Sunday, May 29, 2011


Eduardo growled. The sound was not loud, but Maggiormente knew what it meant. "Signora, I think I had better clear up this mess." He struggled to extricate himself from her surprisingly powerful grasp.

"Oh, monsieur! You must persuade me," Mme. Gabor purred. "Do try. I am certain we could come to some kind of, ah, arrangement…"

"Good heavens, look at that smoldering wood!" The alchemist pointed somewhat nervously at the table as he tugged away from vise of her fingers.

"Forget the experiment, monsieur!" Mme. Gabor batted her not inconsiderable lashes at him.

"Eh, I—what?" Maggiormente looked to Eduardo for help, but the lion merely continued to glare and growl under his breath while flexing his wings.

"Forget the experiment! Come down to my flat and we can talk over some very good cheese from Normandy and a fine bottle of Bordeaux that my cousine gave me."

"Oh, erm, I—that's, ah…" The alchemist stumbled over his thoughts as she tightened her grip on his arm.

"Monsieur," the concierge murmured, laying her rouged cheek once more upon his arm. "You are a man."

"Indeed." Maggiormente's eyebrows furrowed as he pondered this seemingly obvious statement.

"And I am a woman."

"Also true." He heard Eduardo's growl deepen slightly.

Mme. Gabor looked up at him and smiled. "Must I draw a diagram for you, monsieur?"

"That might be helpful indeed," Maggiormente said, his gratefulness evident in the explosion of breath behind it.

She blinked at him and then burst out laughing. The alchemist blinked at her in return with a vague and uncertain smile on his lips. He found himself relieved that she let go of his arm to cover her own face as she guffawed helplessly.

"Oh monsieur, you are like a babe in the woods!"

"Erm, yes, I suppose so," Maggiormente said uncertainly. "But I really must clean up this mess now, madame, or we might be in for a fire." It certainly seemed the safest route to pursue, he sensed. A danger to the house might outweigh her other mad obsession.

Mme. Gabor frowned at the table which indeed still smoldered. "I suppose you could be right, monsieur."

"Of course he is," Eduardo said with a snap of his jaws at the end for emphasis. Then he turned sulkily toward the window, considering whether to wake up the nightingale. No one should have to suffer this alone.

"Well, yes, it would be for the best…"

"I must go retrieve more sand," the alchemist blurted, grabbing for his hat and scarf and tromping toward the open door.

"Of course, monsieur," Mme. Gabor called after him, "But I expect once you have completed these various safety measures to come to my flat. We have so much to discuss."

Only inches from a clean escape, Maggiormente reflected as he paused in the doorway. "D'accord, madame." He squashed the hat down on his head and wrapped the scarf around his neck as if a condemned man. "Au revoir."

Mme. Gabor watched him go with a very catlike grin upon her face. Eduardo regarded with suspicion from his perch by the window. Things were not at all going according to his liking.

"I don't suppose you have any cakes," Eduardo said morosely.

"I don't normally allow pets, you know," she said apropos of nothing.

"Buon giorno, signora," the lion said with all the coldness he could muster.

She turned to regard him, still smiling but there was a return of his coldness. "Tout à l'heure, Monsieur Lion." Mme. Gabor laughed again and walked out the door, closing it behind her.

Eduardo lay down with his chin on his paws. There must be many other flats to let in Paris, even for an alchemist and his Venetian lion. They rented to painters after all, surely alchemists were tame in comparison.

"This will not end well," Eduardo said to no one in particular, though perhaps the nightingale had awakened. "He cannot dodge her forever. Of course we could simply blow the building up before that happens." He decided to reflect happily on that thought.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


"Well, that was a surprise," Signor Maggiormente said, nonplussed.

Eduardo removed his paws from his ears. "Did you say something?"

"Indeed. I said 'that was a surprise.' Uffa!"

The lion sat up. "Ti sta bene! You go too far. You know the explosive properties of linseed oil. We saw it all too clearly with those painters."

The alchemist threw up his hands. "Where will progress come from if not through risk? We must press on." He poked in a desultory way at the charred spot on the table. "I need new beakers."

"You need a lot more than that," the lion added, raising itself once more to a dignified position.

"Oh yes, my evaporating dish is completely obliterated." Maggiormente shook his head with disappointment, as if the dish had somehow proved substandard. His rumblings about French alchemists in the last few days were doubtless to be doubled.

