Helen looked at her father with consternation. "There is no need for that kind of language, Papa."
"Hang it, I don't intend to go flying ass over teacup into the great beyond." He clutched the ropes and grimaced. "Can't your pilot do something about this?"
Helen laughed. "It's only a bit of wind, Papa. You'll soon get used to it."
So far her father's first airship journey had not impressed him favourably. The man who was accustomed to riding a horse that had terrorized grooms for the whole of his life and commanded a dog that kept even well-intentioned guests from their door was having a very difficult time of it keeping from looking terrified.
Another gust of wind set the gondola swinging again. Helen swayed with the movement, but her father tried to will it into submission. "Move with the gondola, Papa. Like on a ship. Get your air legs!"
"Air legs!' Her father shouted, making a desperate grab for the side of the gondola. "Utter nonsense!"
Helen sighed. "I told you we could give you a chair." She held onto the sides of her seat as another gust lifted the ship up and then dropped it just as suddenly. "But no, you insisted you needed no such thing."
Rochester grimaced again and his knuckles whitened as he gripped the ship's hull. "I could have miscalculated there," he muttered at last.
"When is this damn thing going to dock again?"
"Signor Romano," Helen called out. "How far shall we travel today?"
"Signorina," the pilot called back, "We ought to go at least as far as the sea, eh? I thought we would go up to Whitby and circle back around."
"We bloody well will not!"
"Father!" Helen said, truly scandalised this time. "Such language!"
Rochester looked apoplectic. "There's no one to hear us up here," he shouted across the ship. "No one but Tuppence, I suppose. And the bird's heard me say much worse."
As if to agree, the raven croaked loudly, floating in the air beside where Helen sat. Despite her shock, she couldn't help smiling. Her father's insistence on accompanying them on the first flight of the repaired airship struck her as odd at first and then suspicious. Once they were in the air, however, she had been too busy checking their progress and the workings of the motor to worry too much about it.
"We're nearly there any way, Papa," she soothed. "Look—isn't that the sea now?" Helen pointed off ahead of them where the horizon deepened to the dark gray of the North Sea.
If her father had been pale before, he had now turned white as parchment. "We're not going out over the ocean in this clattering, poxy growler!" His tone indicated the utter impossibility of such a thing occurring.
"You know we will have to cross an ocean to get to France, Papa!"
His stricken look suggested that the thought had not crossed his mind. "Not today!"
"No, Papa. Not today. We just need to see the ship handling in variable winds to test the rudder assembly and the new pulley system."
"Could we do so a little closer to the ground?" Her father started as Tuppence began squawking behind his head, as if trying to strike up a conversation. "Get that infernal bird away from me!"
"Tuppence!" Helen called, beckoning to the bird. "Signore, can you bring us a little lower? My father is alarmed."
"I said no such thing," Rochester muttered, his expression darkening. "I just don't think it's necessary to soar with the eagles."
Tuppence flew into the gondola and landed in the middle of the deck. She hopped toward Helen's father, croaking animatedly.
"What the devil is that bird screeching about?"
Helen smiled. "I think she's just entertained by your being up here."
He aimed a kick at the bird, who had no trouble dodging his foot. "That bird should have something better to do than to mock me."
Without warning, the ship lurched, seeming to drop in the sky a good measure.
"Heavens! Look!" Helen cried.