The People's Friend
SERIAL A Tale Of Two Sisters
Visiting Paris with Miss Lucinda was a dream come true for young Alice . . .
ALICE could not believe she was in Paris! It was wonderful! She was excited to see the sights and couldn’t wait to tell her family.
Thomas’s eyes would be as round as saucers.
She was also grateful that everything was so new and interesting that it helped take her mind from her other concerns.
For the last few days, her mistress’s new friend, Miss Thérèse, had acted as their guide around Paris.
They’d been chaperoned by a Monsieur Emile Lacroix, a childhood friend of Miss Thérèse.
To Alice’s astonishment, he supported the lady’s views on rights for women.
Miss Lucinda was fascinated by the movement that they were part of.
She had asked hundreds of questions and Alice was glad of it, as it seemed to distract her from her heartache.
Alice had never seen such enormous buildings and such a busy, bustling city.
Today they were visiting Notre-dame, and it was the biggest building she had ever seen.
“We are very proud of our mediaeval cathedral,” Mr Lacroix told them as they entered. “Work on it began in 1163.”
Alice gasped. It must be a very ancient place.
“Was not Monsieur Hugo’s novel set here?” Miss Lucinda enquired.
“Why, indeed it was.” Mr Lacroix looked impressed. “You have read it?”
“I have.” She smiled at
him. “My sister and I are fond of reading. We devour every volume that comes to hand.”
He looked delighted. Mr Lacroix came from an ancient French family that owned land across the country.
Alice had felt quite intimidated when she first met him, but he had been kind and put her at ease.
He had a pleasant face with intelligent blue eyes and straight black hair.
Unlike Mr Markington, he was a modest man and, Alice suspected, better informed, too.
“I love books,” Miss Lucinda said. “And I am also interested in art.”
“Then you will not be disappointed with our city.
“Let us start with some of the treasures right here. These beautiful stainedglass windows are famous.”
Alice stared up at one of the rose windows, bright with exquisite glass.
She was filled with wonder. It was like an enormous glowing flower.
“There are noteworthy paintings and a section of Christ’s holy crown of thorns, if you should like to see it?” Mr Lacroix added.
Miss Lucinda nodded, and Alice followed behind the three gentlefolk as they moved about the cathedral.
She listened with only half an ear, more intent on looking around her and watching Mr Lacroix than listening to what he said.
She’d wondered almost from the outset, but today she felt certain that he was attracted to her mistress.
She was worried by this. Miss Lucinda was fragile and didn’t need new attentions so immediately after her heartbreak.
Yet it was obvious to Alice in the way his eyes lingered on Lucinda’s face and the depth of his attention and interest when she spoke.
Menfolk! What a complicated world it was.
Alice sighed and her thoughts flew to Jenkin, Miss Lucinda’s manservant who had accompanied them on their trip.
He had been so kind and supportive to her in the last few days. She couldn’t help but be grateful.
It was a relief to have someone to lean on. She found herself looking forward to seeing him, glad of his company.
But could she trust him? Did she have the strength to take such a risk again and, if she did, what difference did it make?
If he knew her past his feelings for her would soon vanish.
She tried to focus. A chance of happiness was over for her. She must merely support her mistress and do her job well.
She turned her attention to the conversation, which had now moved on.
“Do you think there is a chance of success?” Miss Lucinda was asking. “Why, in England, many women do not wish to vote.” Thérèse frowned. “That is true here also. There is a long way to go, but that is only reason to work harder, no?”
Miss Lucinda looked thoughtful.
“You are right. The sooner we start, the sooner change can be achieved – for our daughters, if not ourselves.”
“This is very true.” Mr Lacroix gave Lucinda a glowing look.
Alice didn’t think her mistress noticed, however. She would not think about romance again for some time.
While Mr Lacroix remained respectful, Alice supposed no harm could be done.
The pair got on well and the gentleman seemed able to raise Miss Lucinda’s spirits. Alice was grateful for that.
He had been most sympathetic when apprised by Miss Thérèse of her mistress’s situation.
In another week they would be home, and just as well. Miss Lucinda would be safe with her father and Alice could spend less time with Jenkin.
Reginald felt cheerful as he strode down the street.
He was happy to be back in Oxford. Earlier in the week, he and Oliver had spent a wonderful afternoon with the two ladies at the museum and the sun was shining.
Tomorrow was the next of their study sessions and Reginald couldn’t wait.
