SEPTEMBER, in certain respects, is the saddest month in the year. No sooner has it dawned than back to London, back to worries and responsibilities, back (oh, sombre event !) to quarter-day, come the thousands and thousands of small people who have contrived by long, patient economy to pass a fortnight at the seaside. All this economising in trifles, all this hoarding up of shillings, sixpences, coppers, begins as far back as March, and the mixed coins are put away into a drawer, a battered money-box, a vase, a tobacco jar, or, in the eases of particularly thrifty, methodical persons, into the savings bank.
Heavens, how Canning Town, Islington and Walham Green cut down expenses ! Those occasional visits to the picture theatre and the local music hall are suspended. ” The Bunch of Grapes ” loses, for the time being, its best customers. Saturday night’s shopping is reduced to the strictest necessities, so that the housewife’s string bag returns home limp and not swollen and bloated as heretofore, and Sunday’s dinner ceases to be the great meal of the week. Perhaps, too, Jimmy and Mary are deprived of their pennyworth of hard, lurid-coloured sweets.
You shall ‘ave them again when we get to Margate, and other things besides,” their mother assures them. And that silences Jimmy and Mary. How they dream and dream of wonderful Margate ! In other musty, dim homes, what gay, excited chatter over Yarmouth, and South-end, and Clacton, and —
Well, well, the great, the glorious morning arrives when the small people throng the vast railway termini on their way to the seaside ; but, alas ! a fortnight later, the sad, the grim after-noon comes round when they find themselves in the same stationsreturned to struggling, desperate London, with the before-mentioned worries, responsibilities and quarter-day to face.
At one of these termini I have been watching the rentrée of the Canning Town, Islington and Walham Green holiday-makers. I suppose they rose early to take their last look at the sea; and I expect their children, in their desire to bring home souvenirs and trophies, nearly lost the train, and had literally to be dragged to the station, crying and struggling, so loath were they to leave the delights of the sands for the dreariness of Smut Street, Brick Buildings and Iron Row. At all events, grimy tear-stains on the cheeks of Jimmy and Mary, and very dishevelled is their mother, and very tired and very cross.
” Never again,” she cries shrilly. ” I let you bring them filthy things ‘orne with you because I thought you’d be good. That’s what I get for my kindnesskicking and ‘owling. Never again ! ”
The ” filthy things in question are a collection of sodden seaweed, shells, sand and a deceased baby crab or two, which Jimmy and Mary have packed into their tin pails. Behind his family walks the father, carrying two spades and a damp paper parcel, through holes of which I perceive Jimmy’s and Mary’s bathing (or rather paddling) drawers.
” Come along, George,” says the lady sharply to her husband.
” I’m coming, ain’t I ? I’m ‘ere, I suppose. Or per’aps I’m left be’ind at Margate, along with the mussels,” is the bitter retort.
” Never again. I mean it. Never again. So now you know it,” says the mother, at which dire announcement Jimmy and Mary break out into more “‘owls.”
Down the platform, through the barrier, they disappear, followed by scores of other small people also burdened with the sodden souvenirs and trophies of their offsprings, and bound for Smut Street, Brick Buildings and Iron Row.
Over the actual home-coming we must draw a veil, the doors of the small people being shut in our faces, and thus we shall never, never know (as I, for one, would dearly like to know) what happens, in London, to the seaweed and sand, and the shells and deceased crabs.
However, one may see the little paddling-drawers dangling from the clothes’-line ; and one knows that the father and mother work harder than ever ; and one hears, at night-time, Mrs Sharp and Mrs Joy and Mrs Goodge and Mrs Harper chatting about their holiday on their doorsteps, in the shops and at the corner of the street.
How they enjoyed it, how their husbands enjoyed it, how they laughed, ” fit to die ! ” It was a ” fair treat” to see George Sharp sound asleep on the sands, his hat over his face ; it was another ” fair treat to behold William Goodge eating buns. Eating ? Why it was nothing but eating and eating. ” I can’t fancy a London shrimp any longer,” sighs Mrs Joy. And the whelks” Well, they were whelks.” And the mussels” Frank Harper wouldn’t leave them alone.” And a certain ” dressed ” crab, consumed in a fish-shop” I really don’t believe there was ever another crab like it.”
Then, how the small people delighted in the songs of the pierrots, and in the fireworks in the park, and in the bands on the parade. One song in particular enchanted Mrs Joy. ” Jessie learnt it by ‘eart,” she says. And Jessie, Mrs Joy’s nine-year-old daughter, coming up at this moment, is requested to repeat it. She refuses ; she demurs she yields, and in a shrill voice she sings :
” Love is like a balloon, it takes you right up in the sky ; Whether it’s late or early, all you want is your girlie. Love is like a balloon, you’re up in the sky it’s plain, But marriage is often the parachute, that brings you to earth again.”
Congratulations for Jessie ; and Jessie blushes, and kicks one foot over the other, and wishes her-self back on the sands. So does her mother ; so do the other mothers. There was nothing to do but to rest and to amuse oneself. Even when it rainedwell, at least one had nothing on one’s mind, nothing to worry about, nothing to cry over. But now
” Well, good-night, Mrs Sharp ; and only to think that this day last week my ‘usband and me and the children was at the seaside ! “