Samantha excitedly announces the arrival of Gardner and Cornelia, who are making their first visit since they have returned from their honeymoon. She runs down the stairs and into Gardner's arms, saying she missed them. Samantha wants the visit to be perfect, so that her uncle and new aunt will visit often; she does not want to be left out. Grandmary hugs Cornelia and takes Gard's kiss, quipping that it has been too dull and quiet around without him and his automobile. Cornelia notices Samantha's new white pinafore; Samantha says it is special for the visit. Cornelia says it makes her look like she's grown a foot. Gard jokes that Samantha still only has two feet--which is good, because she otherwise would have a hard time using her present. He then pulls the canvas tarp off the back of his car to reveals three new bicycles, explaining he got them in England and they are the latest models. Cornelia mentions that she loved cycling at Samantha's age and that she is sure Samantha will adore it too. Gard says that the best part is that they will leave the bikes in Mount Bedford, where the three of them can bike together. Samantha is too happy to speak at the idea of the three of them doing things together. Gard rolls forward a blue bicycle to her, as it is hers. Samantha thanks him, then asks Grandmary if she can keep it. She's worried that Grandmary will say no, since she thinks they aren't for proper young ladies (which is why Samantha has never had a bicycle).
Grandmary starts off that in her day, bicycles were only ridden by women in circuses wearing tights, and that later women were riding everywhere in the streets--some wearing hideous puffy trousers (bloomers) that earned them the nickname "Bloomer Girls". She considered it most unladylike. Cornelia says that a lady is a lady no matter what she wears and thinks Samantha won't be improper on her bicycle. Grandmary says tartly that she won't. She then tells Samantha that since she clearly has her heart set on riding, so she can keep the bike as long as she promises to be careful. Samantha promises and Gard encourages her to get on. Samantha gets on the bike, adjusting her petticoats, skirt, and pinafore so they don't billow around her. Gard pushes off and she starts pedaling with Gard holding her steady. Cornelia cheers. Samantha's pinafore ruffles and heart are fluttering; riding is harder than she thought it would be. She struggles to keep the front tire steady and tries to keep smiling but is quite nervous, scared she may fall over. Gard asks Samantha if she is ready to have him let go, and she gulps before saying yes (wanting to impress them by being a quick learner). Gard lets go and she makes a slow, shaky circle on the driveway. Gard and Cornelia clap when she finishes; Cornelia praises her on getting the hang of it so quickly. Gard suggests they go to the park as there are a lot of paths there and she can do more than go in circles. Grandmary wonders aloud if it's too early for that, and Gard says it's up to Samantha if she's plucky enough. Samantha, unsure of going to the park but wanting to be plucky, says they should go. Gard praises her.
The park is crowded with cyclists enjoying the sunny day. Samantha thinks they are going quite fast, as if the breeze is pushing them along. Grandmary, who is on a park bench, warns not to go to fast. Gardner asks Samantha to go first as they head to the path around the lake; he and Cornelia will follow. Samantha, feeling awkward, mounts her bicycle. She wants to tuck her skirts but the bicycle starts rolling forward before she starts pedaling so she doesn't have a chance to do so. The path is wide but not as smooth as the driveway and drops off sharply near the lake's edge. Samantha pedals slowly to concentrate on not falling. She suddenly feels a tug and sees that her skirt has caught in the bike chain. She tries to free it but Uncle Gard shouts for her to watch out. Samantha looks up to see a cyclist heading towards her at top speed. She swerves hard to the right in a panic and bounces off the path and out of control. She shrieks for help and tries to steer, but crashes into a huge rock and she and the bicycle tumble together into the muddy water at the edge of the lake.
Gard and Cornelia shout and rush down the slope to help her, asking if she's all right. Samantha nods, even though she is fighting tears--she has twisted her ankle, torn her stockings, and scraped up her hand, and her new pinafore is smeared with mud, grease, and grass stains. She has to rip her skirt away from the chain as it is badly twisted. Grandmary appears at the top the bank, exclaiming that it's a wonder Samantha wasn't killed and that she hopes no bones are broken. Gardner says that Samantha is okay as helps her to her feet. Grandmary says Samantha (calling her a "poor child") has had enough foolishness for the day and that they are going home--right now. Cornelia looks very stubborn at Grandmary calling Samantha a poor child and asks Samantha if she wants to go home. Samantha wants to go home badly, hating the idea of getting back on the bicycle. She hates disappointing Cornelia and Gard more, though, and tries to think of what to say as she wipes her hands on her pinafore. Gardner suggests she get back on the horse that threw her. Samantha looks at the bike and, relieved, points out she can't get back on as the front tire is now flat. Gardner picks up the bike and says Samantha is right--they'll have to fix the bike first and there will be no more riding today. Cornelia says it's a shame with a sigh. Gard says Samantha shouldn't be too disappointed and that she'll have time to practice when they return. Samantha thinks that she won't get back on that bicycle for the rest of her life!
