The continuing saga of two women, their men, and a whole lot of hats.

Two Sisters: Reunited

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.

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Two Sisters, Reunited

Death comes unexpectedly. Such was the case for Prudence Allworthey’s husband, Henry, who suffered a sudden death at the end of last year. Of her four husbands, Henry’s death seemed the most natural. Though he had been complaining of headaches and dizzy spells, and was relegated to bed in the weeks prior to his untimely demise, doctors were stumped by his rather swift deterioration, and sited “unanticipated but natural decline of the machine” as the official cause of death.

Henry was a successful haberdasher and hatter, known for his wide array of unusual colors and styles in men’s furnishings.  He traveled much for his work, bringing back many of the finest furnishings from places as far away as Czechoslovakia and India. His varied stock, however, proved to be a great challenge, as organization was not amongst his talents. Though he was quite the well known bachelor, and seemed to be happy as such, a life with no strings had begun to weigh him down rather than offer the freedom it had in his youth. That was why he was grateful when he discovered Prudence. Always the social butterfly, and, once again on the market, Prudence seemed to be a spirit free enough to accompany him in his travels, yet grounded enough to offer structure around which a more local life could be built.

Thus, he began to court her. Henry found her fascinating and Prudence found Henry’s business quite fascinating.  It wasn’t long before she decided that the two of them indeed shared a special kind of love. She discovered, under Henry’s tutelage that she had an affinity for creating stately toppers, and none of her former husbands would argue that she had an uncannytalent for finding a place for everything and putting everything in its place, which, as is the case with most men, was exactly the kind of talent Henry most needed in his life.

The two were a well-known item for the better part of a month before preparations for nuptials began. As soon as an engagement ring found its way to her finger, she beckoned her sister, Temperance, to come help with the arrangements. As it happened, the call could not have come soon enough. Temperance was experiencing some difficulty of her own, and found herself in need of a change of scenery. It seemed that some sort of undefined plague had slowly begun to filter through her town, starting with her neighbors, and working its way out. Why the good Lord had seen fit to spare her, she could not say. But she figured it best not to look that gift-horse in the mouth.

Though small in stature, Temperance was big in personality, and it was no secret in their hometown that the sisters often did as much bad as they did good for one another. Not one person had forgotten the fight that had led to Temperance’s departure, and as soon as word of Prudence’s engagement broke out, the whole town buzzed with busy whispers about how the event would surely bring Temperance home.  Prudence always called Temperance back for her weddings. Perhaps it was the true strength of their sisterly bond, or a certain sense of obligation she felt to her spinster sister. Or maybe it was fun to rub her good fortune in the other’s face. Whatever the case, it was always a reunion held on a breath of anticipation for the residents of Bridgeport for there was no telling what kind of combustion would occur once the two came back together. Everyoneknew the sisters would survive each other, but would the town survive them? The idea had even the most devout Christians wishing that, for once, Prudence would consider living in sin.

Now, on the day that Temperance came into town, word shot out like wild fire that the other sister had indeed returned, and, were one paying attention, they would surely have felt the very land brace itself for the eminent  reunion. The station master greeted the woman, his handlebar mustache lifting atop a smile, as he took her hand in his for a hearty shake. Relieved to see her holding only a modest carpet bag, he exhaled relief within a nervous laugh as he took her carryall, his body dipping with the added weight, and led her to the carriage Henry had sent for her. But she pulled away from him, her fluttery little voice drifting across the wind. “Oh! But no, Mr. Jennings! My things!”

The man came to a halt, only the tense shrug of his shoulders betraying his grimace whilst his back was still turned. It was as if she had just hurled a brick at his head. He wavered in the grasp of suspense as he slowly turned to see three porters wrangle an obscene amount of luggage onto a trolly. Temperance was watching the struggle, her eyes alight with pleasure as her things were collected and dumped onto the cart. She giggled madly, clasping her hands with delight as the three young men struggled with the trunks, their frames buckling beneath the bulk of the  boxes. She found the scene most enjoyable, like a troop of clowns from one of those vaudeville shows in the big cities. Surely, one would be flattened and the other two would then take a deep bow! Her disappointment was mild when she discovered this was not to be the case, and she boarded the carriage leaving three tired, sweaty boys and one harried station master in her wake.

