A Unique Experience at the Seaside by John Oxenham

Illustrated by H. M. Brock.

Could it, after all, be called unique? Hardly, perhaps, in the strict sense of the word, since others shared in it. But to us it was, and I trust ever will be, a unique experience.

We have generally spent our August holiday at the seaside in apartments, and suffered many things in consequence—an uninterrupted succession of mixed odours of cooking from early morning till late at night; fleas and other insect pests, which seemed to thrive mightily on the powders put down for their extermination; landladies afflicted with spasms and inordinate thirst, and landladies' cats with unappeasable appetites; cramped quarters, of course, which did not afflict one on fine days, but on rainy ones became pandemonium; terrible attempts at amateurish cooking and service—in which the dining-room's vegetables and tarts got mixed up with the drawing-room's vegetables and pies—and slatternly maids of all work, who killed on the spot even one's seaside appetite, the moment they appeared to set the table.

And so, after mature consideration of ways and means, we decided this time to attain to the dignity of a small furnished house—or a cottage, at all events—if by any chance such could be found within the limits of a moderate purse.

Further consideration fixed on Eastnor as the place where our holiday was to be spent.

"'WHAT CAN I DO FOR YOU, SIR?'" "'WHAT CAN I DO FOR YOU, SIR?'"

We had, in the course of twelve years' wanderings, tried most of the South and East Coast watering-places, and found most of them a-wanting. If the atmosphere was bracing, the beach was shingle. If the beach was sandy, the atmosphere was enervating.

Somewhere in our family history a strain of Israelitish blood must have got mixed with all the other strains. It probably dates right away back to the forty years' wanderers, or even, maybe, as far back as Noah—in whose family one can conceive, at one period of its history, almost as strong a craving for sand as had again out-cropped in this present rising generation of mine.

"THE DOOR OPENED, AND A SMALL LAME MAN LOOKED AT ME." "THE DOOR OPENED, AND A SMALL LAME MAN LOOKED AT ME."

The one thing my youngsters insist on is sand—wet sand with pools, for amateur canal-engineering; dry sand for houses and forts, and Canutish, wave-repelling castles. Sand, and plenty of it, is their one demand, and no holiday is complete without it. When they were very young, Broadstairs was all right for a time, and satisfied their inordinate cravings; but it became too crowded, and to our family connoisseurs the quality of the sand has deteriorated somewhat, and has got too much mixed up with mud and buns and paper bags, and other people's babies, and so we had to try further afield.

The Great Sahara would have been just about the very thing for us, but on inquiry I found the journey to be a long and trying one, and a trifle beyond our means, and the accommodation for visitors somewhat defective.

Eastnor was named to us; we had never tried Eastnor. Was there sand?—Yes, any amount. So to Eastnor I journeyed, with a Saturday-to-Monday ticket and stringent orders from headquarters to first try the sand—as to quality, quantity, texture, depth and pools—and if up to standard measurement, I was authorised to pick up a small house for August on the most reasonable terms obtainable.

The requirements were at least one sitting-room and three bedrooms and a kitchen—if an extra room or two without extra charge, so much the better. I was to come back fully informed as to what was left in the house in the way of furnishings and utensils, and what we would be expected to take with us.

I found Eastnor all right as regards sand; the very streets were full of it, and as I stood on the Esplanade at low tide, and leaned up against a strong south-west breeze, and saw the dry sand sweeping like smoke along the flats and piling knee-deep to windward of the groins, and got my mouth and eyes and ears full of it, I decided, from the taste and smell and feel of it, that—from a sand point of view, at all events—Eastnor would do.

Now to find a lodgment for the night, and then to prowl round for a house.

I struck a neat little confectioner's for tea, and, following a plan which had acted well on previous occasions, asked, as I was paying for it, if they could accommodate me for the night.

Well, they had rooms, but they were let for the following week—being regatta week—and, yes, said the stout lady behind the counter, she thought she had better not take me; but the "Balaclava Inn," next door, put up beds—I had better try there.

Yes, at the "Balaclava" they put up beds, and they showed me to a room. "But if I should get a good let to-morrow—lots of folks come down on Sunday to stop for regatta," said the hostess—"I shall have to turn you out; but maybe I can find you a bedroom nigh handy."

This just to show the extreme independence of the aborigines.

Then I turned out to find the desirable seaside residence with the maximum of accommodation and comfort at the minimum of cost.

I rooted round till I struck the chief estate agent—who was also the chief grocer—of the town.

His shop was full, and trade was evidently booming.

