A Tale of Two Sisters – Episode 19

Helen Welsh © The main characters from the series

Millicent and Violet walked along Oliver Street, enjoying the pale sunlight.

It followed some damp days and they were glad to get out and about on such a pleasant afternoon.

The streets were busy – carts creaked along the cobbles and gentlemen on horseback cantered past.

A group of urchins in britches and flat caps played noisily at conkers.

Violet wished to purchase a gift for a friend’s birthday, so the two had ventured into the city.

She had found a beautiful shawl at the milliner’s and was extremely pleased with her purchase.

They were now heading back towards the college at a leisurely pace, deep in conversation.

“Oliver seemed well yesterday, did he not? I believe he is missing his friend, but he was in good spirits,” Violet remarked.

Millicent had to laugh.

“I can’t imagine Oliver ever being out of spirits.” She smiled. “He is a good man, kind and cheerful.”

“He is,” her friend agreed. “However, I believe our Mr Fenton has improved upon acquaintance, Millie.”

“Yes.” Millicent couldn’t deny it. “He is also very considerate.

“I believe we have altered his perception of the female species somewhat,” she added, laughing.

Her friend’s eyes twinkled.

“It shows a greatness of character that he was so willing to change his viewpoint, don’t you think?”

Millicent was thoughtful.

“I believe his mother has been a trial to him.”

“Indeed, I hope his visit home has not been too difficult.”

Millicent hoped so, too, partly on Reginald’s account, and partly because she wished for his return.

She had enjoyed their debate with Oliver, but it had lacked some of the spark and depth that Reginald so often supplied.

“Good day, Miss Halsom!”

They were passing Blackwell’s on Broad Street when a young man stepped out of the doorway.

He stopped when he saw them and gave a smart bow. It was Mr Thursford, whom they had met in the bookshop a week before.

“Good day, Mr Thursford. You remember Miss Penningly,” Millicent greeted him.

“Indeed I do, and it’s a pleasure to see you both again. I hope you are well.”

“Very well, thank you.”

“How are you enjoying the books that you purchased?” Mr Thursford asked. “A wonderful selection, if I may say so.”

Mr Thursford seemed in no hurry to move on.

“They are most interesting, especially the one on Louis Pasteur’s work on the rabies and chicken cholera vaccines.”

The man nodded.

“It is ground-breaking work. Just imagine what might be done in the future if more such vaccinations are developed.”

They were soon involved in an interesting discussion, but it began to grow colder.

The wind had picked up and Millicent pulled her coat tightly around her.

“We must be going,” she said. “I can no longer feel my feet.”

Mr Thursford was immediately full of concern.

“The conversation was so delightful that I hadn’t noticed the cold.

“Forgive me for keeping you outdoors and let me take you to tea as an apology.”

Violet raised an eyebrow and glanced at Millicent to gauge her reaction to this suggestion.

“That is kind of you, Mr Thursford,” Millicent said politely, “but a brisk walk will soon warm us up.”

“I insist. It will be my pleasure. Mrs Figgins’s tea rooms are only just across the street.”

Millicent looked at Violet, who shrugged.

“Very well,” she conceded. “You are most kind.”

Mr Thursford ushered the two ladies across the street and found them a situation close to the fire.

They were soon seated at a table covered with a lace cloth and with a plate piled high with fresh bread and butter, and a pretty tiered cake stand full of scones.

Mrs Figgins, the proprietress, poured the tea from a pot finely decorated with small roses.

Millicent was already beginning to warm up and decided that it had been a good idea to accept the invitation.

Mr Thursford was most considerate of their comfort. The scones were delicious and the tea steaming hot.

They asked Mr Thursford about his studies and Millicent was pleased that he told them about his work without any patronising simplification or asides. It was really very interesting.

All in all, it was a pleasant afternoon.

The only thing clouding Millicent’s enjoyment was the frequency with which Mr Thursford directed his attention towards her, and the rather frustrating way that her own thoughts kept turning to Reginald.

To her surprise she found she was missing him. She wondered how he had fared and when he would be back.

She hoped that he had found a solution to his troubles.

“Miss Halsom, what is your favourite branch of the sciences?” Mr Thursford queried. “Miss Penningly here is clearly a great botanical enthusiast.”

“I love all sciences, but I am fascinated by the substance of things, of molecules and states of matter. The germ theory, vaccination.”

He smiled as her face lit up with enthusiasm.

“It is clear these subjects are close to your heart,” he remarked.

“It is quite something to meet two ladies whose beauty is matched by their brain power. I am honoured.”

Mr Thursford seemed serious and Millicent wasn’t sure where to look. She was not comfortable with compliments.

It had been a delightful afternoon, but perhaps it was time to leave.

To be continued…

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