A Tale of Two Sisters – Episode 06

The two sisters with their neighbour, Mr Herbert Markington

Miss Barrett-Jones perched on a chair in front of them and adjusted her spectacles.

“Welcome, ladies,” she said, shaking their hands like a gentleman. “I’m Miss Barrett-Jones. Please take a seat.”

Millicent looked around, wondering where to put herself in the chaos, but Violet was moving books from a sofa by the window so she sat down beside her.

“I shall be instructing you in the physical sciences,” she told them.

“We will discuss lectures you attend and I shall assist you in the writing of papers on a variety of subjects.

“Before we begin, I am delighted to inform you that I have engineered somewhat of a triumph.”

She paused, her eyes blazing with excitement.

Millicent exchanged glances.

“With the help of my friend, Professor McReady of Christ Church College, the authorities have been persuaded to allow a few gentlemen in their final year to assist our new ladies.

“You two will benefit from the input of a…” She checked the piece of paper that she was clutching in one trembling hand. “A Mr Fenton and a Mr Landsby.

“They will be here shortly to make introductions.”

Millicent wasn’t sure what to make of this. She didn’t imagine that the gentlemen were given assistance by other students.

Many men, in her experience, were prepared to discuss only certain aspects of the sciences – those that they considered suitable for the female mind, and that in the most patronising of ways.

However, perhaps men of a younger age would prove more reasonable.

She rose to her feet, therefore, with a friendly smile when, soon after, the door opened to admit the young men in question.

They were slightly older than herself and Violet.

One was tall with sandy hair, a moustache and lively blue eyes.

The other was a handsome dark-haired gentleman who looked out of sorts.

“Ah! You must be Mr Fenton and Mr Landsby. I am Miss Barrett-Jones.”

The woman held out her hand and, though taken by surprise, the taller man shook it heartily.

“Oliver Landsby,” he said with a bow.

The other nodded.

“Reginald Fenton,” he said.

Miss Barrett-Jones smiled round at them.

“We are delighted to have your enlightened presence. Now, I shall leave you to get acquainted.”

She swept out of the room, leaving the four young people to fend for themselves.

Violet stepped forward confidently.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, gentlemen,” she said. “This is Miss Halsom and I am L…” She hesitated.

“Miss Penningly,” she said finally.

“Delighted to make your acquaintance, ladies.”

Violet smiled at Mr Landsby.

“It is good of you to give up some time in your final year. We are very grateful.”

“Not at –”

He was cut off mid-sentence by his friend.

“We were given no option. I, for one, have little time to spare.

“I daresay you are grateful, but ladies should not enter into study if they have not the capacity for it. Pray, do not expect much from me.”

Violet seemed to be trying not to laugh, but Millicent was fuming.

Mr Landsby had gone rather red.

“I shall be delighted to assist you in any way I can,” he blurted out.

Ignoring him, Millicent turned to face Mr Fenton, her eyes blazing.

“Do not trouble yourself,” she retorted. “Neither I nor Miss Penningly have asked for this assistance.

“We are quite capable of completing our studies without your help and we do not wish to take up your valuable time.”

Reginald had opened his mouth to reply when Miss Barrett-Jones entered the room. She looked round expectantly.

“Is everyone getting on well?” she asked.

To be continued…

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