I stood behind a triple row of clamorous lady visitors, who were ordering everything under the sun in the grocery line, and complaining vehemently to the badgered shop-men that their last orders had all been very inadequately fulfilled. I waited patiently till the mob, having apparently bought up the whole shop, thinned out, and a dapper London-trained young shopman smoothed down his ruffled front hair and leaned over the counter and asked, "And what can I do for you, sir?"

"I want a small furnished house," I said, meekly.

"Ah," he said, with a grin, "I'm afraid we are out of them at present; I'll ask Mr. Wilson."

"Small furnished house for August?" echoed Mr. Wilson, in aggrieved amazement. "Not such a thing to be had in Eastnor. All let a month ago. You should come in May or June to get a house for August."

I thanked him, and left depressed. I wandered through the town, and found myself back on the Esplanade. I walked the whole length of it, and then along the sea bank into the uninhabited region beyond.

Not quite uninhabited, as it proved, for, about half a mile from the Esplanade, I came suddenly on a cottage with nothing between it and the sandy beach but a tiny garden plot, with a bit of grass and some nasturtiums and pinks mixed up with cabbages and potatoes and a row of scarlet-runners. It looked very clean and inviting, and I said to myself, "Now, if only that were to let, it's just exactly what I want."

There could be no harm in asking, so I went up to the door and knocked. No one came. I knocked again. Still no answer. I waited. It seemed to me there was some movement in the side room, the sliding window of which was partly open, but was covered with a white curtain.

I knocked again, and the door opened suddenly, and disclosed the small brown face of a small lame man, looking up at me with a pair of small but very sharp brown eyes, with, as I now remember, a slightly startled look in them, as of one caught in the act.

"Yes?" he said, in a sharp voice.

"Oh, I wanted to ask if this cottage is by any chance to let any time in August."

He hesitated, and then snapped, "How long for?"

"Two, three, or four weeks."

"When d'you want it?"

"About the seventh or eighth."

He pondered the matter, and barked, "Come in."

I went in. It was charming. Nicely, though plainly, furnished, and as clean as a new pin. I went all over it. Two sitting, four bedrooms, kitchen, scullery, wire spring mattresses, wool beds, two blankets to each bed, blankets very white and almost new.

"And the rent?" I asked, wondering how much above my limit I would not go to possess all this for a month.

"Well," he said, slowly, "three guineas a week is what we generally get, but if you could wait till the twelfth I'd let it go for two and a half, if you'll buy the stuff in the garden. I reckon there's a good pound's worth between the potatoes and cabbages and beans, and they'll be just about ready by the time you come in. I've made a good let for the three weeks before you come, and they don't want to go out till the eleventh, and" (dropping his voice to a confidential whisper) "my missus, she's expecting to be laid up very soon, and she wants to go to her folks at Wilborough, else I wouldn't let it go so cheap."

"I GAVE A DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF MY ADVENTURES TO MY
RECEPTIVE FAMILY CIRCLE." "I GAVE A DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF MY ADVENTURES TO MY RECEPTIVE FAMILY CIRCLE."

Diplomatically veiling my satisfaction, I closed the bargain on the spot, and sat down then and there and wrote out a couple of agreements, by which Joseph Scorer agreed to let, and John Oxenham agreed to take, for one month, from August 12th, the cottage known as Sandybank Cottage in the town of Eastnor, with the furniture, etc., named in the inventory attached, for the sum of ten guineas, whereof the receipt of one pound was hereby acknowledged.

"What about the inventory?" I asked.

"I've got one ready for the other folks. If you like to check it I'll make you a copy and send it on."

It was a strange and wonderful document, that inventory, but with Mr. Scorer's assistance I succeeded in checking the main points of it. Many of the items were strange; the spelling was phonetic and curious, and at times stumped us both, and then Mr. Scorer would scratch his head and opine that it must mean so-and-so.

"One cundler" in the kitchen brought us to a dead-lock for full five minutes. At last Mr. Scorer pointed to a battered implement with its bottom full of holes, hanging on the wall, and said, triumphantly, "That's it."

"What in heaven's name is it?" I asked, gazing suspiciously at the shapeless object.

"Why, you squeedge your cabbages through it," he said.

"Oh, I see, a colander."

The humours of that inventory come upon me still in the dark night watches at times, and I laugh internally till my wife wakes up and advises me to get up and take a dose of camphor if I feel as bad as all that.

The larger articles, such as bedsteads and chairs and washstands, we easily identified, and these we triumphantly ticked off first, and then gradually worried out the smaller ones.

"One indimat" caused us some trouble in the best bedroom, but finally a strip of straw matting, two feet by one, was hauled out from its lurking-place under the washstand, whither it had crept for concealment, and reluctantly answered to its name.

