chapter02

The little girl was fostered in a village in the Morvan province. Six months later, Lise received a letter from the village doctor. He advised her to take the child home as quickly as possible because the foster family was starving her.


This happened at the end of the winter season. Many orders were expected. As Charles carried on with the same old messy life, Lise asked an aunt to look after the home and supervise the female workers in her absence. Now Bugeot’s employed five workers and traveling salesman. Charles was too unreliable. He became only involved in the overall management of the business: accounting, visiting the transporters when there were important orders. Most of all, he became used to strolling about and this led to idleness. He started all sorts of projects without finishing them. Yet he expected others to be perfect. When business was doing badly, he would blame them yet, he would boast about his own entrepreneurship when things were going well. 

 Lise took an evening train, she arrived at night; half dead with cold and fear, she walked six kilometers from the station. She paid the wet nurse without further ado as she had no time to lose. Without having rested, she travelled back the next morning. She carried with her a little puny thing. This had been ongoing cause for vexation of all kinds: it had entered this world, covered with wounds and without any strength to scream. Lise hardly dared to touch it.

The parents decided to entrust the little girl to her grandmother. The latter was blind, alone and bored. Her other grandchildren were going to school. She always stayed at home to keep company to her old husband. The latter had now retired and, in the winter, he was spending his days in the corner by the kitchen oven, during the summer, he was sitting by the window. Sometimes he also strolled to the nearby park Montsouris.

 'Petite Lotte', as she was called, became in the course of four or five years a pretty brown-haired girl. She had the same gray eyes as her mother and like Lise, she was also a bit sickly and nervous, rather obstinate and reluctant to talk in the presence of people. However, she never stopped talking to herself. At around the same time, the grandmother died and Lise took the child home with her.

Nobody paid much attention to Lotte . They just wanted her to make as little noise as possible, and not to disturb anyone at work. If the mother came across her, she shouted:

"You rascal, always running between my legs! "

 

Therefore, all day long, the little girl huddled motionless in a corner of the dining room. She had long conversations with her toy. About six clock in the evening, Lotte was very hungry. so she sat down quietly on her bench in the workshop. Silently she looked at her mother and the workers. Again and again, they twisted wires. Sometimes one of the workers noticed her, raised her head and smiled at her. The cutter pounded with hard strokes on the lead plate.

Lotte reflected and wondered. She remembered an old woman in a white cap who always took her on her knees when she was crying (at the time, Lotte was very young) and she rocked her gently. The old woman also used her slowly run her finger over Lotte's face and Lotte did not like that very much.

 "Go on, my child, I can't see you anymore," the grandmother said. 

" But, gran, you’re looking at me! " 

There was also grandfather, and grandmother was often very angry at him. That was because he stole the sugar out of the box that stood on the cupboard. Oh yes, grandfather!  Lotte always needed to pass quickly him when she held a piece of cake in her hand. He was so greedy! - Now he was alone in a large room, very, very high up and far away. On Sundays, they visited him. On other days, they went to grandmother's place. She had bought a little plot in a large garden. It was called Montparnasse Cemetery. Grandmother was never there when the family came over. Lotte also could not understand why grandmother planted only flowers and all sorts of grasses planted instead of potatoes which Lotte liked so much.

One day - it was before the time when grandmother bought her garden - they brought a little girl into the house. Her name was Gigi and she was Lotte's little sister. She was plump and white, her hair was pale blonde and she screamed terribly when mother wanted to put on her blue shoes. Those shoes actually belonged to Lotte. Now Gigi was living in the country at Aunt Sophie's and she took the blue shoes with her.

.Not without bitterness, Lotte also thought about her big doll Jojo, who could close her eyes. She did love her so much! Very early one morning, before the workers arrived, Lotte sat down at the table, opposite of the mother, who was already busy. Lotte rocked the doll in the rocking cradle and sang the song that her father had been singing. Often he hummed it, when he came home late in the evening and mother scolded him waking up the little girl.

 " He's the sweetheart of A -A ,

      He fancies some sweets,

     He is the sweetheart of A

     He is the sweetheart of Amanda !"



