Beyond the City (Chapter 2, page 1 of 6)


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Chapter 2

The cottage from the window of which the Misses Williams had looked
out stands, and has stood for many a year, in that pleasant suburban
district which lies between Norwood, Anerley, and Forest Hill. Long
before there had been a thought of a township there, when the Metropolis
was still quite a distant thing, old Mr. Williams had inhabited "The
Brambles," as the little house was called, and had owned all the
fields about it. Six or eight such cottages scattered over a rolling
country-side were all the houses to be found there in the days when the
century was young. From afar, when the breeze came from the north, the
dull, low roar of the great city might be heard, like the breaking of
the tide of life, while along the horizon might be seen the dim curtain
of smoke, the grim spray which that tide threw up.

Gradually, however, as the years passed, the City had thrown out a long brick-feeler here
and there, curving, extending, and coalescing, until at last the little
cottages had been gripped round by these red tentacles, and had been
absorbed to make room for the modern villa. Field by field the estate of
old Mr. Williams had been sold to the speculative builder, and had borne
rich crops of snug suburban dwellings, arranged in curving crescents and
tree-lined avenues. The father had passed away before his cottage was
entirely bricked round, but his two daughters, to whom the property had
descended, lived to see the last vestige of country taken from them.

For years they had clung to the one field which faced their windows, and it
was only after much argument and many heartburnings, that they had at
last consented that it should share the fate of the others. A broad road
was driven through their quiet domain, the quarter was re-named "The
Wilderness," and three square, staring, uncompromising villas began to
sprout up on the other side. With sore hearts, the two shy little old
maids watched their steady progress, and speculated as to what fashion
of neighbors chance would bring into the little nook which had always
been their own.

And at last they were all three finished. Wooden balconies and
overhanging eaves had been added to them, so that, in the language of
the advertisement, there were vacant three eligible Swiss-built villas,
with sixteen rooms, no basement, electric bells, hot and cold water, and
every modern convenience, including a common tennis lawn, to be let
at L100 a year, or L1,500 purchase. So tempting an offer did not long
remain open. Within a few weeks the card had vanished from number one,
and it was known that Admiral Hay Denver, V. C., C. B., with Mrs. Hay
Denver and their only son, were about to move into it. The news brought
peace to the hearts of the Williams sisters. They had lived with a
settled conviction that some wild impossible colony, some shouting,
singing family of madcaps, would break in upon their peace.

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