The Red Necklace
By Sally Gardner
Summary: In the late eighteenth century, Sido, the twelve-year-old daughter of a self-indulgent marquis, and Yann, a fourteen-year-old Gypsy orphan raised to perform in a magic show, face a common enemy at the start of the French Revolution.
正文前的几句废话：抖森用软软的声音念出男主角Yann的台词实在是让人联想起雷1里的小基妹儿，然后用阴沉的声音模仿大反派Count Kalliovski时，又是足足的邪神范儿。最好玩的是，俩人都想娶个那有着摄人蓝眼睛（most bewitching blue eyes）的菇凉~（大公主是你吗？~）
The Red Necklace
This is Paris; here the winds of change are blowing, whispering their discontent into the very hearts of her citizens. A Paris waiting for the first slow turn of a wheel that will bring with it a revolution the like of which Europe has never known. In the coming year the people will be called upon to play their part in the tearing down of the Bastille, in the destruction of the old regime, in the stopping of the clocks.
This is where the devil goes walking, looking with interest in at the window of Dr. Guillotin【注1】, who works night and day to perfect his humane killing machine, sharpening his angled blade on the innocent necks of sheep. Little does the earnest doctor know that his new design will be center stage, a bloody altarpiece in the drama that is about to unfold.
But wait, not so fast. King Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette, are still outside Paris, at Versailles. This is the winter of 1789, one of the worst in living memory. Jack Frost【注2】 has dug his fingers deep into the heart of this frozen city, so that it looks almost unrecognizable under its thick blanket of snow.
All still appears as it should be. All has yet to break. . .
Here, then, is where our story starts, in a run-down theater on the rue du Temple, with a boy called Yann Margoza, who was born with a gift for knowing what people were thinking, and an uncanny ability to throw his voice.
Yann had a sharp, intelligent face, olive skin, a mop of jet-black hair, and eyes dark as midnight, with two stars shining in them. For the past few months the theater had been home to Yann and his friend and mentor, the dwarf Têtu, and Topolain, the magician. Together they traveled all over France, performing. Without ever appearing on stage, Têtu could move objects at will like a sorcerer, while Topolain fronted the show and did tricks of his own. Yann was fourteen now, and still didn’t understand how Têtu did it, even though he had helped behind the scenes since he was small.
Têtu’s age was anyone’s guess and, as he would say, no one’s business. He compensated for his size and his strange high-pitched voice with a fierce intelligence. He could speak many languages, but would not say where he came from.
It had been Têtu’s idea to invest their savings in the making of the wooden Pierrot. The result had been a sensation. Monsieur Aulard, manager of the Theater du Temple, had taken them on and for the past four months they had played to full houses. In these dark times, it struck Monsieur Aulard as nothing short of a miracle.
The Pierrot had caught people’s imaginations. Some thought that it was controlled by magic. More practical minds wondered if it was clockwork or automaton, or if there was something hidden inside. This theory was soon dismissed, as every night Topolain would invite a member of the audience on stage to look for himself. All who saw it were agreed that it was made from solid wood. Even if it had been hollow, there was no space inside for anyone to hide.
Yet not only could the Pierrot walk and talk, it could also, as Topolain told the astonished audience every night, see into the heart of every man and woman there, and know their darkest secrets.
For the grand finale, Topolain would perform the trick he was best known for—the magic bullet. He would ask a member of the audience to come up on stage and fire a pistol at him. To much rolling of drums, he would catch the bullet in his hand, proclaiming that he had drunk from the cup of everlasting life. After seeing what he could do with the automaton, the audience did not doubt him. Maybe such a great magician as this could indeed trick the Grim Reaper【aka死神大人】.
Every evening after the final curtain had fallen and the applause had died away, Yann would remove the small table on which had been placed the pistol and the bullet. Tonight the stage felt bitterly cold. Yann peered out into the darkened auditorium. He could sworn he heard someone whispering in the shadows.
“Hello?” he called.
“You all right?” asked Didier the caretaker, walking onto the stage. He was a giant of a man with a vacant moonlike face.
“I thought I heard someone in the stalls,” said Yann.
Didier stood by the proscenium arch and glared menacingly into the gloom.
“There’s no one there. More than likely it’s a rat. Don’t worry, I’ll get the blighter.”
He disappeared into the wings, humming as he went. Yann felt strangely uneasy. The sooner he was gone from here the better, he thought to himself.
There! The whispering was louder this time.
“Who’s there?” shouted Yann.
Then he heard a woman’s soft voice, whispering to him in Romany, the language he and Têtu spoke privately together. He nearly jumped out of his skin, for it felt as if she were standing right next to him.
She was saying, “The devil’s own is on your trail. Run like the wind.”
Topolain’s dressing room was what Monsieur Aulard grandly called a dressing room for superior actors. It was as shabby as all the other dressing rooms, but it was a little larger and had the decided privilege of having a fireplace. The log basket was all but empty and the fire near defeated by the cold.
Topolain was sitting looking at his painted face in a mirror. He was a stout man with doughy features.
“How did you know the shoemaker had a snuffbox in his pocket, Yann?”
Yann shrugged. “I could hear his thoughts loud and clear,” he said.
Têtu, who was carefully packing away the wooden Pierrot, listened and smiled, knowing that Yann’s abilities were still unpredictable. Sometimes, without being aware of it, he could read people’s minds; sometimes he could even see into the future.
There was a rap at the door. Topolain jumped up in surprise, spilling his wine onto the calico cloth on the dressing table so that it turned dark red.
A huge man stood imposingly in the doorway, his smart black tailored coat emphasizing his bulk. Yet it was his face, not his garments, that caught Yann’s attention. It was covered in scars like the map of a city you would never wish to visit. His left eye was the color of rancid milk. The pupil, dead and black, could be seen beneath its curdled surface.
He was a terrifying apparition.
The man handed Topolain a card. The magician took it, careful to wipe the sweat from his hands before he did so. As he read the name Count Kalliovski, he felt a quiver of excitement. He knew that Count was one of the wealthiest men in Paris.
“This is an honor indeed,” said Topolain.
“I am steward to Count Kalliovski. I am known as Milkeye,” said the man. He held out a leather purse before him as one might hold a bone out to a dog.
“My master wants you to entertain his friends tonight at the château of the Marquis de Villeduval. If Count Kalliovski is pleased with your performance”—he jangled the purse—“this will be your reward. The carriage is waiting. We would ask for haste.”
Yann knew exactly what Topolain was going to say.
“I shall be delighted. I shall be with you just as fast as I can get myself and my assistants together.”
“Haste,” Milkeye repeated sharply. “I don’t want our horses freezing to death out there. They are valuable.”
The door closed behind him with a thud, so that the thin walls shook.
As soon as they were alone, Topolain lifted Têtu off his feet and danced him around the room.
“This is what we have been dreaming of! With this invitation the doors of grand society will be open to us.”
He looked at his reflection in the mirror, added a touch of rouge to his cheeks, and picked up his hat and the box that contained the pistol.“Are we ready to amaze, astound, and bewilder?”
“Wait, wait!” pleaded Yann. He pulled Têtu aside and said quietly, “When I went to clear up this evening I heard a voice speaking Romany, saying, ‘The devil’s own is on your trail. Run like the wind.’”
“What are you whispering about?” asked Topolain.
“Come on, we’ll be late.”
Yann said desperately, “Please, let’s not go. I have a bad feeling.”
“The boy may be right.”said Têtu.
“Come on, the two of you!” said Topolain. “This is our destiny calling. Greatness lies ahead of us! Ha! I’ve waited a lifetime for this. Stop worrying. Tonight we will be princes.”
Yann and Têtu knew that it was useless to say more. They carried the long box with the Pierrot in it down the steep stairs, Yann trying to chase away the image of a coffin from his mind.
All Topolain was thinking was that maybe the king and queen would be there. The thought was like a fur coat against the cold, which wrapped itself around him as he walked out into the bitter night, Yann’s and Têtu’s anxieties forgotten.
The Marquis de Villeduval’s debts were alarming. He took no notice of his financial advisers, who told him that he was on the verge of bankruptcy. What matter if funds were low? He would simply raise the rents on his estate. In the meantime he would just have to borrow more from Count Kalliovski, who never blinked an eye at the outrageous sums the marquis requested.
This was how he had financed the building of his newest property, a small château halfway between Paris and Versailles, which allowed him easy access to the court and the capital. His taste was superb, the bills always shocking.
That evening the marquis was holding a supper party to thank Count Kalliovski for his continuing generosity. The guest list included the great and the good of French society—dukes, princes, counts, cardinals, and bishops. Like the marquis, they all had
good reason to be grateful to the count.
In return for his constant generosity, Kalliovski simply asked for those tiny little secrets, the kind of thing you wouldn’t even say in the confessional box. All you had to do was whisper them to him and absolution was guaranteed, the money given. He kept his friends like pampered lapdogs. They never suspected that the hand that fed them had also bought their souls.
Many rumors circulated about Kalliovski, which he encouraged. When asked his age he would say he was as old as Charlemagne. When asked about his great black wolfhound, Balthazar, he would say that he had never been without the dog. One thing, though, was certain: Many were his mistresses and no one was his wife.