"No, no—I meant that you need to change your tactics!" The lion glared. If you have not seen a Venetian lion glare, you have not felt the full weight of scorn it casts upon the unsuspecting individual. Something about the amber lights in the eyes—which often seem to shoot out from the softer brown behind them—lend an extra weight of censure to just such a look.

The alchemist, however, accustomed to receiving such looks at a greater frequency than most human beings, did not quail. In fact, he did not actually notice it, as he was preoccupied with reliving the steps of the experiment in hopes that he could discover the flaw in sequence that had led to this latest explosion.

"Hmmm?" was all he managed to utter, turning to look at the big cat as it ruffled its wings in annoyance.

"I said you need to change your tactics. I think this linseed oil avenue is simply a diversion. You've been exploding or burning things for days now with no discoveries of any useful nature."

Maggiormente narrowed his eyes to look over at the lion. "In the process of discovery, one must hope for benefits that reveal themselves later. This is not the simple mechanics of mathematics!"

Eduardo yawned. "Mathematics have far greater subtlety than mucking around with oils and unguents."

"You are simply prejudiced."

"Math tends to be less lethal as well," Eduardo added, raising a censorious eyebrow toward the charred table.

"The price of research—" The alchemist's comments were cut short by a peremptory knock on the door. The two exchanged glances. An observer might have commented on the guilty look in those glances, but there was none to see but the nightingale asleep in its nest on the ledge outside the window.

At last Maggiormente sighed and walked over to the door to throw it open. Doing so revealed the grim figure of their concierge, Mme. Gabore. "Signora!" he cried, doing his best to sound pleased to see her.

"Monsieur, things cannot go on like this!" She fluttered into the room in a cloud of tobacco and cherry scent, her surprisingly trim figure as always a mismatch to her rather seedy appearance: overly kohled around her bloodshot eyes, too much rouge. "My other tenants, how they complain!"

"Pardon, signora. It is the nature of science…"

"But the noise, the smell! I cannot turn my other tenants away! What will I do? Enter the poor house? Surely a wise man like you can understand." She batted her ringed eyes at him.

"Ah…" Maggiormente found himself without further words as the concierge once again squeezed his arm with undue familiarity. The fascination she found with that part of his anatomy stumped him.

"They are all threatening to go. What am I to do, monsieur? If my house is empty, I will be bereft. You can understand." She leaned her rouged cheek upon on his arm, still held captive.

"Ah, oui…madame. But science—she has demands, too."

"Oh, perhaps, perhaps. She is a cruel mistress, is she not? How you suffer!" Actual tears appeared to well up in her eyes.

"I suppose," the alchemist responded, stuck for an answer.

"Well, perhaps you can persuade me to let you stay. I can be so easily persuaded by one like you," she added in a whisper.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


This intellectual disagreement evaporated when a shout from Signore Romano interrupted. "Signorina!"

"What is it, signor?" Helen called turning away from her frowning father to face the front of the ship. The dirigible had returned to a safer height now that the storm seemed to have moved out to sea, so she did not expect they were in any kind of danger.

"Goblins," her father muttered, but Helen ignored him.

"Are we getting to Whitby?"

"Si, si, signorina, but look." Romano nodded off the starboard side.

Helen leaned over the railing to look down as Tuppence landed on her shoulder once more. "Heavens!"

Down below there was a crowd gathering, some on foot, some on horseback. They could have been drawn together for any reason, Helen supposed, if it weren't for the fact that many were pointing up at the airship.

"What do you suppose they want?" Romano asked.

Helen thought she heard a tone of worry in his voice. "I'm sure they're just curious to see the airship. There aren't that many around here."

"Everyone's seen your airship," her father said, squinting uselessly down at the crowd below. "Even in Whitby."

"I don't know about that, Papa."

"Well, if they haven't seen it, they've heard about it from other people. How many are there?" he asked, gesturing toward the general direction of the town.

"Not so many, maybe twenty or thirty people."

"Do they look agitated?"

"Agitated?" Romano said, his face taking on a look of agitation itself. "Why should they be agitated?"

"Indeed, Papa. Why do you say that?"

"No reason," but he frowned. "They're not carrying torches, are they? Or pitchforks?"

