He was gradually making it possible to earn a livelihood by his art. Liberty’s had taken several of his painted designs on various stuffs, and he could sell designs for embroideries, for altar-cloths, and similar things, in one or two places. It was not very much he made at present, but he might extend it. He had also made friends with the designer for a pottery firm, and was gaining some knowledge of his new acquaintance’s art. The applied arts interested him very much. At the same time he laboured slowly at his pictures. He loved to paint large figures, full of light, but not merely made up of lights and cast shadows, like the impressionists; rather definite figures that had a certain luminous quality, like some of Michael Angelo’s people. And these he fitted into a landscape, in what he thought true proportion. He worked a great deal from memory, using everybody he knew. He believed firmly in his work, that it was good and valuable. In spite of fits of depression, shrinking, everything, he believed in his work.
He was twenty-four when he said his first confident thing to his mother.
“Mother,” he said, “I s’ll make a painter that they’ll attend to.”
She sniffed in her quaint fashion. It was like a half-pleased shrug of the shoulders.
“Very well, my boy, we’ll see,” she said.
“You shall see, my pigeon! You see if you’re not swanky one of these days!”
“I’m quite content, my boy,” she smiled.
“But you’ll have to alter. Look at you with Minnie!”
Minnie was the small servant, a girl of fourteen.
“And what about Minnie?” asked Mrs. Morel, with dignity.
“I heard her this morning: ‘Eh, Mrs. Morel! I was going to do that,’ when you went out in the rain for some coal,” he said. “That looks a lot like your being able to manage servants!”
“Well, it was only the child’s niceness,” said Mrs. Morel.
“And you apologising to her: ’You can’t do two things at once, can you?’”
“She was busy washing up,” replied Mrs. Morel.
“And what did she say? ’It could easy have waited a bit. Now look how your feet paddle!’”
“Yes—brazen young baggage!” said Mrs. Morel, smiling.
He looked at his mother, laughing. She was quite warm and rosy again with love of him. It seemed as if all the sunshine were on her for a moment. He continued his work gladly. She seemed so well when she was happy that he forgot her grey hair.
And that year she went with him to the Isle of Wight for a holiday. It was too exciting for them both, and too beautiful. Mrs. Morel was full of joy and wonder. But he would have her walk with him more than she was able. She had a bad fainting bout. So grey her face was, so blue her mouth! It was agony to him. He felt as if someone were pushing a knife in his chest. Then she was better again, and he forgot. But the anxiety remained inside him, like a wound that did not close.