The crockery was heterogeneous, and was slumped under colour-headings.

"Three cupps pink; one sosir pink; three cupps blew; four sosirs blew (one crack)," and so on.

That searching inventory went right to the root of things, and by its fiat-justitia-ruat-cœlum candour impressed me most favourably with the stark, staring, straight-forward honesty of Mr. Joseph Scorer.

"One bird in glass case, bird's leg broke—four orments, all crack—one ormlu clock (won't go)"—could transparent honesty go further than this?

Moreover Mr. Scorer asked me casually, "Did you know Mr. William Henry Sawyer, Esquire, of the 'Ome Office?"

I did not. My acquaintance does not as a rule extend to the Home Office.

"A nice gentleman, 'e is. Been 'ere in this 'ouse every year for the last five years. 'E comes early, about May, and sometimes again in October."

"I WAS SURPRISED TO SEE A HEAP OF LUGGAGE." "I WAS SURPRISED TO SEE A HEAP OF LUGGAGE."

"It is good to be Mr. William Henry Sawyer, Esquire, of the Home Office," I said. I am a fairly truthful man as men go, and I never spoke a truer word than that, but that knowledge only came to me later.

I was delighted with Mr. Joseph Scorer, and with his receipt in my pocket and my two pounds in his, I went home on the Monday morning triumphant, and on the Monday evening whistled myself into the bosom of my family to the tune of "See, the conquering hero comes."

I gave a detailed description of my adventures to my receptive family circle, and when my wife heard Mr. Scorer's last message, "I will come over the day before you are coming in, and have the place put in order, and will have a fire on in the kitchen for you," she labelled him "treasure," and vowed we would keep on going there every year.

"I wish I had remembered to ask you to tell him to get in some coals, and milk, and bread," she said, regretfully.

"I did," I answered, triumphantly. "He suggested we would want them, and I paid him for them, and for oil for the lamps too, so that's all right."

"You have done well," said my wife, and I thought so myself.

August 12th found us duly landed at Eastnor station, and furtively raking out our belongings from the piles of other people's. At last they were all collected, and I chartered a carriage and a porter's cart to convey us and our luggage to Sandybank Cottage.

Mr. Joseph Scorer met us at the door, and we forthwith took possession. The kitchen fire was lighted, the coal was there, and the milk, and the bread, and oil.

Everything was as nice as it could be.

The luggage was carried in, and we settled down to a month's solid enjoyment and undisputed possession of our new abode.

Mr. Scorer was solicitous of our comfort. He altered the inventory in one or two minor points, in respect of articles broken by our predecessors. He dug enough potatoes for next week's dinners, and cut two plump cabbages. He collected his £4 15s., half the balance of the rent, and departed, followed by the blessings of the entire family, save those members who were already knee deep in the ocean just the other side of the garden patch.

"This is simply splendid," said my wife, beaming at me in the way I like; "it seems almost too good to be true."

She was right.

Next morning was magnificent. My wife went out to buy up the town. All the rest of us plunged into the sea, except the servant, Amelia Blatt, who was rapidly converting herself into a negress over the intricacies of the strange little range in the kitchen.

One of the advantages of Sandybank Cottage was that from its proximity to the beach you could use your bedroom as a bathing machine, assume your marine costume therein, skip across the lawn, and be into the water with a hop and a jump.

It was simply delightful, really almost too good to be true, as my wife had said.

We all had a glorious bathe and a scamper on the sands, and then trooped up to the cottage to dress. As we came up over the lawn I was surprised to see a great heap of luggage, and two bicycles, lying around, evidently all just discharged from a couple of retreating carriages.

"IT WAS LUDICROUS STANDING THERE IN A BATHING SUIT." "IT WAS LUDICROUS STANDING THERE IN A BATHING SUIT."

I am an unusually modest man, and it was rather over-facing. There were several ladies in the party and an elderly gentleman. They all turned and watched our advent. The ladies looked put out at something. I feared it might be at myself in my bathing costume. However, my foot was on my native heath, so to speak, which was more than could be said of theirs, so I put on as bold a face as could legitimately be expected of a modest man in nothing but a bathing costume, and went forward. The old gentleman also seemed disturbed, but he disguised his feelings to the best of his power, and addressed me suavely.

"Been enjoying a last bathe?" he asked.

There was just a hint of "What the deuce do you mean by it, sir?" in his tone.

"I beg your pardon?" I said.

