A Great and Terrible Beauty

Page 77

And with that we push past them, leaving them behind us in the hall like so much dust floating slowly down to earth.

Miss Moore has prepared canvases for us. There is muslin stretched taut over framing, watercolors at the ready. Can bucolic beach scenes and flower arrangements be far behind? I note the bowl of fruit placed on a table in the center of the room. Another still life. If she wants a still life, we could just as easily paint the futures Spence is preparing us for day by day. I expect better from Miss Moore.

"A still life?" My voice drips with disdain.

Miss Moore stands by the windows. Silhouetted against the sky's gray glare, she looms like a scarecrow. "Do I sense dissatisfaction, Miss Doyle?"

"It isn't terribly challenging."

"The world's greatest artists have seen fit to paint still lifes from time to time."

She has me there, but I'm not going down without a fight. "How much challenge is there in an apple?"

"We shall find out," she says, handing me a smock.

Felicity inspects the bowl of fruit. She selects an apple, bites into it with a loud crack.

Miss Moore takes it from her hand and returns it to the bowl. "Felicity, please do not eat the exhibit or I shall be forced to use wax fruit next time and then you'll have a nasty surprise in store."

"I guess it's a still life after all," I sigh, dipping my brush into the red paint.

"It appears I am in the midst of a rebellion. You didn't seem to mind painting so much the other day." Felicity shares one of her sly grins. "We are not the same as the other day. Indeed, we are utterly changed, Miss Moore."

Cecily exhales loudly. "Don't try to reason with them, Miss Moore. They are impossible today."

"Yes," says Elizabeth, adopting a nasty tone. "They are new girls for a new world. Isn't that right, Pippa?"

There are more furtive glances that do not go undetected by Miss Moore. "Is this true, Miss Doyle? Are we in the midst of a private revolution?"

She catches me off guard. It always feels strange to be on the other end of Miss Moore's microscope lens. It's as if she knows what I'm thinking. "We are," I say at last.

"Do you see what I mean?" Cecily huffs.

Miss Moore claps her hands together."We could do with something new. I am overthrown. They are your canvases for the hour, ladies. Do as you will."

We erupt in cheers. The brush seems suddenly lighter in my hand. Cecily isn't happy, though.

"But Miss Moore, Assembly Day is only two weeks away, and I won't have anything decent to show my family when they arrive," she says, pouting.

"Cecily's quite right, Miss Moore," Martha joins in. "I don't care what they want. I can't show my family some primitive sketch of a cave wall. They would be appalled."

Miss Moore raises her chin, looking down on them. "I wouldn't want to be the cause of such distress to you and your families, Miss Temple and Miss Hawthorne. Here. The fruit bowl is yours. I'm sure your parents would enjoy a still life."

Felicity wanders over to some clay. "May I make a sculpture, Miss Moore?"

"If you wish, Miss Worthington. Ye gods, I don't know if I am holding class or the class is holding me." She hands Felicity a lump of clay for molding.

"To make certain the afternoon is an educational one after all," Miss Moore says, glancing at Cecily, "I shall read aloud from David Copperfield .Chapter One: 'Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show'"

At the end of the hour, Miss Moore examines our paintings, murmuring both praise and correction. When she comes to my paintinga large, misshapen apple taking up the whole of the canvasshe purses her lips for what seems a long time. "How very modern, Miss Doyle."

Cecily lets out a sharp laugh when she sees it. "Is that sup' posed to be an apple?"

"Of course it's an apple, Cecily," Felicity snaps. "I think it's marvelous, Gem. Quite avant- garde ." I'm not satisfied. "It needs more light on the front to make it shiny. I keep adding white and yellow, but that only washes everything out."

"You need to add a bit of shadow back here." Miss Moore dips a brush in sepia and paints a curve along the outside edge of my apple. Immediately, the shine on the apple is apparent, and it looks much better. "The Italians call this chiaroscuro . It means the play of light and dark within a picture."

"Why couldn't Gemma simply add the white to make the apple shine?" Pippa asks.

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