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First Day of Hopefully Many on the Job


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Mature Content: No

With: Miriam, Mr. Pettigrew
Location:

Pettigrew & Packham (Deceased) Drapers, Millinery, Haberdashery, Specialist Corsetry Emporium and Ladies Outfitter.

 


When: June 1876
Time of Day: Morning just prior to opening time on the Hours sign

 

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Miriam Kaufmann paused at the door of the shop with the practically exhausting title -

Pettigrew & Packham (Deceased) Drapers, Millinery, Haberdashery, Specialist Corsetry Emporium and Ladies Outfitter - she dearly hoped she would not be expected to memorize that! She could easily imagine her stumbling thru it whilst talking to customers. Although, just maybe she would not even have to talk to customers. She would soon find out. Clearing her throat and adjusting her hat hopefully just perfectly, she then knocked on the door. She almost made the attempt to try the handle and open it but decided against such boldness. Her employer might think that impertinent.

 

After her father had returned home yesterday with the news he had secured her a job in this establishment, after the whole family were overjoyed with that outcome, the girl had asked him what he was his assessment of the man who she was going to work for. Her father would have none of it.

 

"Daughter, it does not matter what I think of him or not, you will be in his employ and expected to do as you are told. This is work not a social occasion. Just be polite and respond to his every order without delay. You must make a good impression on him, you see."

 

Miriam did understand, what with her father new in town and setting up his own business, they were in need of whatever money they could get for living expenses as the purchase of the new storefront and living quarters and all that went with it was ruinously expensive. Miriam, being the oldest of the children, Benjamin was counting on her to start contributing for real now to the family welfare. She was no longer a child, she was a young woman. She, on the other hand, was determined not to disappoint her father and all the family.

 

Her thoughts were interrupted then as the door opened and a most imposing large man stood there. Miriam acknowledged him with a hasty nod then spoke.

 

"Goodday sir. I am Miriam Kaufmann, daughter of Abraham Kaufmann. Here to start work, to work for you," she announced trying not to sound nervous, her English was quite good but did have a German accent for those in the know.

 

 

 

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Worchester did not put Jemima on Front of House duty lightly, but the new girl was stating today, and from the samples of her work that Kaufmann had shown him, he had great hopes for her. He would need to show the mundane tasks involved in running the emporium, of course, but he also hoped to kindle, nurture and inspire in her something of his own love of The Business. The business of beauty and adornment, of taking a down at heart frowsy dusty frontier woman and turning her into a beautiful queen fit more for Fairyland than Kalispell. A perfectly dressed woman was a joy to behold, and in terms of providing a constant stream of income: female vanity was a very steady giver.

 

What was that faint noise: a knock?

 

Of course, she didn’t know to just go round and let herself in the back yet. He would tell her that later, rather than start off with an admonition of any sort. Worchester was sensitive like that, although he could fly off the handle at a missed stitch, the bigger things in life he took with equanimity. The short stout man glided to the door.

 

"Goodday sir. I am Miriam Kaufmann, daughter of Abraham Kaufmann. Here to start work, to work for you," she announced trying not to sound nervous, her English was quite good but did have a German accent for those in the know.

 

The ladies’ outfitter could not but help examine the little Jewess with the eye of a professional. She was at that awkward age body-wise: she could be corseted up into a more adult shape but would look top heavy that way. Her simple work smock was actually the perfect shape for her form; he would create something similarly shapeless and free flowing in a just-off-white and temper that with only the smallest hints of lilac to divert full attention to her eyes, which sparkling like polished jets, were her best feature. The rest of her face, with its wide mouth, slightly hooked nose and angry looking brows, he would soften with a wide ribbon-tied bonnet. He had seen her dark-eyed type in New Orleans many times: they were not pretty in the soft round way of the sentimental artist, but the vivacious ones could possess the type of beauty that men would kill over. Kill themselves, usually.

 

“Why come on in, child, come on in.” Worchester’s light Louisiana accent wafted on the breeze like a feather as he stepped back courteously to let her enter the store  “Now, you must call me Mr. Pettigrew, and I shall always refer to you as Miss Kaufman. That is the way of it, you see. Our valuable clients, for we never refer to them as ‘customers’ always clients, valued clients…” he held up a warning finger to emphasise the point “Our clients we always refer to as Madame or Miss, and any gentlemen present with them as Sir.”

