chapter 01

Charles Bugeot and Lise Valbour married for love. Orphaned at a young age, Charles had come to Paris and tried his hand at all sorts of trades; he was industrious, enterprising and competent. At the age of twenty, he was a salesman in a big fashion store, where Lise , a small, delicate , pale flower-worker made purchases  for her employer .

The innocent grace of her sixteen years had beguiled him, the ineffable charm of youth: awe and cheerfulness; the first moments of amazement and hope. What he liked best about Lise, he could not say: was it her beautiful, bright eyes, or her somewhat headstrong forehead under her dark hair, or her sweet mouth which never condescended to laugh, not even when it seemed to desire so greatly ,and dimples appeared in Lise’s cheeks. Charles loved her. And since he did not belong to those people who did not act on their wishes, he decided right after he made   his discovery, to ask Lise's parents for her hand of their daughter.

The Valbour family lived in a modest flat, in Avenue du Maine, behind the Montparnasse train station. Lise was the youngest of seven children - four boys and three girls. She was the last one still living at home. She rarely saw her father. He was a stablehand at the Omnibus company, who often only returned home at night; he was still asleep in the morning when she went to work; and in the evening he had left before she arrived. The mother suffered from early stage glaucoma. Throughout the day, she did housework, dragging herself painfully from one task to another, and she also fostered the infants, entrusted to her by her married working daughters.

Charles was disappointed by the way they received his request. This happened on a Sunday afternoon in Winter. He was invited into the dining room, a large, tiled, cold room with few furniture: a walnut cupboard, a round table, some chairs, Lise's collapsible bed. The father listened while smoking his pipe; the mother took off her spectacles, wiped them clean, and put them on again. Lise was sitting by the window, eagerly mending socks. To tell the truth - she had only ever reciprocated her friend's advances with a shy 'yes'. But Charles did not need more to build his castles in the sky; He talked and talked, increasingly disconcerted, looking at Lise’s  brown hair , hoping that she would face him and encourage him with a smile. In the silence of the room, he felt that his words sounded startlingly loud.

 The old folks were pondering. They felt quite intimidated by this tall, well-dressed man, articulate and so full of life, who took a notion to propose to their youngest. They did not quite trust him.

However, the father remained silent, the mother coughed a little, adjusted her spectacles and with a trembling voice she explained that Lise was still very delicate and weak. She had always needed much care - only now had she started to recover; moreover, Charles still needed to serve in the army.  After his return, they could talk about the proposal again.

 Then Lise stood up; Charles saw that she had been crying. She held out her hand towards him.

  "I'll wait," she said softly.

 And the mother said as she was escorting Charles outside:

 " Think about it, Monsieur Bugeot, think about it. We're very poor. "

 They waited five years. A long time. Charles only saw Lise twice or three times a year. Only at the end of that period, he was allowed to take her out. He behaved impeccably and wrote long and passionate letters to her. She did not understand them well, because she only replied with a few cold, timid, clumsily written lines. He did not mind. She did not know better. Besides, he saw himself as her protector.

In March 1880 they were married at the Saint Pierre's Church in Montrouge. Lise as pale as her wedding dress almost fainted. She admired her husband. She did not dare looking at him. Unconsciously, she was proud when she saw her work colleagues; surely they envied her. She herself could not help being slightly amazed that Charles had chosen her. She felt her heart bursting, it was overflowing with love and boundless gratitude. She remembered so well the first time he came to visit her !  He wanted to sell ten times more flowers and Miss Lise would customize them with her pretty hands. And they would hire more workers and she would be their supervisor! Did he not even speak of making a fortune? And Lise was happy that, together with the modest furniture, gifted to her by her brothers and sisters, she could also bring the sum of five hundred francs could into the marriage. For many years she had saved, often working at night and on Sundays.

 From the beginning, their business performed brilliantly.  They were manufacturing small artificial flowers for the fashion businesses. Every evening, Charles returned home with new orders, after selling all his samples. Now he hoped that his wife would hire a worker. In her wise cautious mind, she declined. She said the same thing she heard from her mother when father or one of the brothers occasionally brought home a little more money than usual:

" We are far too happy - what's going to happen to us? "

Charles had dreamed of a nice, cosy flat, of a clean and cheerful home. When he came home at noon, he found everything still in disarray. Often, he brought fresh flowers hoping that Lise would place them on the table, on a white tablecloth in front of their cutlery, as they were eating side by side. Instead, they had to eat their cold cuts at one corner of the worktable with pots of glue next to them. Lise, unkempt, unwashed, soon resumed her work.

 In the evening the same thing happened. After supper, Charles picked up a book and read by the light of the lamp, while Lise was still working. He would have liked to read aloud to her, explaining things to her. Lise did not like books. One of her brothers had been a bookworm - then he enrolled in the Foreign Legion. The books had turned his head. Sometimes Charles sat down next to her. He was fond of wrapping one of her curls around his fingers. He wanted to kiss her. She resisted and said:

 "Go - go to sleep. I need to get ready."

 He went into the bedroom, lay down sullenly in the barely made bed. Lise joined him late at night, often at dawn.

In the beginning he did not blame her. Indeed, he was convinced that she only did this in order to secure their future, their prosperity. Deep inside, he probably thought that she overdid self-sacrifice. He tried to explain it to her as gently as possible. He too liked working diligently, but he also enjoyed cheerful leisure activities. In his imagination, he saw himself taking her to vaudeville shows, to see something funny. Then they would have a good laugh, she would remember the tunes and sing to him on a Sunday morning, while he would help her with the housework so that they could get ready for a stroll more quickly. In the Summer, Charles liked making trips to countryside, taking a boat trip on the river Marne, then having Sunday roast at a random tavern. He could picture people envying his pretty young wife on his arm. She would wear a bright dress, and handcrafted flowers would nod from her hat.

