Under the Skylights by Henry Blake Fuller
Little O'Grady vs. The Grindstone
The columns were still standing a week later; and the Pin-and-Needle Combine, too, still managed to hang together. But every moment was precious, and Roscoe Orlando Gibbons lost no time in giving a dinner for Preciosa McNulty.
Robin Morrell's first impression of Preciosa had lost nothing of its intensity--on the contrary. He had taken every possible occasion for seeing more of her. He had invaded a stage-box at the theatre where she happened to be sitting; he had made an invitation to call upon her at home impossible to withhold, and he had called. Elizabeth Gibbons, who was hand and glove with Preciosa (except that, like everybody else, she knew nothing of her engagement), speculated aloud on the probable outcome of all this, and her father himself, overhearing, had laid these considerations before old Jeremiah. Briefly, Preciosa must marry Robin, and Roscoe Orlando himself would help to the extent of bringing them together once more by means of a dinner.
Jeremiah blinked solemnly at Roscoe Orlando's florid side-whiskers and wide sensuous mouth. Both the affairs of the heart and the functions of society life were far removed from the range of Jeremiah's interests and sympathies.
"Save Morrell, and you save the bank," urged Roscoe Orlando.
Jeremiah blinked again. He was fully able to do this, if he chose. He was immensely well off. He drew rentals from every quarter of the city. Those gilded Louis Quinze chairs and sofas in his front parlour were, as everybody knew, stuffed with bonds and mortgages, and coupons and interest-notes were always bursting out and having to be crammed back in place again. Yes, Jeremiah was the richest member of the board; but he was also one of the smallest among the stock-holders. He shook his head. Why risk so much to save so little?
"Then save your grandchild," pursued Roscoe Orlando.
Jeremiah stopped blinking and opened his eyes to a wide stare. "Aha! this fetches him!" thought Roscoe Orlando.
"Will you have her marry a business-man of means and ability," he went on, "or will you have her tie up to a poor devil of a painter, with no friends, no position, no influence, no future?" Roscoe Orlando's brief period of easy patronage was over; no longer was he the caressing amateur, but the imperilled stockholder (rather a large one, too), and Ignace Prochnow need look for no further support from his quarter. Roscoe told Jeremiah bluntly that his granddaughter was as good as engaged (this was his own daughter's guess) to that obscure young man from nowhere, and asked him if he wanted the thing to end in matrimony.
Jeremiah scratched his chin. Roscoe Orlando saw with disappointment that neither explosion nor panic was to ensue. Yes, Jeremiah remembered Prochnow; he recalled the bold, brainy young fellow, so full of vigour and vitality. He himself had reached an age when such things made their impression, and when he wistfully envied so signally full a repository of youthful hope, energy, persistence.
Gibbons eyed him narrowly; clearly his argument was failing. "However," he went on hurriedly, therefore, "this is no affair for us. Speak to the child's mother; she will know how to handle it. Meanwhile, my daughters will arrange for the dinner."
Euphrosyne McNulty jumped at the dinner. As for Preciosa's infatuation for Prochnow (upon which Jeremiah had touched very lightly), she refused to consider any such possibility. At most it was but a passing fancy, due to the painting of that portrait; it would quickly dissipate: least said, soonest mended. A girl like Preciosa, brought up so carefully, a girl who had always had everything and who would always need to have everything, would know how to choose between two such men. As for Robin Morrell, Euphrosyne had been greatly taken with him. He blew into her arid parlour the long-awaited whiff from the golden fields of "society." He was big, loud, self-confident, tremendously and immediately at home (in a condescending way, though this she hardly grasped),--a man to open up his own path and trample through the world, Preciosa by his side, and Preciosa's mother not far behind. So, up to the very hour of the Gibbons dinner, she sang his praises in Preciosa's ear.
Preciosa was preparing to revert; she sought the soil, but she was determined it should be the soil of her own choosing. She found Morrell coarse, dry, hard, sandy, gritty. What she sought was some dank, rich loam, dark, moist, productive. To be sure, great towering things grew in the sand--pine-trees, for example, with vast trunks and with broad heads that spread out far above the humbler growths below; but on the whole she preferred some lustrous-leaved shrub full of buds that would soon open into beautiful red flowers. She told her mother that she had no interest in the Gibbons dinner and did not mean to go.
"But I mean that you shall!" retorted Euphrosyne. "After all that's been done to get you into society you turn round now, do you, and cut off your own parents from it? You'll go, make sure of that; and your father and I will go with you."