Two Sisters: Reunited? Part Two
The next day brought an early rise and shine. The house was consumed with the hurry of making sure everything was taken care of. Temperance was running around, clucking at everyone as she attended to the last minute details. Prudence felt a pang of suspicion. Her sister was being so ~helpful~. Too helpful, perhaps. When she told her sister of her lengthy departure, she was almost sure that Temperance would be upset. How upset, she could not say, but at least a little! It was almost as if she was rushing them out the door. At one point, Prudence pulled Temperance aside and asked her just why she was being so very helpful. Temperance only stared, wide-eyed, and smiled saying: “Why sissy! The sooner you leave, the sooner you can return!” Then she was off again, barking at Thomas not to steal any of the luggage as he was want to do.
Finally, the trunks were on their way to the dock and Prudence and Henry were ready to depart. As they started out the front door, Temperance came running behind, with Prudence’s carpet bag and Henry’s stationary in hand, shrieking for them to wait. “Don’t forget your lovely gift, Henry!”
Prudence looked perplexed. She could have sworn she had packed the stationary in the traveling desk and had asked Thomas to load her bag into the carriage hours ago. “It must have been forgotten in all the hustle,” Temperance said. There had been a great deal to think about. And it was often the little things that were overlooked. Prudence, thankful for her doting sister, kissed her cheek and took the bag which promptly plummeted to her feet, thudding on the floor, and taking her upper body with it. Henry, ever the gentleman, lofted the unusually heavy bag, and the couple embarked on their odyssey around the world.
The days stretched out before Temperance. Discontent to sit at home and prevent the servants, who were, quite possibly, a hive of villainous kleptomaniacs, from stealing anything that could be lifted by their hot little hands, she gathered her crumbling spirits, and ventured into Henry’s store. Quite the boring place, it was clear her sister had been there. Rows of furnishings were neatly folded and tucked away. Since taking over this part of Henry’s business, and effectively removing him from all aspects of organization, Prudence had trained Herman, Henry’s shop-keep to uphold her methods.
Temperance began her days in the store quietly sitting behind the counter, a book in hand. Not one to interrupt someone’s job with constant chatter, she remained silent as the french mannequin Henry had in the window. Though he couldn’t pin-point why, he found her company unsettling, as if he were now performing his daily tasks under severe scrutiny. But every time he looked to the woman behind the counter, she was hidden behind that book. Herman would shrug off his suspicions easily enough, at first, returning to his duties with extra vigor, but just when he would return to his duties, the veil would lower, and a pair of fiercely green eyes would watch every tiny detail of every move he made. Occasionally, Herman thought he heard a small “tsk” of disapproval or disgust. He couldn’t tell which. But every time he looked back to the woman, all he could see was book.
A few weeks after Prudence’s departure, a rather large parcel was delivered to the store. Herman signed for the package, as usual, and a perfunctory glance revealed a pair of extremely interested eyes peering at him over the top of that book. The two stared at one-another for a long moment, she a lion ready to pounce, he, the prey. “Who’s it from?” Temperance’s small voice drifted across the counter.
Herman’s eyes shifted slowly away from her, planning his escape, perhaps. He cleared his throat. “Uhh…From Mrs. Allworthey,” He muttered, subtly recoiling as Temperance craned forward.
Once she saw the load of international postage markings littering the brown paper, she gave chase, flying from her chair, abandoning her book to the floor, eager to get her hands on that parcel. Herman didn’t put up much resistance. He didn’t get paid well enough for that.
Temperance tore into the package, lingering for but a moment as she noted a letter of instruction contained therein which was written on Henry’s stationary. She smiled fondly at the sight of the decorative paper, and then let it drift to the floor before ferreting her way through the other contents. It wasn’t long before the supplies were sufficiently riffled through, laying on floor and counter and strewn over french mannequin. Once the excitement of opening the mystery package had subsided, and it was clear her loving family had thought nothing of her when selecting it’s contents, Temperance slumped. The box was completely devoid of imagination. Disappointed, she looked around, and resigned herself to putting everything away. Woolens and suiting materials in greys and blacks were tossed on shelves and plunked in drawers. Herman followed her through the store, winding around displays and fixtures as she shoved this here and that there. He tried to explain to the woman that there was a place for everything and….
But Temperance stopped short, and spun around to meet the tall, spindly man, eyes narrowed. His words triggered something in her. “And everything in it’s place,” she screeched. Apparently, she had heard it before. In fact, she had heard it all her life. It haunted her. “And now ~I~ will decide what goes where and why and who and how! ME! I decide!” Though she delivered the words with all the fury of a flock of cackling hens, there was an undefinable desperation in her eyes that caused a little voice inside Herman to let her have her way. He didn’t get paid well enough to risk arguing with ~that~.
