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.