"I'll not do it," Belladonna declared, as the Took girls sat under the trees outside of the Great Smial that was their home. The two elder girls sat on a wicker seat beneath a great oak, while the youngest was in a swing. All wore white dresses embroidered with colorful flowers, and made a most charming picture against the backdrop of the garden blooming with lilacs and tulips and pansies and wisteria and honeysuckles. "I'm blest if I'm going to sit up there on that platform, on display like some prize heifer on the auction block! Father will have to find himself another victim, I'm not having any."
Belladonna was not truly beautiful in the usual sense, but she had an uncanny trick of making folk think otherwise. She had a plumpish, well-formed figure already, and a truly amazing head of glossy dark curls falling to her waist, and it seemed to have a life of its own, bouncing and flowing with her every movement, and taking all manner of rich shades in the sunlight, forming a fetching widow's-peak on her wide forehead. Her dark eyes seemed an extension of her hair, glowing with life and mischief and intelligence and humor, her nose turned up very slightly at the tip, her ruddy lips more often than not drawn back to show slightly imperfect teeth and unexpected dimples in the corners. And her nearly flawless complexion supplied any lack that her features may have presented.
Donnamira was very similar in coloring and feature, only not so well filled out, and there was an anxiety and self-consciousness about her, a puzzled air, that diminished her especially when alongside of her sister. She was but four years younger, and she admired Belladonna immensely, even if she did not always understand her. Bella was a force of nature, and all were drawn to her, Donna more than anyone else.
Mirabella, who was only nineteen and not yet interested in lads or suitors, was quite unlike her older sisters. She was actually the prettiest of them all, with curls of a beautiful light reddish brown, a sprinkling of freckles across her delicately pointed nose, and a rosebud mouth that often quirked up with gentle secret mirth. But the most striking thing of all about her was her enormous blue eyes, which often seemed to see what no one else could. When someone mentioned the tale of the Tooks' fairy ancestress, others unconsciously looked to Mira as if she were living proof of the legend.
"But Bella," Donnamira protested, "you would be like unto a queen upon her throne. Suitors will come and ply for your hand, and sing wondrous songs in your favor. I would fling myself off a bridge for such an honor! What is wrong with you?"
"Oh, I've a fair idea who will be doing the singing," Belladonna said with a scornful toss of her abundant curls. "For one, that hateful Roderic Bunce, from the pipeweed shop. He's been making sheep's-eyes at me for weeks on end, for all I've done not one thing to encourage him. I wouldn't fling myself off a tack for him."
"Ugh," Donnamira shuddered. "Yet they say he's got a way with a song."
"Oh, I've heard some of his songs. In the Cat and Cuckoo that time. And--"
"The Cat and Cuckoo! When were you ever in there?"
"Why, didn't I tell you? Hildibrand and I snuck in one night. We were just young 'uns then. We wanted to see what it was like, and so I sat on his shoulders and we covered ourselves with a blanket. Then we hid under the long tables and listened."
"Oh Bella, how naughty!" Donnamira looked at her sister with shocked wide eyes and pursed lips. "What did you hear?" she added just above a whisper.
Belladonna laughed, and after a moment, her sisters laughed also. It was nigh impossible not to laugh when Belladonna did.
"I'll tell you some other time," she said with a wink. "But anyway, I'm not going to be subjected to that sort of humiliation. What is Father thinking, anyway?"
"Surely there are other suitors as well. Lots of them, and much less horrid than Roddy."
"Which isn't saying very much. But still I shan't do it, and that's all about it. Not even if a king should come and throw himself at my feet."
Donnamira sighed. "So what of Father? Won't he be angry?"
"I can get around him," Belladonna said. "Don't I always?"
"I only wish 'twere me, in your place," Donnamira said. "I--"
"Yes!" cried Belladonna, jumping to her feet and spilling her tea, which she had barely touched, on her skirt. Donnamira gasped. "That's it! You take my place. You look enough like me that folks wouldn't know if they didn't see you close up, yes?"
Mirabella's little mouth dropped open wide and her swing began to decrease in the wideness of its arc. Donnamira stared at her older sister in wide-eyed consternation. Belladonna scrubbed at her skirt with a handkerchief, muttering, "Botheration!"
"Bella, are you serious?" Donna exclaimed. "I couldn't pass for you. The idea! Mother would have fits. And Father..."
"They wouldn't know. Just wear my dress, and take my feather-fan and hold it to your face--you've seen how it's done. You look very like me from the back, and they'd be sitting behind you. You could be the one to have suitors trolling their amorous serenades to you, and I could watch them make fools of themselves. It would be great fun! Come, let's do it!"
"But...but...Bella, look at you. I couldn't wear your dress, sister, it would hang on me. Folks would know, and..."
"We can stuff the dress. All we'd have to do is find something to use for bosoms. Let me see, we could use apples, or..."
"It's too early for apples," Donnamira pointed out.
"They might burst, and stain my clothing."
"Not if they're dried."
"Prunes for bosoms? I guess not!"
"I'm only teasing, Donna," Bella laughed. "What about..."
"Pine cones?" Mirabella spoke up, leaping gracefully out of the swing and landing on her feet as neatly as a cat. She ran over to a pine-tree and picked up several cones of varying sizes and filled her apron with them, then darted back, beaming.
"That might work," Belladonna said. "Let's see if we can find two of the right size..."
"Pine cones!" Donnamira moaned. "The idea! I don't want anyone singing about how my bosoms are like unto pine cones, of all things. That's worse than prunes."
Belladonna laughed. "None would, Donna. Rude songs aren't allowed in the contest."
"I know, but they might sing them in The Cat and Cuckoo. It would be just hideous, and Father would be mortified."
"All right, forget the pine cones. We'll think of something else. Come, it will be great fun!"
"Very well then," Donnamira said with a little sigh, yet her eyes began to twinkle with excitement even so. "Mira, you won't tell, will you dearie?"
"Nay, I won't," Mirabella said. She never told, which was why her sisters had been discussing their plan in her presence in the first place. There was a spark of mischief in her despite her seeming ethereality, and she enjoyed being in on things.
Just then their one younger brother, Isengar, ran out into the yard, and the two elder sisters suddenly fell to gaily discussing the Mayfest and all the nice things that would take place. Mirabella ran off to play with Isengar on the long narrow beam that was fastened on two high stands for them to walk upon, and Belladonna and Donnamira walked arm in arm back to the smial...where Bella whispered something into Donna's ear that made the younger sister's eyes fairly pop out of her head.