Henri Lethoré lived on the third floor of a house that was not particularly extraordinary. Charlotte was met by a stout woman aged about forty years with a red round face, lively eyes and a sullen expression.  She was wearing a white bonnet with ribbons that were flying on her back and a white apron. She asked:

"Miss Bugeot, that's you? "

Upon receiving a positive answer, she left the girl alone inside a bright antechamber furnished with only a few chairs and a coat rack and, without even asking her to sit down, she disappeared through a door and shouted:

"Sir, you need to leave your business: yer young lady's here. "

Henri appeared almost immediately. He was wearing grey clothes, and he looked a bit tired. He greeted Charlotte:

" Did you wait for a long time yesterday? "

" Until eight o'clock. "

" Oh!  you're so patient. "

"How are you?"

"I would like to say that I'm well, however my doctor disagrees." 

He helped the girl to take off her jacket, asked her to give him her hat and seeing how she was anxiously patting her hair, he led her to a mirror before ushering her into the dining room. Charlotte met a tiny, old woman dressed in black, her placid face was framed with beautiful white ringlets; she rose painfully from her chair. 

"Stay Séraphine," said Henri, "Mademoiselle de Boves, my housekeeper, this is Miss Bugeot. Miss Bugeot attends X's course. - You don't know him - I had the pleasure of meeting her there. She is preparing her a-levels. " 

"Please do sit down, Miss," the old lady said with a warm smile, "Mr Lethoré told me all about you. You have a lot of merit. You are very young to study Science; it wouldn't be much a surprise from a compatriot of Miss Lethoré, but in my days, French girls couldn't be bothered with all of this. " 


" Forgive me, Miss, I'm an old woman, and I'm only regretting my youth, I can't really appreciate nor understand yours, and it's only human. Do you live alone in Paris? "

"Miss Bugeot's parents live in the regions." 


"In Chateaudun, " Charlotte said and blushed. 

"I come from further away: Crozant in the Berry region. So you are alone, being alone is such a sad thing ..." 

"Séraphine, I think you have no objection to having lunch? " 

" Certainly, my child, let's eat. "

Henri placed the old lady's chair by the dining table and sat down on the other side. Charlotte was facing the housemaid. The centerpiece was a basket of pale and fragrant roses. The dining room was spacious and it was lit by two windows that had no curtains except for half-raised greyish-brown linen blinds. The walls were hung with blue-lavender canvas; on each end of the very high, carved-oak fireplace, with the blazing wood fire, there were two beautiful malachite vases. Charlotte also noticed the oak sideboard and two paintings on the walls representing the undergrowth of a forest. She remained silent because she did not know what to say. Henri began: 

"Séraphine, you'll get on well with Miss Bugeot; she is not a Christian, naturally." 

"What do you mean by naturally?" 

"As I've already explained, science and religion are incompatible, but I suspect that she has tendencies towards mysticism, your disease of perfection. She knows the Gospel according to Luke and Pascal's Thoughts by heart." 

"Pascal," Séraphine said, "was a great scientist, and a great Christian as well.

"He did not know Charles Darwin." Henri said

Charlotte made an effort to contribute to the conversation: She loved Pascal, although he was a Christian, but she did not know anything about Charles Darwin. Miss Boves did not know either and did not want to know: he was a horrible human being saying that we were children of monkeys.


"Cousins, Seraphine, only cousins. Listen, I remember a great ape - I don't know where or when but I was a young boy - he had beautiful eyes, as beautiful as those of any creature that thinks, yet so many human beings don't think. "

Henri promised Charlotte to lend her the Origins of the Species. Miss Boves preferred Octave Feuillet and George Sand - her compatriot -, and her favourite Sand novel was 'Indiana'. Charlotte was familiar with all these names because she had read them in town-hall library catalogue; yet she had not read these authors. Henri brought the conversation back to Raphael's saying that his painted Madonnas had stupid faces and had no clue about what was happening to their bodies, this deeply shocked the governess while the housemaid burst out laughing.  The latter had not said anything yet she was merely staring at Charlotte.

Charlotte was pale however, she put a brave face despite the inquisitive behaviour of the free-spirited housemaid who was still not taking her eyes off her. Miss de Boves looked worried: 

"You aren't ill, Miss Bugeot, are you? It was Mr. Lethoré who asked us to serve you milk, he quite insisted, and I see from your face that he wasn't wrong to do so. You're like all those girls who learn and learn, my God! and forget to eat. Therefore, as you'll be coming here every evening for your algebra lesson, it may more convenient for you to dine here. " 

"Oh … but ..." Charlotte said, she was very moved and blushing. 

Miss de Boves' movements were slow, her voice was soft; each word was accompanied by a smile that made her fine-featured wrinkled face very attractive. It lit a light inside her pale eyes. Sometimes, she called the boy " Ric " or "my little Ric " and she did so when she needed his approval. Henri smiled at the girl: 

"Do accept, Miss Charlotte, it would be such an honour if you did."

