Steam Guardians 01 - A Lady Can Never Be Too Curious

BOOK: Steam Guardians 01 - A Lady Can Never Be Too Curious
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Copyright

Copyright © 2012 by Mary Wine

Cover and internal design © 2012 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

Cover design by Joanna Metzger

Illustration by Dominick Finelle-The July Group

Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410

(630) 961-3900

Fax: (630) 961-2168

www.sourcebooks.com

For Deirdre Sargent. A Queen, an author, but most importantly…a true friend. A gem among pebbles, may you always know how brightly you shine…

One

Great Britain, 1843

“You are going to be caught one of these times, Janette.”

“Don’t lecture, Sophia,” Janette begged. “I get too much of that from my father. Sometimes he turns red because he won’t stop long enough to draw breath.”

Sophia choked back a giggle. “Well, he isn’t the only one who thinks the Illuminists are uncivilized. Besides, we well-brought-up girls must be…mindful of appearances.”

Sophia lost the battle to remain prim-looking and dissolved into laughter.

“Their Solitary Chamber is anything but uncivilized. Look at those arches, just like the Romans built,” Janette remarked in a hushed tone to keep her words from drifting to where Sophia’s father was minding his shop in the front of the house. “Doesn’t it drive you simply mad to not know what goes on in there?”

Janette leaned on the windowsill, trying to gain a glimpse of what the large building kept so secret. On the outside, it was an imposing structure more suited to ancient Greece than England. Smooth columns held up the three-story roof, and all the doorways were constructed with arches. It was only the front of a four-block enclosure. No one outside the secret Order really knew what was inside, but there were plenty of rumors.

Wild
sexual
indulgence…

Strange
science
experiments…

Satanic
rituals…

But the members coming and going looked normal enough. Even if their vests were constructed with additional pockets and the females among them were often seen openly wearing the pantaloons style so scorned by upper society.

“I don’t find it as fascinating as you do. So where’s the science circular? You only come to see me when you want to buy one without your father knowing.”

“At least your father doesn’t mind your reading them.”

“So long as I do so in the back room,” Sophia remarked drily. “Society is unforgiving of ladies who try to expand their minds. Such drivel.”

Janette shrugged off her shawl. It was rolled lengthwise to contain the circular. Unrolling it, she began scanning the articles.

“Isn’t it fascinating, Sophia? Look at this one; it’s about currents of electricity being used. There’s a lecture next Tuesday in the Solitary Chamber. How I’d like to see that with my own eyes.”

Sophia scoffed. “It will cost you every friend you have to experience it.”

Janette looked up at her friend. “Including you? Would you shun me if I challenged the exam to become an Illuminist?” They were bold words, but a little jolt of excitement went down her body when she said them. Her father’s insistence that she remain meek and obedient was overly constrictive, but what annoyed her was the expectation that she refrain from education. Her mother had secreted tutors into the house to instruct her. The circular in her hand was nourishment to her ravenous mind. Yet she was forbidden to discuss the tantalizing data because it wasn’t considered ladylike. There were times she feared being crushed by the rules of her society.

“Well, perhaps not me,” Sophia muttered. “But my father would most likely insist on your using the back door if you started wearing one of those gold lapel pins of the Illuminist Order. Our esteemed clientele might find another designer if we had any Illuminists in the main salon. You wouldn’t want my father to have to resort to producing clothing like a factory worker, would you? He must maintain appearances or lose his clients.”

And there was the bitter truth—the definite boundary between the Illuminists and society. You were either one or the other. “There are no demonstrators today. Perhaps everyone is ready to begin accepting the Illuminists since the Queen has spoken well of them,” Janette offered hopefully.

“The Queen is young,” Sophia remarked. “Everyone will listen to her with smiles on their faces, but it will not stop the calls for the Illuminists to be run out of the city. People fear the unknown. The Constables are always here hassling the members on their way up those steps.”

“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.”

“Must I?” she teased.

Sophia surprised her by raising one eyebrow in a very daring way. There was a hint of a challenge in her eyes Janette couldn’t recall seeing before. “By all means, walk up to the Solitary Chamber doors and see if they allow you inside.”

Janette shot her friend a look full of mischief, encouraged by the bold nature of her suggestion. “That sounds like a challenge.”

“Maybe it is,” Sophia answered. “But like all challenges, it comes with a consequence. If my father catches us and informs your father of what we have been about, we shall find ourselves in the draftiest castle they can rent to lodge us and not just Scotland: they will likely send us to the Highlands.”

