It is 1793, and the French Revolution threatens to rip both France and England apart. A desperate young woman flees France after her father is shot dead. His last words to her are 'find Le Noir et Le Blanc'. And so it is that Juliet Winters finds herself thrust into Victorian London on a mad chase to find a secret organisation, avenge her father, and stop the Revolution before it's too late...
It was just another day in the City.
The quick percussion of horses drawing carriages; the staccato rhythm of shoes on cobbles; the muffled yells of angry men, their money slipped from their pockets by wily fingers; the clangs of St Paul as her bells announced the hour; these all made up the song of London, her very heartbeat. And it was all these things that made it a normal day.
But it wasn’t.
The girl was walking with purpose in her step and determination in her eye. This alone was enough to make her stand out from the usual crowd of young women, but the fact that she was unchaperoned made her all the more unconventional.
She was young, roughly twenty, maybe younger, and, although she was not unattractive, she had the kind of face that is easy to forget - long, dark brown hair, an oval face, a few freckles, average nose and eyebrows... all the things that would normally make such a person unique were missing - even her name, Juliet Winters, was not one that stuck in the mind.
Indeed, she would have been quite forgettable, were it not for two things: her eyes and her countenance.
She stood tall and bold, especially in the company of men, for she always felt they were looking down on her, which, indeed, they often were. Women were regarded as mindless playthings, to be enjoyed and then thrown away. Women with brains behind their glass eyes were regarded as unnatural.
Juliet’s own eyes were grey-green and fiercely intelligent, full of depth and thought that was, as her uncle put it, ‘not becoming in a woman’. According to her uncle, she was also ‘too tall’, ‘pampered,’ and ‘impudent’. These were just a few of the choicest insults he chose to hurl at her under the pretense of being a caring uncle.
It was this uncle that she was on her way to see. Mr Richard Tuckers, older brother of Juliet’s late mother, was a successful businessman with a wife and three children - two handsome young sons and a charming daughter - and connections that most men would kill for. He was, in short, the envy of many men, and many more had their eyes on his daughter, Charlotte.
Mr Tuckers was Juliet’s last living male relative, her father having died two months previously when they had fled from France at the beginning of the Revolution. She had spent one of those months in Bristol, trying to organise her affairs, and the other travelling when she had finally been summoned to London by her uncle.
It was this seemingly normal fact that stopped this perfectly ordinary London day from being just that - perfectly ordinary.
The door was big and black, with marble stairs leading up to it, an enormous gold knocker (which was only for show, since there was also a bell pull), and a brass plaque polished to perfection so that it shone like the sun and made it impossible to read the words engraved on it. They did in fact say: mr r tuckers and mr j bradley of tuckers and bradley, lawyers
It was, in short, an imposing entrance to an imposing house owned by an imposing man.
Juliet took a deep breath, stepped quickly to the front door and rang the bell. She had no idea if it had actually rung, as there was no noise she could detect. What if she hadn’t pulled it hard enough? Perhaps it would be better to ring again, just in case... Although that might seem rude, and she didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot with her uncle now that she was at his mercy...
This particular position was one she hated. Juliet knew that Tuckers had never liked her - he was always comparing her to his daughter, Charlotte. These were always unfavourable comparisons.
Juliet shook her head to rid herself of these thoughts. She would see Charlotte herself soon enough, and her two brothers, Horatio and Marcellus. Where were the servants? Surely the door should have been opened by now. If Juliet waited any longer, she would loose her nerve, and not enter the house at all.
Quickly, she reached up to the bell pull again, and gave it a sharp tug. This time she heard it very faintly through the thick walls of the house.
Juliet jumped. A sour-looking man, the butler, was standing with the door half open behind him. He must have been standing there all along, Juliet realised, the colour rising in her face.
‘Excuse me,’ she began, trying to pull together some of her self-composure. ‘My name is Elizabeth Juliet Winters. I’m here to see my uncle, Mr Richard Tuckers.’
‘Of course,’ said the butler smoothly. ‘You are expected. Please follow me.’
Juliet stepped into the large entrance hall. The floor was marble, with mahogany furniture and a cavernous ceiling that gave the room an echo-ey quality.
‘Mr Tuckers is seeing a client at the moment, Miss, but perhaps you might wait to see him in the drawing room,’ said the butler stonily.
Juliet made no comment as she followed him through a door and into a smaller, more private room. There were a few soft chairs and a grand piano, not to mention the walls lined with books. The stuffed head of a deer hung above the mantelpiece, and stuffed birds sat on the bookshelves. The room was silent apart from the regular ticking of the grandfather clock in the corner. It’s face was made of mother-of-pearl overlaid with some gold-coloured metal in snaking designs and patterns like the twisting roots of trees.
Juliet jumped and turned round guiltily, to see her uncle standing in the doorway.