Miss de Boves sat down again in another chair by the window between an embroidery loom and a basket with balls of wool of different colours. Then she noticed that she had dropped her glasses which she needed for her work so Henri went on all fours and searched for them under the table. 

Meanwhile Charlotte, abandoned on the threshold of the study, had been examining the room. It was very large; the light came from three windows lined with stores similar to those in the dining room. The tapestry was of an old gold colour; on a white marble fireplace with a burning wood fire, there stood a naked marble Diana which reflected into a bevelled mirror. Next to it, a long crystal flute vase contained a rose in full-bloom. Between the fireplace and the window there was a huge grand piano draped in Japanese silks; two large black wooden desks were placed against the other wall; between them there was a sofa covered with a tiger skin rug. On the wall, facing the windows, between two glass cabinets full of books, there was a bi-fold door that the young man closed. In the middle of the room, there was a chalkboard on an easel. Books were piling on the ground, here and there, on two chairs, and a rocking chair which he cleared to offer a seat to his pupil. He sat down opposite her on a small bench. Eulalie put a coffee-tray next to him on one of the desks and said: 

"Will you now leave us alone, Sir?" 

"I will try, do so first, please, Eulalie, and go away."

Eulalie was in a bad mood: she had not been able to leave the house because she was told that Henri was ill, that was indeed very ridiculous. Charlotte reached out for some sugar and as she looked up, she caught a glimpse of a small and pretty watercolor hanging on the wall above the desk. A head of a young girl, all white and pink with a halo of full blonde hair, she had big laughing eyes and looked mischievous, she seemed to bow, discovering a beautiful snow-white neck that emerged from her light-coloured slightly low-cut bodice. 

"My sister Sonia, when she was twenty."

Henri Lethoré Sr, Ric's father, was a very poor boy, and a maths teacher. After vegetating in Paris, he left for Russia where he had two sisters, one married in Lodz, the other was a teacher in Moscow. The latter had found him a job teaching a young Russian girl whom she was giving drawing lessons. The young man fell in love with his pupil Sophie Ivanowna. She was extremely rich and lived alone with her father, who did not want her to get married. So the teacher and the young girl eloped.

The fugitives settled in Vienna with Mademoiselle de Boves, who was Sophie's French teacher and who loved her like her own child. They eked a living the young man gave mathematics lessons and the young woman taught the piano. Miss Boves looked after the household and raised their little girl whose name was Sophie Ivanowna or Sonia. Fourteen years later, Ric was born into this world. The mother died in childbirth and the father died six months later. Séraphine sold everything they owned and they returned to Russia, she brought the orphans to Uncle Pierre, the brother of their maternal grandfather, the latter was now dead and buried. Uncle Pierre was a widower and all his children had died young. He owned large estates in the vicinity of K ... He also held very liberal views. So he took in the governess, the girl and the little boy to whom Sonia was now the young mother.

Ric was raised by Sonia, and he was very, very spoiled. Sonia taught him to walk, to talk and to play the piano; like her own mother Sonia had musical talents. She became the blonde fairy from the portrait made by Séraphine. When she was twenty, she was engaged to Jacques Seradsky, the son of a lawyer from Petersburg, who was staying in K. Jacques used to hug them both and he promised to keep them together forever. In the evenings, young Ric played the piano, accompanied by his uncle Pierre who played the violin, and the engaged couple danced .

Jacques Seradsky was not really a nihilist, but many of his friends were. One night, he was arrested and nobody was able to give any explanation. After fifteen months of detention in a Russian prison, he was sentenced to forced labour in the mines. Uncle Pierre and Sonia had tried everything in vain everything to see him during these fifteen months. Séraphine accompanied Sonia because she did not want to leave the daughter of her dear late Sophie Ivanowna, and Ric's mission was to prevent both of them from falling into despair. He was a very young boy, and very sad to see his mommy crying, and he understood that he might be useful and this filled him with pride. He still remembered the faulty trains, the endless stops at the stations, and how they could not find any food when young Ric was very hungry. Endlessly waiting in the office until finally they were told that the prisoners had just left, they raced behind, at last they arrived. How Sonia had screamed when she was told that Jacques who had been very ill when he left prison, had died during the journey. Hours later, she was still while Ric desperately clung to her and screamed as well.

Séraphine brought them back to K ... But Sonia did not recover from her pain: Jacques had died, he had called her and she had been unable to see him. Now she loathed Russia, therefore Uncle Pierre sent all three to France. He loved France for him it was the homeland of Voltaire and Fontenelle. This happened ten years ago. They moved into this apartment. Sonia studied medicine. The first years were very hard for her. Often she abandoned her books, and sobbed on the couch. Ric used to go to the piano and play the waltzes from the old days. After Sonia had calmed down, Séraphine took her to her room and put her to bed like a little girl.

