chapter10

Usually, Henri Lethoré picked up Charlotte from work on a Tuesday, on a Saturday, and sometimes on a Thursday at seven clock in the evening. He came in a car, and every time he caused a sensation. Having such a fine lover earned the young girl Mr Décoiffer's respect. Never did he fail to tell Martha that her friend's good manners were the reason for this. Martha came downstairs with Charlotte, and made beautiful, sheep eyes at the young man while offering him her gloveless hand. He kissed her hand with a smile and without looking particularly emotional, then he said that he was in a hurry as he needed to attend a lecture.


Martha told her friend she felt as if the man had emerged from an icehouse. Her companion's silence annoyed her. She had guessed that she was not Henri's mistress, because he did not behave with her as with a woman who had been 'bedded'. Charlotte's other work-colleagues were jealous while respecting her more than before. Julie wondered how someone could be attracted to this little girl who looked like a skinny cat. Only Armandine understood:


"Leave it. The pair of them together, they are very nice. It's a boy like that I would have preferred for my Lili. "

Martha replied:

" Sure. He would have done no harm to your Lili. Taking a woman to a lecture! This chap has some stunning vices. "

From time to time, Charlotte attended physics lectures at the University of Technology. Henri Lethoré knew the young lecturer, who was a lab assistant with Professor X, and admired him greatly. The young girl did not always understand and Henri repeated the lecture to her on the way home in the cab. Contrary to his earlier comment, he was very patient, he could give the same explanation ten times in succession and always find a new way of delivering it. Charlotte was reminded of Miss Buchs', she was happy to learn about the Atwood machine and the Foucault pendulum. There was one thing that Henri did not allow: people pretending to understand something even if they did not.  He said: "Explain this to me." Charlotte became confused; Henri stamped his foot as if he were angry. She said: 


" But I thought I did understand. "

 

He laughed and he kissed her hand, then he promised to take her to a concert.


She had brought him the curriculum for her teaching exam. At dinner he read it, then he said:

 

" I'm not very up to date, but - if you do not mind - I would prefer if you prepared your Baccalauréat a-levels. Moreover - you still look too tired - so let's wait. "


As a result, they went to small concerts at the Luxembourg Rooms. According to Henri, apart from mathematics, music was a necessary thing to human existence. Charlotte had great respect for mathematics; but she became passionate about music without daring to admit how deeply. It was as if everything in her was singing to it. Henri had noticed his predilection for César Franck and religious music. He accused her of being mystical but she protested. He said that when she was listening to the ‘Ave Maria’, he pictured a swallow accidentally entering a cathedral through the open gate doors and shattering against the vault because even the most daring the naves all have vaults. Only science dwells in the infinite, and its sense of time is eternity. Charlotte would realize that once she knew. César Franck might have believed in the failure of science, otherwise he would have whinged less; this failure was in fact a rebirth. Charlotte remembered the countryside, that small church, so humble, so welcoming and she believed; she tried to control her tears. He saw that, pressed her fingers and began to joke: He demonstrated that she had to be mystical, if not necessarily religious, the opposite of a bigot, unwilling to understand. Charlotte mentioned the philosopher Pascal who was not religious either.


" If not him, it's his grace, " Henri replied, "as if it's the only one. "

Charlotte did not understand her boyfriend very well. She spoke little about him at the workshop, because she felt that her colleagues would understand him even less. Martha teased her about the lectures, scolded her that she let him take her to a cheap Bouillon-Duval - she would not have put with that. Charlotte told tell her that they were also going to the Opera. Henri usually took her very high up, and because they had arrived late, they could only find bad seats, most those in the draft. He put his overcoat around her shoulders. At the Opera, he met friends who were very poor and wore strange clothes. He spoke English and German to them yet all of them could speak French when they greeted her. She was a poor young girl, forced to work to fund her studies. That did not seem to surprise anyone. Among the gentlemen, there was always one who offered his seat to her. Charlotte was thankful and blushed, although she was slightly annoyed to be separated from Henri.


Almost always the Opera played Wagner. Charlotte admitted not understanding what was happening on stage because she could not see it very well. She preferred the concert at Colonne where she once went on a Sunday afternoon. She also sat at the top tier and met the same kind of people; but she could listen without trying to see the stage, as there was no acting. Henri explained that the top tier at Colonne was stuffy, most of his friends were poor, they could not take afford better seats and so it was up to those who were rich to go to those who were not.


