16 December, 2012 by katelaity
Tuppence clearly enjoyed being the center of attention as she balanced on Helen’s arm. She stretched out her wings to show off the elegance under inspection, as if she did indeed understand Helen’s words.
Even Helen could not say for sure how much the bird understood, or she of it. Most of the time she never thought about it, but only found that the bird anticipated most of her directions before she even attempted to convey them.
Ravens were clever birds; all corvids were, Helen knew. But Tuppence was particularly so. And yes, elegant too!
“You see,” Helen said, lifting the raven’s outstretched wing with the back of her hand. “Many of a bird’s bones are hollow to preserve their lightness.”
“Oh, that is quite amazing!” Mme. Belcoeur dutifully scribbled the information down in her little notebook. “Hollow!”
“But they are also strong. Birds have fewer bones than mammals because their bones are fused together in sections.”
“Furry animals,” Helen’s father offered, who seemed proud to be able to supply some interesting information himself.
“Ah, yes, I see.”
Helen reached down to pick up a slice of cucumber from the plates which had appeared as if by magic on the table, placed by the Belcoeurs’ silently speedy servants, and held it out to Tuppence. The raven leaned forward to examine the treat and with a flick of her wrist, Helen flicked the cuke into the air.
Tuppence lifted off into the air, caught the slice mid-air and swallowed it down. She hung in the air a moment, then descended back to her mistress’ arm.
“The muscles, too, are key,” Helen said, smoothing down the feathers on the raven’s head as she clicked and croaked back contentedly. “Amazing power and strength. Because birds have to flap in order to stay aloft, they need that strength.”
“You have a motor instead,” Mme. Belcoeur said, shaking her head to show she understood. “So that is the muscle.”
Helen smiled. “In sense that’s just right. It’s what provides the lift. Though we don’t have wings to power, we have lift from the gas inside the ship. But the motor does need power.”
“And fuel.” Helen’s father stroked his chin. “Which is the conundrum: more powerful motors tend to need more fuel, which in turn weighs down the ship.”
“Exactly!” Helen had warmed to her topic. “So a real breakthrough in the process – both in efficiency and speed – will have to come in the area of fuel.”
“Please, let us sit and eat while we talk,” Mme. Belcoeur said as she encouraged them to take their places around the table.
Helen threw a piece of cheese into the air, delighting in the raven’s playful pursuit of the treasure. “A new fuel that requires less space in the gondola, less danger as far as explosion and greater speeds from its power – well, I shall be proud to be part of such an advancement in the new world of air travel.”
“Do you really think it can grow beyond a hobby for, shall we say—” Mme. Belcoeur paused, “the more adventurous types?”
Rochester barked with laughter. “Do I look like the adventurous type?”
Helen smiled at her father. “Whether you wish to do so, you have become an adventurer, Papa. Be proud of the designation.”
“My daughter is the brave one,” her father said with evident gruffness, trying to cover his embarrassment. “I’m only along to chaperone her. Can’t trust a young woman to go gallivanting on her own.”
“We shall have to develop entirely new social protocols for air travel,” Mme. Belcoeur said, surreptitiously making notes for an accompanying essay on the proper etiquette of air travel for young persons. The French would always be forwarding thinking in matters of cultural delicacy, she told herself, although she found much to admire in the somewhat feral young Englishwoman.
“These are not things I worry about,” Helen said, aiming another piece of cheese up to where Tuppence sat on the limb of a pear tree. “I am far too busy seeing what is possible. And the sky, as they say, is the limit.” She smiled to herself, proud of having an inspiring quotation for the journalist.
“I’d think instead that the ground was rather the harsh limit,” her father opined, his mirth barely contained.
“Papa,” she scolded. Mme. Becoeur only laughed.