Friday, 2 January 2009

La Sylphide

"Monsieur Riccoboni, this is my niece, Yolande Geoffrion, the only child of my poor cousine, Adèle de Castelnau-Jonville."

"I have met the father, if I am not mistaken?"

"Perhaps. He was very fond of the theater when he could tear himself away from his cards." My uncle lowered his voice, and refused to look at me as he said the last few words, though I was staring at him in surprise. I had never heard him talk about my father before.

"It is nothing to be ashamed of in this age, when one hardly counts as nobility if one does not owe at least a half million louis," Mr. Riccoboni said with a smile. "He was a brilliant player, I remember."

"My brother-in-law played écarte and piquet brilliantly enough to ruin himself."

"It was not the cards but the man he played against that ruined him," said Monsieur Biancolelli. The others nodded.

I tugged on Monsieur Biancolelli's hair and he lifted me off his shoulders, setting me down gently on the boards. "Principessa Yolande says she saw a Sylph."

"Really, where?"

I pointed to where the motes still danced in the sunlight. "Over there by the curtain. She was wearing a green dress."

"Giannetti hasn't come in to rehearse today, has she?"

"Not yet, neither has Margarite."

"What's a siph?"

Monsieur Riccoboni furrowed his thick brows. He had a doughy face and eyes that reflected wetly. "I think I shall look in on the loge d'acteurs. Mother is directing rehearsals this afternoon and she was in a sour mood this morning when I left their apartment." His anxious face disappeared behind the heavy curtain.

The two musicians, having finished tuning their hautbois and flutes, began to rehearse. A tall, skinny man in ragged clothing dragged a ladder out of the gloom of the house, untied a cleat and lowered the chandelier on a rope, then went over to replace the burnt stubs with wax candles from a basket. Someone closed a door and the low sound of traffic and crowds on rue Mauconseil faded away. A haunting melody arose from the oboe and echoed in the vast space, as if coming from very far away.

"What's a silf?"

"A sylph is a fairy made of air who likes to play cruel tricks on little girls."

M. Biancolelli laughed. "Your uncle is in love with a sylph so you must not believe him, Yolande. They are bellissimo spirits with bodies of light and vapour. The clouds over Paris at sunset are painted by the wings of sylphs, and they appear to handsome young men of romantic inclination."

"Nonsense, they are the condensation of splenetic humours from peevish women that are left on earth when their souls ascend to heaven. Even Mr. Pope says so."

"No Adraste! It is you who is splenetic. Reading bad English satire makes you so. Your sylph is a delightful girl, but you must learn to be more light-hearted when you call on her. But dolcemente, they are coming."

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