chapter09

 

" Well, young lady, since we both have been deserted, please let me escort you out of here"


Martha and Charlotte had walked up the boulevard where they had been approached by various men. Martha had laughed while explained to each of them that she was waiting for her Prince Charming. Old women berated her but Martha who was in a good mood, merely shrugged.  Charlotte's own thoughts had been gloomy. Due to the noise inside the Moulin-Rouge, she was not able hear any conversation and Martha had started to resent her silence.


Suddenly, Martha had called out to a young, slender, fair-haired man.  He was quite tall and he looked like a dreamer. First he seemed annoyed and bored then he smiled and turned to his comrade; the latter was more adventurous: he put his arm around Martha's shoulders:

" What are my beautiful lady’s wishes?"


Martha had let him touch him, however, she had kept looking at the fair-haired young man . The latter had been looking at Charlotte and saying a few words to her. Charlotte did not seem to understand. The companion said :


"Leave my friend alone, my pretty , he's not suitable for you . Is that girl with you? "


"Yes, she is."

" What do you think, Léthoré? "

" I - I don't know but you can go. "

" As you wish, my friend. She's pretty but she seems dumb."



Martha had spoken up:

" She'll talk, as long as you're not nasty to her."



Léthoré had seemed surprised then he had kept smiling. He bid Martha farewell by kissing her hand, then he shook his friend 's hand:

"Now, off you go."


Now Charlotte wanted to sink deep into the ground. She had thought about running away , yet she could not find the courage to do so . Behind her, a few men and a tall red-haired woman were gesturing and laughing. Her new companion was scrutinizing her, and he did not seem inclined to let her go. When she did not provide any answer to his suggestion to leave the Moulin-Rouge, he took her hand and led her out. 


Charlotte found herself in a horse cab next to a gentleman who was as taciturn as she herself. Then she could hear that he was asking her to get out of the cab, and not to be afraid. He led her into a café and they sat down at a table.  It was pleasant: There was no one around them yet through the windows they could see many people, and the comings and goings of the vehicles in the street.


"Would you like a glass of beer, Miss? "

"If you wish."

" You look unwell. Would you prefer to have some dinner, or perhaps would you like some tea?"


Charlotte blushed:

"No, thanks."

"No? But I'm hungry. Don't let me eat alone. "



To the waiter's astonishment, he ordered tea, bread, butter and soft-boiled eggs. When the food arrived, he asked Charlotte:


"Do you often visit the Moulin Rouge, Miss?"

"Oh no, I don't."

"So it's the first time. "

"Yes, it is."

"It is for me, as well. Lucky us. I was really bored and you didn’t seem very enthusiastic either. Have something to eat, Miss, I believe you are very confused and that you'll regain your composure once you eat something. I don't want you to cry in here."



Later, as the cab drove them through the Bois de Boulogne, he said:


" Now you are free to cry - don't be afraid of me, this is making me - really uncomfortable I don't know much about these things and I may sound foolish to you...But I - I don't - how can I say it? - have any bad intentions. I thought that you looked like a small bird that fell out of its nest and couldn't fly away. I just thought I could be of any help to you. I 'm eighteen years old, how old are you? "

"I'll be seventeen soon. "

" Are you all alone in Paris ? "


"Yes, I am."

"But you're not a student? "

"Oh no I'm not."

"So you're working then?"

"I am flower-maker."

"You're binding bouquets. That must be nice. But surely, you don't earn very much?" 

"Oh yes, I do, but the pay is not regular." 

"How much do you call a lot?" 

"Three francs." 

"A day? And not regularly .... Is your mother still alive?" 

"No, she isn't."

 "Same here -. I've never known mine, but the woman who took me in, she taught me to believe in infinite goodness.  I wish could speak as convincingly as her but I wanted to let you how I'd be happy, if I hadn't met you in vain. I want to see you again, talk to you when you have regained your composure. You're crying! I'm so clumsy. You don't want to? " 

"Yes, I do." 

"Then let me hold your hand." 

He took her hand, and kissed it. His lips were soft. Now Charlotte was holding a flat object between her fingers; she guessed that it might be a calling-card case or a wallet. He said:

"My address is inside. Keep it, and don't lose it. Now, I may ask you to tell me where I can drive you home."


