Excerpt 2

The following morning, Mr Witherspoon greeted the news of his son's ambition to become a painter with rather less enthusiasm than his wife had.

Henry's father was an accountant, a serious man with an eye for detail and a sense of perspective.

Always well turned out, never a hair out of place, he needed things to be tidy. Above all, he liked numbers, facts, things he could estimate. Numbers lived and breathed for Mr Witherspoon just as much as the tiger did for Henry. He felt comfortable with things he could count and figures he could calculate. And he never once let himself get excited.

'Emotions cloud your judgment,' he always used to say, and was happy to leave this side of things to his wife Verity. It pleased him to see Henry's mother get so much enjoyment out of her painting, but this was not the kind of thing he wanted to encourage in his son.

'It's out of the question, Verity. Painting's not for boys. Henry has to start preparing for life, and he's not going to earn a living from painting.' Henry looked from his father to his mother, expectantly. His father's words had the feel of a Saturday about them - dull, damp, and completely beyond his understanding. He didn't grasp a word of what his father was saying.

'If I'd known that exhibition you dragged us off to yesterday was going to have this effect,' Mr Witherspoon went on, 'I would never have agreed to it.'

But all I want to do is paint, Henry thought. It seems a harmless enough thing to ask. And he waited for his mother to say something. But nothing came. Not a sound. Not a sign. She just smiled.

Henry could hardly believe it when his father simply carried on. Unchallenged.

'No one ever made a decent living from painting,' he added. And Henry saw himself forced to take matters into his own hands.

'What about Trousseau?' he said with ten-year-old defiance in his voice.


'You mean Rousseau, Henry,' his mother explained, coming to his rescue at last. 'Henri Rousseau, with an i.' Fortunately for Henry she didn't mention the fact that Henri Rousseau with an i had died in poverty, not a penny to his name - something which he only learned much later, and which certainly wouldn't have helped his case. Not that it made any difference 'Never heard of him,' Mr Witherspoon replied. And Henry wondered what on earth his father had been doing at the exhibition. 'Anyway, Verity, have you considered for a moment how much the materials would cost?'

Ah, thought Henry, now we're getting closer to the truth. He doesn't really mind as long as it doesn't cost him anything.

But still his mother gave no sign of a fighting word in support of her son. She just kept smiling at his father, kissed him (yes, kissed him—Henry could hardly believe it!) on the cheek, and said almost in a whisper: 'We'll talk about it later, Digby dear.'

Go back for more excerpts