By the time she reached Main Street, people had come out of their businesses and homes, and were gathering along either side. Temperance noticed the dappling of crowd lining the street. “Is it a parade,” she asked aloud to herself, twisting in her seat to check the traffic behind her. There was none. “Curious,” she muttered. After a moment of thought, she could only assume, all of this interest must be for her. What a wonderful welcome home! Never one to disappoint, her posture straightened, and one hand was raised in a queen’s wave as the carriage meandered up Main. And though no one returned her wave, she smiled and nodded toward all of the vacant stares, content to be seen.

The shadows were growing long by the time Temperance’s carriage arrived at the house, but she was still brimming with energy. The coach had not quite stopped before the door swung open and she hopped out. The coachman, who had needlessly hurried to her aid, sighed, shut the door, and trailed behind her doing his best to rescue the carpet bag from her hands succeeding only once she stopped to take in the full view of the rather impressive house. Eyes widened as they consumedthe structure from dirt to dormers. But her awe was broken as her bag was wrenched from her hands. Completely forgetting the coachman’s presence, she naturally assumed he was robbing her and immediately took to pounding the man over his head with her fan, cackling like a hen whose house was invaded by a fox. When one hand was not enough to fend off his attacker, the bag was dropped and Temperance snatched it from the ground, prepared to storm up the front steps as no party had seen fit to properly greet her in what was apparently a bad neighborhood.

Her storming was interrupted by the imposing figure of Mr. Henry Allworthey off whom she bounced, the collision finally stunning her silent. “I tried to help her, Mr. Allworthey, but she wouldn’t have it,” the coachman explained frantically. Of course, it was not unreasonable for the poor man to fear that he might be to blame for their guest’s frazzled state.

“Never-mind now, Thomas” Henry said, waving the equally frazzled man away. “I am sure our guest is merely tired after her journey.” Temperance blinked owlishly, plump lips parting to a subtle gape. Her head oscillated between the two as one by one she assembled the pieces to the puzzle,  eyes popping wide once the last piece was in place and the entire picture formed. Her brows lowered, and she met Henry’s cordial smile with a curt nod and a “hmph,” set on continuing into the house.

It was Prudence who arrived next, arms gliding open to welcome her beloved sister home. “Welcome home…” she began, every bit the humble servant who was blessed with continuous good fortune.

Temperance, stopped, arched a brow, and let the carpet bag slip from her fingers. It landed with an unusually loud thud as it hit the stair. Arms were folded across her body, and her chin was lofted.  Prudence, ever the magnanimous hostess, stooped to pick up the bag, not yet catching on to her sister’s scrutiny. The bag, however, was much heavier than it appeared, and its weight did more to bring Prudence to it, then she could do to bring it to her.  Upon seeing his betrothed’s inability to lift its weight, Henry stepped in and took up the carpet bag, his face contorting with a brief look of surprise at how truly heavy the bag was. Temperance gasped and shot a wounded gaze to her sister. “Criminals,” she barked at her welcoming committee snatching the bag out of Henry’s hands. She flew up the front steps of the house leaving Prudence, Henry, and Thomas (who was now chastising himself for not yet having made his escape) in her wake. The three could only exchange blank looks as they convened to figure out what had just happened. Once Prudence was able to assemble a time-line of events, she followed her sister into the house.

It tried every last bit of Prudence’s patience, but she did manage to illustrate how Temperance had misconstrued the events of her arrival. Thomas was the coachman under Henry’s employ. It was his ~job~ to take the guest’s bags from them. Eventually, Temperance smiled, and seemed to accept her sister’s explanation. They all had a hearty laugh about it over supper. But, from that day forward, Temperance always kept a wary eye open for signs of dubious behavior. She put up a brave facade for her delusional sister’s sake, but she would not be so easily convinced.

