One day, she looked around and realized that Prudence’ once bountiful wardrobe was now a thinning supply room. Like a magpie in the graveyard, Temperance had plucked and picked every bauble and frill, taken panels of fabric from without and within to adorn her one of a kind creations. Looking upon the threadbare threads only served to mirror the reality of her sister’s lingering absence. And the sadness was almost too much for Temperance to bear. The only styptic for such a wound was creativity. But what does one create with dwindling supplies?
They say necessity is the mother of invention. And Temperance now knew this to be true. For as she was looking around a shop still rife with men’s finery, she realized that she had only scratched the surface of her resources. Prudence was not the only one who had flounced across oceans. Henry was even more to blame for her sister’s extended absence. And so Henry would be the one to offer Temperance his support.
Recently, we here at The Sisters Brimm have decided that it is necessary to add a new section to our blog. In the past, we have used this as a a doorway into the world of the sisters, Prudence and Temperance. After-all, it is through their eyes that these many hats have come to be. However, there is another aspect to these hats. Once they have been dreamt up, it is by the hands of Jamie and Heather, that the hats are guided through the transition from The Sister’s world to ours. And while the Sisters have much to say, it turns out that we do too.
So we feel it is necessary on occasion to “break the fourth wall” offering tips, tricks, and new ideas to help our fellow lovers of Victorian and fantasy headwear present themselves properly!
Gone are the days of gorgeous hats sitting atop meager ponytails! Down with the poorly accessorized gown!
No friends, now, for just a mere moment of your time, you, that’s right, YOU can be the clearest ringing bell at the ball!
Wow. I don’t know when this became an ad. Just goes to show how closely the world of The Sisters Brimm is to our own. One never knows when they may slap the rouge out of your hand or pin up your hair just so that the crowning glory of your crowning glory has a perfectly proper perch!
And while the Sisters have their ideas on fashion, deportment, and sumptuary law, their alter-egos (imprisoned by the meager realities of modern times as are you) do too. We understand that not all, in fact MOST of you do not have lady’s maids to lace your corsets and to properly pin-curl our hair. We sympathize to no end over the fact that “they (whoever “they” are) just don’t make ‘em (whatever “‘em” are) like they used to!” And we thought it was high time, neighbor, you had someone out there to acknowledge your struggle and to FEEL YOUR PAIN.
In short, we are excited and eager to share what we know with you. From building a costume, to fashion history, to suggestions on what the H-E-double toothpicks to do with your hair, we, the sisters behind the Sisters Brimm, are here to help!
The highly macabre event was not spoken of by civilized folk; and yet, the little hamlet of Bridgeport was “a-buzz” with the news. A few towns over a woman of well-known stature had achieved a most unfortunate sentence of “death by electrocution” by way of a new-fangled chair designed to send lethal current throughout. Many felt this method even worse than hanging and pleaded with the governor to show mercy on her soul and to pardon her from death by The Chair. Rumor had it that the governor would be traveling through Bridgeport while reviewing the case and the idea of being linked to such sensationalism, though most adamantly denied it, had everyone worked into an eager lather.
Mr. Harman Michaels finally whitewashed his entry gate, a task The Women’s League had been bothering him about for several months. The mercantile hung festive bunting along the entire perimeter of their wrap-around porch, an extravagance usually saved for more patriotic celebrations. And the church choir was primed with a trio of songs, each carrying God’s opinion of the excitement at hand.
Temperance, though less concerned with the political or religious implications of the situation, still found the details quite intriguing. She had known the woman at the center of the scandal, Martha, briefly in her youth. And although the two had not spoken in quite a while, a result of a small misunderstanding involving an accident with a sleigh, she felt a personal involvement with the case. In fact, Temperance could not recall the exact reason the two stopped talking. She certainly had not intended to strike the other with the sleigh, so there was no reason to hold a grudge. Still, in the years since the accident, they had only seen each other occasionally, while picking up parcels or passing through town. It was true that Martha’s brother remained exceptionally cross about the situation and, for this reason, Temperance thought it best to avoid them both.
So the news of Martha’s plight came as quite a surprise. Temperance knew it must have been an accident. Martha didn’t seem capable of murder. She was a terribly gangly woman, and quite clumsy as evidenced by the mishap with the sleigh all those years ago.
