Prunella's Quest: A Tongue-in-Cheek Valentine Saga (Part One of Three)
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."
Prunella's Quest: A Tongue-in-Cheek Valentine Saga (Part Two of Three)
Mrs. Brimley drew the lorgnette to her right eye and surveyed the result of the maid's ministrations. A disdainful expression seemed to spread like a malady across the woman's face.
From the degree of the woman's repose, Prunella could only surmise that all beautification attempts had been less than successful. Yet, in spite of the woman's disdain, Prunella's thoughts turned to more pressing matters, namely the pain emmanating from her feet. She shifted from foot to foot, uncomfortable in the stiff leather shoes Santa Maria had insisted she wear.
"Dear me. Dear me." Mrs. Brimley lowered her arm. The lorgnette at rest on her lap, she took in a deep breath. "Tsk. Tsk. Tsk."
Prunella stood as stalwart as an oak, allowing only her eyes to follow the events of the day unfold.
The maids shared worried glances, their failure, a fait accompli. Word of this shortcoming would soon spread, rendering a fatal blow to opportunities for future employment.
"Madame, we--we've done all that could be done." Nina explained. "With great vigor and enthusiasm did we follow your instructions. Yet. . ."
Santa Maria added her sister's complaint drawing from her own absolute conviction of a battle lost. "It's no use Madame." Hands on her hips, she even dared to glance backward, offering an espression of repugnant disapproval at her charge.
"Ye cannot make bricks without straw, and Heaven's our witness, this young miss is but a sow's ear. No, this be the realm, the will of God. Our attempts to change her reflection could only come to naught."
Prunella took note of the woman's insulence. Be she endowed with beauty or not, Prunella's very rank in society was deserving the maid's humble deference. And Mrs. Brimley did not come to her defense.
Mrs. Brimley expression descended "Is there no hope?"
Pinta took a step forward, swishing her skirts as she did.
A bemused smile flushed across Prunella's face.
"Madame, if you would indulge me for but a moment?" She shared a disapproving glance at her siblings. "I am afraid I must disagree with the assessment offered by my sisters as to the likelihood of improving Mistress Busby's appearance."
"What's this?" Nina's eyes grew wide as tea cakes.
"Oh?" Her interest clearly piqued, she raised the lorgnette to her eye once again.
"Unlike my sisters, I do not view our ministrations to Mistrees Prunella as without merit. Nay! Do linger in your survey of her appearance. Why, she has improved tenfold. Her complexion is smoother. Her eyes brighter. Nails trim and dainty."
The maid drew near to Prunella, offering a a clever wink, concealed from the viewpoint of the other women. She curtseyed before her. "Mistress."
"Mrs. Brimley, have you considered the sheen of Mistress Busby's hair? Well-oiled, it is. And perfumed as well. She pointed to Prunella's chin. "And have you taken note of what is absent?"
The older woman squinted. "Missing?"
"The hairs on her face are no longer present. Have you not noticed? This is a significant improvement. Is her appearance not more agreeable?"
She approached Mrs. Brimley. "Do you not see that the woman now before your eyes is a clear improvement to the woman you sent to us some time past?"
"My, my, I do believe there is a ring of truth to what you say, my dear." Black feathers on Mrs. Brimley's hair blew straight up with every breath of her words, wafting back into place at a more sedate pace. "Of course, she's still quite the Amazon. I've never before seen a young woman of such height."
Pinta dared touch the older woman's shoulder. "Ah, but imagine for a moment, a man who might view such a woman as a prize. Nay, more than a prize. A treasure."
"Would such a man exist? I do not know of such a man and I know of all the eligible men in our realm. Truth be told, most men would consider her mortal coil, her framework to be indelicate and undesirable."
"Ah, but there is such a man."
"Then speak. Without delay, I pray thee!" Mrs. Brimley straightened, then planted her feet to the ground.
Pinta flounced her skirts and walked a few steps away. "What, pray tell, would such knowledge be worth?"
Understanding clouded the older woman's already clouded eyes. She reached into her bosom and pulled forth a small pouch of coins. "Perhaps these coins will afford an answer to your query." With a deft movement, she flicked the purse through the air.
Pinta caught the purse with her left hand and dropped it into a seamed pocket in her skirt. "There is a young man of comparable age who arrived last night.
"Pinta!" Santa Maria shook her head.
Undaunted, Mrs. Brimley asked, "Of what house is he associated?"
A silence fell over the room but for two gasps from Nina and Santa Maria.
"The House of Dromedary."
Prunella's Quest: A Tongue-in-Cheek Valentine Saga (Part Three of Three)
Buxom Nina, the eldest of her sisters, pursed her lips clearly annoyed at the visage before her. With a firm, but practiced grip, she straightened the purple feathered hat on Prunella's head. "Ma'am, you must carry yourself well before the scrutiny of this family. The impression you profer tonight may decide your very fate."