He was compiling all sorts of information that he thought would fascinate Millicent.
He still had gnawing concerns about his feelings for her, but had decided that he’d overreacted.
She was a good friend and excellent company but, with an exertion of will, surely he could learn to treat her as a colleague.
His few days at home had made him tense and emotional, that was all.
The town was busy. A carriage rolled past, two gentlemen cantered up the street on black horses and pedestrians were going about their business.
He turned into Broad Street, and was making his way towards Blackwell’s, when he looked across the road and, to his delight, saw Millicent and Violet.
He immediately turned and crossed towards them.
They were in conversation with a young man. Another student, perhaps?
“Good morning, ladies. What a happy coincidence.”
They looked up and smiled.
“Why, Reginald, how delightful to see you,” Millicent greeted him.
Violet stepped forward to make the introductions.
“Reginald, this is Mr Stanley Thursford. Mr Thursford, this is Mr Fenton, a mentor of ours.”
The two men shook hands and eyed each other warily.
Reginald found himself wondering how long Mr Thursford had known the ladies.
Was it his imagination or had he stepped closer to Millicent in a proprietorial manner?
He felt his pulse quicken. They had not been talking long before he was certain that Millicent had a keen admirer in this other gentleman.
Reginald felt his blood boil. He tried to keep calm, but to no avail: he was horribly jealous.
Perhaps it would be best if he excused himself. He tipped his hat.
“I must not keep you, ladies, I have interrupted your tête-à-tête, but I look
Reginald tried to keep calm, but to no avail
forward to seeing you both tomorrow.”
Violet nodded and Reginald turned to leave, but felt a hand on his arm.
He stopped and looked into Millicent’s dark eyes.
“I cannot let you go, Reginald, without enquiring as to your visit home. I do hope all went well?”
With the touch of her hand and the concern on her face, it was all he could do not to kiss her. He swallowed. “Thank you. It went as well as could be expected.”
She looked relieved and he was touched.
“I knew you would find a solution.”
She turned away and Reginald continued down the street, his emotions in turmoil.
He had known when he’d seen her again that he had powerful feelings. Now he was certain he was in love.
Was there any chance that Millicent would return his feelings?
He had annoyed her with his patronising attitudes when they’d first met, and now he would give anything to win her good opinion.
Did she have feelings for this Thursford fellow?
Reginald shuddered. He had never felt so wretched.
He turned on his heel. He could not continue with his errands. He would make his way back to college by an alternative route.
He needed to talk to Oliver.
“Reggie! Good to see you. Come in.”
His friend grinned as he opened his door
and found Reginald on the threshold. “You’re in time for some tea.” He laughed. “There’s plenty of scones for two.”
Reginald sank into an armchair and put his hat and gloves on the table beside him. The last thing he felt like was eating. He sighed.
When he looked up, he found Oliver watching him.
“What’s wrong? Another letter from home?” He shook his head. “No, nothing like that.” Oliver raised an eyebrow. “You weren’t long in town,” he ventured. “Did something happen?”
“Nothing out of the ordinary. I did bump into Millicent and Violet.”
Oliver waited and Reginald sunk his head into his hand.
“The truth is,” he continued. “I seem to have got myself into rather a mess.”
There was silence for a moment.
“You have fallen in love with Miss Halsom,” Oliver declared, grinning.
“She’s a wonderful young lady. Is it really such a disaster?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know how she feels. I was rather obnoxious when we met and she has another admirer – and then there’s Miss Grantham.”
“Ah.” Oliver nodded. “I see your predicament, but you have never proposed to Miss Grantham or formally declared you feelings, have you?”
“No,” Reginald admitted slowly. “But my attentions were marked. I must have raised expectations.”
“Yes,” Oliver agreed. “It’s not easy, but you are not bound as a gentleman.”
“No, I suppose not, but she will be hurt, I fear.”
“That is unavoidable.” Oliver’s face clouded.
“Whatever Millicent’s feelings, your own have changed. Miss Grantham would not wish to marry a man in love with someone else.”
Reginald sighed. His friend was right. He felt horribly guilty but, if any of them were to be happy, he must be true to himself.
He now had a very difficult letter to write to Miss Grantham.
Millicent ascended the stairs, two letters clutched in her hand and a frown on her forehead.
She had gone down several times to see if the post had been delivered.
Now that it had arrived, she was disappointed.
She was delighted to receive a missive from Papa and another from her friend, Maria, but what of Lucinda?
