5 July, 2015 by katelaity
As the pilot opened the throttle there was a barely discernable increase in the purring hum of the engine. Helen could hardly believe the difference. The noise of the Lintons’ ship was audible over the sound of her own, even as close as she sat. Her smile of satisfaction grew.
The speed of the ship also increased—and how!
Helen glanced over at her rivals to see twin expressions of surprise on their faces. Though the two ships had kept an even pace all the way to Orléans, the superiority of her ship grew more apparent every moment. Helen nearly clapped her hands with glee at the success of Signor Maggiormente’s fuel. How he would delight!
The Lintons, however, did not find anything to delight them in this new development. They burst into a frenzy of activity—that is, after Edgar smacked his thunderstruck brother. The two of them began to run about the gondola of their ship, perhaps shoveling more fuel into the heavy combustion engine. At least as far as she could guess as they grew smaller and smaller in the distance.
Helen finally turned around to look forward, feeling a good deal of satisfaction in her ship, her crew and of course the alchemist. She sighed. In part it was a happy sigh, but there was a tinge of melancholy about it. Being a Yorkshire woman, however, she squared her shoulders and focused on the success that lay ahead.
“What is it, Tuppence?” Helen said as the bird flapped around her head making a series of strange clicks. For a moment she simply stared at the raven, her brow furrowed. Then a sense of urgency put mobility into her limbs, for she recognized the signs of distress that Tuppence meant to convey.
She ran to the engine but all seemed well. It functioned smoothly, easily and there was very little heat from the workings. Tuppence landed on her shoulder and plucked at her collar. “What do you mean, my dear?”
The bird hopped into the air and flew away behind the ship. Helen leaned over the edge of the gondola but saw nothing below to alarm her. “I’m so sorry, Tuppence. I’m afraid I don’t understand.” It was frustrating for them both. Normally she had no trouble understanding the bird’s meaning, but clearly there was something new they had not dealt with before.
All at once there was a terrible sound. Helen gasped. A huge column of fire shot up from the gondola of the Lintons’ ship. A plume of black smoke rose up beside it and began to spread through the air. Something had gone horribly awry!
“Signore! Turn the ship around.” Helen shouted to her pilot who had heard the sound as well and stood gaping at the other ship. But as a well-trained pilot he quickly regained his composure and spun the wheel around to turn the ship, keeping up a stream of excited speech so swift that Helen could not catch one word in ten of his hasty Italian.
They were going even faster now, Helen thought. The pilot must have kept a little bit in reserve, just for show or for doubt or fear of going too fast. Now he threw caution to the winds because they could both see the way the terrible fire had spread through the ship. Could they make it in time to save the men?
Helen glanced around the land below the ship. They were a good bit too far up in the air to give any chance of leaping from the ship into the trees. They were scattered along the hedgeways, a good distance from the road they had been navigating by. But what else was there? Houses that were very small and rather more of a distance away—they could offer little in the way of sanctuary for the endangered crew.
“Are we going as fast as possible now, signore?” Helen shouted into the wind toward the pilot, hoping that he could hear. He nodded back to her, still keeping up a steady stream of curses, imprecations and prayers. She had not thought of the effects of wind on travel. Their pace had always been so genteel, the wind was not much of a factor. She would have to think of some way to protect the passengers. It would be a pity to lose the glorious view! There must be some way around it. But glass was so heavy.
I must not get distracted!
Helen shook herself. There was time for such thoughts later. Even at top speed it would take them a few more minutes to reach the ship. What did she have that would be helpful? Helen gathered up the tools and ropes that there were at hand, while she made a mental note for what ought to be carried in all ships in the way of emergency materials to make certain that one could do what was possible to help the passengers of one’s own ship but also to lend aid to another ship nearby. The problems of being a trailblazer could not always be readily anticipated.
“Careful now!” She shouted needlessly to Romano as they approached the other ship. He had already slacked the rapid pace and taken the ship down a little lower so they were almost even with the Lintons’ damaged craft where a wild fire raged.
Was there anyone left alive?