A Tale of Two Sisters – Episode 10

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

It was a crisp day and, although golden sunlight shafted through the window, the girls were glad of the fire that had been lit in Millicent’s hearth.

Inside, the two ladies sat in chairs on either side of the fireplace, their shawls drawn round them, each with a cup of steaming tea.

A carriage clock ticked on the mantel and low female voices reached them from adjoining rooms.

“How are you enjoying our adventure so far, Millie?” Violet asked.

She had abandoned her boots and her legs were curled up beneath her.

Even in repose she was elegant.

“Very much,” Millicent replied, her eyes glowing. “It is wonderful to discuss science so freely.”

“Indeed. It is liberating and exhilarating,” Violet agreed.

“I miss Papa and, of course, dear Lucinda, but I would not change this experience for anything.”

“How are your father and your sister? Are they well.”

Millicent nodded.

“I heard from Papa again yesterday and they are in good health, though he says that Lucinda is out of spirits. My sister has not yet written.”

Violet observed her friend’s downcast expression.

“Not everyone is fond of letter-writing,” she assured her. “Your sister must miss you, too.”

Millicent shrugged.

“It is not that she dislikes the task of writing. It’s just that – well, at present she is not speaking to me.”

Violet raised an eyebrow.

“We had a disagreement before I came away. It distresses me.”

There was some relief in discussing matters with a friend, but Millicent missed her sister sorely. How could she heal the breach?

Violet put down her teacup and reached for Millicent’s hand.

“It must be difficult,” she acknowledged, “but this will pass. Where there is love, there is forgiveness.”

Millicent smiled, feeling a little better.

“True,” she said. “I hope time will resolve things.”

She paused and Violet waited for her to continue.

“My sister is engaged to be married. To a young man, Herbert Markington.”

“You do not approve?”

“I am afraid it will make her unhappy. There is something about him.” She shrugged. “Papa has approved the match. There is nothing I can do.”

Violet nodded and picked up her cup of tea.

“What of you, Violet? Do you miss your family?” Millicent asked her friend.

“I love Papa, but I am happier here. There are no duties to distract from my studies.”

“You have no siblings?”

“No.” Violet paused, then decided to continue. “I may as well tell you. I am Lady Violet Penningly of Tolston Place.”

“Oh!” Millicent was shocked by this revelation.

Her own background was ancient and landed, but the Penninglys of Tolston were virtual royalty.

“Your father is Lord Sydney, and your –”

“Yes.” Violet’s skin was now suffused with colour, but the expression in her lively eyes was unchanged.

Millicent swallowed.

“I am sorry. I do not know what to say.”

“That is a common reaction,” Violet remarked. “At least, for those who remember the scandal.”

Millicent had been too young to know of the scandal when it occurred.

Both girls had been small children, but she had heard it talked of since and knew that it had rocked society.

Violet’s mother, the beautiful Lady Penningly, had run away with a younger man and, soon after, died in childbirth.

She cleared her throat.

“It must have been difficult growing up without your mother and with so much gossip surrounding you.”

Violet shrugged.

“It has not been so bad. A child is unaware of much that occurs and I can hardly remember her.

“My father dotes on me. I have not been unhappy. I would have liked to know her, however.”

Millicent nodded. At least she and Lucinda had many happy memories of Mama.

“In some ways I admire my mother,” Violet stuck out her chin. “It took courage for her to leave, to be with a much poorer man and defy society.

“He was an intellectual, as I believe my mother must have been. I think they were truly in love.

“Papa is a dear, but he is not an academic, and their marriage was arranged by their families,” she finished.

Millicent shook her head. Though she could not approve of Lady Penningly’s actions, she could certainly understand them.

“Well, Miss Penningly,” she said with a smile. “Your secret is safe with me. I am glad you have inherited your mother’s brains or I might never have met you.”

Violet grinned.

“Thank you. I, too, am happy that we met.”

To be continued…

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