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!"

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