Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Slight Relocation

The big news is that the serial has shifted over to the website. A slight change of address that will consolidate everything in one place, simplifying things I hope. If you read the serial via Facebook or Twitter anyway, you won't even feel the difference. But if you've got it bookmarked, change to the new address. A new episode this Sunday. Thank you!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Housekeeping

I have some behind the scenes changes to make that will delay this week's episode. Nothing drastic: all will be revealed soon. But in the meantime, enjoy these lovely photos of Rome! Fingers crossed, we'll be back next week with more from our heroine, her father, the alchemist and his Venetian lion.







Sunday, June 10, 2012

7.9 Belgian Dishes

 
Helen's father barked with laughter. "A dangerous weather development occurs and your only thought is, 'I must write this in my journal'? You are your mother's daughter indeed."

"I find that a great compliment, Papa."

"As you should." He continued to gaze at the water spout, but Helen thought his face looked much softer now, as if the dark clouds that sat upon his brow had like the son of York's been in the deep bosom of the ocean buried for now.

The water spout, which had growing bigger and darker, suddenly seemed to be growing whiter and more transparent. As it curled down from the clouds the middle part grew whispy and the two halves parted. For some reason, Helen's mind jumped to the image of Michaelangelo's fresco of the creation, the hand of Adam and his creator meeting in the middle, though here the two limbs drew apart.

"And there it goes," Romano said, his comments punctuated by a squawk from Tuppence. The tail of the spout appeared to be absorbed into the grey clouds above it.

Helen sighed, unwilling to admit that she had found the phenomenon worrisome, more for her father's sake than her own. She could swim after all. And while the channel was very wide, it might be possible for a human to swim it. Or at least half of it, which is about how much they would have to do.

"Flotation devices," she muttered under her breath, and went at once to her journal of the journey. Over-water travel, consider having some kind of Kisby Ring or cork device aboard. She had heard of a lifeboat captain who had designed some kind of cork vest that could be worn, but Helen had neither seen one or a drawing of one so found herself imagining a waistcoat covered with bottle stoppers, which was surely wrong.

There were so many new inventions. It was truly an age of discovery! Helen burned to be part of the age, to make her mark and be part of history.

Surely this journey was a step in the right direction. Her face flushed with excitement. If the alchemist came through for her on that new miracle fuel—the art of air travel would be revolutionized!

"Signorina!"

Helen broke away from her thoughts of the future. "What is it, Romano?"

The pilot pointed toward the dark clouds gathered on the southern horizon. Helen found herself somewhat alarmed to see a sudden explosion of lighting strikes from their increasingly black depths.

"Perhaps we should steer a bit further north," she counseled Romano.

"Are we going to end up in Belgium?" her father asked as Tuppence began to croak somewhat urgently.

"Don't go on about Belgium, Papa," Helen scolded, consulting the map on the stand. "It's a lovely country."

"You've never had their stew," he muttered mysteriously.

"How can a stew be bad?"

"It's made with ale instead of wine," her father said as if the point could not be argued. "And they serve a most wretched dish made of eel with some kind of green sauce."

Helen blanched. "That does sound revolting, but I have had Belgian waffles with chocolate and they are sublime, so I can't imagine that all their food is like the eel dish. After all, there's not much of British cooking you could put in competition with it, is there?"

"Your mother's stew is superb."

"Indeed," Helen said, "but I understood her to use a Belgian recipe."

Her father stared at her in dismay.

"Signorina," Romano broke in again, "the storm, she gets stronger."

"From which direction come the prevailing winds?"

Romano consulted his dials and meters. "South southeast."

"Let's chart a course another 15 degrees northward."

"Can we outrun the storm?" Her father asked, his face beginning to show a little shade of green like the Flemish dish.

"We shall endeavour," Helen said as Tuppence hopped over to land on her shoulder. "The storm looks fierce, but the winds don't seem too bad. The lighting is a little tricky but we ought to be fine." Tuppence, help me keep watch, she telegraphed to the bird.

Her father sat himself down once more, looking a little gloomy. "I bet it's sunny in Yorkshire."

"Doubtless," Helen agreed cheerfully. Across the channel to the south the lighting strikes flashed, their electric dance growing bolder.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Stolen by the Muse


Alas, no episode this week; distracted by the sea, the sea, the beautiful sea :-) back soon!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

7.8 Mysteries from the Past

 
Helen looked up into the clouds where the Italian pilot pointed. Her eyes grew large. "I've not seen one of those before."

