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."