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!"

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