Steeds 14

1 04 2017

“Step over into the sunlight, Sheriff Leall, where I can have a good look at you.” So spoke Zebulon Swed, the proprietor and resident tailor of Uttica’s haberdashery. Located at the northwest corner of 2nd and Main, the store benefited, not only from big picture windows on the front facing east, but also from an array of tall windows along the south wall.

Lee walked onto one of the bright rectangles illuminating the wooden floor.

“Yes,” said Zeb. “Turn around, please.”

Lee did so once.

“Yes,” Zeb repeated.

“You know,” said Lee, “if I were one of those corrupt government officials, I could bring a rocking chair over here and just sit, doing nothing for hours every day other than smell this shop.”

“I am glad you like it.”

“I don’t much like the smell of kerosene, burned and unburned,” Lee said. “I do understand the stuff is a boon to business, as well as to homes, especially in winter. There’s only so much candles can do.”

“You are old enough to remember, perhaps, whale oil?”

“Old enough to remember, yes,” said Lee. “Memories, no. Our farm was too deep into the Wisconsin wilderness at the time. Whale oil wasn’t available.”

“We do use candles here, of course.”

“But yours are beeswax, not tallow.”

“As often as we can get them,” said Zeb. “We have started using paraffin candles when necessary. Paraffin works, but we prefer beeswax.”

“It is good to walk into a place and not think one is walking into a dragon’s den.”

“It is good not to sell clothing that smells like it was made in a dragon’s den.”

“Your place smells more like a cedar grove.”

Zeb had cedar throughout the store: wall panels, shelves, bins, drawers, trunks, even barrels. “Half of what I sell is made of wool. One must do something to protect one’s wares from moths.” Zeb stepped to a drawer, opened it, and removed a small bag. He brought it to Lee. “Here.”

Lee took it. “What is it?”

“Something my wife put together. It’s called a sachet. Smell it.”

Lee did so.

“It contains the dried plants lavender, rosemary, tansy, spearmint, and peppermint, mixed with the spices clove, cinnamon, and coriander, along with the root of sweet iris. Do you like the scent?”

“Not bad,” Lee nodded.

“It took Abigail many attempts to get a combination that would appeal to people while repelling moths … and fleas, too.”

“Ah.”

“We place the bags in closed spaces throughout the store.”

“Moth balls would be easier.”

“Surely you jest,” said Zeb. “If you dislike coal oil, then you would like something made from coal tar even less.”

“Naphthalene.”

“That sounds even more horrid than it smells. We don’t use it.”

“Good. This is better.” Lee held the sachet out to hand it back to Zeb.

“Why don’t you keep it, Sheriff?”

“I do store this suit and hat in a cedar chest.”

“But if you like the scent of our shop, perhaps you’d like to carry a bit away. To keep you from corruption.” Zeb smiled.

“Some might say this in itself is corruption. It’s a bribe.”

“And what is Abigail bribing you to do? Leave off working day and night, seven days a week, and become an herbalist? A florist? Open a tea room, perhaps?”

Lee put the sachet into a pocket. “Thanks. I am here on business.”

“Surely you have no complaints about your suit. It fits perfectly.”

“That it does, even if it feels a bit snug.”

“That is the fashion today, as I told you.”

“And both the city council and the county board keep wanting to modernize, to be up-to-date, if not always in step with the latest in fashion. Summer is starting, though. This is wool….”

“Worsted fine Merino wool,” Zeb added.

“I can never forget how uncomfortable wool is in summer heat, not after having served with the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry in Tennessee and Alabama. I am not going to sit in that courtroom in July wearing this outfit. Or church, for that matter.”

“You are known to stand outside your church building on summer Sundays, listening at open doors or windows. But you should have noticed that the twill I employed is better than whatever despicable broadcloth you got from those who supplied the military.”

“Dixie heat nearly did me in, and my tolerance has, shall we say, diminished,” Lee said. “I much prefer being out of doors in some semblance of a breeze, but sometimes I must be indoors, so I’m thinking I’d like to order another suit more suitable for summer, especially summer in close quarters.”

“I understand.”

“Something in butternut, maybe.”

“Butternut?”

“Brown. The Rebels wore it when they couldn’t get gray. It certainly seemed more comfortable than dark blue wool.”

“The color somehow comes from the tree?”

“The nuts.”

“Ah. But, as you know, butternuts do not become available here in the north until latter August. I daresay my good wife will be able to learn how to obtain dye from the nuts, but that will require you waiting until autumn.”

“What do you have?”

