Sunday, 11 January 2009

Rat Catcher

Just as Madame Riccoboni was about to leave the house, I heard my Uncle Adraste's voice call her name. She stopped at the door and looked back with a frown. M. and Mme. Biancolelli and my Uncle Adraste hurried over, and bowed. My uncle was introduced and pleaded his suit, but all I could hear of their conversation was Madame Riccoboni's reply, for she had a voice made to carry in theatre halls.

"Well, Sir, where is this niece of yours?"

My heart stopped in my mouth. We were still in the upper box, and Marie-Thérèse, who had not let go of my hand, seized me and pulled me to the stair, collecting her sister in her arms again. We pounded down those steps and ran to where the adults stood by the door. Marie-Thérèse made a very pretty curtsey; I did my best to copy her. Everyone's eye was on us, both onstage and off, and I saw my Uncle's eyebrows fly up when he saw the state I was in, still covered in blood and dirt and cobwebs.

"Have you brought us a wild animal, Sir?"

Before I could think of anything to say, Marie-Thérèse said, "Rats."

Mme. Riccoboni started as if she had been bitten by one. Marie-Thérèse waited a moment while she handed her sister to her mother and looked at each person intently before continuing. "Il teatro è pieno di ratti. Rats as big as, as asino, donkey. A hundred ratti. Yolande save me and Caterina, when we asleep. Eu, bite bite bite, and Yolande, she like this and like that." Whereupon Marie-Thérèse mimed an epic battle with an unseen horde of attackers in which she demonstrated how I was bitten on the head but not before despatching the enemies while swinging a phantom weapon, all the while providing a voluble commentary in rapid Italian. Our eyes were fixed on this miniature cavalier thrusting and parrying and spinning about like a whirlwind. Mme Biancolelli gave a little cry of fear and clutched Caterine to her breast when the wound was suffered, for Marie-Thérèse rolled her eyes up in mock pain. By the end of the performance Marie-Thérèse's face was streaked with tears, and she was panting heavily from her exertions. Mme. Riccoboni frowned. Mme. Biancolelli moved to my side and put her hand on my shoulder. Marie-Thérèse took my hand in hers.

"Those merdoso rats ate a hole through my leather pouch!" came a voice from the actors on stage.

"They attack us while we put on our makeup."

"They shit in our costumes!"

Mme. Riccoboni looked at the company with distaste, then turned her eyes on me. "Have you anything to say?"

"My only wish is to stay with Marie-Thérèse and learn Italian, Madame."

Mme. Riccoboni gave a shrug and a sigh that expressed an equal measure of futility and disgust. "Signor Biancolelli, your daughter's associations are your own business. The theatre is no place for children, but your daughter shows promise if she doesn't become ridiculous, or kill someone before she debuts. She may remain, but kindly keep her out of my sight. And Monsieur Osbourne, I will discuss your request with my husband, but pray clean up your niece before she comes into my theatre again." Madame Riccoboni swept out the door into a waiting carriage.

Monsieur Biancolelli picked me off my feet and spun me around. "Welcome to the Théâtre Italien, Princess Yolande Rat-Catcher."


Osprey said...

Hmmm... request...

And children are perhaps more suited to the theatre than most adults.

Enjah Mysterio said...

I want the real sylphide to return and sing to us as we lie back on our divans!

Young Geoffrion said...

She will return, but to warn and not to entertain.

hba said...

But what of the costumes befouled by the rats? Say one thing of progress, at least mme B would be obliged to stop that happening in these times... I hope!