"Couldn't refrain from one more dip, I suppose?" he said again, with a forced smile. "Might I ask what time you are leaving? We understood—"

"Leaving?" I said, with some force. "Why, we only got here yesterday."

He gazed at me in blank astonishment, the ladies also.

"Oh," he said, soothingly, "there must be some mistake."

"I am not aware of any," I answered, somewhat brusquely.

It was ludicrous, standing there in a bathing suit, discussing the matter under the gaze of three pairs of outraged female eyes, and a blazing sun.

"But, my good sir," said the old gentleman, "I have taken this cottage—it is Sandybank Cottage, is it not?" he asked.

"It is."

"Mr. Joseph Scorer's?"

"Yes."

"A PARTY OF THREE OLD MAIDEN LADIES, WITH THREE DOGS AND
TWO CANARIES." "A PARTY OF THREE OLD MAIDEN LADIES, WITH THREE DOGS AND TWO CANARIES."

I was getting angry and the sun was blistering my neck.

"Well, I have taken it for four weeks from August 13, and have paid a deposit on it."

"And I have taken it for four weeks from August 12, and have paid a deposit and half the rent," I said. "We came in yesterday, and we go out September 9."

"And you have an agreement with Mr. Scorer?"

"Certainly I have, but I have not got it on me."

"Well, I'll be hanged," said the old gentleman, very red in the face, and turned to his women folk.

"My dears, there is evidently some mistake. An infernal nuisance, but this gentleman is evidently not to blame. Would you mind my seeing your agreement?" he asked, turning again to me.

"Certainly I would mind. My agreement has nothing to do with you, sir, and I am not in the habit of having my word doubted. Now perhaps you will permit me to go in and dress, before my neck is absolutely raw."

They hung around for a time, talking unpleasantly among themselves, and finally the old gentleman stalked off to the town, and came back with a cart for their belongings. They were loaded up, and the party disappeared in a cloud of dust on the way to Eastnor.

"That is rather a curious thing," said my wife, when I detailed the experiences of the morning to her on her return from her shopping. "I hope—"

"Oh, we're all right," I said, lightly. "They can't put us out. Possession, you know—"

"Yes, I know. I wasn't thinking of that," she said, with a far-away look in her eyes.

By evening the raw edge of the annoyance of the morning had worn off. We sat in the porch enjoying the evening breeze, and counted ourselves for the time being among the fortunate ones of the earth. Our charity even extended at odd moments to the disappointed would-be occupants of our shoes—and bedrooms, and we devoutly hoped they had found rooms somewhere, and were not occupying airy apartments in bathing machines.

"It was a stupid mistake of Mr. Joseph Scorer's," we said, "and he ought to be more careful."

"I shall write when I have time," I said, "and tell him so."

But I never had time. I was much too fully occupied with other things.

Next day, after a morning bathe and paddle on the sands and early dinner, we started for a long afternoon's ramble round Eastnor, to get some idea of the place, leaving the two youngest children with the servant, with strict injunctions not to get drowned, and to get their tea whenever they felt like it.

We did Eastnor thoroughly, and then, noticing that there was a concert on the pier that night, my wife suggested tea at a confectioner's, and an adjournment to the pier afterwards for the concert. This was carried with acclaim. We enjoyed the tea, the concert, and the stroll home, and arrived at Sandybank Cottage about ten o'clock, fully satisfied with our day's outing.

Amelia met us at the door. She was in a state of extreme nervous excitement.

"Thank goodness you come 'ome!" she burst out.

She was unfortunate in the place of her birth and up-bringing, was Amelia. To judge from her accent she must have been born right up in the steeple of Bow Church. Otherwise she was a sterling girl. I will tone down her vernacular: it does not spell easily.

"Sich a dye I never had. Seems to me we'd better git away 'ome's quick's we can," she began.

"Why, Amelia, what's the matter?" asked her mistress.

"Matter?" said Amelia, with rising inflection. "Well, there's been a party of three old maiden ladies, with three dawgs, and two kinaries, and a parrick in a cage, all a-settin' cryin' on their boxes outside here all day long since half an hour after you left, a-waitin' for you to come back and go out of this 'ouse and let 'em come in. They say they took it from August 14 for a month, and paid a dee-posit, and they was to come in to-day. And the kitching fire was to be ready lighted, an'—"

"And there was to be coal, and bread, and milk in the house, and oil for the lamps, and they'd paid for them," said I.

"My! Did you hear 'em?"

"No," I said, "I didn't."

"And what did you do, Amelia?" asked my wife, anxiously.

