"I forbid it," Rochester announced with finality.
"You cannot forbid it," his daughter said with equal fervor.
"I am your father!"
"And I am an adult. Don't be ridiculous, papa."
"Adult? Who's being ridiculous now? Why, you can't be more than—than—" Rochester turned to his wife. "How old is she anyway? Fifteen?"
His wife smiled gently at him. "She is nineteen. I was on my own at a younger age."
Rochester looked at his wife with disbelief. "Surely not." She nodded. "Well, those were…extraordinary times. I am not about to let my only daughter go gallivanting about in the sky with an Italian on the way to France to meet another Italian whom none of us know."
"Father," Helen said, "You can't be serious. This is the modern world! You have to move with the times."
"I realise I may seem utterly ancient to you, daughter, but I assure you I have not lost all my faculties."
It was that moment Tuppence chose to appear outside the window, resting on the rhododendrons and making her hoarse croaking that sounded very much like laughter. Rochester scowled. His wife, however, hid a smile.
Helen regarded him with folded arms. "I am flying to France next week, papa. There is no use arguing. I have a career to build and a new technology to demonstrate. I can make this scheme a successful one if I can collaborate with Signore Maggiormente. You can't stand in the way of progress!"
Rochester got up to stalk before the fire, hands clasped behind his back, muttering words that his wife knew she did not wish to hear aloud. At last he stopped to address his recalcitrant offspring once more. "I am not standing in the way of progress: I am merely voicing the necessary concerns of propriety. It's not as if he were English, after all," he added, gesturing toward the injured Italian.
"Signore," Romano said. "I am an honorable man." He winced with the effort but went on. "Your daughter is safe with me. Further, I am engaged to a beautiful woman in my hometown. I have no designs upon your daughter."
"Not good enough for you?" Rochester barked at the young man.
"Papa, leave him alone. First you think he's going to compromise me, then you're afraid he won't. It's irrelevant. I am quite capable of handling myself. You taught me to shoot, you should know. I'm a better shot than you."
"I don't think your father is only worried about fisticuffs," her mother said, walking over to lay a gentle hand on his arm. "It's only natural that we should be concerned for your safety. I realise you have ambitions and we do wish to support them, but we must be have certain safeguards in place to be sure that you will come home to us in one piece."
Mrs. Rochester continued, "Which is why I have suggestion that will suit both your scheme to travel and your father's concerns about your safety. Quite simply: your father shall accompany you."
All three stared at her. Tuppence croaked again from the window, flapping her wings against the window panes to punctuate the silence.
"Madness!" Rochester sputtered.
"You can't mean it!" Helen said, but she was already recalculating the fuel resources that would require.
"Darling, listen: you want to watch over our daughter? Do it yourself. You've been kept too close to home for too long. You haven't been as far as York in months. When's the last time you were in London?"
"Well, I haven't had much to do, what with Fairfax handling all the business dealings…"
"Exactly. You're beginning to wear on my nerves somewhat, so I can only imagine that you are feeling fractious as well." She tapped her husband's arm. "Admit it."
She looked up at her daughter. "And wouldn't your father make an excellent addition to your crew?"
"What's he going to do? Shout at poor Signore Romano? Curse at my airship?" Helen smiled as she said this and her mother knew that she had won. "Well, as long as he is part of my crew."
"Meaning?" her father demanded.
"You must obey me."
"I'll do no such thing." His wife elbowed him gently. "What? You don't really mean I should obey this chit?"
"My ship, my rules, papa."
"Infernal nonsense!" He stomped over to poke the fire.
"That means he agrees," Helen's mother translated for her.
"I know." Helen threw her arms around her mother. "Thank you!"