Romano shook his head. "I have not seen one so large."

"What the blasted flatch are you two on about!" Helen's father demanded. He seemed determined to look everywhere but in the direction they stared.

"Papa, look there. It's descending from the cloud." Helen nodded toward the heaven's, captivated by the sight.

"We call it 'getto d'acqua'," Romano said. "You see them from time to time on the Mediterranean. Quite extraordinary."

"Are they dangerous?" Helen asked, sneaking a look at her father who had yet to turn and take in the strange formation snaking down from the clouds.

Romano shrugged. "Not usually. They form, they dissipate, poof."

"I suppose they're usually far from land," Helen suggested, thinking about the possibilities of evasive movements. One disadvantage with an airship is that it took a while to change directions. You couldn't wheel and turn as on a horse.

Something to think about later; Helen made a mental note to consider speeding the process of turning.

"They are more plentiful at the warmest times of the year," Romano noted. "I have only seen them from a distance. Or so small they appeared to be dissolving almost as quickly as they formed."

"What's the longest you've seen one last?"

The pilot considered this for a moment. "Minutes, surely no more."

Helen's father appeared vastly comforted by this news. "What's all this nonsense?" he blustered like his usual self. He even turned his head ever so slowly to take a look at the phenomenon.

"Bloody hell!" He goggled at the long cylindrical sweep from the clouds. The funnel had lengthened, nearly touching the dark waters below where the disk-like shape whirled darkly.

"Have you ever seen a water spout, Papa?" Helen asked, though she suspected his surprise was indication he had not.

"Not for many a long year," he said with a weariness that seemed to have nothing to do with the sight before them.

His words surprised Helen. "Where did you see a water spout?"

He remained silent for a time and Helen had begun to think he would not answer, but he sighed as he watched the snaking shape in the distance. It swayed like a dancer held between sea and sky.

"When I was in the West Indies," her father said at last, "I saw a few of them. They were generally larger and formed much more quickly."

"I have heard they are plentiful there," Romano said. "And hurricanes, too."

"You were in the West Indies, Papa?"

"Hurricanes were much worse," Helen's father said, his eyes upon the water spout, but his thoughts seemed very far away. "They cause real devastation across the land, ripping trees out at their roots and knocking down houses. Tropical regions are full of all kinds of horrible pestilences."

"When were you in the West Indies?"

Her father laughed but the sound lacked mirth. "Long before you were born, child. Long before I met your mother even." His face took on a darkness much more menacing than the dark clouds overhead.

"How exciting!" Helen said. "I would love to visit the West Indies."

"No, you wouldn't," her father said a little too sharply. "Horrid place. Hot, humid—it does terrible things to your brain. Saps your will. Makes you stupid. Drives you mad." He rubbed his eyes as if the view fatigued him. "Excessive heat was not mean to be borne."

Helen wondered, not for the first time, what tragedies lay in the distant days of her father's life. They all knew the story of the fire that scarred him so and how it had called their mother back to his side by some almost mystic power, but mysteries abounded. There was such a Byronic air about his distant past that she often took to be more jaunty than terrible, but the haggard look on his face now spoke of horror and tumult.

"See how the water dances," the pilot remarked, his voice full of wonder.

"I'm just glad it's dancing a good distance away," Helen's father murmured. Sure enough, it seemed to be moving away from the airship.

"I must write of this in my journal," Helen said firmly.




 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

7.7 A Swirling Disk


Helen and Signor Romano both leaned over the side of the gondola to concentrate on the water below them. Helen's father, however, reluctant to move so close to the edge—and even more reluctant to lean over it and look down—made noises of annoyance.


"Well, what is it? What are you looking at?"

Helen looked up. "We're not at all sure, Papa."

"Is it more whales?"

"They weren't whales, Papa." Helen frowned down at the waters, which made her father bristle with curiosity though he stubbornly stayed put.

"I know, I know," he blustered ineffectively. "Dolphins or porpoises or some such. Well, what are they now? Lobsters doing a quadrille?"

"It's the water, signor," Romano interjected. He appeared to be as puzzled as Helen. "There's a large dark spot that seems to be growing."

Rochester heaved himself to his feet. He leaned on his stick a little and tried to see over the edge without approaching it in any way. This maneuver proved to be less successful than required. Tuppence croaked at him as if in admonishment.

