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.
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.”
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!!!!”
All Hallows was upon the town of Bridgeport and it was accompanied by grim news of a spike in untimely deaths.
Among them was dear Mr. Ravenhurst, proprietor of the town’s only funeral coach. With the recent rash of demise he had become quite the busy fellow. His wife, Olivia, had even taken up the position of professional mourner. For a small fee she would make sure that one’s deceased would be properly announced to the heavens. Her wailing could be heard clear into the next valley.
She was in rare form for her beloved, Thaddeus’, procession. The fact that she was forced to take over as driver of the hearse did nothing to distract from her mournful wails which were at their zenith that day.
The carriage crept its way to the cemetery followed by a long procession, friends and family ready to see poor Thaddeus off. With every inch of progress Olivia’s lament for her husband grew louder, her vision blurring amidst a fountain of tears. The coach meandered this way and that, the horses grounding themselves more than once on the odd front porch. Were it not for several helpful on-lookers, Thaddeus may very well have tumbled to his final resting place. Traffic on Main was stopped for the better part of three hours.
The day’s shadows grew long and the route to the cemetery grew longer. The once great cavalcade began to crumble. By the time they arrived, the sun dipping low in the sky, the only ones left were Mrs. Ravenhurst, Mr. Ravenhurst, and Temperance, giving it both the distinction of longest and shortest single procession the town had ever seen. As the cemetery hands lowered Mr. Ravenhurst into the ground, and the priest said his prayers, Mrs. Ravenhurst wailed to beat the banshees, using the trailing ends of the tattered ribbon from her hat to blot the streaming tears. Temperance marveled at how very comforting a hat can be in one’s times of woe and her head grew swollen with inspiration as she cemented the little scene in her mind.
Days were long and slow in Henry’s haberdashery. To spite her foe, the always ticking and hatefully taunting clock, Temperance kept busy by searching for ways to bolster business. It wasn’t long before she noticed that, though not a soul was coming in for the odd frill or furbelow, two people had come in the past three weeks to buy something black. It was becoming abundantly clear that death, of all things, was not only big business, but a missed market. Temperance had an inkling she would find many ways in which to master this ever-growing niche, but she knew she had to start somewhere. And what better place to start, then by providing a more specific line of hats!
Her first was quite tame; a brimless sugarloaf in black and silver brocade trimmed with beads from Prudence’s parlor. Atop it sat a clutch of mold plucked right from the grave in which she nestled a small coffin that, upon it’s opening, laughed in the face of death. Or was it taunting the living? She couldn’t decide, but it did have a nice tone to it. Surrounded by a small garden of glittering fern and calla lily, this piece would surely show one’s dedication to their dearly departed, and would look simply fetching at an evening soiree.