The Bugeot's business was doing well. their marriage continued to deteriorate. Charles bought a horse and a cart. Every Saturday, he travelled to Neuilly using the excuse that he needed to supervise the construction of a stable and a shed in the backyard. Lise wanted to accompany him, he refused. One Sunday morning, she intended to meet Charles and surprise him with the two daughters but Lotte did not see any point to that. Father enjoyed going on trips with the Stidels.  Fooling around, he came off the road on several occasions, wounding the horse and breaking the cart. Lise said:

" Repairs costs money. Could you not avoid this accident?" 

Later, Lotte said:

" Leave him alone. Maybe, one day he'll break his neck." 

" He's your father. " 

Quite surprised the child looked at her mother. Lise turned away, unable to explain why she said that. She did not know herself. 

At school, Lotte liked her new teacher, she was called Miss Buchs.  Under Miss Buchs supervision, Charlotte's handwriting improved. After handing out an essay "the Love of Children", Miss Buchs explained that children needed to love their parents. Foolish little girls should watch themselves and not judge according to appearances. The older you got, the more you realized that evil did not exist. Nobody wanted to be evil, parents only wanted what was best for their children.   Lotte argued that children ought to love their parents only the parents were kind to them.

"Girls, you're not always kind and well-behaved. And yet, I love you because I know that it's not your fault.  When I punish you, I only do so to teach you.  It causes more grief to me than to you.... - you need to realize that. And your parents are the same, therefore you need to love them even when they punish you".

Lotte did not answer nor say: "Yes, Miss, perhaps you believe that!" yet she stood by her convictions. Thinking about it, now she understood her mother's remark better. Mother believed everything she was told. They had drilled similar things into her at her school. Miss Buchs would not speak like that if she knew Father.

One fine morning, the family heard that Mrs Stidel had left her marital home. Then her husband suffered a stroke - and he died. The young widow returned home immediately. Lise said that apart from the house, the old man had left a small fortune, amounting to hundreds of thousands of francs. In his will, he bequeathed everything to his wife. Out of the blue, distant cousins turned up, accusing Mrs Stidel to be responsible for the death of her husband. The relatives had everything sealed up by the court, and they demanded an autopsy. Mrs Stidel rented an apartment in Paris. Lise accused her husband to pay for her upkeep. Charles claimed that he was concerned about the trial and added that he could not abandon an unfortunate lonely young woman to her fate.

"She will lose her trial, your harlot. Otherwise she would already enjoy her new fortune!" 

"You're so stupid."

Now Charles rarely came home. For several weeks, he spent the nights away from home. Usually, when he returned, he changed his clothes then he left again, without replying to his wife's accusations. In the meantime, Lise kept the family business in good order.  She told her daughter that she was scared of her husband because he hit her when he could not find things he had been looking for. Lotte said:

" Mother, when he hits you, while we are at school, scream, make some noise. But don't tease him about Mrs Stidel. This has nothing to do with us. "

That year Lotte, now fourteen, was awarded her leaving certificate as well as a beautiful book; Miss Buchs had chosen it for her: 'The Merovingian Times'. The teacher hugged her warmly and deplored that Lotte would no longer attend school. But she did not dare asking Lotte to visit as she was thinking about the mother whom she found so rough and cold-hearted. She feared   that too much concern for the young girl could deepen misunderstandings with the mother and would make things worse for Lotte.  Gigi knew that there was no chance of getting any prize, so Charlotte came on her own. On her way home, she cried. Infinite sadness had overcome her. She would not have imagine becoming so fond of the poor trees, the small courtyard, the red cat, the worn-out school benches, and all those familiar things that she would no longer see. She discovered a kind of magic in them, something almost soulful and it attracted her. She was standing on the threshold of her future. The day before, she had been sure that it belonged to her. Now she was expecting darkness, and felt how her future was escaping from her. How infinitesimal powers were, compared to those mysterious and hostile forces! Perhaps it would have been better to go back to the teacher, and wholly confide in her about following a dream that was too bold. Had she misjudged the situation? The sight of her mother - her haggard and yellowish face - her laboured walking (Lise was pregnant again) made her blush about her hesitations. Lotte thought about the time when she would be able to liberate Mother: it seemed close to her. In three years, the sun would rise up and shine brightly. Only time! Years had passed by like a dream, they had transformed the dreamy, tender child, into a hardworking, cheerful, little girl.  And within a few months, that little girl changed into a thin, serious young person who mistook signs of puberty for decline. -  now her face looked disturbingly pale, her eyes were sad and dark; she had changed beyond recognition.


