9.6 French Affection

20 January, 2013 by katelaity

“We have to fix our dreams on the farthest possible horizon,” Helen said with sudden seriousness as she warmed to her topic. “It is only when we go further than we expect to go that we make breakthroughs.”

“Advances that seem revolutionary today become essential to daily life tomorrow,” Mme. Belcoeur said as she scribbled hastily, trying to capture her thoughts before they slipped away.

“Like the steam engine,” Helen agreed.

“I find it hard to imagine that people will flit about in the air like birds,” her father said with a harsh bark of laughter. “Just picture that! Madness.”

“Papa, don’t be too sure.” Helen took small roll from the basket Mme. Belcoeur handed to her and used it as if to emphasise her point. “Once people imagined the railroad to be an evil invasion into the countryside – now it has become an essential part of transport and a delight for many.”

“Delight might be putting it strongly.”

“Don’t be too sure, Papa.” Helen smiled to herself and blew on her soup. “I suspect in fifty years there will be airships a-plenty across Europe. Why someday they may be able to cross the oceans!”

“I suspect they would have to be enormous.” Her father frowned, as if contemplating the gigantic airship gave him pause. “Imagine their shadows. They might well blot out the sun!”

“Papa, you’re being silly now. The sky is a big place.”

“There is something to consider in his…exaggeration,” Mme. Belcoeur said. She noticed Helen’s expression of annoyance, but charged on in measured tones. “Just as there is the signal man and the conductor and so forth, must there not be officials for the airships, too?”

Helen considered this. “Once there is sufficient travel in the sky, we must begin to develop protocols and habits, so that we do not have accidents when airships meet in the sky. Perhaps some kind of international set of agreements.”

“Doubtless some kind of government commission.” Her father harrumphed over his soup. He did not want to go so far as to admit he had not tasted such an outstanding dish since his last visit to Paris many years before as that might reflect badly upon his dear lady, but he did find it distracting. “They will want to get their hooks into the process and get their unfair share.”

“Alas, that must be true. Such is the life of the bureaucrat,” Mme. Belcoeur said with a sigh.

“That sounds like my cue to enter,” a new voice called from the doorway. A stout Frenchman stepped out into the garden patio with a broad smile and an open face. Helen liked him immediately and her father did not at once regard him with a scowl. “I am Hercule Belcoeur. I hope my wife has been entertaining you with all due courtesy.” He leaned down to kiss her head.

“Mon cher!”

“Ma cherie!”

The English folks found their easy affection somewhat difficult to experience; nor could they comfortably look at one another. Rochester chose to stare off into the vague distance as if mesmerized by something remarkable and Helen gestured to her raven.

The moment of tenderness over, Belcoeur shook Helen and her father’s hands gravely as he could manage, though a touch of merriment remained. “I hope my wife is getting a good story from you. I love when the newspapers pay her a lot of money!”

If the visitors were undone by the unbridled affection of the pair before, talk of money made them squirm yet further.

“Ah,” said Helen.

Her father harrumphed something unintelligible.

M. Belcoeur, as if realizing his faux pas changed the subject with alacrity. “I can tell you all of Paris will be looking forward to the contest between the airships. You are bound to draw quite a crowd!”

“Contest?” Helen and her father exchanged looks of surprise – and in the latter’s case, alarm.

“Is it not true that there is a challenge to come? Surely I have it right.” He looked inquiringly at his wife.

“Oh, yes, that is what I heard, too.”

“You mean us and the Lintons?” Helen said, her face becoming grim.

“Smart money will be on my daughter,” Rochester said. “I have no doubt they will regret once again that they dared to go up against our ship!”

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