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.

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