Mother had not been able to prepare the new season's work during the summer. The birth of the child was difficult; the boy died. Now at the beginning of the winter-season, she did not want to employ the workers and preferred paying casual home-workers. As in the early days of her marriage, she was working alone in her deserted workshop, now she had the assistance of Charlotte, who was learning quickly and well. Lise was tired, discouraged, and complained incessantly. She was so fed up of the business, and raising children! Fed up with Gigi, who kept playing even when Mother was calling her, until her voice became hoarse! How many women employed parlour-maids! Father travelled around, collected payments and added a new storey to the house in Neuilly. He was angry when orders could not be delivered on time. Once he blamed mother and daughter, he accused them of being lazy. The young girl did not put up with that accusation, she stood up from her work and went to Charles:

"At least leave us in peace. Don't take our hard-earned money away."

The man shrugged:

" I won't humour you. You're just a little girl. "

Then he left, slamming the door shut behind him. One Saturday, Charlotte received a visit from the workers. She did not have any money to pay them. She felt ashamed and was sad for them. Many of these women were poor and relied on their wages. She told them to wait until Monday. One particular girl made her feel emotional: She was very young, carrying an infant in her arms and looked at her miserable bundle with admiration and tenderness. Mother had said of her: “an obnoxious person. Not married and having a child at that age!”  Charlotte smiled gratefully, when the little worker helped her out of the embarrassing situation:

" Monday - certainly, Miss - I'll come back on Monday. It doesn't matter, my man gets his wages on a Saturday."

Her man brought so his wages to her, while Mother and daughter always had to ask Father to give them money.  That day after the workers had left, Lise and Lotte walked to the Rue Saint-Apoline, where they saw Charles sitting at the bar with other travel-salesmen at Porcher's the wine merchant. Everyone was drinking absinthe apart from Hector Ledoux the salesman. Hector was forty-five years old and  was very proud of his two sons, one was preparing his teaching certificate,the other went to evening classes. Charlotte listened to him but forbid herself to enjoy his company because she knew that he had a liaison with Mrs Mathilde Porcher, the tavern-keeper's wife. Rumour was that Hector was the father of Mathilde's late child. Mrs Porcher, tall and blonde was forty years old and graciously served the customers despite her husband constantly shouting at her. Lise approached her husband, pulled his sleeve. Charles told her off, so the woman sat down with her daughter at another table.  Moments later, Lotte said in a hard and dry voice:

" Father, the money. I 'm fed up sitting here, do you hear me! " 

The father came over and gave her the remainder of his money:

" Certainly, love."

During such moments Lise both admired and hated her daughter.

After the two women had left, they talked about the young one at the tavern:

"She is going to be damn pretty, old man, but you need to wash her mouth with soap." 

Charles proudly put his hand on his chest. The mother was the same, when he married her. And the daughter was also very clever. She had been very ill, so he needed to give her some leeway. He increasingly believed that he had felt an extraordinary passion for Lise . He had never loved anyone like her. He had botched his life. Mrs Stidel who was also there, pursed her lips: 

"You can start up again. " 

A tender look and an ambiguous smile underlined her words. Mrs Stidel was still in the middle of her trial when another scandal took place. Hector Ledoux and an ex-soldier called Robert fought a duel because Robert felt that Hector spoke badly about Mrs Stidel. Hector Ledoux died. The next time that Charlotte went to the tavern to get money from her father, she saw that Mrs Porcher was very nervous while Mrs Stidel with a group of women talked about Hector and his conquests. One of the women, Mrs Touvel retorted that this was malicious gossip started by Robert. Charlotte tried to console the distraught woman by telling her not to listen to Mrs Stidel but Mr Porcher told his wife to get back to work. Two days later, Mr Porcher came to the Bugeot flat and asked Lise to accompany him to the morgue: Mathilde had committed suicide by throwing herself from the tower of Notre-Dame cathedral. She had left the home wearing her best dress and telling him that she was going to visit an exhibition at the Louvres. Lise said:

"My poor friend, it's for the best."

