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Gebärdensprache

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“Should we extricate your sister from Arthur’s company?” Carolyn asked, frowning over to the corner of the courtyard, where Arthur was waving his hands about madly in front of one of the junior princesses of Liechtenstein.

Theresa followed her gaze, and grinned. “No. I should think she’s enjoying it. That’s Hélène - her lip-reading is incredible in German but not quite as perfect in English, so for Arthur to make the effort to try and learn some signs, it’s nice for her, I think.”

“Oo-oh,” said Carolyn, understanding. “I hadn’t even realised...”

“Most people don’t,” Theresa agreed. “She was twelve before a journalist noticed, something like that. My father was quite old-fashioned and never publicised it much, but we had a deaf nanny when I was growing up, and she taught us to sign. Us older four, that is. The little ones had another nanny, but, well, Maxi at least has learnt to enunciate quite well to compensate.”

Carolyn chuckled. “He certainly has.” She hummed, thoughtfully. “When you said English was your third language, I was assuming French or something, for the middle one.”

”Well, my French isn’t terrible. But I’d have to think a lot harder before I could say ‘I dare you to pour gravy into Aunt Helga’s dress shoes’.”

She signed along with the last sentence, apparently proving the point, not that Carolyn was much the wiser.

“Lucky Aunt Helga,” she said wryly. “What had she done to deserve that?”

Theresa shrugged. “Oh, she hated all children, and didn’t care if we knew. I think she thought my father kept having more and more to spite her personally.”

“There are rather a lot of you, aren’t there? I thought I had my hands full with one. Then again, my one was Arthur.”

“And you only had two hands. At one point, we had two nannies, a nursemaid and two governesses. That shared us around a bit.”

“Gosh. I don’t feel so bad, then.”

Theresa was quiet for a moment, and Carolyn realised she was watching Arthur and Hélène again. Now that she understood what was going on, Carolyn saw Theresa’s sister nodding enthusiastically, pulling one of Arthur’s hands a little higher to improve a word.

“I don’t think you have anything to feel bad about with Arthur,” Theresa said eventually.

“He was rather a forgone conclusion, I admit.”

“No... well, yes. But I mean, along with that, you must have done a lot of things right.”

Carolyn considered it. “My strategy was based mainly around avoiding things I thought other people were getting wrong. My sister, for instance. Ruled with an iron fist and then wondered why her boys kept things from her. Arthur doesn’t keep much from me, although sometimes I’ve wished he might, in the middle of a monologue.”

“I didn’t know you had a sister.”

“Ruth. Older. A pain in the behind.”

Theresa smiled. “I’ve heard they can be. Older sisters.”

“She wasn’t always. We had brief stints of closeness when we were girls, but it was more solidarity against our mother than anything else. Once we’d left home there was less need for it, and now we’re just... vastly different. Or perhaps similar in the worst ways.” Carolyn huffed. “We keep out of each other’s way when we can help it. Of course, sometimes circumstances conspire... Mention the word ‘Helsinki’ to Martin and see the light vanish from his eyes.”

“I’ll be sure to,” Theresa said, curious now.

“Ah, I think the signing lesson might be over,” Carolyn remarked, as Arthur tore across the courtyard towards them, Hélène following behind at only a slightly more sedate pace.

“Mum! Hélène’s been teaching me her language. I tried my alphabet on her but she does German sign - there isn’t a Liechtenstein one - but German sign is great! Look at this!”

He brought one hand up in a fist and made a small movement of his wrist in front of his mouth, then waved both palms  in the air. “Guess what it means!”

“Let’s see it again,” Carolyn said.

He reprised the sign obediently.

“Is that a single word or... a phrase?”

Arthur blinked at her. “Two words. But not a phrase.”

“Go on then, tell me.”

“It’s polar bear!” He exclaimed. “Well, actually it’s... Eisbär. You know this bit at the beginning? It means ice. Sometimes. And the other bit means all kinds of bear.”

“I was going to say, ‘how often will that be useful’, but I was forgetting who I was talking to.”

“I’ve got other words as well. I can say ‘aeroplane’. And that will come up all the time. Which is what aeroplanes actually do!”

“Lovely to meet you properly, Hélène,” said Carolyn, enunciating more markedly than usual. “You’ve opened a whole new world for Arthur.”

But he better not end up pouring gravy in any of my shoes, she added silently in her head.