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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBeyond The City - Chapter III - DWELLERS IN THE WILDERNESS
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Beyond The City - Chapter III - DWELLERS IN THE WILDERNESS Post by :davidt1594 Category :Long Stories Author :Arthur Conan Doyle Date :June 2011 Read :3136

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Beyond The City - Chapter III - DWELLERS IN THE WILDERNESS

CHAPTER III - DWELLERS IN THE WILDERNESS


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.

The Doctor had his compensations to make up for his loss. The great
scales of Fate had been held on a level for him; for where in all great
London could one find two sweeter girls, more loving, more intelligent,
and more sympathetic than Clara and Ida Walker? So bright were they, so
quick, so interested in all which interested him, that if it were
possible for a man to be compensated for the loss of a good wife then
Balthazar Walker might claim to be so.

Clara was tall and thin and supple, with a graceful, womanly figure.
There was something stately and distinguished in her carriage, "queenly"
her friends called her, while her critics described her as reserved and
distant.

Such as it was, however, it was part and parcel of herself, for she was,
and had always from her childhood been, different from any one around
her. There was nothing gregarious in her nature. She thought with her
own mind, saw with her own eyes, acted from her own impulse. Her face
was pale, striking rather than pretty, but with two great dark eyes, so
earnestly questioning, so quick in their transitions from joy to pathos,
so swift in their comment upon every word and deed around her, that
those eyes alone were to many more attractive than all the beauty of her
younger sister. Hers was a strong, quiet soul, and it was her firm hand
which had taken over the duties of her mother, had ordered the house,
restrained the servants, comforted her father, and upheld her weaker
sister, from the day of that great misfortune.

Ida Walker was a hand's breadth smaller than Clara, but was a little
fuller in the face and plumper in the figure. She had light yellow
hair, mischievous blue eyes with the light of humor ever twinkling in
their depths, and a large, perfectly formed mouth, with that slight
upward curve of the corners which goes with a keen appreciation of fun,
suggesting even in repose that a latent smile is ever lurking at the
edges of the lips. She was modern to the soles of her dainty little
high-heeled shoes, frankly fond of dress and of pleasure, devoted to
tennis and to comic opera, delighted with a dance, which came her way
only too seldom, longing ever for some new excitement, and yet behind
all this lighter side of her character a thoroughly good, healthy-minded
English girl, the life and soul of the house, and the idol of her sister
and her father. Such was the family at number two. A peep into the
remaining villa and our introductions are complete.

Admiral Hay Denver did not belong to the florid, white-haired, hearty
school of sea-dogs which is more common in works of fiction than in the
Navy List. On the contrary, he was the representative of a much more
common type which is the antithesis of the conventional sailor. He was a
thin, hard-featured man, with an ascetic, acquiline cast of face,
grizzled and hollow-cheeked, clean-shaven with the exception of the
tiniest curved promontory of ash-colored whisker. An observer,
accustomed to classify men, might have put him down as a canon of the
church with a taste for lay costume and a country life, or as the master
of a large public school, who joined his scholars in their outdoor
sports. His lips were firm, his chin prominent, he had a hard, dry eye,
and his manner was precise and formal. Forty years of stern discipline
had made him reserved and silent. Yet, when at his ease with an equal,
he could readily assume a less quarter-deck style, and he had a fund of
little, dry stories of the world and its ways which were of interest
from one who had seen so many phases of life. Dry and spare, as lean as
a jockey and as tough as whipcord, he might be seen any day swinging his
silver-headed Malacca cane, and pacing along the suburban roads with the
same measured gait with which he had been wont to tread the poop of his
flagship. He wore a good service stripe upon his cheek, for on one side
it was pitted and scarred where a spurt of gravel knocked up by a round-
shot had struck him thirty years before, when he served in the Lancaster
gun-battery. Yet he was hale and sound, and though he was fifteen years
senior to his friend the Doctor, he might have passed as the younger
man.

Mrs. Hay Denver's life had been a very broken one, and her record upon
land represented a greater amount of endurance and self-sacrifice than
his upon the sea. They had been together for four months after their
marriage, and then had come a hiatus of four years, during which he was
flitting about between St. Helena and the Oil Rivers in a gunboat. Then
came a blessed year of peace and domesticity, to be followed by nine
years, with only a three months' break, five upon the Pacific station,
and four on the East Indian. After that was a respite in the shape of
five years in the Channel squadron, with periodical runs home, and then
again he was off to the Mediterranean for three years and to Halifax for
four. Now, at last, however, this old married couple, who were still
almost strangers to one another, had come together in Norwood, where, if
their short day had been chequered and broken, the evening at least
promised to be sweet and mellow. In person Mrs. Hay Denver was tall and
stout, with a bright, round, ruddy-cheeked face still pretty, with a
gracious, matronly comeliness. Her whole life was a round of devotion
and of love, which was divided between her husband and her only son,
Harold.

