Italian Opera

Daniel had one good pair of trousers, and one new enough jacket which Sam had bought him for his own wedding. Once dressed he thought he looked the part of a gentleman. A man about to embark upon married life, he reminded himself. It all felt like a dream still. The pragmatism that had been literally beaten into him by his own father, God rest his soul, told him that until the register was signed Celine could still reject him.

The trio travelled from Belgravia to Regent’s Park together on that Thursday evening. Jean had gone to visit Celine earlier in the day as he was supposed to be escorting her back to Paris on the Friday. The Harpers had not been told anything of Daniel, only that he was a renowned actor at the Olympia and a friend of the McCarthys. Mrs Harper, not originally an advocate of Mrs McCarthy, had been won over by her in past weeks as the friendship between her charge and Maria had deepened. She had agreed instantly to issuing the formal invitation to the dinner party. Daniel felt nausea rise as they passed the park. The sun may have been high in the sky, beaming golden sunlight down upon the rows of large houses, but he felt a heavy cloud of foreboding weigh heavily.

‘Come along now,’ Sam chivvied him from his dark mood. ‘What is the worst that could happen?’ Then, as his wife began to answer, ‘Hush woman! I promise you, if anything goes wrong my carriage will be here. We shall spirit Celine away to Belgravia and send for her baggage tomorrow.’

‘This is going to be a disaster.’ Daniel stepped heavily from the carriage and looked up at the Harper’s house. ‘We should not have done this.’

Sam ignored him and ran sprightly up the steps before pulling the doorbell. It was answered by the butler, a man who was well trained enough to only give Daniel a brief second glance as he admitted them. Celine ran out into the hallway to greet them, her hands shaking as she let Daniel kiss them.

‘My things are packed,’ she told him quietly. ‘I think that we should leave now.’

‘What is wrong, my dear,’ Maria asked, checking that no one had followed Celine.

‘They know who you are,’ she said looking at Daniel, then Maria, with tears in her eyes. ‘Mr Harper invited a man from his club at the last minute. A Mr Garrison. He has already told Mrs Harper that she should refuse to admit you. He called you a – a savage.’

Sam swore, apologising profusely before cursing again. Daniel and Celine stared at him in amazement but Maria’s face had paled.

‘He’s a friend of the man that I was supposed to marry before Sam rescued me,’ she explained. ‘He hates us and no doubt has already poisoned our hosts to us before we have had a chance to persuade them.’

‘We should go.’ Daniel made up his mind. ‘Can we have your things sent on or should we collect them now?’

‘I can…’ Celine began to answer but too late, as footsteps were heard behind them. She whirled around to see the Harpers, together with the newcomer, Garrison.

‘Ah, our unwelcome guests have arrived,’ Mr Harper said loudly, waving a quieting hand in the direction of his mortified wife who had tried to talk first.

‘So it is true!’ Garrison shook his head. ‘I hoped that you had better taste than this Adelaide. A disowned heiress, a darkie and a man who some say daren’t set foot on American soil while his father still lives.’

‘Slander me like that again, Garrison, and you shall live to regret it,’ Sam growled as Garrison laughed, showing rat-like teeth, sharp and discoloured.

‘Celine, come here,’ Mrs Harper ordered her.

‘No,’ came the reply, almost too quiet to hear.

‘Excuse me? Do as you’re told girl. These so-called friends of yours have brought embarrassment to our door. You will say goodbye and I doubt you will see them again.’ Mr Harper waited for her to comply.

Celine cleared her throat and summoned her courage. ‘Mrs Harper, Mr Harper, I apologise that you are embarrassed but I must leave you now.’

‘Leave? Your ship does not leave until tomorrow. Jean has made the arrangements.’ Mrs Harper looked to the named man as he sidled through the gathering crowd of guests.

‘Yes, we are booked on the afternoon boat back to France.’ He nodded slightly and Daniel picked up his meaning. Jean had to act as though he were ignorant of their scheme or his hopes to marry Emilie would be dashed.

‘I am truly sorry to both of you,’ Celine continued. ‘If I thought that my father would be reasonable then I would not have to take this action, but I have fallen in love with Daniel and we are to be married.’

A gasp rippled along the hallway, her admission creating a wave of shock and disbelief like a stone thrown into a pond. Daniel reached down for her trembling hand.

‘We must go,’ Sam announced loudly. ‘Enjoy your evening, won’t you?’

They as good as ran back outside to the waiting carriage, Celine holding back the tears until they were on their way back to Eaton Square.

‘We tried,’ Maria told the sobbing girl. ‘And they know where to find you if they wish to make amends.’

‘But what if they come and try to send me home?’ Celine cried.

‘I have friends in Edinburgh who will put us up for a week or so. There you shall be easily married,’ Sam told her. ‘I had an inkling that this may happen and so procured us tickets on the first stagecoach tomorrow morning. My coachman will drive us to Islington to meet it there just in case they are wise enough to check the city departures.’

And indeed, they evaded their pursuers only due to Sam’s clever plan. By the time the Harpers had checked all possible departure points in central London, the McCarthy party were halfway to Islington and then onwards to Scotland. When Celine and Daniel returned to London a fortnight they were husband and wife, safe from the wrath of Monsieur Martin.

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