Instead of responding, Prunella plucked a feather from her hat to pick at a bit of food stuck in her tooth. A dining engagement at the estate hastily arranged by Mrs. Brimley, she'd insisted Nina accompany Prunella and Prunella was most displeased. How much more agreeable would the trip been, had Pinta accompanied her instead! Pinta was quite reasonable and certainly more engaging a companion. Besides, Nina made no pretense of her aversion to Prunella's appearance. Yet in a curious irony, the sight of the maid seemed to set off a digestive malady in Prunella, the very object of the woman's distaste, a malady likened to nausea. Indeed, the sight of the mole, that great black blotch upon the womans face sickened, nay, nauseated Prunella. And the way in which the black hair sprouting from the blotch, bobbed up and down when she spoke. . .
Horrified, or perhaps disgusted at the feather bobbing from her lady's mouth, Nina stared out the window, sullen-faced.
"Ah," Prunella successfully released the miniscule bit of meat wedged between her front teeth, and held it up for a better view. A wedge in the tooth would have presented a bother that would surely have impeded successful conversation with the obscure, but wealthy Lord Dromedary. The physical distraction successfully eliminated, a thought occured to her. Perhaps this maid knew more of the man than she or her sisters or even Mrs. Brimley had shared. She tapped Nina on the shoulder. "Tell me more of this man."
Nina swallowed her objections, though the taste of it must have been bitter by the sour expression she wore. "Little is known of him, but that he is the eldest of four brothers, the only one of which is not wed. The others were successfully matched to women of appropriate standing years ago. But as he is the eldest and their father, the elder Lord Dromedary has gone to his reward, this brother has hold of the estate and all its keep."
Her curiousity piqued, Prunella met her gaze. "He is wealthy. He welds great power." She raised her hands. "These are the strongest of attractions, but this fellow remains unwed and his brothers, with no true promise of such reward, are. What, pray tell is wrong with this fellow?"
"Wrong?" she smiled.
"He is not wed. Is there some disfigurement I should be made aware of? Is the gentleman of sound mind?" She sent the feather to the floor of the carriage, aiming the quill like a spear.
Nina examined her nailbeds, as if hoping a stray cuticle would hoist itself to attention. "No to the first inquiry and as to the second..." She shrugged. "I know not."
The carriage began to slow. Both woman leaned forth from the window for a clear sight of the estate. Instead of windows cheerily lit from the inside, Prunella grew alarmed by darkened aspect of the palatial home. Only two torches burned at the entrance and the emanance of a dim light glowed from somewhere within the home. Were they two women not expected? Why then was so little preparation or care given to a secure and comfortable arrival?
One of the carriage horses, snorted and stomped, as if uneasy. An aged footman emerged from the darkness of the grand entryway and approached as the carriage driver lowered a step for her and assisted her descent. Nina followed in silence.
Prunella sensed the woman's fear, yet wondered at her lack of it. By all appearances, the aspect of the property, surrounded by the bare skeletons of trees ravaged by winter, the spare greetings at the door--these alone would have been warnings of an ill-concieved rendevous.
The footman led them through the front door where a tall, stately figure stood as a shadow lit by light beyond. He stepped forward. A butler, tall as a cedar motioned for them to follow. He turned with the expectation that the two women would. Prunella stole a glance back at Nina, whose lower lip vibrated like a stringed instrument. The woman did not carry herself with the confidance she portrayed.
They followed the timbrous man, his gait always a breadth ahead of them, through foyer and cavernous receiving room, then down a hall of honor fitted with medieval armor, weapons and tapestries and banners of heraldry. Lit by torchieres, the elements displayed toward the heightened ceilings were shrouded in darkness. Prunella wondered at the sight of such a hall in the daylight hours.
Finally, they entered a grandiose dining hall, the walls panelled in rich woods, a long table set for two and laden with sumptuous delights. Candleabra, towered above the domed trays of food, radiating light. She detected a variety of scents--the fragance of saffroned meats, sizzled to perfection, of rich sauces and buttered glazes. Trays of fruits cascaded from raised stands, their delicate scents tantalizing.
A fire blazed brightly in a fireplace that, for its length and breadth, might serve as the gateway to Hades. A butler approached and showed her to the opposite end of the table. He removed her cloak and pulled to chair away to seat her.
The figure of a man, seated at the head of the table acknowledged her approach. Nina remained standing and maintained a respectful, but watchful distance from the table.
Prunella made scrutiny of the man at the other end of the table. Coils of honeyed hair surrounded a face as pleasing and glib as any knight or knave. Though the color of his eyes would remain a mystery for now due to the distance between them, she guessed them to be light. Perhaps blue? Perhaps green? But oh how the light of the fire danced in them.
