I shall do better than this, with encouragement. I shall indeed."
"You never can do better than that bunch of grapes," said Henrietta. "Oh, Thomas, them grapes!"
"Not better than THAT, lady? I hope for the time when I shall paint anything but your own bright eyes and lips equal to life."
"(Thomas, did you ever?) But it must take a long time, sir," said Henrietta, blushing, "to paint equal to that."
"I was prenticed to it, miss," said the young man, smartly touching up the composition--"prenticed to it in the caves of Spain and Portingale, ever so long and two year over."
There was a laugh from the crowd; and a new man who had worked himself in next me, said, "He's a smart chap, too; ain't he?"
"And what a eye!" exclaimed Henrietta softly.
"Ah! He need have a eye," said the man.
"Ah! He just need," was murmured among the crowd.
"He couldn't come that 'ere burning mountain without a eye," said the man. He had got himself accepted as an authority, somehow, and everybody looked at his finger as it pointed out Vesuvius. "To come that effect in a general illumination would require a eye; but to come it with two dips--why, it's enough to blind him!"
That impostor, pretending not to have heard what was said, now winked to any extent with both eyes at once, as if the strain upon his sight was too much, and threw back his long hair--it was very long--as if to cool his fevered brow. I was watching him doing it, when Henrietta suddenly whispered, "Oh, Thomas, how horrid you look!" and pulled me out by the arm.
Remembering Mr. Click's words, I was confused when I retorted, "What do you mean by horrid?"
"Oh gracious! Why, you looked," said Henrietta, "as if you would have his blood."
I was going to answer, "So I would, for twopence--from his nose," when I checked myself and remained silent.
We returned home in silence. Every step of the way, the softer sentiments that had flowed, ebbed twenty mile an hour. Adapting my conduct to the ebbing, as I had done to the flowing, I let my arm drop limp, so as she could scarcely keep hold of it, and I wished her such a cold good-night at parting, that I keep within the bounds of truth when I characterise it as a Rasper.
In the course of the next day I received the following document:
"Henrietta informs Thomas that my eyes are open to you. I must ever wish you well, but walking and us is separated by an unfarmable abyss. One so malignant to superiority--Oh that look at him!--can never never conduct
P.S.--To the altar."
Yielding to the easiness of my disposition, I went to bed for a week, after receiving this letter. During the whole of such time, London was bereft of the usual fruits of my labour. When I resumed it, I found that Henrietta was married to the artist of Piccadilly.
Did I say to the artist? What fell words were those, expressive of what a galling hollowness, of what a bitter mockery! I--I--I--am the artist. I was the real artist of Piccadilly, I was the real artist of the Waterloo Road, I am the only artist of all those pavement-subjects which daily and nightly arouse your admiration. I do 'em, and I let 'em out. The man you behold with the papers of chalks and the rubbers, touching up the down-strokes of the writing and shading off the salmon, the man you give the credit to, the man you give the money to, hires--yes! and I live to tell it!--hires those works of art of me, and brings nothing to 'em but the candles.
Such is genius in a commercial country. I am not up to the shivering, I am not up to the liveliness, I am not up to the wanting-employment-in-an-office move; I am only up to originating and executing the work. In consequence of which you never see me; you think you see me when you see somebody else, and that somebody else is a mere Commercial character. The one seen by self and Mr. Click in the Waterloo Road can only write a single word, and that I taught him, and it's MULTIPLICATION--which you may see him execute upside down, because he can't do it the natural way.