"Good heavens, Papa. What are you on about?" Helen looked down at the crowd more carefully. They seemed peaceable enough, although they were indeed pointing at their ship.

"Goblins get people riled up."

Helen shot a glance at him but he had that distracted look that meant his thoughts were somewhere else altogether. "There's no such thing as goblins, Papa."

He gave a harsh bark of laughter. "You weren't raised in Thornfield Hall, or you would know better. More things in heaven and earth, my girl."

"Signore," Romano broke in, "I suspect they only want to help the other ship. Perhaps they are gathering to rescue the men singéd by the fire."

Helen spirits brightened. "I'm sure that must be it! They're only trying to assist the Lintons. They saw the smoke and came to offer aid. How kindly people can be."

Tuppence croaked and flapped her wings. Her father snorted. "Kindly! Do they look like a group of rescuers?" The ship drew closer to the knot of people and Helen had to admit that they didn't look all that cheery.

"Perhaps not." Helen bit her lip. "Shall we go up higher?"

Romano turned back the to controls. Without noticing, the ship had begun to sink lower as if anticipating a meeting with the crowd. "If they are not keen to see us—"

"Well, I don't really know." Helen leaned further over the railing. Did they think we had something to do with the fire, she mused. We're known to be competitors, but surely no one would assume that of me? Aloud she said, "Perhaps we'll just sail over them and wave as if everything were all right."

"Everything is all right," her father said, although the rumble in his tone suggested that were not entirely true. "But you can't get the mobs to believe that sort of thing."

Indeed even from this distance, they could hear shouts and murmurs from the crowd. Helen raised her arm and sent Tuppence out on reconnaissance. The mood of the mob appeared to be darkening as she watched. "What on earth could that be about?"

Her father shook his head. "You won't like what I will say."

She looked at him, an eyebrow raised. "Why? What are you going to say?"

He laughed. "Goblins."

Helen looked down. There might be less peculiar reasons, but she couldn't think of one that fit.

Sunday, May 08, 2011


"Heavens!" Helen said. Black clouds billowed up from the gondola of the other airship and the flames had become sufficiently large that even her father could see them clearly across the murky distance.

"What the devil are they going to do now?" Her father's look grew dark. "Have they perished in that conflagration?"

Helen craned her neck. "No, I see them waving the smoke away. I can't tell if they're all right, but they're still standing at least."

"What's that now?" Her father pointed toward the Linton's ship.

"Ah, a rope. They're going to try to land or else slide down away from the flames. Wisest thing to do."

Her father snorted. "I suppose I should be grateful that you've at least thought about the likelihood of having a fiery end. Not that it hasn't been tried before," he added, a grim smile on his face.

"Oh, papa!" Helen felt a stab of pain. "I'm sorry, it never even crossed my mind—"

"No matter," he said gruffly, keeping his gaze focused on the black clouds of smoke.

"It's extremely unlikely," Helen added with obvious haste. "They're using a highly volatile assembly: a combustion engine and whale oil."

Her father gestured toward the motor at the back of the airship. "What sort of contraption runs this one then?"

Helen grinned. "I thought you'd never ask about it, papa! It's a modified version of Jedlik's dynamo, with electromagnetic self-rotators. Quite ingenious really, if I do say so myself."

He raised his eyebrows in mock surprise. "And what does that all mean in the Queen's English?"

"It means we use magnetism rather than a burning fuel. We're far less likely to have any kind of fire, although with heat, friction and a wooden frame one must be prepared."

Rochester folded his arms. "Were you always this clever?"

"Yes, papa." Helen laughed. "Have you never noticed?"

"I suppose I may have suspected it now and then. After all your parents are both very clever people. But I'm not ruling out the possibility of witchcraft being involved."

"Papa," Helen said, shaking her head. The Lintons were descending now by means of the rope, two blackened figures swinging in the air.

"Well, isn't that why you want to go see that charlatan?"

Helen looked at her father, genuinely puzzled. "Charlatan?"

"Oh, magician, charlatan, mountebank, whatever the devil he is."

"I have no idea what you're referring to, papa."

Tuppence landed on the rail of the gondola and croaked, flapping her wings. Helen walked over to her. "The engine overheated, didn't it?" The bird nodded and flapped its wings again.

