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Mature Content: Maybe a little

With: Caroline, Miriam, Worcester, Arabella, Jemima
Location: That clothing shop with the horrifyingly long name
When: June 20 1876
Time of Day: Late morning

 

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Caroline was on a mission that fine morning, getting up reasonably early (for her anyways) and then heading out of the saloon to go shopping at that swanky new clothing shop. Thank the lord it was far simpler to find than to say the name of out loud. Whoever came up with that moniker did the customers no favors. She had need of a new dress for her act as Matilda had less than subtly suggested that very thing and told her she would go halfway on the price. Now Caroline loved the latest fashions from the east and surely this place would have some. Or, if not, they might well be able to make one for her.

 

As soon as she told Arabella of her decision, the girl - in her usual fashion - got all excited and insisted on coming along.  Caroline agreed but warned her she was not going to be buying a new dress for the girl. She was paid now for her work in the saloon, thanks to Caroline, and it was now up to her to save up for things of this sort. Caroline was not her mother, did not need to dress her.

 

So it was that the tiny bell tinkled above the front door as Caroline sauntered on in like she owned the place, a grand entrance her usual mode of entry. She already liked what she saw on display. But that would be too easy, no, she would first see if they maybe had something special, not on display. Of course it had to be colorful and of the latest east coast fashion. Or....maybe even Paris!

 

"Hello? Anyone here? You got customers,  paying customers at that!" she called out then grinned at Arabella.

 

 

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Worchester was in the back with Miriam, explaining some obscure fact about embroidering with silk on Italian linen. Jemima was on guard, front of house, when the door tinkled. Jemima looked up: it was Arabella with that whore she worked with at the saloon. Or she sang dirty songs or something.

 

"Hello? Anyone here? You got customers, paying customers at that!" she called out then grinned at Arabella.

 

“Howdy, ‘Mima! It’s me!” Arabella stated the obvious “Me an’ Caroline are … ooooh! Look Cara’, they got new ribbons in!” The Virginian ran over to the ribbon stand and started holding them against her hair and seeing which looked best in the mirror against her black hair and unhealthily pallid skin.

 

Jemima’s face didn’t betray that much excitement at seeing either of them. One was full of sin and the other was a lousy customer. Sometimes Arabella would spend a whole hour in the store and buy nothing more than a button. The next day she would come in and buy another button the same colour. After a week and five visits, she’d have a set. Like most women, Arabella liked shopping, and always dragged it out, umming and ahhing till past closing time.

 

Pettigrew heard the hubbub and motioned Miriam to follow him through the curtains, scratching his palm as he did. “Come Miss Kaufmann, I smell…” he sniffed the air through his nose, like he’d caught the whiff of something delicious cooking “… a commission!”

 

“OH!” Wus beamed as he made his grand entrance “If it isn’t the Songbird of Kalispell! The Chicago Nightingale herself, our own, our very own Miss Caroline Mundee!” He looked Jemima up and down. Frankly, she was lowering the tone. “Button duty, Miss Wigfall!” he ordered, sending the frowsy girl packing in the rear.

 

“Oh, imagine it La Mundee in my bijou boutique! A thrill, a palpable thrill. Please be seated my dear friend.” He oozed. “This is my new assistant, Miss Kaufmann, all the way from New York, the Fashion heart of our own United States!” he showed her off. He spied Arabella getting her grubby fingers all over the cheap ribbons.

 

“Miss Kaufmann, please do go and assist Miss Mudd. Miss Mudd is Miss Mundee’s talented accompanist.” In a lower voice he added “Try and sell her one of those velvet chokers, the $3 ones!” then returned beaming to Caroline.

 

“Oh, I heard you in the saloon last night, Miss Mundee, you were divine, simply Divine I say!” Worchester cooed and fussed over Caroline while Arabella carried on seeing what carmine looked like with her blue eyes.

 

@Wayfarer

 

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Ah there was someone - some grim faced girl and Arabella knew her too.

 

"Howdy, ‘Mima! It’s me!” Arabella stated the obvious “Me an’ Caroline are … ooooh! Look Cara’, they got new ribbons in!”

 

"So I see, hon. Well, look'em over, you might find one you like," Caroline was after bigger game...errrr merchandise like a new dress.

 

Then a well built nattily attired fellow emerged from the back.

 

“OH! If it isn’t the Songbird of Kalispell! The Chicago Nightingale herself, our own, our very own Miss Caroline Mundee!” He then dismissed the frumpy looking employee though another girl was directly behind him. 