With a trembling voice, she told him her name, her street and her house number. He opened the carriage door, leaned out, stomped with his foot, because the driver was talking to someone else. Then he asked:


"Are you sure you aren’t sick? Would you like to eat anything else? "

"No thanks."

" When may I see you again? This Saturday night perhaps? "

"Yes, please."

" At what time do you finish? "

"At seven."

" Can I pick you up? "

"Yes, please."



Charlotte told him the name and address of her employer.


" Is that a shop, can I come inside? "

" No, it's on the fifth floor. "


Her voice showed signs of restlessness, he took notice:


"Forgive me, would you prefer, if I waited outside? Saturday, at seven o’clock, is that a deal? "

"Yes it is."

" Thank you. Have a rest. We 'll arrive soon. "



Alone in her room and still dressed, Charlotte threw herself on her bed, broken by pain, shaking with anger, she sobbed violently. Then she felt some relief:  all the despair and bitterness from the past three months had gone. She lit her lamp and opened the wallet. It was square, made of stained-green Moroccan leather. It contained a business card which read:



Henri Léthoré - Rue d'Assas No… - Paris 6



The wallet also contained two twenty-franc coins, and about ten francs in small change. Barely two hours ago, Charlotte had gone out thinking that she needed to pay almost with her life to get the money that she needed; - and that man gave it to her for nothing - and how fast! Without being able to explain it, this realization threw her into despair.



She felt intolerable pain and disgust because she blamed herself for accepting alms from a stranger, and she felt anger against the whole set of circumstances that had led her to that situation.  She had a terrible need to tear, to break, and to throw away everything including herself. When she had exhausted herself, she calmed down. She thought about all this and decided never to do this again, moreover, she decided not tell Martha about the whole adventure, as she was certain her friend would not understand.


The next day, Annette found her 'little worker', as she liked to call her, so upset, that she gave up on her intention to go out and shared her stew with her for lunch. Julie and Mrs Ravage only stayed during the morning. Martha did not come, and there was little work to do. Armandine was absent as well. Bertie came before closing time to tell that Lili would be buried the next day at three o'clock. Charlotte spent a quiet day and a half and she was only disturbed by the anxious thought, of meeting her benefactor again.  She thought she would not recognize him, anxiously, she wished that he would not come the next day.


Martha arrived on Saturday, at one o'clock, singing and dancing and looking more dolled up than ever. Charlotte and Fifi were alone in the workshop. Martha began by asking the latter:

"Have you eaten?"


Fifi grunted a barely audible "yes" and pointed at Charlotte. Martha said:

"A fine mess, girl, this is the work of a man. Well, you're better anyway. See, I wanted to go look for you because the other guy did not want me. All the same, I'm happy to see you. With you, we never know what's going to happen next. So the handsome fair boy didn't eat you alive? "


Charlotte made a vague gesture, and did not answer.


"Young lady, you played a dirty trick on me; what difference did it make to you anyway, and I liked that kid, I thought this would have worked out fine for me. But, bah! You're like a cork in a river, you go where the current takes you. I'm not jealous, to each their own luck. My point is that you will never know how to turn things to your advantage. I bet you don't know what he does? "

"No, I don't."

"His companion told me that he is very rich, Anarchist you know -one of these people who throw bombs - I quite like the idea. So beware, this customer is full of tricks, he will try to convert you, make you join the Salvation Army.  His companion also told me that."



Charlotte said as much to divert the conversation as to share information:

"Martha, Lili's funeral is at three o'clock."

"Ah, good job that I came. You have enough dough, Charlotte?"

"Yes, I do."

"Don't blush, my girl, there is no need to with me. I just wanted to know if you were managing alright. Is Fifi coming to the funeral?"

"Do you think we should bring her?"



Mr Décoiffer  said as he was entering:

"Do with her as you please, but I don't want her here on her own. And where have you been, you hussy?"

"My friend, if someone asks, you can always tell them that you don't know ."



