There were all the precious things laid out; the crow’s quills sharpened to an almost invisible point for the finer lines, the two sets of pencils, one of silver-point that left a faint grey line, and the other of haematite for the burnishing of the gold, the badger and minever brushes, the sponge and pumice-stone for erasures; the horns for black and red ink lay with the scissors and rulers on the little upper shelf of his desk. There were the pigments also there, which he had learnt to grind and prepare, the crushed lapis lazuli first calcined by heat according to the modern degenerate practice, with the cheap German blue beside it, and the indigo beyond; the prasinum; the vermilion and red lead ready mixed, and the rubrica beside it; the yellow orpiment, and, most important of all, the white pigments, powdered chalk and egg shells, lying by the biacca. In a separate compartment covered carefully from chance draughts or dust lay the precious gold leaf, and a little vessel of the inferior fluid gold used for narrow lines.
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His first business was to rule the thick red lines down the side of the text, using a special metal pen for it; and then to begin to sketch in his initials and decorations. For this latter part of the work he had decided to follow the lines of Foucquet from a Book of the Hours that he had taken out of its aumbry; a mass of delicate foliage and leaves, with medallions set in it united by twisted thorn-branches twining upwards through the broad border. These medallions on the first sheet he purposed to fill with miniatures of the famous relics kept at Lewes, the hanging sleeve of the Blessed Virgin in its crystal case, the drinking-cup of Cana, the rod of Moses, and the Magdalene’s box of ointment. In the later pages which would be less elaborate he would introduce the other relics, and allow his humour free play in designing for the scrolls at the foot tiny portraits of his brethren; the Prior should be in a mitre and have the legs and tail of a lion, the novice-master, with a fox’s brush emerging from his flying cowl, should be running from a hound who carried a discipline in his near paw. But there was time yet to think of these things; it would be weeks before that page could be reached, and meanwhile there was the foliage to be done, and the rose leaf that lay on his desk to be copied minutely from a hundred angles.
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His distractions at mass and office were worse than ever now that the great work was begun, and week after week in confession there was the same tale. The mere process was so absorbing, apart from the joy of creation and design. More than once he woke from a sweating nightmare in the long dormitory, believing that he had laid on gold-leaf without first painting the surface with the necessary mordant, or had run his stilus through his most delicate miniature. But he made extraordinary progress in the art; and the Prior more than once stepped into his carrel and looked over his shoulder, watching the slender fingers with the bone pen between them polishing the gold till it shone like a mirror, or the steady lead pencil moving over the white page in faultless curve. Then he would pat him on the shoulder, and go out in approving silence.