 

Ahhh, a fan. Caroline beamed, "In the flesh, my good man."

 

“Oh, imagine it La Mundee in my bijou boutique! A thrill, a palpable thrill. Please be seated my dear friend.” He oozed. “This is my new assistant, Miss Kaufmann, all the way from New York, the Fashion heart of our own United States!”

 

"How do you do, Miss," Miriam nodded, wondering why the woman was so painted up in makeup? Oh and painted fingernails too? Also why she was not wearing a hat in public? And what was with all those names or titles?

 

"Hello, hon!" Caroline flashed a peformance smile at Miss ....Miss whatever.

 

“Miss Kaufmann, please do go and assist Miss Mudd. Miss Mudd is Miss Mundee’s talented accompanist.” In a lower voice he added “Try and sell her one of those velvet chokers, the $3 ones!” then returned beaming to Caroline.

 

"Of course sir," Miriam nodded then headed for the younger girl so enthralled with ribbons.

 

“Oh, I heard you in the saloon last night, Miss Mundee, you were divine, simply Divine I say!”

 

"Why thanks, mister. I appreciate it. However - I shall take not advantage of your obvious swooning over me to expect a discount. In fact, I insist on paying full price," Caroline moved right up to the man and held out her hand for him to kiss. Some men she just shook hands with, this fancier sort she knew this was what they expected.  As for the full price, she was already only to be paying half price since Matilda was footing the other half.

 

Disregarding the offered seat, she got right down to business, "You see I wish to buy a new dress. I want one of the latest fashion back East or even Paris. I also want it to my personal specifications - you know for my performances. Do you think I have come to the right place...Mister....Mister , I'm sorry I did not catch your name?"

 

****

Meanwhile, Miriam stopped next to the girl, she seemed about her age, maybe younger though.  Miriam was bright and she was beginning to put it all together then. Jemima had talked about her friend who worked at the saloon with some whore who beguiled men with her singing and ...well other things. So this was that girl and the blonde woman was.........oh gosh!

 

"Hello," Miriam said, not much of a sales pitch but then she wasn't a saleswoman she was a seamstress.

 

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Pettigrew kissed the girl’s hand as it was proffered, he had been long enough in the trade to sense what sort of attentions any particular type of lady who came into the store would want lavishing upon her. Miss Mundee, he felt, would want straight talking, but wrapped up prettily, with a bow on top.

 

Disregarding the offered seat, she got right down to business, "You see I wish to buy a new dress. I want one of the latest fashion back East or even Paris. I also want it to my personal specifications - you know for my performances. Do you think I have come to the right place...Mister....Mister , I'm sorry I did not catch your name?"

 

“Pettigrew, Miss Mundee, Worchester Pettigrew, at your service.” He informed her rubbing his hands together and bowing slightly. “And why talk of the East Coast? Why, indeed, talk of Paris? Milan! MILAN! Is our new Mecca vis a vis costume a la mode!” He grabbed a folio of fashion prints, showing all the latest styles. The Parisian ones were slightly gayer than the Milanese but, in Pettigrew’s opinion, in an effort to be more outré than the year before, they had actually crossed the threshold into the realms of ‘gaudy’.”

 

“Now, does Madame see anything here that sparks Madame’s interest?” he asked unctuously. He had to let her think that she was making the decisions here, but of course, it must be he, and he alone, who made the correct decisions. An army could only have one General in Command, and women were too close to themselves to make good choices in their own attire. He was a skilled designer, had exquisite taste in women’s clothes and, above all, was neutral.  

 

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 ****

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, Arabella saw the other dark haired girl approach in the mirror. She did not turn but looked at their dual reflection. She smiled at Miriam’s refection and her reflection smiled at the real Miriam. They stood next to each other in the land of the looking glass, like two peas in a pod: the same height, the same age, the same sort of workaday clothes, the same dark hair. Arabella’s eyes were blue and Miriam’s were Brown, true, but they sort of matched, that inverted couple of doppelgängers.

 

 "Hello," Miriam said, not much of a sales pitch but then she wasn't a saleswoman she was a seamstress.

 

“Hello.” Replied Arabella, feeling the girl close to her side, but still looking at her in the glass.

 

So this was The Jewess, Miriam, that Jemima had told her about. All right, complained about. But what frightened Jemima, excited the Old Testament obsessed Arabella. Miriam the Jew, Miriam the Prophetess, Miriam the sister of Aaron and Moses, she who saw Moses being placed in the Nile in  a wicker basket, she who led the Israelites in the Song of the Sea after Pharaoh's army was destroyed at the Sea of Reeds, she who was rebuked by God for criticizing Moses on account of his Kushite wife. And this fresh-faced girl standing at her side in the glass, she was, no doubt, her direct descendant as well as namesake.

