Minerva brushed down her dress, back turned to the funeral procession, and headed the other way. Sybil caught up to her, touching her arm. “Minnie,” She whispered, both catching the sight of the funeral passing them. “It was Emma’s brother, George, he passed from Cholera.”
“Goodness how awful,” She whispered back, looping one arm into hers. They watched it pass, glancing at each other again. “Come with me, Sybil! I have to get to the shop.” They waited a moment longer before turning back around and walked to her father’s tailor shop.
“Tonight,” Sybil told her in a whisper.
“Good, you got the suit?”
“A lovely one. Wear your mourning dress.”
“Deal.” Minerva agreed.
Bart saw the girls enter, giggling softly to the other, which lifted his mood a little. “Minerva, what took you so long dear?” He asked her as she sat down at her spot in the corner, hoping to finish a skirt.
“A funeral passed by.” declared Sybil. He looked saddened by that thought. “Mr. Allen?”
“Yes, Sybil?” He humored her. Sybil was a bright girl, clearly reflective of everything she thought. Though she was a little eccentric, unlike Minerva who was much more subdued.
“I do believe we should not be sad when we see a funeral pass.”
“Why do you believe that Sybil?”
“Because life is meant to be celebrated, Mr. Allen.” She concluded. “What is the point of life if we can not be happy for the time we spent?”
“That is a lovely thought,”
“Where is Mother?” Minerva asked him, finally realizing she was not there.
“She is having a moment of solace.” He smiled.
Lottie Allen was married up into society as expected of all women in her social class. Marrying Bart was indeed a happy and wonderful occasion for them both. He was successfully a tailor as his father was before him, and she set to work there as well. He noticed she was melancholy in their work after a while. He took her by the hand and asked her what she needed. She told him she wanted to write, even if it was just for her. Bart stood up, went out, and bought her a typewriter the very same day. She began to cry with joy, asking him how he could afford it. He told her he would sell his entire shop if it meant she had some happiness. Every day she went into the room behind the shop and wrote with her typewriter. Moments of solace were what saved her.
“I will say Hello,” Minerva stood up.
“Oh, wait, wait,” He said, crossing to grab a shawl she had placed at the front counter. “Give this back to her, she might catch a chill back there.”
Minerva went to the back of the shop, tucked in the corner of the stockroom was Lottie. Back straight, eyes focused, lips pursed, hair in a messy up-do. Minerva placed the shawl around her shoulders, awakening her to her daughter’s presence. Lottie smiled at her, softness formed when she did. “Hello my heart,” She said in her low handsome voice. “How are you?”
“George passed,” She murmured.
“Oh no,” Lottie’s voice became sad. “Poor Emma, that sweet girl. She must be devastated.”
“I would be too.” She said softly.
Lottie finished her page, taking it off the machine, studying over it. “Hmm,” She chose and tied it to her other pages. “Now,” She signed, standing up. “Let’s return to your father.”
Sybil, now full of passion, began speaking of her favorite subject of ghosts. “So when a ghost is nearby they are meant to be cold, and you’ll see your breath.” Bart nodded, listening closely. “I’ve read the story of a beautiful woman who died on her wedding day,”
“Do not bother him, Sybil!” Minerva said, not unkindly.
“You read it too Minnie!”
“Father does not believe in ghosts.” She replied watching her mother cross to Bart. She went back to her corner.
“It is still polite to listen,” Bart declared. He looked at his wife for a moment, smiling at her. Minerva decided she loved how they held hands and warmed at the sight of the other. A stab of sadness flooded her mind at the return of George. “We should always listen to each other.”
“Right,” Sybil declared looking at Minerva a little smug. Minerva tried to purse her lips, finding it impossible not to upturn her lips. Sybil started to speak, pausing at the sight of her older brother at the window, which only made her want to dash out.
“Sybil Stanbury!” exclaimed Nathaniel Stanbury as he threw open the doors. Sybil sprang into running around the shop, chased by Nathaniel nearly slipped to capture her. “I will have your hide!”
“Do it you coward!” She replied ducking behind Bart and Lottie. Minerva covered her mouth, hiding her laughter, bending over her desk.
Nathaniel, now aware of his surroundings, cleared his throat and looked to the adults. “My apologies, Mr. and Mrs. Allen. I will be taking Sybil home now.”
“Don’t let him take me!” Sybil put her arms around Bart’s middle, cuddling to him.
“Oh do not be dramatic!” He ordered.
“We rather like you, Sybil,” Bart told her. “But your family will need you. You’d better go home with your brother.” The girl pouted a little more before releasing him and obediently going to her brother.
“Minerva,” He looked at her, becoming much more friendly. “It is always a pleasure to see you.”
“Hello, Nathaniel.” She said, softly nodding her head to him. “Goodbye, Sybil!”
The siblings left, quarreling with the other. Lottie burst into a laugh, “Oh goodness those two,” She declared. “My brothers were so much like him.”
“I am almost relieved it is just me,” Minerva decided.