A few days later Samantha returns from school and Grandmary tells her that Hawkins has fixed her bicycle and that he'll help her practice riding. Samantha says no too quickly, then says she can't practice today as she has too much schoolwork. Grandmary accepts this, but looks a little surprised. Samantha wishes she could tell Grandmary how scared she is, but is too ashamed. The next week Samantha walks by the carriage house and looks away each time thinking about the bicycle sitting there unused. The fall has scared her badly. She wishes that she had broken something, or that the bicycle had been wrecked, or that many other things would happen to excuse her from riding the dreadful bicycle again. On Saturday Gardner calls and, speaking to Samantha, says that he and Cornelia will be coming up next weekend with Agatha and Agnes who have become excellent cyclists. They can all ride together and have a picnic which will be fun. Samantha's heart sinks, but she agrees. After the call, she stands next to it miserably. She pictures herself stuck on the porch with Grandmary while the others go off cycling without her. She doesn't know how to tell Gardner and Cornelia that she hates the bicycle and never wants to ride again.
Desperately she goes out to the carriage house and wheels her bike out, climbing on nervously. She takes deep breath and pushes off. The front tire wobbles, her skirt once again gets caught in the chain, and she crashes on the driveway. Samantha wails aloud that she can't do it, pulls her skirt free, and kicks the bike away before bending her head and crying in shame and frustration. Grandmary comes out of the house and kneels next to Samantha, holding her while she cries before asking if she all right. Samantha confesses that she hates the bike and that she is scared to ride because her skirts get tangled every time and she loses control and falls. She's not plucky--she's a scaredy-cat. Grandmary says Samantha just tried again though, as she saw her. Samantha tries to explain that cycling is something that she, Gardner and Cornelia are going to do together, and if she can't ride they won't come over as often. Grandmary finishes that then they would be left out of their lives, to which Samantha nods. Grandmary offers to help Samantha. Samantha is surprised and says she though Grandmary didn't approve of the bicycle. Grandmary says that she would not have chosen it for herself but that she doesn't want her to be left out--and after all, Samantha is going to be the one riding, not her. She asks if Samantha thinks she can do it, and Samantha takes a deep breath and says she really wants to try. Grandmary says they will do something...
On the next Saturday, it is a bright and beautiful day--just the day for a ride, Gard exclaims as he helps Cornelia, Agnes, and Agatha out of the car. Grandmary comes down the stairs to greet them, and Samantha opens her window to call to everyone. Gardner asks if she is ready to ride and she says she'll be right down. She runs outside, and the others gasp. Agnes is the first to point out that Samantha is wearing bloomers! Agatha sighs enviously, saying that Samantha is lucky and that she can't believe Grandmary let her wear them. Samantha says they were Grandmary's idea; in bloomers she won't have to worry about her skirts getting caught and she's been practicing in them all week. She demonstrates how good she is by getting on her bike and riding in a large circle without a single wobble. Cornelia says that Grandmary astonishes her. Grandmary's eyes twinkle as she says that a lady is a lady no matter what she wears and the two laugh. Samantha encourages everyone to go and leads the way down the driveway, turning around and waving to Grandmary before heading down the road. Gardner calls out to Samantha--she needs to wait for the rest of them!
Meet The Author
Valerie recalls a time when she was scared of bikes, having crashed into a rock; she felt left behind and used training wheels to get over her fear.
Looking Back: Bicycling in 1904
Discusses the history of bikes up to the turn of the century. Topics discussed:
- The history of bikes and styles of early bikes such as the boneshaker, high-wheeler/ordinary, and safety bike.
- How the safety bike, with its enclosed chains and lower wheels, allowed women and girls to begin to ride, and the invention of the coaster brake.
- Bloomers and the controversy surrounding them
- How bicycling modified women's clothing, including split skirts, shorter skirts, and the health corset
- The bicycling fad of the 1890s; clubs and bicycling shows.
- How bikes helped to liberate women, and some of the controversy it caused.
Activity: Start a Bicycle Club
Suggests tips on starting a bicycle club, safety tips while biking, and games to play: Ten Pin Rides, Beanbag Balance, Riding Relay, and Bicycle Un-race.