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Our English Watering-Place
IN the Autumn-time of the year, when the great metropolis is so much hotter, so much
noisier, so much more dusty or so much more water-carted, so much more crowded, so
much more disturbing and distracting in all respects, than it usually is, a quiet sea-beach
becomes indeed a blessed spot. Half awake and half asleep, this idle morning in our
sunny window on the edge of a chalk-cliff in the old-fashioned watering-place to which
we are a faithful resorter, we feel a lazy inclination to sketch its picture.
The place seems to respond. Sky, sea, beach, and village, lie as still before us as if they
were sitting for the picture. It is dead low-water. A ripple plays among the ripening corn
upon the cliff, as if it were faintly trying from recollection to imitate the sea; and the world
of butterflies hovering over the crop of radish-seed are as restless in their little way as
the gulls are in their larger manner when the wind blows. But the ocean lies winking in
the sunlight like a drowsy lion - its glassy waters scarcely curve upon the shore - the
fishing-boats in the tiny harbour are all stranded in the mud - our two colliers (our
watering-place has a maritime trade employing that amount of shipping) have not an
inch of water within a quarter of a mile of them, and turn, exhausted, on their sides, like
faint fish of an antediluvian species. Rusty cables and chains, ropes and rings,
undermost parts of posts and piles and confused timber-defences against the waves, lie
strewn about, in a brown litter of tangled sea-weed and fallen cliff which looks as if a
family of giants had been making tea here for ages, and had observed an untidy custom
of throwing their tea-leaves on the shore.
In truth, our watering-place itself has been left somewhat high and dry by the tide of
years. Concerned as we are for its honour, we must reluctantly admit that the time when
this pretty little semicircular sweep of houses, tapering off at the end of the wooden pier
into a point in the sea, was a gay place, and when the lighthouse overlooking it shone at
daybreak on company dispersing from public balls, is but dimly traditional now. There is
a bleak chamber in our watering-place which is yet called the Assembly 'Rooms,' and
understood to be available on hire for balls or concerts; and, some few seasons since,
an ancient little gentleman came down and stayed at the hotel, who said that he had
danced there, in bygone ages, with the Honourable Miss Peepy, well known to have
been the Beauty of her day and the cruel occasion of innumerable duels. But he was so
old and shrivelled, and so very rheumatic in the legs, that it demanded more imagination
than our watering-place can usually muster, to believe him; therefore, except the Master
of the 'Rooms' (who to this hour wears knee- breeches, and who confirmed the
statement with tears in his eyes), nobody did believe in the little lame old gentleman, or
even in the Honourable Miss Peepy, long deceased.