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  • GREAT UNCLE ADOLPHE

    A Play for Radio

    Characters

    Grand Oncle Adolphe
    Young Marcel
    Narrator
    Odette (A demi-mondaine)
    Maman
    Father
    Butler

    STEPS. BREEZE, TREES RUSTLING MUSIC (UNFINISHED SYMPHONY(?)).

    NARRATOR
    Dear old Adolphe.. great uncle Adolphe.

    CREAKING OF AN IRON GATE. MUSIC INDICATIVE OF A MEMORY. DREAM-LIKE VOICE

    G.U.ADOLPHE
    (good-natured and gruff)
    Here m’ boy, have some more marzipan.. eh.. this tangerine is really something, you’ll see..

    NARRATOR
    Dear dear sweet loveable Adolphe! All my fault. Should have kept my mouth shut.
    He was grandfather’s brother, an old military man.. an old libertine if ever I knew one. Friend of actresses and courtesans..

    FATHER
    I don’t know why the boy is so fascinated by that old dog.. always spending his time and the family money with actresses and.. whores!

    OFFENBACH’S FRENCH CANCAN

    MAMAN
    Not in front of the boy, dear.

    NARRATOR
    (indulgently)
    How they disapproved of the poor harmless dear! I was only allowed to visit him on fixed days.. only later did I understand that it was reckoned dangerous to visit him unannounced, as one never knew who one was going to meet there. When you visited him, he would be so overjoyed.. he couldn’t do enough to show how pleased he was..

    G.U.ADOLPHE
    Come in, do come in darling boy.. your visits are so rare.. no one seems to remember I’m alive.. have a marzipan, have a tangerine.. it’s really something, you’ll see.

    NARRATOR
    Perversely, I have always wanted to pay him a surprise visit. One day, classes having been shortened, I found my opportunity.

    SOUND OF BRISK STEPS AND PANTING, SLOWLY GIVING WAY TO. FRENCH CANCAN .SOUND OF RUNNING. GATE CREAKS.

    I hardly noticed the luxurious two-horse coach outside. Each had a red carnation at the blinkers. The coachman had the same in his buttonhole.

    HORSE NEIGHS AND MARCEL STEPS ASIDE IN SOME ALARM.
    SOUND OF MARCEL CLIMBING THE STAIRS, AT FIRST HASTILY, THEN MORE HESITANT. SOUND OF FEMALE AND RAUCOUS LAUGHTER IS HEARD. MARCEL RINGS. SILENCE FROM THE INSIDE, DOORS OPEN AND CLOSE. FRONT DOOR OPENS.

    BUTLER
    embarassed
    Ah, it’s you monsieur Marcel! I’m afraid it won’t be possible to see monsieur your great uncle.. hem.. he is very busy at the moment .. but I’ll let him know you’re here..

    ODETTE
    Oh do let the little dear in, please.. it would please me so much to see him. He’s so much like your niece his mother, Adolphe. I’d so much like to meet him.

    G.U.ADOLPHE
    His mother indeed!

    ODETTE
    On his photograph on your desk he’s so much like his mother. I do so wish to see this lad.. if only for a moment.. plee-ase.

    G.U.ADOLPHE
    gruffly
    Whatever next? Photograph on my desk.. young pip-squeak.. let him in Rene.. since it is the lady’s whim..

    STEPS AS YOUNG MARCEL COMES IN. APPROACHES ADOLPHE, GIVES HIM A HUG WHICH CHANGES HIS ATTITUDE.

    G.U.ADOLPHE
    with warmth
    Lovely to see you m’boy.. sweet of you to come see your old uncle. (Presenting) my nephew Marcel.. a.. eh.. dear friend of mine.

    NARRATOR
    He didn’t say her name, no doubt on account of the problems his dubious acquaintances had already caused in the family, but later I would discover that she was none other than Odette. She was the most gorgeous young woman I had ever set eyes on, with her pink silk dress and her string of pearls, and she was eating a tangerine.

    FRENCH CANCAN

    ODETTE
    As I said, the spitting image of his mother!

    G.U.ADOLPHE
    testily
    But you’ve only seen a photograph of the boy’s mother!

    ODETTE
    I have to beg your pardon here, my dear, I have indeed seen her in the flesh.. we meet briefly on the stairs last year when you were so ill, remember.. admittedly it was the briefest of glimpse, and your stairs were dark, but that was enough for me to admire the lady. This sweet little boy has the same lovely eyes.. and also this.. eh.. how shall I put it?

    NARRATOR
    ‘This’ was accompanied by a sketch in the air of what was meant to be our identical foreheads. Maman’s and mine.

    G.U.ADOLPHE
    contrary
    He is the spitting image of his father, says I! Also of my poor deceased mother.

    ODETTE
    I have to admit that I don’t now your father, nor have I had the honour of knowing your mother.. remember I only met you after your great bereavement.

    NARRATOR
    I already began entertaining a certain feeling of disappointment about the young woman. She was an actress, a woman of the world, a courtesan, she had no right being so ordinary, so devoid of theatricality; there was not even the slightest trace of depravity that one would associate with the life she led. She wore her toilette with easy elegance, but she had a frank and kind look I have seen on so many women of our entourage. I would never have believed her to be what she was if I had not seen the two-horse carriage outside, the pink silk dress and the pearls, and of course I knew all about the company Adolphe kept. I could not understand how the man who had put his carriage at her disposal, and had paid for her accoutrements and pearls could spend a fortune on someone who really was so simple. The immoral life that she no doubt led would have troubled me much more than if she looked the part.