The secret of his success lay in the absence of emotion. Over the years he had learned how to empty himself of sentiment, to keep himself free of passion.
Love he considered to be a blind spot on the map of the soul. He had an iron-clad heart. His motto was one that should have warned all who knew him of his true nature: Have no mercy, show no mercy.
For the marquis’s part, he was in awe of the count. If he was honest with himself,
something he avoided at all costs, he was more than a little jealous of him. Tonight, though, he wanted to impress the count. Nothing had been spared to make the celebration a success.
He had even gone to the trouble of having his daughter brought home from her convent to satisfy a whim of the count, who had asked to see her. Why, he could not imagine.
For he considered her to be a mark of imperfection upon his otherwise perfect existence. The marquis’s splendid new château stood testament to his secretive nature and his sophisticated taste. Each of its many salons was different. Some were painted with scenes of the Elysian Fields, in others, there were gilded rococo mirrors that reflected the many crystal chandeliers. On the first floor all the salons opened up into one another through double doors with marble columns. The effect was a giddy vista of rooms, each one more opulent than the last. But behind the grand façade lay what no eye saw, the narrow, dark, poky corridors that formed the unseen and unsightly varicose veins of the house. They were for the servants’ use only. The marquis liked to fancy that an invisible hand served him. And so his army of footmen and maids performed their tasks quietly in felted slippers, like mice behind the skirting boards.
On the day of the party, the Mother Superior told Sido that she was wanted at her father’s new château. It had been two years since she had last seen him, and for a moment she wondered if he had been taken ill. Her memory of her father was of a cold, unloving man who had little time for his daughter. Sido had grown into a shy, awkward-looking girl who walked with a limp, an unforgivable impediment that reflected badly on the great name of Villeduval. She had lost her mother when she was only three, and for most of her twelve years she had been brought up at the convent. The marquis had handed her over to the Mother Superior at the tender age of five, with instructions to teach the girl to be less clumsy and to walk without limping, if she was going to the château just for a supper party filled her with excitement and trepidation. As the convent doors closed behind her, she hoped passionately that she would never have to see the place again, that this might be the start of a new life where her father would love her at last.
Her happiness soon vanished as the coach made its way along the country roads. In the thin, blue, watery light, figures seemed to rise out of the snow like ghosts, given shape only by the rags they were wearing. They trudged silently along the side of the road with grim determination. Old men, young men, women carrying babies, grandmothers, small weary children, all were ill-equipped for the bitter winter weather as they slowly and painfully made their way toward Paris.
Sido knocked on the roof of the carriage, “We should stop and help,” she called to Bernard, the coachman.
The coach kept on moving.
“Please,” Sido called again. “We must help them.”
“The whole of France needs help,” came the answer. “Best not to look, mademoiselle.”
But how was it possible to turn your eyes away from such a sea of sadness?
Sido’s father’s new château looked like a fairy-tale castle, complete with towers and turrets, floating free of the formal gardens that surrounded it.
The marquis’s valet came out to greet her.
“How are you, Luc?” she asked, pleased to see a face she recognized.
“Well, mademoiselle. I have been instructed to take you up the back way to your
chamber. The marquis does not wish to be disturbed.”
Sido followed him through a plain wooden door into a long dark corridor. Luc lit a candle which shone a shy light down what seemed a never-ending passageway.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
The valet turned around with a finger to his lips.
Sido followed in silence. Every now and again cat’s cradles of light shone through peepholes, from one wall to the other. Luc opened a door.
“This will be your bedchamber. The marquis will call you when he is ready,” and with that he closed the door behind him. It disappeared perfectly into the painted panels so that if you didn’t know it was there, it would be impossible to tell.
This was a plain room, paneled in powder blue. The four-poster bed had thick dark blue velvet drapes, a fabric screen stood near a dressing table, and above the fireplace hung a painting of an Italian masked ball.
There were no flowers to welcome her, no bowls of fruits, no sweetmeats, though these were given to all the other guests.
For her part, Sido was just grateful to be away from the convent.
Hours passed, so that she was wondering if she had been forgotten, when the valet reappeared. “The marquis wants to see you now, mademoiselle.”
Sido straightened her skirt, took a deep breath, and concentrated with all her might on not limping as she was taken downstairs.
The marquis was waiting in his study. He had a large, needy, greedy face that gathered itself into a weak, undefined chin and had about it the promise of perpetual disappointment. He stared down his aristocratic nose at his daughter.
“I see, Sidonie, that you are not much changed since last we met. A little taller, maybe? Unfortunate. Tallness is unattractive in a girl.”
The abruptness of the criticism and the use of her full name made all Sido’s skills of navigation abandon her. She stepped back, narrowly avoiding a table displaying the marquis’s latest acquisition, a collection of scientific instruments.
“Look where you’re going! In heaven’s name, are you as stupid as you appear? And I see you still have that unpleasant limp. It seems not to have improved in the slightest,” said the marquis irritably.
Sido stood there wishing with all her heart that the floor would open and swallow her up. At that moment Count Kalliovski was shown into the chamber. At his heels was a large black wolfhound, his famous dog, Balthazar.
Sido’s first impression was that she would not like to be left alone with either the man or his dog. She dropped her gaze and curtsied as she felt his sharp inquisitive eyes upon her. Glancing up for a discreet look, she saw a tall thin man, elegantly dressed, his skin smooth and ageless , as if it had been preserved in aspic. He had the
perfume of wealth about him.
“That,” said the marquis abruptly, “is my daughter. Why I went to the expense and inconvenience of bringing her back here, I cannot imagine.”
“To humor me, I do believe,” said Count Kalliovski, he sat himself in a chair and stretched his long legs out before him, placing his hands together to form a steeple in front of his mouth. They were large, ugly hands that somehow didn’t seem to go with the rest of him. The dog settled near his master. Sido saw that the pattern on the count’s embroidered silk waistcoat was of little black skulls intertwined with ivy leaves.
“Eh.. Charming,” said the count, studying Sido with an expert eye. “But is there no food at your convent?”
“Not much, sir,” Sido replied.
The count smiled. “Tell me then, are the nuns all as pale and thin as you?”
“I thought not. And which convent is this?” When Sido told him, the count laughed out loud.
“Hahaha…I know the cardinal. I have lent him money in the past to settle his gambling debts.” The marquis looked most uncomfortable.
“My dear friend, your daughter has the most bewitching blue eyes. Give her a few
more years and you will find her to be ravishing.” The marquis looked like a spoiled overgrown child who is being asked to play nicely. “With respect, my dear count, plain she is and plain she will remain. I fear you have been taken in by the beauty of my study and the afternoon light.”
“Not in the slightest. I am just concerned to hear that your daughter has been sent to such an indifferent school. I suggest that from now on she should be educated at home.”
Sido stood there, surprised to find that she had an ally in the count.
The marquis rang for his valet.“The girl is to be bathed and the dressmaker summoned, mademoiselle Sidonie will be dining with us this evening.”
It took Sido a moment to realize what her father had just said. She wondered if just for once fate was smiling kindly on her.
注1：Joseph-Ignace Guillotin，法国医生、政客、共济会员，1789年提议使用一种新的器械，即断头台Guillotine，来执行死刑以减少死刑犯痛苦，在法国大革命中N多人命丧断头台使得这个东西名留青史。事实上，那个杀人机器并不是Dr. Guillotin发明的，他本人还反对死刑，但是很悲催的，这个断头台还是以他的名字命名了……
On their arrival, Topolain, Têtu, and Yann had been shown into the library, where a small stage had been erected, with a makeshift curtain. The only light in the room came from the fire and the candles on the mantelpiece. When the candles blazed up you could see that this was a large semicircular room, lined from floor to ceiling with bookshelves and divided halfway down by a wooden walkway. At each end was a spiral staircase. It was hard to fathom where the ceiling began or ended; the books looked as though they might go on to eternity.
Topolain was not in a good mood. He had stumbled badly as he got out of the coach,
making a fool of himself in front of the footman.
He stood near the fire doing his best to get some warmth back into his frozen limbs, only Yann was alert and excited enough to explore.
He moved away from the fire into the dark recesses of the library. He had never seen so many books. He took one out of the shelf. It was brand-new, some of its pages still uncut. He put it back and took out another, smiling to himself. Whoever owned the château used this room more to impress than for the knowledge it held. For all its grandeur, there was something uncomfortable about the place, as if the foundations were having an argument with the earth.
A bad omen, he thought, for tonight’s show.
The large double doors at the end of the room opened and Yann turned to see a tall man enter the library. He was dressed in black, his hair powdered white, and he walked with an assured step, the red heels of his shiny buckled shoes clicking loudly on the parquet floor. A black wolfhound followed him. He was holding something that Yann couldn’t quite make out.
Now in the firelight he saw clearly what it was—a human skull carved in wood. The sight of it made Yann move farther back into the darkness of the bookshelves. There was something sinister about this man.
Count Kalliovski ignored Topolain and Têtu, and he hadn’t seen the boy. He put the wooden skull on the table, opening it up to reveal a magnificent timepiece. On its face was the image of the Grim Reaper.