Martha stuck out her tongue at him, then she combed her hair, took off her blue cravat and her white gloves because she did not feel that they were appropriate for a funeral. She put them in a package so that she could wear them later, as she was going out in the evening, then she gave fifty centimes to Fifi. When Fifi had left, Charlotte said: 

"You're wrong, you know she’s going to buy a drink."

"Just because she does not have any other pleasures, why should we deprive her of it?"


The girls went downstairs. En route to the funeral, they bought white roses. Then, a little further on the way, Martha asked:

"Are you going to see him? "

"Yes, I am."

"When?"

"I don't know."

"I bet you cried like a baby the whole time, that must have been fun for the guy. He'll balk and you’ll never see him again. "

"Do you think so?"


This time, Martha laughed, and with such a hearty laugh that passers-by turned their heads at her and that one of them stopped to look at her.


They arrived at Lariboisière. Although Armandine did not live in the area, the hospital had treated her daughter, thanks to the recommendation of Rosa's former employer who knew one of the doctors. Martha and Charlotte entered a room on the ground-floor, where they met Armandine, Totole, Bertie and Rose, all in their work clothes. The other two sisters did not come, neither did Armandine's old man, but he had sent a crown made of beads. Two bunches of violets brought by the brother and sister were on each side of the crown. The day before, Bertie had visited Julie and Mrs Ravage at home to gather people for Lili's funeral. Nobody knew where to find Martha, but now things had worked out well.



Armandine kissed her companions, her face was puffier than usual and she was not crying. with hesitation, she asked:

"Would you like to see her?"

"Yes, I would."


She led them to the coffin. There, the girls stepped back in horror. The coffin was, almost closed, and they could only see Lili's unrecognizable face.  Very pale, Martha leaned over the coffin and kissed the dead girl's forehead:

"Goodbye kid, we'll all go where you're going."


Armandine held back Charlotte:

" You've already said goodbye. "



Totole, then asked to put his bouquet in the coffin itself next to Lili,-  a humble bouquet which cost five centimes like the ones he used to bring her. Armandine helped him.


Then the dreadful box was closed and covered with a black cloth - and the procession walked behind the chariot on which it rested. Armandine and Bertie went first with Totole between them, they each held one of his arms; Martha, Charlotte and Rose walked behind them. Rose's face was crimson-red because she had wept so much, and she was choking in her tight buttoned-up blouse. Behind them, Julie and Mrs Ravage were chatting trying to guess who bought the crown of pearls and those white roses, this was money wasted because the girl was going to be buried in a mass grave.


Martha turned to the two women:


"Enough huh, shut up!"


They went to Saint-Ouen cemetery. Walking silently, absorbed by her thoughts, Charlotte was thinking about her protector. At times she felt Martha's shiny eyes staring at her, so she interrupted her train of thoughts, soon she fell back into the same daydream. Certainly, Martha was right, he would not come. Why should he come back? He was rich; the money he had given her did not meant much to him. He said 'Saturday', but he looked surprised when she refused his offer to pick her up at her workshop. She had been foolish, she had thought he would find the workshop too shabby, and she had feared the ladies' jokes and banter and Mr Décoiffer might have laughed at her. He had not insisted, and obviously this meant that he had no intention of coming back and that he was only kind out of pity. She remembered that he seemed very anxious to arrive at their destination, and that she had not behaved very well, so why should he wish to start this all over again?  Finally, she was probably ugly that night because no one is pretty when they cry, and when she arrived home she did not think of checking herself in the mirror.


Only two days ago, she was merely tortured by the idea of not being able to pay her rent, thus creating trouble for Lucie Parent whom she had not heard from; Charlotte had dreaded to become homeless again with all her meagre possessions which meant a lot to her. Where would she have been able to go? Since then, she found some reassurance and was determined not to return to the Moulin- Rouge. A few hours ago, animated by great courage, she was convinced that she could make ends meet by living frugally. The only drawback, was that she would have to see this Henri Léthoré, whom she did not dare to look at. Now that she was obsessed by the idea that perhaps he would not come, she felt suddenly very, very weary and discouraged.


When they passed the cemetery gates, they needed to walk further ahead. Finally, the convoy stood still before a ground divided into horizontal rows. A grave was open, and inside there was already one coffin. Two men lowered down Lili's coffin. The guests all decided to throw all their flowers down to Lili.



