The rain clouds ripped apart above the city of London, the downpour impartial to the wealth or poverty of its victims. Of course, the rich man will travel from place to place by carriage and with little inconvenience, while the beggar has no roof over his head, only his feet to carry him as he runs to seek shelter.
Celine Martin’s only concern on that grey morning in early May was her own method of transport. The heavy spatter of raindrops against the dining room windows acted as a percussive accompaniment to breakfast with her guardians, the Harpers. This very English couple had kindly offered Celine a home, their very respectable reputation persuading Celine’s strict father to allow her to leave Paris and spend the year in London.
She knew that he would expect her back at the end of the summer, had already made mention of a prospective husband for her. At seventeen years old she was now a young woman, and that was what young women did. When she was younger, she had accepted this as fact. That was her purpose in life, was it not, to marry well and enhance her family’s standing. She was only a commodity to be traded away, and it was not a prospect that she was looking forward to.
‘Victor shall take you to the academy,’ Adelaide Harper told her charge. ‘You can’t possibly walk there in this weather. So much for Spring!’
‘I have to get to the bank this morning, Adelaide,’ her husband complained, lowering his newspaper for the first time since he’d sat down to dine.
‘Yes, Arthur,’ his wife soothed him, ‘but your appointment is not until eleven o’clock. Victor shall be back well before then.’
On days when the weather was more clement, it took Celine only half an hour to walk from the house on Albany Street down to Hanover Square. The carriage may well take almost as long, depending on how busy the streets were. The clock chimed nine. She should leave soon.
By the time she left the house, a savage wind had whipped up, almost whisking her hat from her head as she hurried out to Victor’s waiting chariot. The latest fashions were not practical; as the coachman helped her up the step it was an effort to squeeze through the door with her wide-brimmed bonnet and the many petticoats beneath her morning dress. Sitting down, she removed her bonnet which had blown askew, placing it down on the bench seat.
One would never think that a life could be changed by such an inconsequential item as a bonnet, but Celine Martin was on the brink of an encounter that would set her on a fateful path. The driving rain rendered the carriage windows opaque, and so she did not realise how close they were to her destination until Victor called out, pulling to a halt outside the academy building. Hurriedly, Celine pulled the bonnet on, tying a perfunctory knot in its ribbon. She had only a few steps to travel before removing it again, after all.
Once she had set foot on the sodden pavement, Victor bowed and jumped up to his box seat, missing his opportunity to be Celine’s saviour. That mischievous wind was still in a mind to play with that beautiful bonnet of hers and, spying her lackadaisical attempt at a knot, it aimed a heavy gust at that loose ribbon. Off the hat flew, tumbling and twisting down the street like a child’s kite. All Celine could do was watch helplessly as the rain soaked her bare head, gasping in relief as her hero stepped on stage.