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“Billy,” said White, with an effort, “I'll try. I won't say I'll do it, but I'll try. I'll go at it, and put it through if I can."
“That's business," said Keogh heartily. “Good boy! Now, here's another thing - rush that picture — crowd it through as quick as you can. couple of boys to help you mix the paint if necessary. I've picked up some pointers around town. The people here are beginning to get sick of Mr. President. They say he's been too free with concessions;
and they accuse him of trying to make a dicker with England to sell out the country. We want that picture done and paid for before there's any row."
In the great patio of Casa Morena, the president caused to be stretched a huge canvas. Under this White set up his temporary studio. For two hours each day the great man sat to him.
White worked faithfully. But, as the work progressed, he had seasons of bitter scorn, of infinite self-contempt, of sullen gloom and sardonic gaiety. Keogh, with the patience of a great general, soothed, coaxed, argued — kept him at the picture.
At the end of a month White announced that the picture was completed – Jupiter, Washington, angels, clouds, cannon and all. His face was pale and his mouth drawn straight when he told Keogh, He said the president was much pleased with it. It was to be hurz in the National Gallery of Statesmen and Heroes. The artist had been requested to return to Casa Morena on the following day to receive payment. At the appointed time he left the hotel, silent under his friend's joyful talk of their success.
An hour later he walked into the room where Keogh was waiting, threw his hat on the floor, and sat upon the table.
“Billy,” he said, in strained and labouring tones, “I've a little money out West in a small business that my brother is running. It's what I've been living on while I've been studying art. I'll draw out my share and pay you back what you've lost on this scheme." “Lost!” exclaimed Keogh, jumping up.
"Didn't you get paid for the picture?”
“Yes, I got paid,” said White. “But just now there isn't any picture, and there isn't any pay. If you care to hear about it, here are the edifying details. The president and I were looking at the painting. His secretary brought a bank draft on New York for ten thousand dollars and handed it to
The moment I touched it I went wild. I tore it into little pieces and threw them on the floor. A workman was repainting the pillars inside the patio. A bucket of his paint happened to be convenient. I picked up his brush and slapped a quart of blue paint all over that ten-thousand-dollar nightmare. I bowed, and walked out. The president didn't move or speak. That was one time he was taken by surprise. It's tough on you, Billy, but I couldn't help it."
There seemed to be excitement in Coralio. Outside there was a confused, rising murmur pierced by high-pitched cries. “Bajo el traidor - Muerte el traidor!” were the words they seemed to form.
“Listen to that!” exclaimed White, bitterly: "I know that much Spanish. They're shouting, "Down with the traitor! I heard them before. I felt that they meant me. I was a traitor to Art. The picture had to go.”
“Down with the blank fool would have suited your case better,” said Keogh, with fiery emphasis. “You tear up ten thousand dollars like an old rag because the way you've spread on five dollars' worth of paint hurts your conscience. Next time I pick a side-partner in a scheme the man has got to go before a notary and swear he never even heard the word 'ideal' mentioned."
Keogh strode from the room, white-hot. White paid little attention to his resentment. The scorn of Billy Keogh seemed a trifling thing beside the greater self-scorn he had escaped.
In Coralio the excitement waxed. An outburst was imminent. The cause of this demonstration of displeasure was the presence in the town of a big, pink-cheeked Englishman, who, it was said, was an agent of his government come to clinch the bargain by which the president placed his people in the hands of a foreign power. It was charged that not only had be given away priceless concessions, but that the public debt was to be transferred into the hands of the English, and the custom-houses turned over to them as a guarantee. The long-enduring people had determined to make their protest felt.
On that night, in Coralio and in other towns, their ire found vent. Yelling mobs, mercurial but dangerous, roamed the streets. They overthrew the great bronze statue of the president that stood in the centre of the plaza, and hacked it to shapeless pieces. They tore from public buildings the tablets set there proclaiming the glory of the “Illustrious Liberator.” His pictures in the government office were demolished. The mobs even attacked the Casa Morena, but were driven away by the military, which remained faithful to the executive. All the night terror reigned.
The greatness of Losada was shown by the fact that by noon the next day order was restored, and he was still absolute. He issued proclamations denying positively that any negotiations of any kind had been entered into with England. Sir Stafford Vaughn, the pink-cheeked Englishman, also declared in placards and in public print that his presence there had no international significance. He was a traveller without guile. In fact (so he stated), he had not even spoken with the president or been in his presence since his arrival.
During this disturbance, White was preparing for his homeward voyage in the steamship that was to sail within two or three days. About noon, Keogh, the restless, took his camera out with the hope of speeding the lagging hours. The town was now as quiet as if peace had never departed from her perch on the red-tiled roofs.
About the middle of the afternoon, Keogh hurried back to the hotel with something decidedly special in his air. He retired to the little room where he developed his pictures.
Later on he came out to White on the balcony, with a luminous, grim, predatory smile on his face.
“Do you know what that is ?” he asked, holding up a 4 x 5 photograph mounted on cardboard.