The Sea Lady Read online





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  THE SEA LADY

  "Am I doing it right?" asked the Sea Lady. (See page 150.)]

  THE SEA LADY

  BY H. G. WELLS

  _ILLUSTRATED_

 

  NEW YORK D. APPLETON AND COMPANY 1902

  COPYRIGHT, 1902 BY D. APPLETON AND COMPANY

  _Published September, 1902_

  Copyright 1901 by H. G. Wells

  CONTENTS

  CHAPTER PAGE

  I.--THE COMING OF THE SEA LADY 1

  II.--SOME FIRST IMPRESSIONS 30

  III.--THE EPISODE OF THE VARIOUS JOURNALISTS 71

  IV.--THE QUALITY OF PARKER 90

  V.--THE ABSENCE AND RETURN OF MR. HARRY CHATTERIS 101

  VI.--SYMPTOMATIC 133

  VII.--THE CRISIS 204

  VIII.--MOONSHINE TRIUMPHANT 285

  LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

  FACING PAGE

  "Am I doing it right?" asked the Sea Lady _Frontispiece_

  "Stuff that the public won't believe aren't facts" 81

  She positively and quietly settled down with the Buntings 90

  A little group about the Sea Lady's bath chair 134

  "Why not?" 160

  The waiter retires amazed 170

  They seemed never to do anything but blow and sigh and rustle papers 180

  Adjusting the folds of his blanket to a greater dignity 216

  THE SEA LADY

  CHAPTER THE FIRST.

  THE COMING OF THE SEA LADY

  I

  Such previous landings of mermaids as have left a record, have all aflavour of doubt. Even the very circumstantial account of that BrugesSea Lady, who was so clever at fancy work, gives occasion to thesceptic. I must confess that I was absolutely incredulous of such thingsuntil a year ago. But now, face to face with indisputable facts in myown immediate neighbourhood, and with my own second cousin Melville (ofSeaton Carew) as the chief witness to the story, I see these old legendsin a very different light. Yet so many people concerned themselves withthe hushing up of this affair, that, but for my sedulous enquiries, I amcertain it would have become as doubtful as those older legends in acouple of score of years. Even now to many minds----

  The difficulties in the way of the hushing-up process were no doubtexceptionally great in this case, and that they did contrive to do somuch, seems to show just how strong are the motives for secrecy in allsuch cases. There is certainly no remoteness nor obscurity about thescene of these events. They began upon the beach just east of SandgateCastle, towards Folkestone, and they ended on the beach near Folkestonepier not two miles away. The beginning was in broad daylight on a brightblue day in August and in full sight of the windows of half a dozenhouses. At first sight this alone is sufficient to make the popular wantof information almost incredible. But of that you may think differentlylater.

  Mrs. Randolph Bunting's two charming daughters were bathing at the timein company with their guest, Miss Mabel Glendower. It is from the latterlady chiefly, and from Mrs. Bunting, that I have pieced together theprecise circumstances of the Sea Lady's arrival. From Miss Glendower,the elder of two Glendower girls, for all that she is a principal inalmost all that follows, I have obtained, and have sought to obtain, noinformation whatever. There is the question of the lady's feelings--andin this case I gather they are of a peculiarly complex sort. Quitenaturally they would be. At any rate, the natural ruthlessness of theliterary calling has failed me. I have not ventured to touch them....

  The villa residences to the east of Sandgate Castle, you mustunderstand, are particularly lucky in having gardens that run rightdown to the beach. There is no intervening esplanade or road or pathsuch as cuts off ninety-nine out of the hundred of houses that face thesea. As you look down on them from the western end of the Leas, you seethem crowding the very margin. And as a great number of high groinsstand out from the shore along this piece of coast, the beach ispractically cut off and made private except at very low water, whenpeople can get around the ends of the groins. These houses areconsequently highly desirable during the bathing season, and it is thecustom of many of their occupiers to let them furnished during thesummer to persons of fashion and affluence.

  The Randolph Buntings were such persons--indisputably. It is true ofcourse that they were not Aristocrats, or indeed what an unpaid heraldwould freely call "gentle." They had no right to any sort of arms. Butthen, as Mrs. Bunting would sometimes remark, they made no pretence ofthat sort; they were quite free (as indeed everybody is nowadays) fromsnobbery. They were simple homely Buntings--Randolph Buntings--"goodpeople" as the saying is--of a widely diffused Hampshire stock addictedto brewing, and whether a suitably remunerated herald could or could nothave proved them "gentle" there can be no doubt that Mrs. Bunting wasquite justified in taking in the _Gentlewoman_, and that Mr. Bunting andFred were sedulous gentlemen, and that all their ways and thoughts weredelicate and nice. And they had staying with them the two MissGlendowers, to whom Mrs. Bunting had been something of a mother, eversince Mrs. Glendower's death.

  The two Miss Glendowers were half sisters, and gentle beyond dispute, acounty family race that had only for a generation stooped to trade, andrisen at once Antaeus-like, refreshed and enriched. The elder, Adeline,was the rich one--the heiress, with the commercial blood in her veins.She was really very rich, and she had dark hair and grey eyes andserious views, and when her father died, which he did a little beforeher step-mother, she had only the later portion of her later youth leftto her. She was nearly seven-and-twenty. She had sacrificed her earlieryouth to her father's infirmity of temper in a way that had alwaysreminded her of the girlhood of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. But afterhis departure for a sphere where his temper has no doubt a widerscope--for what is this world for if it is not for the Formation ofCharacter?--she had come out strongly. It became evident she had alwayshad a mind, and a very active and capable one, an accumulated fund ofenergy and much ambition. She had bloomed into a clear and criticalsocialism, and she had blossomed at public meetings; and now she wasengaged to that really very brilliant and promising but ratherextravagant and romantic person, Harry Chatteris, the nephew of an earland the hero of a scandal, and quite a possible Liberal candidate forthe Hythe division of Kent. At least this last matter was underdiscussion and he was about, and Miss Glendower liked to feel she wassupporting him by being about too, and that was chiefly why the Buntingshad taken a house in Sandgate for the summer. Sometimes he would comeand stay a night or so with them, sometimes he would be off uponaffairs, for he was known to be a very versatile, brilliant, first-classpolitical young man--and Hythe very lucky to have a bid for him, allthings considered. And Fred Bunting was engaged to Miss Glendower's lessdistinguished, much less wealthy, seventeen-year old and possiblyaltogether more ordinary half-sister, Mabel Glendower, who had discernedlong since when they were at school together that it wasn't any goodtrying to be clear when Adeline was about.

  The Buntings did not bathe "mixed," a thing indeed that was still onlyvery doubtfully