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- Will Warburton - 5/52 -
As he sat musing, _The Art World_ still in his hand, Warburton could hear his friend's voice ring out that audacious vow. He could remember, too, the odd little pang with which he heard it, a half spasm of altogether absurd jealousy. Of course the feeling did not last. There was no recurrence of it when he heard that Franks had again seen Miss Elvan before she left Ashtead; nor when he learnt that the artist had been spending a day or two at Bath. Less than a month after their first meeting, Franks won Rosamund's consent. He was frantic with exultation. Arriving with the news at ten o'clock one night, he shouted and maddened about Warburton's room until finally turned out at two in the morning. His circumstances being what they were, he could not hope for marriage yet awhile; he must work and wait. Never mind; see what work he would produce! Yet it appeared to his friend that all through the next twelvemonth he merely wasted time, such work as he did finish being of very slight value. He talked and talked, now of Rosamund, now of what he was _going_ to do, until Warburton, losing patience, would cut him short with "Oh, go to Bath!"--an old cant phrase revived for its special appropriateness in this connection. Franks went to Bath far oftener than he could afford, money for his journey being generally borrowed from his long-enduring friend.
Rosamund herself had nothing, and but the smallest expectations should her father die. Two years before this, it had occurred to her that she should like to study art, and might possibly find in it a means of self-support. She was allowed to attend classes at South Kensington, but little came of this except a close friendship with a girl of her own age, by name Bertha Cross, who was following the art course with more serious purpose. When she had been betrothed for about a year, Rosamund chanced to spend a week in London at her friend's house, and this led to acquaintance between Franks and the Crosses. For a time, Warburton saw and heard less of the artist, who made confidantes of Mrs. Cross and her daughter, and spent many an evening with them talking, talking, talking about Rosamund; but this intimacy did not endure very long, Mrs. Cross being a person of marked peculiarities, which in the end overtried Norbert's temper. Only on the fourth story flat by Chelsea Bridge could the lover find that sort of sympathy which he really needed, solacing yet tonic. But for Warburton he would have worked even less. To Will it seemed an odd result of fortunate love that the artist, though in every other respect a better man than before, should have become, to all appearances, less zealous, less efficient, in his art. Had Rosamund Elvan the right influence on her lover; in spite of Norbert's lyric eulogy, had she served merely to confuse his aims, perhaps to bring him down to a lower level of thought?
There was his picture, "Sanctuary." Before he knew Rosamund, Franks would have scoffed at such a subject, would have howled at such treatment of it. There was notable distance between this and what Norbert was painting in that summer sunrise four years ago, with his portable easel in the gutter. And Miss Elvan admired "Sanctuary"-- at least, Franks said she did. True, she also admired the picture of the pawnshop and the public-house; Will had himself heard her speak of it with high praise, and with impatient wonder that no purchaser could be found for it. Most likely she approved of everything Norbert did, and had no more serious criterion. Unless, indeed, her private test of artistic value were the financial result.
Warburton could not altogether believe that. Annoyance with the artist now and then inclined him to slighting thought of Rosamund; yet, on the whole, his view of her was not depreciatory. The disadvantage to his mind was her remarkable comeliness. He could not but fear that so much beauty must be inconsistent with the sterling qualities which make a good wife.
Will's eye fell on Sherwood's note, and he went to bed wondering what the project might be which was to make their fortune.
He had breakfasted, and was smoking his pipe as he wrote a letter, when Mrs. Hopper announced the visit, by appointment, of her brother-in-law, Allchin. There entered a short, sturdy, red-headed young fellow, in a Sunday suit of respectable antiquity; his features were rude, his aspect dogged; but a certain intelligence showed in his countenance, and a not unamiable smile responded to the bluff heartiness of Warburton's greeting. By original calling, Allchin was a grocer's assistant, but a troublesome temper had more than once set him adrift, the outcast of grocerdom, to earn a living as best he could by his vigorous thews, and it was in one of these intervals that, having need of a porter at the works, Warburton had engaged him, on Mrs. Hopper's petition. After a month or so of irreproachable service, Allchin fought with a foreman, and took his discharge. The same week, Mrs. Allchin presented him with their first child; the family fell into want; Mrs. Hopper (squeezed between door and jamb) drew her master's attention to the lamentable case, and help was of course forthcoming. Then, by good luck, Allchin was enabled to resume his vocation; he got a place at a grocer's in Fulham Road, and in a few weeks presented himself before his benefactor, bringing half-a-crown as a first instalment toward the discharge of his debt; for only on this condition had he accepted the money. Half a year elapsed without troublesome incident; the man made regular repayment in small sums; then came the disaster which Mrs. Hopper had yesterday announced.
