Monday, April 25, 2011


Your narrator has been delayed by the unexpected appearance of rather large specimens of the family Leporidae, which an alchemist claims to have identified as Romerolagus diazi, though they do not usually carry large chocolate eggs. A new episode will be forthcoming at the usual time next week.

Monday, April 18, 2011


"Perhaps we should land," Helen's father said, the words tripping out a little too quickly. His voice sounded odd, as if slightly strangled in his throat. He gripped the railing of the gondola with both hands and his knuckles were white.

The rushing of the wind and the murk of the clouds conspired to make the scene a trifle nightmarish. They were no longer a good fifty yards above the perilous rocks; more like thirty.

Helen bit her lip. There was plenty of room yet, surely. "Signor Romano, what do you think would be best?"

Romano shook his head as he fiddled with the controls. "Too risky!"

"Because of the wind?" Helen's father shouted, his tense voice signaling the need to argue.

"No, signore," Romano said. "We are moving much too quickly and landing on this uneven surface could be quite dangerous."

"We just got the ship repaired from the last disastrous landing," Helen shouted across to her father as the wind tried to steal the words away.

"What the devil—?" He shouted back. "Do you reckon our lives less than this bloody machine?"

"Papa, don't swear."

"If there is a time for swearing it's when your daughter is trying to kill you by means of a damned airship," Rochester muttered, though he knew his daughter would not be able to hear the words.

Before he could formulate a more genteel inquiry, another bolt of lightning struck, blinding them all momentarily.

Helen fluttered her eyelids to remove the afterimage, then shook her head. A quick glance around the gondola did not reveal any damage.

"All right then?" she called to Romano.

"Nothing's on fire," he said which was something of a reassurance.

"Papa," Helen called, turning back to her father, "Are you—" She stopped and gazed dumbstruck.

"What?" her father barked, trying to decipher the look on Helen's face.

"The lightning hit very near."

"Doubtless, all the more reason we ought to—why are you smiling?"

Helen tried to smother the laughter that threatened to pour forth from her throat. "Nothing, Papa, I—"

"Out with it!"

Signor Romano turned and at once cried out with laughter, doubling over and slapping his knee.

At that outburst, Helen found it impossible not to laugh as well, though she tried to muffle it somewhat with her hand.

"What are you two idiots laughing at?" her father demanded, shifting his gaze back and forth between the two of them.

The hair, always unruly and rather long, had apparently picked up a charge from the lighting strike. It stood out from his head like the prickles of a thistle. To add insult to injury, Tuppence reappeared and added her voice to the general cacophony as if she too were laughing at the sight as she circled the airship.

Rochester raised a tentative hand to his head and felt the effects of the static energy. He glowered at his daughter and somewhat more effectively at the Italian.

"The devil take you all," he muttered as he tried to flatten the unruly hair into some kind of obedience.

"Papa, never mind," Helen said, "It's really a much greater concern than your hair." She had to swallow a smile once more. "Our best bet is to keep low, otherwise we stand an even greater risk of lighting, which could be destructive in all kinds of ways."

"I understand that, but if we were to land—"

"We'd be in even more danger."

"You're not just saying that to try to win the wager?" Her father seemed to have regained some of his humour.

"No, although I want to teach the Lintons a good lesson," Helen replied, throwing a glance back to her competitors, "There's no need to—oh my heavens!"

"What?" said her father as he turned to look behind them.

Monday, April 11, 2011


"I don't understand," Helen's father repeated. "Surely this thing is weather ready." He looked up to the ceiling of the gondola.

"That's not the issue, Papa," Helen said, peering into the clouds as if she might be able to divine the path of the storm and its ferocity.

"Well, there can't be much rain getting in here." He patted the railing as if to reassure himself of the strength of the conveyance.

"But signor, the lightning," Romano repeated. "Very bad."

Rochester began to pace around. "I don't see how, it can't really get in here, surely. It's not going to be attracted to a big balloon."

"Dirigible," Helen corrected automatically, then stopped short to look at her father. "You do realise all the machinery is metal, of course."

He stared at her, blinking, and then turned to gaze at the engine assembly.

Helen tried to remember any other time that she had rendered her father speechless, but was unable to recall a single instance. This day would have to be filed away for special mention in her journal.

If they survived the day, that is.

Tuppence croaked and finally succeeded in lighting on Rochester's shoulder. The bird's presence was enough to irritate him back to normalcy and he waved the bird off with a few explosions of cursing.

Helen threw a look back; the Lintons were no closer and she smiled with satisfaction. Come what may with the storm, there was a great deal of satisfaction in proving the superiority of her ship.

"Can you take us lower?" she called to the pilot.

"Not until we're over the last rise," Romano shouted back.

The moors offered an impassive and forbidding face. Helen knew they would be heartless if the ship came to near their rough surface. There was nothing to do but hold steady at this level and hope the winds did not shift them too much.

"Aren't we a bit too near the ground?"

It seemed a bit odd to have to be reassuring her father. Helen experienced another surge of confidence and wished her mother were here, too. "We are trying to keep below the storm, Papa."

"The winds are bringing the storm in from the sea," Romano called out. "They're slowing us down some."

