A Lady Can Never Be Too Curious(2)

By: Mary Wine


“They keep their secrets; that much is true.” Janette went to join her friend, but she stopped before she made it to the summer porch.

“When did your father start making cycling pantaloons?”

One of the wardrobe cabinets was slightly open. Hung up in a neat row were several pairs of the controversial women’s wear.

“Father didn’t make them. I did,” Sophia informed her. “You aren’t the only one who likes Illuminist ways. They are quite comfortable.”

Janette looked at the makeshift dressing room formed with curtains near the back door. A full-length mirror stood next to it. “I want to try on a pair.”

“Your father would have a brain seizure.” But Sophia sounded excited.

“He would.” Janette held the pantaloons up in front of her and stared at her reflection in the mirror.

There was a swish of fabric as Sophia pulled out a coat with a peplum attached to it. “You will need this, or you’ll be shocking even to an Illuminist in naught but pantaloons and your corset.”

Janette took the pantaloons and coat into the dressing room and heard the curtain close behind her.

She was behaving wickedly.

No, that wasn’t true. She refused to believe a piece of clothing might be the cause of her moral corruption. She unbuttoned her dress and reached down to release the waistband on her petticoat so she could step out of it. She contemplated the pantaloons for a moment before shaking them out in front of her and lifting one foot. They slid easily up one leg and then the other.

She turned to the coat and slid it off the hanger. The pantaloons felt slightly strange, but the brush of air against her lower legs was pleasant.

“These must be heavenly in summer,” she murmured.

“Don’t become too enamored, Janette. You know your father detests anything to do with the Illuminists.”

Janette pushed her hands into the sleeves of the top and pulled it closed over her corset. “How could I forget? I have to hide my science circulars in my shawl. You’ve no idea what it takes to keep the upstairs maid from discovering them in my room, but I’m not giving them up. Privately, I shall keep my mind as sharp as I please.”

Sophia laughed, and Janette pushed the curtain open while working the last of the coat buttons closed. Excitement turned her cheeks pink as she hurried to see her reflection. The long mirror showed her more of her shape than she’d ever seen. She turned to look at the back view. The coat’s peplum fell to just above her knees, and the bagginess of the pants didn’t allow her knees to show at all. The cuffs of the pantaloons fit easily around her calves, allowing several inches of her stockings to be seen before her boots began. Both pieces were made of caramel wool.

“You might as well try on the hat while you’re at it, Janette.”

Sophia offered a top hat, only it wasn’t made of wool or beaver silk as Janette expected. Nor was it in a size a lady normally wore.

“Why is it so large?”

“Illuminists consider function more important than fashion. This hat was ordered by a woman who claimed the kid leather would fail to conduct something or other.”

“Electricity,” Janette supplied while sitting the hat on her head. It sat comfortably around her forehead, exactly like a man would wear his hat.

“I never thought cycling pantaloons would feel so free.”

Sophia failed to hide her amusement. “I warn you not to get accustomed to the feeling. Both our families will see us shipped to the Highlands before allowing either of us to set one foot outside without a dress on.”

Janette walked to the door of the summer porch and looked at the yard beyond as if she were inside a prison cell and what she saw was impossible to reach.

“I’m going outside,” she decided. The fear of discovery was beginning to bother her. Was she truly a coward?

“Janette, Scotland is cold, you know, and it rains all the time.”

“I’m just going to feel how the hat works in the sun.”

Sophia followed her but stopped in the doorway. “You are beyond hope.”

Janette stepped farther out into the sunlight, the brim of the leather hat shading her eyes.

“Come back in, Janette. My father might check on us.”