Christie Johnstone by Charles Reade
AT the commencement of the last chapter, Charles Gatty, artist, was going to usher in a new state of things, true art, etc. Wales was to be painted in Wales, not Poland Street.
He and five or six more youngsters were to be in the foremost files of truth, and take the world by storm.
This was at two o'clock; it is now five; whereupon the posture of affairs, the prospects of art, the face of the world, the nature of things, are quite the reverse.
In the artist's room, on the floor, was a small child, whose movements, and they were many, were viewed with huge dissatisfaction by Charles Gatty, Esq. This personage, pencil in hand, sat slouching and morose, looking gloomily at his intractable model.
Things were going on very badly; he had been waiting two hours for an infantine pose as common as dirt, and the little viper would die first.
Out of doors everything was nothing, for the sun was obscured, and to all appearance extinguished forever.
"Ah! Mr. Groove," cried he, to that worthy, who peeped in at that moment; you are right, it is better to plow away upon canvas blindfold, as our grandfathers — no, grandmothers — used, than to kill ourselves toiling after such coy ladies as Nature and Truth."
"Aweel, I dinna ken, sirr," replied Groove, in smooth tones. "I didna like to express my warm approbation of you before the lads, for fear of making them jealous."
"They be — No!"
"I ken what ye wad say, sirr, an it wad hae been a vara just an' sprightly observation. Aweel, between oursels, I look upon ye as a young gentleman of amazing talent and moedesty. Man, ye dinna do yoursel justice; ye should be in th' Academy, at the hede o' 't."
"Mr. Groove, I am a poor fainting pilgrim on the road, where stronger spirits have marched erect before me."
"A faintin' pelgrim! Deil a frights o' ye, ye're a brisk and bonny lad. Ah, sirr, in my juvenile days, we didna fash wi nature, and truth, an the like."
"The like! What is like nature and truth, except themselves?"
"Vara true, sirr; vara true, and sae I doot I will never attain the height o' profeeciency ye hae reached. An' at this vara moment, sir," continued Groove, with delicious solemnity and mystery, "ye see before ye, sir, a man wha is in maist dismal want — o' ten shellen!" (A pause.) "If your superior talent has put ye in possession of that sum, ye would obleege me infinitely by a temporary accommodation, Mr. Gaattie."
"Why did you not come to the point at once?" cried Gatty, bruskly, "instead of humbling me with undeserved praise. There." Groove held out his hand, but made a wry face when, instead of money, Gatty put a sketch into his hand.
"There," said Gatty, "that is a lie!"
"How can it be a lee?" said the other, with sour inadvertence. "How can it be a lee, when I hae na spoken ?"
"You don't understand me. That sketch is a libel on a poor cow and an unfortunate oak-tree. I did them at the Academy. They had never done me any wrong, poor things; they suffered unjustly. You take them to a shop, swear they are a tree and a cow, and some fool, that never really looked into a cow or a tree, will give you ten shillings for them."
"Are ye sure, lad?"
"I am sure. Mr. Groove, sir, if you can not sell a lie for ten shillings you are not fit to live in this world; where is the lie that will not sell for ten shillings?"
"I shall think the better o' lees all my days; sir, your words are inspeeriting." And away went Groove with the sketch.
Gatty reflected and stopped him.
"On second thoughts, Groove, you must not ask ten shillings; you must ask twenty pounds for that rubbish."
"Twenty pund! What for will I seek twenty pund?"
"Simply because people that would not give you ten shillings for it will offer you eleven pounds for it if you ask twenty pounds."
"The fules," roared Groove. "Twenty pund! hem!" He looked closer into it. "For a'," said he, "I begin to obsairve it is a work of great merit. I'll seek twenty pund, an' I'll no tak less than fifteen schell'n, at present."
The visit of this routine painter did not cheer our artist.
The small child got a coal and pounded the floor with it like a machine incapable of fatigue. So the wished-for pose seemed more remote than ever.
The day waxed darker instead of lighter; Mr. Gatty's reflections took also a still more somber hue.
"Even Nature spites us," thought he, "because we love her."
"Then cant, tradition, numbers, slang and money are against us; the least of these is singly a match for truth; we shall die of despair or paint cobwebs in Bedlam; and I am faint, weary of a hopeless struggle; and one man's brush is truer than mine, another's is bolder — my hand and eye are not in tune. Ah! no! I shall never, never, never be a painter."
These last words broke audibly from him as his head went down almost to his knees.