"I just told 'em straight that we was 'ere for a month, and there must be some mistake, seein' as we wasn't a-goin' out till our time was up, and then they just set down and cried, and the parrick swore awful till they covered him up. He belonged to a nevew what was a sailor man, they said, when he begun to swear, and I told the children to run inside lest they'd catch it. Then they was so misrable settin' there, dabbin' of their poor little red noses, that I made 'em some tea, and they could 'ave kissed me, and they wanted me to take pay for it, but I wouldn't."

"You're a good girl, Amelia, and you did quite right," said her mistress, and turning to me—

"This is really very trying and very uncomfortable. What do you suppose is the meaning of it?"

She looked a little bit as though she thought it was my fault.

"I don't know what's the meaning of it," I said, feeling angry. "I'm afraid Mr. Joseph Scorer has a very short memory. If I had him here I'd try if screwing his neck round would lengthen it."

Next day being Sunday we had a genuine day of rest, and enjoyed it with quite a novel sense of freedom from the cares and worries of life.

On Monday, by the morning train and the station omnibus, arrived a family much like our own—father, mother, four children, servant, and innumerable boxes.

I had had my bathe, and was sitting in the porch armed with a pipe and my stamped agreement with Mr. Scorer, prepared to repel all intruders. So, before the grinning omnibus-man had time to dump down the baggage, I took the father on one side, showed him my agreement, and explained the situation, telling him his was the third party I had had to turn empty away.

"I TOOK THE FATHER ASIDE AND SHOWED HIM MY AGREEMENT." "I TOOK THE FATHER ASIDE AND SHOWED HIM MY AGREEMENT."

He was very wroth, and swore, I should say, as lustily as the old maids' nephew's parrot could have done. He was a lawyer, too, and wanted to go into the legal aspects of the case. I assured him that they did not interest me, unless I had some ground of action against Mr. Joseph Scorer for the disturbance of my peaceful possession of his much-let habitation.

He was a good fellow on the whole, and he left me his name and business address, and made me promise to let him know if I ever found out where Mr. Scorer had gone to, and also to refer to him any of the outraged claimants to the cottage who wished to take legal action in the matter.

His wife and the youngsters had been peering out anxiously at us from the back windows of the bus while this colloquy was taking place. The father explained the matter to them, and, with a wave of his hand to me, they drove crestfallen back to Eastnor.

On Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, variously-composed parties arrived with their baggage, and I turned them all away, and sent them to find lodgings in Eastnor, suffering much in the doing of it from their unnatural ill-humours and chagrin.

On Saturday there arrived a rollicking reading-party of students from Oxford with a coach. I explained my painful situation and experiences, and informed them that they made the eighth party I had had to repulse.

They were merry, good-humoured fellows, and they lay flat on my patch of lawn and fairly screamed with delight at the cuteness of Mr. Joseph Scorer. "He was born an Oxford gyp," they averred.

"THEY SCREAMED WITH DELIGHT AT THE CUTENESS OF MR.
SCORER." "THEY SCREAMED WITH DELIGHT AT THE CUTENESS OF MR. SCORER."

They enjoyed the affair so much that I could hardly get rid of them. My wife gave them tea and cakes, and they sat and smoked, and laughed, and joked, till the stars were up, and then they got a carriage and drove off to the hotel, after promising to come up every day about noon to assist me in my hateful task of holding the fort against all comers.

And they did it, too, and enjoyed it immensely.

On the pier, on Sunday morning after church, we met at intervals all the families who ought to have been stopping in Sandybank Cottage.

The irate first old gentleman stopped me to ask, "Well, how are you getting on? Say, that was the nastiest trick I ever was served. If I could find Mr. Scorer I would jolly well like to wring his nasty little neck."

I said I felt that way myself, but I feared there was not much chance of laying hands on it.

I told him I had now had to send away eight different parties who all claimed the cottage, and at that he felt very much better.

My lawyer friend was just passing, and I introduced him to the old gentleman, and, catching sight of my young friends from Oxford, I introduced them all to one another, and they all had a very lively time together, and enjoyed themselves extremely.

On Monday I bethought me to go to the station, and acquaint the cabmen with the true state of matters, and beg them not to bring any more parties to Sandybank Cottage. They listened with broad grins to all I had to say, but absolutely refused to comply with my wishes. It all meant double fares for them, and all was grist that came to their mills, and it wasn't in human nature to refuse a fare when it was offered, and in fact any such refusal might invalidate their licences, and would certainly lose them their places. So, much as they regretted the annoyance it caused me, they felt in duty bound to go on dumping would-be tenants and their baggage on my front lawn as fast as they came along.

I could find no arguments to advance against all this, and so the game went merrily on.

