Under the Skylights by Henry Blake Fuller
Little O'Grady vs. The Grindstone
Eudoxia Pence immediately got herself into motion. During the watches of the night she evolved plans for such a function as she thought the present situation required. Her picture gallery, re-enforced by those six or eight new masterpieces from Paris, she should throw open to the general public. She would call the thing an afternoon reception, and there would be tea. People were to be invited with some regard to form, but the opportunity would be made rather general--almost anybody might come who was willing to pay a dollar. This crush would supplement her bazar, and would be announced as for the benefit of--oh, well, of any one of the half-dozen charities that looked to her for support. She would throw open the whole house and tea should flow like water. These doings must take place within three days, at the outside. Time was precious and none of her friends would take seriously anything of hers given at so short a notice. No matter, then, who paid; no matter who poured; no matter about anything, if only her net took in all the different people she wanted to catch.
Next morning she rose for a busy day. She had brought back Gibbons, and now she must bring back Hill. Young Prochnow was off the board, but that did not put Daffingdon Dill back upon it; nor would he be there till she should have placed him there. "We must have that commission," said Virgilia. "You shall, if I've got any influence," replied her aunt.
She had long foreseen that, one day or another, she must seize her Grindstone stock in her talons, beat her wings about the head of Andrew P. Hill, raise a threatening beak against his obdurate front, and ask him what he meant by behaving so.
She drove to the bank. The old office stood empty; a last load of ancient ledgers and of shabby furniture was just driving away. She ordered her coupe to go to the new building. Here she found Andrew adjusting himself to his grandiose environment, and delivered her assault.
What had he and the directors meant by such a game of fast-and-loose? Why had they treated an artist of Mr. Dill's standing with such inconsiderateness and injustice? Why had they tried to handle so important a question by themselves? Why had they not consulted the stock-holders? Why had they not consulted her--a stock-holder since the foundation of the bank and an amateur of approved standing? And many more interrogatories no less hard to answer.
Hill listened to her cowed, intimidated; it was one more trouble in a time of trouble. He presently found his voice--or a part of it--and explained in low, trembling tones that concerns of much greater importance had come to the front; that this entire matter of decoration must be set aside for the present, perhaps for all time; that some other----
Eudoxia threw an indignant frown upon him and drove off to see his wife.
Almira Hill was at home--in these latter days she was seldom anywhere else. Socially speaking, she had evaporated years ago; but there was no reason why she should not precipitate herself and appear once more in concrete form. Eudoxia had an intuitive sense that Almira would welcome the chance.
"Receive with us," Eudoxia urged her. What easier way for Almira to see some of her old friends? She considered. She consented.
Then Eudoxia opened against the bank. "Give me your help for my--nephew," she said to end with.
"Mr. Hill has spoken of this to me," replied the old lady slowly; "but he is so worried, so anxious, about something these days, that I hardly----"
"We are worried; we are anxious, too, my dear Mrs. Hill. Figure the situation. Imagine the strain upon two young people----"
Almira had not lost all her sentiment, nor all her interest in the concerns of youth. She promised to give what help she could.
Eudoxia sped on to see Euphrosyne McNulty. She found the household in a state of suppressed tumult. The servant who opened the door was all at sea; obscure sounds of sobbing came from somewhere above; and when Euphrosyne finally washed in she was like the ocean half-subsided after a storm. She had just learned that Preciosa had refused Robin Morrell.
"Such a caller at such a time!" she had articulated over Eudoxia's card. It took away half the sweetness of the triumph. She rushed to her toilet-table, hoping, meanwhile, that Norah had not boggled with the tray and that her father-in-law had not left his pipe on top of the piano.
Eudoxia was brief. She made no vain passes of regret that Euphrosyne had not taken her place earlier on her invitation-list. She invited her, now, with all emphasis, to attend her "art reception," and hoped that she would allow her dear daughter to help pour tea. A sunburst exploded before Euphrosyne's unready eyes. She recovered herself and accepted for both.
Eudoxia drove to the office of the Pin-and-Needle Combine. Like every other moneyed person in town, she had a finger in that pie. Why shouldn't she drop in on the cooks?
Robin Morrell was not there; she was received by Richard. Richard had heard from Gibbons what was in the wind, but knew nothing as yet, of course, about his brother's rejection.
Eudoxia understood that Richard was hand and glove with Hill. She asked his influence as a matter of justice to Daffingdon Dill. Richard had been impatient and resentful to begin with; now he became dogged and surly. She had come at the wrong time and about the wrong business. Virgilia had dismissed him with no gentle hand--people had smiled over his discomfiture for a week. The memory of this still rankled. Why in the world should he exert himself for Daffingdon Dill?
Let him exert himself for his brother then. But he became more dogged and surly still. Why should his brother succeed when he himself had failed? Why should his brother need help anyway? Why must this woman come poking into a man's most private affairs? Eudoxia surmised, through the medium of his sullen mood, a house divided against itself. She left Morrell in anger and drove to her husband's office.
Every man had rebuffed her. Only the women had been complaisant--and even these she had had to pay. As she sat by her husband's desk, waiting for his attention, her wrath rose against the Grindstone and Hill, against the Morrells and their Combine.
"I'll take my Grindstone stock," she declared, "and hawk it up and down the street at eighty--half what it's worth. Let us see where Andrew Hill will be then!"
Pence turned on her slowly. "I doubt whether you could get eighteen for it to-day. The street is talking--talking low, but it's talking."
"Why, is anything wrong with the Grindstone?"
"Well, rather. Hill, I judge, has come as close to the edge as a man can without falling over. I'm glad your holdings are no heavier."
"Ah!" said Eudoxia; "that's why he has choked off Dill! Well," she resumed with unimpaired energy, "I'll take my Pin-and-Needle and sell it for next to nothing. I'll give it away. I'll stick it under the cracks of doors. I'll present it with every pound, or rather every cup of tea. Let us see, then, how Richard Morrell----"
"Do that," said her husband, "and half the banks in town will fail. You're not ready for such a crash as that, are you?"
"Why, what's the matter with Pin-and-Needle?" asked Eudoxia.
"It's at death's door. It's gasping. Unless something is injected, unless somebody galvanizes it----"
"Ah!" cried Eudoxia; "so that's why Orlando Gibbons gave the McNulty dinner! Oh, things must hold off a few days longer! Make them, Palmer! That girl must marry him, so that I can save my Grindstone stock and my Pin-and-Needle investments, and so that Daff can get those pictures to paint, and so that Virgilia can get him!" Oh, heavens! She had once aspired to guide the chariot of finance, yet all she had to offer against this threatening squadron of calamities was an "art reception" with tea!