A hand was placed on his shoulder as a flake of snow falls on the water. It was Christie Johnstone, radiant, who had glided in unobserved.
"What's wrang wi' ye, my lad?"
"The sun is gone to the Devil, for one thing."
"Hech! hech! ye'll no be long ahint him; div ye no think shame."
"And I want that little brute just to do so, and he'd die first."
"Oh, ye villain, to ca' a bairn a brute; there's but ae brute here, an' it's no you, Jamie, nor me — is it, my lamb?"
She then stepped to the window.
"It's clear to windward; in ten minutes ye'll hae plenty sun. Tak your tools noo." And at the word she knelt on the floor, whipped out a paper of sugar-plums and said to him she had christened "Jamie." "Heb! Here's sweeties till ye." Out went Jamie's arms, as if he had been a machine and she had pulled the right string.
"Ah, that will do," said Gatty, and sketched away.
Unfortunately, Jamie was quickly arrested on the way to immortality by his mother, who came in, saying:
"I maun hae my bairn — he canna be aye wasting his time here."
This sally awakened the satire that ever lies ready in piscatory bosoms.
"Wasting his time! ye're no blate. Oh, ye'll be for taking him to the college to laern pheesick — and teach maenners."
"Ye need na begin on me," said the woman. "I'm no match for Newhaven."
So saying she cut short the dispute by carrying off the gristle of contention.
"Another enemy to art," said Gatty, hurling away his pencil.
The young fishwife inquired if there were any more griefs. What she had heard had not accounted, to her reason, for her companion's depression.
"Are ye sick, laddy?" said she.
"No, Christie, not sick, but quite, quite down in the mouth."
She scanned him thirty seconds.
What had ye till your dinner?"
"A choep, likely?"
"I think it was."
"Or maybe it was a steak?"
"I dare say it was a steak."
"Taste my girdle cake, that I've brought for ye."
She gave him a piece; he ate it rapidly, and looked gratefully at her.
"Noo, div ye no think shame to look me in the face? Ye hae na dined ava." And she wore an injured look.
"Sit ye there; it's ower late for dinner, but ye'll get a cup tea. Doon i' the mooth, nae wonder, when naething gangs doon your — "
In a minute she placed a tea-tray, and ran into the kitchen with a teapot.
The next moment a yell was heard, and she returned laughing, with another teapot.
"The wife had maskit tea till hersel'," said this lawless forager.
Tea and cake on the table — beauty seated by his side — all in less than a minute.
He offered her a piece of cake.
"Na! I am no for any."
"Nor I then," said he.
"Hets! eat, I tell ye."
He replied by putting a bit to her heavenly mouth.
"Ye're awfu' opinionated," said she, with a countenance that said nothing should induce her, and eating it almost contemporaneously.
"Put plenty sugar," added she, referring to the Chinese infusion; "mind, I hae a sweet tooth."
"You have a sweet set," said he, approaching another morsel.
They showed themselves by way of smile, and confirmed the accusation.
"Aha! lad," answered she; "they've been the death o' mony a herrin'!"
"Now, what does that mean in English, Christie?"
"My grinders — (a full stop.)
"Which you approve — (a full stop.)
"Have been fatal — (a full stop.)
"To many fishes!"
Christie prided herself on her English, which she had culled from books.
Then he made her drink from the cup, and was ostentatious in putting his lips to the same part of the brim.
Then she left the table, and inspected all things.
She came to his drawers, opened one, and was horror-struck.
There were coats and trousers, with their limbs interchangeably intertwined, waistcoats, shirts, and cigars, hurled into chaos.
She instantly took the drawer bodily out, brought it, leaned it against the tea-table, pointed silently into it, with an air of majestic reproach, and awaited the result.
"I can find whatever I want," said the unblushing bachelor, "except money."
"Siller does na bide wi' slovens! hae ye often siccan a gale o' wind in your drawer?"
"Every day! Speak English!"
"Aweel! How do you do? that's Ennglish! I daur say."
"Jolly!" cried he, with his mouth full. Christie was now folding up and neatly arranging his clothes.
"Will you ever, ever be a painter?"
"I am a painter! I could paint the Devil pea-green!"
"Dinna speak o' yon lad, Chairles, it's no canny."
"No! I am going to paint an angel; the prettiest, cleverest girl in Scotland, 'The Snowdrop of the North.'"
And he dashed into his bedroom to find a canvas.
"Hech!" reflected Christie. "Thir Ennglish hae flattering tongues, as sure as Dethe; 'The Snawdrap o' the Norrth!'"