Henri was contrary in almost everything, he divided the universe into two parts: one was nice and one was boring; everything could have been nice, but some people were embarrassed and embarrassed others with their prejudices which prevented them from enjoying themselves, thus such people dealt with everything, except with themselves. Charlotte had prejudices too: She wore a veil which Henri called a 'fly-trap' and it reached the end of her nose. This was unbearable to him: either the veil was protecting her face and ought to cover it entirely, or it was useless, what seemed most likely, and needed to be discarded.


The girl had other prejudices which her companion had no idea about. When she went out with Annette, she could hear these gentlemen ushers and porters talking and what they said confirmed her idea that all men were only interested in chasing women.  Martha reiterated to her when they were on their own:


"Men are all dirty pigs, your snowman as well as all the others; you can't expect that he's taking you out for the sake of your beautiful eyes, so don't be led down the garden path. "


Was Henri in love with her or not? Charlotte thought about it:  he never said a kind word of love, and never had he paid her any compliment. One evening, Martha had thought of fixing the young girl's hat which she thought looked a little dated, so she pinned a big scarlet bow to it. During dinner and the concert, Henri was staring at the bow. When they left, he asked - in a tone that Charlotte perceived as cheeky -:

" If it's not too much trouble, take this bow off. It doesn't suit you: it clashes with your natural expression. Either that or you need to do something else with it. " 



Martha exclaimed, the day after seeing the hat back to black: 

" He made you take it off? When you look in a mirror, can't you see? You still don't realize that he's afraid that you'll find yourself another guy? You are such a mug, men are like that, they put you well under wraps, but they'll still dump you. You're looking at me, perhaps it’s because I know these things better than you? " 


Armandine admitted that the red bow suited Charlotte's dark hair, but sometimes sacrifices needed to be made for the sake of harmony.


Charlotte was making a far more painful sacrifice to harmony. Every Friday night, she visited Armandine. On that day, Henri was attending lectures at a Society of Physics which he thought might be too boring for Charlotte; hence he picked her up afterwards at eleven. He also entrusted her with various errands: a books on mechanics for Bertie who had started to work at the Cail Engineering company in Chaillot, a recorder for Totole, a kerchief and song-sheets for Rose, flowers for the mother, tobacco for the old man and cakes for everyone. Charlotte was not fooled by his excuses to give her money so she held him to account. He replied: 


" Money is a terrible thing. Worrying about it dominate our lives. It's not your fault that the world revolves around it and thousands of human beings are condemned to live only for this miserable metal. But this is not for you, since its possession can’t diminish you. Forget about it, will you? Please understand that you’re doing me a favour. " 


When Sonia lived in Paris, they used to go shopping for poor friends; it was the same there: now Charlotte did the shopping, because she was his associate, and a woman knew about such things better than a man. She needed to help her companions in a timely manner, and learn to recognize the needs by herself - nobody ought to lack dignity - and then report to him so he could forgive himself for being so happy while knowing that others miserable. Henry was in great need of forgiveness, because whatever the weather, he had always found that life had been good to him, and if he did get emotional, he could not stay sad for too long.


All this was not an excuse for her to start neglecting herself, he added. Instead, she needed to keep her promise to eat her lunches as indicated by him, and not to walk alone at night on the streets. He agreed that she could take the omnibus back home, when she was not with him, since Charlotte did not like cabs.


So Charlotte dined every Friday at Armandine's and she tried to share Henri's speech aboutt money but Armandine refused any payment: 

"Tut-tut, my girl, I've only known soup ,  You bring the dessert , and this is your contribution, we give ours. "


Armandine had taken Henri into her motherly heart. That he was going to leave his girlfriend one day - was as as sure as it had already happened - but he did not look like someone who would cause trouble to a woman. It did not happen every day that someone was thinking about the poor folks - this proved how happy he was with Charlotte. During these speeches, the old man slumbered while smoking his pipe. Totole played the recorder, Rosa curled her very straight but beautiful blonde hair. Harmony reigned supreme. The men stayed at home. Totole was not mourning Lili, as Armandine told while drying her tears. Rose said:


"Na Lottie, the fact that he says 'Miss' to you leaves me speechless."