" Stop it - you 're killing me with your Amanda! " .  


And mother threw Jojo on the floor. When Lotte picked the doll up, its head was broken. She cried the whole morning and did not want to eat anything at lunchtime. As a punishment, she was locked inside a broom cupboard, which was already inhabited by a mouse. The child was so frightened that she became sick and she needed to stay in bed for two days. Several days later, she still hated her mother. Then, at breakfast as the mother sat opposite her daughter, she began to cry. Heartbroken, Lotte threw herself into her arms and sobbed too. The mother dried her tears , and scolded a little :

" Silly girl, why are you crying? Is there something wrong with you? Eat up, you’ll feel better."


Mother was like that. She was very strange. Sometimes but rarely, she gave a hug.  When Lotte wanted to give her a hug in return, mother said: 

" No, leave me alone, I don't have time for this. "


Above all, there was father. 

Father was not at home very often. This was fortunate. Oh how angry he was; he slammed the doors, banged his fists on the table, saying that nothing was ever cooked properly. One evening, yes really, he threw his full soup plate through the window. Then he stayed for several days in a row at home. He was no longer angry; he wanted Lotte to roam free; he worked on the lead cutting plate on which the patterns were designed and he joked with the workers. After lunch, he let Lotte dance on his knees. However, when - quite by chance - he looked at her more closely, he put her back on the floor:

" For God's sake - look at the state of that kid! "

Mother replied: 

 "What clothes is she supposed to wear? " 

Father and mother argued very loudly, and smashed everything on the table. For the second time, Lotte was terrified. She wept. Mother gave her a slap. Father grabbed her arm and threw her into the next room.

Lucie Parent, the young apprentice, was Lotte 's friend. In the evening, after the workers had left, she swept the floor of the workshop. While Lotte was waiting for the dinner, that was always very late, she complained to Lucie about her grievances. Lucie hugged her. 

"Kiddo, don't be so bitter, you'll make yourself sick, you're so young. You'll see, there's plenty of time.   That's life. "

No one was allowed to enter the kitchen. Outside the window, there was a roof and sparrows sat on it. Lotte came nearer and sprinkled bread crumbs: 

" Come here, little bird. Come here! "

But the little bird did not come. Because there was Minou the tomcat, who was staring with his sparkling green eyes. He followed Lotte everywhere. What did he have against the little birds? The arrival of Minou, the big, black Minou , interrupted the little girl loneliness. He became her favorite play companion. He liked jumping - she did too - yet jumping was not allowed. Minou never refused any hugs. And for him also, it was never time for food when he was most hungry. 


He sat in front of the child, half closed his eyelids, yawned and looked at her: 

"Meow. " 


Lotte looked at the mother, then shyly, she said, softly to the cat, so that none could hear her voice. 

 " Mother is working -  Meow - hunger, hunger lovely Minou. Come and sit on my knees, sweet sweet Minou ."

And so there was in her life, just like in the life of adults, a past, a present, a future; things that were gone, things happening now , cheerful, sad . (She did not know why) anticipated things to wait for. (Why again? )

When Lotte was six years old, she started school. Mother and Father had argued about this. Lise used to go to Convent School and she wanted to send her daughter there as well because they taught proper manners. Charles replied that nuns were stupid hens, they were only good for looking after fowls. In the end, Charles got his way because Lise vaguely remembered that the nuns charged small businesses for school supplies, books, copybooks, quills etc while the municipal school did not charge any money. 

On her very first day at school there was a big event. Mother had gone out to buy a little brother, she sprained her food and had to lie in bed. They had to send the young brother with Gigi at Aunt Sophie's in the countryside. That was the story they told Lotte when she returned home at four o'clock with Lucie Parent. Lotte was very sad. She had been looking forward to meet the little brother, she could have played with him. 

Lotte's school was at the end of the long street. Inside, at the rear there was the yard. On the left, a staircase led to the classrooms. The caretaker lived on the opposite side, he made sure that the little girls never arrived late. On the right, a path led to the meadow and from there into a small garden. There were a few miserable sickly trees - sad and trapped by walls and fences.

