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IN FOLKESTONE OUT OF SEASON
OW long the pretty town, or summer city, of Folkestone on the southeastern shore of Kent has been a favorite English watering-place, I am not ready to say; but I think probably a great while. Very likely the ancient Britons did not resort to it much; but there are the remains of Roman fortifications on the downs behind the town, known as Cæsar's camp, and though Cæsar is now said not to have known of camping there, other Roman soldiers there must have been, who could have come down from the place to the sea for a dip as often as they got liberty. It is also imaginable that an occasional Saxon or Dane, after a hard day's marauding along the coast, may have wished to wash up in the waters of the Channel; but they could hardly have inaugurated the sort of season which for five or six weeks of the later summer finds the Folkestone beaches thronged with visitors, and the surf full of them. We ourselves formed no part of the season, having come for the air in the later spring, when the air is said to be tonic enough without the water. It is my belief that at no time of the year can you come amiss to Folkestone; but still it is better to own at the outset that you will not find it very gay there if you come at the end of April.
We thought we were doing a very original if not a
very distinguished thing in putting our hand-baggage into a fly at the station, and then driving with it from house to house for an hour and more in search of lodgings. But the very first people whom we told said they had done the same, and I dare say it is the common experience at Folkestone, where, even out of season, the houses whose addresses you have seem to be full-up, as the lodging-house phrase is, and where although every other house in the place has the sign of "Apartments" in the transoms, or the drawing-room windows, or both, you have the greatest difficulty in fixing yourself. When one address after another failed us, the driver of our fly began to take pity on us: too great pity for our faith, for we began to suspect him of carrying us to apartments in which he was interested; but we were never able to prove it, and by severely opposing him, we flattered ourselves that we did not finally go where he wanted. Perhaps we did, but if so it was the right place for us. If one landlord had not what we wished, or had nothing, he cheerfully referred us to another, and when we had seen the lodgings we decided were the best, we did not and could not make up our minds to take them until we tried yet one more, where we found the landlord full-up, but where he commended us to the house we had just left as one of singular merit, in every way, and with a repute for excellent cooking which we would find the facts justify. We drove back all the more strenuously because of a fancied reluctance in our driver, and found the landlord serenely expectant on the pleasant lawn beside his house; he accepted our repentant excuses, and in another minute we found ourselves in the spacious sittingroom which had become ours, overlooking the brickwalled gardens of the adjoining houses in the shelter,
which slowly, very slowly, became the shade of a grove of tall, slim, young trees. When a trio of tall, slim, young girls intent upon some out-door sport in an interval of the rain, lounged through this grove, we felt that we could not have made a mistake; when a black cat provided itself for one of the garden walls, our reason was perfectly convinced. Fortune had approved our resolution not to go, except in the greatest extremity, to any sort of boarding-house, or any sort of hotel, private, residential, temperant or inebriant, varying to the type of sea-side caravansary which is common to the whole world, but to cling to an ideal of lodgings such as we had cherished ever since our former sojourn in England, and such as you can realize nowhere else in the world.
Our sitting-room windows did not look out upon the sea, as we had planned, but with those brick walls and their tutelary cat, with these tall, slim, young trees and girls before us, we forgot the sea. As the front of our house was not upon the Leas (so the esplanaded cliffs at Folkestone are called), you could not see the coast of France from it, as you could from the housefronts of the Leas in certain states of the atmosphere. But that sight always means rain, and in Folkestone there is rain enough without seeing the coast of France; and so it was not altogether a disadvantage to be one corner back from the Leas on a street enfilading them from the north. After the tea and bread and butter, which instantly appeared as if the kettle had been boiling for us all the time, we ran out to the Leas, and said we would never go away from Folkestone. How, indeed, could we think of doing such a thing, with that lawny level of interasphalted green stretching eastward into the town that climbed picturesquely up to meet it,
and westward to the sunset, and dropping by a swift declivity softened in its abruptness by flowery and leafy shrubs? If this were not enough inducement to an eternal stay, there was the provisionally peaceful Channel wrinkled in a friendly smile at the depth below us, and shaded from delicate green to delicate purple away from the long, brown beach on which it amused itself by gently breaking in a snowy surf. In the middle distance was every manner of smaller or larger sail, and in the offing little stubbed steamers smoking along, and here and there an ocean-liner making from an American for a German port; or if it was not an ocean-liner, we will call it so. Certainly there could be no question of the business and pleasure shipping drawn up on the beach, on the best terms with the ranks of bathing-machines patiently waiting the August bathers with the same serene faith in them as the half-fledged trees showed, that end-of-April evening, in the coming of the summer which seemed so doubtful to the human spectator. For the prevailing blandness of the atmosphere had keen little points and edges of cold in it; and vagarious gusts caught and tossed the smoke from the chimney-pots of the pretty town along the sea-level below the Leas, giving away here to the wooded walks, and gaining there upon them. Inspired by the presence of a steel pier half as long as that of Atlantic City, with the same sort of pavilion for entertainments at the end, we tried to fancy that the spring was farther advanced with us at home, but we could only make sure that it would be summer sooner and fiercer. In the mean time, as it was too late for the military band which plays every fine afternoon in a stand on the Leas, the birds were singing in the gardens that border it, very sweetly and richly, and not obliging you at any point to get up and
take your hat off by striking into "God Save the King." I am not sure what kind of birds they were; but I called them to myself robins of our sort, for upon the whole they sounded like them. Some golden-billed blackbirds I made certain of, and very likely there were larks and finches among them, and nightingales, for what I knew. They all shouted for joy of the pleasant evening, and of the garden trees in which they hid, and which were oftener pleasant, no doubt, than the evening. The gardens where the trees stood spread between handsome mansard-roofed houses of gray stucco, of the same type as those which front flush upon the Leas, and which prevail in all the newer parts of Folkestone; their style dates them of the sixties and seventies of the last century, since when not many houses seem to have been built in Folkestone.
Probably these handsome houses were not meant for the lodgings that they have now so largely if not mostly become. It is said that the polite resident population has receded before the summer-folk who have come in and more and more possessed the place, and to whom the tradesman class has survived to minister. At any rate it is the fate of Folkestone to grow morally and civically more and more like Atlantic City, which somehow persists in offering itself in its wild, wooden ugliness for a contrast as well as a parallel of the English watering-place. Nothing could be more unlike the Leas than the Board Walk; nothing more unlike their picturesque declivity than the flat sands on which the vast hotels and toy cottages of the New Jersey summerresort are built; nothing more unlike the mild, manysteamered, many-schoonered expanse of the Channel, than the immeasurable, empty horizon, and the long, huge wash of the ocean. Yet, I say, there is a soli