2 August, 2015 by katelaity
Helen sank back down against the edge of the gondola. Tuppence flew up and perched beside her, croaking a mile a minute, as if to get in all her opinions on the Lintons’ disaster. She reached out a hand to the bird and gently ruffled her feathers. The idea passed through her mind that she should offer the two brothers a ride back to Paris, but before she spoke Helen thought better of it.
They would never wish to return in such ignominy. It was going to be bad enough to return to Yorkshire and know that they would have to live adjacent to the victor.
Victor. The word sounded good to Helen. She had earned it.
Rising to her feet again, she told her pilot, “Shall we head back to Paris now?”
Signor Romano grinned back at her. “Si, si, signorina. We have some champagne awaiting us, I think.”
“Let’s see how fast Jane’s Inspiration can go, signor. No holding back!”
Romano took her at her word and soon they were going faster than ever they had. Helen knew that the pilot had kept some power in reserve, afraid even now that some fault with the fuel would be discovered. The pleasant scent of the alchemist’s concoction filled the gondola even as the increasing wind swept it away.
The glory of flying could not be equaled, Helen knew. “Is this how it feels?” she murmured to Tuppence, who faced the wind with eyes closed as if entertained by the novelty of flying without effort for the first time. She had always been too impatient with the pace before.
Helen closed her own eyes, the better to feel the wind on her face. She knew her father was right and she should wear the protective goggles and helmet, but even as her eyes streamed tears from the bite of the wind, Helen did not wish for them.
From the time when she had first seen the picture of an airship in the newspapers from London and imagined riding one aloft, this—this pure bliss—this is the way she imagined it would be. Just a girl with a dream, one people thought foolish—or deranged, or even ridiculous. A dream many men would shrink from pursuing, Helen knew.
I’ve done it. We’ve done it!
Was there a feeling more sublime than a dream realised? If there was, Helen didn’t think her heart could bear it. Already her chest felt as if it would burst. She wanted to hug her father and even more, she wanted to clasp her mother in her arms. They would cry, she knew, but the tears would be a triumph, too. How grateful she was for a mother who did not simply hurry her off to the altar, who always said that conventionality was not morality and that a woman had every right to be as ambitious as a man.
Helen knew she could not do better than to sail the four winds in Jane’s Inspiration, for she had sailed in her mother’s love all her life. A great sob broke from her as tears of emotion joined those caused by the wild breezes. If she could, she would have them sail all the way to Yorkshire now so she could feel those loving arms around her once more.
But Paris lay ahead and she could see it now, and her father who had remained so intrepid throughout this journey deserved his part of her joy as well. How he would enjoy having the City of Lights at their feet too. For all his blustering and complaining, he had done so well and seemed even much stronger and happier than he had been before. His grumbling was more in the order of habit and he rose much more lively and walked even quicker than she could remember from years before.
As the city came into sight ahead of them, Helen imagined the fun they would have, how her father would regale the French with harrowing tales of their journey across the channel—exaggerating slightly, of course, but only for dramatic effect. To think that she had been so chagrined that he would accompany her! But now Helen’s gratitude knew no bounds. Her only sorrow was the tender look on his face as he wrote to her mother. They had not been parted so in many years. Though he reveled in their adventures, his heart yearned for home like a pigeon for its roost.
So homeward they would go when the cheering was over. She felt a twinge for the alchemist. Signor Maggiormente had been such a delight. His mind working in many ways opposite to hers but they always seemed to end up in accord. It was safe to say that she had never known another mind like his. But clearly his heart yearned toward another and she must gracefully withdraw.
They could see the fields of the Exposition ahead. Such wonders there would be to see in the coming days, but Helen could find little in her heart to leap at the idea. Her trophy had been won. Her miracles were discovered. Home tugged on her heart. It would be good to fly there.
As Signro Romano slowed the ship, Tuppence took off, winging her way down to her friends which made it easier for Helen to spot her father. At once she waved and even aloft the sound of the crowd below reached them. “We are the conquerors, signore!” Helen shouted to her pilot.
“We will have champagne and endless delights tonight, signorina.” Food was always uppermost in his mind.
Helen hoped he felt the same pride in the ship that she did. “Signor, we have accomplished so much. I thank you for your work. You have been brave and true.”
The pilot flushed with pleasure. “No less than you, signorina. I am honoured to serve.”
Helen threw down the rope ladder, singed as it was from the Lintons’ fire and began her descent to the crowd. The cheers overwhelmed her. Tuppence flew in circles around her, doing her best to be heard over the crowd. Helen’s father was the first to reach them as he held the end of the ladder firmly.
“Welcome back, my clever girl. You have won.” Heedless of the clamouring crowds around them, he clasped her tightly in his arms and kissed her cheek. “I am so very proud of you,” he whispered, his voice choking a little with the emotion. Helen could not remember ever being happier.
When they finally let go of one another both their faces bore the tracks of happy tears, but they were quickly surrounded by well wishers, clapping them on their backs, thrusting gifts and bottles at them. Edmund clasped her hands in his and shouted his congratulations, while others tried to elbow him aside.
Suddenly a roar made the crowd quiet quickly. Helen turned to see Eduardo looking very peeved, his wings spread as wide as they could go and Tuppence perched between them like some black rider. It was in service of his master however, for the gentle alchemist grinned broadly, tears flowing without shame as he repeated, “You did it, signorina miracolosa. You have won. I knew you would!” He grabbed her hands and led her in a merry dance as the people clapped and cheered.
Suddenly the alchemist fell to his knees. Helen cried out, afraid he had been hurt. But he smiled through his tears. “Per favore, bella signorina. Tell me true. Have I a chance with you?”
“Of course,” Helen said, confused and alarmed. “The fuel is superb. It worked a charm!”
“I can’t believe I raised such an idiot for a child,” Helen’s father broke in with impatience. “The man wants to marry you, Helen!”