Under the Skylights by Henry Blake Fuller
Dr. Gowdy and the Squash
"Dr. Gowdy is not at home this afternoon," they told Jared in response to his ring; "he is addressing a public meeting down town."
This would have applied to half the days of every calendar month throughout the year. When Dr. Gowdy let a day pass without making some public utterance, he counted that day as good as lost. He spoke at every opportunity, and was as much at home on the platform as in the pulpit. Perhaps even more so; there were those who said that he carried the style of the rostrum and the hustings into the house of prayer. Certainly his "way" was immensely "popular"--vigorous, nervous, downright, jocular, familiar. Whether he talked on Armenia, or Indian famines, or street-railway franchises, or primary-election reform, or the evils of department stores (he was very strong on this last topic), the reports--he was invariably reported--were sure to be sprinkled freely with "laughter" and "applause." To-day Dr. Gowdy was talking on art.
"It's going to be a hot one!" said the students among themselves. And they packed the assembly-hall of the Academy half an hour before the Doctor's arrival.
The lecturer who was delivering the Wednesday afternoon course on Modern French Sculpture had failed to come to time, and Dr. Gowdy, almost on the spur of the moment, had volunteered to fill the breach. He telephoned down that he would talk on Recent Developments in Art. This meant the display of Meyer, Van Horn, and Co.
Dr. Gowdy had seen the abominable exhibition--who, during the past week, had not?--and had been stirred to wrath. He fumed, he boiled, he bubbled. But it was not merely this that had roused his blood to fever-heat. No; Jared Stiles, emboldened by his success in the shopping district, had applied to Mr. English, the director of the Academy, for a room in which to make a collective exhibit of the masterpieces at present scattered through various places of public resort and entertainment. Mr. English had of course refused, and Dr. Gowdy, of course, had warmly backed him up. But Mr. Hill, the vice-president, and Mr. Dale, the chairman of the finance committee, had taken the other side. They had both been country boys--one from Ogle County, the other from the ague belt of Indiana--and their hearts warmed to Jared's display over on Broad Street. Their eyes filled, their breasts heaved, their gullets gulped, their rustic boyhood was with them poignantly once more. They murmured that English was a hidebound New-Englander who was incapable of appreciating the expansive ideals of Western life, and that Gowdy, city-born and city-bred, was wholly out of sympathy with the sturdy aims and wholesome ambitions of the farm and prairie. For once Art might well take a back seat and give honest human feeling a fair show. They hinted, too, that the approaching annual election might bring a general shake-up; English might find himself supplanted by some other man more in touch with the local life and with that of the tributary territory; and Gowdy--well, Gowdy might be asked to resign, for there were plenty of citizens who would make quite as good a trustee as he had been.
Some inkling of these sentiments had come to Dr. Gowdy's ears. He scented the battle afar off. He said "Ha! ha!" to the trumpets. He pranced, he reared, he caracoled, he went through the whole manege. He outdid himself. The students, his to the last man, simply went mad.
For the past year there had been a feud between Dr. Gowdy and Andrew P. Hill. Hill, relying on his own taste and judgment, had presented the city with a symbolical group of statuary, which had been set up in the open space before the Academy. This group, done by a jobber and accepted by a crass lot of city officials, was of an awful, an incredible badness, and the better sentiment of the community had finally crystallized and insisted upon its removal. Dr. Gowdy and Professor English stood on the steps of the Academy and watched the departure of the truck that was carrying away the last section of this ambitious but mistaken monument.
"Well," said English, with a quizzical affectation of plaintive patience, "we learn by doing."
"And sometimes by undoing," retorted Dr. Gowdy tartly.
Hill heard of this observation, and came to the scratch with animadversions on Dr. Gowdy's maladroit management of the finances of the Famine Fund (a matter that cannot be gone into here). This was blow for blow, and ever since then Dr. Gowdy had panted to open the second round.
Jared Stiles, standing on his own merits or demerits, might have got off more lightly, but Jared Stiles, as a possible protege of Andrew P. Hill, was marked for slaughter. This new heresy and all its supporters must be stamped out--especially the supporters.