Sybil sat at dinner, glancing at her brother, feeling the horrors of the silence. How she loathed it. Ludwig and Adelaide Stanbury sat at the head of the tables, the father’s father joining them. The Stanbury’s were business in the printing press, pumping out books for the country. Sybil and Nathaniel were blessed from infancy to have books at their leisure. Nathaniel would carry the burden of the family business when he became of age. Sybil, on the other hand, would have to be married to a gentleman of the same class. Nathaniel glanced at her again, knowing she wanted to leave the table. He understood many things about his lot in life and understood Sybil a bit more than he was willing to say.
“Lovely potatoes,” declared Ludwig. Nathaniel nodded, not saying much. Sybil was itching to escape.
“Father,” Nathaniel began. “Papa,” He spoke to their grandfather Alfred, affectionately addressed by a nickname. “May I...I do believe I have found a young lady I would like to court.” Everyone looked up, eyes focused on them. He saw the flicker of Sybil’s eyes, he had her attention.
“Now who is the lucky girl?” Adelaide joined, looking thrilled. “Is she of Sybil’s age, or older? Is she already in society?”
“She is Sybil’s age,” He continued. “Her father is a business owner, and her education is...not as refined. But she is brilliant and very lovely in all regards.”
“I know who it is,” Sybil burst, staring at him. “You will have better luck with anyone else.”
“Sybil!” Her parents said sharply.
She could have growled, “It is Minerva, she does not like him, and it should be her decision whether she may be courted.” She caught Papa’s grin.
“She does-” He began. Then he saw her expression. “She is indifferent to me, but I want to prove myself.”
“Why would you need to prove yourself to this young lady?” said Ludwig. “You are a remarkable young man, any young lady would be lucky to have you.”
“If he is remarkable,” Papa spoke at last. “Then he will listen to his sister. And listen to the lovely young lady he likes. Men will always be remarkable, but a woman will decide for herself if he really is. Just like my wife did, and as your wife did.” He glanced at his son. There was a pause.
“May I please be excused from the table?” Sybil asked, setting down her silverware.
“Finish your dinner, Sybil,” Ludwig began.
“You may go.” was Papa’s reply.
Sybil got up from the table and left the dining room to go up to her room. She heard footsteps behind her, knowing it was her brother. She threw the door open and shut it before he could say a word. “Sybil,” She heard the tenderness in his voice. “Sybil please.”
“Don’t you please me!” She opened the door and glared at him. “Why do you insist upon making me angry all the time?!”
“I make you angry because you speak your mind when you are!” He almost shouted. He glanced down the hall, starting again. “You are smarter than any man I know and yet you let people like me make you angry!”
They looked at the other, quiet for a moment. “You will not get Minerva to like you.”
“I am going to try anyway.”
“You can, but it’s not going to work,” Sybil said firmly, she leaned against the doorframe. “Will you tell me if I leave?”
“No. But what should I tell them?”
“That I am trying to study my Latin, and I would like not to be disturbed.”
“Alright, where are you going?”
“Don’t worry your pretty little head.”
Sybil listened around herself, tucking her coat closer to herself. She tipped her hat to a man passing by her. Her long blonde hair now pinned up, body as straight and stiff as Nathaniel’s dancing. She ran across the street, reaching the graveyard. She opened the gate, shutting it behind her, and turned directly into Minerva. “Oh, God.” She clutched her chest. “Minerva! You could have scared the soul out of me!”
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry,” She said, taking her hands. “I thought you saw me!”
“You’re wearing all black! And it’s nighttime!”
“Calm down!” Minerva said gently. “Do you have the candles?’
Sybil calmed down and retrieved her candles and a matchbook. She lit the wick, and they walked towards the grave of Sybil’s and Minerva’s grandmothers.
They met the other during a moment of mourning, Sybil sat on top of the dirt and rested against the stone. This baffled Minerva and she questioned her. Sybil explained that her grandmother used to hold her in a similar way, which is why she did it. Minerva kneeled down beside her own grandmother, saying she had never thought of such a thing. They spoke to the other for hours and decided they liked the other.
They had begun a small tradition of sneaking from their homes and visiting their grandmother’s together. Sybil wanting to dress in a man’s clothing helped her feel much more comfortable in her sneaking. They reached the stones, studying the flowers they had left only a week ago. “We should bring mums next time,” Minerva said softly. “Grandmother loved mums.”
“Mine always loved lilies,” Sybil answered, removing her hat before sitting down. Minerva sat near her stone, taking a deep breath, and smiled. Sybil placed the candle at the stone’s top, lighting them both a little. She offered Minerva a candle, and she took it. The graveyard was not as scary by candlelight. It was a safe place, though not dreamy in itself. Their candles gave a small illumination to the others, and you could barely read the grave’s inscriptions.
“I wish she was here,” Minerva murmured. “She would have loved George.”
“Did you fancy him?” Sybil teased a little.
“I am not sure,” She answered. “I believe I enjoyed his company, liked how he smiled at me, and when he spoke I wanted to hear his voice more and more.” Her friend saw her lip tremble, feeling guilt in her chest. “I do not know what is wrong with me...we did not know each other very much! But I...feel so sad.”
