+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error



A DROWSY afternoon: one of those August
afternoons when the sun seems to glow rather
than shine, and the trees are quite motionless
in the golden languor. Only, now and then,
there was a timid flutter amongst the leaves,
as if the faint air stirred them in their sleep,
prompting them to wake up, until they were
lulled into dreamland again by the whispering
of flowers and low hum of bees.

The great doors stood wide open, and the
warm, fragrant summer came ina warm
summer it had need to be to chase the damp
and mildew out of that long-disused room,
which had been recently turned into a School
of Design. Once upon a time, it had formed
a part of the monastic establishment belonging
to the Abbey Church across the field;
but, since that date, it had undergone various
fluctuations of fortune; emerging from each
experience a little hoarier, a little more dilapidated,
and a great deal more useless. Yet
there was still a world of poetical suggestion
about it, for those who could look beyond
the dust of today.

It had been the monkish dining-hall,
and had, no doubt, seen a vast amount of
pious good living amongst the old Benedictines
who possessed it in its prime. The
little gallery from which, on high festivals,
the grace was wont to be chaunted, now
contained a miscellaneous collection of detached
plaster-limbs, fragments of sculpture, and
spare easels; a pale skeleton grinned a
moral sarcasm on all past times over the
balustrade, while casts from the most famous
antiques occupied the raised dais where,
perhaps, the noble abbot and his favoured
guests had formerly been as merry as they
were wiseoften, even, if tradition did not
wrong them, a great deal merrier.

Not all the glories however had passed
away; for the magnificent avenues, grand
as cathedral aisles, with their choirs of
singing birds whose forbears had made melody
to saintly ears, stretched still over the fields;
wildernesses of greenery, quiet haunts of
shadow, sweet musing places for sunny days
and moonlit nights, that were almost enough
to tempt civilisation back to gipsy life.
Mary Unwin thought it would be pleasant
to carry her easel out under the lime-trees,
and to sketch the old Abbey Church, instead
of making that laborious copy of an unmeaning
ornament indoors; but she only thought
it. Mary was working for a purpose which
sketching picturesque vignettes would not
advance; so she went on, laying her flat tints
mechanically; only refreshing her eyes
sometimes with an upward glance at the silent
green boughs that leant against the window
and made a cool shadow upon the floor.

Old Wisp was standing beside her, pointing
a crayon and talking about what we were
going to do for the advancement of art;
we being the committee of the school, Tom
Unwin the master, and old Wisp himself.
Mary was old Wisp's favourite pupil, partly
because she was kind spoken; but chiefly
because she was clever, industrious, and a
credit to us, which many of the pupils were
not. Look at Miss Ashby who had not
conquered the straight line yet; or at little
Miss Craggs who had been shading
draftboards for practice, but without improvement,
ever since she joined the class six months
ago. Look at the Willett girls who only
came to pass their idle time, or at the two
respectable Miss Potters, whose strength (or
feebleness) lay in still lifevery still life.
They were painting bloomless peaches, acrid
cherries, and sapless autumn leaves, from
staring lithographic examples. They had
toiled at these subjects with unsatisfactory
results for many years; never getting any
nearer to the interpretation of nature than
they were at the beginning. Their models
might have been the wooden fruit that
developes into tea-services, spring-jacks, and
other Dutch eccentricities, dear to the youthful
heart, for any similitude the imitations bore
to the luscious realities. Old Wisp said
that they were enough to put us out of

There was not a very full attendance on
the class that afternoon, and Tom Unwin
stayed at the lower end of the room where
the beginners were, wrinkling his brows, as
his custom was, and watching the doorway
for dilatory arrivals. He was a little wiry
man, with a countenance resembling in expression
that of a much-enduring terrier that
lives under a hard master. Tom Unwin had
lived under a hard master ever since he was