Her mother replied: 


"If that's the case, then stay quiet. Don't go saying improper things to Mr Henri. He’s well-behaved. Everybody loves in their own way, and that’s none of our business. "



Everyone was waiting for Mr Henri to eat the cakes. Armandine considered Mr Henri to be just a big kid, even more childish than Bertie. With her, he was laughing to tears, saying that he regretted having learned philosophy before meeting her. He showed her the Russian dances, while accompanying himself on an old tambourine that he had found God knows where. The dance was about sliding, swirling and gracefully saluting. Armandine was irresistible, the young girls were put through their paces. The old man woke-up, this dance reminded him of his village, where they danced the 'Bourrée' of the Auvergne.



" You know the ' Bourrée ', show us the steps."


"No my young friend - I can't - my legs won’t work - Now it's your turn.”


Bertie talked about his work in detail. Now, he and Henri were talking about radius vectors, which did not enchant Rose while Totole was still playing his instrument. After writing down all the demonstrations, Henri used up all the paper in the house. Who knows maybe one day Bertie would become an engineer and build locomotives? Armandine believed that stranger things had happened. 


When they were alone together in the cab, Henry ask Charlotte to talk about her past, and indeed, she found great pleasure in it, a feeling of relief, happy to entrust her dreams, her aspirations to someone who did not mock her. He had an excellent memory, and remembered every details, and he also liked to contradict her. Things were no longer running smoothly when Charlotte started to talk about the frightful ideas that came to her during her last three months of nightmare; but Henri wanted to know about everything she had thought, everything she had done so she indulged his curiosity but she was also upset and ashamed of herself. She understood that Henri was still surprised that she had consented to leave the Moulin-Rouge with him, and Charlotte thought that if she had not cried, things might have taken an entirely different turn. She concluded that Henri might have behaved differently with Martha. There was no doubt that he could love her: he found her pretty. As for herself, maybe he left her alone because he did not feel any desire for her. So Charlotte was suffering from her protector's apparent indifference. Did she regret not being Martha? But if he had felt desire for her, hugged her, insisted to accompany her to her room and then taken her - and Martha said that this was a foregone conclusion - what would become of her? After Henri had tormented her enough with his questions, he tried to comfort her. His voice became really very gentle, he pressed her small hands, trembling in his. Perhaps he had guessed:

" My sister will love you, Miss Charlotte, believe me. "



He had no hidden agenda, and he believed her. He did not go to the Moulin-Rouge seeking an adventure, at least not consciously, but only to pass the time on a dull evening, and driven by curiosity - which he admitted was unhealthy. She went there deliberately to sell herself to a stranger. When he was away from her, he thought about this fact and the thoughts seemed monstrous and daunting. When they were together, he could only see her, so sweet and charming, a poor little human being broken by life, who had been cold and hungry and who naively confessed how she had suffered for being unloved. And he found that emotion from their second meeting when she spoke and confided to him, and he had suffered when he helplessly witnessed so much pain.

 

What did she want? Charlotte hardly knew. One Sunday, the rain was pouring; Henri thought that she was too tired to endure four hours of music, locked inside Concert Colonne, so he offered to go to the Louvre museum instead. He had never been there on a Sunday and he found the bustling crowd interesting. They had stopped in the salon carré, and side by side they were leaning side in front of the Mona Lisa. Charlotte preferred the 'Laura Dianti ' by Titian nearby. They talked in a low voice, cheerfully, as if they had been very old friends. Two young women whose demeanour hinted that they were manual workers, sat down beside them and they leaned towards the painting as well. Henri paused. The two women contemplated the enigmatic figure during a few seconds, then one of them said to the other as they were leaving:


"For a coquette, she really doesn't look very beautiful." 


