A Tale of Two Sisters – Episode 12

Helen Welsh © Miss Lucinda in a carriage with her maid

Millicent was feeling elated. The lecture by Professor Larkin had proved fascinating and she was proud of the way she’d held her own in the question and answer session.

She still found it uncomfortable when they first entered the room for such studies, as the gentlemen were generally not very welcoming.

They sat as far away as they could from any female attendees. There was often raucous laughter and pointed looks.

The odd phrase was spoken unnecessarily loudly, pertaining to bluestockings and spinsters.

However, once proceedings began, everything settled down. She usually became too absorbed to feel any further concern.

Today’s lecture had taken place in a beautiful hall in one of the older colleges.

It had panelled walls, stained glass in some of the windows and large portraits of distinguished alumni and past principals hanging in gilt frames.

Professor Larkin had spoken eloquently on natural selection and Millicent had been absorbed.

So much so that she had taken her courage in both hands and asked a question when the time came.

It had led to a rather heated debate between herself and a gentleman with a red face and a disdainful expression, who was sitting to her right.

To her surprise, the professor had supported her view of matters and Millicent was delighted.

“Well done,” Violet congratulated her. “I am so proud of you for standing your ground.”

“Indeed, I could not back down when the gentleman was so clearly ill-informed. He did not much like to be corrected by a woman, however.”

“None of them do.” Violet grinned, but Millicent glanced towards the gentleman in question with concern.

He was still staring in their direction, his face thunderous, deep in conversation with a friend.

“I think perhaps we had better leave.”

Violet nodded.

“You might be right,” she agreed. “But we will not be intimidated. Women may not yet be members of the university, but we are allowed to attend these lectures.

“Quite clearly we will benefit from them more than some that could be mentioned.”

They pulled their capes around them and made their way outside.

They were about to turn up the high street when someone blocked their way.

Millicent stared up into a pair of angry black eyes.

“I suppose you think you’re clever, don’t you?” a deep voice snarled. “But perhaps it’s time someone taught you to know your place.”

Millicent took a step back and swallowed. The young man was looming over them, clearly intent on causing trouble.

“Step aside, please,” Violet ordered. “We have nothing to say to you.”

“She had plenty to say inside. What’s the matter now? Cat got your tongue?”

The young man was tall and lean, dressed in the height of fashion in an expensive suit, his top hat shining, a cravat at his throat.

He clearly considered himself a cut above and was not used to being disagreed with by anyone, let alone a female.

“No offence was intended,” Millicent told him. “As a fellow student, I was merely stating the facts as I saw them.”

“Pah! You’re not even members of the university. We shouldn’t have to tolerate your nonsense.

“Your place is at home. Perhaps that’s the problem, eh? Haven’t got homes to go to.

“What men want to marry a couple of spinsters without a feminine quality between them?” he sneered.

At this, Violet raised herself to her full height, her eyes blazing.

“That’s enough,” she said. “Gentlemen do not insult ladies and we don’t associate with riff-raff.”

She went to step past him, when he grabbed her arm.

“Riff-raff?” he growled.

Millicent swallowed a cry, then heard footsteps bounding along the pavement.

The welcome faces of Reginald and Oliver suddenly appeared. She’d never thought she’d be so happy to see them.

“What’s going on here? Unhand this lady at once.” Mr Fenton’s face was suffused with anger.

Oliver stepped between Violet and the young man, who let go of her arm.

“Step back, Burton. What is the meaning of this?”

Burton’s expression was stony and his eyes still flashed, but he also began to look a little ashamed.

“I was teaching these women their place,” he said. “No harm done.”

Reginald stared at him.

“Their place,” he said, “is attending lectures at this university.”

Millicent looked up in amazement.

“You will, no doubt, benefit from it, too,” he continued. “They are far better informed than a number of gentlemen of my acquaintance.”

Burton sneered.

“Perhaps you should be more particular with whom you associate.”

Oliver raised an eyebrow.

“Come on, my good man. Nothing can be gained from insults. Perhaps you should get about your business, whilst we escort the ladies home.”

Burton stared at him, then shrugged.

“Rather you than me,” he replied.

He turned on his heel and left.

“Are you all right?” Reginald asked the girls, a furrow between his eyebrows. “You should not have been subjected to that.”

Millicent smiled.

“Thank you, but I am quite well,” she replied. “I had been about to threaten them with the constabulary when you arrived.”

“Yes, and I was considering taking a swing at them with my bag,” Violet interjected, her ready humour returning to her face.

Oliver burst out laughing.

“We should have known that two such remarkable ladies had the matter well in hand.”

Reginald smiled, too, but Millicent could see he was still concerned, and he was most solicitous as they returned to the hall.

To be continued…

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