 

He would later teach her to always look for a wedding ring on a woman, or lack of. For the Misses did so hate to be referred to as Madame, and vice versa.

 

“Now, er, let us go through to the back, and I will show you where the real work takes place.” He invited her and marched on ahead, opening the mysterious velvet curtains behind the counter that led to the fitting, sewing and cutting rooms.

 

“Miss Wigfall, kindly mind the store.” He ordered, and Jemima watched the new girl pass with an intense glare housed in a passive and unresponsive countenance.

 

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@Wayfarer

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The older gentleman seemed to eye her over from top of her hat down to her shoes, it made her a bit uncomfortable. But then no matter what the girl would have indeed been nervous. It could well be a critical moment in her success in keeping this job. Miriam looked up at the fellow as he spoke, giving him the rapt attention he deserved. The fellow did not waste a moment in explaining to her what was expected regarding the customers...no,  clients. They were to be called clients...

 

"Of course, sir, clients, They are clients," so be it, Miriam nodded compliance.

 

"Now, er, let us go through to the back, and I will show you where the real work takes place.” He invited her and marched on ahead, opening the mysterious velvet curtains behind the counter that led to the fitting, sewing and cutting rooms.

 

Miriam followed, glancing just for an instant at the other girl who she surmised must be a fellow employee.

 

“Miss Wigfall, kindly mind the store.”

 

Miriam smiled and greeted the other girl with a hasty "hello," but kept right on going to keep up with her employer.

 

 

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Entering the back of house through the curtain, it was clear that the late Mr Packham had known his business well: for a good part of the day, a good strong light shone through large windows, unfettered by either blinds or drapes. A large cutting table dominated the wide open space which took up the main width of the building behind the scenes. There was a screened off section to the left, with a full length mirror and to the right a sort of office with desk and chair and a stack of ledgers on a shelf, but it was still part and parcel of the ‘big room’ as Pettigrew and his staff tended to call it.

 

Pettigrew pointed out the various features of the area, including a bizarre contraption on one side which looked like a table with wrought iron legs, with the addition of a foot pedal, a large wheel and a telegraph operator’s tapper on top. The ginger haired man, after showing off the cutting room with some pride, love even, seemed almost afraid to approach this machine. He drew Miriam toward it as if they were making hesitant steps toward the some dangerous animal.

 

He stopped them well clear of the threatening piece of furniture.

 

That, Miss Kaufmann, is the Willcox & Gibbs. Miss Wigfall has been the only one of us brave enough to tangle with it, so far. She has defeated it in a fair fight, and turns out fair repairs on it, and some heavier piece work; no fine point work, you understand. When you have settled in a little and are feeling courageous one day, we shall have her show you the thing.” He said, a slight nervousness in his voice and almost shielding her as they stepped back and away from the new fangled sewing machine.

 

@Wayfarer

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Her little tour, such as it was, took the pair to the back of the building. Honestly it looked like  the work area she would be laboring in was well thought out and properly equipped too. She just hoped her skills would be equal to the man's expectations. Would he be tolerant or demanding? Again, she would just have to do her best and find out.

 

He stopped then in front of an admittedly rare looking contraption and seemed almost in fear of it. Odd? He then explained.

 

That, Miss Kaufmann, is the Willcox & Gibbs. Miss Wigfall has been the only one of us brave enough to tangle with it, so far. She has defeated it in a fair fight, and turns out fair repairs on it, and some heavier piece work; no fine point work, you understand. When you have settled in a little and are feeling courageous one day, we shall have her show you the thing.”

 

"Oh, I know what it is. I have seen it before, indeed I was fortunate enough to sit down and try it with the help of the tailor who presented it to us. This was back when my family lived in New York, " she suddenly  announced with some confidence.

 

"Mother says it is positively amazing what grand inventions are being discovered all the time. We live in a fortunate age," she pretty much parroted her parent on that note.

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That the girl had been quiet and demure so far was quite gratifying to Mr. Pettigrew, the previous incumbent in the position had been a good little seamstress and it had gratified him immensely that under his tutelage she had become accomplished enough to go on to bigger and better things: on marriage moving to Butte and opening a small milliner there of her own. Oh, but she had been inclined to chatter away whilst working, putting him off his accounts and, frankly, encouraging him to chatter back. Even the Saturnine Miss Wigfall had joined in their conversations until Pettigrew himself would throw up his hands in frustration ‘Oh we are such a conglomeration of chatterboxes, we shall soon be ruined if we do not get along with our work!’ and then they would all put their heads down and get on silently, for at least ten minutes.

