Saturday, 3 January 2009

Marie-Thérèse

"Papa!"

M. Biancolelli gave a squeal of delight, spun around on the spot and fell to his knees, arms extended like a prince in a tale by Lafontaine toward a little girl about my age and dressed in a dainty frock. She ran over and threw herself in his arms, burying her head into his embrace, like one who had been separated from her father for years. Uncle Adraste reached down and took my hand in his. 

After what seemed an age, M. Biancolelli held his daughter at arms length and bounced her up and down until her limbs flopped like a doll. "This is my puppet-daughter Marie-Thérèse, who was made for me by the Seamstress-Queen of Modena. Every night I have to remove her stuffing or she will not sleep, but asks me endless questions all night long: 'When will you take me to the theatre, papa? When can I meet the Principessa Yolande? When will we go to Venezia and dine on profiteroles?' I told that woman to stuff her with sugar and dough, but instead I was given a great big sack of cotton-head questions."

"Is she really a princess?"

"No more questions! One more and I shall expire!"

Marie-Thérèse laughed and whispered in her father's ear. His eyes opened wide, as wide and round as I have ever seen on a person's face. Then he stiffened and gave a lurch, and with a whistle of expelled air, collapsed onto the floor like a depleted wineskin. Marie-Thérèse clapped her hands in delight and made a tiny pirouette, pleased to be part of the performance. Then she came to me and kissed me on both cheeks. "I ask him if we can play together." She spoke French with difficulty but had a sweet breath and deep, black eyes.

"Haven't you struck him dead, then?" I said, for M. Biancolelli had not moved an inch.

A woman with a baby in her arms appeared from backstage. "Get up, get up, you fool, Madame Riccoboni is on her way."

M. Biancolelli rose to his feet in so strange a manner, seemingly without bending his limbs, and then with a grand flourish and bow swept an imaginary hat before him and declared, "You have even the power to raise the dead, Your Majesty, that the saints would be jealous. As the Seamstress-Queen commands, so poor Dominique must obey, even from beyond the grave."

"Enough with your heretical nonsense, and in front of the children! You should be ashamed."

Marie-Thérèse giggled and whispered "Maman is just pretending to be cross." Indeed a smile had crept across Madame Biancolelli's face and she gave her baby a kiss to hide it from her husband. "You had better get changed or that woman will send you straight back to whatever grave you dragged yourself from."

Uncle Adraste bowed and offered his hand, into which Madame Biancolelli placed her own, but before he could kiss it, she had turned to me. "Do not be too hard on our Marie-Thérèse, all she hears at home is Italian because her father has never bothered to learn proper French. You'll have to find somewhere else to play, though, because we must set up for rehearsals. Marie-Thérèse, will you look after Catherine?" Mme. Biancolelli put the tiny child in her daughters arms and led my uncle and M. Biancolelli backstage.

"Do you believe in ghosts?" Marie-Thérèse asked me, getting a better grip on the baby, who squirmed in her arms. 

1 comment:

hba said...

I do! Especially ones in theatres!