"I'll be damned if I'm hectored by a raven," he muttered to no one in particular and make his way stiffly to the edge of the gondola. While he may have gripped the rail with rather white knuckles, he did lean over and peer down into the darkening sea.

Below the airship, almost like a shadow, a dark pool formed within the turbulent waters of the channel. It seemed rather wide, but it was impossible to tell immediately if it were changing.

"I think it's getting larger," Helen suggested.

"I do not think so," Romano said, but he frowned as if unsure. "Perhaps."

"Can't you even agree on that?" Helen's father asked irritably. "Is it any larger than when you first noticed it?"

"It's hard to tell, Papa."

"Is it our shadow maybe?" He grimaced. "All right, that was a fairly stupid suggestion, wasn't it?"

"Not one of your better ideas, Papa." Helen smiled but her face showed strain.

"Look, it's changing," Romano said, drawing their attention back to the water.

Helen and her father leaned back over the side of the ship. The dark patch of water had definitely begun to move, keeping pace with their flight.

Another shape formed on top of it. This one was lighter, floating like a disc on top of the water.

And twirling.

"I should be taking notes," Helen said at last as they watched, mesmerized by the swirling shapes on the water.

"What can you possibly say?"

"Well," she said, gesturing out toward the water. "I can describe what I see. The circles in the water, moving."

"Moving faster."

They all stared.

"Look, it's rising up." Helen's father pointed. Sure enough the white-capped waves on the turning white disk began to lift up like peaks of whipped icing on a cream cake. The hypnotic swirl surely had sped up as they watched it as well as rising.

"Certainly a remarkable occurrence," Helen said, feeling an unaccustomed sense of awe. "Should we be thinking of evasive moves if necessary?"

Romano looked up. "Evasive? Do you think so?"

"I'm just saying perhaps we should be prepared. This is not a phenomenon we have experienced before. It may remain solely on the surface of the water. It may be an indication of something else."

"It could be a whale," her father suggested, then flushing at her quick exasperation, "A school of whales maybe." He coughed and steadied himself against the rail. All at once he looked very tired.

"I don't think it is, Papa, but I have no idea what it is. Surely we can come up with a likely candidate from our memory of novels or newspapers…"

"Look!" Romano pointed up to the clouds.





Sunday, May 13, 2012

7.6 Pressure Dropping


"Pressure dropping, signorina Captain!" Romano called out from the front of the ship.

"What the devil does that mean?" Helen's father asked, trying vainly to look nonchalant. "Is the airship deflating?"

"No, the weather, Papa." Helen stepped across the gondola to look over Romano's shoulders at the instruments.

"Not quickly," Romano added, "But steadily."

"Perhaps we are in for some rain."

"Nothing worse, though?" her father asked casually.

"We shall see," Helen said, looking about for Tuppence. She whistled and heard an answering croak from the raven. The bird flew down to the edge of the gondola and flapped her wings briskly as water flew off.

Her father wiped his sleeve with exaggerated motions. "I take it things are looking wet out there."

Helen smiled and reached out to pat the raven's head. "It could just be condensation, but I suspect we may be in for a bit of a wet time."

Her father squinted out across the horizon. The white cliffs were impossible to see in the greyness; indeed it was increasingly difficult to see the division between sea and sky as they merged in the darkening day.

"It looks more cloudy."

"Clouds don't always mean rain."

"But certainly it's more likely."

"I'm really more concerned about the wind, Papa. It could make for a more interesting journey. A little dampness won't have much effect."

"It will on my joints," he father muttered.

"Tuppence, how does it look up there?"

The raven croaked and then emitted a serious of clicks and other sounds that Helen alone could interpret. She looked concerned, her father noted, but did not speak until the bird had delivered her message.

"So," he asked with a note of impatience, doubtless to mask his concern about the perilousness of the weather. "Are we in for some dirty weather or will it be all right."

"Not to worry, signor," Romano reassured him. "Should the weather become more turgid we will still be all right."

"Turgid?"

Romano paused. "Ah, the word escapes me. Perhaps another."

"According to Tuppence, the rain will definitely pick up, but the wind ought not be too strong," Helen said, "which will be a mercy for our stomachs if nothing else."

The waters below them already exhibited signs of the impending swirl. Helen could see the white caps on the waves. Funny that the wind seems to be coming from the south as well as the west, she thought.

