A Tale of Two Sisters – Episode 14

Helen Welsh © Miss Lucinda in a carriage with her maid

Millicent had spent a quiet morning studying in the college library.

She loved the opportunity to get lost amongst the pages of the wonderful tomes.

It was peaceful and cosy, with mahogany bookcases, lamplit tables, and a smell of parchment and leather.

She was very content, but at times, when she passed the imposing edifice of the Bodleian, she longed to enter its ancient walls.

As young ladies, however, its portals were firmly closed to them.

After lunch, she and Violet walked into town to purchase books of their own before their discussion with Reginald and Oliver later that afternoon.

She found herself looking forward to their meeting. Their debates were always engaging and the men were good company.

She and Violet had a very successful trip, purchasing all they required and finishing with a leisurely browse in Blackwell’s.

Mr Benjamin Henry Blackwell had opened it 16 years earlier and she and Violet were regular visitors.

They loved to navigate the varnished shelves, searching for gems to take back with them.

Today, she’d loaded her arms with a number of books, and was so absorbed as she moved along the row that she wasn’t looking where she was going.

She bumped into someone, sending the books and her purchases flying.

“Goodness. I am so sorry!” Millicent cried. “Pray do forgive me.”

“My mistake.” An earnest young man with blond hair and a moustache began to retrieve her possessions from the floor.

“Are you sure you can manage these?” he asked, passing her the various packages and parcels.

“Yes, thank you. I shall be fine.”

“Are you buying all of these today?” he asked, a tinge of admiration in his voice. “Reading is a great pleasure, is it not?”

“It is.” Millicent smiled at him. “Thank you; you are most kind.”

“Let me take them to the counter,” he offered, leading the way. “Scientific tomes as well as novels. Are all of them for you?”

Millicent bristled.

“They are,” she declared.

The young man did not ridicule her. Instead, he seemed more impressed than before.

“How marvellous,” he told her, “I believe you are a unique young lady.”

“Unusual, but not unique.” Millicent laughed.

“I’m Stanley Thursford,” he said, placing the books on the counter and extending his hand. “Delighted to meet you.”

“Millicent Halsom,” she replied, shaking it with gloved fingers.

“You are a student here? I myself am studying at University College. A mathematics degree. It’s my second year.”

“My friend and I study at Lady Margaret Hall.”

“Remarkable!” He glanced at Violet, but his eyes soon returned to Millicent.

“I wish you well, Miss Halsom. A pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

He tipped his hat to her before leaving the shop.

“Who was that intense young man?” Violet asked. “Are you acquainted?”

“Not at all,” Millicent replied. “He introduced himself as a Mr Thursford of University College.”

“Did he indeed? Well, he seemed very helpful.”

“Yes, and he appears to be impressed by young women who enjoy reading and study,” Millicent said.

“Wonders will never cease.” Violet’s eyes twinkled and she began to gather some of Millicent’s packages into her arms.

“Let me help you or we shall not get you back to college without further incident.”

They stepped out on to the cobbled street.

A horse was making its way along the road, its tail swishing, and a man in a flat cap on a penny farthing rattled past.

An older couple strolled on the other side, the gentleman leaning on a silver-tipped cane, and a young girl in a bonnet was playing with a hoop.

“Excuse me. I am sorry to intrude, but I wondered whether I could be of any further assistance?”

Millicent was amazed to find Mr Thursford waiting outside the shop.

“I would be more than happy to carry your packages and see you back to your hall.”

“That is very thoughtful, Mr Thursford, but Miss Penningly here is helping with the parcels and we shall enjoy our walk.”

His face fell.

“Well, if you are quite sure. It would be no trouble.”

Millicent smiled politely.

“Thank you, but I am quite sure.”

He bowed, tipped his hat once more, then watched them as they walked away down the street.

“Goodness!” Violet exclaimed as soon as they were out of earshot. “I do believe you have made a conquest, Millie.”

Millicent blushed and shook her head.

“I hardly think so.”

Her friend raised an eyebrow but said nothing further, and Millicent was once again grateful to have met her.

Violet was not interested in romance and would not torment her on the subject. She was determined to pursue her studies at all costs.

To be continued…

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