Helen tore at the ropes with fumbling fingers. How could they have gotten so tight so quickly! With effort she finally pried her finger into the midst of the knot and loosened the bonds. Must remember to invent a knot for quick release, she thought, or some kind of device to keep passengers safe in rough landings.
"Signore!" Helen heard no responding call. Making her way between the detritus that now filled the gondola, Helen looked around her quickly at the rough face of the moor. Romano was nowhere to be seen.
She gazed with dismay at the smashed bow of the gondola. The impact had been enough to splinter some of the wood. The control panel, however, seemed sound, though the shrieks of the motors were still indicating some difficulty. That would be easy enough to repair given Romano's facility with gears -- assuming he had survived the crash, she added grimly.
The envelope seemed to be continuing to lose loft. The guide ropes were slack. That was a much bigger problem. One problem at a time, she scolded herself. "Romano?"
A groan came off to her left. Helen crossed over the edge of the gondola, sat on the wooden frame, grabbed her voluminous skirts with one hand and maneuvered her feet over it to drop to the ground. Curse, these hideous fashions for women! Madame Sand had the right idea. If it weren't for her mother, Helen might well don breeches as well. Surely they were much more practical for this kind of endeavour.
"Romano!" she cried again, this time answered by another groan that seemed to come from beyond an outcropping of limestone. She bustled over. Her pilot and engineer lay on the ground, holding the helmet, which now had a large dent in it.
"You're alive," Helen said, stooping to take a closer look at the Italian. "Any broken bones?"
"No, no," he said at last, "but this helmet! I can't get it off. Prego, signorina."
Helen gripped the edge of the helmet and gave it a pull, but the thing wouldn't immediately budge. "Did you hit the rock?"
"Yes, I think so. It all happened so quickly." A trickle of blood ran down his forehead and he tried to blink it away.
Helen felt alarm at the sight, but redoubled her determination. Taking a better hold of the helmet, she leaned back and tugged as hard as she could and suddenly it popped off.
Blood, as she would be reminded later, proved to be a good lubricant.