    G.U.ADOLPHE
    Have a cigarette my dear.

    ODETTE
    No thank you, you know very well I can’t stand yours.. I can only smoke those the Grand duke send me regularly. I’ve told him how jealous this makes you.

    NARRATOR
    She flashed her gold cigarette case which carried all sorts of foreign inscriptions.

    ODETTE
    I am convinced now that I have actually met the father of this young man, right here. He’s your nephew, isn’t he? How could I have forgotten this? He was so kind to me, so.. exquisite.

    NARRATOR
    Father kind and exquisite! I doubted that. I could just about imagine his cold stare bordering on rudeness, his reserve. It made me uneasy to think how the lack of courtesy of the one could have provoked so much gratitude in the other. We seemed hardly to have settled down when..

    G.U.ADOLPHE
    I think it’s time for you to go home now, m’boy.

    UNFINISHED SYMPHONY

    NARRATOR
    I stood up, ready to go, but I was overcome by a sudden desire to kiss the hand of the lady in pink. But I dared not. My heart was pounding, and I kept repeating to myself.. must do it.. can’t do it.. must do it.. can’t do it.. then all of a sudden, driven by a mysterious impulse, I pounced on the hand which she was no doubt offering me to shake, and began covering it with my kisses.

    ODETTE
    How sweet he is! How gallant already! He’s obviously got a way with women Ha! Ha! Ha! Like his uncle. He will be a perfect gentleman.. wouldn’t it be a good idea if he could come and have a cup of tea with me some day? All he’ll need to do is to send me a little note first.

    G.U.ADOLPHE
    testily
    Of course not! It’s impossible, he is very busy, he studies hard you know.. always winning all the prizes.. we expect great things from him.. the next Victor Hugo, who knows.

    NARRATOR
    Great Uncle Adolphe was exaggerating ..

    ODETTE
    Victor Hugo eh! How I adore writers and artists.. only they understand women.. them and specially gifted people like you my dear..

    G.U.ADOLPHE
    I’ll walk the boy to the door.

    STEPS AS UNCLE AND NEPHEW WALK TOWARDS THE DOOR. FRONT DOOR OPENS.
    FRENCH CANCAN


    G.U.ADOLPHE
    coughing uneasily
    You will not mention the lady’s visit to your parents, will you?

    NARRATOR
    I was surprised, I thought he’d be pleased for the world to know that he knew such exquisite persons.

    YOUNG MARCEL
    No, of course not. Oh uncle you’re so good to me, I love you so much.. one day.. one day..

    G.U.ADOLPHE
    One day what eh young man?

    YOUNG MARCEL
    One day I will prove to you my eternal gratitude.

    G.U.ADOLPHE
    laughs happily
    God bless you, my child.

    NARRATOR
    And I hugged the old man with such tenderness, and gave him resounding kisses on the cheek, in my heart meaning some of them at least for the lady by some sort of mystical proxy, my eyes full of tears of contentment, so elated was I after the visit and the meeting with the beautiful woman in pink.

    PIANO MUSIC.

    My gratitude for the experience I owed to Great Uncle Adolphe was so great that I wished to impart some of my enthusiasm to my parents, and I tried to convey that by some sentences which struck me as completely inadequate. Struck for a better approach, I finished by blurting it all out to them, convinced that as I was full of goodwill towards the old man, no one could use my words in any way detrimental to him. I did not wish him any harm, so how could I conceivably cause any? How could my parents find anything wrong in this visit when I certainly could not imagine any? I imagined, like everybody else, that other people’s brains was a docile and inert container with no power of reacting specifically to what was put in it. I was far from imagining that in depositing my information about my great uncle’s new female friend in their containers, I was not, as I would have wished, transmitting to them my well-disposed judgement at the same time.

    UNFINISHED SYMPHONY MIXED WITH FRENCH CANCAN.

    My parents took a completely different view.

    MAMAN
    But that uncle of yours is a menace.

    FATHER
    Who would have thought that he could be so irresponsible?

    MAMAN
    You must tell him in no uncertain terms what we feel about it.

    FATHER
    Yes, yes of course.


    MAMAN
    We must tell your father.. his words will carry more weight..

    FATHER
    Must we? Is that absolutely necessary?

    MAMAN
    I insist upon it.

    NARRATOR
    And father and grandfather had an acrimonious argument with the old roue, and I was told about it.

    UNFINISHED SYMPHONY.

    Some days later, I saw great uncle Adolphe in his open carriage, and I was full of woe, and would have dearly wished to tell him how sorry I was; I might have given him a nod, touched my hat to him, but thought that in the light of the enormity of what had happened, that would have been completely inadequate, and the best I could think was to look away, pretending that I had not seen him, but this did not escape him. He no doubt thought that I was following orders from home. He never forgave them for this, and we never saw each other again. He died a few years later.

    UNFINISHED SYMPHONY.
    SOUND OF CREAKING GATE.

    DISTANT VOICE OF G.U.ADOLPHE
    Have some marzipan m’boy.. and isn’t this tangerine something?

    FRENCH CANCAN.
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