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The Haberdasher

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“What about a bustier?”

“Now, now, Mr Lucas. Don’t be insolent in front of my customer, thank you,” Mrs Slocombe puffed her green hair and clasped her hands together with a smile, “This madam of yours, is she—”

“Mm, no, she’s only a friend.”

“That’s what they all say!” Mr Lucas chimed in with a hearty laugh.

Paul turned around and gave a subtle scowl, “Don't you have work to do? Or are you paid to be Grace Brothers’ personal peanut gallery?”

Mrs Slocombe shot Mr Lucas a piercing glare before returning back to the matter at hand, “I see, well what does she like, Mr Merroney? In terms of interests, fashion…?”

From the corner of Paul’s eye he could just catch a glimpse of a tall, blond man setting sights on him from the opposite department. The man in question leaned coquettishly against the glass display case as though a lion watching his prey from a distance. Paul, knowing he always took great pride in his appearance, couldn’t help but be flattered by those willing to break their necks to get a glimpse of him. Unfortunately for them, this was the one scenario where his sentiments were never revealed outright. ‘Let them work for it’ was the motto, ‘Let them spend their waking hours pining for something they may never—’

“Excuse me? Mr Merroney?” Mrs Slocombe repeated, her lashes fluttering.

“Hm?” He turned his attention back towards the women’s department, “Oh, um, typical womanly things I suppose. I don’t pay much attention to her attire unless necessary.”

“...Right. I’ll see what I can pick out for her special day. Miss Brahms, you have the register.”

~~~~

Mr Lucas stuffed his hands in his pockets and expelled an audible breath of air through his nose, “You’ve really got eyes for that toffee-nosed twit? Guy’s probably never stepped foot in a department store his whole life until today,”

“Maybe so, Mr Lucas,” Mr Humphries replied with a yearning sigh, “But it’s been so long since I’ve seen a man exude such...class.

Mr Lucas adjusted his posture and sniffed obnoxiously, “You don’t think I’ve got class, Mr Humphries?”

Wilberforce took a quick peek at his associate, scrutinizing him from head to toe, “Good heavens, no,” he admitted, waving his hand in the air as if telling the other to shoo. Dick was exceptionally average compared to this gentleman: the way his hair so delicately fell into curls upon his forehead, how fitted his cream turtleneck and grey suit jacket were on his figure, how those legs—No, Mr Humphries had seen the unfortunate attire Mr Lucas wore on his day off and it certainly was not classy.

At the sight of Paul’s pupils, Mr Humphries fluttered his lashes and produced a simpering smile. Paul returned the favour with an expression of reticent charm. It wasn’t the ideal response, but Wilberforce knew the difference between playing hard to get and straight rejection; and the way that shrewd businessman’s lips curled upwards and the way he seemed to study him revealed his thoughts like nothing else. “Oh, and there’s a customer who has yet to be attended to,” he added.

Mr Lucas pouted his lips and turned around to see for himself. Alas, there was, “Are you being served, sir?”

~~~~

Mrs Slocombe returned to the counter with a selection of perfume testers, “Here we are, see which one tickles your fancy.”

Paul wafted the sample papers one by one: one smelled sweet—almost saccharine—and was reminiscent of a confectionary in Augustus Gloop’s wildest dreams; another was powdery and full of musk and floral notes that fit more with Mrs Hammond the Elder than a budding career woman like Miss Miller; then there were others that were tropical, herbaceous, or fresh-smelling. The strong fragrances began to make his head spin, and he decided on the option that would be the least offensive as they worked together in the office.

“This one should be sufficient,” he said, handing the tester to Mrs Slocombe who read out the card’s name: Sweet Blushes by Francheska.

“A wise decision, Mr Merroney! And may I suggest a lovely scarf to go with it? We have a wonderful selection,”

Paul checked his watch then checked his secret admirer who was still peering over while folding various trousers and shirts to be put on display, “You may,” he replied, his attention still focused on the haberdasher.

“Oh, he’s gone,” Mr Humphries whined as he sorted out the clothes.

“Where to?” Mr Lucas answered, pulling out a shirt to hand to his client in the fitting room, “Stealing candy from children or stealing souls from prospective clients?”

“Don’t be so prejudiced, you don’t even know him!”

“And you do?”

“Well,” he shrugged with an air of self-assuredness, “I hope to,”

~~~~

Only a few moments later did the two reemerge from the depths of the women’s department.

“Sale, Miss Brahms.”

“Sale, Mrs Slocombe.”

“Your friend will absolutely adore the gifts, Mr Merroney. I would’ve chosen the same scarf myself!”

Paul pursed his lips, knowing that the banal comment was most likely repeated endlessly on a daily basis, “Yes, I’m sure you would...”

In exchange for a few pounds, he received a small paper bag with the name Grace Brothers in gilded, cursive lettering...which he left dangling in Mrs Slocombe’s hand.

“I don’t carry parcels,” he proclaimed, “Someone must accompany me to my car.”

The two women glanced at each other with furrowed brows, “Well, I’m sure Mr Lucas would love to assist you. Oh, Mr Lucas?” she called out tunefully.

Mr Lucas poked his head out from the fitting room entrance and chirped back in the same manner, “Yes, Mrs Slocombe?”

“Please assist Mr Merroney here with—”

One look at the man and Paul was completely uninterested, “No,” he interjected, gazing deeply into the far-away eyes of the other man who stood a few feet in front of Mr Lucas, “I request the services of his associate...and I believe the feeling is quite mutual.”

With a satisfied grin, Mr Humphries sashayed over to Paul, ignoring the many jaws that had fallen to the floor,

“A man of such refined taste only chooses the best, darlings!”