Topolain rushed forward, accidentally tripping and making nonsense of his low bow. “It is an honor, Count Kalliovski, to be called to your splendid residence, May I congratulate you on your fine taste?”
“This is not my residence. It belongs to the Marquis de Villeduval. Let us hope your magic shows more skill than your words do.”
Topolain was still not fully awake. How could he have forgotten what he had already been told? He attempted some more toe-curling flattery, making matters worse. Balthazar snarled, a low menacing rumble of a sound like the coming of thunder, Topolain took another step backward. He was terrified of dogs.
Têtu had a sense of rising panic. His mind whirled as he tried to remember exactly where and when it was he had last seen this man.
It was the sight of the count’s hands that finally loosened Têtu’s memory. For all Kalliovski’s airs and graces, he still had the hands of a butcher, the hands of a murderer.
How could Têtu ever forget them? Here before him was a ghost from his past, the enemy he had hope never to see again. All he could hope for now, was that Topolain would for once keep his mouth shut.
Yann had never been able to read Têtu’s mind, but that didn’t stop him from realizing that something was wrong with the dwarf, and it wasn’t just his usual tiredness after the show. It was something altogether more worrying.
“I called you here tonight because I was impressed by your performance at the Theater.” said the count,“I too have a great interest in automata”.
Topolain smiled feebly. He was only half listening. He was positive he had met this man before, though where, he couldn’t remember.
Without thinking, he inquired, “Forgive me for asking, but I never forget a face and—” He stopped, realizing too late when and where he last seen the count. And his blotched white makeup all the color drained from his face.
The count smiled inwardly, turned on his red heels and left the room. Têtu and Topolain listened to his footsteps retreat into the distance. They were well and truly trapped.
“What have I done?” said Topolain.
Yann could suddenly feel his fear.
“Quiet,” Têtu grunted. “The boy is here. You’d better leave the pistol out of the show.”
Topolain poured himself a generous glass of cognac from a decanter, his hands shaking and drained it in one gulp. “No pistol. I think that’s wise. But we’re dead, aren’t we?”
The memory of the voice early that evening began to haunt Yann again. There must, he thought, be a way to escape.
Above him on the wooden walkway came the sound of footsteps. A footman appeared as if from nowhere, and started to walk down the spiral staircase with a dish of sweetmeats. He left the dish beside the decanters on the table before returning the way he had come, through an invisible door in the bookshelves. Yann, catlike, went up the stairs after him and caught hold of the door before it fully closed.
“See if you can find a way out of here. I’ll keep the door open. Go!”
Yann found himself standing in a dark, musty smelling passageway. Up ahead he could see the flicker of candlelight as the footman disappeared down the rabbit warren of corridors. It reminded him of walking between the painted flats in the theater. But why did the château have this hidden labyrinth of corridors? What illusion was it hoping to create?
Sido had been dressed and ready for hours, but no one had come for her. She had been forgotten. Hungry and disappointed, she lay down.
This was how Yann first saw her. He had discovered that there were peepholes in all the doors. It was like watching different scenes from a play, a lady in a boudoir adjusted her impossibly tall wig, complaining to her maid that it was too heavy. In another room, a man was kissing a lady on the neck. In the next, a girl on the four-poster bed with her eyes closed.
Yann felt drawn to her, certain that she wouldn’t cry out if he were to venture in. He pushed against the door and it opened silently. Not wishing to wake her, he sat down and waited for her to stir.
She reminded him of a china doll, with long eyelashes that fluttered like a butterfly’s
wings, and an abundance of dark hair that cascaded across the pillows.
Sido woke up with a start, then, seeing him, sat bolt upright.
“Who are you? What are you doing here?” She pulled the curtains around her and peeked out, wondering if she should call for help.
“Even if you did, no one would come,” said Yann.
This was very unsettling. Had she been talking aloud and not known it?
“What is your name?” she asked.
“Yann Margoza. What’s yours?”
“Sido de Villeduval. Why are you here?”
“I am with the magician. We are doing the show tonight, downstairs in the room with all the books.”
The boy shouldn’t be here, Sido thought, yet the strange thing was that she had no desire for him to leave. He made her feel less forgotten and less hungry.
But if she were caught with him, she would be sent back to the convent to be forgotten again.
“You won’t be,”said Yann.
“How do you do that, know what I am thinking?”
Yann picked up a book and said, “It’s all the same, thinking and saying. Can you read?”
“I would like to read words. Thoughts can be so confusing. Why does this house have secret corridors?”
“My father had the corridors built because he doesn’t like to see the servants. I think you should leave.”
Yann knew he should, but there was something intriguing about this girl that made him forget the reason he had gone off exploring. He smiled at her. “There’s no need to worry. No one will come for you until the show begins.”
This was a strange boy indeed. It was like being in church and feeling that you were opened up and all of you could be seen.
When there was a sharp knock on the door Sido’s heart nearly missed a beat.
Then she realized that the boy with the all-seeing eyes had vanished.
So it was that on the last stroke of midnight the scene was set. All that was keeping the performance from beginning was the late arrival of the marquis. The guests were waiting as an argument broke out between two of their party, a cardinal and an intensely earnest-looking young man called Louis de Jonquières.
“You are a man of the church. The Bible commands us to consider the poor,” said the young man, “In my view, if their lot is to be improved, they should have a say in the way things are run. Come, you must agree that at present our society leaves much to be desired.”
The cardinal looked pained.“My ancestors fought to make this country what it is. We are a great nation, the envy of the world. You surely do not imagine that this has been achieved by the people? It is our duty to retain our position and lead the way.”
“But the nobility cannot be relied upon,” said Louis de Jonquières. “We are not going to change our ways in order to put bread on the tables of the starving. Look what has happened in America! The people rid themselves of English sovereignty and now, with our help, it is a republic. Many of my friends would argue that absolute monarchy is dead.”
The cardinal’s cheeks were now as red as his silk gown.
“Society,” he said haughtily, “will have to evolve, and that, monsieur, will take time.”
“But why should the poor pay for the privileges of the rich? They are so many, and we are so few,” said Louis de Jonquières passionately.
Count Kalliovski, who was enjoying watching the cardinal’s discomfiture, interrupted with a laugh.
“Hahaha…enough, enough,” he said. “For tonight, my friends, let’s leave politics alone. The subject makes dreary companions of us all.”
Now, with the timing of a great actor, the marquis entered the room, accompanied by Sido. He took his seat at the front of the makeshift stage. Sido sat down beside him.
Her attention was caught by the Duchesse de Lamantes, with her fashionably tall coiffure. On top, amongst an assortment of ribbons and flowers, sat a coach made out of gold thread, drawn by six dapple gray horses of blown glass.
“Who,” inquired the duchess, lifting up her spyglass, “is that plain-looking creature? Can it be the marquis’s daughter? What a disappointment for him.”
The marquis silenced the company. “I hope I haven’t missed any of this intriguing little performance of yours, Count Kalliovski.”
“Not at all, my dear friend,” said the count. “As you can see, the curtain has not yet been drawn.” He clapped his hands for silence.
“Messieurs et mesdames, to thank the marquis for this splendid evening I have brought him a show from the theater at the rue du Temple— I give you the People’s Pierrot.”
There was a round of applause as the curtain was pulled back and Topolain brought the Pierrot to the front of the stage. The magician started as always by demonstrating to the audience its lack of strings.
“Monsieur le Marquis, Count Kalliovski, my lords and ladies,” he announced with a flourish, “I have here the wonder of Paris. He can walk! He can talk! Moreover, he can look into the future, see into the depths of your hearts, and know your darkest secrets.”
“Why would it want to do that?” interrupted the marquis, “It seems most impertinent.”
A titter of laughter echoed around the room. Topolain stopped, uncertain whether he should continue or wait.
To his relief, the Pierrot stood up and opened its steely glass eyes. It stretched out its wooden fingers and moved its wooden limbs. There was complete silence.
Topolain recovered himself and began to work his audience. He lifted up the Pierrot’s baggy blue top to show the carved wooden torso. He tapped it with his hand; it made a pleasingly solid sound.
“Bravo! An artful mystery indeed,” said the marquis. Count Kalliovski stared fixedly at the wooden Pierrot; he too was intrigued to know how the strange doll worked. “Ask the Pierrot a question.”said Topolain,“I promise you the answer will not disappoint.”
Yann, from his vantage point hidden in the shadows, could see the stage and the audience clearly. Têtu, standing beside him, was working the Pierrot, though how he did it remained to Yann a profound mystery. It was their combined talents that made the show the success it was.
“Emmm…Tell me then, what kind of dog have I got?” said a lady with face patches and a painted fan.
This was what Yann could do, read minds and throw his voice so that it sounded as if the Pierrot was talking.
“A spaniel. She had puppies three days ago.”
The lady laughed. “How charming, and how clever.”
Now it started just as it had done in the theater earlier that evening, a ribbon of silly questions neatly tied up and answered to everyone’s satisfaction. Yann felt pleased that nothing more taxing had been asked of him. Two shows a night was hard work, especially for Têtu.
Just then Louis de Jonquières remarked, “If the Pierrot is right about small things, then maybe he can inform us on the bigger questions of the day.”