The day darkened as they spoke. The clouds appeared to be thickening, too.

"What's that line from Shakespeare," her father muttered.

"You're going to have to give me more than that," Helen laughed.

"Oh, it's one of the history plays, I think," he continued, staring out into the gloom. "All the clouds that lowered upon our house in the deep bosom of the ocean buried."

Helen smiled. Her father surprised her in so many ways. "Richard III: Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York, and then all the clouds. Well spotted, Papa. Your tutor would be proud."

"Tutor," he grumbled, but she could tell he was pleased. "I might better have studied nautical lore so I would know as much as your bird."

"Tuppence has not only her own knowledge but the inherited wisdom of her entire species."

"Has she?" Her father looked at the bird with something like respect. "Can we tap into such a thing?"

"There are some who say so, in fact—"

"Signorina, I think we need to take a closer look at this."

"What is it, Romano?" Helen said following where he pointed. "Oh my! I've never seen that before!"


  

Sunday, May 06, 2012

7.5 Miracles of Science

"We can still see the cliffs," Helen's father remarked, looking back from whence they had come.

"We have a long way to go yet," Helen reassured him.

"How far it is?" her father asked, looking a little forlorn.

"Not so far really," Helen said, attempting to make her voice sound as calm as possible.

"How far is 'not so far' then, my dear?"

"About one hundred and fifty miles."

"Ah."

"So, much less than the distance from Yorkshire to London—about half, indeed."

"Is that so?" He looked very casual. "It's not as if I were nervous or anything."

Helen smiled. "Of course not, Papa. I simply figured you would be interested in calculating the distances."

"That's true—and the fuel usage. After all, isn't that what your alchemist fellow is all about after all?"

"Indeed, Papa. I hope to be able to use up less space with a new fuel that will likewise be safer to transport as well."

"So all those," her father pointed to the barrels at the back of the gondola, "could be lessened?"

"Indeed," Helen nodded. Tuppence added a croak or two to punctuate the point, walking back and forth along the rim of the gondola. "With luck, Signor Maggiormente will be able to provide a fuel that takes no more space than a small snuff box."

Her father cocked an eyebrow at her. "As small as that?"

"You doubt it?"

He laughed. "I do."

"Science, father. Science."

"I see, we are to believe miracles of science that have been denied to us in philosophy?"

"Nothing of the kind," Helen said, wrapping her cloak a little more warmly around her. "It is the business of science to improve upon our lives." She was particularly happy with the use of the word 'business' however, as she knew it pleased her father's northern heart.

He rubbed his chin with thoughtfulness. "So you expect to find a commercial use for this scientific discovery eventually?"

"Of course, Papa."

"Papa now?"

Helen snorted. "Yes, Papa. That's the whole point of these advances. To spread them far and wide and make life so much better for many people. This is the modern world! So many exciting things happening—new advances every day!"

Her father sniffed.

"You doubt me?"

He laughed. "The new world is a frightening place that offers a cold simulacrum of reality."

"Papa, I don't even know what you mean by that."

He walked back and forth across the gondola and then hazarded a look down. He looked up just as suddenly. "What I mean, my dear," he paused and ruminated a bit. "What I mean, ahem." He paused.

"What, Papa?"

"I'm not sure." He turned away quickly.

"Papa, the new world is full of challenges as well as opportunities."

"I know."

"So, you can take your time sorting out which you, er—"

Her father flushed angrily. "I am not some child that needs to be spared the scary boogeyman, my dear."

"Then I won't. But there is so much to be done, and I need to you to be my partner in this, Papa. There's a whole new world opening out before us and I hope to know that you are going to be an essential part of the enterprise!"

Monday, April 30, 2012

7.4 Out from the Cliffs

 "Grazie," Sr. Romano said, clasping his hands together with delight. He fell upon the cheese and meats with good appetite while Helen and her father checked the slightly rearranged ballast of the gondola.

Tuppence hopped along the rail of the ship, offering a commentary as they worked.

"What are those?" Her father asked with dismay as she unrolled some canvas.

Helen looked up at him. "These are to keep out the rain."

Rochester looked up. "There's not a cloud in the sky."

"At the moment."

He laughed. "You'd hardly know it was England. What makes you think there'll be rain?"

"When we get out over the channel the odds of some squalls increase significantly."

