The broad sweep of sand was one of the factors that had decided Porrett in his selection of Weymouth for the Earl’s seaside visit. Now he finds himself delighted with his choice as the Countess and her daughter in law drive off in one of the charming little donkey carts for hire, their husbands stride along the seashore, young Arthur rummages happily amongst the seashells on the tide line and he is left to escort Miss Gatwick – Emily.
She clings to his arm and laughs as they pass small children happily building sandcastles. ‘Mama would never have let me do that when I was small.’
‘The followers of Rousseau believe that childish play is healthy,’ Porrett observes, wondering why he has to sound so incredibly pompous when he speaks to Emily. ‘And here on the beach there is so much more room than at the inland spas. Children can play without disturbing anyone else.’
So can adults,’ Emily says as her mother and grandmother pass them in their donkey cart, Mama holding onto her hat and laughing. ‘Oh, do look at that very fetching bathing dress.’
She points to a lady wearing (to Porrett’s vast relief) a costume designed for the walk to a bathing machine rather than the actual costume for immersion itself. He is still finding the somewhat casual approach to ladies’ dress embarrassing. ‘I assume it is supposed to be trimmed with seaweed,’ he says dubiously, hoping that Emily will not want to wear something so outlandish. (The example shown here is from La Belle Assemblee for 1809. In her hand she is holding the bag for her Bathing Preserver, the costume she will actually wear in the water, an invention of Mrs Bell, the modiste who was also responsible for this subtle little number.).
‘Such a pity green does not suit me.’ They wander on a little, Porrett tongue-tied with love, Emily uncharacteristically silent. Finally she blurts out, ‘You went swimming this morning.’
‘Er, yes. I felt I should check the facilities.’
‘I saw you. From the window.’ She pauses and gulps audibly. ‘With Papa’s telescope.’
Porrett feels the blood drain from his face and tries very hard not to think about where it is heading. Emily had been watching him swimming. Him swimming naked. With a telescope. ‘Miss Gatwick…’
‘Emily, please, Frederick. You looked magnificent rising from the waves. Like a sea god,’ she adds breathlessly.
Porrett has no illusions about his personal charms. He is rather less than six foot tall, has sandy hair, takes strenuous exercise to prevent a stoop as a result of so much desk work and has to wear wire-rimmed spectacles for documents in small print. If Emily thinks he looks like a god then either she is seriously ill and hallucinating or she… she…
‘We cannot,’ he mumbles with nothing like his normal fluency. ‘You are the granddaughter of an earl. I am…’
‘The third son of a bishop and the second cousin of a duke,’ Emily says just as there is a shriek and a lady is hauled spluttering to the surface by two burly female dippers.
Porrett closes his eyes in dismay – this lady has gone in without her flannel ‘case’ – then opens them again with a yelp when Emily digs her elbow into his ribs in a most unlover-like manner. ‘Oh, Papa,’ she says. ‘Do go and distract him before he causes a riot.’ And, of course, the Viscount is on the waterline gawping. Porrett, ready to tackle dragons to save Emily the slightest embarrassment, strides off to deal with her father. Yet again.
Find out more about the many attractions of a walk on the beach and the changing attitudes to children’s play in The Georgian Seaside.
Next time – a rift between the lovers puts Emily’s life in danger. Can Porrett save the day and win her hand? Find out in the concluding episode.