The end of the longest room at Seawood Abbey was full of light; for the
walls were almost made of windows and it projected upon a terraced part
of the garden above the park on an almost cloudless morning. Murrel,
called Monkey for some reason that everybody had forgotten, and Olive
Ashley were taking advantage of the light to occupy themselves with
painting; though she was painting on a very small scale and he on a very
large one. She was laying out peculiar pigments very carefully, in
imitation of the flat jewellery of medieval illumination, for which she
had a great enthusiasm, as part of a rather vague notion of a historic
past. He, on the other hand, was highly modern, and was occupied with
several pails full of very crude colours and with brushes which reached
the stature of brooms. With these he was laying about him on large
sheets of lath and canvas, which were to act as scenery in some private
theatricals then in preparation. They could not paint, either of them;
nor did they imagine that they could. But she was in some sense trying
to do so; and he was not.
"It's all very well for you to talk about discords," he was saying
somewhat defensively, for she was a critical lady, "but your style of
painting narrows the mind. After all, scene-painting is only
illumination seen through a microscope."
"I hate microscopes," she observed briefly.
"Well, you look as if you wanted one, poring over that stuff," replied
her companion, "in fact I fancy I have seen people screwing a great
thing in their eye while they did it. I hope you won't go so far as
that: it wouldn't suit your style at all."
This was true enough, no doubt, for she was a small, slight girl, with
dark delicate features of the kind called regular; and her dark green
dress, which was aesthetic but the reverse of Bohemian, had something
akin to the small severities of her task. There was something a shade
old maidish about her gestures, although she was very young. It was
noticeable that though the room was strewn with papers and dusters and
the flamboyant failures of Mr. Murrel's art, her own flat colour-box,
with its case and minor accessories, were placed about her with
protective neatness. She was not one of those for whom is written the
paper of warnings sometimes sold with paint-boxes; and it had never been
necessary to adjure her not to put the brush in the mouth.
"What I mean," she said, resuming the subject of microscopes, "is that
all your science and modern stuff has only made things ugly, and people
ugly as well. I don't want to look down a microscope any more than down
a drain. You only see a lot of horrid little things crawling about. I
don't want to look down at all. That's why I like all this old Gothic
painting and building; in Gothic all the lines go upwards, right up to
the very spire that points to heaven."
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