Sunday, November 28, 2010


Helen stifled her irritation at her brother and his penchant for wasting inordinate amounts of time rehashing the endless bickering that was politics and hurried toward the library, her father stumping along in her wake. She feared to see her pilot looking even more peaky than he had looked upon the moors.

"How are you, signore?" Helen said, her voice gentling as she took in the pale figure on the sofa. "Are you feeling better?" It was worth asking. Romano didn't actually look much worse than he had just after the crash. Besides, the library fireplace was crackling merrily and Mrs. Hitchcock had tucked a nice tartan rug around the Italian, which looked very snug.

"I-I am trying to hold on, signorina," Romano said, his words sounding more persuasive than his voice did. "I am feeling rather faint, I think."

"Well, at least you're already lying down," Helen said, hoping the comment seemed helpful. The bandage around his head had a large red stain on it that appeared to be slowly growing. "The doctor will be here soon. I think you may have a concussion."


"It's serious, signore, but it's not life threatening. We'll know more when the doctor arrives."

"Perhaps I should rest," Romano said, closing his eyes with evident weariness.

In the back of her mind, Helen remembered something about head injuries and keeping the patient from drifting off. "Not just yet, signore. I think we should keep you awake until Doctor Ponsonby gets here. Besides, I want to go over the last part of the flight."

"Signorina, I am not certain that can be fruitful at this juncture," Romano muttered. "And if I close my eyes for just a moment, I know I will feel much more vibrant."

Helen pulled up a chair and took the pilot's hand in hers. Then she began to slap it with her other hand. "Come now, Signore Romano, stay awake!"

"Signorina!" He stared at her with surprise in his eyes. "This cannot be proper."

Helen heard a bark of laughter as her father entered the library. "Proper! The day my daughter recognizes propriety—"

"What?" At the sound of this new voice both Helen and her father started. "What will happen on that momentous day, Rochester?"

"Mother!" Helen leapt up and rushed over to her. "Have you seen Signore Romano? Do you think he will survive," she asked, lowering her voice precipitously for the second question.

"Signore Romano has an extraordinary constitution," Helen's mother announced. Patting her daughter's hand, she added in a more confidential tone, "Although he would benefit from a head as hard as your father's."

"Don't pretend you didn't mean for me to hear that," her father grumbled as he poked the fire. Looking over her shoulder, Helen saw that a small grin lit his face, making his rugged face nearly handsome.

While her mother's face could not be called handsome in any sense, it was so full of lively intelligence that one could not help liking it. Helen had admired her since she could remember, eagerly shadowing her about the house. Her mother's will had such firmness that Helen could not imagine ever getting the better of her in a disagreement, even though she towered several inches over her.

"Mother, do you think Fairfax will get the doctor here soon?"

"Don't worry, he knows this is important. I'm sure he'll be back directly." She took the seat Helen had brought over and took up Romano's hand. "We'll have you up and about in no time, signore, but you need to stay awake. If you cannot keep your eyes open lying down, I'm afraid we're going to have to make you sit up, painful though it may be."

Leaving the pilot in her mother's capable care, Helen turned back to her father. "I'm going to need some more funds for repair, papa. I don't know if Fairfax will give me enough. He was rather meanly inclined the last time around."

"Your ship requires a lot of funds."

"But I desperately needed those upgrades to the motor and vent system. And the payoff will be enormous when I show how beneficial cross continental travel can be."

Rochester turned to regard her with a raised eyebrow. "Beneficial? To crash into the sides of mountains, to drown your passengers in the Channel? I supposed you could round up superfluous relatives and have them disposed of quietly." He laughed at his own wit.

Helen did not allow that to discourage her. "I am going to fly to France."

"Someday my dear, surely." Her father smiled indulgently as he poked the fire.

"I am going to fly to France next week!"

Sunday, November 21, 2010


"Let me anchor the ship and we'll race down to the house," Helen offered. She took her father's bark of laughter for assent and cast about for a likely anchor for the ropes.

"It doesn't look likely to go anywhere," her father remarked, frowning at the damaged gondola.

Helen grimaced as she pulled on the rope leading from the port side of the ship. "It's losing air through a rift near the rudder, but there's an awfully good chance of it floating off if the winds pick up."

He grumbled something unintelligible, but picked up the other rope. "What do we tie this infernal machine to?"