Millicent knew her sister had travelled to France.
Yet she was sure she had allowed sufficient days for her own letter to have arrived and for a reply to make its way back to Lady Margaret Hall.
Could her sister still be angry with her?
“Millicent, good morning! I was just –” Violet stopped and examined her friend’s face. “Is something amiss?”
She noticed the letters in her hand.
“Not bad news, I hope?” Millicent shook her head. “It is not bad news,” she replied miserably. “It is no news.”
“Neither of these letters is from Lucinda, I take it.”
“Indeed not.” Millicent sighed. “I do not understand it.”
Her friend linked her arm through Millicent’s.
“Come. I shall make you tea and we shall talk.”
The two made their way to Violet’s room and settled before the fire.
Violet busied herself preparing tea, whilst Millicent sat deep in thought.
It was a dull day outside. Clouds were scudding above the roofs of the red brick houses.
The tops of the trees swayed in a breeze that rattled the sash windows and caused brittle leaves to scurry earthwards.
Millicent wondered what the weather and scenery were like in France. What was her sister doing?
Her friend passed her a delicate china cup. Then she sat down opposite, her eyes fixed on Millicent’s face and a smile on her lips.
Today she was wearing a beautiful emerald dress and had wrapped a black shawl about her shoulders.
“Drink your tea,” Violet ordered, “and tell me about it. You had expected to hear from Lucinda by now?”
“Indeed. I wrote to her the moment I had her address in France,” Millicent replied.
“I could not bear the silence any longer.
“A reply should surely have arrived by this time.” Violet looked thoughtful. “It is possible that a letter has gone astray.” Millicent nodded. “I suppose so, but I must face facts. It is more likely that she has not written. I do not understand it.
“Lucinda is passionate and was angry, but she is also loving and loyal. It is not like her to hold a grudge.”
“Perhaps she is embarrassed,” her friend suggested. “Unsure what to say.”
“I do not think so. We have always been close.
“I believe Lucy would happily pour out her feelings to me.
“I wrote expressly to say that I was sorry for distressing her and that I wished her well in marriage.
“All I have ever wanted is her happiness.”
“She knows that, I am certain.” Violet patted her arm. “I imagine that she is as eager for a reconciliation as you are.”
Millicent wrung her hands.
“That is not what distresses me. I am concerned some misfortune has befallen her.
“I don’t know the exact nature of Mr Markington’s illness, but what if she, too, has become ill?” she asked.
“If that is the case, then she will be well taken care of.
“She has servants with her and Mr Markington would certainly call for the best doctors to attend his betrothed.”
Millicent felt comforted. What Violet said was correct and her sister had always been of a strong, healthy constitution.
She wished she was with her, however.
Since Mama died, Millicent had always tended Lucinda if she were unwell. She did not like to think of her alone.
“Do not give way to gloomy thoughts,” Violet urged Millicent. “Likely she is in fine health.
“Write again and explain that her letter has failed to reach you. I am sure there is a harmless explanation.” Millicent nodded. “She is so impulsive,” she complained. “If she is well, perhaps she has tumbled into another catastrophe.” Violet laughed.
“It is not like you to be dramatic.
“Your sister will soon be home and your reconciliation is not far away, I am sure.”
Violet took out a pocket watch and consulted it.
“It is time for our tutorial. That will distract you.”
Millicent smiled. She would take her friend’s advice.
She would write again and keep as busy as she could, but she couldn’t quash a nagging doubt in the back of her mind.
What had been going on in her absence?
Alice sat in the carriage with her mistress and Miss Thérèse, travelling back to the hotel.
They had been to a meeting at the town hall and her mind was whirling from what she had heard.
“What did you make of that, Alice?” Miss Thérèse turned to her, a smile on her pleasant face.
“You look a little stunned, no?”
Miss Lucinda burst out laughing.
“You do, Alice. I must say, there were views expressed there that were really quite revolutionary.
“I am not entirely sure what to make of it all myself.”
“Did that fine lady with the enormous hat really say that
womenfolk of the likes of me should vote, too? Not just the gentlefolk?” “She did.”
Alice found it hard to believe. She herself could not understand a word that the lady had said, but Miss Lucinda and Miss Thérèse had translated much of it for her benefit.
“What do you make of it? Would you like to vote?”
Alice had no idea. It seemed so out of the realms of possibility as to be fanciful.
“I don’t know, miss. I ain’t never thought on it, but I don’t have much learning. I’m not sure I could.”
