Will Warburton by George Gissing
"Warburton!" cried a high-pitched voice from the passage. "Have you seen The Art World?"
And there rushed into the room a tall, auburn-headed young man of five-and-twenty, his comely face glowing in excitement. With one hand he grasped his friend's, in the other he held out a magazine.
"You haven't seen it! Look here! What d'you think of that, confound you!"
He had opened the magazine so as to display an illustration, entitled "Sanctuary," and stated to be after a painting by Norbert Franks.
"Isn't it good? Doesn't it come out well?--deuce take you, why don't you speak?"
"Not bad--for a photogravure," said Warburton, who had the air of a grave elder in the presence of this ebullient youth.
"Be hanged! We know all about that. The thing is that it's there. Don't you feel any surprise? Haven't you got anything to say? Don't you see what this means, you old ragamuffin?"
"Shouldn't wonder if it meant coin of the realm--for your shrewd dealer."
"For me too, my boy, for me too! Not out of this thing, of course. But I've arrived, I'm lance, the way is clear! Why, you don't seem to know what it means getting into The Art World."
"I seem to remember," said Warburton, smiling, "that a month or two ago, you hadn't language contemptuous enough for this magazine and all connected with it."
"Don't be an ass!" shrilled the other, who was all this time circling about the little room with much gesticulation. "Of course one talks like that when one hasn't enough to eat and can't sell a picture. I don't pretend to have altered my opinion about photogravures, and all that. But come now, the thing itself? Be honest, Warburton. Is it bad, now? Can you look at that picture, and say that it's worthless?"
"I never said anything of the kind."
"No, no! You're too deucedly good-natured. But I always detected what you were thinking, and I saw it didn't surprise you at all when the Academy muffs refused it."
"There you're wrong," cried Warburton. "I was really surprised."
"Confound your impudence! Well, you may think what you like. I maintain that the thing isn't half bad. It grows upon me. I see its merits more and more."
Franks was holding up the picture, eyeing it intently. "Sanctuary" represented the interior of an old village church. On the ground against a pillar, crouched a young and beautiful woman, her dress and general aspect indicating the last degree of vagrant wretchedness; worn out, she had fallen asleep in a most graceful attitude, and the rays of a winter sunset smote upon her pallid countenance. Before her stood the village clergyman, who had evidently just entered, and found her here; his white head was bent in the wonted attitude of clerical benevolence; in his face blended a gentle wonder and a compassionate tenderness.
"If that had been hung at Burlington House, Warburton, it would have been the picture of the year."
"I think it very likely."
"Yes, I know what you mean, you sarcastic old ruffian. But there's another point of view. Is the drawing good or not? Is the colour good or not? Of course you know nothing about it, but I tell you, for your information, I think it's a confoundedly clever bit of work. There remains the subject, and where's the harm in it? The incident's quite possible. And why shouldn't the girl be good-looking?"
"Well why not? There are girls with angelic faces. Don't I know one?"
Warburton, who had been sitting with a leg over the arm of his chair suddenly changed his position.
"That reminds me," he said. "I came across the Pomfrets in Switzerland."
"At Trient ten days ago. I spent three or four days with them. Hasn't Miss Elvan mentioned it?"
"I haven't heard from her for a long time," replied Franks. "Well, for more than a week. Did you meet them by chance?"
"Quite. I had a vague idea that the Pomfrets and their niece were somewhere in Switzerland."
"Vague idea!" cried the artist "Why, I told you all about it, and growled for five or six hours one evening here because I couldn't go with them."
"So you did," said Warburton, "but I'm afraid I was thinking of something else, and when I started for the Alps, I had really forgotten all about it. I made up my mind suddenly, you know. We're having a troublesome time in Ailie Street, and it was holiday now or never. By the bye, we shall have to wind up. Sugar spells ruin. We must get out of it whilst we can do so with a whole skin."
"Ah, really?" muttered Franks. "Tell me about that presently; I want to hear of Rosamund. You saw a good deal of her, of course?"
"I walked from Chamonix over the Col de Balme--grand view of Mont Blanc there! Then down to Trient, in the valley below. And there, as I went in to dinner at the hotel, I found the three. Good old Pomfret would have me stay awhile, and I was glad of the chance of long talks with him. Queer old bird, Ralph Pomfret."