"We're going to have to see if we can fasten it to this rock. It's the only thing remotely useful in that way." Helen looped the rope around the stone and tied a couple of half hitches to tighten it. Her father tossed his rope around the stone in like manner, tying his knots as well as he could.

"Doesn't look very secure." He tugged at the knots, which held nonetheless.

"We haven't much in the way of choice up here. I'm going to have to work on some kind of mobile anchor, something that could help lock rope into place on unusual surfaces." She looked at her father. "Why are you grinning like a monkey?"

"You will make a good little tyrant. I like seeing you so self-sufficient, makes me hopeful I won't have to house all of my children when I am decrepit."

"Papa," Helen scolded. "You won't have to worry about taking care of me. I can take care of myself. Come, Tuppence!" The raven flew down from the rudder and croaked as it lighted on her shoulder.

"How are you, you murderous old bird?" Rochester greeted the raven with jolly laugh. "When are you going to settle down and find a mate?"

"Shall we race back to the house?" Helen said.

"Don't be ridiculous. You could already run faster than I when you were twelve. Even with all those skirts, you'll have the advantage."

They hadn't gone more than half a mile when they spotted riders heading their way. "I take it your Italian friend made it back in once piece."

"That's encouraging," Helen said, waving at the group. She could see that the lead horseman was Thompson, her father's head groom. As pleased as she was that they were coming to retrieve the airship, she found herself even more pleased that Thompson was leading two more horses for them to ride home. It was no hardship to walk the rest of the way, but she was eager to get back and discuss the failures of the flight and possible fixes.

The men pulled up, all of them approximating some level of bowing from horseback which led to an awkward and stilted performance that made her father glower. "Thank you, Thompson," Helen said, taking the reins of her dapple grey mare. "Is Signore Romano all right?"

"He were bleeding a good bit, miss," Thompson said, "But he seemed to be right enough. I don't think you have to worry about him."

"Thanks, Thompson. That sets my mind at ease. Ready to ride, Papa?"

They parted from the crew and galloped homeward. At the last stile, the dark mass of Cerberus waited, barking loudly once before he leapt up to greet his master. "Down, you devil," Rochester growled, but Helen saw that he was smiling. At the house, the young stableboy waited, his cap too big for his head, his hands shaking as he tried to take the reins.

"Don't shilly-shally, boy," Rochester cried as the timid lad once again missed the reins.

"Papa, don't frighten him. It's all right, you're doing fine," Helen reassured him. Turning back to her father she gave him a severe look, which he pretended to ignore. Trotting inside the house, Helen found a harried looking housekeeper wringing her hands. "Mrs. Hitchcock, what's the matter?"

"Oh, Miss Helen! I had hoped the horse I heard was the doctor. I am so afraid for your Italian friend. He is in a most alarming state."

"Nonsense," her father said as he barreled past the housekeeper. "He's just got an excitable nature. Where have you put him?"

"In the library sir."

"Good god, you haven't got him bleeding all over my surveying maps, have you?" Rochester stalked off toward the library.

"I'm sure he'll be fine," Helen reassured the harried looking woman, but then she noticed the bloody shirt in the housekeeper's hands. "Who went for the doctor?"

"Your brother. He didn't want to go, but all the men had to set out for your balloon thingee and there was no one else to go."

"I hope he doesn't stop to talk politics," Helen said, annoyance sharpening her tone. Curse that Fairfax. He did nothing in haste. Her father joked that he would even fall off a cliff slowly.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


"Well, come on then!" Helen's father shouted at the poor Italian. "Mount up!"

"Papa," she hushed him. "Give him a minute. He's been injured."

Romano rose on unsteady legs, giving a baleful look at Belial, who stamped his feet as if to emphasize that he was no horse to be trifled with -- as if his size and fierceness had not already conveyed that information to the injured pilot.

"Let me lend you a hand," Rochester said, his voice genial and a look of amusement on his craggy face. "Up you go."

Romano lifted a foot tentatively and Helen's father grabbed it and tossed him aboard the stallion. Belial immediately shied to one side, as if testing the rider for soundness. Romano clapped his legs tighter and grabbed for the black tendrils of his mane for security.

"Right as rain!" Helen said to encourage the Italian, though she couldn't help looking askance at the horse's dancing.

"The reins, curse you," her father rumbled, his always short patience already gone. "Damme, man. Have you not been on a horse before?"

"Ah, signore, not since I was a little boy." He fumbled with the reins, unable to let go of the hair that seemed to feel more secure in his hands. "I always take carriages."