"What is beauty, Miss? Lines? Wrong, beauty does not physically exist, it is nothing but air and smoke; it is the harmony that results from our agreement between the various components that chance offers us ... Mona laughs at me, Miss, and at my right to judge unknown people's state of mind, yet I learnt from you that words and deeds are worthless, traitors to our best wishes. Only our effort is true. The Mona Lisa is better than a human being is a thought seeking its way. It is welcoming or bitter, good or bad, depending on whether she is happy or disappointed by our efforts; her painter lent her the soul of his own genius with this beautiful smile that saddens or delight, mocks or encourages - she is still beautiful because her sincere effort that she expresses towards a better truth. " 

Charlotte replied:

"She was not good. I ... I think ..." she looked down because her eyes were full of tears and she was thinking of him "... and beauty is perfection. " 

"Humbug ..." 


Inside this museum, Henri knew perfect works to catch a cold, such as those by Jacques-Louis David and his school that he could not stand. What a pity that Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres who was capable of painting 'The Source' decided to paint such an impeccable 'Angélique'. Charlotte had always admired both paintings conscientiously. Because those were nudes, now she felt embarrassed contemplating them with him. He noticed her behaviour : 

" Well you're a prude. You are wrong, prudery is mother of all vices " 


When then sky had cleared up a bit, they went to the Bois de Boulogne park and they returned very late. Henri wanted to buy Charlotte's dinner en route. Since she had to heat it on her petrol lamp, the food needed to be practical; he had not thought about this complication. She did not dare assuming that he had a great desire not to leave her.

 

"If they didn't expect me home, I would have asked you to come to the theatre with me, however we'll go there later this week. " 


Henri Lethoré had one big fault: he was always late. Charlotte did not mind, but Martha was teasing her about that. Henri had promised, they were going to the theatre this Thursday at seven. Now it was half past seven, and he had not arrived yet. Martha said: 


"If I were you, I'd give him a piece of mind,"

 

She had barely finished her sentence when the young man suddenly jumped off the cab before it had stopped and he reached his hand out to Charlotte. Martha said: 

"Good evening. We were expecting you. Have you seen your companion recently?" 

"He's is not a companion. I only know him from class." 

"Did he not speak about me?" 

"Happiness has no words, Miss, I guess that's why happy people have no story to tell." 

"Oh Sir, you’re tempting me" - 


Martha wrapped him in a beautiful glance, soft, mocking and melancholic all at once:

 "You must be making Charlotte happy. Before she knew you, she didn't speak a lot, now she hardly speaks at all." 


Henri blushed, he only thought about Martha when he saw her, he found her troubling, and annoying: 

"Tempting as it sounds, Miss, I don't believe you. Our happiness depends on us, if Mademoiselle Bugeot is happy, it's due to her own efforts. Excuse us, we're hungry, we must live first, and then talk philosophy. "

Martha bowed very gracefully. Charlotte had not heard anything; she only saw that her friend had blushed. When she was sitting beside him in the cab, Charlotte said: 


" You're half an hour late." 

" Yes? It's quite possible." 


Out of his pocket, Henri pulled out a flat, gold watch that he was wearing without a chain and he said that an integral calculus equation did not work and he found it difficult to leave his blackboard. Alone the thought of Charlotte waiting in the street on her own, prompted him to do so. 

" I could wait for you upstairs. " 

"Don't do it otherwise I'd have no reason to interrupt, I'd forget you and we wouldn't get any dinner... " 

She did not answer. He continued:

"You look sad. Did I offend you? " 

She replied briskly:

" Oh no, certainly not, after everything you've done for me, I can surely be grateful ... " 

" There is no need for gratitude, Miss. " 


The young girl's eyes filled with tears.

"Now I've hurt you, I assure you, I didn’t mean it... Please, forget about the gratitude. I promise you – from now on, I'll try my best, not to keep you waiting. "


He kissed her hand before helping her to get out. At the table, in order to hide her confusion, Charlotte asked to have a closer look at that curious watch. It had a chronometer, it indicated the phases of the Moon, atmospheric pressure, it had twenty-four digits, and the hands showed a quarter past five. Charlotte put the watch close to her ear, and heard it ticking. Henri smiled: It was a new one, it seemed to behave badly, he was studying it in order to find out about appropriate adjustments to it. While listening, Charlotte felt some anger welling up inside her, and she thought that he was giving her just as much honor as to his new watch.