While the idea of entertaining a politician in no way thrilled her (politics is how thieves fail upward, you know), she felt it her duty to speak on behalf of poor Martha. Of course, Temperance’s plan hinged entirely on the governor’s acceptance of her invitation. That is why she made sure to drop the name of Henry Allworthey into her message. Surely all thieves colluded or, at the very least, were bound by a code. It seemed her best chance at luring the man to her. Much to her delight but not to her surprised, her invitation was accepted. The governor and company would indeed stop by for tea.
Upon her guests arrival, Temperance was pleased to find an intriguing addition. Mr. Brown, a scientist credited with the construction of the much talked about “Electric Chair,” was traveling with the governor to lend the benefit of his expertise regarding matters of fitting the chair to a woman’s frame… and he was quite the entertainer! He held Temperance captive as he spoke at great length on new methods of alternating current. While most found electricity a modern vulgarity, she believed it necessary for the advancement of society. It was, after-all, science! And it would benefit households everywhere.
The gentlemen stayed in her company for several hours. Between Mr. Brown’s captivating recitation on the marvels of modernity, and Temperance’s willingness to soak up his sermon, she had barely noticed that, for an extended period of time, the governor was absent. He left for a tour of Prudence’s grand old mansion returning only to inform his company that they really must attend to more pressing matters.
Temperance was, surprisingly, an excellent hostess. She thanked them both for attending tea and welcomed them back at any time. Still giddy with a day full of stimulating conversation, she waved goodbye to the governor’s coach. But, as she headed into the house, she could not escape the sinking feeling that she had forgotten something…. something terribly important.
A few days later the town erupted with shock when it was announced that the woman had indeed been executed.
It was then that Temperance had remembered what she had forgotten. “Poor Martha.”
Summer was always a disappointment to Temperance. It lacked the romance of the holiday season and the weather was uncomfortably hot. In fact, though her least favorite season was not yet in full swing, her state of mind was such that the days were a blur of dust and irritation…. until the carnival came to town.
The women at church were scratching and clucking like hens in the yard about the carney folk and how they were a bunch of sinners; How Mr. Jackson Burne was made a mark the summer prior by just such a show and ended up stripped of both his wallet AND his dignity. From the liberal use of alcohol to the wanton women, one could be sure to find themselves nothing but trouble at the carnival. And that is why, Temperance thought, it was the most exciting and the most welcome breath of fresh air to come her way since Spring’s first blossoms.
Temperance stalked the circus during set-up. She crept like a wraith through the tents of red and gold, desperate to catch a glimpse of what “The Greatest Show” may hold. And while she saw hints of what was to come, nothing could prepare her for the extravaganza in its entirety. It was like trying to taste the cake with only egg and flour in the bowl.
Evening’s veil shrouded the dusty installment in it’s magic, concealing imperfections and lending brilliant contrast to the show. What was a dirty, faded, sleepy encampment in the light of day came alive at dusk and flourished into the night. The barker’s call beckoned folks, be they reluctant or excited through the tent city like pipers to mice.
And while the electric lights highlighted the spinning merry-go-round, and acrobats gave folks a taste of the wonders hidden just beyond pavilion flaps, not even the jovial tunes of the calliope could disguise the creeping sense of danger that grumbled in the gut of even the most naive souls.
It was as the Sunday hens had said. Sin was in the air. As people rushed past, men desperate to lose their wives in the crowd, children eager to crawl beneath a loose canvas wall perhaps to sneak a peak at the show that mother forbade father to see, Temperance breathed deep. She filled her lungs with the smell of roasting peanuts and drank in the soundscape that some would liken only to their worst dreams.
She did not partake of fairy floss nor did she linger long at the burning footlights of the stage. She merely moved through the circus as it bloomed wildly in the night, captive not to its manipulations, but captivated by its affect on the people of the town.
Temperance reveled in a sight more rare than the bearded lady or the siam twins. She watched as the ladies of the Women’s League, the same ones who rebuked the mere presence of carney trash in their town, gambled away their purses at the wheel of luck. She watched as men stood open-mouthed, hypnotized by exotic dancers dressed in little more than a clutch of lace and sparkle. And she saw the children sent round and round on the giant wheel while mother and father did boring adult things.