“Come and see,” said Zeb. He stepped over to a counter in front of a number of shelves containing bolts of cloth. Lee followed. Zeb pointed. “Henna. Umber. Burnt umber. Sienna. Burnt sienna. Tan. And, well, brown.”

“This is all cotton.”

“Of course.”

“You know I prefer flax.”

“I do, and I can obtain linen material sufficient to make a suit, but that will require a longer wait. As I understand it, the Confederate soldiers wore cotton.”

“They did, for the most part.”

“If you are partial to Confederate attire in the summer, I have plenty of cotton at hand. Twill will make a nice suit, and cambric will make a nice shirt … or two. And if you desire the best of the old Confederacy, so to speak, I just may be able to obtain cloth made of Sea Island cotton.”

“If I want to wait for it.”

“Indeed. But I do have some fine Giza cotton cloth.”

“Tell you what,” said Lee. “Let’s go with what you’ve got in stock. Brown. Sienna. Not too dark. I’ll defer to your expertise.”

“Very good, Sheriff.”

“Actually, that sienna looks like it might work.”

“You like it?”

“I think so.”

“A sienna cotton twill for coat, trousers, and vest.”

“Yes.”

“And one or two white cambric shirts?”

“I’ll try one to start.”

“One may do for court appearances. You’ll need one for Friday evenings and a second for Saturdays and then even a third for Sundays.”

“Nobody can say you’re just a tailor.”

“Oh?”

“You’re a salesman.”

“Ah. Well, I try.”

“I still have my linen shirts.”

“I understand.”

“I wish I didn’t have to dress up for these weekend promenades, but….”

“I believe the measurements I took to make the suit you now wear are still accurate, based on how well this one fits. I can commence work on the new one immediately.”

“Good,” said Lee. “And now for my other business.”

“More business. My, my. Might we soon be awarded a government contract?”

“Now that you mention it, Smythe and Czsezniac don’t much like the outfits the city bought for them. When Uttica modernizes to a police department, maybe you can make uniforms more pleasing, if not more fashionable.”

“Noted.”

“Take a look at this,” Lee said, withdrawing a button from a pocket. “Have you seen something like this before? Someone told me he thought it is bone. I’m not so sure; I think it’s made from an antler.”

“May I?”

“Sure.” Lee handed the button to Zeb.

“Most of the buttons I use are metal. Brass. Copper. Some pewter. Tin. Steel on occasion. On occasions more rare, silver and gold. Sometimes the metal is faced with leather or cloth. Sometimes I use fine hardwood. I have yet to use something like this.”

“You don’t, but is it commercially available? Do store-bought garments use such buttons?”

“I would say this was done by hand at home. It’s fairly well made, but it’s not something that has come from a manufactory. Why do you ask?”

“I would like to find the man who lost it.”

“I see.”

“Perchance he’ll come in for a repair.”

“Doubtful, sir. If he’s adept enough to make this, he’s adept enough at sewing another onto the garment in question as its replacement.”

“How about this? You’re a tailor, so you have a good eye for this sort of thing. Maybe the man will come into the shop looking to buy something else, and you’ll notice this button is missing from among others. If so, let me know.”

“Certainly. But this appears to belong to a garment intended for rough use. It’s not often that I have farmers, railroad men, and other laborers come in wearing their work clothes. And this may be from hunting attire.”

Lee nodded.

“Speaking of buttons, what shall I put on your new suit?” Zeb asked.

“You mentioned hardwood. That sounds good to me.”

“Nothing a bit more….”

“Flamboyant?”

“Elegant. ‘Style is the dress of thought; a modest dress―neat, but not gaudy―will true critics please.’ So your Reverend Samuel Wesley wrote.”

“Elegant is good, but opulent is not. Most of the people in this county are descendants of European peasants and serfs, and they’re here to get away from people noble in title only. I’m not here to lord it over anybody, but to be an example … an exemplar, if you will.”

“Wisely,” Zeb said. “As you know, ‘Surely He scorneth the scorners: but He giveth grace unto the lowly.’ ”

“As an officer of law and order,” said Lee, “I see my task is to ‘abhor that which is evil’ and to ‘cleave to that which is good.’ As it is also written, I am not to think of myself more highly than I ought to think. I am to be ‘kindly affectioned’ to others with brotherly love, in honor preferring others. Not slothful. Fervent in spirit….”

“Zebulon!” a voice called from the back.

“Yes, Abigail.”

“That’s why I’ve ordered you to vote for that man the last two elections.”

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