Under the Skylights by Henry Blake Fuller
Little O'Grady vs. The Grindstone
Daffingdon and Virgilia were bidden to the Gibbons dinner, along with the rest.
"It's a sop," declared Virgilia; "it's to propitiate us. It's to make amends--he knows he hasn't treated us fairly. Shall we go?"
"He has treated us no worse than he has treated everybody else," said Dill, bent upon the preservation of his amour propre. "Look at that young Prochnow--picked up one day and dropped the next."
"They say he's really clever," replied Virgilia. "If we failed, we failed in good company. Just how good, we might see by going. Mr. Gibbons has something of his at the house, you remember."
"We haven't failed yet," persisted Daffingdon. "The field is clear--just as it was to start with. We may be able to bring them round yet. Anyway, we'll keep up the pretence of good terms. Let's go."
Virgilia and Daffingdon had given over all mention of Japan, and had left off the shy, desultory house-hunting that had occupied the spare hours of their engagement. This great question with the bank must be settled first. Nor was Virgilia sure that Daff was proving to be all she had fancied him. He had shown less head than he might have shown in planning the scheme, and less spunk than he should have shown in pushing it. As she thought things over she felt that all the ideas and all the efforts had been her own. And now the question of money. Money; it did not come in, and yet it was the prime need. These considerations filled her mind as they bowled along in the cab together, and she was not sure but that their engagement was a mistake. At Roscoe Orlando's carriage-block their cab was close behind the livery brougham of the Joyces--Abner and his wife were going everywhere, now; and she looked after Medora half in envy, as upon a woman whose future, whether small or great, was at least assured. Nothing consoled her but Daffingdon's seeming determination not to give up. Yes, there was room for more ideas, for further efforts. But whose? His or hers?
Elizabeth Gibbons welcomed her father's guests, and Madame Lucifer backed her up bravely. Dill gave this canvas the closest scrutiny. "It is strong," he said; "it has chic without end." But it had no earthly bearing on the great problem. Another point in his own favour: he was here and Prochnow wasn't.
Yes, he was here, and he tried to take advantage of the fact. Before long he met Gibbons himself in front of the picture--a juncture he had privately hoped to bring about--and was speaking of its merits and of its author and of their common participation in the great scheme and of the prospects and possibilities of the early future. Roscoe Orlando tried to seem smiling and cordial and encouraging, but clearly his thoughts were somewhere else. And his eyes. And his ears. They were wherever Preciosa McNulty and Robin Morrell happened to be sitting or standing together. It was no longer a question of decorations, nor of the walls that were to give them place, nor of the colonnade through which the public would pass to view them. It was a question of the very vaults themselves; of the capital, the deposits, the surplus, the undivided profits, of his own five hundred shares; of safety, of credit, of honour--oh, might this painter but eat his dinner in quiet and let the matter of art go hang!
Eudoxia Pence looked at the new picture too, comparing its spirit and quality with a number she had recently added to her own gallery. She also attempted a word with her host about the thwarted pageantry at the Grindstone, but Roscoe Orlando put off her just as he had put off Dill.
"Very well, sir," said Eudoxia firmly, within herself; "if I can't speak here, then I will speak elsewhere. If not to you, then to others. Have eyes and ears if you will for that poor little vulgarian alone; all the same, I shall know how to make my point."
Preciosa was in full feather and in high colour; she seemed like a sumptuous pocket-edition of some work bound more richly, perhaps, than it deserved to be. She was in yellow tulle, and her mother had clapped an immense bunch of red roses upon the child's corsage and had crowded innumerable rings upon her plump little fingers. Her chestnut hair fell in careless affluence round her neck and blew breezily about her temples, and a bright spot in each cheek gave her even more than her wonted colour. Robin Morrell, who was, of course, to take her out to dinner, seized upon her at the very start. It was as if he had wrenched a peach from the tree and had hastily set his greedy teeth in it--one almost saw the juices running down his chin. Yet his satisfaction was not without its drawbacks; the peach seemed a clingstone, after all; and there was a bitter tang to its skin. Preciosa's eyes blazed as well as her cheeks, but not, as some thought, from exhilaration or from gratified vanity; rather from protestant indignation and a full determination not to be moved. Virgilia, from her place, saw how Euphrosyne McNulty constantly watched the child on one side and how Roscoe Orlando Gibbons as constantly watched her on the other; and when Dill asked her, "What does it mean?" she replied: "Leave it to me; this is nothing that a mere man can hope to master. I shall know all about it before I quit this house."
Roscoe Orlando put the men through their liqueurs and cigars in short order--more important concerns were at hand; Joyce, who was now beginning to feel himself an authority in such matters, almost found in his host's unceremonious haste good cause for resentment. James W. McNulty, who saw nothing but the surface, supposed himself here by virtue of his growing importance in the business world, and was fain to acknowledge the attention by the recital of a number of appropriate "stories." During the slight delay thus occasioned, the ladies made shift, as usual, to entertain one another. Preciosa, relieved temporarily of the pressing attentions of Morrell, sat with Medora Joyce on the drawing-room sofa, proud and flattered to have the undivided regards of the most charming "young matron" present. At the same time, Virgilia, in a shaded corner of the library, was sounding Elizabeth for a clew. Elizabeth had little, consciously, to tell; but, like many persons in that position, she told more than she realized. It was not enough for the purpose, but it dovetailed in with other information that came from other sources the day following. When Morrell led Preciosa into the conservatory, at the earliest possible moment, Virgilia was as keen over their exit as Euphrosyne McNulty or as Roscoe Orlando himself. She knew what was impending and she almost knew why.
And when Robin Morrell issued from the conservatory she knew just what had happened. Nobody could be so dashed, so dumfounded for nothing. Yes, that incredible child had refused him. Richard had not been good enough for the one, but surely Robin was good enough for the other.
Preciosa's no had been without qualification or addition. Morrell knew as little as her own mother that she considered herself fully pledged to Ignace Prochnow.
Roscoe Orlando came up to Eudoxia. His lips were white.
"A little plan I had set my heart upon," he said, trying to smile lightly, "has received a slight check. May I not rely on you to help it through?"
"A little plan I had set my heart upon," she returned significantly, "has received a slight check. May I not rely on you? In other words, I have my problem, just as you have yours. I must insist that justice be done to Mr. Dill."
Roscoe Orlando bowed--only too glad to acquiesce in anything.
"One straggler brought back to camp," said Eudoxia. "To-morrow I shall try to bring back one or two others."