This is the eleventh part of a fiction serial, in 1300 words.
January 1906. Lisette’s new doll.
Claude Fenelon adored his little girl. When he saw the doll in the shop window, he knew he just had to get it for her. Little Lisette was the apple of his eye, and as her mother had died in childbirth, he spent as much time with her as he could. When he had to work, she was cared for by his spinster sister, Violette. But she was an unhappy woman, and he regretted having to rely on her.
His printing business was doing well, so the high price asked for the doll was of no concern to Claude. He took it home, and hid it behind his back as he walked into the house. As the three year-old ran to him excitedly, he produced the doll, and she stopped in her tracks, mouth wide open. “Papa, Papa”. He scooped her into his arms, delighted at the expression on her face. Violette brought the plates in from the kitchen, a sour look on her pinched features. “You spoil that girl, brother. Mark my words, it will make her bad”. Claude continued smiling. “Bad? My Lisette? Look at her. How could such a little angel ever be bad?”
Work was busier than ever. New orders for pamphlets were coming in thick and fast, so Claude and his employees had to work long hours. Arriving home tired at night, he had no time to play with his beloved daughter, as she was already asleep. One night as he was eating his reheated soup, Violette came and sat next to him at the table. That was unusual, as she generally retired to her own room, once Lisette was in bed. “I have to talk to you brother, something important”. He put down his spoon.
“I am worried about Lisette. Ever since she got that doll, she has been acting strangely. She sits and whispers to it, and laughs as if it is replying. Her speaking is coming on beyond her years, and she has started to talk back to me too, becoming defiant at times. On Monday, she called me an old witch. How does she even know about witches? And she told me its name is Mirabelle. She claims that the doll told her that. I sent her to her room, and took the doll from her. She cried all afternoon”. Claude had to pacify his sister, he needed her. But he hated any criticism of his wonderful child. “It might be a phase, Violette. I will talk to her at the weekend, when I have time on Sunday. And if her talking and words is coming on well, then so much the better I say”. He returned to his soup, indicating that he wanted to hear no more of it.
The winter was a bad one. Paris was shrouded in mist and fog, and the air tasted bad in the mouths of the people. Violette developed a nasty cough, and the best efforts of Doctor Boudet failed to cure her. He came to speak to Claude one evening, after examining her in her room. “Her lungs are shot, my friend. She has to go into hospital. I fear the worst, I am sorry to say.” Claude was forced to employ a woman from an agency to look after Lisette whilst he worked. She was professional and efficient, but lacking in warmth. At least he knew that his daughter was safe while he was at work. His sister continued to deteriorate, and he paid for her to go to a sanitarium in the Alps. Just six weeks later, she was dead. Claude made an arrangement with the woman, a widow named Madame Doucet. She would move into Violette’s old room, and act as both housekeeper and carer for the child.
Surprisingly, the arrangement worked. Lisette adapted well to the new situation. And it wasn’t long before familiarity, and her shapely figure, made Claude become interested too. Six months later, they married. Marianne, his new wife, had relatives in Canada. They lived in the province of Quebec, and wrote to her about the marvellous opportunities in that country. Waving the latest letter at him over breakfast, Marianne was full of enthusiasm. “Montreal is the place to be, Claude. The world would be our oyster over there, I tell you”. He found himself thinking a lot about what she had said. Quebec was a French-speaking part of Canada, and he could continue his business in his own language, without too much difficulty. Marianne’s family there would help, and getting out of Paris might be good for them all, including his daughter.
In bed that night, Lisette spoke to the doll, telling Mirabelle what she had overheard. “Papa and Mama Marianne are thinking of going to live in Canada. What do you think about that? Should we go?” She raised the doll’s head to her ear, and nodded, breaking into a wide smile. “Of course you will come with us, Mirabelle. I would never leave you behind”.
It took some time to make all the arrangements. The printing machinery was sold, with different companies bidding for it guaranteeing a good price. Claude even arranged for some of his workers to find jobs at other printers, and the house and contents would be auctioned later. They would stay with Marianne’s uncle and aunt at first, then once the rest of the money arrived from France, he would set up a business with accommodation above. Start small at first. His new wife was beside herself with excitement, even flinging her arms around Lisette, and kissing her head. “You will love your new life in Canada my dear, I promise you”.
By the time the financial situation was in hand, it was proving difficult to get tickets on any ship sailing for Canada. Claude contacted an agent at Cherbourg, and the man made alternative arrangements for the following week. They would travel by ship to England, then get a train to Southampton. Then a ship to New York, and from there another train across the border to Montreal. It would be a long and complicated journey, but the excitement of that new life made them forget any concerns. Lisette seemed very grown up to Claude now, taking care of her own packing, and making sure to include her cherished doll. To save money, Claude had purchased third class tickets, one-way of course. They would have their own small cabin with four bunks, and eat in the canteen with all the others. Marianne didn’t mind at all. Her head was full of Canada.
As they boarded the huge liner, Lisette stared at the name painted on it. She spelled out the letters in her head, then tried to pronounce them.
People were screaming, and Claude woke with a start. The only natural light in their cramped quarters came from the small porthole window. But there was no light, because it was the middle of the night. As he opened the door, water was already coming in, lapping around his feet. The corridor outside was jammed solid with people. Women were screaming, men shouting, everyone pushing against the crush of bodies in the small space. Lisette lay on the top bunk, eyes drooping, still half-asleep. She was clutching Mirabelle tightly to her neck, when the doll suddenly spoke to her, an unusual urgency in its voice.
“Save me, Lisette. You must save me. Open the window and throw me out. Someone will find me”.
Tears streaming down her face, the girl wrestled with the stiff catch on the window. As it opened freezing air rushed in, making her gasp. With one last kiss on its cupid lips, she dropped Mirabelle through the opening.
The Fenelon family would never see Canada after all.