They were going to see the 'Arlésienne' musical by Georges Bizet. Charlotte enjoyed settling into a booth, alone with her extraordinary lover who was nothing of the sort.  He was in a delightful mood and he admitted that reasonable creatures should only go to the theater comfortably seated and not bothered by anyone.  Schopenhauer, whom Charlotte ignored - and she was just right - said that women did not know how to appreciate music. Henri had said that women never knew how keep quiet and that's why he went to the concerts at The Luxembourg, although it was very hot, and many people smoked; but there were more men in the audience, so he did not have to listen to female neighbours' cackling about the conductor's beard or the gestures. Charlotte was nice, because she knew how listen silently and without making any reflections. Comments showed that one was not in 'harmony', - Armandine's favourite word - and this took any poetry away from the joy experienced.


The girl was so delighted, so moved that she hardly dared saying anything. She would have loved to hear the 'farandole'-dance all over again at least twenty times. Martha might have accused her of behaving as if she was returning from Pontoise; and reminded her that in the company of men, a woman needed to look like she had seen it all, but taking a similar approach with Henri Lethoré , who knew so much, was too difficult. Therefore, the young girl was relieved when she saw him stand up, clapping excitedly and enthusing: 

" It's so beautiful: like the hot sun from Southern France. " 


Charlotte found the courage to tell him that she preferred this music to ' Siegfried ' by Wagner. They agreed to go and see 'Carmen' another day. After leaving, they ate a light supper. Henri was very cheerful and very friendly, but his usual calm and tranquil demeanour shattered Charlotte's last illusions.


And on the next Saturday she waited for him in vain until eight o'clock. 


Very upset, she went up to her room, without getting any dinner. She had been completely crazy. Maybe he was spoken for? Where did she get the idea that he loved her? At the Opéra, at Colonne, he sometimes met young women, they were not elegant, but they were certainly very learned. He often talked to them in a foreign language. Charlotte was just a poor little girl, with little knowledge, and worthy to be despised. How could she had been so bold to tell him off, while in her purse she carried his money. Admittedly, she had spent as little as possible for personal use but even refunding that amount could prove difficult. Henri had constantly incited her to talk about herself, but he had told nothing about himself. Maybe he realized what she desired, and now he would not come back. What was going to happen to her? What should she do? Charlotte had rarely dared asking him questions. One evening, after pondering about his sister's name and all these foreigners, whom he was acquainted with, she had asked him: 

"Are you French?" 

"Yes, half  - my mother was Russian." 


He had smiled at her so she did not dare to ask more questions. Now she could not muster to the audacity to seek him out at his address. So she needed to write a letter. Writing to Henri Lethoré - would she be able to do that?


She stuck to her decision. She did not think about worrying about how necessary this strange man had become to her. She hardly knew anything about him and yet she did not wonder where that would lead her. However, she realized that she loved him, she was prepared to do anything to find him again. Yes, even even if it meant not showing this insane love that she felt for him. He was her only possible hope of happiness. It had shone on her only when she was deep inside the abyss. Her life, Charlotte would have given her entire life just to be with him again only for a few minutes, listening to the Farandole.


She ran at a fast pace. She was in such a hurry to write to him and beg him to forgive her arrogance. The caretaker was standing at the door and handed over to her a postcard sent through pneumatic post.


Charlotte thought she was going to faint, she barely uttered 'Thank you', and scurried up the six floors.  Henri had written:

Dear Miss Bugeot,

When I left you on Thursday, I caught a cold. I hoped to be able to pick you up today, and now I see that I would have left you waiting again. If you are kind, you will forgive me.  Please join us for lunch at home on Sunday. We eat at eleven o'clock. 

yours respectfully, 

Your Henri Lethoré "


Charlotte sobbed: she had not thought of this simple explanation, that he had been incapacitated. She had been crazy. Now she was laughing at herself while kneeling on the floor with her head on the bed. Henri was sick and there she was laughing. She was insane, so insane. She had not eaten any dinner, and he would enquire about it. So she needed to eat at once. She went downstairs again, it was difficult to find any milk and eggs but even more difficult to eat those. Then she started to think again: Henri had written:  'join us for lunch'  


This word ' us ' kept her awake for most of the night; and because of that, the next morning, she styled her hair repeatedly, - ten times at least -, she tried each of her three small collars on her dress. What would his governess think of her? Now she needed to be on her best behaviour.




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