 

“What colour ribbon do you think suits me?” she asked the reflection. “Am I a pink girl or a light blue girl, or do you see me in red?” she asked, holding up the carmine ribbon.

 

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Caroline nodded as he introduced himself as Pettigrew, oh he gave his Christian name too not that she had ever heard that one before in her whole life.  But she would settle for Mr. Pettigrew then.

 

"Nice ta meet ya. Milan you say? I know that's in Europe but can't say as I ever bought me a Milan dress," she replied.

 

He was more than prepared to show her visuals of these Milan dresses and allowed her to take a good look at some. Honestly she didn't see that much difference in them from Paris dresses but she wasn't about to admit to that.

 

"Oh, let's see.....hmmmmm, those seem nice enough. Well......" she gave them a close study.

 

“Now, does Madame see anything here that sparks Madame’s interest?”

 

"Oh geezus, I ain't no madam. You can call me Caroline or if you must Miss Mundee but no madam. That makes me sound old, " she corrected him.

 

"This purple one here....that's a royal color they say, right?" she was back to fashion again.

 

*****

“Hello.” Replied Arabella, looking at her in the glass.

 

What colour ribbon do you think suits me?” she asked the reflection. “Am I a pink girl or a light blue girl, or do you see me in red?”

 

Still mindful of her employer's instructions regarding this girl Miriam paused to think on it then answered, doing her best to be honest.

 

"I think any sort of soft color like light blue...or pink better suits you than the red. That seems such a ...hard, stark color. Though you are quite pretty, so you can probably pick anything you like."

 

"Say, would you like to purchase a choker? That might look nice around your neck," she then dutifully added her sales pitch.

 

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“Now, does Madame see anything here that sparks Madame’s interest?” 

 

"Oh geezus, I ain't no madam. You can call me Caroline or if you must Miss Mundee but no madam. That makes me sound old, " she corrected him.

 

“Oh, nobody would ever think you old, Miss Mundee.” simpered the man unctuously.

 

"This purple one here....that's a royal color they say, right?" she was back to fashion again.

 

“Oh, the lilac, hmmm, you like that?” he scratched his chin and then stood back a little taking Caroline in with a quite serious look on his face. With her coloring, the lilac would wash her out, but still, if she liked the idea of the purple end of the spectrum. “Hold on!” he said with an earnest rise of a finger and bolted into the back, returning in less than two shakes of a lambs tail with a hand mirror and two swatches of cloth, one lilac and one a deep violet.

 

He gave Caroline the mirror to look at herself as he held the lilac piece of cloth next to her face. “So so, hmm?” he said dismissively, and then held the rich dark violet piece of velvet next to her visage in the glass. “But this … doesn’t this make those blonde tresses look like spun gold, and that fine complexion of yours look like peaches and cream, and doesn’t it make those blue eyes sparkle like a summer sky?” he asked. “Now that’s what I call a Royal purple, fit for the Queen of song!”

 

*****

[Meanwhile, downmarket:]

 

"I think any sort of soft color like light blue...or pink better suits you than the red. That seems such a ...hard, stark color. Though you are quite pretty, so you can probably pick anything you like." 

 

Arabella, who had been excited about going to the shop and meeting a real Jewess, but who also planned to play it cool and not babble senselessly like she usually did, giggled girlishly “He he, I like the way you speak. Is that how people speak in New York? Do you really think I’m pretty? I think you’re pretty, too. My names Arabella, you’re Miriam aren’t you? Jemima told me all about you.” It all came tumbling out. “Er, I mean, I’ll have pink if you think it suits me!” she beamed at the other girl in the glass. So much for playing it cool.

 

"Say, would you like to purchase a choker? That might look nice around your neck," she then dutifully added her sales pitch.

 

“Ooooh! Yes please!!” nodded Arabella enthusiastically, but then had to add “What’s a Chowka?” She wouldn’t have known what one was in a Southern, let alone in a Yiddish accent.

 

@Wayfarer

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Caroline pointed to the dress she thought was purple in the catalog and the man lit up, confident he could improve on that idea. Soon he was back with a hand mirror and a couple of strips of material, letting her see them both next to her skin. Turned out that it was lilac but he had a deeper purple one too

 

“But this … doesn’t this make those blonde tresses look like spun gold, and that fine complexion of yours look like peaches and cream, and doesn’t it make those blue eyes sparkle like a summer sky?” he asked. “Now that’s what I call a Royal purple, fit for the Queen of song!”