"Mother!" Charlotte said, then she realised that it was pointless saying anything more.

"She was so kind, Mrs Bugeot, she loved me. I don't understand. I was always there for her."

Gigi could not help but staring at the man. She had always been told that men never cried. 

Around this time Gigi left school. She had learned almost nothing.  She was sent away as an apprentice because she was playing too much at home. Of course, she did not learn anything there either. So they found her a new employer. Each day, it became clearer that Gigi was incompetent, indifferent and weak. She would become whatever fate decided for her and Gigi was a constant source of worry. No bond existed between the two sisters. For a long time, Gigi had disliked Charlotte for taking the mother's side. Even if Charlotte opposed any form of physical punishment, she was so patronizing.  Then, Charles came back home. For eight days he was kind and calm. Lise started hoping again. Charles spoke to Charlotte, the latter did not give any answer and turned away from him. Lise was secretly raging about her oldest daughter.  as she felt that Charlotte was only kind to strangers. The young girl could not understand Lise's frosty behaviour. Even less, when Charles started to go out again and was abusing his wife. Then Lise became closer to Charlotte and was speaking about divorce once again.Lise gave birth to her sixth child. The child, a boy, was immediately brought to Aunt Sophie's.

Now sixteen, Charlotte was a very naive young girl. She was shy, she had no female friends. She was reading short stories published from " Le Petit Parisien" or the "Le Petit Journal " because her mother was passionate about those. Very often, they were about love. Charlotte also borrowed books on French history and travelogues from the local library. Her only pleasure was visiting the Louvres Museum every Sunday, as recommended by her teacher. If a passer-by talked to her, she ran away. Charlotte was tired. She did not complain, but she rebelled. She said that she did no longer want to support Father financially. The house in Neuilly was mortgaged for the second time, as they needed to pay bills of exchange amounting to several thousand francs. Whom did they owe all that money? What for? The creditors were an upholsterer and a champagne dealer. They could not find any tenants for the house. After they dismissed the travelling-salesman, only a few customers were ordering from Bugeot’s; the income was enough for the two women to live on but Charles earned nothing yet demanded money from them. From time to time, Lise gave some to him. (She was keeping a petty cash for emergencies which she hid it from her daughter.) When the young girl became angry, Lise explained to her that she could not cope on her own with three children. Lotte said:

"You said so yourself that he does nothing. On the contrary, he takes the money we earn away from us. If you wait any longer, the result will only be that you will get pregnant again."

Lise remained silent, she sighed and wept. The girl was so judgmental, and she often openly used shameless words. After the birth of the last child, Charlotte often made insinuations and explained that she did want not to put up with that any more. Lise was getting worried. She sent the girl to deliver items when she expected Charles later in the day. At night she pleaded with him to bicker more quietly. When Charles complained about the ball and chain that he had to drag with him, Charlotte replied: 

" There is divorce. "

After that, life became hell at the Bugeots.  Now Charles wanted a divorce but Lise refused. She explained to her daughter that, she needed to protect their interests and retain the house in Neuilly. However, the father wanted everything. Lise felt that she had worked hard enough for that house, and did not want to lose her entitlement to it. Charlotte would have given everything away, sacrificed everything just to get rid of the father. Her hatred had reached its strongest level. Now, he was always at home, screaming, asking to be served, he ate his breakfast before the others, and he ate his lunch at noon after the others; he continually was inventing new ways of harassing people. Now he took vicious pleasure to quiz Gigi about natural sciences and chemistry, just as she was about to go to sleep.


"These women -. what a bunch of hens," he roared, and hit the table with his fists. He threatened to slap them all, but he did not dare to do so because Charlotte was bravely challenged him:

"Watch out - don't you touch Gigi...."

This happened a few times, the young girl was a bundle of nerves, trembling long after each confrontation. When she needed to stay awake at night, and this occurred once or twice a week, she needed to prop pillows behind her back, and became tired almost immediately, suffering from hiccups and nausea as a result of the smell of glue in the workshop. She also felt a painful stitch and dizziness. All these symptoms annoyed Lise because herself as a young girl she had never experienced them when she needed to stay up all night.  Nevertheless, she told Charles hoping to stir his emotions. She only managed to make him angry. The thought of his daughter was like a red rag to a bull. He took revenge by beating his wife. Lise no longer defended herself, in order to avoid any noise.

