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For the fashionable and affluent Randolph Buntings, it was just another day at the beach - that was until Fred spotted a mysterious lady in a red dress and Phrygian bathing-cap getting into difficulties far out at sea. Embarking on a brave and daring rescue attempt, Fred waded in and brought her safely to shore. The family applauded warmly - after all not every day had such excitement. It was only later that they spotted that this lady wasn’t quite ‘normal’ - in fact, to be precise, she had a tail. For it seemed the Randolph Buntings had been visited by a mermaid.
Such previous landings of mermaids as have left a record, have all a flavour of doubt. Even the very circumstantial account of that Bruges Sea Lady, who was so clever at fancy work, gives occasion to the sceptic. I must confess that I was absolutely incredulous of such things until a year ago. But now, face to face with indisputable facts in my own immediate neighbourhood, and with my own second cousin Melville (of Seaton Carew) as the chief witness to the story, I see these old legends in a very different light. Yet so many people concerned themselves with the hushing up of this affair, that, but for my sedulous enquiries, I am certain it would have become as doubtful as those older legends in a couple of score of years. Even now to many minds—-
The difficulties in the way of the hushing-up process were no doubt exceptionally great in this case, and that they did contrive to do so much, seems to show just how strong are the motives for secrecy in all such cases. There is certainly no remoteness nor obscurity about the scene of these events. They began upon the beach just east of Sandgate Castle, towards Folkestone, and they ended on the beach near Folkestone pier not two miles away. The beginning was in broad daylight on a bright blue day in August and in full sight of the windows of half a dozen houses. At first sight this alone is sufficient to make the popular want of information almost incredible. But of that you may think differently later.
Mrs. Randolph Bunting’s two charming daughters were bathing at the time in company with their guest, Miss Mabel Glendower. It is from the latter lady chiefly, and from Mrs. Bunting, that I have pieced together the precise circumstances of the Sea Lady’s arrival. From Miss Glendower, the elder of two Glendower girls, for all that she is a principal in almost all that follows, I have obtained, and have sought to obtain, no information whatever. There is the question of the lady’s feelings–and in this case I gather they are of a peculiarly complex sort. Quite naturally they would be. At any rate, the natural ruthlessness of the literary calling has failed me. I have not ventured to touch them….
The villa residences to the east of Sandgate Castle, you must understand, are particularly lucky in having gardens that run right down to the beach. There is no intervening esplanade or road or path such as cuts off ninety-nine out of the hundred of houses that face the sea. As you look down on them from the western end of the Leas, you see them crowding the very margin. And as a great number of high groins stand out from the shore along this piece of coast, the beach is practically cut off and made private except at very low water, when people can get around the ends of the groins. These houses are consequently highly desirable during the bathing season, and it is the custom of many of their occupiers to let them furnished during the summer to persons of fashion and affluence.
The Randolph Buntings were such persons–indisputably. It is true of course that they were not Aristocrats, or indeed what an unpaid herald would freely call “gentle.” They had no right to any sort of arms. But then, as Mrs. Bunting would sometimes remark, they made no pretence of that sort; they were quite free (as indeed everybody is nowadays) from snobbery. They were simple homely Buntings–Randolph Buntings–“good people” as the saying is–of a widely diffused Hampshire stock addicted to brewing, and whether a suitably remunerated herald could or could not have proved them “gentle” there can be no doubt that Mrs. Bunting was quite justified in taking in the Gentlewoman, and that Mr. Bunting and Fred were sedulous gentlemen, and that all their ways and thoughts were delicate and nice. And they had staying with them the two Miss Glendowers, to whom Mrs. Bunting had been something of a mother, ever since Mrs. Glendower’s death.