the entire assembly--"who do you think bestow the sort of celebrity you have presumed to hope for? Your kind? Not on your life. The cheap twaddlers of cheap daily stuff for cheap people? Never imagine it. Who, then? The few, wherever they may be, who know. Good work by good men; and then a single word from the right source, however distant, starts the ball rolling and the stream running. The city feels proud of your taste and liberality, travelling strangers turn aside to see the fruit of it, and you get praise and celebrity indeed. But nothing of that kind will ever happen to you, whether you think yourselves art patrons or not;"--here O'Grady dealt a deadly look at Roscoe Orlando Gibbons. "Do what you like; people will snicker and guffaw and hold their sides and pant for somebody to fan them and bring them to. As for me, I utterly scorn and loathe the whole pack of you. I curse you; I rue the day when first I----"
Little O'Grady thrust out his angry hands to rend his garment, but found that he had left it behind. Balked here, he was about to let them loose on his hair, when the Morrell Twins, at a sign from Andrew P. Hill, now speechless with anger, sprang up and seized Little O'Grady by both shoulders and hustled him out of the room. Robin Morrell gave him a cuff on the ear to boot--a cuff that was to cost him dearer than any other action of his life. Little O'Grady paused on the other side of the partition to curse the board again, but the watchman hustled him out into the street. He paused on the curbstone to curse the bank, but a policeman told him to move along. On his way back to the Warren, Little O'Grady went a block out of his road to curse the new building, now almost ready for occupancy. He lifted up his arm against it and anathematized it, and a passing patrol-wagon almost paused, as if wondering whether he were not best picked up.
"Don't bother about me," said Little O'Grady to the patrol-wagon. "I'm all right." He looked again at the long row of columns: they were still standing. "There yet?" he said. "Well, you'll be down before long, if I'm any guesser."