'It may be a defect in my mental vision, Blandois,' said he, 'but may I die if I see what you have to do with this.'
'Death of my life,' replied Blandois, 'nor I neither, except that I thought I was serving my friend.'
'By putting an upstart's hire in his pocket?' said Gowan, frowning.
'Do you mean that? Tell your other friend to get his head painted for the sign of some public-house, and to get it done by a sign- painter. Who am I, and who is he?'
'Professore,' returned the ambassador, 'and who is Blandois?'
Without appearing at all interested in the latter question, Gowan angrily whistled Mr Dorrit away. But, next day, he resumed the subject by saying in his off-hand manner and with a slighting laugh, 'Well, Blandois, when shall we go to this Maecenas of yours?
We journeymen must take jobs when we can get them. When shall we go and look after this job?' 'When you will,' said the injured Blandois, 'as you please. What have I to do with it? What is it to me?'
'I can tell you what it is to me,' said Gowan. 'Bread and cheese. One must eat! So come along, my Blandois.'
Mr Dorrit received them in the presence of his daughters and of Mr Sparkler, who happened, by some surprising accident, to be calling there. 'How are you, Sparkler?' said Gowan carelessly. 'When you have to live by your mother wit, old boy, I hope you may get on better than I do.'
Mr Dorrit then mentioned his proposal. 'Sir,' said Gowan, laughing, after receiving it gracefully enough, 'I am new to the trade, and not expert at its mysteries. I believe I ought to look at you in various lights, tell you you are a capital subject, and consider when I shall be sufficiently disengaged to devote myself with the necessary enthusiasm to the fine picture I mean to make of you. I assure you,' and he laughed again, 'I feel quite a traitor in the camp of those dear, gifted, good, noble fellows, my brother artists, by not doing the hocus-pocus better. But I have not been brought up to it, and it's too late to learn it. Now, the fact is, I am a very bad painter, but not much worse than the generality. If you are going to throw away a hundred guineas or so, I am as poor as a poor relation of great people usually is, and I shall be very much obliged to you, if you'll throw them away upon me. I'll do the best I can for the money; and if the best should be bad, why even then, you may probably have a bad picture with a small name to it, instead of a bad picture with a large name to it.'
This tone, though not what he had expected, on the whole suited Mr Dorrit remarkably well. It showed that the gentleman, highly connected, and not a mere workman, would be under an obligation to him. He expressed his satisfaction in placing himself in Mr Gowan's hands, and trusted that he would have the pleasure, in their characters of private gentlemen, of improving his acquaintance.
'You are very good,' said Gowan. 'I have not forsworn society since I joined the brotherhood of the brush (the most delightful fellows on the face of the earth), and am glad enough to smell the old fine gunpowder now and then, though it did blow me into mid-air and my present calling. You'll not think, Mr Dorrit,' and here he laughed again in the easiest way, 'that I am lapsing into the freemasonry of the craft--for it's not so; upon my life I can't help betraying it wherever I go, though, by Jupiter, I love and honour the craft with all my might--if I propose a stipulation as to time and place?'
Ha! Mr Dorrit could erect no--hum--suspicion of that kind on Mr Gowan's frankness.
'Again you are very good,' said Gowan. 'Mr Dorrit, I hear you are going to Rome. I am going to Rome, having friends there. Let me begin to do you the injustice I have conspired to do you, there-- not here. We shall all be hurried during the rest of our stay here; and though there's not a poorer man with whole elbows in Venice, than myself, I have not quite got all the Amateur out of me yet--comprising the trade again, you see!--and can't fall on to order, in a hurry, for the mere sake of the sixpences.' These remarks were not less favourably received by Mr Dorrit than their predecessors.