“Really, monsieur!” said the Duchesse de Lamantes. “Why do you insist on being so
“Forgive me,” said Louis de Jonquières, “but I am curious. Tell me, Pierrot, will the present regime fall?”
With this question the room changed. Yann saw in the slipstream of his mind an audience of headless people, blood running down their fine clothes. He heard the Pierrot say, as if from many miles away, “A thousand years of French kings are coming to an end.”
The audience began to shift on their chairs.
Topolain rushed toward the front of the stage. “The doll jests,” he cried. “Please now ask him a question he can answer.”
Louis de Jonquières pushed back his chair and stood up.“Perhaps he would care to give us his candid opinion as to whether France will evolve itself into a constitutional monarchy.”
“Please, monsieur,” interrupted Topolain, “my doll is no political fortune-teller.”
“But you said, sir, that he can see into the future. I am merely asking what he sees.”
“Well…watches, snuffboxes, trinkets, bonbons, and the like,” said Topolain. He felt he was losing his grip. What on earth had come over Yann, that he would say something so dangerous?
“Humor me,” the young man persisted.
Yann looked out at all the fine ladies and gentlemen, at the emeralds, rubies, and diamonds that glittered on wilted flesh. Louis de Jonquières appeared to be holding his blood-soaked head under his arm. Yann heard the Pierrot say, “I see you all drowning in blood.”
This remark was so unexpected and so shocking that Topolain burst out laughing. “As you see, messieurs and mesdames, on the question of politics the Pierrot is but a wooden doll.”
None of the guests were laughing.
“A doll indeed,” said the marquis solemnly. He turned to his guests. “I can assure you, my dear friends, that such a thing would never happen here. It must be an English doll!” There was a ripple of nervous laughter. “In that country of barbarians, yes, maybe. Look at what they did to their King Charles the First—chopped off his head! We would never fall so low.”
There was a murmur of approval. Everyone applauded.
Count Kalliovski watched with interest. He had sat there, judge and jury on the fate of Topolain and Têtu, and had come to his verdict. This would be their last ever performance. After tonight the old fool and his friend would be dead.
“Thank you, that will be all,” said the marquis, dismissing Topolain. “I believe the entertainment, if you can call it that, is over. ”
“Not quite yet,” said the count. “I believe Monsieur Topolain is celebrated for a trick that he does with a pistol. He is the only man in Europe who claims that no bullet can
“Impossible!” said the marquis.
“Well then, let us see for ourselves,” said the count.
Topolain was on his own. In his mind’s eye he saw the Grim Reaper climb out of the wooden skull, grow in size, and stand there watching him, just like Kalliovski. For one moment he contemplated escaping, but he could see Milkeye standing guard at the library doors. If he ran, it would be the end for all of them. He who thought himself a coward now showed the bravery of a lion. Always the showman, he brought out the pistol and a bullet and showed them to the audience.
“I will prove to you that I am invincible. This bullet will be fired at my very heart, and yet I will live to tell the tale. Now, I require an assistant.”
He looked out into the audience, knowing full well who would stand up.
“You need someone with an accurate eye. I flatter myself that I am that man,” said Count Kalliovski.
Topolain wished that he had at least drunk more of the marquis’s very fine cognac. He loaded the pistol and handed it to the count, who took his time inspecting it. Only Topolain saw that with sleight of hand he had interfered with the weapon.
“When I raise my handkerchief, you will fire.”
“Wait,” said the count. “Have you forgotten? Should you not say some magic words to keep you safe?”
Oh, Topolain remembered all right, but he knew there were no words to keep him safe.
The count’s voice broke through his memories. “No bullet . . .”
“No bullet,” repeated Topolain, “can harm me. I have drunk from the cup of everlasting life.”
With these words he walked away bravely as if he were about to fight a duel, though, unlike Kalliovski, he was unarmed. He looked his murderer straight in the eyes as he lifted his white handkerchief.
The count pulled the trigger. There was a loud retort, followed by the acrid smell of gunpowder and scorched flesh. Topolain stumbled and the audience gasped as they watched the handkerchief he was holding turn bright red.
Topolain held up the bullet and showed it to the audience. He staggered forward to take a final bow.
The curtains were drawn and the audience clapped politely. By now they had lost interest.
“Most peculiar,” said the marquis. “Come, I think we are all in need of champagne. Let us go upstairs, where the card tables demand our attention.”
The great library doors were opened and music filtered into the room. The marquis led the way out, quite forgetting his daughter, who stood staring transfixed at the curtains as the other guests filed past her.
None of them turned around as there was a thud from backstage.
Death had made his entrance upon the small stage. He was all too visible to the magician. He had the strangest sensation of becoming detached from his body, connected only by spider threads of silver memory.
Now he was floating up over the guests, past the crowded bookshelves toward the bright painted ceiling.
The silver threads snapped and he was free.
Caught in a gust of wind, he was blown out of the library and into the hall with the doors had been opened to let in a latecomer. The snow flurried in as Jacques Topolain glided out into the dark night.
He saw no more, he heard no more, he was no more.
Yann had rushed with Têtu to help. He had taken one look at Topolain and seen Death’s black gown trail across the stage.
Têtu put his head to Topolain’s chest, listening for a heartbeat. He shook his head. There was nothing to be done.
“It has never gone wrong before. Why now?” cried Yann.
Têtu was examining the weapon.
“The pistol has been tampered with. Topolain didn’t stand a chance. He was murdered.”
The essence of Topolain had gone, snuffed out like a candle. Only the body that housed him was left lying on the stage in a pool of congealing blood, with Têtu kneeling beside him, tears rolling down his cheeks, rocking back and forth on his heels and sobbing.
Yann put a gentle hand on the dwarf’s shoulder and bent down to whisper to him. “We have to leave.”
Têtu was in a bad way, already exhausted from doing two performances in one night. The shock of losing such a dear friend had taken all his strength away and robbed him of his senses. All Yann could think was that they must somehow get out of here.
Out in the hall, the guests were making their way up the grand staircase. Sido felt perplexed by their indifference. Surely they realized that the magician wasn’t acting, surely they realized he had been seriously hurt. Why did no one summon a surgeon to help?
She turned in desperation to the duchess. “I think the magician has been wounded.”
“Nonsense, child! It was just playacting.” Her eyes searched the room for more distinguished company. “I can assure you that your magician will live to work another day.” She walked away, leaving Sido alone.
I don’t want to grow up to be like that, thought Sido. Sido would have liked to go back into the library to see for herself what had happened to the magician, but one of the count’s men was standing guard outside and she knew that if she moved any closer she might attract unwanted attention.
Beside her stood a young lady in an elaborate pink silk dress, with a hawk-nosed gentleman.
“Do you remember the time the marquis brought in a fortune-teller? ” the young lady was asking.
Her admirer shook his head. “Alas, I was not invited.”
“The marquis sent his gamekeeper out into the countryside and he brought back this old Gypsy. She refused to tell our fortunes, no matter how much gold she was given. She would only speak to the marquis and no one else.”
“What did she say?”
“It was so ridiculous, it made us all laugh. She told the marquis he would lose everything to the king of the Gypsies.”
Sido, who had been half listening to this and half looking about her, caught a glimpse of light coming from under the staircase. A door opened and a footman came through, carrying a tray of champagne glasses.
She knew then what she was going to do. Without giving it a second thought she slipped to the door. She knew there must be a way through the secret corridors to the library. It was just a matter of finding the right door.
Gently, Yann helped Têtu to stand and with difficulty guided him up the spiral staircase and along the wooden gantry to the concealed door in the bookshelves. What surprised Yann was that although he himself was well aware of the danger they
were in, he felt no fear. His vision was clear, colors were electric, and everything seemed sharper. Every nerve of him felt completely alive.
But the concealed door was shut fast.
“Don’t worry, I’ll get you out of here,” Yann said soothingly. He heard the library door open and then close with a firm click, he pulled Têtu back into the shadows.
Count Kalliovski called out, “I know you’re both there. My man tells me there is a boy as well. There’s no point hiding. Listen to me carefully. If you don’t want to go the same way as Topolain, you’d better tell me how the Pierrot works.”
Yann could hear the count walking to and fro, trying to determine where they were.“I have examined the doll. It is a piece of solid wood: It could not have been worked from the inside. I am a man of science. Come now, tell me its secret.”
Têtu’s small legs had started to shudder as if caught in a trap. Yann heard the scrabble of Balthazar’s claws up the spiral staircase and there was the dog staring at them with his yellow eyes, his mouth snarled back, his fangs shining bright with saliva. Balthazar growled.
“Bring them to me,” commanded the count.
Yann pointed his fingers directly at the dog’s eyes and spoke softly in a language that Balthazar seemed to understand. Tail between his legs, the dog went back down the stairs whimpering.
“What have you done to him, Têtu? What Gypsy sorcery is this?” demanded Count Kalliovski angrily.
Yann moved silently toward the banister rail. To his despair he saw Milkeye enter the room. Quickly, he moved back to the darkness of the bookshelves and tried again to push with all his strength upon the concealed door.
“I want the dwarf and I want that boy,” said the count. “Don’t let them get away.”
“Yes, master.” Milkeye was already at the bottom of the staircase.
For the last time Yann tried the door.
