Under the Skylights by Henry Blake Fuller
Dr. Gowdy and the Squash
Jared during his visit to the city had not confined his attention to the display of the Western artists. He had talked with several dealers, and had visited one or two makers of picture-frames, and had taken note of the prominence given to "art" in the offices and corridors of the great hotels.
"I tell you," he declared roundly, "paintin' 's got the call everywhere. You go into one of them bang-up hotels, and what is the first thing you notice? A painting--scenery; ten or twelve feet long, too--some of 'em. Well, that's all right; I can paint as big as they want 'em, and frame 'em too, I guess."
He had formed some ideas of his own about framing. The prices mentioned by the frame-makers astonished him as much as those entered in the sale catalogue by the fond artists themselves. "No gilt for me. That's clear." He thought of a wide flat frame he had seen at the exhibition. "It was just a piece of plain boarding daubed over with some sort of gilt paint. It had a fish-net kind o' strung round it, I recollect."
"What was that for?" asked Melissa.
"It was a sea view, with boats and things. Seemed a pretty good notion to me."
"But there was one old codger come along who didn't seem to like it. Specs and white whiskers standing out. Lot of women with him. 'Well, I declare,' says he, 'what are we coming to? I can't understand how Mr. English could have let in such a thing as that!' He was going for the frame. I stepped over to the girl at the desk----"
"Seems to me you talked a good deal to that girl."
"Well, I did. She was from Ringgold County too, it turned out; hadn't been in town but six months. She was up to all sorts of dodges, though--knew the whole show like a book."
"Oh, she did, did she?"
"Well, she wasn't so very young, nor so very good-looking, if that's what you're after."
"Oh, she wasn't, wasn't she?" said Melissa, somewhat mollified.
"'Who is that funny old feller?' says I to her. He was poking out his arms every which way and talking like all possessed.
"'Why,' says she, sort o' scared like, 'that's Doctor Gowdy.' You might have thought I had let drive at the President himself. I see I had put my foot in it, so I pulled out as fast as I could."
"Gowdy," reflected Melissa; "haven't I heard that name before?"
"It didn't seem altogether new, somehow," acknowledged Jared.
But neither of them immediately associated this name with the authorship of Onward and Upward. They laid no more stress on the title-page of a book than you, dear reader, lay on the identity of the restaurant cook that gets up your dinner.
"It seemed all right enough," said Jared, reverting to the frame.
"Why, yes," assented Melissa. "I don't see what could have been more appropriate."
"Well, you watch me," said Jared, "and I'll get up something equally as good." For this choice collocation of words he was indebted to a political editorial in the county weekly.
Next morning he was strolling along the roadway, carefully scrutinizing a stretch of dilapidated fence.
"What you up to, Jared?" inquired Uncle Nathan Hoskins, who happened to be driving past. The fresh morning air had a tonic effect upon Uncle Nathan; he showed himself disposed to be sprightly and facetious.
"Lookin' after my fences," said Jared shortly.
"'Bout time, ain't it?--he, he!" continued Uncle Nathan.
"Just about," assented Jared.
"Might 'a' begun a little sooner, mebbe," proceeded Uncle Nathan, running his eye over several rods of flat, four-inch stuff, weather-worn and lichen-stained, that sagged and wobbled along the road-side. "So far gone ye hardly know where to begin, eh?"
"Where would you begin?"
"Well, that len'th right in front of you has got a little more moss on it than 'most any of the others."
"All right; I'll begin here," returned Jared. He struggled up through the tangled growth of smartweed and bittersweet, tore a length of lichened boarding from the swaying posts, and walked down the road with it.
Here at last was a suitable setting for the Squash.