Though he did this with the greatest confidence, he did it (as it struck me) in so ignorant a manner, and so spoilt everything he touched, that when he began upon the purple smoke from the chimney of the distant cottage of the proprietor of the golden harvest (which smoke was beautifully soft), I found myself saying aloud, without considering of it:
"Let that alone, will you?"
"Halloa!" said the man next me in the crowd, jerking me roughly from him with his elbow, "why didn't you send a telegram? If we had known you was coming, we'd have provided something better for you. You understand the man's work better than he does himself, don't you? Have you made your will? You're too clever to live long."
"Don't be hard upon the gentleman, sir," said the person in attendance on the works of art, with a twinkle in his eye as he looked at me; "he may chance to be an artist himself. If so, sir, he will have a fellow-feeling with me, sir, when I"--he adapted his action to his words as he went on, and gave a smart slap of his hands between each touch, working himself all the time about and about the composition--"when I lighten the bloom of my grapes--shade off the orange in my rainbow--dot the i of my Britons--throw a yellow light into my cow-cum-_ber_--insinuate another morsel of fat into my shoulder of mutton--dart another zigzag flash of lightning at my ship in distress!"
He seemed to do this so neatly, and was so nimble about it, that the halfpence came flying in.
"Thanks, generous public, thanks!" said the professor. "You will stimulate me to further exertions. My name will be found in the list of British Painters yet. 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.