17 February, 2013 by katelaity
The meal was a delight for all, but as the day wore on Helen became more concerned about the ship. It was all right for Signor Romano, he would doubtless take good care of it, but Helen felt as she expected a mother might feel with a child.
The nurse had a job to do, but the mother had another.
“Oh, you don’t mean to leave us!” Mme. Belcoeur could not believe her ears. “Mon cher, convince them this is madness!”
M. Belcoeur, however, smiled and shook his head. “Ma petite gribouilleuse, would you keep a mother from her wee baby? No, no—we cannot keep Mademoiselle from her aérostat…er, ballon?” He shrugged, uncertain what term to use.
Mme. Belcoeur sighed. “But you will give me a complete exclusive series on the airship and the contest, no?”
Helen smiled. “With pleasure, madame! I wish my triumph to be recorded vividly for posterity.”
Tuppence, perched on her shoulder, added a few croaks for emphasis. Every one laughed at the bird’s effusiveness.
M. Belcoeur and Helen’s father shook hands much more warmly than might have been expected a few hours earlier, given the latter’s view of Frenchmen. But he was more than willing to admit of quality when he met it. Fair dues, he was willing to pay.
The carriage returned them to the park where Signor Romano continued to celebrate with his fellow Italians. They welcomed the returning Englishwoman and her father, but the two of them made their apologies as they were determined to turn in early.
“That Italian,” her father said as he rolled out a quilt and some bedding,” will be up until dawn drinking and singing with his fellows.”
“And what of it?” Helen said, feeding Tuppence a few more handfuls of grain. “He has done yeoman’s work so far on the journey. Much more than you or I.”
Her father’s familiar bark of laughter rang out. “I’m sure I have done as much as he.”
Helen snorted. “If you call vomiting and grousing and blustering ‘doing much’ then I suppose so.”
“I have not vomited!”
Even in the deepening gloom, Helen could tell how red his face had become at her teasing. It was so simple. “Well, you have harrumphed and groused and blustered.”
“Only in the name of doing things right by you. On your own, do you think you would have had such an easy passage?” He continued to mutter although Helen could only hear the occasional ejaculation of “Grouse! Bluster!” as he smoothed his bedding.
“I suppose I have to be fair, Papa. You have proved of admirable worth on the journey and I am glad you are here.”
Helen could only guess his face remained red—although for a different reason—as he muttered, “You’d not want to have to do without me.”
Helen let Tuppence go, watching the bird disappear into the gloom. Where she went, Helen had no idea, but the bird always returned to her refreshed and eager. They needed their own lives, but it could not be clearer that the raven enjoyed their partnership as much as she.
“Papa, do you suppose we will be able to beat the Lintons?” Because the gloom had become too dark to see well through, Helen let her moment of doubt escape. At times like this, it was helpful to hear that one hadn’t lost the plot.
Helen sat up and tried to make out her father’s face in the growing darkness. “Papa?”
“If you can’t be bothered to know your own superiority, I am not going to spell it out!” He harrumphed in a most startling way that made Helen smile to herself and lie back down. “The very idea! As if you were not born to make fools of those ninnies!”
“I know, Papa. I just worry sometimes. I don’t know—”
“Stop worrying and get some rest. What would your mother say?”
Helen laughed. “She’d say, ‘Have you got nice clean handkerchiefs? Do your best and have nothing with which to reproach yourself.’ I wish she were here.”
“So do I,” her father said in a voice of such gentleness that Helen felt chastened for her selfish fears.
“She is here, she is always with us, wherever we go.” Helen felt tears on her cheek as she pronounced these words, but she knew them to be absolutely true.
“Get some sleep,” her father said gruffly. “Those bloody Lintons are probably sleeping in a swank hotel. More fool them!” In the darkness, they both smiled unseen.