Henry sat long before this picture, enveloped, as it were, in its rich gloom, as the painted profundity of a church absorbs one in its depths. And with the impression of its solemn beauty was blent a despairing awe of the artist who, of a little coloured earth, had created such a masterpiece of vitality, thrown on to a thin screen of canvas so enduringly palpable, so sumptuous, and so poignantly dominating a reflection of his visions. What a passionate energy of beauty must have been in this man’s soul; what a constant fury of meditation upon things divine!
When Henry came back to himself, his first thought was to share it with Angel. Little soul, how her face would flame, how her body would tremble with the wonder of it! In the minutiae, the technicalities of appreciation, Angel, like Henry himself, might be lacking; but in the motive fervour of appreciation, who was like her! It was almost painful to see the joy which certain simple wonders gave her. Anything intense or prodigal in nature, any splendidly fluent outpouring of the elements,—the fierce life of streaming fire, water in gliding or tumultuous masses, the vivid gold of crocus and daffodil spouting up through the earth in spring, the exquisite liquidity of a bird singing,—these, as with all elemental poetic natures, gave her the same keen joy which we fable for those who, in the intense morning of the world, first heard them; fable, indeed, for why should we suppose that because ears deaf a thousand years heard the nightingale too, it should therefore be less new for those who to-night hear it for the first time? Rather shall it be more than less for us, by the memories transmitted in our blood from all the generations who before have listened and gone their way.
So Henry sought out Angel, and they both stood in front of the great picture for a long while without a word. Presently Angel put the feeling of both of them into a single phrase,—
“Henry, dear, we have found our church.”
And indeed for many months henceforth this picture was to be their altar, their place of prayer. Often hereafter when their hopes were overcast, or life grew mean with little cares, they would slip, singly, or together, into that gallery, and—
the beauty of Eternity
Smooth from their brows the little frets of time.”