 Lise did not like vaudeville. Indeed, it cost a lot of money, often ugly things could be heard there. The water startled her, the sun blinded her; she dreaded the dust of the pathway and the attention of the passers-by. She only wanted to wear black clothes. In vain did Charles plead with her to brighten up her dress with a lace ruff; Lise also said that a decent, married woman should not wear flower on her hat and that she preferred to stay at home and work.

Before he met Lise, Charles had loved many women. Many were pretty, cheerful and light-hearted girls; they had fallen for him, seduced by his appearance, his audacity, his dark eyes, which could look cold but usually they were very gentle. Lise's benevolence was perhaps the reason why he summed up the passion for her, she who was little effusive. It is in the nature of bold natures to seek challenges. He was totally dedicated to his wife, but he also started to feel unspeakable disgust towards her, and nothing could dim those feelings. Charles was also beginning to lose his temper in her presence. When she surrendered to his caresses, she only did so as it was a heavy duty. It was impossible to get her emotionally involved as she struggled against every sensation as it were a crime. If he had not been so full of himself, perhaps with a lot of patience and tenderness, he would have swayed her. But he did not understand that. He made fun of her. He said he had not married a woman but a linen bag, and therefore he only succeeded in increasing her feelings of indignation.

In the cramped Valbour flat, boys and girls slept in the same room. Therefore, the mother found it necessary to increase the girls' prudishness. Herself, came from a small village in the Lorraine where, as in many other places, hygiene is banned due to prudishness. These precautions did not prevent Louis, the youngest brother, the one who then emigrated to Africa, from approaching the small Lise who at was fourteen at the time, one evening.  So, she knew that men were inclined to lust, just like her mother told her. This also explains the influence exerted by depraved women on them therefore she thought it was the duty of a decent woman not to encourage sensuality.

Nevertheless, Lise thought that she loved Charles with all her heart. Deep inside her, and with full sincerity, she had vowed to work for his happiness, and this meant his prosperity. She found his gifts of fresh flowers touching. But she also felt sorry for the wasted money. She understood very well that, after a whole day on business, he needed some distractions. She even asked him to go to the Saturday evening variety show. She understood his needs to see his friends; he was so funny, so clever. She advised him to go to the café from time to time and meet his friends. She told herself that he loved exercising, and therefore needed country air. As he liked rowing in a boat, she forced him to go out on Sundays to Joinville. She was able to work quietly. When he left in his Sunday clothes, she admired him, she was happy to see him looking so handsome.

He objected. She did not understand why. She did not understand his irritation nor why he often left without saying goodbye. What had she done to hurt him so? At last, after many disputes he reached an agreement with her: she would prepare proper lunches and kept the rooms tidy. From then on, she stayed up a little longer - that was all. She could not be dissuaded from working the night shifts. That was her personal, sacred task. She alone felt responsible for their financial prosperity.

Gradually his habits became worse, he always returned home late.  In the morning, he struggled getting up. As a bachelor, when he used to be alone in his room, he spent many an evening reading. Now, when he stayed at home, he did not feel like doing anything. He was bored. Lise had lost all her charms. Her beautiful hair which she didn't groom looked lacklustre. There were no more dimples in her yellowish and sunken cheeks and there was no gentle shimmering in her pale eyes. When she expected a child, she became ill. But she did not want to rest, nor take care of herself because her mother said she only stopped working when the child was due. Charles felt that his dreams were getting shipwrecked and he felt tremendous disgust toward everything. A weariness overcame him, his anger became violent. He lost his temper over nothing, he slammed the doors and accused his wife of bad taste if a customer did not like a sample.

 " Look at this! Just like you! " he said.

 Lise wept over this injustice.

 " Men are moody." said the mother. " This will be over soon. Be patient.”

 Then Charles returned home drunk. In the morning he was unable to get up early, so now Lise needed to visit the customers herself. A boy who carried the sample boxes followed her. The well-managed business seemed to work on its own. During the twenty years that followed the war of 1870, the artificial flower trade boomed. Orders came in from everywhere. When Lise could no longer meet the demand on her own, she took on a female worker. She was surprised and sorely offended when she noticed Charles's astonishment.  Did he doubt her work ethic?

On due dates, Charles collected the payments. Soon he began to keep a good portion of the money for himself. Lise suffered greatly. In order to protect her goal, that goal, her only raison d'être, she found the courage to rebel. Charles was affected, but not stirred. At last, he thought he did understand: she was a miser. So every evening, he went out to play Manille and other card games. People also gossiped that he was more than good friends with the senior salesgirls at his clients’ shops.  But Lise did not believe any of that. He was a gambler - no doubt about it. Yet, he stayed out whole nights without coming home and once he disappeared for two or three days. He showed up again after he had wasted all the money. Back home, the suppliers needed to be paid. Lise was outraged and complained to her mother. As the daughter was weeping about her misfortune, the poor old mother said:

 "I knew it - he's not right for you. "

Lise thought how easily she might not have met Charles. She was not even supposed to be a flower maker. For a long time, her employer was undecided between that trade or dressmaking. The mother lifted her wrinkled hands, and let them sink slowly on her knees:

" What can you do, this was your fate. "

One night - now married for fifteen months- Charles, returned home at about two, and was greeted by the midwife. He learnt that Lise had borne him a daughter. Something like shame stirred inside him. Repentance burned his heart. He kissed Lise softly, in a way that he had not done for a long time.

"Did you see the child? " she asked. "The wet-nurse is taking her away tomorrow. We want to call her Charlotte."