Luckily for Henry and Prudence, the wedding was little more than a week away, and all waking hours were consumed with the business of planning the event. Temperance, who had a wonderful flare for arranging such things, handled the details of the reception, while Prudence coordinated the guest list and the particulars of the ceremony. There was no question that the girls made a most unstoppable team, when they weren’t arguing. And despite the town’s initial wariness over their reunion, great excitement for the anticipated day was beginning to overshadow their fears.

Finally, the day had arrived. Every last detail was seen to, and the only thing left to do was to take that final walk. Temperance was overwhelmingly happy. It had been a long time since she was a part of such a lively community. And she and her sister had never gotten along so well. She had forgotten how much she enjoyed being part of a family. That is why it came as such a shock when, in the moments before the ceremony, Prudence told Temperance about the honeymoon. She and Henry would be gone for the better part of six months whilst they traveled the world together collecting more inventory for Henry’s shop, and Temperance, wasn’t invited.

This news stunned Temperance. In her head, plans were made, and nowhere in them was her sister’s six month absence. As she took her place at the top of the aisle, preparing to herald the bride’s arrival, she appeared to be quite the stoic maid of honor. The audience rippled with a volley of hushed commentary as she began her walk. Mr. Lloyd Duncan and Mr. Jedediah Strain were taking bets on at what point in the ceremony things would go terribly awry. Mrs. Evan Bryant was scrutinizing every detail looking for mistakes. But things were quiet and every detail was in place. Hair. Flowers. Dress. The music started,  the lovely sound of strings filling the cool night air. Even nature seemed to be in favor of the union. Fireflies danced amidst the shrubs adding an ethereal glow to the perimeter. It appeared to be the perfect affair.

Of course, no one could see the maid of honor’s white knuckles as they strangled her bouquet of lilies. And no one noticed the storm brewing behind her eyes as she took her deliberate steps down the aisle. As far as they could tell, and much to their disappointment, the woman, known for being a powder keg, was actually doing exactly what she was supposed to. Temperance was keeping it together.

Once her sister had made it half-way down the aisle, Prudence began her walk. Her neck lengthened as she stepped before the audience, a prim smile skirting the edges of her lips as she held court. This was her night, and that thought lifted her. She floated down the aisle toward her awaiting beau with a commanding presence that no first-time bride could ever hope to corral. She was born to be married; again, and again, and again.

The town was abuzz at the party afterward. All throughout preparations for this fateful day and throughout the ceremony, nothing had exploded, not a sister, not a husband, not a house. Why, tempers hadn’t even flared! Though there were a few convinced that there was still plenty of time, most were content with the fact that the anticipated crisis had been avoided. Prudence and Henry were set to leave in the morning, and though Temperance would be left on her own, she seemed somehow different from the Temperance they had known. Perhaps she had finally figured out the meaning of her own name. The vision of grace and moderation, Temperance stood by her sister’s side, a smile perfectly in place as the new couple received wellwishes.

That night, at party’s end, Prudence and Henry exchanged gifts, one special token of the other’s affection. For Henry, Prudence had selected a most beautiful set of stationary. Heavy papers with intricately illustrated borders fit for all of his business correspondence while the two were away. The set came complete with a self-inking pen, and lick-and-stick envelopes eliminating the need for all of the usual accoutrements.  She gifted it in a custom Jefferson box cleverly designed to hold all of his most personal documents. Only the most wealthy families had such appointments, and Henry was thrilled over this most practical gift for it was not just paper or pen, it was a piece of his treasured bride. It spoke of who she was. It reminded him of why he fell in love with her. And he felt more organized already.

Prudence was gifted a small, brocade, hat box; too small to fit any hat. Nestled in its silk lining was a miniature globe with a note that read: “For my lovely bride. I give you…the world.” Prudence was touched; not the kind of touched that is correctlyfeigned upon proper signal, but the kind of touched that took her breath away, a feat that no other husband had ever managed. Delicate fingers blotted a bit of wetness from her cheek. Stunned, she peered up at Henry, realizing only then that he had managed to bring tears to her eyes. A smile, and an unusual public display of affection followed as she wrapped her arms around him. A perfect ending to what had been a perfect evening.