Under the Skylights by Henry Blake Fuller
Dr. Gowdy and the Squash
When Dr. Gowdy took up the Daily Task next morning--there were sixteen pages of it--the first thing that met his eye was a picture of himself--the familiar two-column cut that had not had an airing for more than three months. "Gowdy Gives Us Up," said the head-line.
"What now?" wondered the good Doctor. "Or rather, which?" For he knew that every public utterance reported in the daily press of the town was given one of two twists, the local or the personal. This was apparently the local. The personal was to follow--and it did.
Yes, the Daily Task had been represented at the Academy, and its young man, by a marvel of mutilation and misrepresentation, had put together a column to convey the impression that Dr. Gowdy was a carping Jeremiah, intent upon inflicting a deadly wound on local pride. "Oh, shucks!" said the worthy man, and went on with his toast and coffee.
But the other papers, though unrepresented at the Academy, had quickly detected the possibilities resident in Dr. Gowdy's abounding personalities, and the evening sheets were full of interviews. What did Jared Stiles think of the attack on him as a representative Western artist? What did Meyer, Van Horn, and Co. think of Dr. Gowdy's characterization of their enterprise and the pointed alternative it presented? What did Andrew P. Hill, as the representative of local wealth and culture, think of Dr Gowdy's strictures on the self-made man's endeavour to adorn the city that had given him success and fortune? What did the distinguished members of the Western Art Circuit think of such treatment toward their most promising and conspicuous protege? All these people had thoughts, and none of them was slow in expressing them.
"I can't understand it, nohow; I swan, I'm completely knocked off my feet," said Jared to the young man of the Evening Rounder, in the rustic dialect of the vaudeville. "Why, that there man--I've allus looked on him as my best friend. It was that book of his'n that give me my start, and now he turns agen me. But he's wrong, and I've got the hull town to prove it. And if he's wrong, by gum, he'll have to pay for it. He can't trip up the heels of an honest country boy and not get tripped up hisself. I don't know yet just what I'll do, but----"
With the Evening Pattern Jared was more academic. "I acknowledge that this attack comes as a great surprise. I had always regarded the reverend gentleman as the chief of my friends. His own book for young men [name not mentioned--Print, Push, and Co. did not advertise in the Pattern] was my earliest inspiration. Such conduct seems as inconsistent as inconsiderate. The public, I think, will be certain to support me. And if the words of the address are correctly reported, I shall be found, I believe, to have good grounds for an action at law. An intelligent jury, I make no doubt----"
The two Meyers were delighted. This was advertising indeed! Van Horn, a shade less thick-skinned, stuck at the animadversions made so spiritedly by the Doctor and so vociferously supported by his audience. They wore upon him; they seemed almost actionable. He sent for the son of their credit man, a youth enrolled at the Academy, where he was learning to design carpets and curtains, and tried to get from him just what the Doctor had really said. This solicitude reacted upon the Meyers, and Meyer junior, who gave the interview, intimated that such language was actionable beyond a doubt. "Our Mr. Levy will attend to this. We have the endorsement of the general public, and that makes us still less willing to have anybody challenge our business acumen"--all this was but an elegant paraphrase of Sidney Meyer's actual remarks, for he had left school at sixteen and had never looked into a book since--"or our business integrity."
Abner Joyce, on behalf of the Circuit, gave out a grave interview in a few guarded words. Though Joyce by no means looked upon Jared as a protege of his organization, yet his essential sympathy with the country still held full sway, and he felt it possible to regard young Stiles not as a mere freak, but as a human creature like ourselves, and struggling upward, like the rest of us and to the best of his powers, toward the light. But the town did not want restraint and reason just then, and Joyce's well-considered words went--much to his mortification--for next to nothing. Bond, who better apprehended the spirit of the hour, let himself loose in a vein of pure fantasy,--he ventured on the whimsical, the sprightly, the paradoxical. The poor fellow sent to interview him might as well have tried to grasp a bundle of sunbeams or a handful of quicksilver. His report turned out a frightful bungle; the wretched Bond, made clumsy, fatuous, pointless, sodden, when he had meant to show himself as witty and brilliant as possible, was completely crushed. With Joyce going for next to nothing and Bond for worse than nothing, the Art Circuit could hardly be said to shine. It paled, it sickened, it drooped away, and presently it died.
As for Andrew P. Hill, he did not wait for the interviewer; he wrote to his favourite journal over his own signature. If he himself, straying outside of his legitimate field (banking and investments), had failed with "Our City Enlightening the Universe," Dr. Gowdy, astray in the field of finance, had failed no less egregiously. Yes, his handling of the Famine Fund had been maladroit and eccentric to the point that permitted doubts as to his own personal integrity: why, then, should he be casting doubts upon the veracity, the business honour, of others.
This was a word for Meyer, Van Horn, and Co., who were tenants of Hill's. Landlord and tenant were just now in the midst of some delicate negotiations, and Hill hoped that a word of the right kind from him might help to make adjustment easier. Meyer, Van Horn, and Co. were intending to arrange a summer garden on their roof. Query: was the roof theirs--was it included in the lease? Hill felt sure of carrying his point,--decidedly the roof was an entirely distinct matter from the ten floors beneath it; but the situation might well stand a little lubrication if good feeling were to endure. Therefore Meyer, Van Horn, and Co. had the satisfaction of reading that William S. Gowdy was altogether too impulsive, erratic and unreliable--happily Hill did not employ the word "untrustworthy"--for holding a quasi-public position of some importance. Age was impairing his judgment and setting a term to his usefulness.
Dr. Gowdy flew into a passion. Threatened with legal proceedings!--he, the blameless citizen. Accused of dishonesty!--he, the pattern of integrity. Taunted with failing powers!--he, the inexhaustible reservoir of vigour, of energy! What, after all this, were the pin-pricks daily, hourly inflicted by the press, the post, the tongues of indignant associates, all intent on vindicating the honour of a community he had so wantonly attacked? What were squibs, caricatures, saucy verses, anonymous letters, cold looks from former friends, hot taunts from casual acquaintances? For art had been attacked in the very home and haunt of art! The town had been knifed under the ribs by one of her own sons!--made ridiculous in the eyes of the ribald East, and dubious in the regard of the trusting, tributary West!
Well, what would they have? demanded the Doctor. Should we gain anything whatever by always throwing bouquets at ourselves? Could we go along forever living on the flubdub of self-praise?
But a truce to all this!--for Dr. Gowdy was coming to see, to feel, to consider but one thing--the Squash. Here was the fountain-head of all his woes. "Perdition take that fellow!" he exclaimed, with his thoughts fiercely focused on the unseen Jared Stiles.