 

On the other hand, the girl would need to speak sometimes, especially to customers, so it was good that she spoke up now, showing that she had a voice.

 

"Oh, I know what it is. I have seen it before, indeed I was fortunate enough to sit down and try it with the help of the tailor who presented it to us. This was back when my family lived in New York, " she suddenly announced with some confidence.

 

“You lived in New York? Oh, my poor dear.” Consoled the ginger man, for his sojourn there had been less than happy.

 

"Mother says it is positively amazing what grand inventions are being discovered all the time. We live in a fortunate age," she pretty much parroted her parent on that note.

 

Pettigrew listened patiently to the girl’s recitation of her parent’s ideas, her accent was peculiar indeed: the admixture of the Dutch hardened accent of native New Yorkers and the Yiddish hybrid of German and Hebrew. He anticipated a busy week if he kept Miriam front of house, the women and girls of Kadispell would positively flock to hear the voice of ‘that strange new girl at Pettigrews!’ – such was the dearth of novelty in this hick town.

 

“Well, yes, I dare say that we must embrace the wonders of the modern age… yet not lose hold of the well-honed skills of the past.” He ruminated. His fear of the new in terms of his craft was in ironic contrast to his interest in the latest scientific, and frankly pseud-scientific, advances in the study of human personality: phrenology, mesmerism, anthropology, astrology, and the new-fangled ‘psychology’.

 

But enough of these esoteric thoughts, there were practicalities.

 

“Well, I am certainly glad to hear that you are not averse to becoming more familiar with the machine, Miss Kaufmann. But to other matters. What are your wishes around Saturdays? Your father was adamant that you could work those days, but I believe that I can persuade Miss Wigfall to cover, if your conscience would be at all troubled by laboring upon your Sabbath.”

 

He expected that on her first day in his store, Miriam would be eager, perhaps over-eager, to please, So he held up a warning finger before she made her decision.

 

“Please believe me, Miss Kaufmann, I may work you hard, and I may become perhaps a little irritable at times, but it is my very earnest and real wish that all my young ladies are generally happy in their work. I would not want you cutting expensive cloth and dealing with important clients whist suffering an agony of conscience!” he told her seriously. In case money was the problem, he added "There will always be after hours work available in the weekdays."

 

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“You lived in New York? Oh, my poor dear.” Consoled the ginger man.

 

"Yes, and my father would agree with you," Miriam nodded.

 

****

 

“Well, yes, I dare say that we must embrace the wonders of the modern age… yet not lose hold of the well-honed skills of the past.”  the fellow declared.

 

"Of course, sir," once more she nodded.

 

"Well, I am certainly glad to hear that you are not averse to becoming more familiar with the machine, Miss Kaufmann. But to other matters. What are your wishes around Saturdays? Your father was adamant that you could work those days, but I believe that I can persuade Miss Wigfall to cover, if your conscience would be at all troubled by laboring upon your Sabbath.” 

 

Miriam was not surprised to hear of her father's view on working the Jewish sabbath. They were certainly not very strict Hebrews, far from it.

 

"If you have need of me on a Saturday, I will come," she assured him without hesitation.

 

“Please believe me, Miss Kaufmann, I may work you hard, and I may become perhaps a little irritable at times, but it is my very earnest and real wish that all my young ladies are generally happy in their work. I would not want you cutting expensive cloth and dealing with important clients whist suffering an agony of conscience!”

 

"That is most considerate of you, sir. But you need not worry, I shall be a faithful and uncomplaining employee," Miriam pledged and she meant every word.  Her family would expect nothing less from her.

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"That is most considerate of you, sir. But you need not worry, I shall be a faithful and uncomplaining employee," Miriam pledged and she meant every word.  Her family would expect nothing less from her.

 

“Well, that’s fine, Miss Kaufmann, mighty fine.” Pettigrew cooed. Words were cheap, but he believed she meant it. It was not mere obedience he needed, though, nor just pure technical skill with a needle and pinking sheers (or a sewing machine, for that matter): he needed someone with élan, a certain panache, a love for the art of sartorial adornment: an appreciation of beauty. Alas, the mousy and obedient little girl whom he led to the staircase on this overcast day in the middle of the Territories, a million miles away from the great Fashion Centres of the world, displayed yet none of these things. Yet.