“In that case, you should change into a pair of pantaloons as well. You shouldn’t suffer in exile with me without having some of the fun.”

Sophia laughed, rolling her eyes. She reached inside for something and reappeared with a similar top hat on. This second one was made of kid leather dyed a deep red.

“The clothing is fun, I admit.” Sophia stepped into the sunlight while adjusting the hat to shade her eyes. “And so functional, unlike fashion with its ridiculous ideas about tight lacing and overly large petticoats. Not that I mind a pretty ball gown, but honestly, I would like to fit through the door of the carriage without having to bend my skirts.”

It
might
yet
be
more
fun…

Janette turned to look at the Solitary Chamber building. She reached for the latch on the back iron gate before her common sense reared its head. She knew she was acting impulsively, but she felt there would never be another chance for her to attempt to satisfy her curiosity.

Never, which meant she’d have to live with the knowledge that she’d acted the coward when opportunity was upon her.

No…she would be bold. It felt absolutely necessary. The need raced through her veins as her heart accelerated. Maybe Sophia felt the same urgency, because as she made her way through the gate, her friend never called her back.

Within moments, Janette stood on the opposite side of the street. The columns looked taller now. She climbed the steps, tipping her head back to investigate the construction of the roof. The portico was covered in brilliant paintings—perfect images of the solar system and other things she’d never seen before. But were the paintings of fact or fiction? Fact. She knew she was in the place of facts. Satisfaction filled her and left goose bumps along her arms because it was so intense.

Someone cleared his throat.

Janette jerked her attention down to discover a doorman standing inside the building with the door open for her.

“Good afternoon.”

The doorman didn’t even blink but remained at his post. He looked straight ahead, never focusing on her. Excitement renewed its grip on her. Janette wasn’t sure if she forgot to draw breath or not, but she walked through the forbidden doorway.

The doorman shut the door behind her and walked to a small booth. He stood there, facing the wall, but when she peered closer, she could see he was watching through some sort of window. It wasn’t transparent, but she could clearly see outside.

Fascinating…

“The experiments have already begun.”

She straightened abruptly as he spoke without looking at her.

“Yes, thank you.”

It was difficult to turn her back on the window set into solid stone. She wanted to look through it and discover its secrets, but the doorman’s words tempted her to see how much further she might go.

The hallway was lit, but instead of the green glow of gaslights, a muted white light glowed from behind frosted panes of glass. She reached out and touched one gently and found it cool. There was no smoke or soot either.

Astounding.

Voices drifted into the hallway from a large archway ahead. A few more steps and she could make sense of the conversation.

“So we know the conductive capabilities of Deep Earth Crystals…”

Janette entered under the arch and froze.

“We also know that Deep Earth Crystals respond to one another…It is this reaction that allows us to harness their energy…and produce steam for power…”

The lecturer was in the center of the room. A table stood behind him lit by huge panes of frosted glass that glowed brighter than a full moon. Each was held by a large copper stand with gears built into them so the light could be aimed in different directions. Like a lamp that might be moved to aim light in any direction.

But what was a Deep Earth Crystal? And how could it respond?

She took a step sideways into one of the rows of seats ringing the stage the lecturer stood on and sat down. Excitement gripped her as she leaned forward to hear the rest of the lecture. A sound rose from those watching as the man pulled a large crystal from a case.

“Impressive…yes…but remember…size does not dictate the potency of the conductive properties.”

He set the crystal down and plucked what looked like a folded leather apron off the table. Once he flipped it open and pushed his hand into it, it was clear it was a glove, made of leather reinforced with sturdy canvas. Janette leaned forward, eager to see why he needed such protection from rocks. He lifted a dome such as she might expect to see on a breakfast service tray, and beneath it lay a small crystal.

It was no thicker than a broom handle and only about six inches long, but he handled it with great care, reaching out his gloved hand to pick it up while holding his head back, as though the crystal were molten metal.

“Here we have an excellent example of the true power of—”

The moment the smaller crystal came closer to the large one, the room filled with a sharp whine. The lecturer stiffened, fighting to maintain his grip on the smaller crystal. His assistants lunged forward to help him, but the smaller crystal broke his grip and went sailing up into the seats.

BOOK: Steam Guardians 01 - A Lady Can Never Be Too Curious
6.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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