A Tale of Two Sisters – Episode 09

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

Reginald watched as Millicent and Violet made their way along Parks Road.

They were heading towards the Museum of Natural History, where he and Oliver were waiting.

A sharp wind blew in their faces and they clasped their long coats around them.

A wave of anticipation passed over him and he was again surprised to discover how much he was looking forward to the afternoon ahead.

Oliver raised his hand in greeting.

“Well met, ladies!” he exclaimed. “I was afraid you should have been blown away in this wind.”

Miss Penningly laughed, but Miss Halsom seemed relieved to reach the shelter of the building.

They made their way inside. The museum was light and airy and Reginald was looking forward to viewing its fascinating collection.

They entered a square court with a glass ceiling held aloft by iron pillars.

Cloistered walkways ran around the ground and first floors, and the stone columns were beautifully carved with leaves and other natural forms.

Statues of notable men of science were positioned around the court.

“It is a noble building, is it not?” Reginald watched Miss Halsom taking it all in, amused by her evident enthusiasm.

“It is indeed – very impressive.” She smiled.

“Shall we begin with the Tradescant collection?” Oliver enquired.

“That would be delightful.” Miss Penningly’s excitement was audible and Reginald saw her friend grin.

“The Tradescants, Miss Halsom, were father and son.

“They worked for nobility and royalty at the start of the seventeenth century, travelling widely in order to collect a vast range of seeds, bulbs and curiosities.

“Much of their collection is here,” Reginald finished.

Miss Halsom glanced at him and sighed.

“I have read about them, Mr Fenton,” she told him.

“If we are to get along, you must stop assuming that all ladies are ill-informed.

“I am sure I have much to learn, but not as much, perhaps, as you suppose.”

He had done it again! It was so hard not to be surprised by these young women after a life spent with Mama.

He smiled and ran a hand through his hair.

“I assure you,” he replied, “that I am not trying to offend you, but I seem destined to do so at every turn. You must accept my apologies once more.”

She returned his smile.

“Do you have sisters?” she enquired.

He was taken aback, then he burst out laughing.

“No, Miss Halsom, it is Oliver who has been blessed with sisters. I am the eldest of four brothers.”

“I see.”

“I am reluctant to ask, but what is it that you see?”

Millicent chuckled.

“Merely that perhaps the predominance of men amongst your family and acquaintances might go some way to explain your prejudices.”

Reginald raised an eyebrow.

“Perhaps you are right, Miss Halsom.”

They spent a pleasant afternoon examining the exhibits, debating the merits of certain finds and exclaiming over specimens.

Miss Halsom was fascinated by the fossil collections, which included Mary Anning’s ichthyosaur.

It was hard to drag Miss Penningly away from the fossil plants.

They loved the zoology cabinets, with the dodo and skeletons of bison and other mammals, whilst the drawers of insects and butterflies were stunning, with their bold patterns and iridescent colours.

Eventually, even they had taken their fill, and he thought Miss Halsom might be tiring.

“May we escort you for tea?” he asked. “I fear that Oliver is always famished.”

“I cannot deny it.” Oliver grinned, offering Violet his arm.

Reginald was pleased when Miss Halsom deigned to take his arm and, soon after, they were seated in an elegant establishment with tea, sandwiches and two stands piled high with scones.

“Thank you, gentlemen,” Miss Penningly said as she poured tea and dispensed cake. “It has been a most enjoyable afternoon.

“I shall visit the museum again, if only to look more at its collections of fossils, seeds and botanical specimens. Fascinating!”

“We are glad you have enjoyed yourselves,” Reginald replied.

“Indeed. Thank you,” Miss Halsom added and Reginald was delighted.

“It has been instructive for me in more ways than one,” he remarked with a wry smile.

“I am learning something of the female species, besides advancing my scientific studies.”

“I am glad we can be of assistance,” Miss Penningly remarked with as straight a face as she could muster.

“Yes,” Oliver added. “I am grateful to Miss Halsom for setting you straight on a few issues.

“I’m sure that the lovely Miss Grantham will be, too, eh, Reggie?”

Reginald wasn’t sure why, but the reference to Miss Grantham embarrassed him.

He was not yet engaged to Charlotte, but he had no doubt raised expectations.

She was a gentle girl and he was comfortable in her company.

She was the eldest daughter of Sir Humphrey, from the neighbouring estate.

She was pretty, graceful, and appeared to have some common sense and thrift in household management.

He hadn’t thought he could expect much more.

To be continued…

An error has occurred while loading your details. Please click the following link to try again - if the issue persists, please don't hesitate to contact us. Try again by refreshing the page.