 

He was right too!  Caroline beamed, "Yes, I agree. I like it. Royal purple."

 

She then leaned in as if to whisper some deep dark secret, "I have to admit though I wasn't born into royalty. Just a plain ol' Chicago girl."

 

"So you got a dress in this color? Or can you make one for me?" she never even bothered to ask the price. Hell, looks were important, price be damned. What else did she have to spend her money on.

 

***

“He he, I like the way you speak. Is that how people speak in New York? Do you really think I’m pretty? I think you’re pretty, too. My names Arabella, you’re Miriam aren’t you? Jemima told me all about you.” It all came tumbling out.

 

"Umm.......yes..." was the most Miriam could get out, not one to speak over another.

 

“Er, I mean, I’ll have pink if you think it suits me!” Arabella beamed at the other girl in the glass. So much for playing it cool.

 

Pink would be fine but Miriam realized her employer expected her to make an effort to sell something more expensive than a ribbon, like a choker it seemed. So she brought that up.

 

“Ooooh! Yes please!!” nodded Arabella enthusiastically, but then had to add “What’s a Chowka?”

 

Well, that was easy enough, Miriam was pleased. Oh so the girl didn't even know what she was suddenly willing to purchase?

 

"It's one of these, " she pointed over to the chokers and even selected one that should hopefully fit this other girl, "You wear it around your neck.  They don't really choke you....unless you select one too tight. Here this might fit you, try it."

 

 

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He was right too!  Caroline beamed, "Yes, I agree. I like it. Royal purple."

 

“As I say, fit for a queen…” cooed the salesman of dreams.

 

She then leaned in as if to whisper some deep dark secret, "I have to admit though I wasn't born into royalty. Just a plain ol' Chicago girl."

 

Worchester tittered agreeably “Maybe not Royalty, but definitely not plain, Miss Mundee! I have observed the way the gentlemen at the saloon look at you: they are on the edge, Miss Mundee, positively On. The. Edge.! Why a dress in this shade, just the right cut: well that dam’s gonna burst!” he waxed lyrical about Caroline’s charms in way that was effective because it was controlled: he himself was unable to feel the slightest sexual interest in the girl, just appreciate her on a purely aesthetic plane, an ideal clotheshorse.

 

"So you got a dress in this color? Or can you make one for me?" she never even bothered to ask the price. Hell, looks were important, price be damned. What else did she have to spend her money on.

 

“Oh, this must be made. Bespoke. You see the lines of these pieces” he indicated the cut of the dresses in the plates. “They won’t stand being truncated top and bottom to make them suitable for your … song presentations. We will need to widen them here and tuck them here to maintain … that certain … voluptuosity.” He shrugged, making a vague hourglass figure with his hands. He presumed that if it was for her act, Caroline would need to look like an utter slut in the thing, Royal purple or not.

 

***

“Ooooh! Yes please!!” nodded Arabella enthusiastically, but then had to add “What’s a Chowka?”

 

"It's one of these, " she pointed over to the chokers and even selected one that should hopefully fit this other girl.

 

As they both turned around, away from the mirror, Arabella came face to face with the back of Miriam’s head (if that wasn’t a contradiction in terms) and could smell her hair: it was like rugelach and bagels and babka and hamantaschen and Mandelbrot and … oh! … all sorts of things that Arabella had never heard of (yet!) and had never tasted (yet!). Most people in Kalispell smelt of what they had eaten recently, or had been cooked in their presence, along with the things they worked with (like horses and cattle) with an underlying base of their own particular brand of sweat.

 

Arabella followed the exotic, mousy little creature and  closed her eyes as she leaned forwards and sniffed the back of the girl’s head more closely for a second, then opened her eyes with alarm as Miriam spoke to her, proffering the black velvet band.

 

"You wear it around your neck.  They don't really choke you....unless you select one too tight. Here this might fit you, try it."

 

“Oh! Say, why don’t you put it on me, show me how it’s done!” requested Arabella, skipping back to the mirror and gathering up her long black hair and lifting it over her head in a clump to expose her neck (luckily it had been treated to its monthly scrub only a few days before). Arabella’s hair smelled of nit shampoo and fried bacon and cinnamon and beer and second hand cigar smoke and late springtime when the first buds were bursting open and revealing the true colours of the flowers within.

