by Catherine Edmunds
by Catherine Edmunds
The visitors stood on the lawn, staring at the little girl. She looked real, but apparently this was one of the professor's famous automatons. A young man with unfortunate hair broke the silence.
“Amazing! A vision of mechanical perfection! How do you operate her? Remote control?”
The professor smiled benignly. “No, she's clockwork. Big key in her back.”
“You're joking. Really?”
Professor Hoffmann walked across the lawn to where his creation was sitting in a pose reminiscent of a painting by Dégas. He crouched down behind her and turned a large golden key in her back. The doll rose to her feet, as if drawn by strings.
The young man had his doubts as to whether a clockwork automaton would really be able to stand up quite so convincingly.
“Hang on a minute, Professor. Those really are strings, aren't they. Who's operating them?”
“Ah, that will be the sky god.”
The onlookers sniggered. Their spokesman grew more confident.
“Sky god? I suppose he's clockwork too?” he asked, with a smug grin.
“No, coin operated,” replied the professor mildly, resigned as ever to answering the questions of idiots.
“What sort of coins?”
“Gold sovereigns. I send Jack up the meccano beanstalk when necessary...”
Most of the crowd were openly laughing at the absurdity of these answers, but they were still impressed as the doll pirouetted and performed every conceivable movement from entre chat to capriole, before slowing and falling to the ground with a clunk.
They all applauded. A straw hatted woman was the first to speak. “What are your plans for this doll? Are you going to exhibit her? Do demonstrations?” (She was thinking of how she might be able to make money from this phenomenon.)
“No, I’m going to sell her on ebay,” replied the professor, frowning and shaking his head.
“Yes. If I keep her, she'll only cause mischief.”
“By living out my fantasies.”
“Oh, come on. What’s she going to do? Let you beat her at chess?”
They all laughed. The professor was well known as a committed but utterly useless chess player.
“I'm serious. Let me show you.”
Professor Hoffmann walked across the lawn to the doll, crouched down in front of her, and slipped a memory card into the slot carefully concealed beneath her fringe. He gave the key three and a half turns, then leapt back and scampered up a tree to everyone’s astonishment.
The doll rose to her feet, took a flick knife from the folds of her dress, and raced towards the onlookers. A few minutes later, only the professor was left standing--or rather, sitting on a branch of the apple tree, holding very tight. He waited for the doll’s motor to run down before descending to examine the carnage.
“Well, that was fun,” he muttered to himself, “but really, she's got to go.”
Coppelia giggled, knowing that her Dad would never really sell her.