Helen looked back at the Lintons' ship. They would feel the winds no less than they and were accordingly slowed. But they seemed higher in the sky now.

"I think they fear coming too low," Helen muttered. Glancing down, she saw that the rough surface of the moors lay like strange animal below them, the rough verbiage clinging tightly as if fearing to lose purchase on the rocks.

"Are we too low?" Her father seemed galvanized once more by the nearness of the harsh land below them.

"We'll be fine as long as we keep a good distance between us," Helen said trying to throw some cheery confidence into her tone. "The winds may buffet us a little as they pick up, but we have plenty of room between us and the rocks."

At least she hoped it was still enough. As they approached the summit of Beacon Hill, Helen realised her body had become rigid, braced for disaster. Leaning over the edge of the gondola, she estimated that they had not slowed much though the ground had become much closer.

"Easily fifty yards," she called over to her father who had been making his own survey of the situation.

"Is that enough?" He did not look up.

"It will have to be," Helen said simply. Tuppence landed beside her and made some clicking sounds. She reached out to the bird and stroked the smooth feathers of her neck.

A sudden gust of wind lifted the ship and then dropped it precipitously. Helen grabbed the edge of the gondola and Tuppence lifted off into the air again. The raven circled around the ship, calling loudly.

"See there," Helen said as the ship's path smoothed once again. "Plenty of room yet, we're in no danger."

The words had no more than left her mouth when a loud clap of thunder erupted next to them and shot out a bolt of lightning. For a moment Helen found herself blinded by the glare and felt her fingers dig into the railing.

"That was close!" she squeaked in alarm.

Sunday, April 03, 2011


Helen tried to smother a smile. "Oh, papa! Are you all right?"

He stood up, looking alarmingly blanched and wiping at his mouth with his handkerchief. "Why the devil should I not be?"

"I just thought—"

"Well, never mind that." He waved away Tuppence who seemed to want to land on his shoulder. "How are we doing?"

Helen turned back to look over the side of the gondola. "We're doing at least forty knots, I reckon." She smiled over at her father. "And we're putting distance between us and those Lintons."

His bark of laughter sounded harshly, though he continued to mop his brow with the handkerchief. "I knew you had it in you, my girl."

"Papa, you know that I try—"

"Well, trying is one thing," her father said standing more erect. "Succeeding quite another." He took a step away from the edge of the gondola and coughed loudly.

Helen could see the colour gradually returning to his face. It was quite remarkable really. She had begun to think that he would not last the voyage and now that he had been sick over the side of the airship, her father seemed to have recovered himself completely.

Tuppence squawked loudly, flapping her wings as if trying to draw their attention. Helen's brows knit as she looked at the raven. Perhaps it was simply upset by her father's passing bout of illness.

"How are things holding, Signor Romano?" She shouted toward the pilot. The wind seemed to be picking up force as their speed increased.

"It's al looking very good, signorina," the pilot called back, throwing up a thumbs up gesture as the tradition dating from medieval times. Helen had found it odd at first until learning that some of the local Yorkshiremen used the same gesture

The things you learn when you leave the ancestral home, Helen mused.

She glanced back over her shoulder. The Lintons' ship was falling even further behind. Helen grinned. Things were looking good. Not only would they win the race but she would have enough funds to assure the last of the alterations that would make the ship ready for its debut at the Exposition.
"We are going to make a real splash!" she crowed. Tuppence croaked a response that she took to be congratulatory.

"Splash?" The paleness returned to her father's visage and he lunged for the ropes again. "Are we over the ocean?"

Helen looked over the edge. They might well be doing forty-five knots now. She wished there were a more accurate way to measure the progress of the ship. It was one thing to try to be as accurate as possible, but she didn't want to consider that she might underestimate the speed in the interest of fairness and not overestimating the speed.

"We're just coming up to the coast, Papa. Look there!" She pointed down to where the North Sea's grey waters joined the land.

Her father did his best to struggle over to the side of the ship and, Helen found herself impressed to observe, steeled himself to look down below. His grimace showed that it was an effort, but by and by, he relaxed his grip on the edge of the gondola.

"It all looks so far away." Her father's voice had a tone she had seldom heard before. It was wonder.

Helen smiled to herself. This was proving to be a most diverting trip. "It is relatively far. you know." She crossed the gondola carefully balancing herself as had become second nature now. "From the barns to the top of the fields. A good gallop even on Belial."

Her father looked at her with an expression Helen found hard to read. There was a certain puzzlement in it, but something else too. It might have been a kind of astonishment.

Something changed. Helen looked up. The sun had gone. Well, not gone, but it had disappeared behind a bank of storm clouds that were looming before them.

"Signor, I think you might want to take us down a bit lower," she called across to Romano.

"Si, si, signorina," the pilot shouted back. "I see the clouds. Very bad. I think there is lightning."

"What's so bad about that?" Her father crooked an eyebrow up, looking quite strong now that he had got his stomach back. "I can take a little hullabaloo now."

Helen laughed but the sound came out a little harsh. "We're not concerned about the bumps, Papa."

"What is it then?"

"The lightning!"