"This is true," Romano added as he downed the last of the wine. "Over water the wind and the rain can be unpredictable, signore."

"Wonderful."

Helen gave everything a last look over. Tuppence flew up to her shoulder and made a few clicks in her ear. "All looks well, eh Tuppence?"

"If the bird approves," her father said dryly, "then I suppose we're ready."

"Papa," Helen scolded. "You should be confident of my raven's acumen by now."

"Are we ready?"

Helen looked from Romano to her father, then grinned. "We are!"

The motor whirred into action again and the practiced crew set about their tasks to get the ship aloft once more. The trickiest time was take off, but they were soon lifting up over the green fields toward the channel.

"Bonne chance, mes amis!" Helen called out as she kept her eye on the motor. "Next stop France."

"Or Davy Jones' locker," her father muttered, looking down at the grey waves below them.

"Look, Papa—the white cliffs!" Helen pointed back toward the land they were swiftly leaving behind. The cliffs shone in the midday light with an almost uncanny brightness. There was something stirring about the sight.

She turned back to look over the bow and found a sight even more stirring. The English Channel stretched out before them, the water sparkling in the sunshine.

"Do you suppose we will see some fish?" Her father looked uncharacteristically nervous. He appeared to be staring off into the distance rather than below them.

"I think we could see some large schools of fish," Helen said as she gazed into the depths. The shadow of the ship undulated over the surface.

"Whales?" Her father continued to maintain a view of the uncertain distance.

"I'm not sure about that. I suspect they're further north. Probably Scotland and the Orkneys."

Her father laughed. "The day I see a whale sailing up the Tay, I'll eat my hat."

"I hope you like tweed."

Romano called out. "See over there!"

They followed where he was pointing. Helen's father swayed a little bit as he drew his gaze down to the water below. Though he looked a little green, he seemed to be holding up well.

"I don't quite—what is that?"

"Are those fish?" Her father asked, wrinkling his brow and shading his eyes against the sun.

"They're too large to be fish, I think."

"Sono focene," Romano said, smiling happily.

Helen tried to remember her vocabulary lessons but nothing sprang to mind. She stared at the large shapes as they burst from the waves and then she knew.

"Porpoises! Of course.

"Of course?" Her father asked.

"Wouldn't go anywhere without one." She laughed.





Sunday, April 22, 2012

7.3 A Suspect Cheese

"What sort of cheese is this?" Helen's father regarded the yellowish wedge with suspicion.

"Local speciality," Helen said. "I'm sure it's delicious, try it."

The bread looked delicious indeed, and the cured ham could equal their own Mr. Hitchcock's usual efforts. The wine left something to be desired, but they would surely have better offerings once they got to France.

Or so Helen attempted to persuade her father.

"I suspect I may begin to wish myself in Katmandu," her father said grumpily as they gathered up the leftovers to take to Signor Romano.

"You've been fine so far, everything's been fine," Helen said before hastily adding, "Except of course for the murmuration. But that's unlikely to occur again, especially out over the sea."

"No, it will probably be some kind of leviathan." He had his stick today. Helen noticed that he had not much used it on the way to the inn but now that they were returning to the ship her father leaned more pronouncedly upon it.

"Papa, there is no such thing."

"Can you be certain? 'There are more things in heaven and earth...'"

Helen laughed. "Mother would be most amused by your citing Shakespeare to me."

"You make it sound as if I were some kind of uneducated boor," her father growled as he limped along. "I have read a few books, you know."

"I realise that, Papa. I'm just surprised, that's all. And I think it would amuse Mother." she noticed he limped less as his annoyance grew. "I suppose you had some education after all, beyond riding to the hounds and growling at servants."

Her father muttered some words that she was probably just as happy not to have heard. "My father did send me off to university where I may not have distinguished myself as much as some but I did master holding a pen in my foot for the occasional scribble."

Helen laughed. "You should have studied more of nautical skills, then you would be better prepared for our journey. While we ride the winds rather than the waves, many of the skills are the same."

Her father snorted. He had begun to outpace her. "I have been on plenty of ships and maintain a fine pair of sea legs. The idea!" He gave a sharp bark of laughter. "I have sailed across half this known world, my girl. You have never been on a storm in the middle of the Atlantic, waves as high as the York Minster's towers, winds set to throw the strongest sailor overboard."

