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."
"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.