Translation by Ann Harding (

The Magic Flame


Part One


Chapter I

A Circus' White Tent


We were three in the car. I was on the back seat beside the beautiful Bianca Formosa whom we still call in Paris, Queen Bianca.

A music hall queen, perhaps, but she is the most worshiped of woman, not only because she can seduce any crowd, but also because she can gather and retain around her the intellectual elite of Paris and Europe. Her villa in Beaulieu receives in winter all the brightest minds.

Her husband, Tito Formosa, was alone in the front seat. From my seat, I could see the greying nape of his neck underneath the cap he wore over his eyes.

Tito Formosa did not work any more after selling his two music halls in Paris and the few American theatres where he used to tour regularly the New World with his troupe, the most famous music hall troupe ever known in Europe and in America.

In short, during this moment of silence when I thought about my friends, I estimated that their fortune must have exceeded ten millions, and I was probably below the real total.

We left Genoa at dawn towards the east to visit a little Vesta Temple which Tito had admired during a recent twilight. We were half asleep, still drowsy in the morning's mild air while the wind displaced by the car sang cheerfully to our ears.

Bianca, not used to such early rising, let her eyelids drop constantly and dosed, impervious to the dawning of the day. It was the beginning of summer.

On both sides of the road, the burnt fields spread for miles without any vegetation on the reddish soil. The barley and wheat, which looked like folded over themselves, covered the soil like an unshaven face.

From the little ravines came a misty vapour that disappeared with the hot air. Then the sun rose, very red, on the horizon. While it rose in the very blue sky, the countryside filled up with heat and light.

The car seemed to move without displacing any air around it.

We were approaching from a village and Tito slowed down, because from the farms beside the road, farmers came out with their flock of skinny sheeps. The poultry pecking about in the dust and the cats having their morning grooming were not afraid of our car horn. They left only at the last minute when they realised the car wouldn't stop.

Suddenly, Tito cried:

- Look! A circus!

He pointed with his left hand, neatly gloved, towards a small square we saw at the end of an avenue on our left.

Bianca seemed to rise completely, she bent her head to see in front of me and discovering the white tent of a circus, she smiled. That smile surprised me, because I noticed some changes in her careful glance, some untold emotion and glow, slightly melancholic, uncertain, things linked with past memories.

Tito has stopped the car completely. He stayed at the corner of the avenue as if he hesitated what to do next. Was he going to turn to explore nearer the deserted camp, where, for my part, I didn't see anything extraordinary? Or was he going to continue towards the Vesta Temple, the aim of our drive?

After a few minutes of silence, a bit surprised by this stillness, I whispered:

- It looks as if these barracks from gypsies reminds you of extraordinary things.

Bianca shrugged and the smile came back on her lips. She then replied:

- You're silly!

And shaking her drowsiness, she put her hand on her husband's shoulder and added:

- Are we going, now?

He didn't seem decided. Turning suddenly towards me, his elbow on the back of the seat, as if he wanted to draw an unexpected conclusion to our adventure, he told me:

- After all, no! Bianca didn't tell you the truth. That circus reminds her as many things as it does to me and I am decided, today, to tell you the whole story that you don't know yet.

I replied turn half way towards Bianca:

- But the Vespa temple?

In fact, I was there mostly out of politeness. The excursion didn't really appeal to me. I could imagine the return under a blazing midday sun, the lunch under a suffocating heat in a randomly selected inn with too much heat and too much flies. On the contrary, Tito's intonation stuck me and his accent indicated he had an interesting story to tell.

I had known my friends for two years only –it's a fairly long time in Paris- but I didn't know anything of their past life which sounded, according to some people, quite enigmatic.

In Parisian society and particularly among theatre people, there are often rumours and not always benevolent. People we meet and are friendly with are not immune to certain slander or libel which are spreading and always intrigues even if we don't give it much credence.

Having heard my question, in which I didn't put much conviction, Bianca had a long serious and interrogative glance towards her husband and without turning towards me:

- Oh! For me, I really don't care about the Vesta temple.

Tito asked me directly:

- And you?

I bursted out laughing:

- I don't care at all about the Vesta temple, like all ruins around here. I have seen so many with you since I am here that I wouldn't be surprised if I had indigestion today or tomorrow. Therefore, dear friend, if you have a story to tell me, please go ahead.

He looked very pleased. Slowly, he surveyed the surroundings with the desire, no doubt, to find a place to seat and have our rustic breakfast, he said in a low voice:

- Yes, I have a story to tell and even better, a beautiful story. Isn't it, Bianca?

She nodded in agreement.

- Yes, it's a very beautiful story, but, up to now, it has interested only us and I don't know if our friend will like it.

I reassured her with enthusiasm: the occasion was too great and my curiosity was aroused. Immediately, I asked Tito to drive us to a small inn nearby which was rising under its intertwined wine.