Now, it was all over. Together they went back the same way. Rose sobbed convulsively. Armandine and Bertie remained calm. Totole was still walking with them neither speaking nor crying, his eyes glued to the ground. Charlotte, her hand on Martha's, let herself be led, she was thinking of Lili and the young man. Mrs Ravage's and Julie's chattered incessantly and deplored the wasted flowers. Their surprise increased when they saw Armandine, who had kept the crown of pearls, drop the object at the foot of green bush beneath which all the anonymous bones were interred there after reburial. She said:


" This will be her final resting place."

 


At the door, they all separated. Armandine and her children returned home where the old man was waiting for them to have dinner. They also invited Totole, Charlotte and Martha to come along. Mrs Ravage and Julie left together. The two girls remained on their own, Martha said:


"Kiddo, I admit that your guy looked very nice but falling in love at first sight, you have to be crazy.  If you had any common sense worth ten centimes, you would come with me now... Put this into your head: your heart is sick, this feeling will pass and you'll be 'vaccinated'.  Perish the thought that this happens to me again.  All men are crooks. Come with me for dinner.  Don't go all sentimental on me - beware - it will cost you dearly. Sure you're not coming with me? "

" No, Martha. "

"I assure you, my boy is on his own. He won't flirt with you. He’s afraid that I'll abandon him and marry a rich guy. "

" No, thanks, Martha, I’d prefer to go home. "

" But surely not on foot? "


Charlotte hesitated: 

"No, of course not."


Martha stepped into a cab after hugging the young girl, advised her to have some dinner and to sleep well the next day and stay in bed all day. Charlotte left on foot. She disliked spending money unnecessarily .  In order to find some peace of mind, She had come to the conclusion that he  would not come .


Charlotte only arrived at the workshop at about six o'clock. Fifi was gone. Mr Décoiffer was reading the "Petit Journal". He had prepared the materials for a new order.  Annette told Charlotte:


"I'll bring it over on Monday morning, finish it tonight, my girl , and don't let the others know . "


That last hour did not seem to end. Charlotte did not allow herself to look at the clock, nor go to the window. When the clock struck seven, she was startled even if she had anticipated it. She adjusted her hair, as if she wanted to go out with Martha.


She went downstairs. There was nobody outside the door so she waited for five minutes or so, which seemed as long as centuries. Then she quickly walked away. She almost felt relieved.  As she was walking around the corner of  Rue Montmartre , her eyes flickered , she felt as if she had received a blow to her chest; A voice whose caresses she immediately recognized was calling : 

" Miss Charlotte! " 



She bravely reached her hand out to him, he shook it: 


"Are no longer angry at me? "

 "Angry at you? I need to ask you for your forgiveness. "

" I think it's pointless to waste our time mutually begging for forgiveness. I'm very happy to see you. If you feel the same, come with me. "



They walked towards the boulevards. He walked very fast as this was a habit of his. He stopped two or three times, to allow his companion to catch up, then he continued at the same pace; after a few more steps, he said:


" Do you wish to dine, Miss Charlotte? "

"I don't know."

" Don’t you ever go to restaurants? "


"No sir, I don't."

"And you don't have any preferences? "

" Oh it's immaterial to me. "



He made her walk again until they entered a Bouillon Duval. The restaurant was crowded, Charlotte was troubled about that, especially as they needed to walk between the tables until they found one where they could sit alone. He took her jacket and, asked her to sit down. showed the menu to her, then continued:


" If we relied on your appetite's inspiration, I fear we wouldn't dine. You aren't unwell, today?"

"I'm very well, sir. "

" Is this true? You look rosy now, earlier you looked extremely pale. How can you stand being locked up all day?"

" I went out earlier. "


In a few words, Charlotte told him about Lili's death and funeral and she blushed as she added: 

" I was happy to be able to bring her flowers on your behalf. "


She paused, a little frightened at her own boldness, she dipped her spoon into the soup that the waiter had laid before her, and in order to break the disturbing silence, she asked thoughtlessly:


"Are you an anarchist? "

"Really? Who told you that?"


