A Tale of Two Sisters – Episode 28

Miss Lucinda visits Notre-Dame with her new friends

“Good evening, ladies.” Mr Thursford was smartly dressed in tails, white waistcoat and bow tie.

His short sandy hair had been neatly combed and his black shoes shone. He bowed low.

“A pleasure to see you both. I hope you are well. Let me procure drinks for you. A little sherry?”

The ladies inclined their heads and he disappeared to carry out his task.

“Why, ‘Oh, dear’?” Violet asked, regarding her friend with raised eyebrows.

Millicent coloured.

“I did not mention it. Mr Thursford has become a little importunate in his attentions of late.”

“I did not know you had seen him since our last meeting,” Violet remarked.

“Although I had observed that he is struck with you.”

Millicent stared at the floor.

“I have not, but he has written to me twice. Once inviting us to the theatre, then inviting us to dinner. Naturally, I declined.

“I have no wish to encourage him, but I fear he will not be easily deterred.”

Violet nodded, watching Mr Thursford as he crossed the room towards them, bearing their drinks.

“I fear you may be right,” she remarked drily. “Do not be concerned, however.

“I shall stay by your side this evening and do my best to discourage him also.”

Millicent smiled and was once more grateful for the new friendship that had sprung up over the course of this first term.

“Here we are.” Mr Thursford beamed at them and gave them each a glass. “Your good health. What did you think of the lecture?”

They entered into a discussion and Millicent began to relax.

She was always happy in a scientific debate and Mr Thursford made no embarrassing allusions to the invitations that she had declined.

A fire was roaring in the marble hearth, they had found a seat on a chaise longue, and the air was filled with the merry clink of glasses and conversation.

On the far side, by a large sideboard, Millicent could see Reginald and Oliver amongst a knot of young men.

The former kept glancing their way and she was in hopes of soon excusing herself from Mr Thursford’s company and going to join their other friends instead.

Stanley Thursford cleared his throat.

“I hope you won’t mind my asking, Miss Halsom, Miss Penningly, but my mother is coming to visit me the weekend after next.

“I wondered if you would do me the honour of dining with us?

“She is much in favour of women’s education and is eager to meet such pioneering students.”

Millicent’s mouth opened and closed. What could she say?

It would be rude to decline an invitation of this nature without good cause, but to meet his family? She had no wish to give him such encouragement.

“I am terribly sorry, but Millicent and I are spending that weekend at my home.

“Your offer is most kind, but we must decline.”

Mr Thursford’s face fell, but Millicent was able to breathe again and cast her friend a grateful look.

“Ladies, may I say how elegant you are tonight. Absolutely charming.”

She glanced up to see Oliver’s cheerful face beaming at them.

“I’m sorry to intrude,” he continued, bowing in Mr Thursford’s direction, “but I really must borrow Miss Penningly for a moment.

“One of my friends believes he has met you before, Violet. He is very eager to speak with you.”

Violet shook her head.

“Perhaps you might bring him here, Oliver. I am keeping Miss Halsom company at present.”

“Millicent isn’t alone. I promise we’ll be back in a jiffy, but he has some cock and bull story about you being Lady Penningly and he doesn’t believe you are studying here.

“I told him absolutely you are and that you are both brilliant. Anyway, look he is waiting.”

Oliver offered his arm and Violet had little choice but to take it.

“I will be back directly, Millicent, I promise.”

As soon as they had crossed the room, Mr Thursford seated himself beside Millicent.

“Miss Halsom, how delightful to speak with you alone.”

She did not reply.

“I was disappointed that your studies have so far prevented your acceptance of my invitations.

“Please name any time, any place, and I will be more than happy to escort you there.”

He moved closer to her.

Millicent would have backed away, but was prevented by the side of the chaise longue.

“Mr Thursford . . .”

“You cannot have mistaken my attentions,” he interrupted.

“You are the most amazing woman I have ever met.”

He took her hand.

“Miss Halsom . . . Millicent, if I may . . .”

She was horrified as his arm slipped around her waist. She tried to rise but he held her tightly.

She wanted to scream or slap him with her free hand, but she could not make a scene in such a gathering . . .

To be continued…

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