"True enough, Papa," Helen said, watching the fire burn in his features. "But the air will not give you the opportunity of surviving that the waves offer."

Ahead the ship waited. Romano waved. Helen imagined he was likely famished and found herself glad that she had hustled her father along quickly from the inn.

"I do not plan to fall out of the ship like some novice," her father said with scorn.

"Things do not always happen according to plan," Helen said, "But I have confidence you will be up to the challenge, Papa. I couldn't ask for a finer sailor."

"France," he rumbled with embarrassed pride. "If only it were somewhere other than France."

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sunday, April 08, 2012

7.2 Katmandu

"Have we any idea where Edmund is?" Helen looked at her father, who seemed to be quieter than usual.

He did not answer immediately, and she was on the verge of prompting him again, when he said, "Your brother's whereabouts remain uncertain."

Helen tutted. "Have the lawyers not located him?"

Her father sighed. "Where's our food?"

"Don't change the subject."

"Our subject was food when we came in here."

"Yes, but it has moved on while we wait."

Her father sighed dramatically. "I don't necessarily want to speak about your brother."

"Yes, but the last I heard he was still missing after being sent down. Has he been located? I think it is rather important information to know."

"He could become a pirate. That would at least show some gumption."

"Papa," Helen said with definite severity. "What do you know?"

"Well, it's not piracy."

"So—? What is it?"

"They're not certain." Her father frowned and his countenance took on the appearance of clouds. "The last the lawyers knew, he was booking passage for Katmandu."

"Katmandu!"

"Well, maybe it was only Köln…"

Helen stared at her father with narrowed eyes. "You are not being very helpful."

"He is somewhere in Europe, I think. But I do not know."

"Well, that's better than hearing that he is in Katmandu."

"For you, perhaps."

"Indeed. I am glad to hear my brother hasn't gone all the way to Tibet in a fit of pique for he is no adventurer, prepared for wild climates."

"It would appear that he is seemingly prepared for very little," her father said with a sniff.

"He's a university student. Not a bold adventurer, however much he may want to imagine himself to be one. He is simply a failure."

"Papa," Helen said with a decided shake of her head, "Someone who does not live up to expectations is not a failure. He—or she—is simply finding another avenue of work."

"I don't think that applies here."

"Why not?"

Her father expelled a rather long breath. "Because your brother has had all the necessary advantages of auspicious birth and parental largesse that should allow one to succeed in life and yet he has not."

"Papa!" Helen said with animation.

"Well, it's true. Your brother has had all the advantages and failed to put them to much of any use."

"At least he's not a pirate, as you suggested before…"

"Madamoiselle, your viands." A waiter suddenly appeared at Helen's elbow.

"Yes, of course. Put it here." She indicated the table. The waiters put the large weight of sandwiches and nibbles on the table. Her father turned toward the food with a zealous interest.

"This looks like an adequate feast." He rubbed his hands together with glee.

"We need to take some of it back to Signor Romano, too," Helen reminded her father. He tended to consider the Italian out of sight and out of mind.


"Oh, pshaw. That Italian doesn't need much in the way of food."

"Papa! He needs as much food as you do. More in all likelihood."

"More!"

"Yes, he has a job to do, unlike you!"

Sunday, April 01, 2012

7.1 Gumption

 Helen's father cocked an eyebrow at her with an air of amusement. "Are you fighting with the natives already? I thought that was going to be my position."

"I can't believe that people are so hostile to technological innovation!" Helen threw herself down in the chair with a huff of indignation.

"People don't like change."

"They treat strangers with suspicion."

Her father laughed quite loudly. "People don't like strangers."

Helen shot an angry look at her father. "I am always interested in strangers unless they appear to be obviously shifty."

"So, they thought you looked shifty."

She snorted with contempt. "They accused me of being a pirate or a gypsy."

Her father leaned back in his chair with a wide grin. "Both admirable groups of people, far more trustworthy than inn keepers or coach drivers on the whole."

Helen stared at her father. "What?"

His face grew more serious. "If you're going to get cheated in this life, my girl, you will find it is most often the people who look quite respectable and entirely normal. Like bankers. They're the worst."

Helen sighed. "It shakes my faith in human nature."

"Good."

"Papa!"

He laughed again, but his face remained serious. "My dearest child, you have had a singular upbringing amongst good people, educated beyond the means of most young ladies—"

"For which I am very grateful, Papa." Helen laid her hand upon his and squeezed it.