He could hear Milkeye getting closer, but still the door wouldn’t give.
Yann would have to stand and fight—that was all that was left to him.
Suddenly the door opened. Standing in the darkness of the passageway he could see the girl.
“Help me,” he whispered, and together they pulled Têtu through.
By the time Milkeye had taken the last few steps to the top of the gantry, there was nobody there.
Only when they were in Sido’s chamber with the screen moved to block off the peephole did Yann finally feel safe, safe enough to say, “We must lie him down.”
“Of course,” said Sido, pulling back the bedcovers.
It took all his strength to get Têtu’s heavy body up on the bed. He was an alarming sight, with all the color drained from his face. Hastily Yann covered the dwarf with a quilt, his anger subsiding a touch when he saw Sido standing there anxiously watching.
The only hope he had of escaping lay with her.
“Who is he?” she asked.
“His name is Têtu. He’s looked after me since I was born. We work together, with Topolain.”
“What about the magician?” asked Sido. “Is he dead?”
“His heart gave out,” said Yann.
“I don’t believe that.” She said it so bluntly that he knew she couldn’t be fooled.
“No, it isn’t true, but there’s no time to explain. We have to get out of here. I need your help.”
“But what can I do?”
“I don’t think I am brave.”
He smiled at her. “I know you are. Will you stay here while I search for a way out?”
The thought of being alone in the room with the sleeping dwarf terrified Sido. But when she looked into his dark eyes she knew she would do as he asked.
With a sickening feeling in her stomach she nodded.
The silence after he had gone felt almost solid, as if it were pressing down on her chest, squeezing the air out of her. She sat on a chair by the bed and told herself again and again to be calm.
A few minutes later there was a knock on the door. Sido felt every nerve in her body tighten. Checking that Têtu was completely covered, she took a deep breath, and said, “Come in.”
Count Kalliovski stood in the doorway. Balthazar at his side.“I came to see if you were all right. You vanished so quickly after the little show.” He entered the room, closing the door behind him. “Why, my dear child, how pale you are. You look as if you’ve seen a ghost.”
Sido moved toward the bed.
“It was only an illusion, you know. No harm was done.”
Despite herself she began to shiver, and as if in response, Balthazar started to growl softly. Count Kalliovski looked around him suspiciously.
“I was feeling very tired, sir,” said Sido hastily. “I came up to my chamber to lie down. I have not eaten since early this morning and there has been more excitement than I am used to.”
“Your life at the convent is, I imagine, a quiet one,” said the count.
Sido nodded and wondered if her legs would continue to support her. They felt like hollow reeds shaking under her petticoats. The count stood facing her, his shadow casting a monstrous figure on the wall behind him, one that appeared to possess a multitude of hands, all poking and prodding into the dark recesses of the bedchamber.
The bed with the sleeping body of the dwarf was only three steps away. Balthazar had begun to edge closer, his growling becoming more insistent.
“You are alone, of course?” asked the count.
“Why, yes, sir.”
“Do you mind if I see what has caught Balthazar’s fancy?” The count moved forward. Now only two steps separated him from the dwarf.
“Please, sir,” pleaded Sido. “I am frightened of dogs, and it is clear that yours does not like me.”
“You have no need to fear Balthazar,” said the count with a smile. “He will not harm you. He only growls at strangers.”
If Count Kalliovski moved one more step, it would all be over. She would be sent back to the convent in disgrace. As for the boy and the dwarf, she hardly dared think about it.
“Please, sir, it is not right or proper for a man to visit a girl’s chamber. The Mother Superior【注1】would be shocked to hear of such a thing.” She found to her surprise that she had tears in her eyes. "Please,” she begged again, “don’t let your dog come any nearer.”
The room began to spin and she thought she was about to faint. She grabbed at the four-poster bed, holding on to consciousness with all her might.
The count’s voice softened. “My dear child,” he said, “I had no desire to alarm you. You must be faint for lack of food. I will see that some supper is brought up to you straightaway. It is outrageous that you’ve been so neglected.”
He gave a deep bow and called for Balthazar.
“Forgive the intrusion,” he said, closing the door softly behind him.
Sido remained statue-still, listening to the scratching of claws and the clicking of heels as they retreated into the distance. Only then did she loosen her grip. She sank to the floor, resting her head in her hands, and prayed that Yann would hurry.
Carefully and soundlessly, Yann made his way along the secret passages to the stone staircase and looked over the wrought-iron banister.
A man stood in the stairwell and stamped snow from his boots. There must be a door to the outside world there. Yann was returning the way he had come when a pinprick of light caught his attention. He looked through the peephole into a grand bedchamber, with huge displays of white tulips and black roses on the table. The large dog bowl sitting on the floor that told Yann that this was where Count Kalliovski slept.
If nothing else, they were owed the blood money that had been promised to them at the beginning of this nightmare. How would they get back to Paris without a sou【注2】to their name?
Yann pushed against the door and slipped inside. An eerie red light shone from the coals in the grate. The walls were painted with hunting scenes that in the spit and hiss of the firelight appeared to be moving. The wooden skull sat on the table. It might have been valuable, but he knew also that it was cursed, and would bring whoever took it nothing but bad luck. Next to it was a necklace—a blood-red ribbon with seven crimson stones set into it. Without thinking, he put it in his pocket. It would be something to show Têtu.
He began to search the room for money. Yann knew that all objects, great and small, have a spirit. Sometimes, if you listen carefully, you can almost hear the sound they make. Hidden deep in among the drapes of the bed was a purse. Yann picked it up and put it in his pocket, where it felt pleasingly heavy. Now he had to get out of here as fast as he could.
Sido hadn’t dared move since the count had left. Yann found her still sitting on the floor, her head in her hands. She looked up at him.
“Where have you been? Count Kalliovski was here.”
“It took longer than I thought. We’ll be gone in a minute.” He went straight to the bed and pulled back the covers. “Wake up,” he said gently, shaking Têtu back into life as he helped him to his feet.
“Where am I?” said Têtu, who for a moment thought that he must have woken from a bad dream. Yann said something to him in a language Sido had never heard before. Têtu gulped as the memory of what had happened came back to him.
Yann turned back to look at Sido, sitting crumpled and abandoned on the floor, and for a moment he had an overwhelming desire to take her with them, to save her from being one of the headless ones.
There was a knock at the door. Sido scrambled to her feet. Quickly Yann and the dwarf disappeared behind the screen and through the panel, just as the count entered, followed by a footman carrying a tray with Sido’s supper. This time the dog at the count’s heels was silent.
Kalliovski’s eyes darted around the room as he ordered the footman to straighten out the bed.
“There is no need,” said Sido quickly.
"Continue,” said the count smoothly, addressing the footman. Balthazar had begun sniffing the air.
“I hope you don’t mind if I keep you company while you dine?”
Sido knew that the longer he stayed, the longer the dwarf and the boy had to make their escape.
“I would like that,” she said.
Count Kalliovski sat down on a chair by the bed.
The dog at his feet let out a heavy sigh and, putting his head on his outstretched paws, closed his eyes.
“I think your dog is more used to me now,” said Sido.
“So it seems. When you have finished, I will take you down to see the fireworks. Your father assures me that they will be magnificent.”
Sido watched the count as with hooded eyes he searched the room once more, looking for evidence to confirm his suspicions.
Her instinct told her that there was no escape: This dark spider was waiting patiently to catch her in his gold-spun web.
The kitchens of the château were busy.
The gambling tables demanded a constant supply of drinks and petit four【注1】. Jean Rollet, the chef, and his staff would be working all night until the very last guest had left or retired. The arrival of two more in the kitchen went almost unnoticed except as extra pairs of hands to help.
“Hey, you there,” a valet shouted at Yann,
“the viscount needs this tray taken up to him at once.”
Yann shook his head. “We are the entertainers, hired for the count’s show.”
The valet threw up his hands in disgust. “What are you doing in here, then?”
Yann felt bewildered. He had never been in such a large kitchen before, with servants running backward and forward, the chef swearing and stamping his foot, bells ringing, the noise, the smells, the heat. It was like a furnace.
Têtu started to sway. He was going to fall over if he didn’t sit down. Yann grabbed a stool.
“No you don’t,” said one of the cooks, snatching it back and lifting her wooden spoon as if it were a weapon. “Away with you, Gypsies.”
“We have to get back to Paris.”
“Well, what are you doing asking me? Do I look as if I have a magic carpet?” Then, seeing the state of Têtu, she softened. “You’d better go and ask the coachmen in there.”
Yann helped Têtu through the kitchen to a small antechamber where a group of men were sitting at a table.
“My friend needs to sit down,” said Yann, and one of the men pulled out a chair for him.
“He don’t look too perky. What’s wrong with him?”
“We need help. Are any of you Paris-bound tonight?”
“Not if I can help it.” said one of the men.
“With luck, I’ll be playing cards till dawn and then some.”
Suddenly Yann felt as if he had hit a wall. Just when there seemed hope that they might escape, all was lost. Time was slipping away; he knew it would not be long before the count found out about the secret passages.
“Here,” said a man with a shining bald head, pouring some wine into a glass. “Give this to Titch. He looks as if he could do with it.”
