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."

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