9.7 Malencontreux

3 February, 2013 by katelaity

Our ship,” Helen said with a grin. “I like that.”

 

“I only hope,” her father said with a very grave expression, “that you will not force me to be part of some wild acrobatics. I think it would be a very undignified way to die.”

 

Mme. Belcoeur gasped. “Is it really as dangerous as that?”

 

“Worse. In a racing situation I imagine all reasonable caution is flung to the winds in the heat of competition.”

 

“Madame, you should know better by now than to listen to my father’s exaggerations.” Helen laughed. “We don’t even know what sort of a race we have been challenged to yet.”

 

“Oh, but I do have the information here. Let me see, Didon! Go fetch my portfolio from my desk.” Mme. Belcoeur turned back to regard her guests with a look of animation. “I have the interview from the newspaper in which the brothers make their bold claims of success.”

 

“Ha!”

 

She grinned at the young woman. “That is why I was ready for your arrival. Of course my natural sympathies are with you, ma cherie. We pioneering women have to stick together. Ah!”

 

Her maid returned with the portfolio and in a trice Mme. was able to extract the folded page of newsprint. “Yes, here it is.” She handed the paper over to Helen who frowned in anticipation of what she would read.

 

Scanning the page where the interview appeared, she snorted with derision. “‘Celebrated airship captains’! They give themselves such airs. Captains! Who awarded these commissions I wonder?”

 

“Perhaps they have been indulged by minor royalty,” her father suggested, distracted by the extraordinary perfume of the fish dish placed before him by the serving staff. He couldn’t quite recall the name of the herb that flavoured the sole, but it caused him to experience an enchantingly elusive tug from memory.

 

“I have known the rulers of small duchies to hand out commissions like bon bons,” M. Belcoeur said, waving his hand for emphasis. “Of little value except to those who seek rewards they have not actually earned.”

 

“Most men, then,” Rochester said with a snort of laughter.

 

“You are a cynic, monsieur.”

 

“I have observed the ways of men frankly and without romantic notions,” Helen’s father said before taking a bite of the sole. It was superb: flaky and delicately suffused with the herb. It galled him that he could not recall the name of the herb. If his wife were here, she could ask.

 

He didn’t think it proper for an Englishman to show too much interest in cooking, especially in a French household.

 

“I certainly wouldn’t put it past the Lintons,” Helen said. “Look here, they do challenge us.” She held the paper out toward her father.

 

“I’m eating. Read it to me, please.” His gruffness belied the pleasure the food gave him. The herb’s name might remain elusive but he recalled a café in Montmartre—something Russian, wasn’t it?—that made a superb sole with just this flavour. Perhaps a little more butter, though.

 

“Knowing a rival ship to be on its way from England, the captains—ooh, that term again!—the captains plan to show the superiority of their design by racing the challengers—challengers!” Helen’s face showed her animation with red blush on her high cheekbones.

 

“They don’t know the full story,” Mme. Belcoeur tutted, trying to defend her fellow journalist. “They are yet a novelty.”

 

“Get on with the story.” Helen’s father urged.

 

“I suppose so,” Helen said, still fuming. “Let’s see…by racing the challengers from Paris to Orleans and back again during the Exposition. The Lintons will reveal their all-new airship to attendees. The challenger crew may be expected to arrive this week. Challenger!”

 

“It is perhaps a little malencontreux,” Mme. Belcoeur said as diplomatically as possible.

 

Helen handed the newspaper page back to her with a nod, not trusting herself to speak. Tuppence, ever vigilant of her moods, came to rest on her shoulder and offered some soothing sounds in her ear.

 

“It’s a great deal malencontreux,” Helen said at last, her face surprisingly grim. “But actions speak louder than words. I will show the Lintons.”

 

“And we will have your words in my interview,” Mme. Belcoeur hastened to add. “You will have your say, too.”

 

“Good,” Helen said. Tuppence added a few croaks for emphasis.

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