The third book in my 'Lonely as a Cloud' trilogy. Sebastiann Crawford's adventurer parents disappeared ten years ago while on the trail of a priceless diamond necklace, and now she's on a mission to find them with the help of Captain Ariadne Snatch and her crew.
Her name was Sebastiann and in every respect she was utterly ordinary.
The day was a Thursday, 17 April 1889, the weather was fair with a chilly northern breeze, and even a week later very few people would be able to remember even that this day existed. As with most days in time, it would be lost in the annals of memory, because, much like Sebastiann, there was very little to set it apart from any of its contempories. Nothing I’m going to tell you will turn this day into a very remarkable one at all, and yet it is still the day that everything really began, at least where we’re concerned. (You could argue that everything really began at the dawn of time, but that’s another story, and one rather too long to fit in a book.)
It was 11:00 am, and Sebastiann made her way through the London streets completely unhindered. There was absolutely nothing about her attire - worn but well cared-for - or her stature - medium height and medium build - or even her face - faintly oval and, frankly, forgettable - that would stop even the most suspicious of observers from forming the opinion that she was, at best, unremarkable, and at worst, completely irrelevant. She faded into the bustling London streets with a skill a chameleon might envy, becoming part of the scenery rather than anything to pay attention to, fitting into the background right down to the scuffs on her shoes and darns in her socks. Nothing about her lingered in the memory; she never warranted a second glance and was barely ever the focus of the first. Even the most observant would be hard-pressed to find anything of note about her.
And yet she has just warranted an entire paragraph of description. Nor will it be the last, I assure you. She is our protagonist; I can hardly get away without mentioning her at lease once or twice more. Because what she was about to do was, I promise, noteworthy.
She rang a doorbell. But not just any doorbell, or I wouldn’t have bothered to tell you. No. It was the doorbell of one Messr. Impact. Portsmouth Impact, to be precise, of Impact & Crawford, Sorcers and Brokers of Rare Artifacts, as the bronze plaque beside the door read. It had once been shinier than a polititian’s reputation, but now, ten years after the disappearance of Messr. Crawford along with a priceless diamond necklace, the plaque was tarnished, degrading over time (coincidentally, also much like a polititian’s reputation).
So Sebastiann rang the doorbell and waited on the step in her best (and yet still plainly unnoticable) dress and trying not to let her anxiety show. It had taken a great deal of planning (on her part) and money (on her uncle’s) just to get her here, and she hoped that having the daughter of his dead business partner appear on his doorstep might be enough to make Mr Impact finally listen to her, as he had obviously found it easy enough to ignore her letters for the last year and a half.
If the doorbell rang, the noise was lost in the recesses of the building, and Sebastian was just beginning to wonder if it actually had rung at all, and if not, whether she should try again, when the door opened to reveal a maid with a face like rancid milk who looked Sebastiann up and down grimly before saying: ‘Mr Impact won’t be buying today. Take yourself somewhere else,’ and making to close the door.
‘I’m not looking to buy or sell anything,’ Sebastiann replied tartly, trying not to wince as her door was wedged in the doorway (she had anticipated a somewhat frosty reception). ‘Please inform your master that Miss Crawford is here to see him.’
Of course, it might be a mistake telling him what her name is. It would certainly give him a good reason not to see her at all, considering the circumstances of her father’s disappearance. But still. There may be some morals hidden away inside Mr Impact’s suit.
‘The master is busy with a customer at present. He shan’t be seeing anyone today. Make an appointment and come back tomorrow.’
‘That won’t be possible.’ She hasn’t got anywhere to stay tonight, but she’s not telling this woman that. ‘Please, will you just tell Mr Impact that the daughter of Sigmund and Eldoretta Crawford is here to see him with information regarding the Marie Antoinette case?’
The maid did not turn white, nor she did not exclaim in shock or surprise or wonder, indeed, she did not turn and run, shouting for the master as she did so. No one does these things outside of dramatic novels, and if you expected her to, then you might want to reconsider your reading matter of late. But what she did do was narrow her eyes at Sebastiann for a moment before nodding grudgingly.
‘Very well. I suppose you could wait for him to finish his business. But I’ll warn you - he isn’t likely to be in a very good mood.’
The curious part of Sebastiann wanted to ask why, but the sensible part knew not to press the maid, and, as it always did with her, the sensible part won out, and so she turned and followed the maid into the house silently.