“Thank you,” said Yann, helping Têtu with the wine.
Slowly he began to look more like his old self.
“Has he always been that small, or will he grow?” asked the bald-headed man, laughing.
If Yann had been given a gold coin every time he had heard Têtu insulted they would be rich by now.
Although it riled him, he knew better than to react.
A footman opened the door and poked his head around. “The Viscomtess de Lisle will be staying.”
“Good to know it,” said her coachman. “First sensible thing the old bat’s done in ages.”
“You think so?” laughed the footman. “Well, she wants her pet monkey brought back from Paris. She thinks it’ll be lonely. It’s not your night, Dufort, my old friend.”
“Hasn’t she seen the snow outside?” said Dufort, gesturing toward the window.
“That’s why she wants her monkey.”
“Oh well,” sighed Dufort, "here we go again. I’ll tell you this much,” he muttered into the last dregs of his wine, “one day I’ll be my own master. No more of this come here, go there, lucky-to-have-a-job nonsense.”
All the men laughed. “You know what you can do?” said the bald-headed one. “Write all your grievances out and send them to the king.”
“That’s a good one,” said another, “Maybe the king will be able to get her to behave.”
Everyone burst out laughing, everyone except Dufort, who looked furious as he pulled on his heavy coat, loath to be leaving the warmth and comfort of the kitchens.
“To make matters worse, the roads aren’t safe these days, what with all the bandits and brigands,” he grumbled.
Yann seized his chance. “We will keep you company.”
“What, take a couple of Gypsies like you? Forget it.”
“Wou—Would money change your mind?” asked Yann.
“Would the man in the moon giving me a silver eye make me think different? Of course it would.”
As if from thin air, Yann conjured up five coins and handed one to Dufort. He looked at it carefully, then put it in his mouth and gave it a good bite to check its worth. He didn’t know what to make of this strange pair, the street urchin and the little fellow with the girly, squeaky voice.
“Where did you get this kind of money?” he said.
“We were brought here from Paris to entertain the guests. We were paid handsomely for our trouble,” said Têtu.
“Then where’s your driver, Titch?”
“We can’t find him. He must have left earlier to avoid the worst of the weather.”
Yann knew that Dufort was wavering between doubt and the certainty of the
coin that he held in his hand. “I’ll give you this now and as much again when we reach the city. Is that fair?”
“All right,” said Dufort reluctantly, “as long as you don’t tell anyone. The old bat’s most particular about who is allowed in her carriage. Monkeys yes, dwarfs and dogs no.”
The coachman led the way across the yard to the carriage and let Têtu in.
“If you don’t mind, I’d like the boy to ride with me and keep an eye out for thieves. When we’re near Paris, I’ll lock you both inside. Don’t want the riffraff trying to hitch a ride, do we?”
He handed Yann a heavy coat to wear. It nearly drowned him.
It was a small carriage with two young horses to pull it, both of whom seemed high-strung and reluctant to leave the warmth of the stable. Finally, with much urging, they made their way down the avenue of trees whose branches were full of little lights that twinkled like stars. Beyond the estate lay a vast black abyss, waiting to swallow them up.
“I hate driving at night,” said Dufort miserably, his breath coming out of him in a foggy mist. “It gives me the creeps.”
“Ah, what’s that?” He flinched as the sky above the château erupted with the sound of fireworks. They exploded into the darkness, painting patterns of light in the shape of stars, serpents, comets, and chrysanthemums. It was an astounding sight in this landscape of ice and snow.
Terrified by the noise, the horses reared up. Dufort, lost control of the reins, grabbing at the sides of the carriage to stop himself from being thrown to the ground. The horses, now wild with fear, were galloping. Up ahead the road turned, and Yann could see that at this speed the coach would skid on the ice. With difficulty he scrambled down from the coachman’s seat.
“You’re mad!” yelled Dufort, as with one measured leap Yann managed to mount the first horse. Holding on to its neck for all he was worth, he leaned forward and whispered into its pinned-back ears. At the sound of his soft voice both horses became calmer and slowed down until they finally came to a halt, steam rising from their glossy coats. Yann climbed down and stroked their muzzles, talking to them.
“You’re a brave one and no mistake,” said Dufort, wiping the sweat from his forehead. “I thought I was a goner back there. What did you say to them?”
Yann shrugged, looking back to see the last of the fireworks.
“The only other person I’ve seen talk to horses like that was a Gypsy man. I had a feeling you two had Gypsy blood.”
Yann wasn’t listening. He was wondering if Sido had been allowed to see the fireworks, or if she was still locked in her chamber. He smiled as he stared at the road in front of him. The thought of how angry the count would be to discover that the purse and the red necklace were missing warmed him.
Dufort shivered. “I always think them forests are full of eyes, all watching and waiting.” He laughed. “Tell you this, boy, I’ll be glad when I see the lights of Paris.”
Count Kalliovski, returning to his chamber in the early hours of the morning, looked into the heart of the fire. It had been a good night on the gaming tables. The little black leather-bound notebook that he privately called the Book of Tears was full of IOUs with trembling signatures of desperate souls longing to borrow more, sure that their luck would change.
He had bought himself more foolish-minded men and women, who would soon be asked to pay him back with interest. He put the Book of Tears on the desk. It was only then that he noticed the absence of the red necklace. A cold fury overtook him. He went over to the bed, felt in the drapes for the purse, and cursed out loud when he found it gone.
With rising anger he summoned Milkeye.
“Where are they?”
“We’re still looking, master.”
“Why haven’t you found them?”
“We did not know there were passages behind the walls.”
“Show me,” said the count coldly.
Milkeye opened the hidden door.
The count turned his icy gaze upon his servant, and pinned him up against the wall.
“I made you and I can destroy you, and I will. I want both of them. Do you understand?”
注1：petit four：一种小甜食，这是个法文名字，意思是“小烤箱”，之所以叫这个名字可能是最早的petit four是在主烤箱旁边的小烤箱烤制的。
Monsieur Aulard, the theater manager, was not a morning person. The previous night he had been out drinking with some actors. Now, red-faced and snoring, he was fast asleep.
It took him a few minutes to realize that the terrible banging sound was not coming from the inside of his head. The knocking just kept on, getting louder and more urgent. Finally, barefoot and shivering, Monsieur Aulard dragged himself out of his warm bed. His head felt like a rotten apple. The source of the noise was coming from the front door. He fumbled with the lock until finally he managed to open it. Two Yanns and two Têtus floated before him. They were swaying back and forth, overlapping each other.
Something was missing from this unsettling picture.
Têtu walked into the apartment, followed by Yann. Even half awake and with a thumping headache, Monsieur Aulard could see that Têtu was in a bad way.
“My dear friend, are you unwell?” He looked back at the door, expecting to see Topolain come panting up the stairs behind.
“Topolain’s dead,” said Têtu with a sob.
“Dead?” repeated Monsieur Aulard. “How can he be dead?”
“A bullet,” said Têtu, his face collapsing as tears appeared in his watery red eyes. “He was shot like a dog.”
“No, no, no! Mort bleu! Yann, speak to me, tell me this is a nightmare!” He grabbed hold of the boy’s flimsy coat so that the sleeve came away with an unforgiving ripping sound.
“Count Kalliovski shot him,” said Yann.
“But why?” Monsieur Aulard’s teeth were beginning to chatter. He sat down heavily on an armchair whose horsehair insides were spilling out. It creaked alarmingly under the weight of his hangover.
“The trick must have gone wrong. It must have been an accident.”
“It was no accident,” said Têtu. “The count tampered with the pistol.”
“But why would Count Kalliovski murder a mere magician?” It was the question Yann had been asking himself all the way back to Paris.
"Because,” said Têtu wearily, “Topolain recognized Kalliovski, and instead of keeping quiet he let his tongue get the better of him. Topolain knew him from a long time ago, when he was called by another name.”
Yann could see that if Kalliovski was a fraud he would want no one knowing it. Still, Têtu’s explanation raised more questions than it answered. Yann put a half-frozen pan of wine on the fire to boil, searched through the mess to find some glasses, and cleared the table as Têtu took a loaf from out of his jacket, where it sat before them like a golden brown sun.
At the sight of it, Monsieur Aulard’s attention wavered from his immediate grief. “Where did you get that?” he asked.
“From the Marquis de Villeduval’s kitchen.” Têtu broke off a piece and handed it to him.
The hot wine and bread worked their magic on Monsieur Aulard. With a huge sigh he went to get dressed, reappearing with his wig placed lopsidedly on his head, his waistcoat buttons done up wrong, and his shirt hanging out.
“I have a full house, all tickets sold and no performer!”
“You’ll have to find someone else,” said Têtu.
“Mort bleu,” said Monsieur Aulard. “I tell you, if I weren’t so kindhearted, I would have you two thrown onto the streets for your failure to protect Topolain. Why, he was one of the greatest magicians France has ever seen!” He wiped his eyes and, putting on his heavy outer coat and muffler, opened the front door, letting in a blast of icy wind from the stone stairwell.
“You can’t stay here, you know.”
"Don’t worry, we’ll soon be gone,” said Têtu. “Count Kalliovski is after us. We had trouble getting out of the château alive.”
