The Wrecker

Page 19

"Well, in sculpture, you see, the first thing you have to consider is the masses. It's, after all, a kind of architecture," I began, and delivered a lecture on that branch of art, with illustrations from my own masterpiece there present, all of which, if you don't mind, or whether you mind or not, I mean to conscientiously omit. Pinkerton listened with a fiery interest, questioned me with a certain uncultivated shrewdness, and continued to scratch down notes, and tear fresh sheets from his pad. I found it inspiring to have my words thus taken down like a professor's lecture; and having had no previous experience of the press, I was unaware that they were all being taken down wrong. For the same reason (incredible as it must appear in an American) I never entertained the least suspicion that they were destined to be dished up with a sauce of penny- a-lining gossip; and myself, my person, and my works of art butchered to make a holiday for the readers of a Sunday paper. Night had fallen over the Genius of Muskegon before the issue of my theoretic eloquence was stayed, nor did I separate from my new friend without an appointment for the morrow.

I was indeed greatly taken with this first view of my countryman, and continued, on further acquaintance, to be interested, amused, and attracted by him in about equal proportions. I must not say he had a fault, not only because my mouth is sealed by gratitude, but because those he had sprang merely from his education, and you could see he had cultivated and improved them like virtues. For all that, I can never deny he was a troublous friend to me, and the trouble began early.

It may have been a fortnight later that I divined the secret of the writing-pad. My wretch (it leaked out) wrote letters for a paper in the West, and had filled a part of one of them with descriptions of myself. I pointed out to him that he had no right to do so without asking my permission.

"Why, this is just what I hoped!" he exclaimed. "I thought you didn't seem to catch on; only it seemed too good to be true."

"But, my good fellow, you were bound to warn me," I objected.

"I know it's generally considered etiquette," he admitted; "but between friends, and when it was only with a view of serving you, I thought it wouldn't matter. I wanted it (if possible) to come on you as a surprise; I wanted you just to waken, like Lord Byron, and find the papers full of you. You must admit it was a natural thought. And no man likes to boast of a favour beforehand."

"But, heavens and earth! how do you know I think it a favour?" I cried.

He became immediately plunged in despair. "You think it a liberty," said he; "I see that. I would rather have cut off my hand. I would stop it now, only it's too late; it's published by now. And I wrote it with so much pride and pleasure!"

I could think of nothing but how to console him. "O, I daresay it's all right," said I. "I know you meant it kindly, and you would be sure to do it in good taste."

"That you may swear to," he cried. "It's a pure, bright, A number 1 paper; the St. Jo _Sunday Herald_. The idea of the series was quite my own; I interviewed the editor, put it to him straight; the freshness of the idea took him, and I walked out of that office with the contract in my pocket, and did my first Paris letter that evening in Saint Jo. The editor did no more than glance his eye down the headlines. 'You're the man for us,' said he."

I was certainly far from reassured by this sketch of the class of literature in which I was to make my first appearance; but I said no more, and possessed my soul in patience, until the day came when I received a copy of a newspaper marked in the corner, "Compliments of J.P." I opened it with sensible shrinkings; and there, wedged between an account of a prize- fight and a skittish article upon chiropody--think of chiropody treated with a leer!--I came upon a column and a half in which myself and my poor statue were embalmed. Like the editor with the first of the series, I did but glance my eye down the head-lines and was more than satisfied.

          ANOTHER OF PINKERTON'S SPICY CHATS.

              ART PRACTITIONERS IN PARIS.

             MUSKEGON'S COLUMNED CAPITOL.

               SON OF MILLIONAIRE DODD,

                  PATRIOT AND ARTIST.

               "HE MEANS TO DO BETTER."

In the body of the text, besides, my eye caught, as it passed, some deadly expressions: "Figure somewhat fleshy," "bright, intellectual smile," "the unconsciousness of genius," "'Now, Mr. Dodd,' resumed the reporter, 'what would be your idea of a distinctively American quality in sculpture?'" It was true the question had been asked; it was true, alas! that I had answered; and now here was my reply, or some strange hash of it, gibbeted in the cold publicity of type. I thanked God that my French fellow-students were ignorant of English; but when I thought of the British--of Myner (for instance) or the Stennises --I think I could have fallen on Pinkerton and beat him.

The Wrecker Page 20

Robert Louis Stevenson

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