From the book
The real offense, as she ultimately perceived, was her having a mind of her own at all.
The Portrait of a Lady
Boston, October 1851
Being invisible did have its advantages. Isadora Dudley Peabody knew no one would notice her, not even if the gleaming ballroom floor decided to open up and swallow her. It wouldn't happen, of course. Disappearing in the middle of a crowded room was bold indeed, and Isadora didn't have a bold bone in her body.
Her mind was a different matter altogether.
She surrendered the urge to disappear, relegating it to the land of impossible things--a vast continent in Isadora's world. Impossible things...a smile that was not forced, a compliment that was not barbed, a dream that was not punctured by the cruel thorn of disappointment.
She pressed herself back in a half-domed alcove window. A sneeze tickled her nose. Whipping out a handkerchief, she stifled it. But still she heard the gossip. The old biddies. Couldn't they find someone else to talk about?
"She's the black sheep of the family in more ways than one," whispered a scandalized voice. "She is so different from the rest of the Peabodys. So dark and ill-favored, while her brothers and sisters are all fair as mayflowers."
"Even her father's fortune failed to buy her a husband," came the reply.
"It'll take more than money--"
Isadora let the held-back sneeze erupt. Then, her hiding place betrayed, she left the alcove. The startled speakers--two of her mother's friends--made a great show of fluttering their fans and clearing their throats.
Adjusting her spectacles, Isadora pretended she hadn't heard. It shouldn't hurt so much. By now she should be used to the humiliation. But she wasn't, God help her, she wasn't. Particularly not tonight at a party to honor her younger sister's engagement. Celebrating Arabella's good fortune only served to magnify Isadora's disgraceful state.
Her corset itched. A rash had broken out between her breasts where the whalebone busk pressed against her sternum. It took a great deal of self-control to keep her hands demurely folded in front of her as she waited in agony for some reluctant, grimly smiling gentleman to come calling for a dance.
Except that they seldom came. No young man wanted to partner an ungainly, whey-faced spinster who was too shy to carry on a normal conversation--and too bored with banal social chatter to try very hard.
And so she stood against the block-painted wall, garnering no more attention than her mother's japanned highboy.
The sounds of laughter, conversation and clinking glasses added a charming undertone to the music played by the twelve-piece ensemble. Unnoticed, she glanced across the central foyer toward her father's business study.
In the darkened study, perhaps Isadora could compose herself and--heaven preserve her--wedge a hand down into her corset for a much-needed scratch.
She started toward the entranceway of the ballroom and paused beneath the carved federal walnut arch. She was almost there. She had only to slip across the foyer and down the corridor, and no one would be the wiser. No one would miss her.
Isadora fixed her mind on escape, skirting a group of her brothers' Harvard friends. She scurried past a knot of her father's cronies from the Somerset Club and was nearly thwarted by a gaggle of giggling debutantes. Moving into the foyer, she had to squeeze past a gilt cherub mirror and a graceful Boston fern in a pot with four legs.
One step, then another. Invisible. She was invisible; she could fly like a bird, slither like a snake. She...