Monsieur Aulard stopped his tracks and turned around，“Mort bleu! You know who he is too, don’t you?”
“Yes, for my sins, I do.”
“Who is he, then?”
“That,” said Têtu, closing his eyes, “would not be worth my life to tell you.”
Monsieur Aulard arrived at the theater to make inquiries to see who could fill Topolain’s place for the evening performance. He sat at his desk and opened the bottom drawer, where he found a none-too-clean glass and a bottle of wine. He pulled out the cork and poured himself a drink. It tasted good. He closed his eyes, taking another sip.
He opened his eyes with a start. There, sitting in the chair before him, was Count Kalliovski. It was as if the devil himself had appeared from nowhere.
The shock made him choke on his wine, "Mort bleu, you gave me the fright of my life, I didn’t hear you, monsieur!”
“Where are they?” demanded the count.
“Where are who?” said Monsieur Aulard, hurriedly refilling his glass.
The count’s hand in its black leather glove moved effortlessly toward the stem. “You know very well who I am after. The boy and the dwarf.”
“I know no such thing,” said Monsieur Aulard, trying to summon up much-needed indignation. “Perhaps you would be kind enough to tell me where Topolain is.” “Topolain is dead. I’ll wager you’ve been told as much. It was I who pulled the trigger. A most unfortunate accident,” said the count.
Monsieur Aulard felt an icy trickle of sweat creep down his back.
“You will tell me where they are hiding. I know you know where they are,” said the count, standing up.
“I assure you I do not.” said Monsieur Aulard. Each word sounded shakier than the last.
“You have until the curtain goes up at seven to tell me,” said the count. “If you fail”—here he gave a mean, thin-lipped smile—“I hope for your sake that you have made peace with your Maker.”
The door closed behind him. Poor Monsieur Aulard waited to make sure that he had gone. Then, grabbing hold of the bottle, he drank what was left.
The lights and smoky warmth of Moet’s Tavern seemed like a slice of heaven in this frozen city. As usual, it was full of hot-headed youths and men arguing over the state of the kingdom. Têtu and Yann found a table tucked away in the corner out of sight. And ordered the dish of the day. Only when Têtu’s fingers finally felt that they belonged to him again did he begin to sew the sleeve back onto the boy’s coat.
Yann felt not only that his coat had come apart but that his world had been torn to pieces. Everything had changed the minute the pistol had gone off, killing Topolain.
What he knew about the past amounted to no more than a few facts, bright beads from an unthreaded necklace, reluctantly given to him by Têtu, who refused to join them together. Yann had no father that he knew of; his mother had been a dancer in a circus, and had died soon after he was born; Margoza was the name of a village of which Têtu had fond memories. His survival had been due to Têtu, and Têtu alone.
What he knew about the dwarf was not much more. He had once been a jester to a king; which king, he wouldn’t say. He had traveled the world with a dancing bear. All that had happened a long time before he had found himself with a baby to care for. Never once had he mentioned Count Kalliovski, or who he might be. So why had the count tampered with the pistol? What exactly was it that Topolain and Têtu knew?
The more Yann thought about it, the more certain he was that there was one question which if answered truthfully, might string together all the beads on the necklace.
“Who is Count Kalliovski?”
Têtu shrugged his shoulders.
“One day I will tell you,” he said finally, cutting the thread with his teeth. He shook out the coat and handed it back to Yann.
“I’m old enough to know right away.”
“Yannick, you know I love you as if you were my son. Don’t you trust me?”
“Then believe me, I will answer all your questions, but not now. Now is not the time. Now is not the place.”
Three tables away sat a group of young men, one of whom had a nose that looked as if it had been in an argument with a fist. His skin was pockmarked and he was talking loudly about the rights of citizens. He had no doubt drunk more than a skinful of wine, for he kept standing up and shouting out: “Citizens, the wind is changing! The old regime will be blown away. All is dust, all is dust!”
His friends quickly pulled him back down onto his seat.
Yann had been watching all this intently and did not at first notice Têtu wrapping his muffler about him and putting on his hat.
“Where are you going?”
“I have someone to see. I’ll be back in a couple of hours. You are to wait here for me. If Milkeye comes looking for us, make yourself scarce.”
Têtu set off purposefully, across the Pont Marie toward the left bank.
He knew that he had to get the boy out of Paris. The only hope of doing so lay with a friend of his, the English banker Charles Cordell. He walked on, remembering the night all those years ago at the theater in Le Havre, where he had first met Cordell. The two of them had struck up an unlikely friendship. Their mutual interest, to begin with at least, was magic, for Cordell fancied himself something of an amateur conjurer.
Cordell soon realized that prejudice made people underestimate the dwarf. Têtu was not taken seriously, so he was told things other men would never have heard. Ladies confided in him, young men spouted their views. The dwarf listened to the gossip of the coffeehouses, the prittle-prattle of the salons, and the oratory of the clubs. Cordell, like Têtu, knew that these places were where the real intrigue lay.
The two would meet regularly at the Café Royal, where Têtu would tell Cordell all he had heard and seen. This information gave the banker a clearer idea of what was going on and how best to advise his clients.
The snow was still falling as Têtu made his way toward the rue du Dragon, with its grand, imposing houses. He stood waiting for what felt like a lifetime before a housekeeper came hurrying out, carrying a lantern.“Is Monsieur Cordell in? I need to see him urgently. Will you say that Têtu is here?”
The housekeeper went inside, closing the door behind her. Têtu stood waiting, stamping his feet and blowing on his frozen hands. The door opened again and he was shown into the hall. His teeth were chattering as the housekeeper took his coat, hat, and muffler. He stamped the rest off his shoes as he heard the door above him open, and looked up the stairwell at Charles Cordell.
Têtu had never been more pleased to see his friend’s grave, bespectacled face.“Why, my dear friend, you look half frozen,” said Cordell, coming forward with his hand outstretched.
“I need your help. I am in a great deal of trouble,” said Têtu. And before he had even been taken into the elegant drawing room he had told Cordell the story of Topolain’s death.
“He is a great loss,” said Cordell, taking Têtu over to the fire and bringing out a bottle of cognac. “So . . .Kalliovski . . .”
Têtu nodded. “I have been a complete idiot,” he said angrily. “I knew he was a master of disguise, yet I too was nearly taken in by him. Do you know what gave him away? His hands, his large, ugly hands.”
He made a sound that could have been mistaken for a laugh, though Cordell heard it as pent-up fury.
“May I ask why you are so afraid of Kalliovski?”
“Sometimes you meet someone you know is touched by evil. Kalliovski is such a man. We met when Topolain and I were working in St. Petersburg, where the count made his money by cheating at the card tables. He was interested in us because of the magic; we didn’t much like him, stayed out of his way. But he became obsessed with a friend of ours, a young dancer. In the end, in fear of her life, she ran away from him and we went with her. The idea was that we would protect her, for we had seen what he was like when he didn’t get what he wanted.”
“He followed us to France. He found us, and he killed her with his bare hands. I could do nothing to save her. After that he disappeared. I first heard the name Kalliovski shortly after I met you, but I had no inkling that it was the same man. The Count was a mysterious figure, who claimed to be on the verge of creating an automaton that could pass as a human. From all accounts, he was a man who would sell his soul to the devil to learn the secret of creating life.”
“My dear friend,” said Cordell, “it seems to me that you have unwittingly turned over a stone and found there a deadly creature.”
“There is one other thing you should know,” said Têtu, and he pulled from his pocket the red necklace.“Yann found this in Kalliovski’s room.” He handed Cordell the thin red ribbon with seven crimson garnets set into it like drops of blood.
“If this were to be worn round the neck,” said Cordell, examining it, “it would look as if your throat had been cut.”
“Precisely,” said Têtu. “The only people who have ever been found wearing such a thing, so I have been told, are dead. I am sure that Kalliovski is in some way involved. This being found in his chamber proves it.”
“Têtu, my dear friend. What can I do to help?”
“I need to disappear. I can’t take the boy with me, it would be impossible. I want him out of the way, for a while at least. Just a few months, that’s all, then he can come back.”
“I am sure my colleague in London, Henry Laxton, wouldn’t mind looking after the boy until things are back to normal. Coincidentally, Laxton has some knowledge of Kalliovski,” said Cordell, refilling Têtu’s glass. “Laxton has a French wife, whose sister was married to the Marquis de Villeduval. Some years ago, when Mrs. Laxton’s sister was killed in an accident, Laxton went to Normandy, to the château of the Villeduvals. It was very odd. The marquis appeared to have no interest in his wife’s death, or in what would happen to their only daughter, Sido.”
“We met the marquis’s daughter,” said Têtu. “She helped us escape.”
“What small circles we all travel in. It was Kalliovski who stopped Henry Laxton from bringing Sido back to London to be brought up by his wife. The marquis didn’t care one way or another, yet for some peculiar reason Kalliovski did.” Cordell handed Têtu an envelope. “Now, here is enough money to pay for your expenses.”
“No, I don’t need it.”
“My dear friend, take it. I know the proprietor at the Hôtel d’Angleterre, a Madame Saltaire. You’ll be safe there. I take it that the boy has no passport?”
“Then I will have to get that organized. You must stay in your room until you hear from me. By the way, how old is the boy?”
