Sunday, October 30, 2011


They rode up the slope toward the spot where the dirigible was tethered. It offered a peculiar image in the early light, floating like a low-hanging cloud above the heather and the rocks.

"My god," Helen's father said with feeling. "I can't believe I am trusting my soul to that infernal machine."

Helen dismounted and handed her reins to young groom who had been drafted to help with the send off. He looked rather nervous which may have had as much to do with her father's reputation as with his horse's.

"Mind you keep a close eye on this beast," her father said as he turned the reins over to the timid young man. "Don't let him rip your arm off."

If the lad had looked frightened before, now he grew quite white. "Yes, sir," he managed to squeak as he stared at the snorting black beast, who—sensing an advantage—pawed the ground with a theatrical sense of menace.

"Don't worry," Helen said with a chuckle. "He seldom eats meat."

The young groom did his best to smile and looked a little relieved. Helen turned to regard the ship. "All ship-shape, signore?"

"All is well, captain," the Italian said, waving his bandaged arm at her. "Everything ship-shape. We are ready to sail into the winds."

Helen checked the assortment of luggage stowed around the gondola. "What's that?" she asked pointing to a rather large case that had not passed her inspection.

Her father leaned over the side of the ship to follow her pointing finger. "That? That's my town wear. I had Dennison pack my best."

"Oh, Papa!" Helen snorted. "There's no need for that. Signor Romano, chuck that over the side, would you?"

"You wouldn't dare!"

"Papa, you are not going to have to dress to impress anyone in Paris. We are not hobnobbing with the ton."

"I will have some business to engage with while I am there," her father said stiffly as he frowned at Romano as he struggled with the case. The young groom tried to lend him a hand after hastily tying the horses' reins to the nearby paddock's fence.

"Papa, do you wear these clothes when you conduct business here?"


"Papa!" Helen scowled.

"Oh, all right. But don't blame me if I get snubbed in Paris and we lose a fortune. I hear they can be pernickety when it comes to sartorial effects."

"If it comes to that, Papa," Helen said with a sharp look, softened somewhat by a smile, "We can buy you some new clothes in the City of Lights."

"Needless expense," he muttered.

"They would be somewhat more fashionable than your current wardrobe."

Her father stood up straight and stared at her. "I thought I brought you up to flatter your papa."

Helen laughed. "I'm afraid we've failed then. Papa, you know it's unnecessary."

"Very well." He crossed his arms. "I know I'll feel the absence of that silk cravat."

His daughter ceased to pay any attention to him. "Signore, have we got the rest of the cargo distributed sufficiently well?"

The pilot stood upright once more examining the gondola. "We should be all right, signorina. If not, we should be able to shift things during flight." He looked over at Rochester with a dubious expression. "As long as we are cautious."

Helen ignored her father's snort of derision. "How do the seats seem?"

The pilot patted the nearest one with pride. "I think we will find them quite comfortable for the longer journey."

Helen's father leaned over the gondola. "Am I sitting on that?"

"Yes, Papa. We all are. At least when we're not busy with other duties."

"Duties! I thought this was a leisure trip."

"Maybe for you. I have work to do." Helen climbed over into the gondola. "Are you ready to come aboard, Papa?"

"Aye, aye, captain."

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday, October 09, 2011


The laughter that filled the room came unexpectedly from Helen's mother. "Holiday? Well, there you are. Problem sorted."

Her father frowned. "What the devil do you mean?"

"It's a holiday. So that means you will enjoy yourself, you will not have to do any work, and you will leave Helen to manage her own work."

Fairfax looked disappointed. "Can we at least finalise the details on the Leeds project before you go off gallivanting across the channel?"

"Yes, yes, all right. But while I'm gone your mother will have to be consulted. And yes," he added with a smile that was perhaps a little too pleased, "You will probably have to explain some of the finer points to her."

"As I know nothing about the project," the mother in question added dryly.

"But she's got a great head for figures and far more sense than I have." As usual when he was complimenting his wife, Rochester's voice got gruffer as he went on.

Someone unfamiliar with him could easily assume that his tone indicated anger. His fire-ravaged visage recoiled with something that appeared to mimic pain, yet signaled something far different.

A fact his wife had long been aware of, naturally. She crossed over to his side and sat on the arm of his chair. "You need to get away. It's been far too long since you've wandered further than York."

"I don't need to wander," he said, putting a rough hand on top of her smaller one.

"Perhaps not, but I think you will find that you do need to get out into the world a little and stretch those long legs of yours somewhere other than this library."

"It will be a terrific adventure, Papa." Helen added. "You will find many things to amuse you and cause all manner of trouble."

He made a rumbling sound that was not easy to interpret. "But I can't bring the dog."


"Oh, all right." Though he frowned theatrically, both his wife and daughter knew he was pleased.

In the morning, preparations began. Helen hopped out of bed at an early hour, waving away her maid Edith's well-intentioned attempts to help her dress. "I will have to dress myself on this trip, Edith. Only simple clothes, things I can easily slip in and out of."