Lotte was in the first year, there were sixty pupils in the class. Many did not know their ABC yet. But Lotte already did. She had learned it with her father in the evenings where he was at home. Father was not very patient. When he felt that Lotte has forgotten something, he frowned. But then at last Lotte remembered it the answer. She was particularly fond of geography. She could not read well however, on her little map she followed all the explanations that the teacher showed on the big wall map. Once, during a break, Lotte hid in a corner with her geography book. A teacher noticed her, she took her book away and pushed her away towards the other children.

"Go and play."

But Lotte was not used to playing with other children.  Once, she fell over a broken tree fence, and had a gash on her head.  After that, she did no longer play. Maybe the little girls were too rough, perhaps there were too many of them, or maybe the meadow and the garden were too small. The paved part of the yard in front of the toilet was reserved for the teachers. They did certainly not use the toilets. If a pupil raised their hand during class, asking for permission to go to the toilet, and the lesson was not yet over, the teacher would punish them . During the intermission, the teachers paced up and down with small steps, - deities , the weaknesses of this small world could not reach them. A world in which, in order to assert oneself, one had to be among the strong ones or be bullied ; be a hypocrite or someone who no longer need to be so, satisfied to follow the path of the strong ones. 

Lotte's teacher  was a strict lady, dressed all in black , bored and solemn , always ready to scold and punish , and she was never satisfied . Nevertheless, Lotte loved her. She did not dare to tell her so. Once the teacher touched Lotte's hair in passing:


" Little lamb. "

Lotte used to be very good friends with Blanche Frène who sat next to her at lunch. Blanche was nine years old, a pretty little girl with magnificent blonde hair . She wore a white collar over her school uniform. Her mother was a fishmonger. At four o’ clock, Lotte used to go home with Blanche and Lucie. But then - soon afterwards- Blanche abandoned her. Now she was best friends with another girl. With a heavy heart, Lotte complained to her . Blanche explained :

"Let me tell you - you really look too shabby and your maid is so terribly common. "

This is why Lotte had red eyes  that day. But that pain was over now - forever - as long as she lived,  Lotte would only love Lucie.

The caretaker had a fierce red cat. It sat on the windowsill downstairs by the stairs; it scratched the little girls if they walked too close. Lotte heard two "older girls" talk to each other . One was demonstrating to the other that this was a tomcat . Petite Lotte wanted to see as well but she did not have the courage to step forward. 


" Lucie - tell me - is our gentle Minou a real tomcat? " 


Lucie laughed and laughed. 


"You're so funny, kiddo. I could burst laughing. Don't worry about Minou -  here your tomcat , and he’s gentle just like you."



Sometimes , the mother allowed Lotte to go with Lucie to the Theatre of Belleville on a Saturday evening . The tickets cost fifty centimes each . People needed to queue outside on the street in front of the shops. What a crowd! Inside the theater people were sitting close to each other. People ate sausages and throw the scraps on the hats of the ladies sitting in the auditorium below.  Lucie and Lotte had to climb very high to reach their cheap seats. This is how Lotte saw 'Les Miserables'. The play was about a man who writhed on the ground and screamed loudly. Later, a clergyman gave him silver candlesticks, to calm him down. But above all, there was a little girl who climbed above the wall with a rope.



" That's Cosette," Lucie said, " A little mouse just like you."

Lotte would be so happy if she could climb with a rope!  Another time, they also saw 'Marie Jeanne', a story about a lady who lost her child and found it again. Lucie was crying terribly when she told the story to Lise on the following Monday: she said that Marie-Jeanne was so ill. In the play, there was a lake. Lotte pointed at it with her finger, and demanded an explanation from Lucie.

" But that's the stage, silly. " She said. 


But how did all that water get on the stage?  The little girl was amazed .

On a Thursday, when there was no school, Lucie took Lotte to the "Buttes-Chaumont" to give Mother a break. Buttes-Chaumont was a large garden, much nicer than the Montparnasse Cemetery . There was a waterfall and a small house on a hill surrounded by a lake (just like in the Marie-Jeanne story ). The path was quite dirty all the way because the little boys had peed on it. At the end of it, there was a bridge.

