A Tale of Two Sisters – Episode 07

Helen Welsh © Millicent and Violet accompany Mr Landsby and Mr Fenton to the scientific museum

Millicent was seated at a mahogany table in a ground floor room at the college.

Through the sash windows she had a view of the road outside, the leaves of spreading trees and the red-brick homes rising behind stone walls and white gates.

Inside, a portrait hung above the fireplace and flowers sat on the mantel, brightening the gloom.

She’d spent a surprisingly enjoyable three quarters of an hour discussing the finer points of Mr Darwin’s theory of natural selection and other matters with Violet, Mr Landsby and
Mr Fenton.

Due to the latter’s presence, she’d not looked forward to the occasion.

He was probably the most annoying young man she’d ever met. However, things had gone better than expected.

Initially, it had fallen to Violet and Mr Landsby to maintain the conversation.

To her chagrin, Millicent herself had felt inhibited by Mr Fenton’s presence. He seemed to have arrived determined to say nothing.

It hadn’t taken long for the good-humoured Mr Landsby and the fascinating subject matter to draw her into a debate.

“Do you believe Mr Koch’s postulates to be valid, given that it is now thought a person can be infected, yet have no symptoms?”

“You have read of this work?” Mr Fenton spoke for the first time, his handsome face suffused with amazement, his eyebrows raised.

“Indeed, Mr Fenton, why would I not? It is a most important development.”

“Indeed.” Reginald stared at her, then looked away.

However, following this interlude, he began to make the odd remark and, not long after, was debating as enthusiastically as anyone else.

Millicent had to admit he was very well-informed and his understanding was excellent. Certainly superior to Mr Landsby’s.

He even seemed interested in her own theories on microbial diseases.

“Is biological science your especial interest, Miss Halsom?” he asked her.

“I find all science fascinating, Mr Fenton, but perhaps the biological sciences the most.

“Men like Mr Pasteur and Mr Koch are transforming the world.”

He nodded and fell silent for a moment. Then he reddened and cleared his throat.

“I believe I owe yourself and Miss Penningly an apology. Our acquaintance did not get off to the best start and I am sorry for it.

“You are better informed than I had anticipated. Regardless, I should have acted with greater courtesy.”

It was Millicent’s turn to raise an eyebrow. She had not expected an apology and was pleased to receive one.

She smiled and extended her hand.

“Friends, Mr Fenton?”

“I believe so.”

“Well, that is good.”

Violet’s eyes danced and she inclined her head towards Reginald.

“I’m sure we shall all enjoy our studies more now,” she said with a smile.

“Indeed.” Oliver stroked his moustache and beamed.

“Though I always knew I would enjoy the ladies’ scintillating company.”

Millicent laughed and shook her head.

At that moment, a tea tray was brought in with a teapot and cake – thick sponge, oozing with jam and cream.

“Marvellous.” Oliver grinned, rubbing his hands together. “I’m famished.”

Violet removed the cosy and began to pour the tea and hand out slices of cake.

She moved with ease and grace, and Millicent felt that she must be used to entertaining.

An elegant young woman, Violet always seemed confident in any company they encountered.

So far, the two young women had spoken little about their backgrounds, and Millicent wondered what Violet’s home was like.

She had a couple of photographs in her room of a very elegant lady and gentleman that Millicent assumed were her parents.

She’d made no mention of siblings, although she sometimes referred with fondness to someone called William, a family friend.

“I’ve had an excellent idea,” Oliver announced as he dusted crumbs from his hands.

“Let’s take the ladies out to celebrate our new-found friendship.”

Reginald nodded.

“That’s a good idea, Oliver,” he agreed. “I have the very thing. We shall take them shopping.

“Ladies love to look at lace and silks or the latest style in hats. We can go for tea and –”

He ground to a halt, the smile of enthusiasm falling from his face as he took in their expressions.

Violet was trying hard not to laugh, whilst Millicent’s mouth had formed a thin line of disgust.

“Perhaps the ballet?” He looked from one to the other, rather at a loss.

“It is kind of you to make the offer,” Violet said politely, taking command of herself, but Millicent’s eyes flashed.

“I’m sure you mean well, Mr Fenton, but I don’t have time to waste looking at fripperies, and I have never had a liking for the ballet.”

Reginald opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again.

Oliver, however, smiled.

“I have it. Two such interesting ladies would no doubt prefer a trip to the scientific museum. Would you accompany us? Do say you will.”

He looked pleadingly at Violet and she burst out laughing.

“How can I refuse? Yes, this lady would certainly find such a venture most interesting. Thank you, Mr Landsby.”

“Oliver,” he insisted. “Miss Halsom, what do you say?”

Millicent was still trying to stem the tide of annoyance that had risen in her breast, but she attempted a smile.

“Thank you, Mr Landsby. I would be delighted.”

As for Mr Fenton, how could a man with whom she had just spent an hour debating science assume that she would like nothing better than to gaze vapidly at ribbons and bonnets?

He was utterly infuriating!

To be continued…

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