That day two separate parties arrived within ten minutes of one another. The Oxford contingent was sitting on the lawn, and revelled in the disgust of the heads of the families when they were made acquainted with the state of affairs.

Paterfamilias number two, who I think from his manner must have been a performing Strong Man, threatened to pitch me and my belongings bodily into the sea. Young Oxford, however, came to the rescue, and Mr. Strong Man and family eventually retired amid the hootings of the crowd.

For the curious situation of matters at Sandybank Cottage could no longer be hidden under a bushel. The news had got abroad, and numbers of people came up each day now, and sat round our house to enjoy the fun. In fact we had become one of the centres of attraction of Eastnor, and the folks travelled up to Sandybank Cottage as at other places they would have gone to a switchback or a nigger minstrel show.

"THREATENED TO PITCH ME AND MY BELONGINGS BODILY INTO THE
SEA." "THREATENED TO PITCH ME AND MY BELONGINGS BODILY INTO THE SEA."

Perhaps the funniest thing was to see the three old maiden ladies come straggling up every day in single file, each with a wheezy waddling pug dog in a lead, which was fastened round its body lest undue pressure on its neck should induce the inevitable apoplectic fit a day sooner than was assigned for it. They came panting up, and gazed mournfully at the cottage, and reproachfully at me whenever I appeared, and they looked sadly at the gradually disappearing supply of potatoes and cabbages for which they had paid, and which I was eating. For Mr. Joseph Scorer had sold and been paid for that garden produce no less than sixteen times over. It needs a genius of that kind to run a garden profitably.

In the natural course of things the local paper gave a humorous account of the affair, which was copied into one of the London dailies, and this it was that eventually brought about the climax.

Among the would-be occupants this week was a well-known actress, who came with her maid and a companion and a white poodle. We had rejoiced in her exceedingly, at a distance, for many a year, and both my wife and myself were delighted to make her more intimate acquaintance—much more delighted, in fact, than, under the circumstances, she was to make ours. We invited her in, and gave her tea, and apologised for the annoyance she was being put to through no fault of ours, and did our best to make her comfortable.

When young Oxford saw her they were with difficulty restrained from chairing her to an hotel, and on the whole I think, when the first annoyance had passed off, she rather enjoyed herself.

By Saturday night we had repelled sixteen different attempts on our tenancy of Sandybank Cottage and, by this time, if a single day, except Sunday, had passed without the arrival of one or more claimants we would have begun to suspect something had gone wrong.

There was one thing, however, that puzzled me exceedingly, and no amount of thoughtful consideration of the subject cast any light upon it. What on earth had made Mr. Joseph Scorer act in this way? If he had let the cottage in the usual manner he could have made at least £22 or £23 all told in the two months. As it was I reckoned he had made about £37 by his monstrous duplicity, and it was the utter inadequacy of the plunder which puzzled me so much.

Why would a man want to hang sixteen indictments for fraud around his neck for such a very small reward? It seemed inconceivable, especially in such a smart and far-seeing man as Mr. Joseph Scorer. It was the action of a fool; and whatever else he was, Mr. Joseph Scorer could hardly be called a fool, except in this one point of utter inadequacy of motive.

"WE FOUND A GENTLEMAN SITTING ON THE BENCH." "WE FOUND A GENTLEMAN SITTING ON THE BENCH."

However, my eyes were to be opened, and in a somewhat unpleasant fashion—the process is not, as a rule, an enjoyable one.

On Sunday the 29th, being the third Sunday of our visit, when we returned from church and the usual augmented Sabbath meeting of malcontents on the pier, we found a gentleman sitting on the bench in the porch awaiting our arrival.

Sunday had hitherto been an off day with us, and we rather resented this infraction of the rules of the game.

I went up to him and addressed him somewhat curtly.

"Well, sir, and what can I do for you?"

He looked at me whimsically, and said—

"Your name is Oxenham?"

"It is."

"Mine is Sawyer."

"Not Mr. William Henry Sawyer, Esquire, of the Home Office?"

"Yes," he said, smiling at the evidently recognised formula.

"I understood you only came down in May and October."

"So I do generally; but, seeing that the cottage is mine, I suppose I have the privilege of coming whenever I choose."

"The cottage is yours?" I said, in surprise.

"Undoubtedly. I bought it and its contents five years ago, and I run down whenever the spirit moves me."

I sat silent, looking at him.

"I CALLED HER AND PUT THE QUESTION." "I CALLED HER AND PUT THE QUESTION."

"But if the cottage is yours," I said, at last, "how came that little scoundrel——"

"That's just what I have come down to find out," he said. "Now, tell me, Mr. Oxenham, from whom did you take the cottage?"