 

"The Bridge of suicide or the Bridge of love ," Lucie said. " Can you understand that there are some silly hens in this world ? " 

Lotte only saw swans and enjoyed throwing breadcrumbs at them. Those happy red letter days, they ought be remembered with a white pebble.

 

The two holiday months passed slowly. Lucie had left the household after a disagreement with the mother, now Lotte has no other friend than Minou. She no longer had her beloved geography book. She needed to give it back to the school, and they gave her a game of pick-up sticks, which she did not enjoy. When she tired of it, she sat by the window, looked at the packers in the yard. She took a pair of scissors, and cut out paper ships and paper chicken when the mother saw that, she screamed because Lotte could hurt herself with those scissors and also because there were paper shreds all over the floor. Most often, the little girl sat at the table, resting her head in her hand, half asleep just like Minou. The cat curled his nose and he seems to enjoy its own wise serenity. But how slowly did the hours pass, so slowly so sadly! The child was truly relieved when school started again. 


In the first year she has made such good progress, that she was allowed to go into the third year class. Gigi, who was now nine years old and living at home, started her first year. Gigi was still white and plump, she had blonde hair and her father's dark eyes. Everyone agreed: Gigi would become a pretty girl. By contrast, Lotte became uglier. She was tall for her age and too skinny, her short, dark curly hair always fell into her face; with her large gray eyes and her pale little face she looked like a fierce kitten. And indeed this is what she became. The new teacher said of her:


 " A little lamb - but an angry one! "


Lotte was neither loud nor talkative, nor was she really naughty. She merely kept herself to herself, as she did not like her class-mates. Most of them were wealthy merchant daughters who made fun of her. They mocked her strange poorly tailored clothes made from Mother's old dresses.  In particular, they laughed at her black cotton bloomers; their hem was longer than the underskirt by five centimetres. But Lotte did not belong to those who give up easily and everyone was surprised that despite her delicate constitution, she could retaliate so fiercely. Neither did she like her teachers. Such fine ladies, faultless and aloof. It seemed to her that they lived in a different world. In the evening, it was Lotte's task to bring Gigi home. The girl, indifferent and gentle, relied entirely on her older sister to do her homework. Lotte wrote the essays and solved the equations , Gigi , who quickly learned to write neatly , copied those.

 

For a while now, father had been staying at home. Too much loafing had made him sick.  Mother said that Father  wanted "good behavior" . He wanted his daughters to be taught well. " Ignorance ," he kept saying , " is the root of all evils . " He sat down in the dining room , and taught them equations . It worked well with Lotte , but Gigi ...! " Three divided by three equals what? " Gigi could never understand why the answer - whispered to her by Lotte, even though Father rolled his eyes - was 'one'. Father gave Lotte a slap, and he also slapped Gigi. And he also hit Gigi with a ruler. Mother walked by: 


" Not on the head , you monster ! "


Father and Mother started an argument about the vile books, the vile lessons and that vile school - they were the source of all misery in the world . Was this the peaceful end of it all ? No. Gigi started crying , and could not stop . An abundant fountain hid behind her beautiful eyes .

 

" Good Lord, what a stupid child ! " Mother shouted .

 

And slap - slap - the blows rained all over Gigi. Gigi fell tearfully to the ground - overwhelmed by her own stupidity. Lotte helped her up.


" Come, let's cut out some chickens. "


They made dozens of paper chickens. Then they played farmer, and fed the chicken: " Beep! Beep! Beep!" Mother came back, and again it rained slaps, this time the slaps were meant to keep the children quiet.

Lotte and Gigi slept in the same bed in the alcove next to the dining room. Their bed used to belong to grandfather. At the end of his life, grandfather was paralyzed and then he died in his big room. The bed had a spring mattress. One evening, the mother had barely left and put out the lights - the little girls rose - they put the quilt in the middle of the bed. Then they climbed on and let themselves fall. Thud! They jumped up like a ball. This was so funny! But oh Gigi! Her squeals of laughter were as loud as her tearful cries. Of course, Mother heard them and it rained  blows  again.