One afternoon, as they were both working and Lise was weeping, Charlotte merely said:

" I hear you at night, Mother. Are you not sick of it? "

Then the bell rang. Charles kicked in the door of the workshop, and arrived, drunk, armed with a revolver. He shot at the women, the bullets hit the wall. The mother was terrified to death, Charlotte dragged her out and she left her at the caretaker's, then she went up to the flat again to pick up the work and the cash-box from the cupboard. Strong belief was sustaining her, Charlotte could see her goal. The father had thrown himself on the bed. When Lotte entered the room, Charles only moaned. The young girl took the gun from the night-table, and disappeared before Charles could think of holding her back.

They picked up Gigi from her work, then the three women ate in a restaurant and slept in a small hotel. Charlotte was serious, Lise was very cheerful. She was making plans, so happy in her new-found sense of freedom, she wanted to spend the evening at the music-hall. She admitted to Charlotte that she had one thousand and two hundred francs in a savings account. Charles did not know about it so he would not be able to lay a claim on it. She has suffered so much, endured so much to defend that money! So that they would not be destitute if they had to move away. Charlotte threw herself into her arms, and cried:

"Mother, dear Mother, poor Mother!"

The poor woman burst into tears. She believed that she was strong like she used to and yet she failed to realize that now was the moment to be brave. Gigi looked at the revolver and wondered anxiously whether father would buy another one and go looking for them. The next morning, after the women were sure that the father had left the flat, and with the help of the caretaker (the rent was paid and he earned ten francs on top of it) they packed their furniture and the clothes on a hastily rented cart, and drove to the new apartment in the Temple district. Mother received some advice from a visiting neighbour, while Charlotte sought judicial assistance about divorce. The office reassured the young girl that the divorce could settled without their presence.

The first few days were peaceful. From time to time Mrs Touvel the neighbor spent the evening with them before picking up her good-for-nothing husband. She had been divorced twice. She said Proof of adultery worked best at speeding up the procedure. Nothing was easier with men. “They all cheat on their wives and they are so stupid! They know nothing.” Lise enjoyed listening to the woman talking about her divorces, especially hearing how she surprised the culprits and finding out about the husbands’ lovers.  Later she told her daughter that the woman had three men in her life - including the current landlord -  and she was no suitable company. Once someone had given their love away and needed to be separated, then life was finished. But Mrs Touvel's advice could be useful. One evening Mr Porcher, the wine merchant visited Lise and told her:


"I saw your husband, Mrs Bugeot. Really, I feel sorry for him."

For the whole next day, Lise was happy. Then gradually she started to paint the future in the darkest hues. She became annoyed at her daughter because she had tied a little piece of ribbon around her neck. And that hairstyle! Charlotte wanted to part her hair - it did not hold. Lise sighed:

"One day, you'll leave me, you'll marry. What will become of me and the little one? "

Charlotte was petrified and outraged:

"Me? Getting married? You know perfectly well that this is not possible. "

The answer did not satisfy the mother. These were only words. She mulled angrily against the girl, who had pushed her for divorce. The notion went against her prejudices, her heart, her mind, her natural need to live. In the evenings, the wine merchant secretly handed over letters from Charles. Her husband was begging her to return, threatening to kill himself, and remembering all their common precious hours. They would have been even more of them, if she had wanted to earlier. Lise had regrets, she tried to convince Charlotte by speaking to her about the father's intelligence and good qualities. The bad company, that he kept - especially this Mrs Stidel - were his downfall. Charlotte became angry and branding father's demeanor with the sharpest words. Mother said:

"He's your father."

Charlotte burst into tears. She wished never to have had a father, and envied the foundlings.

Now in the middle of winter season, the two women were very busy. Charlotte was not able to stay up late. She became nauseous after midnight. Lise said:

"You see, we can't cope."