"Well, Allchin," cried Warburton, "what's the latest?"
Before speaking, the other pressed his lips tightly together and puffed out his cheeks, as if it cost him an effort to bring words to the surface. His reply came forth with explosive abruptness.
"Lost my place at Boxon's, sir."
"And how's that?"
"It happened last Saturday, sir. I don't want to make out as I wasn't at all to blame. I know as well as anybody that I've got a will of my own. But we're open late, as perhaps you know, sir, on Saturday night, and Mr. Boxon--well, it's only the truth--he's never quite himself after ten o'clock. I'd worked from eight in the morning to something past midnight--of course I don't think nothing of that, 'cause it's reg'lar in the trade. But--well, in come a customer, sir, a woman as didn't rightly know what she wanted; and she went out without buying, and Mr. Boxon he see it, and he come up to me and calls me the foulest name he could turn his tongue to. And so--well, sir, there was unpleasantness, as they say--"
He hesitated, Warburton eyeing him with a twinkle of subdued amusement.
"A quarrel, in fact, eh?"
"It did about come to that, sir!"
"You lost your temper, of course."
"That's about the truth, sir."
"And Boxon turned you out?"
Allchin looked hurt.
"Well, sir, I've no doubt he'd have liked to, but I was a bit beforehand with him. When I see him last, he was settin' on the pavement, sir, rubbin' his 'ead."
In spite of his inclination to laugh, Will kept a grave countenance.
"I'm afraid that kind of thing won't do, Allchin. You'll be in serious trouble one of these days."
"That's what my wife says, sir. I know well enough as it's hard on her, just after we've lost the baby--as perhaps Mrs. Hopper'll have told you, sir."
"I was very sorry to hear it, Allchin."
"Thank you, sir. You've always something kind to say. And I'm that vexed, because I was getting on well with paying my debts. But Mr. Boxon, sir, he's many a time made me that mad that I've gone out into the back yard and kicked the wall till my toes were sore, just to ease my feelings, like. To tell the truth, sir, I don't think he's ever rightly sober, and I've heard others say the same. And his business is fallin' off, something shockin'. Customers don't like to be insulted; that's only natural. He's always going down to Kempton Park, or Epsom, or some such place. They do say as he lost 'undreds of pounds at Kempton Park last week. It's my opinion the shop can't go on much longer. Well, sir, I thought I just ought to come and tell you the truth of things, and I won't disturb you no longer. I shall do my best to find another place."
Warburton's impulse was to offer temporary work in Little Ailie Street, but he remembered that the business was not in a position to increase expenses, and that the refinery might any day be closed.
"All right," he answered cheerily, "let me know how you get on."
When Allchin's heavy footsteps had echoed away down the stairs, Mrs. Hopper answered her master's call.
"I suppose they have a little money to go on with?" Warburton inquired. "I mean, enough for a week or so."
"Yes, I think they have that, sir. But I see how it'll be. My poor sister'll end in the work'us. Allchin'll never keep a place. Not that I can blame him, sir, for givin' it to that Boxon, 'cause every one says he's a brute."
"Well, just let me know if they begin to be in want. But of course Allchin can always get work as a porter. He must learn to keep his fists down, if he doesn't want to be perpetually out of employment."
"That's what I tell him, sir. And my poor sister, sir, she's never stopped talkin' to him, day or night you may say, ever since it happened--"
"Merciful Heavens!" groaned Warburton to himself.
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