 "You rascals! When I was your age, my mother bound my shirt around my legs - so I had to keep still. So stop that if you don't want me to do the same thing to you."


Mother had barely left the room - Lotte hopped down the bed - quickly - on her bare feet, and went to the pantry - in the drawer there was a ball of twine. Lotte tied Gigi up. Gigi tied Lotte up. Soon the mother was lured by new screams. Lotte had tied Gigi too tightly.   Gigi cried a bit afterwards then she listened to Lotte who was telling her stories - about the grandmother, whom the little sister never knew.  Then at last, the children fell asleep. 


Lotte also started to understand injustice. Once they had prunes for their afternoon snack. Mother had nine prunes and divided them between the girls. The children ate. Afterwards, Lotte counted the stones. She had four, Gigi had five, therefore she wanted her fifth prune. Mother had no more prunes. Gigi started to weep and in vain she offered Lotte her share of tomorrow's afternoon snack. Nothing could change Lotte's mind. Lotte wanted her fifth prune. The mother was fed up and banished Lotte to the staircase.

 The child sat down on a step and remained there for a long time. She was so exhausted that she could no longer cry. The caretaker had already extinguished the gaslights. Lotte fell asleep from the cold. Then, she heard a heavy step and was startled. A man was staggering up to her floor while singing with a drunken voice. Lotte stood up trembling. It was Father. He gave her a wet kiss on the cheek.

Father became increasingly angrier. Every evening he returned home late and when he came home, he screamed. Lotte was always afraid when he stopped inside the dining room. One night he demanded that Mother got up and made him supper.


On a Saturday Father went collecting payments from the customers.  He did not return home so mother and daughters quickly drank a cup of chocolate and coffee with milk, then Gigi was put to bed. Mother went with Lotte to look for Father. Lise took her daughter with her to gain some respect as she did not want people to think that she was one of these “bad women”.  They found Charles in a wine tavern on the Rue Saint-Apoline. He was playing cards with his friends. At first he was friendly, he offered them a drink. Lise did not want anything and Lotte fell asleep with her head on the table. At about two or three clock in the morning, the father decided to leave the tavern. As soon as they were outside, the father and the mother started to argue. They slapped each other on the boulevard and Charles dragged Lise by the hair for a few yards. The child jumped on him, hit him with both fists and became very agitated. The parents had to return home quickly, and put Lotte to bed, they stayed at her bedside, then called a doctor as they suspected meningitis. Their fears were assuaged but Charles stayed at home for a fortnight to be sure.



A few weeks later, the school prizes were awarded. Despite her "weak head " Lotte was awarded the first prize in mathematics. However, she did not dare to come forward and claim it as she was ashamed of her tatty dark clothes. Gigi, who sang in the choir, made some mistakes, and had to step out, she was in tears.


After the holidays, which were quite sad, Lotte found a new best friend. The first since Lucie Parent. Her name was Rachel, she was Jewish. Just like Lotte, Rachel was badly dressed, and just like Lotte, Rachel was said to be possessed by an evil spirit. However, she was much gentler and more placid than Lotte. She was also very short-sighted and wore glasses. Lotte protected her, she read the writings of the blackboard to her, if Rachel could not read it herself, or if the teacher wiped it off too soon. Rachel's parents did not run any business. Therefore, Lotte despised them a little. The father was a heavy labourer, the mother is a charwoman. "On Sunday and Thursdays, we often see Rachel on the Boulevard playing with a bunch of kids," the older children said in disgust. "Such people, poor as they are, they always have lots of kids." In reality, there were only three little sisters, aged five, seven and eight years. Sometimes Lotte and Gigi played with them "Hide and seek" or "Wolf, are you here?". Lotte and Rachel were constantly punished for each other. Then they put Rachel in another class. Once Lotte was sent to the headmistress. A good woman, always intent on reconciliation, she greeted the girl with a smile:

 

"There you are again. Come here, behave yourself, read something." 


Another time she sent her out into the garden. Punishment became a reward. Lotte loved the headmistress who had lent her "The French Revolution" by Louis Blanc. During the break, as Lotte and Rachel were reading together, a teacher saw them and wanted to separate them. Lotte folded her arms across her chest:


"What gives you that right? We’re free."


