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."


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."


"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."


"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."



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!"


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

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

"So far," her father muttered.