"Greetings Miss Busby."
She bowed her head. "Lord Dromedary."
"May I--may I converse with you by your first name? Are you comfortable doing so?"
"Only if I may call you by your first name as well."
"That would be most agreeable."
"Then I must ask you a question."
"What is it, Miss Prunella?"
"You must make known to me your first name."
A peal of laughter rose, echoing through the room and down the great hall. "You are as direct as I was told." He raised a hand to clasp his clean-shaven chin. "Very well. My full name is Lord Rasmussen, Bevere, Raison d'etre, Trevor Dromedary the Sixth. But you may call me 'Trevor.'"
She nodded. "As you like it Lord, Trevor."
He held a goblet to the air. A butler on his end of the table filled it immediately as did a butler on Prunella's. Let us begin with a toast.
She lowered her goblet. "I am accustomed to commencing a meal with a grace."
He lowered his goblet as well. "Then by all means. It pleases me to accomodate you Miss Prunella. I am aware that it falls to the Adam and not to the Eve to offer such words to the heavenlies, but would you consider doing me the honor?"
She bowed her head. "Most heavenly Father. I offer thanks for the hospitality of this house and master thereof and pray your blessings upon it and him. Please bless this food we are to soon receive and accept our wholehearted thankfulness for it. Amen."
"Well done. Well done." He clapped. "Indeed."
With that, the two began to eat. Try though she might however, Prunella could not seem to eat much of the banquet set before them. She piddled with each forkfull, barely swallowing a third of what was on her plate.
"My lady," he shuffled in his seat, "might I inquire of you?"
"Is the food not to your liking? If not, I will call my kitchen staff to account. Whatever delicacy you wish will be yours. I promise."
She shook her head. "Oh no Lord Trevor. What an extraordinary feast you have arranged to be prepared in honor of my visit."
"Then what, pray tell bothers thee?"
Prunella met his eyes. "This meeting."
"Ah yes," he pushed his chair back slightly from the edge of the table. "Your directness."
He smiled. "But you make no apologies for it. I do like that." Leaning back in his chair, he slid to one elbow and scrutinized her. "Let us be direct. You are not a delicate woman, are you?"
She shook her head.
"And in fact, you stand quite tall, taller than most of the opposite gender. Unappealing to most, I would imagine."
He threw back his head in laughter. "You make no bones about anything, do you?"
"I prefer truth."
Lord Trevor leaned on one elbow. "Then let us speak it. You're wondering why a man of my influence is not wed. In all truth, you are wondering why a man of my position would even consider a woman like you to take as wife. Is this not true?"
She blinked. "Yes, it is."
"And I will give answer to your question quite soon. However, there is one thing I must say to you."
"Go on." Prunella braced herself for the dismissal she felt certain was to come.
He moved his head from side to side. "Though I was told you were quite plain, I was unprepared for your true appearance."
Her heart sank at his words.
"You're really quite lovely."
"Lovely?" She felt the heat of blood rush to her face.
"Lovely, love-lovely is not a word usually ascribed to my appearance."
He squinted. "I find that surprising."
She smiled. "I-I am surprised as well." Prunella heard Nina gasp and guessed that the woman was trying hard not to fall in a heap on the cold stone floor. What a shock it must be to hear that a man actually considered her attractive.
"In truth, I am taken aback by your candor--and your assessment of me. But do not think I have forgotten your offer of an explanation. I must know. I inquired about you aforehand as well, wondering as to the possibility of a disfigurement or. . ."
He paused. "You ask a valid question. Anyone would ask such a question, as would I." He motioned to the butler.
Prunella thought she detected the shine of tears in his eyes.
The butler pulled the chair back. At the same time, her butler pulled her chair back. She slid from her chair and stood. The butler motioned for her to stand beside the table.
Lord Trevor slid from his chair and--and disappeared. Or seemed to.
A moment later he stood opposite her. A man barely four feet in height, the size of a child, yet fully formed with the features of a man. Prunella ceased breathing for a time. She'd seen people of this sort before. The ones she'd witnessed however, had the features of children, not of mature adults. Yet she was not repulsed by him, nor by his height. The gold of his hair, the glint of his eyes, the manly chisel of his cheeks somehow endeared her.
She made a decision. Prunella took three steps in his direction.
The breath rose and fell in him. She witnessed his shock. Amazement. And he took three steps toward her. The two stood before each other. The room, utterly silent save for the crackling of the fire, his hand reached for hers.
"Would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"
She curtsied, lower than usual, until eye-to-eye, her face almost touched his. "Yes Lord Trevor. I would be honored to marry you and become Lady Prunella Dromedary."
And so the two married. Prunella a towering Amazon of a woman and Lord Trevor, a mere mouse of a man, yet the two lived happily ever after and life at the House of Dromedary was never sweeter.