Prudence Moody clutched her basket to her breast and waited with the other women. The wind blew cold beneath her skirts, her feet already numb. But it would be worth it once the door opened. The wooden sign painted with a fair likeness of a needle and thread swung above the door. Its metal fastenings creaked with each gust.
Not a word passed between the women gathered beneath it. It was as if their next breath hinged on the opening of that door. The rattle of a key brought each woman to her toes, breath suspended. Then the door opened and—as if it were one beast—the collective breath released and the women surged forward.
“Nay, release that sprigged muslin. ’Tis sure that I had it first.” Chastity Bradford wrest the bolt of fabric from the hands of Mercy Fryer.
“’Tis not truth, for I certainly touched it before thee,” Mercy made a grab for the muslin but caught only the back of Chastity’s shawl.
“Here now, ladies, there be plenty for all.” Mister Rushmore raised his hands as if to slow or quiet the mob, but the ladies pushed past him.
Prudence scurried to the back corner where a table displayed a few scant yards of Chantilly lace. She spied the perfect strip of knotted ivory when it was snatched from the table and trust into the basket of Selah Bell.
“Selah, I was intent on that lace.”
“Then ’tis fortunate for me I arrived first.” With a swish of her skirts, Selah whisked to the next table.
“Here now, ladies, we have much to—” Mister Rushmore’s words cut off as some lady’s elbow connected with his midsection while she wrested a gray linen bolt from her neighbor.
Prudence turned back to the lace table, but every scrap was gone. Every scrap! A roiling sea of skirts blocked her way to the shelves that lined the opposite wall of the haberdashery. Someone trod on her foot, a basket rammed into her spine, and a hand grazed the side of her head as she fought her way through the horde.
Three silver thimbles gleamed on the middle shelf. She only needed one, but the impressive expanse of Hester Bleeker’s hips blocked Prudence from getting within reaching distance. Help came in the form of skinny Phoebe Collins, who smacked into Prudence with enough force to wedge her between Hester’s hips and Mercy’s shoulder. She reached for the thimbles when the unthinkable happened.
The shelf collapsed.
Like a quilt shaken in the wind and laid out for a picnic, the ladies in the haberdashery floated to the floor in a tangle of skirts and bonnets. Prudence landed on her hands and knees, the basket torn from her grasp.
“Get thee off my person!”
“Unhand those scissors, they are mine!”
“Thy foot is on my hand!”
“Get thee out of my way!”
Prudence was pushed backward, her knee landing on something small and hard as an elbow connected with her cheek. She rolled to her side and grabbed the hard object. A thimble. She curled her fingers around it and wormed her way out of the crush of skirts and bodies until she could stand.
Mister Rushmore, his powdered wig askew, stood in the middle of his store, his mouth agape and waistcoat torn. His wife hunkered behind the solid oak counter, eyes wide and lips trembling. Prudence waded toward her, the thimble clenched to her palm.
“Mrs. Rushmore,” Prudence panted by the time she reached the counter. “I would purchase this thimble, and then be on my way.”
The woman nodded, apparently incapable of speech, so Prudence fished her pocket from underneath her apron and dug out the required coins. Half the required coins since that was the sale today, everything half off for Philadelphia’s first Black Friday Sale.
Her bill paid, Prudence found her basket in a tangle of wreckage near the door. She pried it from the others and hung it, albeit lopsidedly, from her arm. Then she patted her hair back under her bonnet and strode out the door.
Eliab, her husband, waited in the wagon across the street.
“Did thee purchase what thee needed?” he asked.
“Indeed, and at quite the bargain.” She held out her shiny prize for him to admire.
He eyed the thimble, then leaned closer to peer under her bonnet. “Why, wife, I believe thou shalt sport a black eye by eventide.”
She pressed her fingers against the tender flesh of her cheek. “Nevertheless, husband, ’twas worth it.”
And lo, the tradition began ...