The old man sat still. The evening breeze stirred his white hair, and he drank in the scents drawn freshly from field and flowers after the rain, and they were like balm to him. As he sat up, his voice seemed to recover its old power, and he clasped his hands together over Jan’s letter, and went on: —
“And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing: O my only Light!
It cannot be
That I am he
On whom Thy tempests fell all night!”
So far Mr. George Herbert; but the poem was never finished, for Rufus jumped up with a cry, and after standing for a moment with stiffened limbs, and muffled whines, as if he could not believe his own glaring yellow eyes, he burst away with tenfold impetus, and dragged, and tore, and pulled, and all but carried Jan to the schoolmaster’s feet.
And the painter walked away down the garden, and stood looking long over the water-meadows.
A painter’s education.—Master Chuter’s port.—A farewell feast.— The sleep of the just.
“I hope, Jan,” said Master Swift, “that the gentleman will overlook my want of respect towards himself, in consideration of what it was to me to see your face again.”
“Don’t distress me by speaking of it, Mr. Swift,” said the painter, taking his hand, and sitting down beside him in the porch.
As he returned the artist’s friendly grasp, the schoolmaster scanned his face with some of the old sharpness. “Sir,” said he, “I beg you to forgive my freedom. I’m a rough man with a rough tongue, which I could never teach to speak the feelings of my heart; but I humbly thank you, sir, for your goodness to this boy.”
“It’s a very selfish kind of goodness at present, Mr. Swift, and I fancy some day the obligation of the acquaintance will be on my side.”
“Jan,” said the schoolmaster, “take Rufus wi’ ye, and run that errand I telled ye. Rufus’ll carry your basket.” When they had gone, he turned earnestly to the painter.
“Sir, I’m speaking to ye out of my ignorance and my anxiety. Ye want the lad to be a painter. Will he be a great painter? I’m reminding you of what ye’ll know better than me (though not by yourself, for Jan tells me you’re a grand artist), that a man may have the ambition and the love, and some talent for an art, and yet be just without that divine spark which the gods withhold. Sir, god forbid that I should undervalue the pure pleasure of even that little gift; but it’s ill for a lad when he has just that much of an art to keep him from a thrifty trade—and no more.”
The painter replied as earnestly as Master Swift had spoken, —
“Jan’s estimate of me is weaker than his judgment in art is wont to be. I speak to understanding ears, and you will know that I have some true feeling for my art, when I tell you that I know enough to know that I shall never be a great painter; and it will help you to put confidence in my assurance that, if he lives, Jan will.”