“That is a good point, Alice.” Miss Thérèse gave her an approving look.
“Emile says that we must first improve education for all, so that everyone is equipped to vote.” Lucinda nodded. “That is wise, but I should prefer that someone kind and loyal, like Alice, should vote rather than a man who is a criminal, for example.”
“Exactly.” Miss Thérèse spoke with passion.
“This is one of many arguments that support our case. People must listen.”
“It will take time, but better education might be more easily achieved.” Miss Lucinda looked excited.
“I wonder what can be done, even on a small scale.
“My own village lacks a school. Perhaps I could work to endow such an institution?
“I could organise events to encourage benefactors, and my father could raise the topic at the local government meetings.”
Miss Thérèse clapped her hands together.
“Marvellous! We shall make a campaigner of you yet.”
Her mistress looked delighted, but secretly Alice wondered about her chances of success.
Even should such a school exist, she couldn’t imagine boys, like her little brothers, sitting still to learn their letters for two minutes together.
All the children were needed in the fields at harvest time, too.
She kept her thoughts to herself, however. It was good to see Miss Lucinda smiling.
Jenkin was at the hotel to assist them as they alighted from the carriage.
As he took her hand to help her down, Alice felt a comforting feeling rise up inside her, and her cheeks burned, despite the cold.
“Slater, when you have seen to the horses, please come to my room. I have an errand for you,” Miss Lucinda said.
Alice followed the ladies back inside, as Jenkin led the horses to the stables.
The women parted at the foot of the staircase, agreeing to meet up in half an hour for luncheon.
When they reached her room, Miss Lucinda spoke.
“Alice, I should like you to run an errand for me. Find Rawson to accompany you.
“Go to the haberdashery and purchase some new lace for my silk shawl.” “Yes, miss.”
Alice set off to look for Rawson.
She found him polishing Miss Lucinda’s boots in a servants’ pantry at the rear of the building and agreed to meet him outside the hotel entrance in two minutes.
She needed to go back upstairs and check with her mistress if it was the blue or the cream shawl that she meant.
She was about to knock on Miss Lucinda’s door when she heard voices and her own name mentioned.
Alice froze. She was sure it was Jenkin in there, talking with the mistress. Why were they discussing her?
Her face felt hot and her heart began to pound. She put her ear to the crack and listened.
“Alice has done me great service and I am fond of her, so it is most important to me that the right thing is done by her.”
“Of course, miss.”
“I am sure you mean well, Jenkin, but there is something that you need to know.”
Alice couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Her hand flew to her mouth. Surely she wouldn’t?
“Her past has been very difficult, very painful. She has a child. A little boy.”
Alice thought she was going to be sick. She fled from the doorway.
How could Miss Lucinda do this? Now Jenkin would not want her any more; he would know everything.
She had lost him, just as she had realised he was the very man to suit her.
Tears began to roll down her cheeks. Why hadn’t she kept her secrets to herself?
She fled to her room and wept bitterly.
How had she come to care so much for Jenkin, and why was Miss Lucinda telling him everything?
Perhaps she was warning him away so Alice wouldn’t be hurt again.
Miss Lucinda must have noticed Jenkin’s attentions, but believed that Alice did not reciprocate.
Alice had certainly taken care to avoid him as much as possible in the months before their travels.
She shook her head. Whatever her mistress’s intention, it was over and she must pull herself together.
Rawson would be wondering where she was.
She splashed her face with water and headed downstairs.
Millicent had been looking forward to this evening’s entertainment for some time.
The university had organised a special lecture, followed by a reception, for those studying science and mathematics.
Their tutor, Miss Barrettjones, had managed to get a dispensation for the ladies to attend.
It was a formal occasion and Millicent and Violet had dressed in evening gowns.
Millicent thought her friend looked elegant in a silk dress with a full skirt and short puffed sleeves.
Her hair was curled up on her head and tastefully adorned with a threaded ribbon and small feather.
Millicent herself had chosen a pink silk today, with lace on the sleeves, and her mother’s pearls.
“The lecture was fascinating,” Violet said as they entered a room with wood-panelled walls and gold-framed portraits.
“Most interesting,” Millicent returned. “I’m so glad we could attend. I had not heard the theory of . . . Oh, dear.”
Millicent looked up to see Mr Thursford coming towards them.
She had not anticipated his presence this evening and had been looking forward to the company of Reginald and Oliver.
“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 concluded.