Under the Skylights by Henry Blake Fuller
Dr. Gowdy and the Squash
Yes, the Squash had begun to run, and nothing, apparently, had the power to stop it. It was putting out leaves here, blossoms there, and tendrils everywhere. Particularly in the press. Interviews continued. Generals, judges, merchants, capitalists--the whole trying tribe of "prominent citizens"--were asked what they thought of such an attack on the fair fame of the city by one of its own sons. Less prominent citizens sent in their views unasked. Professors of crayon portraiture wrote to tell the Doctor he knew nothing of art. Lecturers to classes in civics advised him that he little realized the citizen's duty to his native town. The Noonday Worm, which had more than once praised the Doctor's public spirit, now turned on him and called him a renegade. The Early Morning Fly, among other buzzings, buzzed this: "If you don't like our city, Doctor, there is Another--higher up. Good-bye; we'll see you later!" The Doctor, who had always felt that he had done as much as any for the town's well-being within, and more than many for its repute abroad, saw now that he had been taking much too favourable a view of himself.
Only the staid old Hourglass had a word in his behalf--a sober editorial on the art conditions actually prevalent. The Hourglass was in some degree Dr. Gowdy's mouthpiece. It had a yearly contract with him for the publication of his sermons--they came out every Monday morning--and Dr. Gowdy handed over the proceeds to the Board of Foreign Missions. This contract was about to expire, and it was a question whether it should be renewed. Meyer, Van Horn, and Co. said no. Dr. Gowdy had a column or two in the Hourglass on one day in the week, but Meyer, Van Horn, and Co. had a whole page every week-day and a double one on Sunday. And they paid for it! They disliked the editorial. They disapproved the sermon. The contract was not renewed, and Dr. Gowdy raged.
On the heels of this came a bill from Meyer, Van Horn, and Co. for tin-ware. It had been purchased but a week before, yet the bill bore these words, stamped in red ink and set askew with a haste that seemed to denote a sudden gust of spite: "Please remit."
"Henrietta!" called the Doctor to his wife; "how's this? You know I never trade at any of those abominable department stores! You know what I think of them: they demoralize trade; they take the bread out of the mouth of the small dealer; they pay sinfully low wages to the poor girls that they enslave----"
It was the new cook, it appeared, who had purchased a few pie-pans on her own initiative.
"Discharge her!" roared the Doctor.
Two or three days later the Squash put forth a new tendril. It had invaded his home, and now it invaded his pulpit, so to speak. Exacerbated by persecution, Dr. Gowdy had thrown off all restraint. His one real weakness, his inability to keep from talking when talking was going on, grew plainer every hour in exact proportion as his invective, his vituperation, grew stronger. He rushed into print, like some of the others, and his expressions were made matter for consideration at the monthly meeting of the ministers of his own denomination. Briefly, his brethren themselves (brutishly insensible to the abundant provocation) censured him for language that was violent and unchristian.
"I'll resign!" said Dr. Gowdy.
"You'll do nothing of the sort," said his wife.
"Of course I sha'n't," he returned.
Then the Squash invaded the Academy. The shake-up came; Professor English was removed; and Dr. Gowdy was requested to withdraw from the board of trustees.
"I'll resign this time, anyway!" said he.
"I wish you would," said his wife.
Next day came a letter from "our" Mr. Levy. It as good as asked Dr. Gowdy's attendance at the store. Dr. Gowdy tore the letter into very small scraps, thrust them into an envelope, slapped on a stamp with a furious hand, and sent them back.
Then "our" Mr. Levy called at the house, accompanied by a Mr. Kahn, whose particular function was left in some vagueness.
Mr. Kahn felt around the edge of the thing. "It can be settled, I am inclined to think," he said, smoothly.
"So it can," said the Doctor--"by your both going out that door inside of ten seconds."
But Mr. Kahn remained. "Your libellous utterances----" he began.
"Mine? Those students', you mean. Sue them--in a body!"
"We may prefer to sue you."
"Sue away, then! I'll put my standing against that of any department store in existence! This is a mere impudent speculation, impossible to carry out in the face of the public opinion of a Christian community----"
"Is it?" asked Mr. Kahn blandly.
This equivoke checked Dr. Gowdy for an instant. "It used to be," he said, with a fierce smile. The smile vanished and the fierceness remained. "Go," he said. "I'm stronger than both of you together. There's the door. Use it!" He towered over them with red face, threatening arm, bristling white whiskers.
"Drop it," said Mr. Kahn to Mr. Levy, as they went down the Doctor's front steps; "he's a fighter."