Under the Skylights by Henry Blake Fuller
Dr. Gowdy and the Squash
After the squash had triumphed in the rotunda of the Great Western, the surrender of the other hotels was but a matter of time. They reconsidered; Jared was able to place a specimen of his handiwork, varying in size if not in character, with almost every large house of public entertainment. He walked daily from caravansary to caravansary, observing the growth of interest, straining his ear for comments, and proffering commentaries of his own wherever there seemed a possibility of acceptance. He dwelt upon his aims and ambitions too, and gave to the ear that promised sympathy the rustic details of his biography. At first there was some tendency to quiz him, especially among the commercial travellers, who seemed to be, of all the patrons of the hotels, the most numerous and authoritative. But they soon came to a better understanding of him. Beneath all his talk about being a poor farmer boy and a lover of nature whose greatest desire was to make others share the joy that nature gave him, they saw that his eye was as firmly set on "business" as theirs, and a sort of natural freemasonry kept them from making game of him. He had chosen a singular means, true, but the end in view was in substantial accord with their own.
About this time a great synod, or conference, or something of the kind, flooded the hotels with ministers from town and country alike. One forenoon the chief clerk of the Pandemonium--these functionaries were all on familiar terms with Jared by this time, and had begun to class him with the exhibitors of reclining-chairs and with the inventors of self-laying railways--called our artist's attention (temporarily diverted) back to his own work, before which a group of black-clad men were standing. A stalwart figure in the midst of them, with shining spectacles and bushy white whiskers, was waving his arms and growing red in the face as he poured forth a flood of words that, at a moderate remove, might have passed either for exposition or for expostulation.
"There's a big gun," said the clerk.
Jared followed the other's quick nod.
"Why," said Jared, "it's Doctor--Doctor----"
"Dr. Gowdy," supplied the clerk. "The Rev. William S. Gowdy, D. D.," he continued, amplifying. "He's the king-pin."
"The Rev. William S. Gow----" repeated Jared. The title-page of Onward and Upward flashed suddenly before his eyes. The man to whom he owed his earliest quickening impulse, the man whose book had shone before his vision like a first light in a great darkness, stood there almost within reach of his grateful hand. He stepped forward to introduce himself and to voice his obligations.
But Dr. Gowdy, with what, to a disinterested spectator, would have seemed a final gesture of utter rejection and condemnation, turned on his heel and stalked down a long corridor, with his country members (who were prepared to like the Squash, but now no longer dared) pattering and shuffling behind.
"Of all the false and mistaken things! Of all the odious daubs!" purled Dr. Gowdy to his cowed and abashed following. For Dr. Gowdy, town-bred and town-born, had no sympathy for ill-considered rusticity, and was too rigorous a purist to give any quarter to such a discordant mingling of the simulated and the real.
"I've never seen anything worse," he continued, as he swept his party on; "unless it's that." He pointed to another painting past which they were moving--a den of lions behind real bars. "That's the final depth," he said.
The country parsons, left to themselves, would have admired the ingenuity of this zoological presentation, but Dr. Gowdy's intimidating strictures froze their appreciation. They pattered and shuffled along all the faster.
Meanwhile Jared, proud to have awakened the interest of the "Rev. Gowdy" (as the reading of the Ringgold County Gazette had taught him to express it), was busy whirling the leaves of the hotel's directory to learn the good man's address.