“Well, this is… interesting.”
Alexandra Tennant held up a garment that looked for all the world as though someone had skinned a human being, painted it the colour of a moonlit night and stitched it together again. With one of these new chain-linked fastenings that were fast replacing buttons.
“Isn’t it though?”
It would have been a gross understatement to describe Mrs. Peabody as a mere shopkeeper. Her expertise in fabrics was world-renowned, and she had catered to the needs of the Great of the Earth. Lord Tennant, seeing how his daughter had grown out of her current khaki adventuring outfit, and was unlikely to grow any more, had sent her here for some specialist equipment. On the table were two pairs of boots, a belt that could be turned into a climbing harness, a long dark raincoat that would keep the wearer dry in any storm short of Biblical proportions, and a chestnut case for Alexandra’s rifle, lined with blue velvet.
“I would be the talk of the city if I were to show myself wearing it.”
Mrs. Peabody smiled. “My darling, this is not a suit to be seen in. This is a suit not to be seen in despite anyone’s earnest attempts. Try it on, why don’t you?”
Alexandra hesitated a moment, then disappeared into the fitting room, to emerge a few minutes later dressed in midnight.
“I have to say, this does feel wonderful. What fabric is it made of?”
“One of my isothermal fabrics. Do you like it?”
Alexandra ran her hands over her arms, waist, smoothing down the suit over her modest curves. She ran her fingers through the fur on the collar, then looked at her wrists.
“A few faux-fur accents. Just to impress on the world that you are actually wearing something. I’ve had remarks.”
“Poor fauxes,” said Alexandra. “They must be nearly extinct by now.”
“Completely extinct, darling. I doubt you would find a single one in Nature. Now this suit is appropriate for temperatures ranging from about twenty degrees Celsius below freezing till about forty-five above. It allows the skin to breathe, and keeps the wearer dry in any storm, though not actually while swimming. I have other suits for that. The suit will protect you from minor piercing or cuts, such as one might expect walking through dense foliage or thorny bushes. Do not expect it to turn blades, though. The fabric wil also stretch to accomodate the full range of human movement.”
Alexandra squatted down, then straightened her legs while holding her ankles. She raised her feet in the air, turned round on her hands, then flipped to her feet again. She looked herself over once again.
“I’ll take it,” she said.
There was a noise at the door, and Alexandra’s brother Carl came in, a large backpack on one shoulder, carrying a thick coil of rope.
“I have what I came for, and actually a good deal more. You should be ashamed of your staff, Mrs. Peabody, they are… Good Lord!”
Alexandra arched an eyebrow. “Is something the matter, Carl?”
“I find myself reminded that I definitely have a sister and not a brother.”
“Well, that is useful knowledge,” said Alexandra.
“Were you thinking of going out wearing that?”
“Of course. This suit is wonderful. I shall never wear anything else again.”
“In which case, Mrs. Peabody, do you have any good pointy sticks? I will need them to protect my sister’s virtue against the hordes of suitors.”
“I suggest you concern yourself with your own virtue, dear brother of mine.”
Mrs. Peabody gave a little laugh. “Some of my more… enterprising customers wear this suit under a dress, which they can shed at a moment’s notice when a speedy exit is required.”
“I know about those dresses,” said Carl. “They are sometimes worn even without anything beneath them.”
“Only in the most tasteful of establishments, I’m sure,” said Alexandra. “I’m sure you entered them entirely by mistake.”
Mrs. Peabody stepped behind the counter and returned with a buttonless blouse. She pulled it open with a strange tearing sound.
“My dear friend Georges de Mestral has made a most practical invention. It consists of a combination of velour and hooks that can be pressed together to fasten them. They can be pulled apart with ease when one wishes to take off the blouse. Georges says that he was inspired by burdock seeds.”
“Not quite as discreet as buttons, though,” said Carl. “One might wish for a noiseless version for use in theatres.”
“Carl!” Alexandra gave her brother a Look. “Behave yourself.”
“I am behaving myself,” said Carl. “I am a dashing gentleman adventurer. I am supposed to make irreverend lewd remarks, it goes with the idiom.”
“Do keep in mind that it would be unmanly to block when a damsel slaps you in the face.”
“You do not hit like a damsel,” said Carl. “Do you have everything you need?”
“Excellent. Then let’s pay Mrs. Peabody. Father is waiting at the harbour.”
Alexandra walked next to her brother, wearing her new all-environment suit and her new rain coat, which she hadn’t buttoned up as it was pleasantly warm. Her duffel bag was on a strap over her shoulder. They were making for the train station to catch the evening train to Folkestone, where a ship would take them on a six month trip along the West-African coast. They bought their tickets, and waited on the platform. Several times, Alexandra caught young men looking at her, then quickly looking away. A little smile was on her face.
“Pointed sticks,” said Carl. “I knew I’d forgotten something.”