Penelope put a puff of power on her nose, looked herself up and down in the full-length mirror, pinched both cheeks red, cocked her head and smiled.
“You are so lovely, Penny,” her bests friend, Isabelle said. “And lucky, why I think every eligible beau in Atlanta will want to dance with you tonight at the ball.”
“Fiddle-dee-dee, Izzy, luck has nothing to do with it. It takes work to look like this.” She glanced at her friend. “And you could look just as nice if you’d only try.”
“Oh, not me. Besides, I’m much too shy”
“Nonsense, you have lovely skin, fine cheek bones and I heard just today at the lawn party, that Fancy, Mr. Elder’s oldest daughter, the one that is forever wearing hideous bonnets, is so envious of your hair she’d like to snatch you bald.” They both giggled and Penny went on. “And being shy is easy enough to fix. Men are such vain and melancholy creatures, constantly looking for something to distract them.”
“You make them sound like traveling troubadours forever sidetracked and unsettled. Not much reason to cause one to seriously consider romance.”
“Romance, whatever put that thought in your head?”
“But I thought that was the reason for such encounters. Especially if one has to work at it as you’ve said.”
“Silly girl. A flash of color on the cheeks, a hint of jasmine behind the ears, a subtle but coquettish laugh at something they’ve said is hardly work. One scarcely need do anything to attract them.”
“I wish it were true. But such things would be work for me. I’m not naturally inclined to be flirtatious as you. No, I prefer other things than myself to distract - if distraction is the lure to garner a man’s attention.”
“I don’t know. Such as the glint of a firefly at dusk; or, something mysterious like the sweep and call of loons over a pond in the moonlight, maybe.”
“So romantic; but I’d never leave the fate of my love life to the happenstance of an evening possibly void of flying insects or prattle of ghostly egrets.”
“I said loons, not egrets; and neither prattles.”
“Never mind. If we are to make you less shy, and men more attentive to you, then we must work on what we can control.”
“I don’t know, Penny. I would feel foolish, like a bird flitting and chirping out in one of the trees of your lawn, hoping by chance a man might notice me among the branches.” She moved her hands beneath her armpits and flapped her arms like wings, causing them both to break out in giggles.
“Izzy, you are my dearest friend and I would never, ever, let you near a tree with such intentions.”
“Then what am I to do? If I can’t beguile a suitor by my nature and you tell me I shouldn’t rely upon chance; am I then destined to be a lonely spinster?”
“Not all men are as troubadours as you think. Take Mr. Lacey for example.” Izzy blushed at the mention of his name. “I did happen to see him catch his breath at a reading in the library yesterday. I can’t remember the poet’s name, but it was something about cloudless climes and starry skies…”
“Lord Byron’s ‘She Walks in Beauty’,” Izzy gushed. “I love that poem and Byron is one of my favorites.”
“And, Mr. Lacey is quite an eligible bachelor.”
“Oh, but I could never…”
“But of course you can. Listen to me, Izzy, if you don’t want to remain a spinster as you surmise, than you must be bold. Are you willing to be bold, at least this once to attract our dear Mr. Lacey?
Penny fetched a book from her bookshelf. “Here’s a book of poems; I’m sure Mr. Byron is in there somewhere.”
“But what am I supposed to do? Go out on your balcony and recite to the lawn in hopes he walks by.”
“Not at all, I’ve something different in mind, but it will take daring on your part…”
Later that evening, as fireflies mirrored the spangled sky above their luminescent bodies and sweeping loons soothed the summer air with their haunting calls, Mr. Lacey, alone on the terrace with Izzy, spoke frankly.
“It may have been misadventure that your book fell from the balcony and hit me on the head, Miss Isabelle, but I’ve often thought such distractions not to be without their purposes.”
And Izzy blushed, coquettishly.
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