Perla and Mayla were sisters. Born a year apart, they were the daughters of
Tilford Wheelboom, a man of some means. They tended to divide their time
between Port Naain, where the family lived in a delightful house in
Dilbrook, and their summer villa on the coast south of the Estuary.
They were, to put it bluntly, sought after. Not only were they pretty,
charming and well educated, they were wealthy in their own right, having had
money settled on them by their grandmother. This made them a little wary in
company, as even attending a minor ball could lead to them having to decline
two or three proposals.
Eventually they hit upon a solution. They put it about that they were only
accepting proposals in writing. Not only that, they added, somewhat
pointedly, that they would judge the proposal on literary merit. They added
that they would automatically disregard any proposal made by a different
route. Overly ardent suitors discovered that ‘automatically disregard’
actually meant, ‘have the servants beat the offender with clubs.’
The system worked reasonably well. Proposals would come in and each girl
would read the proposal and compare it to others they’d received. Indeed
they both eventually sewed their proposals together to make a scroll which
they could open up and browse. They claimed the format made comparisons
easier to make.
Now no sooner does one create a system than somebody else comes up with ways
of subverting it. Potential suitors would approach poets and similar and ask
us to write something suitably elevated. It isn’t a bad idea, and I wrote
any number of different proposals for various people. They then copied them
so that the lady of their choice did at least get the suitor’s own
There was some discussion amongst us as to the ethics of this practice. Some
pointed out that we were attempting to deceive innocent young women. After
all, if she accepted a proposal that I, for example, had penned for Creel
Brosset, she would end up married to Creel Brosset. Thus she would soon
discover he could barely string two words together with any confidence.
Given that he was a painter I suppose he didn’t really need to, but that is
perhaps beside the point.
In response to the charges I merely pointed out that she couldn’t marry me
in any case because I was already married. Not only that but the work paid
well, and was not too taxing.
Still, deploying the best writers money can buy, suitors laid siege to the
two young women. But because of the nature of the contest, it was a very
genteel siege and meant that they could still mingle in society, dance with
single men and not have the embarrassment of turning down unwanted
proposals. Indeed the system worked so well that weeks could go by without
them having to instruct their servants to thrash somebody with their clubs.
All in all I feel it was very satisfactory.
Indeed because they were both educated and well read, and because they made
a habit of studying the proposals seriously, they soon began to spot when
the love letter came from a poet or writer of similar calibre. Twice I was
stopped in the street by Mayla and congratulated on the quality of the
letter I had just penned for her. Perla even went so far as to say that had
she not known I was married, she would have accepted my proposal. I felt
that was a very pretty comment and shows what a genuinely pleasant young
woman she was. Needless to say, we didn’t share these comments with the
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