Every time an order was less voluminous than they had hoped, or if a supplier refused to put the materials on the tab, if a customer did not pay an invoice on time, Lise wept and said that they were going to starve. Nothing discouraged Charlotte. She succeeded quite well at handling the business. The suppliers liked her, because she was very polite. The customers liked her assertiveness, a quality much at odd with her youth and her kind demeanour. She always managed to get what she required, credit from someone, payment from someone else, in cash or in frequent installments. Happy she returned home and spoke about better times when they would be able to hire workers; she could not understand her mother's low moods. Gigi seemed to behave properly at her new workplace. Then the mother learned that she had not come to the workshop for three weeks. If she did not work, what was she doing between eight clock in the morning to seven clock in the evening? No one knew, Lise wept, accused herself of having contributed to the moral downfall of her younger daughter. She had shown her a bad example: she had left her home, listened to this or that, listened to that young girls with her newfangled disrespectful ideas. Charlotte lost her composure and replied that Gigi was not lost, eventually they would find out everything about her, in the meantime, they only needed to keep her at home. Outraged at the blatant dishonesty of her mother, she asked her whether the daughter of that father had not been in more danger in his own house than running on the streets. Cruel words. The mother would never forgive her.

Often Charles waited for his wife to the opposite side of the street. He waited for Lotte to leave then he came upstairs.  he could not live alone, without anyone to torment, without people to argue with.  He was finished, lost and aimless.  Lise was happy; satisfied, she realized that he needed her. So did he love her after all? There was nobody for her apart from him. She would have liked to keep him right there. But he still wanted to spare Charlotte’s feelings. His fear towards the young girl, the concern that he showed for her - saying , that she  was so delicate , so nervous , and it was best not to upset  her - all this increased Lise’s more resentment. The girl was the true cause of all their misery. He nodded his head repeatedly:

" She is a child , just a child . "

Gigi observed silently , surreptitiously. However, she did not tell her sister about these visits .

Lise and Charles thought they loved each other . Was it really love? ...

On Christmas Eve, Lise was in a very bad mood, Charlotte was in an excellent mood. She has just come home smiling, still wearing her hat, she showed mother her torn veil and asked for fifty centimes to buy a new one. Mother said that veils were useless. Incidentally, Lotte could buy one herself. Every week, she was paid one franc. Still smiling, Charlotte reminded her mother that that money was for her books.  She was preparing for a teaching certificate. Once again, Lise noted that the wretched girl did not want to let go of her crazy notions.  Charlotte had many faults. She was totally unaware about the true value of money. When she calculated that mother and herself earned five hundred francs that month, she clapped her hands, and thought of herself as a rich person. She took on too many tasks, and desperately clung to what she set out to do. As she was not able to stay up late at night, she used to get up in the morning before the others, to read, write and solve equations. Was it any wonder that she was too tired for any useful work after she had harried uselessly? For someone who was continually examining everything with reason, this was not very logical. She also was vain, she wanted gloves, she wanted a veil. She refused to straighten her hair with pomade. So it always fell in curls over her forehead, and curled at the nape. Pleased with herself, she looked in the mirror. It was hanging above the fireplace in the room, which the girls shared with mother. Standing on a chair, to her heart's content, she admired her slim waist, cinched by a black belt.  At the front the belt was tapered like an arrow.  She spent an hour crafting it. When the mother surprised her, Charlotte did not apologize, she only laughed and demanded to be admired, she told that mother also had a " waist ", she should let her little girl dress her. At first, Lise was flattered and did not scold. Later, she thought about everything and became angry. That wretched girl! She herself admitted that her mother was still young and pretty. Why did she want to deprive her from the love of her husband?

"Read this - your father gave me a letter for you."

" He and you! Here ! You let him come in here... ! " 

Very pale, the young girl backed off. Here - this is their home, it belonged to them only. Nothing ugly, nothing sad, nothing from their hated past was allowed in here , but Mother said:

" A husband is everywhere at home , where his wife is . "

"He’s no longer your husband . You're divorcing him, therefore ... "

Lise tried to remain calm, as Charles had advised her:

" Understand, my child. A woman does not leave her husband. You wanted me to do it. You're young so you could be forgiven for that. "

" Mother, he threatened you, and only he wants to scare you. Do not believe him, a woman is free -. "

" Enough, enough , read this letter , do you hear me ? "

Charlotte stepped back even further:

"No way!"

