’Was that the landmark? What,—the foolish well Whose wave, low down, I did not stoop to drink, But sat and flung the pebbles from its brink In sport to send its imaged skies pell-mell, (And mine own image, had I noted well!) Was that my point of turning? I had thought The stations of my course should rise unsought, As altar-stone, or ensigned citadel.’
’Why does that fellow upstairs always pass you as though he were in a passion with somebody?’ said Richard Watson, stepping back as he spoke, palette on thumb, from the picture upon which he was engaged. ’He almost knocked me down this morning, and I am not conscious of having done anything to offend his worship.’
His companion in the dingy Bloomsbury studio, where they were both at work, also put down palette and brush, examining the canvas before him with a keen, cheerful air.
‘Perhaps he loathes mankind, as I did yesterday.’
‘And to-day it’s all right?’
‘Well, come and look.’
Watson crossed over. He was a tall and splendid man, a ‘black Celt’ from Merionethshire, with coal-black hair, and eyes deeply sunken and lined, with fatigue or ill health. Beside him, his comrade, Philip Cuningham, had the air of a shrewd clerk or man of business—with his light alertness of frame, his reddish hair, and sharp, small features. A pleasant, serviceable ability was stamped on Cuningham’s whole aspect; while Watson’s large, lounging way, and dishevelled or romantic good looks suggested yet another perennial type—the dreamer entangled in the prose of life.
He looked at the picture which Cuningham turned towards him—his hands thrust into the vast pockets of his holland coat. It was a piece of charming genre—a crowded scene in Rotten Row, called ’Waiting for the Queen,’ painted with knowledge and grace; owing more to Wilkie than to Frith, and something to influences more modern than either; a picture belonging to a familiar English tradition, and worthily representing it.
‘Yes—you’ve got it!’ he said, at last, in a voice rather colourless and forced. Then he made one or two technical comments, to which the other listened with something that was partly indulgence, partly deference; adding, finally, as he moved away, ’And it’ll sell, of course—like hot potatoes!’
‘Well, I hope so,’ said Philip, beginning to put away his brushes and tubes with what seemed to be a characteristic orderliness—’or I shall be in Queer Street. But I think Lord Findon wants it. I shouldn’t wonder if he turned up this afternoon!’
‘Ah?’ Watson raised his great shoulders with a gesture which might have been sarcastic, but was perhaps more than anything else languid and weary. He returned to his own picture, looking at it with a painful intensity.
‘Nobody will ever want to buy that!’ he said, quietly.