"From Mr. Joseph Scorer."

"William, you mean; but that is a detail."

"Joseph," said I. "Stay! I'll show you my agreement," and I went inside and got it.

"Joseph?" he said, with knitted brow, as he perused the document; and, after a pause, "Then what the deuce has become of William? What kind of a man was he?"

"Small, sharp, brown man, with one club foot."

He nodded.

"Which foot?" he asked.

I had to cast back my thoughts.

"Left," I said, at last.

"No, right," said he.

"Left; I am quite sure of it."

He tapped the folded paper against his hand, and said—

"One of us is wrong. Scorer has been in my service for fifteen years, and I ought to know."

"Suppose we ask my wife if she remembers?"

I called her and put the question.

"His left foot was the lame one," she said, after a thoughtful pause. "I can see him standing there"—she said it so decidedly that we involuntarily turned to look, but he was not there, except in her memory—"and it was his right shoulder that humped up. Yes, I am quite sure of it."

"This is very curious," said Mr. Sawyer. "I am afraid there is something wrong. Besides, Scorer never could have done such a thing. He was as honest as the day."

"And yet he let this cottage sixteen times over to sixteen different parties, and I have had the privilege, such as it is, of holding the fort against them all."

"I can't believe William Scorer would do such a thing," he said, looking at us with eyes full of puzzled suspicion, as though he were not quite sure whether I had told him all I knew of the matter.

"Joseph," said I.

He tapped his foot impatiently, and we lapsed into silence. An idea struck me suddenly.

"Is there a Joseph Scorer as well as a William?" I asked.

He looked at me abstractedly.

"There was a brother," he said at last, "and, if I remember rightly, a twin brother, but I have not heard of him for years. I do not think I ever saw him. I have an idea he went to the bad." Our eyes met and held one another, and my thought crossed his.

"What do you suspect, Mr. Oxenham?" he asked.

"I suspect that I met Joseph and you know William," I said.

"But I left William in charge here."

"And I found Joseph."

"Then where is William?"

"William is the missing link. Find him, and we get to the bottom of the matter."

"Yes, that sounds common sense. Now, where is William?"

That was by no means an easy question to answer. Mr. Joseph Scorer could probably have told us, but as the discovery of William was but the first step towards the discovery of Joseph, that fact did not advance us.

The puzzle, however, solved itself in the simplest manner possible, and without any assistance from us.

As there was a spare bedroom in the cottage, the least we could do was to put it at Mr. Sawyer's disposal if he cared to make use of it. So we invited Mr. Sawyer to occupy it for a day or two, and he consented to do so, and turned out to be a very pleasant and genial companion.

The tide next morning did not serve well for bathing till about an hour after breakfast. Then Sawyer and I and some of the youngsters went in.

It was one of those absolutely still mornings when the water is as smooth as oil, and you can hear the beat of the steamers' paddles miles away, and when you shout it is like shouting inside a bell.

We were all swimming and paddling about, enjoying ourselves immensely, when I saw the three little fat pugs and the three old ladies coming along the beach path to take their regular wistful morning look at the cottage, where they ought to have been living, and were not.

Then from behind the cottage came a great tumult—the noise of many voices, mingled with groans and laughter, and there swept round the side of it a mob of people, who came to a stand on the little green plot in front.

We were still wondering what was the meaning of it, when Amelia Blatt, our servant, came tearing down the sands towards us, holding on to her square inch of cap with one hand, and to her flying skirts with the other.

"They want you up there," she panted.

"Who are they, and what do they want?"

"It's all them folks he let the house to, and they've got 'im——"

And as we made for the shore, Amelia, who was a very modest girl, fled precipitately up the slope.

"Hey, Milly!" I shouted, "bring us down a couple of those big bath towels."

"'THEY WANT YOU UP THERE,' SHE PANTED."

Amelia made no answer, but presently the big bath-towels met us under the arms of a small boy. We twisted our ordinary towels apron-wise over our dripping bathing-suits, and draped the big bath-towels gracefully over our shoulders, and then stalked as majestically as circumstances permitted towards the noisy crowd, which resolved itself into its component elements as we drew near.

The outer fringe consisted of excited and irrepressible small boys of the town, who scampered round and round, shouting and dancing, and cuffing one another, in sheer enjoyment of living and the knowledge that something unusual was on foot. Inside them stood a number of the town loafers, all facing in towards the centre of the ring, and laughing and making jocular remarks to one another. Closer in still, came an excited circle of our friends who, like the old ladies, ought to have been living in the cottage, but were not. The irascible old gentleman was there, purple in the face and swearing frightfully; the solicitor was there, with a slightly anticipatory look in his face; the Strong Man was there, and looked as if he wanted to break something; and closer in than all these, forming a solid bodyguard of white flannels and laughing faces and briar pipes, were our young friends from Oxford.