A hundred Sundays had not brought with them a fraction of such honesty. She felt her thin lips pressed into a perpetual smile as the scene swirled around her, for while the carney folk put on their masks, the town’s mask slipped away and, for Temperance, that was the greatest show.
Winter was long and Temperance was absolutely grey with a lack of sunlight, not to mention a lack of sister. The longer Prudence was away, the more common it was for Temperance to demonstrate the first part of her name rather than the whole. What was left of the dwindling staff went about their work amidst the sounds of crashing candlesticks and breaking Dresden. Poor Eloise was always the one nominated for damage control. She had become quite good at bobbing and weaving between flying objects in whatever room Temperance had targeted for her latest tantrum and she seemed to have a way with the woman that the others could not begin to understand.
One day, after a particularly horrid outburst, Eloise remained with Temperance for some time, talking to her, trying to calm her temper. She suggested that what Miss Temperance really needed was a friend.
A friend. The mere thought of it made Temperance feel pounds lighter. And so, being a woman of action and never one to wallow in self pity, Temperance began her quest. She spent weeks looking for this friend. She thought, perhaps, she might find a surrogate sister of sorts. But week after week she would eavesdrop on conversations between the ladies in town and every time she listened all she heard was gossip. Always gossip. Not one of them had anything of genuine interest to say. If Temperance was to find a friend among the residents of Bridgeport, they would surely have to be a horse of a different color. They would have to be someone in which she could confide her deepest secrets and would, perhaps, share her love of hats.
She had nearly given up when, one evening, on her way to the cemetery for her usual stroll, she was startled by the sounds of yelling and screaming and the echoey thunder of hooves. Temperance whirled around in an effort to spot what surely was a herd of wild horses but her eyes were met with only one. The horse, black as pitch, raced over the ridge, tail up like a flag, and headed straight for her. At that moment, the strangest thing occurred. Her gaze met that of the wild animal and the connection was instant. The horse threw on the brakes of his own accord about ten paces from Temperance who’s hand was now held out toward it. Snorting and puffing, he came to a stop, his nose meeting Temperance’s flattened palm. Her heart spun.
Finally, Mr. Allegheny, the horse’s frustrated owner caught up to his runaway beast. Through hissing breaths he swore he would turn the animal into shoes. “At least then,” Mr. Allegheny said, “if you run away, you have to take yer passenger with yeh.”
Temperance glared and admonished the man. “Did it ever occurs to you that your yelling ~scared~ the poor thing? I would have thrown you too if you tried yelling at me like that!”
The man looked at the small woman and shook his head. “Madam, this horse is a nuisance. There is not one rider he has not thrown nor a fence he has not jumped. He’s no good to anyone.” But Temperance whole heartedly disagreed. She knew he would be good for her. So she offered to buy the stallion then and there. Seeing the woman’s infatuation with the animal and having heard stories about how crazy Prudence’s spinster sister was, Mr. Allegheny decided to take full advantage of the opportunity asking quite a fat price for the nuisance of a stallion and Temperance did not haggle. For, while the man was off-loading a horse more trouble than its worth, Temperance was finally bringing home a friend.
It had been weeks since Mr. Travis Quellwood, the man responsible for Temperance’s new-found love of hatting and her heart’s singular desire, had been in the store. And since his first visit, much had changed. Prudence’s wardrobe had been selectively pruned. What once was a haberdashery, had bloomed into quite the place for ladies. Henry’s stock was pushed aside, gathering dust since Herman’s (his former employee and suspected thief), hasty departure, and the space that was once filled with men’s finery was brimming with ladies brims.
But while the store had transformed, the clientele had not. In fact, in the absence of a man to sell toppers and the like, Henry’s faithful audience had dwindled.
Though she ached to see him, Temperance had given up hope that the handsome Mr. Quellwood would make another appearance until one cold day. The little bell at the front door rang, and Temperance, who was in the back room deconstructing yet another of her sister’s dresses came scurrying out. Clucking like a barnyard hen about the constant interruptions, her customer service was more likely to scare perspective customers away than it was to welcome them in. But this particular customer was not afraid. He was used to working with the temperamental and flamboyant. They had only met once, but he was already used to the mad hattress’ idiosyncrasies.