 

But Pettigrew, Worchester Pettigrew, he who had designed and created gowns for the great Ante-bellum beauties of New Orleans, like the beautiful Creole actress Adah Isaacs Menken, he who could take a bale of plain cloth and turn it into a delight for the discerning eye or artistic soul, could he not also wring from the broadcloth of the Nancy-Janes and Jemimas and Miriams of this cultural desert a new breed of cosmopolitan, avant-garde mid-western fashion designers? It was worth a try. It at least gave meaning to his life as it wound down.

 

The haven of this higher plane of outfitting was literally on a higher plane, the second floor of the house. Worchester led Miriam up the stairs. At the top were two doors: one to the left and one to the right: ‘Boaz and Jachin’ he muttered, masonically.

 

“This is the door to my private quarters” he explained “In an emergency, you may knock and wait.”

The other door he actually opened and showed the gamin in. To the untrained eye, it possibly looked like a waste of space: beautifully appointed, but containing a few chairs, the predicable full length mirror, and a changing screen and a form, used for building a dress upon.

 

This…” he said with emphasis “…is the dream palace! Here, we do not just sew and cut and pad, here … we create! Oh, but only for those who have a purse to match their dreams.” He said grandiosely. This is where commissioned pieces were discussed, fitted, modelled, too, for the richer denizens of the Town who wanted something exactly right for a special occasion. The modelling would be a very rare, but very real, part of the job. He didn’t mention that to the shy seeming girl right now, of course. He didn’t want to alarm her, but out of the three of them, Miriam would be the obvious choice, with Jemima and Worchester himself trailing, but coming a close second and third.

 

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It seemed her eagerness to please and agree to whatever he wanted was proving a success, Miriam noted.

 

"That's fine, Miss Kaufmann,  that's fine," was his response.

 

The tour continued then and they wound up entering what appeared to be a surprisingly large room for what few things were within. A couple of chairs and a changing screen...oh and a full length mirror too. She guessed ladies who had purchased garments could try them on in this room.

 

This…” he said with emphasis “…is the dream palace! Here, we do not just sew and cut and pad, here … we create! Oh, but only for those who have a purse to match their dreams.”

 

Miriam almost blurted out  'you mean your creations are expensive' but thought might be imprudent of her and even annoy the fellow so she settled for a nod and a quick, "Oh I see."

 

She gestured toward the large mirror, "We had one of these but on the trip out west, it broke. My mother was most distressed for the loss."

 

 

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She gestured toward the large mirror, "We had one of these but on the trip out west, it broke. My mother was most distressed for the loss."

 

“Well, they do say that’s seven years’ bad luck … and, true, here you are in Kalispell!” He joked, more for his own benefit than hers. “Now, an old mulatto witch I knew down in the Louisiana swamps once told me that if you put the broken pieces into a running stream it dispels the curse, but it’s all just mere superstition, of course.” His chins wobbled as he shook his head at the notion.

 

Worchester was extremely interested in folklore and old stories, especially ghost stories, but he took it all with a pinch of scientific salt. For instance, everybody he knew had a good ghost story: but it was seldom they themselves who had seen the spook: it was always their cousin’s best friend, or their friend’s nephew’s aunt. In fact, if you were best friend’s with someone’s cousin, you were practically guaranteed to see a ghost!

 

Of course, the Spiritualists in town saw plenty of supernatural activity: but they went looking and were determined to find it at all costs. The few others who claimed to have seen these echoes of the departed themselves: well, their stories probably told you more about their own lives than the afterlife.

 

Still, there were ghosts of a sort in this room: echoes of a splendid past when he was young and creative and gay. Perhaps that was why he loved the young ladies in his care and employ so much, even if could never have any romantic or sexual interest in them: his time was practically over, Kalispell was like a coda to the story of his life; but their lives were only just starting, as fresh with possibilities as the buds of an unknown flower in early Springtime about to burst into flower and reveal its dazzling colours to the world.

 

“Well, come on back downstairs and we’ll give you something  to do: when Miss Wigfall comes in tomorrow afternoon, I will commence teaching you the trade. “ he informed her.

 

@Wayfarer

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