The maid tutted. "You make it sound positively indecent."

Helen laughed. "There will be no possibility of anything indelicate with Papa along."

"Oh, Miss Helen, he's going to be no end of trouble to you, I expect."

"Nonsense," Helen said as she rubbed a smudge off her favourite goggles. "Papa will lend a sense of gravity to the adventure."

"And to the gondola," Edith added.

Helen threw back her head and laughed. "The ship has plenty of lift. It won't be a problem."

She was still chuckling when she headed out to the stables. Her father's voice rose in the distance, remonstrating with Thompson about some doubtless meaningful detail of Belial's maintenance in his absence.

"Not the common oats," he warned with severity. "The pressed oats with honey. Don't forget!"

"Of course not, sir," Thompson said. After many years he had become inured to the imperious demands of his employer and remained as phlegmatic as the elderly bay gelding he generally rode on errands. "The oats with honey."

"Mind you, don't over feed him. He can be a greedy beggar." Rochester thumped the huge stallion's neck affectionately and the horse nosed him just as roughly, forcing him to take a step back.

"Right, sir, not over fed," Thompson repeated.

"Papa, we really must get going." Helen pulled at his sleeve. "Signor Romano has the ship ready to fly."

"Yes, I suppose." He swung up on the horse as Helen climbed aboard her fat grey mare. "Did you say farewell to your mother?"

"Yes, of course. Did you?" Helen enjoyed seeing her father blush.

"Don't be impertinent. Let's go." Belial wheeled around and the two of them clattered off through the courtyard in the early morning light.

Sunday, October 02, 2011


  "Now, Helen," her mother soothed.

"Hideous machine," Helen repeated. "He called my beautiful ship a 'hideous machine'!"

"I apologise," Fairfax said, "But you also accused me of speculating. I cannot allow my own sister to accuse me of speculation."

"All right, I'm sorry as well." Helen paused at the door, her hand on the knob. "You're just so infuriating all of the time with your highhanded ways."

"I don't know what you mean." Fairfax looked at her wide-eyed.

"That's why it's so irritating!"

"What the devil does any of this matter?" Their father glowered at the two of them from the depths of his chair. "I don't need to hear this kind of wrangling from my children. I'd like a little peace in my own home!"

"Things will be quieter in France, Papa."

"France!" Fairfax said. "You're going, too?"

"Against my will," his father muttered. "We can't have your sister running around the land of frogs with strange Italian men on her own."

"You're secretly pleased I think, Papa." Helen laughed.

"I think perhaps Fairfax ought to go with you instead," her father said.

"What!" The two siblings spoke in unison with equal levels of horror. Their expressions gave no doubt about the unsuitability of this idea to both of them. It was only when they noticed their father's barely suppressed mirth that they breathed a sigh of relief.

"You're a very devil, Papa," Helen said, shaking her head in disbelief.

"I wouldn't be at liberty to go anyway," Fairfax added, his voice sounding somewhat nervous yet. He rifled through the papers in his portfolio. "This land matter alone will require a great deal of attention in the next few weeks."

"Not from me, I hope," his father said, apparently somewhat daunted by the thought. While he liked to think of himself as a cagey manager of his estates, he actually much preferred to leave things in the capable hands of his son. Most of his conversations consisted of nodding in agreement.

It was a suitable charade as far as he was concerned.

"Well, if I must go, I suppose I shall have to reconcile myself to my fate," he grumbled.

Helen was delighted that they had moved past the impossibility of the trip to planning its details. "We shall have to find a suitable place to stay in Dover and in Calais, where we can keep the ship nearby."

"I'm sure we can arrange something suitable," her mother said, "though perhaps not as quickly as you might like."

"Can I bring Cerberus along as well?"

"No, Papa, there won't be room." Helen gathered up her drawings and plans, ready to head to her room for some thoughtful planning.

"We really need to discuss this Leeds plan—" Fairfax began, holding out a very daunting piece of paper toward his father.

His father ignored the paper. "Are you bringing Tuppence?"

"Of course!"

"Well, then I want to bring my dog." Her father folded his arms decidedly. The animal in question raised his head, as if aware of the debate. "It's only fair."

"Papa," Helen said, swallowing her irritation, "Tuppence is a bird and can fly beside the ship. Cerberus is an enormous dog and will take up too much room as well as being an unruly beast with no discipline."

"Unruly! He's a well-trained and magnificent beast."

"Papa, he doesn't even sit on command."

"He's sitting now."

As if he understood—and Helen reflected, it might be entirely possible that he did—Cerberus immediately stood up, wagging his tail gently as he looked at his master.

"Good dog." He patted his pet affectionately. "Well, what the devil am I going to do while you're pottering around with mountebanks and machinery?"

"You could look at some possible investments," Fairfax broke in.

"Hang me if I'll be working on my holiday!"