 

@Wayfarer

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His answer was just as she hoped for, he was perfectly willing even eager to make the dress assuring her it would be exactly what she was looking for. "We will need to widen them here and tuck them here to maintain … that certain … voluptuosity,” the man shrugged, making a vague hourglass figure with his hands.

 

Caroline didn't know what that one fancy word even meant but figured it out due to his gesture with the hands. Aha!

 

"Well, yes. To be honest I ain't exactly blessed in that department but I do fine with what I got," she didn't even mind admitting.

 

"Oh and I'd like the dress to be able to be opened from the front," she quickly added.

 

***

 

Miriam turned to select an appropriate choker which should fit the girl. She was a skinny little thing and same with her neck but it was not difficult to pick one which should do the trick. Miriam turned around again and was a bit startled - the girl was suddenly so close. So Miriam stepped back then to restore the personal space between the two. Arabella now requested help in trying it on.

 

"Oh certainly, let's go over to the mirror, " and as they did so then quickly worked to unfasten the selected choker.

 

Unlike Arabella, Miriam was too focused on her job duties to even take a sniff of the girl's hair.  It didn't take care her more than mere seconds to accomplish her task then stepped back to let the customer study the look.

 

"You look nice, distinguished. In all honesty though, it does cost more than a ribbon, just want to point that out," Miriam smiled, "But would look great on you for some social event... like a dance or dinner party."

 

Not that Miriam had ever been to either of those sorts of things.

 

 

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"Well, yes. To be honest I ain't exactly blessed in that department but I do fine with what I got," she didn't even mind admitting.

 

Yes, it was amazing what you could do with a bit of padding and pushing, Pettigrew considered. If he wasn’t designing dresses which did just that for ladies who lacked in that particular area, he was designing corsets which hid that they had a superabundance of assets in other departments.

 

"Oh and I'd like the dress to be able to be opened from the front," she quickly added.

 

“How easily?” he asked professionally. After all, in some situations, it was the fumbling over complicated clasps and hooks and fastenings that was half the fun!

 

***

 

"Oh certainly, let's go over to the mirror, " and as they did so then quickly worked to unfasten the selected choker. 

 

Arabella grinned at Miriam’s accent: not laughing at it, enjoying it. She just so obviously didn’t come from round these parts, it gave her an alluring mystique despite her slightly humdrum appearance and mousy manner.

 

She watched the other girl come up behind her in the looking glass. Oh, how she loved to see the both of them standing there together like that. She gloated at the sight of the Jewish girl reaching around her, like an embrace almost, and fasten the choker around her throat. That in itself was an odd thrill, almost asphyxiating. Miriam had a good eye, it was a perfect fit, but Arabella had to fight the impulse to ask to try a size smaller, and get really strangulated.

 

“Kinda like you put a dog collar on me!” Arabella commented whimsically, tipping her head curiously in the mirror and catching the reflection of Miriam’s sphinx like eyes.

 

“You look nice, distinguished. In all honesty though, it does cost more than a ribbon, just want to point that out,” Miriam smiled, “But would look great on you for some social event… like a dance or dinner party.”

 

Arabella smiled and tried to pull herself together. This was no good. She was acting all peculiar again. Things were weird enough with Caroline right now, she could do without further complications. And this girl seemed so nice … so normal! … so just right to be her friend. She had friends but … well, Clara only seemed to tolerate her, and she was so busy and married now; being with Bridget was like babysitting a five year old; and Jemima was too deep and brooding to have much fun with. Miriam seemed normal, if only she could be normal too, and be nice normal friends with her, why, life would be just wonderful.

 

That was it, be normal. Be normal even if it killed you!

 

“We had a big barn dance here a couple of months ago” Arabella found herself informing the other girl brightly “I danced with twelve different fellers! An’ there was a band and food and drink an’ everything! And they wanted me to play the pianna but I turned ‘em down because I wanted to dance with boys. An’ I introduced two of my friends to each other and they had a dance and guess what? They just got wed last week! That’s just the kind of romantical affair it was! Boys and girls dancin’ all over – I danced with three cowboys, a barman, a Army Captain, a Army Lieutenant, the feller what got married, a undertaker, a telegraph operator, a sheriff’s deputy, and two fellers I don’t even know what the Dickens they do but they sure was high steppers!”

 

“Oh, and I’ll take the choker!” she said, and seeing Miriam go to take it off quickly added “That’s all right, I want to keep it on. I surely do love it so!”.

 

@Wayfarer

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