“You are very sensitive.” Sybil offered. “You clearly thought much about him, and of how awful it is.” She pulled the handkerchief from her pocket and wiped Minvera’s tear-soaked cheek. “I’m sorry.”
“You didn’t do anything,” She breathed out deeply. “My mother and I spoke to him once before. She said he radiated something of….a man who could speak about just anything and with kindness. I think about men often, and about how brilliant women are too. Mother is one of the most creative people I know, and I can not imagine why anyone could possibly doubt that. But…no one will ever read what she wrote, because she will not share it. Not with me...maybe with Father, but I have not asked him.”
“You think she’s worried no one will take her seriously?”
“Maybe. Her heart is tender, perhaps she just wants something for herself and herself alone.”
They paused, feeling the haze of the candlelight. An owl sounded from a distance, and crickets were low. “Can I tell you something absurd?” Sybil asked her.
“Nathaniel would like to court you.”
“Nathaniel,” Minerva’s mind caught up with her, looking at her in shock. “Nathaniel?” Sybil nodded, watching her friend’s eyes get wider and wider. “By God-”
“I know! I told him he was foolish.”
“He should go to more parties,”
Sybil laughed, “He will try, you should be prepared for such an awful thing.”
“It is not awful but it is not necessary,” Minerva said. “How foolish of him.”
“Papa says he should listen to me. And listen to you, if you reject him.”
“I like him,” Minerva decided, brightly. They looked at the candle’s flicker, pausing to see if it would go out. It remained lit. “He is very wise.”
“Much wiser than Ludwig,” Sybil murmured. She saw her friend’s look of worry. Sybil used her father’s first name when they were alone. “You’re lucky Minerva. You have a father who does not doubt your mind or any woman’s mind for that matter! He believes you much more than some girl to be married off.”
“He sees you much more than a girl Sybil!” Minerva objected.
Sybil shook her head, “No...I do not think he does….Nathaniel does though….I yelled at him before I left. He told me that I was smarter than any man he knew.”
“You are.” Minerva agreed. “I think so, anyway.”
“Hm, I bet Grandmum was like that,” She tapped her stone. “That’s why Papa liked her so much. He speaks about her often, with love in his eyes. If I ever met a man like that, I think I would never let him go.”
They paused, looking at the candles again. Sybil retrieved another, lighting it to give more attention. “I have ghost stories? Just one, for fun’s sake.”
“Not a terrifying one.” She said, nervously.
Sybil recovered a small book from the inside of her jacket. Sybil began to recount the story of a woman, recounted by her lover, feeling the horrors of seeing her spirit in their home. Minerva hugged her knees, feeling even more scared as every word poured from Sybil’s mouth. There was a snap startling Minerva. Sybil’s eyes darted up, glancing at Minerva’s terrified expression. “It’s probably just the trees.”
“Maybe we should go back home Sybil,” She offered, more nervous.
“Oh, alright,” She closed the book, tucking it back into her jacket. “I’ll walk you home.” She plucked up her candle, gently kissing the stone. Minerva did the same. They took hands before walking to the gates.
“I hate the sounds, Sybil,” She whispered, squeezing her hand tighter.
“I know,” She agreed. “It’s so much more peaceful in the day. Oops-” She dropped her candle putting out her light. “Well, you have yours.”
Minerva nodded, feeling confident knowing she had Sybil next to her. Another step lead them into confusion, it sounded like footsteps in the grass, stirring them. “Sybil, Sybil….”
“Shhh, put out the light!” Sybil whispered. Minerva dropped the candle and stepped on the flame. “We’ll keep walking and we’ll reach the gate!”
They began to creep their way to the gates, eyes scanning everywhere, hands as tightly wound as possible. They paused, hearing the creak of a lantern’s handle. They looked at the other, gearing to flee. A light darted before their eyed. Their hearts pounded with their terror, Minerva screamed from her fear. The lantern holder screamed even louder. The three-some stood for a second before Nathaniel took a step forward revealing his face from the light he carried. Sybil and Minerva gasped for air from their own relief.
“Nathaniel Stanbury!” Minerva exclaimed once her fear dipped. “Oh good gracious.”
“Minerva!” Nathaniel blushed, looking between them. “I...did...I did not know, I am sorry I believed you were not being courted-”
“What the devil are you talking about?” Sybil burst. “Nathaniel it’s me.” She removed her hat, showing her hair. “You don’t recognize your sister?”
“Why are you wearing a suit?” Nathaniel questioned her, now even more relieved.
“Why do you wear them?” She said. “They’re wonderful to wear!”
“Nathaniel, why are you here?” Minerva interrupted before they began arguing.
“I came to look for you both! It’s so late, I got worried!”
“We were about to come home!” Sybil said. “We were heading to the gates right now.”
“I have a horse waiting,” said the older brother. “Come. We’ll take you home Minerva,”
“Thank you,” And she added. “How scandalous. I am leaving a graveyard with two handsome men.”
The girls burst into giggling, Nathaniel looked even more embarrassed. “A graveyard is completely unacceptable for courting anyway.”
“Maybe to you,” Sybil added, giggling even harder. Minerva burst, holding her friend’s hand, returning to the misty cobblestone streets.
Back to the mortal world again.