He sprinted past Celine as she stood there open-mouthed, leaping acrobatically as the wind tried to lift the bonnet out of reach. He caught the end of the pink ribbon and reeled it in.
‘Get inside,’ he called out as he ran back, following her up the steps and in to the busy entrance hall of the academy.
‘Oh, Sir, thank you so much,’ Celine gratefully received her bonnet as she tried hard not to stare at this good Samaritan. She was the only person making such an effort, everyone else who had noticed the stranger gave him a long look, one man almost walking into a pillar as he twisted his neck to gaze upon the exotic man before Celine.
Tall and broad, his skin was as dark as the treacle toffee that Adelaide Harper bought in paper bags from the sweet shop as a treat; his teeth when he smiled at her were a brilliant white. When she took the hat from his hand, his palms were almost as light as her own. She felt a strange compulsion to touch him, to find out if his skin felt like hers, then flushed at the very idea of it.
‘You’re very welcome. Glad to be of assistance.’ His English was strange, perfectly spoken but accented.
‘I am very grateful. I will tie it on better next time,’ she said, stumbling over her words in a fluster. Embarrassed, she turned to go.
‘You’re not from here, are you,’ he said, and she stopped.
‘No, Sir. I am from Paris. I am just here to study opera.’
‘Opera? I admit I’m not so familiar with that style but I do love all kinds of music,’ he said. ‘So we are both foreigners then. I’m from New York originally but moved to Europe some years ago.’
‘From America? Did you not make a mistake? I thought that all of Europe was leaving to seek their fortunes there.’ Celine found herself fascinated with this man, though she knew that she would be late to her lesson.
‘Yes, well, there was no fortune to be had there for me,’ he said ruefully. ‘I’m an actor. Where better to learn my craft than the home of William Shakespeare. I hope to make a name for myself one day.’
‘Well, I wish you the best of luck…’ She realised she did not know his name.
‘Daniel,’ he supplied. ‘Daniel Johnson.’
‘The best of luck then, Daniel.’
‘And your name?’ he called after her.
What harm could come from him knowing this small detail? ‘Celine.’
‘May I see you again?’ He had to raise his voice to be heard as she walked away, and she blushed as she noticed they had an audience. She shook her head in an apologetic no, escaping to the safety of the corridor beyond the entrance hall.
She may have rejected the man in person, but he remained with her in spirit, disrupting her day as she struggled to concentrate through her lessons. Her singing master scolded her sloppy technique and she gave incorrect answers to questions that she would have easily known on any other day. Who was this man who could distract her so easily? The mystery of a stranger was all it was she told herself. If they had talked for a few minutes longer she would have found him to be just an average man, just a darker version of every other she had come across, and forgotten all about him. Had she accepted his invitation to meet again, in a suitably respectable location of course, she could have exorcised this feeling.
Luckily for Celine, Daniel Johnson was a man of action.