The pattern was set. Packages arrived, instructions were discarded, and the contents were then re-appropriated as Temperance saw fit. Herman hadn’t quite given up yet. Often, he would follow her around, “helping.” He would hand her items to put away, and once she went off to find a place for it, he would redistribute what she had already “organized.” It seemed a better option than to get her flustered. She was rather scary when flustered.
One day, whilst maintaining their exercise in tension, a package, larger than usual, arrived. Temperance hopped from her perch and scurried to sign for it before Herman could even get to the door. Once in her arms, the box, which eclipsed the small woman, seemed to float around the store until it reached its destination. Ignoring the word “fragile” which was boldly printed on the side, the box was dropped to the floor, it’s arrival marked by the racket of the contents breaking within. Temperance made quick work of twine and paperboard, and dug in. Nestled inside towards the top was a woman’s hat. It was quite an intriguing little thing, filled with souvenirs of some sort. Decidedly not Temperance’s color, she tossed it on the counter above, and proceeded with her exploration.
Indeed, this box differed greatly from the others. In place of the usual tweeds and worsteds, a gorgeous selection of satins, taffetas and brocades resided. Jewel tones evoking the feeling of far-off places, a richness not commonly seen in their small town. She sifted through the gems, letting each one carry her off to its imagined place of origin. As she worked her way through it, the fabrics were laid over the side of the box. About mid-way through, she reached a separate collection of parcels which contained the most wonderful array of glass and china, in pieces, of course. Still, in Temperance’s eyes, they were treasures. This box had her sister’s good taste all over it. She paused for a moment, shards in hand, and thought. Finally, they remembered! How could she have been so childish as to think her sissy would forget her?
After she reached the bottom of the box, and her fingers had caressed the last of exotic fabrics, she sat back against the counter, an exhale of satiation slowly leaking from the faintest smile. She felt like those ladies looked in the naughty pictures at the penny arcade; the ones they kept behind the velvet ropes in the gentlemen’s section.
Herman watched her from the opposite end of the store, like a scientist studying an animal in the wild; afraid, but intrigued. Finally, Temperance roused herself out of her afterglow and began to carefully pack everything back into the box. She dragged it by one of its flaps into the storeroom. Once she disappeared, Herman snuck over to the counter where she had binged, and gave a look around. Nothing was left except the hat, carelessly discarded to the counter, and some papers which had fallen, unnoticed, on the floor. His lips moved as he scanned the letters which were penned in Prudence’s hand. Eyes widened and shot to the hat on the counter, and he snatched it up, looking to the door of the storeroom just in time to meet Temperance’s suspicious gaze. Though he attempted explanation, it was to no avail. Temperance had been waiting for just such an occasion. Clearly, Herman was every bit as much like the others in the employ of Mr. Allworthey; a thief. He hadn’t even time to blink before Temperance was after him, beating him to death with a hatstand she had snatched from the counter. “Thief! Thief,” she screeched. Herman had no choice but to drop the hat and the letters, and run. He didn’t get paid enough to argue with ~that~!
The commotion drew attention from passers-by, and there were quite a few witnesses for Herman’s hasty departure. No one was surprised to see him running from the store with the small woman cackling behind him brandishing that hatstand. In fact, the town had been quiet in anticipation of just such an episode.
It was as if a fuse had been lit. Gossip spread on the breath of a whisper. Word of the event made it all the way to the barber shop before Temperance even made it back inside, the door slamming behind her.
Mr. Jacob Harl told Mrs. Talene DuValle all about how the crazy sister came bursting out of that shop with the fury of God at hand. And Mrs. Talene DuValle told Mrs. Ida Bernard about how she came out with the fury of God and a red-hot poker. By the time the story reached Mrs. Evan Bryant, the details were expanded to include something about scarlet bloomers and Mr. Allworthey’s double-barrel shotgun. Upon hearing such outlandish detail, Mrs. Evan Bryant just nodded with an air of “I told you so,” and tsked. “If you all know what is good for you, you will keep far away from that one,” she said.
And so began Temperance’s days of solitude. Though every so often a stray soul would venture in to the store, for the most part, things remained rather dead. She did not miss Herman’s constant mothering, though she did miss the energy of another body in the now deserted haberdashery. Men’s furnishings were so very droll. The hat her sister had sent was plopped on a stand, stabbed with a hatpin, and left to gather dust on the front counter. And Temperance returned to her book, this time having no choice but to actually read it.