"Yes, yes, so he is," muttered the artist, absently. "But Rosamund --was she enjoying herself?"
"Very much, I think. She certainly looked very well."
"Have much talk with her?" asked Franks, as if carelessly.
"We discussed you, of course. I forget whether our conclusion was favourable or not."
The artist laughed, and strode about the room with his hands in his pockets.
"You know what?" he exclaimed, seeming to look closely at a print on the wall. "I'm going to be married before the end of the year. On that point I've made up my mind. I went yesterday to see a house at Fulham--Mrs. Cross's, by the bye, it's to let at Michaelmas, rent forty-five. All but settled that I shall take it. Risk be hanged. I'm going to make money. What an ass I was to take that fellow's first offer for 'Sanctuary'! It was low water with me, and I felt bilious. Fifty guineas! Your fault, a good deal, you know; you made me think worse of it than it deserved. You'll see; Blackstaffe'll make a small fortune out of it; of course he has all the rights-- idiot that I was! Well, it's too late to talk about that.--And I say, old man, don't take my growl too literally. I don't really mean that you were to blame. I should be an ungrateful cur if I thought such a thing."
"How's 'The Slummer' getting on?" asked Warburton good-humouredly.
"Well, I was going to say that I shall have it finished in a few weeks. If Blackstaffe wants 'The Slummer' he'll have to pay for it. Of course it must go to the Academy, and of course I shall keep all the rights--unless Blackstaffe makes a really handsome offer. Why, it ought to be worth five or six hundred to me at least. And that would start us. But I don't care even if I only get half that, I shall be married all the same. Rosamund has plenty of pluck. I couldn't ask her to start life on a pound a week--about my average for the last two years; but with two or three hundred in hand, and a decent little house, like that of Mrs. Cross's, at a reasonable rent --well, we shall risk it. I'm sick of waiting. And it isn't fair to a girl--that's my view. Two years now; an engagement that lasts more than two years isn't likely to come to much good. You'll think my behaviour pretty cool, on one point. I don't forget, you old usurer, that I owe you something more than a hundred pounds--"
"Be poohed yourself! But for you, I should have gone without dinner many a day; but for you, I should most likely have had to chuck painting altogether, and turn clerk or dock-labourer. But let me stay in your debt a little longer, old man. I can't put off my marriage any longer, and just at first I shall want all the money I can lay my hands on."
At this moment Mrs. Hopper entered with a lamp. There was a pause in the conversation. Franks lit a cigarette, and tried to sit still, but was very soon pacing the floor again. A tumbler of whisky and soda reanimated his flagging talk.
"No!" he exclaimed. "I'm not going to admit that 'Sanctuary' is cheap and sentimental, and all the rest of it. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that it's nothing to be ashamed of. People have got hold of the idea that if a thing is popular it must be bad art. That's all rot. I'm going in for popularity. Look here! Suppose that's what I was meant for? What if it's the best I have in me to do? Shouldn't I be a jackass if I scorned to make money by what, for me, was good work, and preferred to starve whilst I turned out pretentious stuff that was worth nothing from my point of view?"
"I shouldn't wonder if you're right," said Warburton reflectively. "In any case, I know as much about art as I do about the differential calculus. To make money is a good and joyful thing as long as one. doesn't bleed the poor. So go ahead, my son, and luck be with you!"
"I can't find my model yet for the Slummer's head. It mustn't be too like the 'Sanctuary' girl, but at the same time it must be a popular type of beauty. I've been haunting refreshment bars and florists' shops; lots of good material, but never quite the thing. There's a damsel at the Crystal Palace--but this doesn't interest you, you old misogynist."
"Old what?" exclaimed Warburton, with an air of genuine surprise.
"Have I got the word wrong? I'm not much of a classic--"
"The word's all right. But that's your idea of me, is it?"
The artist stood and gazed at his friend with an odd expression, as if a joke had been arrested on his lips by graver thought.
"Isn't it true?"
"Perhaps it is; yes, yes, I daresay."
And he turned at once to another subject.