The clear fresh air in the ascent invigorated Helen. She found a special thrill in lifting into the clouds. As the world fell away beneath them and the clouds drew closer, her heart swelled with an immense feeling of freedom.
"When do we eat?"
Her father's words jarred her from the pleasant reverie. "Papa, we've barely begun to ascend."
"My hunger is not dependent upon height."
Helen raised her eyebrow at him. "I merely meant that we have barely begun our journey, so if we eat now we will be eating food meant for later."
Her father huffed. "You have a conveniently ordered anatomy. I did not breakfast yet, so I want some food."
Tuppence croaked and flapped her wings. "Look, even your bird agrees with me."
Helen looked back and forth between the two of them. "I begin to suspect a conspiracy."
"A little nibble of something would not go amiss, signora," Romano called back from the controls.
Helen sighed. "Well, we have a variety of edibles in the hamper." She crossed over and flipped open the top of the wicker basket. "Cheese and bread all right with everyone?"
They enjoyed a simple meal as they passed over the moors toward the coast and the weather continued fair.
"We're lucky we don't have to sail over Whitby again," her father remarked as he threw a little bit of crust toward Tuppence who caught it in her beak and settled over on top of a crate to devour it.
"I'm sure it would be fine, Papa," Helen said.
"Are we stopping in Grimsby?" Her father pointed at her with a finger that had a little butter anointing its tip. "I have never gone to Grimsby but once and I found it full of Liverpudlians for some reason. I am not certain that is always the case."
"Papa, we need to get down to Dover tonight if at all possible."
"What about Hull?"
"Signorina," the pilot called from the front of the gondola. "What is that?"
Romano pointed toward the morning's skyline. Helen narrowed her eyes to look into the rising sun. A large cloud drifted in a rather strange manner ahead of them. Its movements puzzled her.
"I thought your bird said the day was clear," her father said with a clear note of triumph in his voice before he popped another bit of cheese into his mouth.
"It is clear," Helen muttered, her eyes fixed on the growing dark shape. There was something familiar about it.
Her father had finally turned his attention to the mystery before them. "Are we near one of the industrial centers? Are there mills here?"
The cloud grew darker and began to twist and revolve in the air. The shapes of it became almost mesmerizing, Helen thought, as they mutated against the pale blue of the early morning sky.
"Signorna, shall we descend?" The pilot's voice carried a note of alarm.
Helen considered for a moment. "No, let’s stay on course. Perhaps the cloud will go around us or we will simply pass through without harm. Surely it's—"
She cocked her head. An audible sound began to make its way toward them, melding with the hum of the airship's motor.
"I don't much like the look of this," her father said. He glared off into the distance as if he could will the cloud away.
The cloud suddenly spiraled into a funnel shape then swirled again to form an oblong. The feeling of familiarity grew in the back of Helen's mind but she couldn't quite put her finger on it. It was the growing sound that pricked her memory. The racket had begun to drown out the motor's murmur.
That was it! "It's a mumuration," Helen exalted.
"A what?" Her father and Signor Romano spoke in unison.
Helen laughed and opened her mouth to explain, but suddenly the cloud was upon them. The black shape exploded before them and they were engulfed by the dark masses of loudly chattering little beings.
"What the devil!" her father shouted as they were immersed in the murmuration.