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.
"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."
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.