With twinkle in eye, and wallet in hand, he took a look at her created collection. Clucking ceased when she realized who it was she was clucking at. For what seemed like an endless moment there was nothing but the ticking of the clock between them.
~Tsk Tsk Tsk~
Temperance’s heart leapt into her chest. She could hear it pounding in her ears. The floor fell away from her feet and she became weak in the knees. Collapse was eminent but she never hit the floor. As she regained awareness, she found herself in the strong arms of Mr. Travis Quellwood, himself. All her months of worry and wait were worth it for they brought her right to that moment.
She swooned for a matter of seconds before lashes fluttered and she clutched her heart which, though still fluttering, had sunk back into her chest.
“I’ve come to see your work, my dear. I can already see that you have been quite busy,” Mr. Quellwood said, easing communication by not letting Temperance speak. He lifted her easily to her feet and was careful upon letting go should she swoon once more.
Temperance, straightened her dress and smoothed her frizzy hair with a flattened palm, nodding in answer to the man’s observation. “I should like to buy one for a ….well….for a very special lady.” His weighted gaze shot right through the tiny, chalk-white, woman who’s voice had yet to return. He smiled and continue looking around. “But it must be ~exquisite~.” He approached Temperance who’s eyes never left him and stopped only inches from her. She inhaled deeply as her nose nearly bumped into the brass button on his vest. He smelled of pipe tobacco and spearmint. Like everything else about him, Temperance found the scent intoxicating.
She could barely bring her eyes to his for fear that she might swoon once more. “What would you suggest for a creature with skin of alabaster…like your’s? Something red, perhaps? The color of love?”
Temperance stumbled backward and pointed across the room to a crimson bonnet trimmed in black, glittering with crystals. Mr. Quellwood followed her direction, his long stride carrying him quickly to the masterpiece. He snatched it up with breathless exclamation and then peered at its creator. “This…this is too pretty to part with,” He said, holding it as if it were made of glass. “But if you would entrust me with the purchase, I am sure you will meet a much deserved reward.”
Temperance nodded dumbly, stumbling to the cash counter. Quellwood met her there and held the bonnet up to her, admiring the contrast between the scarlet fabric and Temperance’s pasty skin. “You are correct! This is perfect for one with skin as fine as yours.”
Now, Temperance couldn’t be sure, but for one brief moment, it felt as though Mr. Travis Quellwood was flirting with her. The thought made her giddy.
As she wrote up his bill of sale, he leaned on the counter, a hint of mirth alight in his eyes. “May I ask, my dear lady, what are you doing on the evening of the fourteenth?” Temperance looked up at him, her mouth falling open with the hope that a voice would come out. In it’s absence, she simply shook her head, a lost look in her eyes. The man smiled as he gently brushed one of her frizzy curls aside. “I should like to see you at a special performance my troupe is putting on. Would you come? Would you come…as my special guest?”
Of all the dreams she could have dreamed she would have never dared to dream this one. It was too bold…too unlikely…and had it never occurred, it would have left her tattered hopes too tattered to repair. But here, it was happening! She wanted to scream, to cry, to run out into the street and yell the news at the top of her lungs! But his presence held her still and silent. Upon his last visit he had stolen her heart and upon this one, he had stolen her voice; a feat never before accomplished. She could only nod, the sloppy bun jiggling back and forth on top of her head.
“Good!,” he exclaimed exchanging the neatly packaged bonnet for the agreed upon price. “I knew you would not dare break my heart. I promise it will be a night you shall never forget!” With that, he doffed his hat and offered her a deep bow as he backed out of the shop disappearing into the busy street.
In the moments after their meeting, as her thoughts fell quiet and the ticking of the clock became apparent once more, Temperance’s voice returned. She gasped a small gasp of shock. “Oh dear,” she said, worrying the cuff of her sleeve. “Oh…dear.” Her heart began to race once more. “What shall I wear? The fourteenth…of February…” Eyes widened as everything he had said came flooding back in bits and pieces. “OH DEAR,” she exclaimed, unable to believe her good fortune. She ran outside stopping in the middle of the street and yelled at the top of her lungs. “I’m going to be his Valentine!!!!”
