Under the Skylights by Henry Blake Fuller
Dr. Gowdy and the Squash
Yes, the Squash, before which all other squashes were to pale. It was to be his best and biggest work, and worthy of the post he designed it to take at the next Exhibition of Western Artists. He enlarged its scope so as to take in a good part of the barn's interior; he boldly added a shovel--an implement that he had never attempted before; and he put in not only bins, but barrels--chancing a faulty perspective in the hoops. All these things formed a repellent background of chill gray-blue, but they brought out the Squash. It shone. Yes, it shone like a beacon-light calling the weary and sophisticate town-dwellers back to the peace and simplicity of country life. And it was inclosed by four neatly mortised lengths of fencing, lichened and silvered by a half-century, it may be, of weather taken as it was sent. Furthermore, the abundance of simulated seeds developed by his bold halving of his model was re-enforced by a few real seeds pasted upon the lower part of the frame.
"If all that don't fetch 'em," said Jared, "what will?"
But the exhibition jury frowned upon this ingenuous offering. Stephen Giles pitied it; Daffingdon Dill, an influential member, and a painter not especially affiliated with the Circuit, derided it cruelly; Abner Joyce himself, when appealed to as a man and a brother by the disappointed farmer-artist, bleakly turned away. Not even the proprietors of the sales-galleries seemed willing to extend a welcome. Jared was puzzled and indignant. Then he bethought himself of the hotels, with their canons and jungles and views along the Canadian Pacific.
"Yes, the hotels--there's where I'll try. That's where you get your public, anyway."
But the hotels were cold. One after another they refused him. Just one was left, and this was so magnificent that he had never even thought of carrying his proposal into it.
He did so now--nothing else was left to do. The clerk was even more magnificent and intimidating than the house, but Jared faced him, and asked for space in which to show his work.
Jared had one of his minor works under his arm--style of painting and style of framing being fully representative of his biggest and best. "It's this kind, only larger," submitted Jared.
The clerk condescended to look, and was interested. He even became affable. His imposing facade was merely for use in the business, and for cloaking the dire fact that, but two short years back, he himself had been a raw country boy from a raw country town. He looked at the picture, and at Jared--his knuckles, his neck-tie, the scalloped hair on his forehead. "Could I have been anything like that?" he thought. He refused consideration to such a calamitous possibility, and became a little more grandly formal as he went on listening to Jared's business.
"Oh, George!" he presently called across his slab of Mexican onyx; "come here."
George came. He was a "drummer": nobody could have supposed for an instant that he was anything else.
"What do you think of this?" The clerk took the picture out of Jared's hands and twirled it round on one corner of its clumsy frame.
George looked at it studiously. "Why, it ain't so worse," he said. "That squash is great--big as life and twice as natural."
"What do you think of the frame?" asked the clerk, venturing with no little fondness to run a ringer over the lichens.
"Made out of fencing, ain't it? Why, I like it first-rate. Maybe I haven't kicked my bare heels on just such a fence many a time!"
So had the clerk, but refrained from confession.
"Buying it?" asked George.
"No; house-room," responded the clerk, with a motion toward Jared.
"Yours?" asked the drummer.
"Yes, sir; I painted it."
"Frame your idea, too?"
"From the country, I suppose?"
"Well, so are most of the rest of us, I expect. Why, yes, give it room--why not?" the drummer counselled his friend, and turned on his heel and walked off.
The clerk clanged his bell. "Just have Tim come here," he directed. "How much you expecting to get for it?" he asked Jared.
"Well, for this one about a hundred and fifty, I should think."
"Right," commented the clerk. "Put a good price on a thing if you expect people to look at it. Never mind about Tim," he called, reminded by Jared's emphasis that the "house-room" was not for this painting, but for another. "Well, you get your picture round here to-morrow, and I'll have it put in the writing-room or somewhere." And he turned toward a new arrival bent over the register.