"Will it explode again?" The bird turned her head at an angle and emitted a number of clicking sounds.

"For god's sake, what does all that mean?" Her father made an indistinct clicking sound of his own.

"She's not sure." Helen found the sight of her perturbed father scowling at the raven highly amusing. He would likely not appreciate her telling him that they looked like a drawing from an alchemical text. The thought triggered a smile but also brought her a realisation. "Papa, did you mean Signor Maggiormente?"

"That's the one. Some French magician isn't he?"

"Papa, you know he's Italian."

"A friend of this one?" He jerked a thumb toward Romano at the controls.

"No, but he is a very respected alchemist."

"But why do you need an alchemist?" Her father waved toward the motor. "Magnets you said. No chemicals, eh?"

"The motor is very heavy. Think how much faster we could go if we had a chemical powered motor. And little risk of explosion, too."

"I suppose that might help. What about goblins? Don't you get goblins with alchemy?"

"Oh, papa!"

Sunday, May 01, 2011


Helen gasped. Her hands flew to her face in a helpless gesture of alarm. Even the pilot turned to gaze at the spectacle behind them.

The last lightning strike had apparently hit the Linton's ship. Smoke rose from the gondola. The twins waved their arms about and while Helen could not hear the words of their shouts, she could doubtless guess at the nature of their sentiments.

"Good heavens!" she said to her father, who had stalked over to her side of the gondola to get a better look. His hair had calmed someone, but Helen smothered another impulse to grin because a wild lick of hair at the crown of his head stood up like a hayrick despite the wind.

"What the devil are they going to do?" her father demanded. "Shouldn’t they land?"

"That might be best, but they're in the same position as we are."

"More dangerous to land," Romano agreed, taking a quick glance at the controls over his shoulder then turning his attention back to the Linton's airship. "There could be an explosion. Poof!"

"Shouldn't you have your hands on the controls?" Rochester barked at him.

Romano glared at him. "I can manage the ship just fine."

"We're awfully near the ground."

"Papa, let Signor Romano do his own driving."

"Thank you, signorina," Romano muttered with a curt nod.

Helen smiled back but noted that they were rather precipitously close to the ground and began edging toward the controls as she kept her eyes on the Lintons. Tuppence landed beside her on the gondola's edge and began to croak at her.

"Hush," she said, but the bird continued to chatter away at her as if it had something to say. "Go make yourself useful," Helen said at last. "See what's happening over there."

Tuppence took wing and headed toward the Linton's ship.

"Witchcraft," Rochester muttered under his breath, although loud enough for his daughter to hear clearly. "Just like your mother."

"Tuppence is an intelligent and well-trained companion," Helen said, still keeping an eye on the distance to the ground below. "It's no more witchcraft than your ability to communicate with Belial."

Her father murmured something she couldn't quite catch. His gaze returned to the Linton's airship.

The black smoke billowed around the balloon's semi-rigid frame and flowed up into the sky leaving a perceptible trail in its wake. Helen leaned forward trying to see through the increasing blackness and the rain.

There was no doubt: flames licked the edges of the gondola in the rear. They were small yet, but doubtless they would spread.

"Shouldn't they land now?" Helen's father asked again. "They don't seem to be slowing at all. What the devil are they doing?" he squinted over the distance. His sight wasn't very good at the best of times and in the murk of the day and over the space between them he seemed to find it difficult to make anything out.

Helen took a quick glance down. Much too close! "Signore…"

The pilot looked over his should and smiled. "Signorina?"

Helen nodded down. Romano looked over the edge of the gondola and his eyebrows shot up. He rushed back to the controls and started the ship on a more accelerated climb. Helen gave her father a quick look but his face was still screwed up trying to see what the Lintons were doing.

She moved closer to him. "They seem to be trying to put the fire out."

"Naturally," her father said dryly. "Imagine that."

Helen smirked. "They don't seem to have anything at hand to do so, however."

"Damned foolishness!"

"Well, they obviously didn't think about the possibilities."

He looked at her with a frown. "Are you prepared for such an occurrence?"

Helen pointed to the buckets of sand lining the back of the gondola. "Just in case."

Her father gave her one of his rare smiles. "Clever girl." He looked up at Romano. "Are we going back up?"

Helen nodded. "The risk of lightning seems past—" An explosion halted her words.