Rumors spread as merrily as Christmas cheer in the little town of Bridgeport. And, though she did not know it, Temperance was at the center of the largest. It took them a good three weeks to notice, but sometime around Thanksgiving the truly devout became aware that the more eccentric lesser half of the prolific Prudence was missing from her usual pew. She never warranted specific consideration before, but now that she was proving to be the heathen so many people expected she would turn out to be, her’s was the name that was voiced on hushed whispers as the collection plate made the rounds.
As Sundays passed, and the holiest of the good Lord’s days approached, whispers crescendoed. From baritone to soprano, a choir of voices flooded the church doors filling the street with the sound of gossip.
Temperance was not entirely alone in her life as an eccentric. Eloise, the maid, had become quite the trustworthy companion. But even she could not explain the absence of the lady of the house from weekly worship. Every Sunday, Temperance was up bright and early, and out the door dressed in her Sunday best. And every Sunday, she was absent. What was happening between the house and the church? She was determined to find out.
One Sunday morning, Eloise, intent on figuring out the real story behind the gossip, dressed early and hid beneath the fur blanket in Temperance’s usual ride. Minutes seemed like hours as she waited for her mistress to depart. The air was frigid even beneath the heavy pelt so she was quite relieved when she heard the woman’s voice clucking a string of broken thoughts aloud. The sleigh dipped subtly as Temperance hoisted her small frame into the driver’s seat. And, with a crack of the whip, they were off.
Eloise tried her hardest to remain still beneath the blanket but a particularly surprising dip dislodged her cover leaving her quite exposed. She let out a gasp and scrambled trying to capture the hide beneath which she hid only to see it slip further from her grasp. Had she not panicked, Temperance would have never noticed her stowaway, but the hustling coupled with the string of stage-whispered curses drew her attention.
Temperance whirled around nearly dropping the reins. Surprise commanded her vocal chords and she let out a shriek which, while not joyful, was certainly triumphant. It scared her secret passenger half to death. “Stowaway! Castaway! Hijacker! Thief,” she screamed. Luckily the horses were used to Temperance’s outbursts and, knowing her tendency to spook at nothing, remained calm as they dropped from canter to trot and came to a slow halt. Shock filled the air between the two ladies and a brief staring contest ensued.
Upon recognizing her attacker, Temperance was the first to break the silence. “Dear Heavenly Lord above, Eloise WHY?”
Eloise stammered as she tried to produce the explanation she had not had the foresight to prepare. “Sorry, Miss! So sorry! But…I wanted to know where it was you had been off to these past few weeks!”
Temperance glowered at the girl, unable to understand why such a simple question had to be prefaced with such subterfuge. “It has been my experience that simple questions should be simply ~asked~.”
She had a fair point. Eloise felt rather ridiculous for not having tried the simpler tactic first. “I’m sorry miss,” she said again, her voice rich with apology. “But there had been so much speculation when you stopped going to church. I thought….well…I didn’t know what to think!”
Temperance could only offer an exasperated reply to the girl’s attempt to explain. “I will have you know that I have been to church every Sunday of my life!” While this may have been something of an exaggeration, she felt it should be stated in order to prove her point. “One doesn’t wear a hat as grand as this for a simple ride in the country. This, my dear girl, is a ~church~ hat.”
Eloise peered up at the hat. It was indeed a whimsical and stately creation, much more so than any of the others she had seen. “Yes miss. I should have realized.”
“Indeed you should have,” Temperance said, her vexation fading. Temper gave way to amusement and she chuckled at the girl. “Well, I cannot turn back now. You shall have to join me for today.” Though apprehensive, Eloise felt obliged to concede. She retrieved the mantle that had slipped from the sleigh, tucked it over her lap, and settled in for the ride.
Less than twenty minutes later Temperance brought the sleigh to a stop and looked off into the distance. There, on a nearby hill-top, was a small red church. Amber light illuminated the windows and the distant sounds of joyful song, the likes of which was never heard from the church in town, danced across the country side. Dismay was written on Eloise’ face and it was even more evident in her voice. “Miss! We can’t go in there! That’s not ~our~ church!”
Temperance turned to her companion and snorted a brief laugh. “Of course it’s not ~our~ church. It’s ~God’s~ church!” And off to worship, they went.