Airships & Alchemy 13.9 — Like Michelangelo

3 August, 2014 by katelaity

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Maggiormente turned his face to the wind and hoped that it would calm his brain. He was unaccustomed to thoughts along these lines. It would be best to let the wind blow them quite away.

But that wasn’t going to happen.

“You’re not ill are you?” Helen Rochester’s voice carried a solicitous concern. Her face shone in the bright sunlight as if it could never be dark when she was about.

You are far gone indeed, Maggiormente.

He shook his head. “Are we going faster than before? I know the engine seems to be running soundly.” He cocked his ear to ascertain it was true before continuing. Not that the alchemist doubted his fuel at all. “Can we measure speed?”

“Ah, you have reminded me.” Helen ran to the wicker box where she stored a jumble of things most of the time. She pulled out a strange instrument that looked as if it might entertain a child. “My brother brought me this.”

“What is it?”

“It’s an anemometer. This is the very latest model by Mr Robinson. I had not thought of such a simple answer to figuring speed.”

The alchemist frowned. “How have you figure out the speed before?”

“We estimated from measuring distances back in Yorkshire,” Helen said, placing the instrument on the ledge of the gondola. “That’s much harder to do here. I can tell we’re going faster, however.”

“You know your ship well.”

Helen flushed. “I have spent the better part of my days for the last year either aboard this ship or thinking about it.”

“Do you dream of it as well?” Maggiormente asked, genuinely curious.

Helen laughed and blushed a little. “I do. Is it so strange?”

“It is perfectly natural,” Maggiormente said, looking absently at Eduardo. ‘When you do exciting work, it occupies your mind even when you are asleep. Particularly if you have a sticky problem that eludes an easy solution.”

“I’m glad I’m not the only one,” Helen said with a laugh as she adjusted the dial on the anemometer. The dial sat near the base of the instrument which rose up like a needle or a plinth. She placed on top of it an assembly with four semi-circular cups set sideways to catch the wind at the end of crossed arms that looked like an X.

“So they catch the wind and spin around and you judge the speed from that?” The alchemist nodded. He approved of handsome instruments that worked efficiently. It was not always the case in the rather more experimental world of alchemy, so straightforward mechanicals were always a delight.

“Yes, precisely.” Helen looked up and smiled as the cups began slowly to spin. “It’s such a relief not to have to explain everything, signore. Especially to someone too impatient to listen to the explanation.”

They both looked toward her father who begun some kind of argument with Tuppence who taunted him from the air.

“One has to understand obsession,” Maggiormente said with sudden passion. “It is difficult to explain to others when you burn to accomplish something that no one has done.”

Helen looked up at him, her face suddenly serious. “Something no one has done…”

“It is true, is it not?” The alchemist could not quite contain the admiration he felt for this intrepid woman. She was surely sublime, to use the poet’s word. Her spirit shone through her eyes and captivated him completely.

“I suppose it is. I cannot think that little me from Yorkshire is really doing something important.” Helen laughed, looking as if she wished she had said nothing as she watched the cups circle around in their dance.


Helen looked surprised. “Am I?”

“Yes,” Maggiormente said then saw how her face fell. “No, no, not you. I am stumbling in my English.” He smacked his head with his hand. “You are not ridiculous. Your work is not ridiculous. It is ridiculous that you doubt yourself or think you are so little. Michelangelo is the greatest, such a mind, such an artist, such a thinker. And yet he is just a man or was.”

“I suppose…”

“Did Michelangelo strut around thinking ‘What a genius I am?’ I don’t know,” the alchemist shrugged. “Perhaps he did. But I suspect that most of the time he just thought, ‘How do I paint this? How do I carve this? Can a man fly?’ And that is what we must do, too. Do our work. Put our heads down over the problems, obsess about our dreams and keep working.”

Her glowing smile suggested she agreed.


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