Helen frowned. "Perhaps I should ride with him, help hold him on the horse."

Her father guffawed. "I'd like to see your mother's face if she saw the two of you riding in on Belial. You want her to skin me alive? No, this will do."

"Perhaps the signorina has the right idea, I think I would feel more secure if -- "

"Nonsense!" Rochester stepped back and slapped the stallion's hind end. "Home, Belial!"

The horse was off like a cannonball, hurtling away down the moors -- thankfully, Helen noticed, in the general direction of the house. She glanced at her father who still laughed raucously at the flying black shape.

"Father, stop laughing," Helen scolded. "You are most unkind to my friend."

"Friend!" He threw back the tousled hair that struck her as far too similar to the demonic horse he rode. "The man was actually going to allow you to ride with him on that horse. Most indecorous. Even I know that. Your mother would have my guts for garters."

"Oh father, you've been reading novels again."

"Braddon is quite bracing and I've got the next Dickens waiting in my library for a pipe and some leisure. Will you read to me tonight? I must know what happens."

"Where's Edmund?"

All the laughter disappeared from his expression. "That jackanapes! If he knows what's good for him he'll stay out of my sight, such as it is," he added with a bitterness that was more habit than feeling.

"It's true then? He's been sent down?" Helen frowned, too, unconscious how much it made her look like her father.

"Sent down indeed! A waste of money as I knew it would be from the start."

"Father, you must be patient. Edmund has yet to find his feet -- "

"Well, he will find mine applied to his posterior if he does not figure out something useful to do with all his talents and energies. Something other than gambling and carousing."

"Papa, it's not as bad as that. A few youthful indiscretions -- I wager you were not without a few of them yourself." Helen looked at her father out of the corner of her eye to gauge his reaction to that.

"Your mother has been telling tales, eh?" Rochester smiled grimly. "I paid for my mistakes. Your brother should avoid having to do the same. We're not a family with a great deal of luck."

"Mother would disagree."

"Your mother is a singular person and makes her own luck. We can't all do the same." Nonetheless, his looks softened. "There's no person on this earth like your mother."

Monday, November 08, 2010


The stallion's legs pounded along like pistons, its nostrils wide from the exertion. The magnificence of the animal was echoed by the black rider who looked as if he had ridden from the flames of hell to this desolate place. The powerful beast rapidly closed the distance between them.

Helen looked down at Romano who seemed to have become rather nervous. "It's only Papa," she said, patting his shoulder.

"This is your father?" Pietro shook his head in wonder.

"Yes," Helen murmured, standing up once more. "I hope he hasn't come to interfere."

The hooves beat a staccato across the expanse of the moor. Helen noticed that her father was hatless. Whether he had left the manor that way or not was uncertain. It was not unknown for him to ignore such niceties. At least that beast Cerberus was not with him. The black wolfhound recognized no master but he. Helen decided she ought not mention the dog to signore Romano.

Helen took a few steps forward and waved wildly. Her father raised a hand in greeting, corrected his trajectory slightly, and seemed to increase his pace. The great black horse was upon them and her father swung down from his back as the horse snorted and danced.

"Darling Papa, how kind of you to come all this way." Helen stepped up to kiss her father on the cheek.

"Your mother demanded I find out whether you were dead," her father said, his voice gruff though his expression revealed kindness. The scars on his face suggested a past tragedy and his left eye showed a milky blindness. "Is he dead then?" he continued, pointing at Romano, one eyebrow raised.

Pietro coughed and tried to stand. "No, signore, I am just a little bruised, but I shall be on my feet in a moment." However, he staggered immediately and sat back down on the hard ground, holding his head and wincing.

"Don't be a fool, signore!" Helen cried. "Papa, we must take him back to the house to wait on Doctor Ponsonby. I shouldn't like to find he's had a concussion."

"Sit down, you Italian nincompoop." Helen's father leaned in to take a closer look at Romano's wound. "It doesn't look that bad," he said at last. "Best to be certain."

"He shall take Belial and be back in no time," Helen said, giving a quick nod of her head.

Her father laughed. "I'd like to see that."

"Papa! You must see it is the best thing."

"Signore, how are your riding skills?" Helen's father narrowed his good eye at Pietro. "This horse is a veritable devil. You'll have to be a better one to stay on him."

The Italian looked alarmed. "I don't know—"

"You must," Helen said. "You'll be perfectly fine."

Her father laughed.