This son it was who kept them in the neighborhood of London, for the
Admiral was as fond of ships and of salt water as ever, and was as happy
in the sheets of a two-ton yacht as on the bridge of his sixteen-knot
monitor. Had he been untied, the Devonshire or Hampshire coast would
certainly have been his choice. There was Harold, however, and Harold's
interests were their chief care. Harold was four-and-twenty now. Three
years before he had been taken in hand by an acquaintance of his
father's, the head of a considerable firm of stock-brokers, and fairly
launched upon 'Change. His three hundred guinea entrance fee paid, his
three sureties of five hundred pounds each found, his name approved by
the Committee, and all other formalities complied with, he found himself
whirling round, an insignificant unit, in the vortex of the money market
of the world. There, under the guidance of his father's friend, he was
instructed in the mysteries of bulling and of bearing, in the strange
usages of 'Change in the intricacies of carrying over and of
transferring. He learned to know where to place his clients' money,
which of the jobbers would make a price in New Zealands, and which would
touch nothing but American rails, which might be trusted and which
shunned. All this, and much more, he mastered, and to such purpose that
he soon began to prosper, to retain the clients who had been recommened
to him, and to attract fresh ones. But the work was never congenial.
He had inherited from his father his love of the air of heaven, his
affection for a manly and natural existence. To act as middleman
between the pursuer of wealth, and the wealth which he pursued, or to
stand as a human barometer, registering the rise and fall of the great
mammon pressure in the markets, was not the work for which Providence
had placed those broad shoulders and strong limbs upon his well knit
frame. His dark open face, too, with his straight Grecian nose, well
opened brown eyes, and round black-curled head, were all those of a man
who was fashioned for active physical work. Meanwhile he was popular
with his fellow brokers, respected by his clients, and beloved at home,
but his spirit was restless within him and his mind chafed unceasingly
against his surroundings.

"Do you know, Willy," said Mrs. Hay Denver one evening as she stood
behind her husband's chair, with her hand upon his shoulder, "I think
sometimes that Harold is not quite happy."

"He looks happy, the young rascal," answered the Admiral, pointing with
his cigar. It was after dinner, and through the open French window of
the dining-room a clear view was to be had of the tennis court and the
players. A set had just been finished, and young Charles Westmacott was
hitting up the balls as high as he could send them in the middle of the
ground. Doctor Walker and Mrs. Westmacott were pacing up and down the
lawn, the lady waving her racket as she emphasized her remarks, and the
Doctor listening with slanting head and little nods of agreement.
Against the rails at the near end Harold was leaning in his flannels
talking to the two sisters, who stood listening to him with their long
dark shadows streaming down the lawn behind them. The girls were
dressed alike in dark skirts, with light pink tennis blouses and pink
bands on their straw hats, so that as they stood with the soft red of
the setting sun tinging their faces, Clara, demure and quiet, Ida,
mischievous and daring, it was a group which might have pleased the eye
of a more exacting critic than the old sailor.

"Yes, he looks happy, mother," he repeated, with a chuckle. "It is not
so long ago since it was you and I who were standing like that, and I
don't remember that we were very unhappy either. It was croquet in our
time, and the ladies had not reefed in their skirts quite so taut. What
year would it be? Just before the commission of the Penelope."

Mrs. Hay Denver ran her fingers through his grizzled hair. "It was when
you came back in the Antelope, just before you got your step."

"Ah, the old Antelope! What a clipper she was! She could sail two
points nearer the wind than anything of her tonnage in the service. You
remember her, mother. You saw her come into Plymouth Bay. Wasn't she a
beauty?"

"She was indeed, dear. But when I say that I think that Harold is not
happy I mean in his daily life. Has it never struck you how thoughtful,
he is at times, and how absent-minded?"

"In love perhaps, the young dog. He seems to have found snug moorings
now at any rate."

"I think that it is very likely that you are right, Willy," answered the
mother seriously. "But with which of them?"

"I cannot tell."

