It is strange how the early summer heat can hit one. Later in the year it may indeed be hotter, but one is already acclimatised. But early in the year, when late spring is hotter than usual, people can react strangely to the temperature. I write not to excuse their behaviour, but to explain.
When the affair is informal, ladies will already be dressed in gowns which are lighter. At the same time a kind hostess will suggest that gentlemen might like to remove their ties, or in extreme cases, even their jackets. It takes a lady with the daring of the Widow Handwill to suggest that gentlemen with rugged good looks might like to remove their shirts as well.
More formal affairs can be a trial for the ladies especially. Now when one sees a ship fitted out for war sailing from of Port Naain, determined to wreak vengeance upon the piratically inclined, she is indeed fully rigged. With guns run out, she is braced and stayed to ensure she can enter the arena of combat and emerge with honour at the conclusion of matters. Nothing is left to hang loose or flap around to distract or handicap. So it is with the lady who ventures into a formal entertainment.
As the tale was recounted to me, Maljie had obviously been pondering upon this topic. She was also experimenting with her ballooning. Previously there had been an assumption that filling the balloon envelope with smoke provoked within it the animus to rise above the rest of us. Hence the tendency was to burn straw, and once the fire was well alight, damp straw would be added to ensure plenty of smoke.
But as with all these matters, other schools of thought arose and new thinkers turned their minds to studying the phenomena. Thus amongst the young and iconoclastic, it was held that the phenomena was caused not by the smoke, but by the air being warmed by the flames.
Certainly this caused controversy. Maljie was prompted to test the matter and discovered to her own satisfaction that the hot air school had the advantage over the smoke school. This led her to ponder another issue. One problem with the hot air balloon was that the fire did not merely give off smoke and heat but also there was often a tendency for it to give off burning smuts as well. Given that these rose up and were contained in the envelope, which is in all candour a light fabric bag, it was considered a potentially bad thing.
In discussions with persons of a technical persuasion, Maljie raised the possibility of burning alcohol. This has the advantage that it doesn’t give off any burning waste to float up into the balloon. One of the technical people pointed out that if you arranged the reservoir properly, you could ensure that the alcohol was already hot before it entered the flames. Thus you could burn more alcohol, more quickly, and also the vapour would burn ‘higher up’ meaning more of the heat would be captured.
Thus she had an apparatus contrived. After various experiments, which included adding a hand pump to push even more vapour through the flame, she was happy with her acquisition and readied her balloon for a test flight. It seems the contrivance worked tolerably well and the flight was a success.
Now purely by chance this flight took place during later spring or early summer when the weather was unseasonably mild. In fact if I remember it correctly it verged upon hot. Even though she was at some altitude and gained the benefit of any breeze, Maljie still felt the effects of the heat. Obviously being on her own she could loosen her jacket and perhaps even undo the top button of her blouse. But her mind was inexorability driven to the contemplation of foundation garments. As she stood in the basket, suspended high about the ground, she found the silence a perfect adjunct to meditation. Indeed it appears that her gaze was drawn upwards to her balloon. There was her exemplar. The design was such as to ensure that the maximum amount of envelope, bulging and straining as it did under pressure, was restrained by the absolute minimum of stays. Now it may well be that she had been standing too close to the source of alcohol vapour, but it is obvious that various trains of thought were starting to coalesce.
Eventually, the city far behind her, Maljie with some regret looked for somewhere to land, and brought her balloon down close to a somewhat isolated farm. Then she deflated the canopy and secured everything in readiness for her sister, Margarita. This lady was following on with the cart on which to take the balloon home.
As she worked the farmer came out of the farmhouse, observed her and wandered across. “Excuse me, Madam. We’ve just opened this year’s cherry brandy and wondered if you would like a taste?”
Nothing loathe, Maljie accompanied him back to the house where she was introduced to the gentleman’s lady wife. The wife poured cherry brandy with a generous hand, and apparently it was excellent. So excellent that it was obvious that they would have to have another glass, if only to pay proper tribute to the merits of the drink.
It was as they were into the third glass that Maljie raised the issue she had been pondering. The wife was also a fine figure of a woman and clasped Maljie to her bosom, literally and metaphorically. There was then a period of frantic rooting about in bags of old clothes finally emerging with a garment known in peasant argot as a Büstenhalter or breast halter. She pointed out that various parts of it could be cut away, and other parts doubtless thinned down. Maljie turned the garment over in her hands and pointed that much was indeed superfluous. After all the shoulder straps were wider than the palm of her hand.
Immediately shears were produced and during the drinking of the fourth glass, the inoffensive garment was reshaped. It was at about this point that Margarita looked in through the door, noticed the empty bottles and commented, “So I’ll load it by myself then should I.” With this she disappeared.
Having got the upper body supported to their satisfaction the two ladies tackled the matter of drawers. They agreed unanimously that given the summer weather, there was no point in having anything which tied below the knee. Then the wife dived into the bag again and produced a pair of her husband’s drawers that were in for mending. With two swift incisions she cut the legs off just below the crutch. By the time Margarita arrived back in the house, her cart loaded, all three were snoring gently around the table. More worryingly, Maljie was wearing merely the new, somewhat abbreviated outfit. Muttering to herself, Margarita managed to get Maljie draped decorously across the balloon and managed to wrap her in enough dress to guarantee decency.
Next morning, as she climbed down off the mound of balloon envelope, where she had slept the night, Maljie contemplated her attire. Over the following months she did attempt to interest various hosiers and other makers of lingerie. Eventually a lady who ran one of these businesses explained the problem to her. In point of fact when you stop to think about it, the problem is obvious. The less material these people put into a garment, the cheaper the customer expected it to be. Those lightweight garments of Maljie’s design (the lady actually described them as ‘skimpy’) would inevitable be cheap. Indeed the more insubstantial the garment the cheaper it would have to be. After all, nobody would be so foolish to pay more for a garment made from a small piece of cheap material than they would for a more substantial garment made from considerably better quality material. Hence from the point of view of the manufacturer, they genuinely couldn’t afford to produce them.
The activities of Maljie are more fully described (in paperback or ebook format) to ensure that those of delicate disposition are not accidentally shocked upon meeting her. Thus you can read and be forewarned.
Once more Tallis Steelyard chronicles the life of Maljie, a lady of his acquaintance. Discover the wonders of the Hermeneutic Catherine Wheel, marvel at the use of eye-watering quantities of hot spices. We have bell ringers, pop-up book shops, exploding sedan chairs, jobbing builders, literary criticism, horse theft and a revolutionary mob.
We also discover what happens when a maiden, riding a white palfrey led by a dwarf, appears on the scene.