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.”
Prudence had been away much longer than planned and the extended absence was causing quite a temper in her sister. Once the newlyweds settled, letters started arriving regularly which told Temperance of all the happenings in Prudence’s life, of Paris, of her beautiful little shop, of a life that was quite happy and content despite the absence of her sister. The relief of having an address at which to respond to her sister’s letters was short-lived when Temperance realized what it meant. It was clear that a metamorphosis was taking place all those thousands of miles away, a metamorphosis which, Temperance knew was jeopardizing her detailed plans.
Though she spoke of nothing but well-wishes to any and all who inquired, on the inside her anger boiled. She could not understand why the couple was still abroad, especially given the special measures she had taken to insure a timely return. A hat store? A new social circle? What did those things offer that in any way trumped the love of a sister; of family? As far as Temperance was concerned, Prudence was just feeding her snobbery, an offense that would surely be punished by God. And Temperance’s suspicions were confirmed when Prudence began penning her updates in French, a language her spinster sister never could master. The feeling of exclusion only served to deepen Temperance’s bitterness, never mind what it did to her dislike for Henry.
Knowing that self pity was generally restricted to a party of one, Temperance decided that from lemons, one must always try to make lemonade. So, every time a new letter arrived, she channeled her upset into a new creation that was, in a way, a collaboration between she and her sister, for that was the way things should be.
It occurred to her that she could not save Prudence from herself and she most certainly could not save her from the impending punishment that is so often visited upon those who ruefully shirk their blessings. But she could be there to ease the inevitable pain of retribution. She could be the one to nurse Prudence to repentance. She could open her sister’s eyes to where her blessings truly lie! In fact, it was her mission to be the guiding hand that her sister so obviously needed. No measure was too great as long as it was in the name of doing what was best for her wayward sibling.
Now she needed only to figure out a way of bringing her sister back home. She knew it would have to be convincing; something beyond a claim of sickness or catastrophe. Though her sister no longer seemed to value her, she most certainly valued her thief of a husband. Perhaps that was the key? Clearly, the man refused to fall to a well-placed poison. He had a criminal constitution for sure. But if he was as bad as Temperance believed, then he must have made enemies in his dealings! Why didn’t she see it before? How could she have been so complacent! The time for a thorough investigation was upon her. She would pluck this giant thorn from her side and, in doing so, she would bring her sister home.