"Yes, but you must realise that you have a rather different position in the world than most girls of your age."

"Woman, father," Helen corrected him. "I am a woman. Not a girl."

Her father looked at her with narrowed eyes. "Nevertheless, you have a distinct advantage over other females of your years and over many people in this country in general."

"And what is that?"

He threw his hands wide. "You have been further than the next village. You have read of great cities and philosophers and thinkers. You read the newspapers."

"Yes, but don't most people?"

"No, they do not." He shook his head. "Especially young ladies who are still taught to be nice and be useful and keep their pretty little heads out of important matters like science and technology."

Helen laughed. "Oh, Papa! You are a bluestocking."

Much to her surprise, her father looked somewhat abashed at this pronouncement. "It was your mother's doing." His face softened as it always did when he spoke of his wife. "She has always been abominably curious about all manner of strange things, and you know it is not in my power to deny her anything."

Helen smiled. "I am grateful to you both that you gave me the same advantages you gave to Fairfax and Edmund. To be able to pursue my dreams! It is quite exhilarating, Papa."

Her father looked grumpy but she could tell he was pleased. "If only your brothers had done as much with their advantages."

"Oh, Fairfax has done well," Helen said grudgingly.

"I suppose well enough for that sort of thing. But it would have been better if he had a little more gumption!"

"Edmund has gumption." Helen said with a snort of laughter.

Her father's expression darkened immediately. "Gumption is not what I'd call it. Devil-may-care rakehell confounded damnable cheek!"

"Papa!"

"Well, it's no less than the truth."

Helen shrugged. "At least he hasn't turned to piracy."

"So far," her father muttered.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

7.0 Suspicions of Piracy

 "Pirates?"

"Surely not." Helen frowned. "Why on earth do you connect airships with pirates?"

The publican put down the glass he was cleaning and pointed an accusing finger at her. "There were that one not six months gone by. Landed here, ran up a lot of bills, stole a gentleman's daughter and, I heard, a wealth of jewels as well."

Helen attempted to hide her skepticism.

"What sort of 'jewels' did he supposedly steal?"

It was the publican's turn to look doubtful. "Why do you want to know?"

"If you're worried that I will be trying to steal the jewels," Helen said with more than a touch of venom, "I would point out that these valuable have supposedly already been stolen."

He looked as if he were mulling this proposition over. At last the publican decided it would be safe enough to relate more of the story to this potential pirate.

"I suppose that's true enough, but I don't want to think you're some kind of buttoner after me wealth."

"I'm an airship captain," Helen said drawing herself up to full height with more than a pinch of her father's temper. "I am not here to 'hoist' anything but my airship."

"You'd be nibbed in a trice if you were to try," the publican said, laying a finger aside his nose and nodding.

"Would I? It doesn't seem to have been the case with that pirate."

His face fell with dismay. "We learned from that misfortune."

Helen closed her eyes and sighed. "I am not a pirate. I do not intend to steal anything. My father and I are on our way to France with my pilot, Signor Romano."

"Over the ocean?" Another gentleman entered the conversation. From his attire Helen guessed him to be a coach driver. There had been three outside the inn when they arrived, walking from where the airship had been tethered.

"Yes, over the ocean."

"I knew a father and daughter pair of toolers, some said they were gypsies. Preyed upon folks all the way from Canterbury to London." The publican nodded sagely. "They were finally caught and topped proper. My brother saw them swing."

"I am not a gypsy or a 'tooler' whatever that may be." Helen felt exasperation taking hold of her.

"But the ocean's a very long way," the driver said, tutting at her. "Surely your little balloon cannot make it so far."

"Yes, of course it can. And it's not a balloon, it's an airship."

"I'm not saying you are a tooler, but you have to leave me the right to be suspicious. I have a family and a business to protect."

I understand that," Helen said, feeling her nostrils flare as she exhaled too forcefully, "But why suspect me?"

"I'd bet fair money it wouldn't make it," the coachman said with an irritating air of smugness.

"You will lose that bet," Helen said with a savage pleasure. "We have flown down from Yorkshire today."

"Yorkshire?" the publican said, shaking his head. "I think that's where that gypsy pair came from. Somewhere up north it were."

Helen closed her eyes. Why bother with this? Her father would be getting impatient and joining the argument. And that would be something worth avoiding. "If you want to bring the food over to our table when you have a chance, we'll gladly pay you in advance if that will set your mind at ease, sir."

