one does of seaside resorts when they become fashionable, we had never visited. We usually went to Sussex towns such as Brighton or Hastings during the summer. When she was alive our mother was keen for us to breathe the fresh air and bathe in the sea, for she subscribed to the views of Doctor Richard Russell, who had written a dissertation about the benefit of sea water, to bathe in and to drink as well. I refused to drink sea water, but I did swim sometimes. I was at home by the sea, though I never thought that would become a literal truth.

Two years after our parents' death, however, my brother announced at dinner one evening his engagement to the daughter of one of our late father's solicitor friends. We kissed and congratulated John, and Margaret played a celebratory waltz on the piano. But in bed that night I wept, as I suspected my sisters did as well, for our London lives as we knew them were over. Once our brother married there would be neither the place nor the money for us all to live at Red Lion Square. The new Mrs Philpot would of course want to be mistress of her own home, and fill the house with children. Three sisters was a surfeit, especially when we were unlikely to marry. For Louise and I both knew we were destined to remain spinsters. Because we had little money, our looks and characters were meant to attract husbands, yet ours were too irregular to help us. Though her eyes lifted and brightened her face, Louise was very tall--far taller than most men could manage--and had large hands and feet. Moreover, she was so quiet that suitors were unnerved by her, thinking she was judging them. She probably was. As for me, I was small and bony and plain, and I could not flirt, but would try to talk about serious things, and that drove the men away too.

We were to be moved on, then, like sheep shifted from one cropped field to another. And John must be our shepherd.

The next morning he laid on the breakfast table a book he had borrowed from a friend. 'I thought for your summer holiday you might like to go somewhere new rather than visit our aunt and uncle in Brighton again,' he suggested. 'A little tour, if you like, along the south coast. With the war with France cutting off travel to the Continent, so many more coastal resorts are springing up. There may be places you will like even more than Brighton. Eastbourne, perhaps, or Worthing. Or further afield, to Lymington, or the Dorset coast: Weymouth or Lyme Regis.' John was reciting these places as if going down a list in his head, placing a little tick beside each one as he named it. That was how his tidy solicitor's mind worked. He had clearly thought through where he wanted us to go, though he would herd us there gently. 'Have a look to see what you fancy.' John tapped the book. Although he said nothing, we all knew we were looking not simply for a holiday destination, but for a new home, where we could live in gently diminished circumstances rather than as London paupers.

When he had gone out to his chambers, I picked up the book. 'A Guide to All the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places for 1804,' I read out, for Louise and Margaret's benefit. Flipping through it, I found entries on English towns in alphabetical order.

Fashionable Bath had the longest entry, of course--forty-nine pages, along with a large map and a pull-out panoramic view of the city, with its even, elegant facades cupped by surrounding hills. Our beloved Brighton had twenty-three pages and a glowing report. I looked up the towns our brother had mentioned, some of which were little more than glorified fishing villages, warranting only two pages of indifferent platitudes. John had made a dot in the margin of each. I expect he had read every entry in the book and chosen those that suited best. He had done his research.

'What's wrong with Brighton?' Margaret demanded.

I was reading about Lyme Regis then, and grimaced. 'Here is your answer.' I handed her the guide. 'Look at what John has marked.'

''Lyme is frequented principally by persons in the middle class of life',' Margaret read aloud, ''who go there, not always in search of their lost health, but as frequently perhaps to heal their wounded fortunes, or to replenish their exhausted revenues'.' She let the book drop in her lap. 'Brighton is too expensive for the Philpot sisters, then, is it?'

'You could stay here with John and his wife,' I suggested in a burst of generosity.

'They could manage one of us, I expect. We may as well not all be banished to the coast.'

'Nonsense, Elizabeth, we shan't be separated,' Margaret declared with a loyalty that made me hug her.

That summer we toured the coast as John had suggested, accompanied by our aunt and uncle, our future sister-in- law and her mother, and John when he could manage it.

Our companions made comments like 'What glorious gardens! I envy those who live here all year round and can walk in them any time they like,' or 'This circulating library is so well stocked you would think you were in London,' or 'Isn't the air here so soft and fresh? I wish I could breathe this every day of the year.' It was galling to have others judge our future so casually, especially our sister-in-law, who would be taking over the Philpot house and didn't seriously have to consider living in Worthing or Hastings. Her comments became so irritating that Louise began excusing herself from group outings, and I made more and more tetchy remarks. Only Margaret enjoyed the novelty of the new places, even if only to laugh at the mud at Lymington or the rustic theatre at Eastbourne.

She liked Weymouth best, for King George's love of the town made it more popular than the others, with several coaches a day from London and Bath, and a constant influx of fashionable people.

As for myself, I was out of sorts throughout much of the tour. Knowing you may be forced to move somewhere can ruin it as a place for a holiday. It was difficult to view a resort as anything but inferior to London. Even Brighton and Hastings, places that previously I had loved to visit, seemed lacking in spirit and grace.

By the time we reached Lyme Regis, only Louise, Margaret and I were left: John had had to return to his chambers, and had taken his fiancee and her mother back with him, and our uncle's gout had caught up with him, sending him and our aunt limping back to Brighton. We were escorted to Lyme by the Durhams, a family we'd met in Weymouth, who accompanied us on the coach and helped us to get settled at lodgings in Broad Street, the town's main thoroughfare.

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