Sunday, September 25, 2011



Helen's mother looked up from her husband's face, still smiling. "What is it, Mrs. Hitchcock?"

"Mr. Fairfax has arrived."

"Oh dear," Helen said.

"Now, Helen," her mother scolded gently. "I'm sure if you start out irritated you will only get more so very quickly. Think soothing thoughts."

Helen laughed. "I will not ruffle his almighty equilibrium."

Her father snorted. "Why the one child of mine who has become a success should be the cause of such consternation, I don't understand. Fairfax is a fine young man."

"He's an insufferable prig."

"Nonsense: he's a respected capitalist," his father huffed proudly.

"Exactly." Helen began to gather up the sketches and notes she had spread across the library table.

"Mother, father," Fairfax said as he entered the room, a portfolio under his arm. "Helen."

It would not be entirely accurate to say that the siblings were cool too one another. They were simply too much alike to get on well. Both had their mother's open, intelligent face and no-nonsense movements. They differed only in their zeal for opposing goals.

Fairfax had taken command of the family fortune with a zeal that approached the missionary. He had taken his degree from Cambridge and immediately embarked upon an aggressive plan for expanding their funds with the empire.

Helen, denied a similar opportunity, focused on educating herself with the extensive library her father had gathered and her mother had expanded. Suspicious of the same hierarchies that barred her from formal learning, Helen's character had developed with a scorn for all the conventional attitudes that fueled her brother's work and connections.

Consequently, they did not much understand one another.

At times like this, the clash between the siblings caused a good deal of friction. When one concentrated on holding onto existing benefits and the other on exploring the unknown, breaking new barriers and plunging into new horizons, there were going to be sparks.

And so they began.

"I've just been looking at our latest figures on the Leeds investments…" Fairfax began, talking directly to his father and bypassing the two women in the room. "They're not as strong as I would like them to be but I assume we can make some alterations to the schema that will keep the margins within reason."

"And hello to you, too," Helen snapped at her brother.

Fairfax looked at her mildly. "I'm sure we will have time to chat after Father and I have finished dealing with these matters."

"Oh yes, the matters far too complex for female heads to deal with!"

"I never said that." Fairfax frowned. "But you have never showed much interest—"

"And you have never bothered to include Mother or I in your calculations that manipulate the family finances without regard to proprietary or ethics."

"That's not at all true," Fairfax countered. "You will recall that my training in ethics at Cambridge—"

Unfortunately, any mention of that august institution inevitably resulted in further animosity from his sister. One might think the young man would have learned by now to avoid that controversial topic, but the truth was that he seemed to bring it up with tedious regularity.

"Yes, we're all well aware of the stellar education you received in the ways of the Empire, the ruthlessness of the capitalist, the slippery 'ethics' of the speculator…" His sister grew pink with irritation.

"I am not a speculator!" Fairfax seemed startled by the suggestion.

"Your schemes are legion." Helen's fixed expression seemed to suggest that his crimes were public knowledge.

"The only 'scheme' I could be said to be engaged in of a dubious nature," Fairfax said, eyes, glaring with intense light, "would be funding your hideous machine."

"A marvel of engineering!" Helen said, her voice constricted.

"Now, children, please let's not argue." Their mother shook her head at them.

"I shan't say another word!" Helen said and prepared to depart.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


"I told you it was goblins," Helen's father said with smug satisfaction as he threw himself into his favourite chair.

Her mother raised her eyebrows. "Goblins? Really?"

Helen rolled her eyes. "Of course not. But the folks in Whitby have complained about the proliferation of airships over their fair town and claim it is impeding the tourist trade."

"A fair assessment?"

Helen warmed her hands in the fire. "Unfortunately, I'd have to agree, especially after the Lintons' extraordinary conflagration."

"What the devil did they expect?" Her father growled from the depths of his chair, waking Cerberus who had been sprawled at his feet. The great black beast whined and tried to nose his master's hand onto his skull for a patting. Rochester looked down and gave the dog a rough tousle. "Do they think people are going to come just for the ruins of the abbey or to walk up all those infernal stairs?"

"Papa," Helen scolded gently. "People have long been drawn the beauties of that fishing town. It's romantic."

Her mother laughed. "You know your father has no sense of romance."

"The devil you say!" Her father said with an aggrieved air. "I'm far more romantic than your mother. She bewitched me. I was helplessly besotted."

The witch in question only smiled at her husband. "Am I to be accused of witchcraft anytime I do something you don’t anticipate?"

"Yes." Cerberus whimpered and he returned to scratching the dog.

Helen felt a spasm of irritated impatience even as she smiled at her parents' wrangling. "So I think I will fly down to Dover and then over to Paris."

This had the desired effect of startling her listeners.

"Is that wise?" her mother said.

"The devil you will!" her father said.

"It's quite safe. If anything, today's flight demonstrated just how much so. Despite the problems Signor Romano and I were well-prepared for the encounters and we succeeded in the face of all opposition," and possible interference, she thought to herself.
"I won't hear of it!" her father protested.

"Papa, you can't forbid me. It's my ship."

"You brother might have something to say about that."

Helen frowned. "I owe him the funds, not the ship. He will never realise his investment until I prove the worth of the vessel."

"Why do you have to go to that infernal land of frogs?"

"Weren't you once partial to that glittering city?" Helen's mother asked her husband who merely muttered something unintelligible.

Helen sighed. "Papa, I've explained. I need to work with Signor Maggiormente. The alchemical steam engine could revolutionise the entire history of flying machines. But we have to work together. We need each other's expertise."

"Well, why can't he come here? We could find room for yet another Italiano."

"He's in Paris for the Exhibition. I can't ask him to leave. Papa, I mean to go. This is the goal all my work has been leading toward. I can't wait any longer."

"We understand, darling," her mother soothed. "We're just concerned for your safety."

"And to have you gallivanting around with Italians! Can't be trusted, that much I know. Worse than Frenchmen." Her father scowled from the depths of his chair.

"Isn't that why we agreed you would accompany me?" Helen could not keep a smug smile from her lips as she delivered that piece de resistance. "I will be properly looked after and you will get out of Yorkshire for a while."

"I must have been drunk. Surely I never agreed to such an infernal plan. You're a witch like your mother."

A light in his eye suggested that he was not quite as averse to the idea as he made it seem. Helen decided to press the issue. "Papa, you know I won't feel entirely safe in a new country without you there to protect me."

Her mother laughed. "Now, you're overdoing it. Pretend to be put out a little while longer and he'll come around." She sat on the arm of her husband's chair and put her own arm around his shoulder. "Isn't that true, dear?"

"Witches," he muttered. "A fine pair of witches. Doubtless there will be all manner of goblinry, too. It's bound to be a fiasco of a journey."

Sunday, September 11, 2011


I think they are anyway; they are rather small, wear green and offer the most peculiar drinks and insist on a lot of dancing. Once I can make my polite farewells, I can get back to writing this story...