"Oh, I didn't mean to cast aspersions, miss," the publican said waving his tea towel in his hand. "It just doesn't pay to be too gullible hereabouts."

"I'd lay some money on that," the driver said.

"How much?" Helen asked.

"A guinea."

"Done." She shook the man's hand and returned to the table where her father sat. He appeared amused by her stormy expression but wisely waited to allow her to speak first.

"Southerners!" she exclaimed at last.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

6.9 Nails & Sparks

 The alchemist lifted his glass and drained it. "And now I must return to my work." He set the glass down on the table then rubbed his hands together. "Eduardo, are you ready?"

"I have finished my cake," Eduardo said, flapping his wings lightly as he stretched his front legs out at a seemingly impossible length. Brigitte cooed and tousled his mane. The lion ignored her.

"Mon ami!" Fabien cried. "We were just getting into a very good discussion here."

Adèle kissed the top of her husband's head. "Your work is done for the day, mon amour, but Monsieur Maggiormente has his duties ahead yet."

"Such a pity!"

Maggiormente clapped his friend on the shoulder. "Tomorrow is another day. We shall renew our argument."

"Discussion! A much better word, my friend." The two embraced and then the alchemist and his lion headed back out into the late afternoon light, the motor tucked under Maggiormente's arm.

"I hope Mme. Gabor is not around," the alchemist said. "I don't want her asking questions just now."

Eduardo coughed. "I don't think she will bother you at present."

Maggiormente looked down at his familiar. "What did you do?"

"I?" The lion looked at him with exaggerated innocence. "I did nothing."

Maggiormente frowned, but did not press the matter. They returned to their maison and heard not a peep from the concierge as they climbed the stair to their flat on the top floor. Eduardo sneezed as they entered the workroom.

"Remnants of the failure," the alchemist said with regret.

"Mistakes are necessary; how can you find success if you do not eliminate the alternate avenues?" The lion sneezed again. "In the future I hope we can avoid this particular mistake, however."

"That matrix has been discarded," Maggiormente said as he set the motor on the work table. "How to affix this motor so it will not slide around awkwardly?"

"Lash it down," Eduardo suggested, walking over to the window and looking for pigeons.

"I think perhaps nails," Maggiormente said with a frown. He rooted around for some nails amongst the rubbish on the sideboard while Eduardo made himself comfortable on the rug near the window.

In a few minutes the motor board had been made fast to the table. A master carpenter would likely have exclaimed at the expeditious but hardly careful application of nails, but for the alchemist's purpose, the attachment would do well enough.

He stared at the little motor. After some careful scrutiny, Maggiormente affixed a funnel to the input of the wee engine. Then he stood back to examine it carefully.

"How many funnels do you have?" Eduardo asked sleepily.

The alchemist looked at him. "Three."

The Venetian lion put his head down on his paws. "That should be enough."

Maggiormente raised an eyebrow but Eduardo appeared to have fallen asleep. He stepped over to the other end of the work table to consult his notes. After a moment, he decided upon the formula to try and set to work. From the smoking coals in the fireplace, he lit the oil lamp under a mixture of pale green liquid.

By the time the liquid boiled, Maggiormente had an array of substances lined up to add to the base. He measured carefully and introduced each one in turn. The beaker roiled and bubbled. Sparks rose from the surface and dissipated in the air.

When the liquid had changed from green to gold, the alchemist lifted the concoction off the heat with tongs. He allowed it to cool for a few minutes. The gold colour grew richer. With infinite care, he poured the mixture into the funnel.

Nothing happened.

"You need a spark," Eduardo reminded him, his voice sleepy.

Maggiormente clapped his palm to his forehead. "Of course!" He went back to the fire where the coals still glowed and grabbed one with the tongs. Grabbing a spatula, the alchemist used the implement to knock some sparks from the glowing ember. After a few taps, sparks flew and all at once ignition began.

The golden liquid coursed through the motor and it began to turn as the sparks ignited the fluid. The pistons turned. The whirr of the engine filled the room. Even Eduardo lifted his head to watch the mechanical piece rotate as it shook the table beneath it.

All at once there was an explosion. Flames shot upward as the funnel flew up to the ceiling and shattered. As the pistons slowed, Maggiormente said, "An excellent start."