A Tale of Two Sisters – Episode 02

The two sisters with their neighbour, Mr Herbert Markington

Millicent stared out across the garden. A mellow sun set the limestone manor house aglow and cast shadows across the trim lawn.

She could hear bees droning in the flower-beds and swifts were darting to and from the eaves.

The scent of rosemary and thyme wafted from the herb garden.

It was a peaceful scene, but entirely out of step with her mood.

What was she going to do now? She seemed to have made matters worse.

Perhaps she had been unwise to interfere, but she loved her sister and couldn’t bear to see her throw herself away. Or, worse still, contract an unhappy alliance.

Since their mother had died 10 years earlier, Lucinda had no-one but herself and her father to advise her.

Their father was a loving and intelligent man, but not a great student of human nature, and indulgent with his younger daughter.

Millicent shook her head. She and Lucinda had always been close, but she had not handled matters well.

Now her sister was more determined than ever to marry Herbert Markington.

Millicent stared up at the red brick house at the end of Norham Gardens which was to be her home for much of the next three years.

It was a pleasant building with wide sash windows, well situated next to parkland and close to the river.

It was not Halsom Hall, however, and she wondered what life inside its walls would be like.

“My dear, I believe you are ready.” Her father took her hand.

“You will take care of yourself, won’t you?” he asked, frowning.

“Of course, I will, Papa.”

“We shall miss you.”

The excitement that had been bubbling inside her for much of the carriage journey suddenly faded, but she smiled up at him and kissed his cheek.

“I will be home before you know it,” she told him. “As soon as Michaelmas term is over.”

He nodded and climbed back into the carriage.

The coachmen, who had finished carrying the trunks to her room, went back to their positions.

Her father raised his hand in farewell and she stood and watched as they disappeared along the road.

For a moment, Millicent felt bereft.

Then, taking a deep breath, she lifted her skirts and made her way up the path to the front door.

Her adventure was about to begin.

Her room was a pleasant enough space, simple but functional. It contained a bed, a desk and chair, a wardrobe and chest of drawers.

A dressing-table with a ewer and basin stood in one corner, and an armchair in another.

A small tiled fireplace was the central feature of the far wall and was equipped with a basket of coal and a set of irons.

First, Millicent decided to occupy herself with unpacking and making the place homely.

The task did not take long and she was just setting an aspidistra on the window ledge when there was a knock on the door.

A head appeared around the frame.

“Excuse my intrusion, but I wished to welcome you. I am Violet.”

“Please, come in.”

A tall, slim girl with pale skin, auburn hair and freckles entered the room.

She wore a dark green dress of quality fabric and her hair was curled neatly on her head, above a pair of dancing eyes.

“Oh, lucky you! You have a view over the garden.”

Violet had gone to the sash window and was gazing out over a small lawn and some neatly tended flower-beds.

“My room is across the hallway,” she continued. “I can see the road so I shall be able to watch everyone’s comings and goings.

“I saw you arrive with your father.”

Millicent smiled.

“I’m Millicent Halsom. Please sit down.”

“Thank you, Millicent. I don’t think everyone has arrived yet, but as far as I understand it, they have put all of us newcomers on this top floor – such quaint little rooms.”

Millicent nodded.

“Which subject will you be studying?” she asked her new friend.

“Oh, the noble sciences.” Violet grinned, looking very excited.

“Why, that’s what I shall be studying also! Isn’t it wonderful to have this opportunity?”

“Absolutely.” Violet’s face took on a serious expression.

“I’m thrilled. I love all the sciences, but I’ve mostly carried out research in the area of botany.

“It is the most fascinating of topics and there is a wealth of specimens around my home.”

Millicent was elated. She had rarely been able to have conversations such as this.

“I, too, have studied the local flora and fauna. I have been particularly interested in rhizomes, but I am also fascinated by Koch and Loeffler’s recent publication of postulates concerning the relationship between microbes and disease.”

“I have read about that.” Violet nodded. “I hope very much there may be lectures upon the subject.”

The ladies chatted in this way for some time, until Violet collected herself and pulled a gentleman’s pocket watch from a bag at her waist.

“Goodness!” she exclaimed, “It is later than I thought. We must freshen up, ready to go downstairs.

“The principal will address us at five. Shall I knock on my way past?”

“Please do.”

Millicent was relieved to have made a friend already, and grateful not to have to face these first meetings alone.

To be continued…

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