A Tale of Two Sisters – Episode 05

The two sisters with their neighbour, Mr Herbert Markington

Alice checked that her hair and cap were neat and went towards the drawing-room door.

She could hear voices inside – her mistress’s gentle tones and the deep, confident baritone of Mr Markington.

She didn’t like to interrupt, but she knocked boldly and waited.

“Come in.”

Alice opened the door and stepped into the room.

Her mistress was sitting in the window, where the sun’s rays brought out the gold in her hair. Alice thought she looked pretty as a picture.

She wore a pale blue gown, nipped in around the waist, with a full skirt and sleeves that were puffed at the top.

Herbert was sprawled out in an armchair opposite, surveying her lazily.

It couldn’t be denied that he was a striking man: tall, athletic and extremely handsome.

He was also quite charming. Alice could well imagine the sweet nothings he poured into Miss Lucinda’s ears.

He lived on the estate next door and was about five years older than his fiancée.

Alice shook herself and dropped a curtsey.

“I’m sorry to disturb you, miss, but your father sent me.”

Lucinda turned towards her and smiled.

“Yes, Alice. What did Papa say?”

“He wanted me to tell you that he would like to speak with Mr Markington before he leaves.”

“Thank you, Alice. Was that all?”

“Yes, miss.” Alice removed herself from the room with a swish of black dress and a flash of white cap.

She was about to head to the laundry when, through the gap in the closing oak door, she heard her name.

She was not one to listen at keyholes, but curiosity overcame prudence.

“She seems a useful sort of girl. Would you like to bring her with you on our marriage?”

“Why, yes. Thank you, Herbert. I am fond of her.”

“Anything that will make you happy, my darling. Now, I must obey your father’s summons.”

Alice scuttled away, anxious to be gone before Mr Markington appeared.

She didn’t know what to make of what she’d heard.

No-one had discussed with her what her position would be on Miss Lucinda’s nuptials. She had been afraid that she might lose her post.

Now, however, she would have to adjust to a whole new household and she would miss Halsom Hall.

On the bright side, it would take her away from Jenkin.

Poor Miss Lucinda. Mr Markington had not stayed with her long and she had been so anticipating his visit.

The letter from Miss Millicent this morning had not cheered her, either.

She must find a way to raise her mistress’s spirits herself.

Millicent was feeling more settled after a few days at Lady Margaret Hall.

She and Violet had found much to discuss and were already fast friends, and the other young ladies were also pleasant and interesting company.

Millicent felt excited about the commencement of their studies.

It was true, she and Violet had been deflated when they’d seen some of the young men in town, in their sub-fusc gowns, following matriculation.

However, they had both been well aware, before coming here, that women could neither matriculate nor gain degrees.

They must be content with attending lectures and taking examinations. They were not university members.

Now, however, as they made their way to the house where Miss Barrett-Jones would direct some of their studies, such thoughts were far from their minds.

They soon found the right house, made their way up the path and knocked on the door.

A young girl answered it with a curtsey.

“This way, please.”

They followed her into a wide room filled with sunlight from the French windows at the rear.

It was lined from floor to ceiling with bookshelves and each was crammed with a variety of leather-bound tomes.

Millicent had never seen so many books outside a library. They were scattered on the various tables about the room, on the armchairs and piled high upon a desk beside an inkwell.

The room was so full that at first Millicent thought it must be empty, but then she spied a tiny woman studying them intently from behind the desk.

She rose to her feet and came to greet them.

To be continued…

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