“Fourteen. He is like a son to me. I love him as if he were my own flesh and blood.”
Charles Cordell smiled. “I will let Henry Laxton know to expect him.”
The two men shook hands.
Monsieur Aulard returned to the theater just before seven to be told that he had had no visitors and that no one had asked after him. He went up the stairs to his office and opened the door. The room was dark.
Why had no one bothered to light the lamp? He thought irritably, fumbling for the tinderbox. He stumbled, steadying himself on his desk. In the dark he could see an unfamiliar shape.
“Who’s there?” he called.
He lit the wick. Slowly and terribly, the dead body of Topolain was revealed, sitting in his chair. Around his neck was a thin line of dried beads of blood. In his lap was the sawn-off head of the Pierrot, its glass eyes glinting in the lamplight.
Monsieur Aulard’s scream could be heard all the way through the theater and out on the rue du Temple.
Yann had waited in Moet’s Tavern until it had grown dark. He was beginning to think that Têtu was never coming back when, to his great relief, he saw the dwarf’s small shape push and jostle his way to where he was sitting.
“Everything is arranged,” said Têtu. “Come, we must get out of here.”
They walked down a tangle of narrow streets.“Where are we going?” asked Yann.
“To a hotel. We’ll stay there for the night, and then you’ll get the coach to Calais and go to London,” said Têtu.
“London!” said Yann, stunned.
“Come on, keep up.” Têtu was now walking as fast as his legs would allow him. “The sooner we’re off these streets the better.”
The entrance to the Hôtel d’Angleterre was a wooden door that opened into a courtyard. Here Têtu, as Cordell had suggested, took a room for the night.
“Why are we going to London?”
“Not we; you. You are going to London Paris is not safe. Kalliovski wants us both dead. I can disappear—”
Yann started to interrupt.
“Wait, wait. Before you say anything, listen. I have a great friend, an English banker called Charles Cordell. He has agreed to send you to London and put you in the care of his partner Henry Laxton”
“I’m not leaving you.”
Têtu’s face looked as hard as ever Yann had seen it.“Listen to me. You are not a baby. It will only be for a few months. You will do this and that is the end of it.”
Yann was too exhausted to argue any more, too angry to sleep. He lay facedown on the bed, furious, only to find that when he woke up it was morning.
Yann sat up and said, “I still don’t understand why I have to go away.”
“I’m going to explain. Will you listen, or are you going to block up your ears with anger, so that you won’t hear anything but your own thunder?”
“You’ve often asked me about your mother, and now I will tell you,” said Têtu. “Your mother loved you dearly. She wanted no harm to come to you, and I promised her I would keep your Gypsy origins quiet.”
"Gypsy!” said Yann. It was a word had followed them wherever they went . . . a swearword, a figure of speech, an insult. It confirmed what he already knew, that he and Têtu were misfits, outcasts living on the edges of society. He had never imagined it to be the truth. He and Têtu spoke Romany for their own protection, Têtu had told him, because few people understood it or knew where it came from. Now he could see that these roots went far deeper than he had ever thought, and he wished with all his heart that it were not so.
“Yannick, we are an ancient and noble people,” said Têtu. “Take from this what is good, and learn from it. I regret that you couldn’t grow up in a Gypsy world where you would have known our ways and secrets.”
“I’ve asked you so often if we were Gypsies, and you’ve always shrugged your shoulders and said no,” said Yann.
“It was for your own safety. You know there is a price on every Gypsy’s head. The gallows and the huntsman’s gun wait for us.”
The seriousness of what Têtu was saying took away all Yann’s anger. Maybe this explained why they were not like other people. Maybe it at last explained why he could read minds and see into the future.
Yann sat down on the edge of the bed. “Go on.”
“Your mother was called Anis, and she was beautiful. She had your eyes, dark as ebony and deep as a well. When I met her at the circus in St. Petersburg I knew straightaway that she was Romany, like me. Anis’s mother was the keeper of the arts of sorcery among her tribe. She had extraordinary powers. She could move objects without touching them. Her daughter could do it too.”
“And so can you.”
“All objects have threads of light coming from them. If you can see this light, then you can become a master, able to move things at your own will. Think, Yann, what power that would give you.”
“Is that how you work the Pierrot? Is it? Tell me.”
Têtu said nothing.
“All right,” said Yann. “If you won’t answer that, tell me how my mother ended up in a circus.”
“Something terrible happened. It was Anis’s wedding day. She was fourteen and the boy was sixteen. She believed that they were one soul divided into two bodies, and that only when they were together were they whole. The ceremony started at daybreak round the campfire, when the marriage was sealed with a cut made on the bride’s right wrist and the groom’s left wrist; then their hands were bound together and they took an oath to free one another when love had left their hearts. There was singing and dancing to celebrate—and then the huntsmen came to kill the Gypsies. Anis’s mother saw them sitting on their fine horses watching, waiting. She ordered her people to carry on dancing, shouting ‘Life is life!’ The Gypsies went on playing their fiddles and singing their songs. They didn’t run. Until the shooting started.”
“But my mother managed to get away,” said Yann.
“Anis said she never knew how. It was as if her mother had made her invisible. But she remembered the last thing her bridegroom said to her: ‘In death they will never catch us, my beloved one. We are birds, we are free.’ She remembered nothing more. When she woke up she found herself in the hollow of a tree. It was getting dark. She stood in the middle of that clearing and saw them all hanging in the trees like songbirds, colorful but lifeless: her bridegroom, her mother, every one of her tribe. Even the babies had been slaughtered. Blood dripped from the oak leaves. That day, her wedding day, she lost everything. She ran far away and joined a circus, never speaking of her Gypsy roots, though her dark hair and eyes told the truth of it. She never spoke of it, that is, until I met her.”
Yann was very quiet.
It was Têtu who broke the silence.
“It is nothing to be ashamed of. Far from it—it is a source of pride.”
“So—— My father was the Gypsy boy my mother married?”
“No, Yannick, he was killed some seven years before you were born, but Anis believed you were a gift from the spirit of her one true love. We Gypsies know and
understand things that those attached to houses and land will never comprehend. We have outlived and outwitted great civilizations.”
“Do you think I have inherited those gifts?”
“You are a natural. You have an exceptional talent already.”
There was a knock at the door. On Cordell’s instructions, Madame Saltaire had brought a package containing Yann’s travel documents and a passport.
“I’ll take you to the Palais Royal, to the coach.” said Têtu after she’d gone. “A man called Tull, an Englishman, will escort you. We must hurry.”
Yann wanted to say again that he didn’t want to go. This time, though, he knew it was useless. Instead he made up his mind that in this new country he would let no one know of his Gypsy origins. There he would have a fresh start. For once in his life he would be like everyone else.
As they left, Têtu had pulled Yann’s coat about him and buttoned it up as if he were a child. Yann had then an image of his mother, and a terrible sense of loss rushed in upon him.
“I can do that,” he said.
Still Têtu insisted, standing on tiptoe to put the muffler around Yann’s neck and tucking it carefully into his coat.
The hall of the hotel was empty. Far too late did Yann sense the menace in the general silence. Têtu seized Yann’s hand. "Now. We’ll make a run for it.”
A shot rang out, and suddenly Yann realized he was dragging a dead weight behind him. He stopped and stared down at Têtu, who was lying crumpled in the snow.
“Get up! Get up!”
The dwarf’s eyes were closed. His skin had already started looking translucent.
“No!” shouted Yann. “No!” He tried with all his strength to lift Têtu.
At that moment he saw the red necklace lying there in the blood.
“It’s no good,” whispered the dwarf. “Go, run like the wind. Life is life, Yannick.”
Yann felt a cold leather-gloved hand come down hard on his shoulder.
“Got you!” said a voice as the shadow of Milkeye fell over him. “There’s no escaping.”
Yann could feel the burning heat of the pistol butt as it was pushed into the side of his head. Suddenly everything both slowed down and speeded up. Yann shut his eyes. In that second, when life and death hung in the balance, the trigger clicked, the hammer jammed.
Yann opened his eyes to see Milkeye staring ferociously at his weapon.
Madame Saltaire ran out of the hotel screaming, hands flying. Yann twisted himself free, conscious of nothing but escape. He was already at the street door when the second bullet ricocheted off the stone wall. He ran as fast as he could, soon to be lost from view in the maze of streets.
Near exhausted, he stopped, and checking that no one was following him, backtracked toward the Palais Royal.
A coach was waiting, its driver huddled against the icy wind in a great cape, his groom beside him. The coach door opened and a man with an English accent asked, “Are you Yann Margoza? Where’s the gentleman who was supposed to bring you here?”
“Too bad. Get in,” said the man. “There’s no time to lose.”
Stunned and grief-stricken, Yann climbed in. The man, the coach, all became a blur. He looked out of the window as the terrifying reality overwhelmed him.
Topolain had performed the ultimate trick. He had taken with him Yann’s world, the theater, the actors, the scenery—all vanished, all gone, in a wisp of smoke from a pistol.
The coach rattled and shook. He could hear the horses snorting, their bridles jangling; and he could hear too the unmistakable voice of Têtu as he whispered to him, “Life is life.”