5 November, 2012 by katelaity
“How is your geography?” Helen’s father said with a chuckle.
She ignored this. A number of people had begun to gather around the airship, curious and ready to explore. It took no time at all to discover that they were indeed near Poissy. “A not very lengthy carriage ride away from Paris,” she said to her father with satisfaction.
It was his turn to ignore what she said. “Who are all this hobbledehoy?”
“Papa, they’re just curious.”
“You don’t suppose they’ll do any harm?” He scowled at a pair of young men who were tapping at the sides of the gondola as if to assess the carpentry.
Helen smiled. He’s feeling protective of my ship now! It seemed to be a good sign that in the course of the journey so far his attitude toward the ship had gone from one of slight revulsion and mistrust to this more solicitous attitude. “I don’t think they will harm it. She’s a stoutly constructed craft after all.”
“Does she have a name?”
The two of them turned to see a stout middle-aged woman regarding the two of them with frank interest. “Forgive me, I didn’t mean to interrupt your conversation, but we are all fairly bursting with curiosity here. Your landing is quite the event in quiet Poissy.”
Helen smiled. “I can imagine it is. It was not part of our original plan, but we thought this might make a safer landing place than in the city proper.”
The woman leaned her elbows on the edge of the gondola, watching the two young men now in intense conversation with Romano about his instruments. “Quite right, too. Life is more genteel out here. You would likely be mobbed in the city.”
“You don’t have guillotines anymore, do you?”
The woman burst out laughing. “Only in the museums, monsieur. We are not as barbarous a land as you English like to think of us. We haven’t beheaded a monarch in years.”
“Well, I’m no aristocrat anyway,” Helen’s father said, crossing his arms as if he were feeling pugnacious, though the smile kept trying to break out on his face. “A plain man of the north, Yorkshire born. Doubtless I could hold my own with any revolutionary.”
“We came to the practice a little later than you English,” the woman continued, throwing her head back at an angle as if challenged, though her grin was broad. “You got your regicide out of the way early. We worked up to it, trying other methods of redress first.”
Helen could tell her father was enjoying this immensely, even as he harrumphed. “You should have left us ruling things and you would never have come to such a pass. We could have kept the peace.”
The woman shook her head regretfully. “Ah, but what of the wine and the sauces? Oh no, monsieur. The price would be too great!” Her laughter rang out even as other people crowded around the ship.
Helen’s father stuck out his hand to the woman. “Edward Rochester. Enchanté, madame.” She allowed him to enclose her hand in his and he bent somewhat stiffly to kiss it politely.
“I am Mathilde Belcoeur. I occasionally write for Le Figaro, so I must persuade you to allow me to press you for further details about your journey and your delightful craft.”
“Avec plaisir,” Helen said, taking the woman’s hand in turn. “Je suis Helen Rochester, sometimes known as my father’s trial. Though you seem to be ready to plague him as if we were already family.”
Belcoeur laughed. “My husband says it is my greatest failing, but he relies on it too as he finds himself grateful for the extra income my writing brings us.”
Helen hopped out of the gondola with her father’s assistance. Tuppence flew down from the top of the ship, croaking with excitement at the murmuring crowds. A little girl pointed at the raven, beseeching her mother for one just like it.
“This is our navigator and weathercock,” Helen said, stroking the bird’s head as its lively eyes regarded the reporter as if assessing her character.
“How do you do?” Belcoeur said gravely.
She and Helen both turned to see her father heft himself out of the gondola with a fair bit of awkwardness. The older woman’s face revealed concern, but Helen leaned toward her to whisper, “He doesn’t like when I make a fuss over him. He’s actually doing much better than when we set out.”
“Air travel good for the constitution,” Belcoeur said, as if setting the thought in her mind. “I’m sure our readers will want to know that. So, you never answered—”
“Does the ship have a name?”