Temperance rapped on the large black door, three loud knocks to herald her presence. She had always wondered about the house down the street with its ruby lamps and red shades in the windows. But the day she caught the lovely Exotic disappearing into its confines followed by a string of three well-suited men, she decided that she must investigate.
She straightened her dress and looked both ways before hitching up her corset which had a bad habit of slipping. Of course it was at that moment that the door swung rapid and wide and an imposing figure peered down at the small woman in mid-hitch.
Temperance giggled madly, arms dropping to her sides, the misbehaving underpinnings slipping back into their preferred place. For once, her nervous giggle worked in her favor. It gave her just enough time to ogle the unusual dress of the woman, her investigation free of the silent and gaping mouth that usually accompanied it. The whole outfit was divine but it was, of course, the hat that clinched it.
“My dear,” the woman said, “Rap once. Rap twice. But n’er rap thrice! One might mistake you for an unruly spirit in need of cleansing.”
Temperance shuddered as the woman’s booming voice delivered the message before finding its way to the street where it frolicked as a chorus of wild echoes. Another nervous giggle escaped. Had she been one to plan, she might have thought of a good reason for her visit. But, being herself, she had none, just the wild curiosity of one whose only company was the rueful clock.
“Oh…but I just had a bath this morning,” Temperance insisted, feeling more self-conscious as now she was caught not only in ill-fitting undergarments, but unclean as well.
“Have you come for a reading,” the lady asked.
Though the woman, a leviathan of extravagant taste, blocked the door, Temperance caught a glimpse of the shadowy parlor just in time to see the Exotic scurry in and out of view, one of the three men she had led to the house comically pursuing her.
Temperance paused, struck dumb by curiosity and a hint of dismay before the sound of her own voice caught her off guard: “Oh! A reading! Yes!” Another nervous volley of laughter sputtered forth.
The woman peered down at her, one brow arching at the odd little creature. She wasn’t sure she believed Temperance, but she wasn’t one to turn away a customer, no matter how odd. “Madame Bienvenue,” the woman said, introducing herself as she stepped aside and gestured for Temperance to enter.
Temperance took a reluctant step through the door, her stomach twisting as an unusual smoke teased her nostrils. Her eyes devoured the decor, each room more flamboyant than the next. She had had every intention of finding adventure when Prudence abandoned her in that boring little town and she had a sneaking suspicion that she had finally found it.