His tone was ironic, Charlotte thought she had been foolish and indiscreet, she stammered:

" Martha. "

" The lovely person who was with you the other night? "

"Yes sir."

" She would be pretty nice if she was less intimidating. Does she work with you?"

"Yes, she does."

" So you often go out with her? "

"Often enough."

" It's not what you do best. " 


Charlotte blushed, then she became pale:


"She's been very good to me, I like her."

"I've offended you, I'm sorry. You're an honest person. I could have been an' anarchist ' and found convincing reasons, but I 'm not, because it is not worth it.  In the past two days, I've really aged, Miss Charlotte. "


For the first time, Charlotte raised her eyes at him. He had a very nice, beardless face, regular features. Its open, free forehead under the fair, upstanding hair gave him a smart appearance. His large, clear blue eyes were looking into the distance. Suddenly he became aware of her gaze, and he smiled at her. He had a very gentle, childlike smile:


"Of course, it is not visible, but most invisible things do exist. Two days ago, I believed that to be useful, it was enough to wish so, and yet I have made you suffer. Yes, I see that. I vainly thought about the question that in order to serve you best, and I couldn't think of anything at all. But if things were that simple, this would be less interesting. Come on, keep going, as d'Alembert said... Sorry, you may not have heard of him....”

“He was a philosopher during Diderot's time."


A little surprised, he looked at her, and continued quietly:

"Come on, keep on going and faith will come to you. Do you want it?"

"I want what you want, Sir."


He said impatiently:

"A foolish thing to say, I mean, you're wrong: We should only want what we want, and that's already quite a difficult task. Currently, I'm pretty much favoring the idea that you agreed I wanted dinner. If you would like something else, you need to say so. "

"I'm fine."

" If my sister were in Paris, I would have brought you to our house; that would have been the easiest option. But I don't mind using my own initiative."


Charlotte looked at him, she thought that his sister must be an extraordinary person if she wanted to meet a girl from the Moulin-Rouge. 


He did not guess her thoughts accurately because he smiled again and said: 

 "I see I did not make myself clear and that you're eating only to please me and not for your own pleasure. I also thought that no longer taking care of you more would be better than doing anything, but this thought is somehow disappointing; it is too late for that now.  Is the cemetery where you escorted your friend further away than your home? "

"Oh yes, it is!"

" You walked all the way there?"


"Of course, I did."

"Do you like walking? "

" I always walk everywhere. "

"So do I, however not inside Paris: the people annoy me. When I walk, I get hungry, and I'm even hungry when I 'm not walking. So if you are not hungry, I guess that you are not well. Sonia would prescribe you eggs, I guess. "

" Sonia?”

" Sonia is my sister, she is thirty-two years old, she's a doctor. She's my guardian. It's impossible to disobey her. So, I beg you, don't mind me, and eat for your own sake. "


Charlotte agreed to order eggs on behalf of this unknown sister whom she now imagined as an ideal creature, divinely good and extremely clever. On the advice of her companion, she also ordered custard, and only realized after she finishing her drink, that since the beginning of the meal she had been served milk while he drank water.



Like the other night, they took a cab which drove toward the Champs-Elysées. He remained silent. Charlotte thought she ought to be saying something, but she did not dare asking any questions. Martha was certainly wrong to say that she should be wary of him; yet he was well strange. What was he going to decide next?


He led her up the first floor of a café in a deserted side room. Next door, someone was playing music. He ordered tea and cakes, grabbed the young girl's jacket which he threw with his overcoat to the end of the sofa and he asked her to sit down, then he shut the door and sat in front of her, smiling:


" I must warn you that I 'm an investigator. Are you still afraid of me? "

"No..."

"Yes? No?"

"No. no."

"So please , don't mind me. Do you like cakes? "

"A little."

" Thank you, so do I , now I have an excuse. Eat some, Miss, I don't want to eat all of these. Do you have any other friends apart from Martha?”

" Yes:  Armandine . "

"Is she similar to Martha?"

" No, I mean ...”

" Same as Martha? "


Charlotte tried to explain who Armandine was and what made her different from Martha : she was Lili's mother and she lived from her work. The girl was trembling slightly. The young man looked surprised but  he said nothing. after a short while he asked:

"You have no other family?"