Richard Tuckers stood tall and imposing, rather rotund, perfectly comfortable with his appearance and with an air of power and control about him. He smiled slightly, but it didn’t reach his eyes, and Juliet knew he regarded her as an inconvenience.
‘Please,’ he said, ‘sit down.’
Juliet sank gratefully into a chair, her legs shaking slightly.
‘Well,’ said Tuckers. ‘Here you are, in London. I’m sure we can come to an arrangement that is beneficial to all parties concerned.’ Then, without waiting for a reply, he continued: ‘I have contacted my cousin, a Miss Amelia Hamilton. She lives not far from here, and would be delighted to entertain you until a... ah... alternative arrangement can be arranged. Would that suit?’
‘Thank you, Uncle, you are most kind,’ Juliet said quietly, inwardly shaking with rage. How dare he treat her like this? He hadn’t even greeted her, there had been no mention of her father’s death, or their horrific flight from France...
‘Here is Miss Hamilton’s card,’ Tuckers continued, pulling a small rectangle of card from his pocket and thrusting it unceremoniously at his niece. Printed on it, in flowing letters, were the words:
Ms Amelia Hamilton
24 Lightgate Lane
‘Thank you, Uncle,’ said Juliet again.
‘And come to dinner,’ Tuckers said abruptly.
Juliet was taken aback. ‘I beg your pardon?’
‘On Tuesday. Please allow us to entertain you to dinner. Miss Hamilton also, if she wishes.’ He frowned. ‘I trust you have no alternative arrangements?’
‘N-no... I mean...’
24 Lightgate Lane was a small, prim little house with lace curtains and a perfectly tidy garden. It seemed to fit exactly with Juliet’s preconception of Ms Hamilton as a prim old lady, probably smelling musty and of cats, and definitely not disposed towards free-thinking young women like Juliet.
And so it was that Juliet came to have her heart in her mouth as she stepped nervously up to the front door and knocked.
The door was opened a few seconds later by a maid, who looked Juliet up and down before rudely saying: ‘what?’
Juliet, taken aback, took a few moments to answer. ‘I... My name is Elizabeth Juliet Winters. My uncle, Richard Tuckers, said I might visit Ms Hamilton...?’
The maid scowled slightly, and, without saying something, closed the door in Juliet’s face. A few minutes later, the door was opened again, and the maid said: ‘you’d better come in, then.’
Juliet followed the maid into a hallway, and finally into a small, neat, tidy drawing room, with a small hearth and two comfortable looking green-upholstered chairs. On one of these chairs sat a woman.
‘Oh, Tuckers said I should expect you,’ the woman said in a voice devoid of any emotion, standing up and facing Juliet. ‘Bring tea, Ruth.’
The maid, Ruth, scowled again, and left.
‘You must excuse Ruth. Well, sit down, girl! Don’t stand around all day.’
Inwardly, Juliet quaked, but she sat, straight-backed, on the green chair opposite Ms Hamilton.
For a few moments she studied the woman she was to live with. Ms Hamilton was slightly shorter than Juliet herself, but what she lacked in size, she made up for in age. She must have been nearly five and fifty - she had a stern, wrinkled face, silvery grey hair and harsh, penetrating, judgmental grey eyes. She was dressed strictly in a black dress, horribly old-fashioned, and made of tight, shiny silk that no-one dressed in nowadays. Not that Juliet followed fashion.
During this time, Amelia Hamilton had also been studying Juliet with her quick eyes that missed nothing. They were only interrupted when Ruth entered, scowling, as ever, with a tray. She unceremoniously placed a cup of tea in front of each of the women, and stomped out.
‘So, you are the daughter of my cousin’s renegade sister?’
Juliet’s fists tightened in her lap. How dare this woman just judge her family like this?
‘Tuckers barely ever mentioned his sister Amanda, or her family. All I know is that she married a Frenchman, Jean-Louis, and had a daughter. So your father is dead? No surprise. They all deserve what’s coming to them, those froggies. They’re all the same - arrogant, pompous and not to be trusted.’
Juliet leapt to her feet. ‘How dare you? How can you just sit there and speak to me like this? I’m leaving - I can’t stay another minute in here with you!’
‘Where will you go?’ Ms Hamilton asked cooly.
‘I don’t know! Anywhere is better than here!’
‘Don’t be ridiculous, girl. You’ll end up on the streets. Your uncle will do nothing more for you - you know this. Sit back down and finish your tea.’
Juliet glared into those steely grey eyes. Ms Hamilton smiled quite suddenly. It was the smile of someone who knows they’ve won the argument.
‘So. Elizabeth? I can’t believe you wish to be called by your full name. Not a strong girl like you.’
‘Ah, your second name. I should have known. Well, then, Juliet. I admire your character. Perhaps too hot a temper - you'll have to be careful - but that can be changed. No, I genuinely admire you. Now, please, sit back down, and tell me what I can do for you.'