Another time, she sang the "Song of the Girondins " on top of her voice. 


Poor Rachel was not always properly washed. The teacher once told the father. He was a poor man, he rarely picked her up from school. He replied:


" I 'll tell me wife. "

Everyone laughed, and one by one, every girl started to tease Rachel :

"Me wife. Me wife. "

One called Rachel "the Prussian". This magical word made the girl lose her calm. Rachel attacked her offender, Lotte hurried to her aid. The fight spread out when someone accused Lotte to disregard international law. Lotte hurled everything, including inkpots at them. One classmate's skirt and the teacher's dress were stained. Lotte received a letter for her parents. Father read it, ripped it up and said:

 "Be careful. Rachel's a Jew, she will use you."


This was Lotte's life.  She was pleased with it. However, once she almost abandoned poor Rachel for an older girl called Louise- Sarah Haag. Just like Blanche Frène, Louise-Sarah Haag wore white collars, she also wore patent leather shoes and a yellow leather belt over her glossy black satin school-tabbart. A sky blue ribbon adorned her hat and a maidservant took her to school and brought her back, carrying the girl's satchel and respectfully walking a few steps behind her.   Louise-Sarah was Jewish, but she had a Christian education, and she wished to be called Louise not Sarah, which was her real name. Her revolutionary demeanour impressed Lotte, and made her boastful, trying to impress. School life brings out people's faults.

Until then poverty had prevented Lotte from being boastful. Then, without even knowing why, she started tell that she too had a house in the countryside, that she would leave school before the end of the term, despite what the headteacher might say. Someone told the teacher, when she demanded an explanation, Lotte confirmed her statement. The headteacher had a book presented to her, so that she would not miss out on the awards for her essays. Astonished and a little ashamed, Lotte accepted the book. The days went by and Lotte did not leave school. Then the headteacher held a long sermon about lies and little girls who tell stories to get awards that they, as you well know, did not earn. Lotte was summoned to the headmistress's office and she admitted her offense. However, the good woman did not want to take the book off her. It was enough for her to tell her little friend that she was disappointed. The teacher, however, wanted the punishment to be harsher so she sent for Lotte's mother and told her what happened.


Lise still hated schools, teachers and books. However, she was deeply hurt when they told her that her older daughter's evil spirit was caused by bad parenting. She did not quite know what to reply and thought about an exemplary punishment for Lotte such as the ones that the nuns invented and they raised her properly: kneeling for an hour every day for a month, wearing a sign with a shameful inscription around the neck, when going out for a walk. Charles was asked for his advice. He decided to leave Lotte to her own self-loathing. It was a terrible punishment. In the evening, after dinner, he read the "Last Days of a Condemned Man" to her. He was nursing a cold, which, as he said, he caught when he drunkenly fell into the water at the Tuileries.  Every evening, Lotte stayed in the dark in the dining room. They told Gigi to go outside and play, but she did not know how not play alone. So she sat down on a step on the opposite side of the courtyard and sadly looked up to the window towards Lotte.


Lotte was very bitter, she could not be blamed for the offenses brought to her by her accusers. She had never intended to steal a book. However, she felt guilty of other offenses that her various judges had not been able to explain to her. They could not understand, because they had not researched properly. Yes, she was guilty. She cried every time someone hit Gigi. Occasionally she drank her milk in the morning without sharing with Minou. When she went out with Louise- Sarah Haag and met Lucie Parent she did not gave her old friend a hug and a kiss. Where was Lucie Parent now?  Maybe she was walking in the rain. Because it was raining, and getting darker. Gigi at the bottom of the staircase, looked like a small, immovable bundle of misery. The rain was pouring. Gigi would certainly not come upstairs on her own initiative. Mother needed to pick her up and she would probably slap the little girl.

 .

Lotte did not mean to offend the headteacher . Nor to steal any book. But she had let herself go, she had forgot her loved ones, and bad things had happened and this was her fault. Lotte wept and wept. Tears flowed down her cheeks. They rolled down to the corner of her mouth. The child caught them with her lips and wondered why tears tasted so salty.


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