"I still have my parents."


He stared at her face. She suddenly remembered that she told him that she had no mother. She became pale, then she blushed:


"I lied to you, but -. But not really, it’s the same"

"Ah," he no longer looked at her, "Could you explain that to me?"


Charlotte summoned all her courage but no sound came out from her throat. Would this strange boy understand? He seemed very young, and trustworthy. He expressed himself with an astounding - if a little frightening - determination. Yet - she felt such a need to confide in someone ... While he was drinking his tea, he explained:

"Lies - that can happen to anyone.  it's not the end of the world, Miss Charlotte. If you can't tell me, then let's no longer speak of it. If you like, we could to the café-concert around here, and listen to some music. I would like you to trust me. I only want to listen to you. "


Charlotte realized that he seemed to accuse her of mistrusting his intentions, to think what Martha had expected. She thought that a second ago, yet now she turned pale, stood up, disgusted by this injustice, she suddenly began to tell her sad story; all the events of her life even the very distant ones came to her mind with singular sharpness, Minou, Lucie, Miss Buchs, her beloved mother. However, there was something that she could not talk about, a memory that had pursued her relentlessly, and everything revolved around it;  she could remember the sequence and the details, of everything else, while she could recall no memory of the horrible event that tormented her. To stop breaking in tears, she spoke quickly, at times she was choking.  She ended with hiding her head behind her hands. He was not looking at her and he was still drinking his tea. When she spoke about running away from her mother's home and about that aborted divorce, he interrupted her:


"No, I don't understand that either, but it's best to leave behind things  that we don't understand. And your parents didn't look for you?"

"No, they didn't ."

" You're all alone , I understand that this must be very difficult for you , because I couldn't do that. But I think you're very brave , and your misfortune is therefore that you lack confidence in yourself. You may have your reasons perhaps , tell me ... "


He hesitated for a few moments: 

" Miss Martha, with whom you go out - she has the habit of leaving you like the day before yesterday, hasn’t she? "

 "Yes." 

" And you found me a bit.... strange?" 

" Yes. " She said very quietly.

 " I'm strange," he says quietly. " I thought you were crying because your beloved left you and that you had always lived like Miss Martha and that this time - . you didn't find the courage ..."



Her sobbing interrupted him. He said:

"My sister would tell you that this is neither your fault nor theirs. The fault is to abandon a poor person who is trying to get out. Really, I'm hurting you. "



She reached her hands to him, he wanted to take them, but then she brought them back in her face, and told in a broken voice the story of the past three months: Lucie's goodness and how she turned away from her, her books that she could no longer read, selling goods on the square with Annette, her walks along the boulevards, her fears, and how she had become Martha's friend. She was panting like a beast at bay, not knowing what she said, nor knowing whom she was talking to. Every word passing her lips tore her apart. In the next room, she could hear a single cello; it had a painful and serious sound, and Charlotte felt that it was playing with her heart. 


The young man stood up, walked into the room, made her sit down next to him:

" Think about it, " he said very softly, " it wasn't very nice of me either to be at the Moulin-Rouge. I don't regret it because I met you there. I think, really I do, that you're a very interesting soul, because you're sensitive. Life's always more clement than ourselves. My sister would say that and forgive us. "


He thought about giving her a kiss, like Sonia would have done, but he feared a misunderstanding, so he said: 

"Would you like to repay with much kindness all the pain that I inflicted you?"

"Yes." she said naively

"If you mean it then look at me."



He took her hands - for seconds they remained like this. In her eyes, he could read only endless misery, he regretted his doubts, his harshness. And yet she was lying. But how could she tell him the awful truth? His gaze showed nothing but kindness, much bigger and better than ordinary compassion. There was also astonishment mixed into it; the astonishment of those are aware of the existence of misery yet, never have seen it face to face: naked, complete. Misery of the body and the misery of soul with all that dread, for which the whole world is responsible. Without any make-up, that the concern for our inner peace imposed on such faces before it could understand how to alleviate it. Charlotte looked at him in the way a prisoner gazes at the sun. she needed no justification. Because she had no hope, she felt no remorse. She felt emotional, her eyes were full of tears; her lips trembled - her hair became loose and fell over her shoulders. Unconsciously he thought: 'she is very beautiful' - then he left her be as he noticed her confusion:


" Straighten your feathers, little bird. "


He opened the window, and went on the balcony. When she was ready, she joined him, he turned:


" You want to leave? "

"I want..."