The three little old ladies, with their pugs in their arms, crept round the revolving outskirts of the crowd, and joined my wife, who stood wondering in the doorway, and began timidly questioning her as to the meaning of the uproar.

 

Mr. Sawyer and I elbowed our way through the crowd, and the bodyguard opened to let us into the circle.

In the centre stood a little, trembling meek, brown-eyed, crooked man.

"Scorer!" said I, "by all that's wonderful!"

"WE STALKED AS MAJESTICALLY AS OUR CIRCUMSTANCES
PERMITTED TOWARDS THE NOISY CROWD." "WE STALKED AS MAJESTICALLY AS OUR CIRCUMSTANCES PERMITTED TOWARDS THE NOISY CROWD."

"William!" said Sawyer.

"Jos—-! No, by Jove! it is the other leg!"

"Now, William," said Mr. Sawyer, "what is the meaning of all this?"

The crooked little man's eyes brightened when he saw Mr. Sawyer.

"Mr. Sawyer, sir, I know no more than a babe unborn. I come in by the 10.30, and no sooner hadn't my foot touched the ground than these young gentlemen they gathered round me and began a arskin' what I meant by it, and then all them others came along. I dunno what's matter wi' em. Seems to me they're all gone crazy."

"Where's Joseph?"

"Why, ain't he 'ere? I left him 'ere when I went into h—orspital; and 'e said 'e'd keep things all shipshape till I come out."

"Where did you find him? I thought he was away."

"He come to see me just when I were sickening, Mr. Sawyer, sir, and he promised to keep things all straight and shipshape till I were right again. So I sent off the wife to her folks—for her trouble—you know, and then Joe he took me along to the h—orspital, and he said he'd keep things all—"

"I see," said Mr. Sawyer; "and how's the wife?"

"She's A1, Mr. Sawyer, sir."

"And the baby?"

"He's a reg'lar little ripper, sir, and as straight as a lath."

There was more ingenuous pride packed into those last five words than any five words ever held before; but the meek brown eyes shone suddenly moist.

One of the Oxford boys started, "Three cheers for the baby! Hip, hip, hurrah!—rah!!—rah!!!" And then they fell naturally into "He's a jolly good fellow!" and yelled it at top of their voices, while they all joined hands and danced round us till their faces were all on fire, and all their pipes were out for want of breath to keep them going, and William Scorer's eyes were like to fall out of his head. They did not quite understand matters, but they saw there had been some mistake, and they were all very healthy and very happy. They could not forget Joseph, but they heartily forgave William for his brother's sins, and they vowed they would not have missed the fun for three times the amount of Joseph's little peculations.

"What's it all mean, Mr. Sawyer, sir?" asked the bewildered William.

"It means this, William, that that scamp of a brother of yours has let this house of mine some sixteen times over to sixteen different people, and all for about the same date, and that most of them have paid him a deposit. Hence——" and he waved his hand comprehensively over the throng.

"Nay,—sure—ly!" said the little man, and it seemed to me that his stricken wonder was not absolutely untinged with admiration.

There was nothing more to be said or done. Everybody recognised that fact. Joseph was not to be found, and William was not to blame.

The stout little gentleman vowed he'd be something'd if he'd ever heard of such a something'd queer business before. The Strong Man looked regretfully at William, and wished he was Joseph just for five minutes or so. The solicitor recognised the fact that a case would not lie against little "Dot-and-carry-one," as he called him, so he put it in his pipe and smoked it, and by degrees the crowd thinned away, and left us in peaceable possession. The last to go were the three little old ladies, and from their manner I should say they were by no means convinced of the existence of William's brother Joseph.

The Oxford boys, by the way, insisted on chairing little William to the "Blue Pig," down the Wilborough Road, and tried to induce him to enjoy himself, but as he declined to touch anything stronger than gingerbeer, there was no great harm done.

Mr. Sawyer stayed a couple of days with us, and offered us the cottage free for next August, to make up for the annoyances we had suffered; and, unless we hear that William Scorer has been taken ill again, and that his brother Joseph has come to nurse him, we shall accept the invitation.

"'THREE CHEERS FOR THE BABY! HIP, HIP, HURRAH!'" "'THREE CHEERS FOR THE BABY! HIP, HIP, HURRAH!'"