"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.