"What I want. Don't say that any more, please, it's too sad. It is not late, we can stay here for a bit if you are not too tired.”

"I'm very well."

"I'm glad you're always so very well. "



He led her back into the room, then he declared she had a fever and called for the waiter and ordered some milk. They chatted for an hour about politics. He admitted being rich but he didn't do it on purpose. He protested against the bombs, he did not like those radical methods. Charlotte was amazed to see him so knowledgeable about all sorts of revolutionary events. He asked her to tell how she lived in great detail, and commented that he and his sister had friends who were worse off.  Nothing could be done about that, because they insisted on living badly. He was cheerful, almost joyful. Leaning in front of him, her little face on her hand, the girl looked at him, her tears still glistening on her eyelashes and falling, slipping on her feverish cheeks without her noticing. Where did he come from? From a world that she acknowledged to be very kind and very beautiful, thinking she could never be part of it. He was dressed in the same blue as her, and he wore no valuables except an odd-looking tie pin.


How come he was holding her gloves in his hands? Cheap gloves made of cloth, that Charlotte had forgot to put back on during those two terrible nights, and instead she had been tugging nervously at them; they were all crumpled. Very carefully, he straightened them up while saying that he knew the 'Thoughts of Pascal and the Louvre Museum, as well as that alert and fresh tune that they were playing next door:  it was the Choir of the Spinners' from Wagner's Flying Dutchman', it had the good fortune to distract his partner. He got up and opened the door, she smiled at him.



Did she like music? He asked. She did not know really. Sometimes a barrel organ, or wandering musicians played in front of the door at Rue de Cléry . She admitted listening to them with emotion and pleasure, and she worked better, as when a sunbeam between the black houses, deigned to descend onto the workbench. These ladies were the same, they opened the window and they sang along.


Henri Léthoré was a mathematician, preparing for a calculus exam. It was very easy. He only needed to know how to add up. Nevertheless, this very afternoon, he needed an hour and half to solve an equation because of Mr. Hama was very intimidating. He understood her desire to become a teacher, he wanted to teach her. He was living alone in Paris with his old governess. His uncle and his sister both lived in Russia. But Sonia would visit Paris in June, and look after Charlotte. He promised her. In the meantime - as they had so much to learn - she would become his student. But she needed to be kind as he was impatient and demanded a lot. On the way home, in the cab, she fell asleep. Before they arrived, he woke her up to arrange their next meeting. She apologized for her confusion. He said briskly: 

" No, I have to thank you. I think, we get on well with each other, don't we? "

"Oh yes, we do!"



She was a little numb and quiet, but she could not help but wanting whatever he wanted because she knew nothing and he knew so much. He protested saying that his sister always accused him of rushing things; he never knew what was best, because the moment he agreed on something, everything else seemed to him equally good. They would study together, they needed to find out what exactly, and this was not an easy choice, because in order to study one thing properly, one needed to study all the other subjects and the more one studied, the more one realized that they knew so little. Sonia would not fail to say that we should not do everything at once. Charlotte therefore suggested to leave aside a certain economics projects she had tried to outline to him and did not make sense to her.


"I'm scared of your prejudices, Miss Charlotte, it's obviously necessary that you'll study it. Promise to study it."

"I promise."


He kissed her hand and whispered:

"And don't go out with Miss Martha anymore."


"Oh, sir!"



It was agreed that Charlotte would completely hand over to him the task of preparing the menu for her lunches; he wanted her to have milk and eggs, and lots of it. The next day, Sunday, she needed to rest and he would pick her up by cab at the door. They would go for two hours to the Bois de Boulogne, and he would bring her home at six o'clock because he could not abandon his governess for two nights in a row. During the walk in the woods, they would discuss what Charlotte needed to learn by finding out what she did not know. They were laughing, both happy, they could not explain why. Their beautiful and naive youth had gladly forgotten all the bad things they had left behind.

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