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III.7. The Martyrdom Of Miss Gwilt
The outskirts of the little town of Thorpe Ambrose, on the side nearest to "the
great house," have earned some local celebrity as exhibiting the prettiest suburb of
the kind to be found in East Norfolk. Here the villas and gardens are for the most
part built and laid out in excellent taste, the trees are in the prime of their growth,
and the healthy common beyond the houses rises and falls in picturesque and
delightful variety of broken ground. The rank, fashion, and beauty of the town
make this place their evening promenade; and when a stranger goes out for a
drive, if he leaves it to the coachman, the coachman starts by way of the common
as a matter of course.
On the opposite side, that is to say, on the side furthest from "the great house," the
suburbs (in the year 1851) were universally regarded as a sore subject by all
persons zealous for the reputation of the town.
Here nature was uninviting, man was poor, and social progress, as exhibited under
the form of building, halted miserably. The streets dwindled feebly, as they
receded from the center of the town, into smaller and smaller houses, and died
away on the barren open ground into an atrophy of skeleton cottages. Builders
hereabouts appeared to have universally abandoned their work in the first stage of
its creation. Land-holders set up poles on lost patches of ground, and, plaintively
advertising that they were to let for building, raised sickly little crops meanwhile,
in despair of finding a purchaser to deal with them. All the waste paper of the
town seemed to float congenially to this neglected spot; and all the fretful children
came and cried here, in charge of all the slatternly nurses who disgraced the place.
If there was any intention in Thorpe Ambrose of sending a worn-out horse to the
knacker's, that horse was sure to be found waiting his doom in a field on this side
of the town. No growth flourished in these desert regions but the arid growth of
rubbish; and no creatures rejoiced but the creatures of the night--the vermin here
and there in the beds, and the cats everywhere on the tiles.
The sun had set, and the summer twilight was darkening. The fretful children
were crying in their cradles; the horse destined for the knacker dozed forlorn in
the field of his imprisonment; the cats waited stealthily in corners for the coming
night. But one living figure appeared in the lonely suburb--the figure of Mr.
Bashwood. But one faint sound disturbed the dreadful silence--the sound of Mr.
Bashwood's softly stepping feet.
Moving slowly past the heaps of bricks rising at intervals along the road, coasting
carefully round the old iron and the broken tiles scattered here and there in his
path, Mr. Bashwood advanced from the direction of the country toward one of the
unfinished streets of the suburb. His personal appearance had been apparently
made the object of some special attention. His false teeth were brilliantly white;
his wig was carefully brushed; his mourning garments, renewed throughout,
gleamed with the hideous and slimy gloss of cheap black cloth. He moved with a
nervous jauntiness, and looked about him with a vacant smile. Having reached the
first of the skeleton cottages, his watery eyes settled steadily for the first time on