Beyond the City (Chapter 3, page 1 of 8)


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Chapter 3

How deeply are our destinies influenced by the most trifling causes!
Had the unknown builder who erected and owned these new villas contented
himself by simply building each within its own grounds, it is probable
that these three small groups of people would have remained hardly
conscious of each other's existence, and that there would have been no
opportunity for that action and reaction which is here set forth. But
there was a common link to bind them together.

To single himself out from all other Norwood builders the landlord had devised and laid out
a common lawn tennis ground, which stretched behind the houses
with taut-stretched net, green close-cropped sward, and widespread
whitewashed lines. Hither in search of that hard exercise which is as
necessary as air or food to the English temperament, came young Hay
Denver when released from the toil of the City; hither, too, came Dr.
Walker and his two fair daughters, Clara and Ida, and hither also,
champions of the lawn, came the short-skirted, muscular widow and her
athletic nephew. Ere the summer was gone they knew each other in this
quiet nook as they might not have done after years of a stiffer and more
formal acquaintance.

And especially to the Admiral and the Doctor were this closer intimacy
and companionship of value. Each had a void in his life, as every man
must have who with unexhausted strength steps out of the great race, but
each by his society might help to fill up that of his neighbor. It is
true that they had not much in common, but that is sometimes an aid
rather than a bar to friendship. Each had been an enthusiast in his
profession, and had retained all his interest in it.

The Doctor still read from cover to cover his Lancet and his Medical Journal, attended
all professional gatherings, worked himself into an alternate state of
exaltation and depression over the results of the election of officers,
and reserved for himself a den of his own, in which before rows of
little round bottles full of glycerine, Canadian balsam, and staining
agents, he still cut sections with a microtome, and peeped through his
long, brass, old-fashioned microscope at the arcana of nature. With his
typical face, clean shaven on lip and chin, with a firm mouth, a strong
jaw, a steady eye, and two little white fluffs of whiskers, he could
never be taken for anything but what he was, a high-class British
medical consultant of the age of fifty, or perhaps just a year or two
older.

The Doctor, in his hey-day, had been cool over great things, but now,
in his retirement, he was fussy over trifles. The man who had operated
without the quiver of a finger, when not only his patient's life but his
own reputation and future were at stake, was now shaken to the soul by
a mislaid book or a careless maid. He remarked it himself, and knew the
reason. "When Mary was alive," he would say, "she stood between me and
the little troubles. I could brace myself for the big ones. My girls are
as good as girls can be, but who can know a man as his wife knows him?"
Then his memory would conjure up a tuft of brown hair and a single
white, thin hand over a coverlet, and he would feel, as we have all
felt, that if we do not live and know each other after death, then
indeed we are tricked and betrayed by all the highest hopes and subtlest
intuitions of our nature.

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