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Chapter 10 Riceyman Square

  • St. Andrew's Church, of yellow bricks with free-stone dressings, a blue slat_oof, and a red coping, was designed and erected in the brilliant reign o_illiam IV, whose Government, under Lord Grey, had a pious habit, since los_y governments, of building additional churches in populous parishes at it_wn expense. Unfortunately its taste in architecture was less laudable tha_ts practical interest in the inculcation among the lowly of the Christia_octrine about the wisdom and propriety of turning the other cheek. St.
  • Andrew's, of a considerably mixed Gothic character, had architecturall_othing whatever to recommend it. Its general proportions, its arched windows,
  • its mullions, its finials, its crosses, its spire, and its buttresses, wer_ll and in every detail utterly silly and offensive. The eye could not res_nywhere upon its surface without pain. And time, which is supposed to softe_nd dignify all things, had been content in malice to cover St. Andrew's wit_ilth and ridicule. Out of the heights of the ignoble temple came persistent,
  • monotonous, loud sounds, fantastic and nerve-racking, to match it_rchitecture. The churchyard was a garden flanked by iron rails and by plan_rees, upon which brutal, terrifying surgical operations had been performed.
  • In the garden were to be seen the withering and melancholy but still beautifu_lossoms of asters and tulips, a quantity of cultivated vegetables,
  • dishevelled grass, some heaps of rubble, and patches of unproductive brow_arth. Nobody might walk in the garden, whose gates were most securel_adlocked.
  • Riceyman Square had been built round St. Andrew's in the hungry 'forties. I_ad been built all at once, according to plan; it had form. The three-stor_ouses (with areas and basements) were all alike, and were grouped together i_ections by triangular pediments with ornamentations thereon in a degenerat_egency style. These pediments and the window-facings and the whole walls u_o the beginning of the first floor were stuccoed and painted. In many place_he paint was peeling off and the stucco crumbling. The fronts of th_oorsteps were green with vegetable growth. Some of the front-doors an_indow-frames could not have been painted for fifteen or twenty years. All th_orizontal lines in the architecture had become curved. Long cracks showed i_he brickwork where two dwellings me? The fanlights and some of the iron wor_eebly recalled the traditions of the eighteenth century. The areas, excep_ne or two, were obscene. The Square had once been genteel; it ought now t_ave been picturesque, but was not. It was merely decrepit, foul an_latternly. It had no attractiveness of any sort. Evolution had swirled roun_t, missed it, and left it. Neither electricity nor telephones had eve_nvaded it, and scores of windows still had venetian blinds. All men excep_ts inhabitants and the tax-collector, the rate-collector, and the schoo_ttendance officer had forgotten Riceyman Square.
  • It lay now frowsily supine in a needed Sunday indolence after the week's har_abour. All the upper windows were shut and curtained, and most of the ground-
  • floor windows. The rare glimpses of forlorn interiors were desolating. Not _hild played in the roadways. But here and there a housewife had hung he_oormats and canaries on the railings to take the holy Sabbath air; an_ewspapers, fresh as newly gathered fruit, waited folded on doorsteps fo_tudents of crime and passion to awake from their beds in darkened an_tifling rooms. Also little milk-cans with tarnished brass handles had bee_uspended in clusters on the railings. Cats only, in their elegance and thei_etached disdain, rose superior to the terrific environment. The determine_hurch bells ceaselessly jangled.
  • "The church is rather nice," said Mrs. Arb. "But what did I tell you about th_quare?"
  • "Wait a moment! Wait a moment," replied Mr. Earlforward. "Let us walk round,
  • shall we?"
  • They began to walk round. Presently Mr. Earlforward stopped in front of _ouse which had just been painted, to remind the spectator of the origina_entility of the hungry 'forties.
  • "No broken panes there, I think," he remarked triumphantly.
  • Mrs. Arb's glance searched the façade for even a cracked pane, and found none.
  • She owed him a shilling.
  • "Well," she said, somewhat dashed, but still briskly. "Of course there wa_ound to be one house that was all right. Don't they say it's the exceptio_roves the rule?"
  • He understood that he would not receive his shilling, and he admired her th_ore for her genial feminine unscrupulousness.
  • At the corner of Gilbert Street Mrs. Arb suddenly burst out laughing.
  • "I hadn't noticed we had any Savoys up here!" she said.
  • Painted over the door of the corner house were the words "Percy's Hotel."
  • The house differed in no other detail from the rest of the Square.
  • "I wonder if they have any self-contained suites?"
  • Mr. Earlforward was about to furnish the history of this singular histori_urvival, when they both, almost simultaneously, through a large interstice o_he curtains, noticed Elsie sitting and rocking gently by the ground-floo_indow of a house near to Percy's Hotel. Her pale face was half turned withi_he room, and its details obscure in the twilight of the curtained interior;
  • but there could be no mistake about her identity.
  • "Is it here she lives?" said Mrs. Arb.
  • "I suppose so. I know she lives somewhere in the Square, but I never knew th_umber."
  • The front-door of the house opened and Dr. Raste emerged, fresh, dapper, prim,
  • correct, busy, speeding without haste, the incarnation of the professional.
  • You felt that he would have emerged from Buckingham Palace in just the sam_anner. To mark the Sabbath, which his ceaseless duties forbade him to honou_therwise, he wore a silk hat. This hat he raised on perceiving Mr.
  • Earlforward and a lady; and he raised also, though scarcely perceptibly, hi_yebrows.
  • "You been to see my charwoman, doctor?" Mr. Earlforward urbanely stopped him.
  • Dr. Raste hesitated a moment.
  • "Your charwoman? Ah, yes. I did happen to see her. Yes."
  • "Ah! Then she  _is_  unwell. Nothing serious, I hope?"
  • "No, no!" said the doctor, his voice rather higher than usual. "She'll be al_ight to-morrow. A mere nothing. An excellent constitution, I should imagine."
  • A strictly formal reply, if very courteous. Probably nobody in Clerkenwell,
  • except perhaps his man Joe, knew how Dr. Raste talked and looked when he wa_ot talking and looking professionally. Dr. Raste would sometimes say with _ry, brief laugh, "we medicoes," thereby proclaiming a caste, an order, _lan, separated by awful, invisible, impregnable barriers from the commo_emainder of mankind; and he never stepped beyond the barriers into humanity.
  • In his case the secret life of the brain was indeed secret, and the mask o_he face, tongue and demeanour made an everlasting privacy. He cleared hi_hroat.
  • "Yes, yes… . By the way, I've been reading that Shakspere. Very fine, ver_ine. I shall read it all one of these days. Good morning." He raised his ha_gain and departed.
  • "I shall go in and see her, poor thing!" said Mrs. Arb with compassion.
  • "Shall you?"
  • "Well, I'm here. I think it would be nice if I did, don't you?"
  • "Oh, yes," Mr. Earlforward admiringly agreed.