No woman asks to fall in love with the wrong man. And Master David Cunningham Leff would never be Mr. Right.
He'd taken her down the garden path and left her among the rutabagas, so to speak. Well, no more. . .
Prunella Busby stared at her reflection in the duck pond. Comely was not one of the words society ascribed to her appearance Sallow-skinned old maid, yes. But not comely. Perhaps another visit to the matchmaker her father had sent her to seek the previous year. On that occasion, Mrs. Brimley had taken her on as a challenge.
"I'll find you a husband, dear." She held a finger to the air. Glorietta Brimley will prevail in this Herculean task. Mark my words, child." Her wig, a tad too tight for the woman's porcine head in Prunella's humble opinion, launched sprigs of tight blonde curls in various directions under her elaborate bonnet. An odd contrast to the crumpled texture of her skin. Eyebrows painted in thin black arches above her eyes, gave the impression of great surprise. Though Mrs. Brimley boasted of her experience and prowess as a titled matchmaker, her facial expression seemed to contradict, to betray her as a woman of ineptitude and inexperience.
No matter. Prunella had few options left to her.
"I will not help you. I can not help you. Please go. You, madamoisselle, are a cause perdue!"
These were Mrs. Brimley's first words in response to the new proposal. However, Prunella's father had advised her of the likelihood of this response from the matchmaker, and given her instructions as to how to proceed. She dropped a small pouch of gold coins on the secretariat beside which the matchmaker reclined. Her father urged her to drop the pouch from a height in order to provide the woman's ears with the sound of prosperity.
And as her father had predicted, the sound of prosperity was music to Mrs. Brimley's ears.
With renewed resolve, Mrs. Brimley had assigned no less than three servant girls to the goal of beautification. "Miss Busby must be made to appear presentable in no less than three months time. Three months time."
The servant girls, named after the famous ships assigned to Christopher Columbus, went about their assigned tasks with nary a hint of enthusiasm.
Nina, the eldest of the girls, though no beauty of her own accord, had the dolesome task of bathing Prunella in fresh goats milk three times daily to soften and make supple, the texture of her skin. The servant girl spit, quite accurately at a fly on the windowsill. "No man will have a woman with skin like your'm Miss. Bumpy as a plucked chicken and dry as starch." The buxom servant raised a damp hand from the bathwater to itch at the large black mole above her lip.
Prunella noted the presence of a black hair as firm as a flag pole that had asserted itself in the center of the blotch.
"Miss, I don't see how this is gonna help you none. Thar isn't a man in this town who'd have you, money or no money."
Pinta offered more than her sister's scant quantity of hope in the matter, though her level of sincerity might have been called into question were she asked to swear on the most holy word. Pinta bore an uncanny resemblance to a field mouse, mostly for the unfortunate fact that her ears protrouded outward from her head at a most unflattering angle. In the light of day, her ears transmuted a prism of pink much like chapel windows, the blue of tiny veins serving as the lead in betwix'd.
She surveyed Prunella, pulling down her gums to examine her teeth, as if examining a sheep on the auction block.
"Well, what do you think of me?"
Furrows rose on the woman's forehead. "Your nose is crooked."
"I fell on a cobblestone when I was but five."
"Lips are thin and cracked. Hair without lustre. Skin sallow as old butter."
"Is that your final assessment?"
The servant squinted her small eyes causing them to recede into her face. "You'll never be a beauty, Miss, but you have one good quality."
"What quality is that?"
"Good teeth, Miss."
"Oh. . ."
"Miss, that's a compliment. Good teeth means you'll live long. Well, I believe they be good teeth anyway. We'll see when we clean them up."
She offered a sly wink. "My task is to beautify your hair and smile. Tell me, how often you wash your body and your teeth."
Prunella shrugged, noting the circles of perspiration fanning from under Pinta's arms. "When I choose to bathe, once or twice per year, my servant bathes me with lye soap. I don't wash my teeth."
She shook a finger at her mistress. "Twice a year, you say? That's too often. Drying to the skin. Once per year is more than enough."
"Very well then." Prunella agreed.
"I will rinse your hair with cold spring water and a tincture of elderberry bark and a mash of garden snails to provide it with lustre and shine. And we'll use a willow tree twig to clean your teeth each day. With a great deal of effort, I believe my sisters and I will be able to help you look ah the least objectionable and perhaps even presentable enough to lay hold of a gentleman in need of a boost to his inheritance."
Prunella smiled. Truth at last. "Thank you."
The third sister, Santa Maria, had less enthusiasm than either two. Her disdain for Prunella had no mask.
Her duty? To sand the deep calluses on Prunella's feet and elbows, to trim her twisted toenails, treat them with warmed paraffin--and to pluck all the hair from the tops of her feet.
At work on her mistress's feet, Santa Maria's wrang her mouth into an odd contortion and remarked, "Your toenails resemble sea shells, Miss."
"Thank you," Prunella beamed a bright smile her way thanks to a daily tooth cleansing with a willow twig. "I'm fond of the sea."