"No way?"

Lise's anger suddenly erupted, and it knew no boundaries. Everything she had suffered, her repressed childhood, her youth at convent boarding school, her marriage, her life so full of work and hardship, all the children who were born, those died, idle Gigi, all this was Charlotte's fault because she had always done everything to alienate the father from his own home:

" Ah, looking so proud - this is now finished, my little one, I see through your game.  Your contrary attitude, your whole behaviour have caused everything, and I was blind and I let you.  Now it's over."

Charlotte's consternation and silence, encouraged Lise:

" I love my husband and he loves me, do you hear me? He loves me, he has always loved me. He wanted to protect you. To protect a busybody! Cat's got your tongue, eh? Now I know how to tame you. Your father is returning home tonight. What do you have to say? "

" Nothing . I'm leaving. "

"You’re leaving, you’re leaving ! "

Lise laughed loudly :

“With your lover, you shameless girl, shameless girl. So that's what the young lady wants - to be free. Ah and do you think I 'll let you walk on the streets, like your sister?”


Lise was choking with rage. She had expected her daughter to give a reply , and berate her. This girl was not capable of anger . Lise grabbed Lotte's arm and yelled:

"You will not go."

"As you wish. I'll kill him."

Lotte's voice was toneless, cold, quiet. Lise had heard that voice before. At that time - Charlotte had just recovered from her encephalitis. The face of the young girl was hard and unrelenting. she freed herself then went to her room, she came back with her money-box, she took out the money - fifteen francs - and put it in her purse. Lise was sobbing. Lotte folded her laundry and her Sunday dress, she packed everything, including her books in the box that she had just brought home and used for deliveries. As she was wrapping its strap around her arm, the mother came to her senses. She threw insults at the child who listened spellbound and open-mouthed. These words - Lotte knew them, she had often heard them, and not given any attention to them. Now, from the mouth of her mother - intended for her - they flooded her, horrific, monstrous, shattering like a torrent of mud, tearing all her pure faith, all her young hopes with them. Lise used those words, without knowing, without understanding, for nothing, just like her husband: to make some noise. Hearing them echoing in the stillness, drove her into a frenzy. She screamed louder and louder, waving her hands, a machine - a slave - to her memories.

At least Charlotte laughed, such a strange laugh. It almost took her breath away:

" If only you knew how futile this is. "

She pushed the mother away. With a leap, she went through the door, then disappeared down the stairwell. Only then, Gigi wanted to dart after her. Silent and motionless, she had listened to the whole scene - she called:

"Lotte, Petite Lotte !"

Mother pulled her down to the floor:

" You, you as well - you'll get a spanking!"

On that Christmas Eve, the weather was dry and very cold. Slowly, bending her head and her box under her arm, Charlotte walked up the street to Belleville. She was unaware of the time. She had been walking for a long time, for an eternity, among the crowd. There had been people in front of her, behind her, beside her , people who were telling what to do , what not to do,  what one must not love . And their actions had always contradicted their words. She had approached them with open arms, and an open heart - they had turned away, clung with fondness to things that were hurting them. At time, Charlotte stopped, wanted to ask directions. Everyone was looking at her, as if she was mad, and they repeated meaningless words. a scamp called, he threw her against a shop-window with a punch:

" Are you drunk, girl?" 

Pestilent breath wafted towards her, a man with a red face asked:

" Hey girl, want to party the night away? "

She pushed him back. Her head ached violently. She could not remember the question that she wanted to ask. Everybody was hurrying up, as if driven by an invisible force which nobody could withstand. She - why did she want to know? Why did she want to understand? Was there anything in the world, what could be understood? The best option was to walk ahead and repeat the neighbour's words, make movements to gain some space. A cyclist brushed up past her, the sound of his bell rang frantically in her ears:

"Hey, you little fool, do you mind? Don't hog the road!"

She was in the middle of the Rue Bolivar. She was shivering, and started to run. Once upon a time, there was a girl called Charlotte, she was curious, passionate, affectionate and brave. What did she want? She did not know, really, she did not know. And from now on - she would not ask for anything, nothing, never. This had come all over her so come all of a sudden and why should anything matter now?