"Well, they are very charming girls, both of them. But as long as he
hangs in the wind between the two it cannot be serious. After all, the
boy is four-and-twenty, and he made five hundred pounds last year. He
is better able to marry than I was when I was lieutenant."

"I think that we can see which it is now," remarked the observant
mother. Charles Westmacott had ceased to knock the tennis balls about,
and was chatting with Clara Walker, while Ida and Harold Denver were
still talking by the railing with little outbursts of laughter.
Presently a fresh set was formed, and Doctor Walker, the odd man out,
came through the wicket gate and strolled up the garden walk.

"Good evening, Mrs. Hay Denver," said he, raising his broad straw hat.
"May I come in?"

"Good evening, Doctor! Pray do!"

"Try one of these," said the Admiral, holding out his cigar-case. "They
are not bad. I got them on the Mosquito Coast. I was thinking of
signaling to you, but you seemed so very happy out there."

"Mrs. Westmacott is a very clever woman," said the Doctor, lighting the
cigar. "By the way, you spoke about the Mosquito Coast just now. Did
you see much of the Hyla when you were out there?"

"No such name on the list," answered the seaman, with decision.
"There's the Hydra, a harbor defense turret-ship, but she never leaves
the home waters."

The Doctor laughed. "We live in two separate worlds," said he. "The
Hyla is the little green tree frog, and Beale has founded some of his
views on protoplasm upon the appearancer, of its nerve cells. It is a
subject in which I take an interest."

"There were vermin of all sorts in the woods. When I have been on river
service I have heard it at night like the engine-room when you are on
the measured mile. You can't sleep for the piping, and croaking, and
chirping. Great Scott! what a woman that is! She was across the lawn
in three jumps. She would have made a captain of the foretop in the old
days."

"She is a very remarkable woman."

"A very cranky one."

"A very sensible one in some things," remarked Mrs. Hay Denver.

"Look at that now!" cried the Admiral, with a lunge of his forefinger at
the Doctor. "You mark my words, Walker, if we don't look out that woman
will raise a mutiny with her preaching. Here's my wife disaffected
already, and your girls will be no better. We must combine, man, or
there's an end of all discipline."

"No doubt she is a little excessive in her views." said the Doctor, "but
in the main I think as she does."

"Bravo, Doctor!" cried the lady.

"What, turned traitor to your sex! We'll court-martial you as a
deserter."

"She is quite right. The professions are not sufficiently open to
women. They are still far too much circumscribed in their employments.
They are a feeble folk, the women who have to work for their bread--
poor, unorganized, timid, taking as a favor what they might demand as a
right. That is why their case is not more constantly before the public,
for if their cry for redress was as great as their grievance it would
fill the world to the exclusion of all others. It is all very well for
us to be courteous to the rich, the refined, those to whom life is
already made easy. It is a mere form, a trick of manner. If we are
truly courteous, we shall stoop to lift up struggling womanhood when she
really needs our help--when it is life and death to her whether she has
it or not. And then to cant about it being unwomanly to work in the
higher professions. It is womanly enough to starve, but unwomanly to
use the brains which God has given them. Is it not a monstrous
contention?"

The Admiral chuckled. "You are like one of these phonographs, Walker,"
said he; "you have had all this talked into you, and now you are reeling
it off again. It's rank mutiny, every word of it, for man has his duties
and woman has hers, but they are as separate as their natures are. I
suppose that we shall have a woman hoisting her pennant on the flagship
presently, and taking command of the Channel Squadron."

"Well, you have a woman on the throne taking command of the whole
nation," remarked his wife; "and everybody is agreed that she does it
better than any of the men."

The Admiral was somewhat staggered by this home-thrust. "That's quite
another thing," said he.

"You should come to their next meeting. I am to take the chair. I have
just promised Mrs. Westmacott that I will do so. But it has turned
chilly, and it is time that the girls were indoors. Good night! I
shall look out for you after breakfast for our constitutional, Admiral."

The old sailor looked after his friend with a twinkle in his eyes.

"How old is he, mother?"

"About fifty, I think."

"And Mrs. Westmacott?"

"I heard that she was forty-three."

The Admiral rubbed his hands, and shook with amusement. "We'll find one
of these days that three and two make one," said he. "I'll bet you a
new bonnet on it, mother."

Content of CHAPTER III - DWELLERS IN THE WILDERNESS (Arthur Conan Doyle's novel: Beyond the City)

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