A Tale of Two Sisters – Episode 18

Helen Welsh © The main characters from the series

Reginald strode along the carriage drive, taking deep breaths of air. He was glad to be outside again.

As much as he loved Gradingly Place, he couldn’t bear his mother’s fussing or his brother’s sulky silence.

At least poor Harry had been relieved to see him, and his youngest brother, Charles, was always affectionate.

He walked briskly, glad of the exertion and the cold air on his face.

The park was beautiful at this time of year. Since his return to university, the trees had matured, their leaves a wonderful mix of amber, burgundy and gold.

Some were already sending their loads spinning to the ground. Even the oaks no longer showed green, but stood majestic and earthy against the skyline.

Reginald had decided to head to the neighbouring estate to visit Miss Grantham.

After two days of dealing with Francis and his debts, he was in need of some kind of distraction.

Miss Grantham’s gentle and undemanding presence was always soothing.

Moreover, he was intending to return to Oxford tomorrow and felt it would be wrong to leave without seeing her.

After ambling the distance from one house to the other, Reginald was already feeling better.

The walk took him through beautiful countryside and he had stopped to watch the deer and had seen the flash of a kingfisher darting along the river.

As he approached Grantham Grange, it was clear his arrival had been anticipated.

Lander stood by the open door, his face impassive.

He took Reginald’s coat and hat and showed him to the drawing-room, where Miss Grantham sat with her mother, intent on her embroidery.

They rose as he went in and Miss Grantham turned pink.

“Welcome, Reginald. So lovely to see you.”

He kissed Mrs Grantham’s hand and sat down beside her daughter.

“We had heard you were back and are glad not to have missed you.”

He smiled.

“I could not come home and fail to pay you a visit. I hope you are both well.”

“Very well, thank you,” Mrs Grantham replied.

“Are you able to stay long?” Miss Grantham turned to him with a smile.

She was a pretty girl with light brown hair and green eyes.

“I am afraid I must return tomorrow,” Reginald replied.

Her face fell.

“I expect you have a lot of study to complete.”

“I do. I should not have returned in term time at all. I would not have done so were it not for…”

“Francis?” Mrs Grantham’s face was compassionate, and it was clear from both ladies’ expressions that they were well-informed about his family problems.

No doubt Mama had been calling.

“Yes.” Reginald sighed. “I believe I have resolved that situation, however, so I must return to Oxford.

“Is there much news in the neighbourhood?” he asked.

The ladies did their best to entertain him with small talk, but he found he was not much interested in Miss Tratham’s betrothal or Lady Cratchett’s new carriage.

He began to feel restless and was relieved when tea was brought in.

Cucumber sandwiches and Victoria sponge were served on fine bone china and Reginald was hungry after his walk.

He smiled to himself. If Oliver were here, he would have hoped for something more substantial.

“Have you read any interesting books of late?” he asked.

“I have read a very entertaining novel from the circulating library,” Miss Grantham replied. “It was extremely romantic and –”

“I’m not sure Mr Fenton will be interested, Caroline,” her mother interrupted. “Have you shown him the exquisite paintings you have added to your book?”

To his horror, Reginald was distinctly bored, but he knew he could not leave so soon.

He admired Miss Grantham’s latest embroidery and works of art, whilst yearning for a weighty debate.

“I wonder whether you have read the article in ‘The Times’ regarding Prime Minister Salisbury? It was an interesting piece.”

Miss Grantham blushed.

“I do not read the papers much,” she confessed. “Mama and I take ‘The Ludgate’ illustrated magazine for the stories and fashion pages.”

“Of course.” He tried to show an interest, but he was desperate to leave.

Far from finding the visit soothing, he was beginning to feel more ruffled than ever.

He looked about the drawing-room and glanced at the ornate mantel clock. Perhaps half an hour more and he could make his excuses.

He couldn’t understand what was wrong with him.

Miss Grantham was sweet and gentle, her mother gracious and the room comfortable, but something had changed.

Following a lengthy description of the finery at the latest country dance, he had taken all he could.

He rose to his feet.

“I am sorry to leave so soon, but I must return to make ready for tomorrow’s journey.”

They bid him a solicitous farewell, and he was relieved to be back outside in the fresh air again.

As he began the walk home, he wondered what had got into him.

Why had the company, which had always been so soothing, today seemed so dull?

He sighed. Was he jaded by Francis’s doings, or sickening for something?

He didn’t know, but if he continued to find the company of his young lady boring, what on earth was he going to do?

To be continued…

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