"What the devil is that!" Helen's father blurted.
Helen stared, mouth open. "I don't believe it!"
Passing far too closely on the starboard side came another airship, rather larger than hers, but also far more ungainly. Its striped ballooning seemed garish in the early daylight and the engine assembly ungainly and without elegance. Two young men gawped from the gondola.
"The Linton twins," she growled with unaccustomed vehemence.
"Better watch where you're going!" One of the young men shouted toward their ship, grinning like a monkey.
"You two are a menace!" Helen hollered back.
"What shall I do, signorina?" Romano called from the wheel, glancing back over his shoulder with look of agitation.
"You don't own the sky!" the other twin bellowed at Helen.
"Damnation, what are these impudent puppies doing?" her father demanded. Despite his peremptory tone, his face continued to look alarmingly pale as he clutched the ropes of the gondola.
"Hush, Papa!" Helen admonished, before turning back to her rivals. "Simple common sense rules of logic suggest the utter stupidity of bringing your ship so close to ours."
"We were here first," the twins sung out in unison.
"They are idiot children," Helen's father growled between clenched teeth. "Ought to have been drowned at birth.
Helen ignored his comments. "Take us up, Signor Romano. Get us away from these amateurs."
"Amateurs!" the older twin shrieked. "Our ship is vastly superior to your pathetic little balloon."
Helen Rochester could bear many things with equanimity, but having her ship thus accosted was not one of those things. "Balloon?" she said, her voice cool but her cheeks pink with irritation. "My airship embodies the very finest qualities of a the very cutting edge of heavier than air technology. Your pathetic and inelegant vehicle looks like a whale beside a dolphin."
She had perhaps hit a vulnerable point with her nautical mammal comparison, or – it is just as likely – the brothers were already committed to challenging the intrepid aviatrix. "You don't know what you're talking about, Rochester. Why don't you go back to your bonnets and baubles and let men worry about airships."
Helen smiled. It was not a pleasant sight, although her smiles were quite capable of pleasantness. No, this was a smile that made her look very much like her father. Although he at that moment found himself startled at the eerie familiarity of that look without being able to trace its cause, something in the expression kindled a similar temper in his breast.
"You don't mean to accept the insults of that cur without reprisal, do you my girl?" Rochester called across the gondola with a grim smile.
"Certainly not," Helen said, her clear voice ringing across the open air, punctuated by the rasping croak of Tuppence, who flitted up beside her. "I think we need to show you what this ship can be capable of."
"You're on!" the twins shouted in unison.
"Race to Whitby," Helen said. "To the abbey."
"It's a challenge," cried the elder twin.
"Shall we make a wager?" Helen inquired.
"It's only sporting," crowed the younger twin, rubbing his hands together in glee.
"Five hundred pounds!" Helen said, her smile smug.
"Five hundred pounds?!" her father repeated.
The twins exchanged a look. They were arrogant about their ship's chances, but the addition of a considerable purse seemed to make them pause.
"Well, gentlemen. Do you have any confidence in your ship or not?" Helen folded her arms and glared across the expanse between them. "Five hundred pounds."
"You're on!" the younger twin shouted, his tone extra belligerent now that he was so full of doubt.
"May the best ship win," Helen called out as Tuppence perched on her shoulder. "Signore, take us up and out toward the sea!"
"As you wish, signorina," Romano agreed, looking askance at the courageous woman, then stealing a glance at her father.
"Saints preserve us," the latter murmured, but his words were snatched by the wind.