They almost became nihilists. They did not thanks to Uncle Pierre who had beseeched Sonia to remain reasonable. Uncle Pierre came to see them during the holidays and he took them with him on his travels. Their friends who were people of very high social status deserted them - they had lost their humanity because of their sectarian mentality and intransigence, and their rigid principles. So the house became empty of visitors. Sonia became a doctor. She was her brother's only teacher and taught him up his a-levels. Since then, Ric attended the Sorbonne. He had a great passion for mathematics, and his sister was very good at those. At the beginning of this year, Uncle Pierre had asked Sonia to come back to Russia. Now she was gone. Back home in Russia, they served the Revolution in their own way, a slow but invincible one. She drove out on a sleigh, often for several days, going from village to village, caring for the sick and helping women to give birth. She brought bread and books to the villagers. Uncle Pierre often accompanied her; he was still youthful and strong; he did not share their ideas and say that the boorish louts soon would forget everything that had done for them and would burn their house without pity. Sonia and Ric believed that he was right. Ignorance and misery in the world were just too big. They were not revolutionaries, but when the Revolution would come, they would be ready, and Uncle Pierre with them, even if they had to perish under the ruins of their crumbling house crumbling, they would be shouting: "Long live the Revolution!"

Ric still needed to prepare two exams, after that he would join Uncle Pierre and Sonia. Then he would return to Paris for a thesis, he did not know on what subject yet. He wanted to pass his ‘agrégation’-teaching certificate, and to become a secondary-school Science teacher. Since the departure of Sonia, he had been bored; he loved Séraphine very much, but she was not Sonia; their souls remained strangers -; the last few remaining friends drifted away, blaming his poise and his cheerfulness. Ric enjoyed the good life; he was used to it.

He spoke more for himself, Charlotte was listening and felt a little ashamed for believing what Martha had told her, in the heart, she felt a slight crack and through it went her last expectations. Henri was like that sister: he did good for the sake of it, for his own pleasure; goodness for its own sake was the luxury of their minds, it did not need any recognition. Yet Charlotte was not one of uncle Pierre's boorish villagers.

Henri contemplated Charlotte's lovely dark hair, her very young and delicate face, while deploring that its expression was too serious. He was angry at himself for having made her suffer by asking many incessant questions. He blamed his inquisitive mind for always wanting to find specific reasons for everything. Yet these reasons, and he knew it, were often very difficult to explain. This week only, when writing to Sonia, with whom he shared everything, he talked about Charlotte and told the same story as he told Séraphine. Why did not tell the truth? He had no doubts in his sister's indulgence nor in her supreme goodness. Since her bereavement, Sonia had seen so much misery, and she had treated some very sad human beings. Henri himself had accompanied her on her rounds and they saw people who welcomed them with insults. Sonia was patient and the opposite of a Puritan.  At first, Henri was thinking how she might scold him for going to the Moulin-Rouge; now he realized that Sonia would be deeply disappointed by his behaviour, and, not knowing Charlotte, she would be concerned. His lie however weighed on his conscience, therefore he was grateful to the young girl for the way she was; and once Sonia had seen Charlotte, Henri would be able to tell the truth to his sister. 

She was sitting there, he found her delightful. A ray of sunshine fell on her round wrist and her little hand on the arm of the chair; it was also lighting her feet, small as well, clad in carefully waxed and obviously very old black ankle boots. She was trying to keep her feet on the ground, as she was probably not accustomed to this kind of seat and feeling that she might fall over. 

" I'm sorry to keep you here on such a beautiful day. " 

" Oh, I'm feeling so good. " 


He stood up, opened the window, and turned her chair slightly so that she did not need to sit with her back in the draught. Outside there was a large balcony with a full view on the Luxembourg Gardens. 

Henri was very happy as he was talking. Séraphine enjoyed meeting the girl; She was a Christian and supported some ideas by Tolstoy (Charlotte needs to read Tolstoy, he would lend her some book by him), she was also a great enemy of Science which she accused of disrupting everyone's brains. she would also return to Russia. As long as Uncle Pierre lived, there was no hope of bringing Sonia back to France. Henri accused the two ladies of having a sentimental affection to pain and sacrifice. Uncle Pierre could certainly move to Paris if someone bothered to ask him seriously; but everyone wanted to save Russia, and yet one day it would save itself on its own. Séraphine believed in freedom through preaching the Gospels. 

Charlotte had not noticed that there was a big bullseye clock, above the door, the bell rang nine. 

"It's sixteen minutes past three o'clock," Henri said, "It has not rung today so I'm keeping an eye on it." 

The girl burst into a fresh and beautiful laughter and it seemed to bounce off the walls of this big room. She shrieked when the strange seat tilted backwards. 

"You’re wrong be afraid, Miss, the purpose of this chair is this very exercise and you won't fall backwards.  You’re making fun of me, I think. But you laugh well and you’ve made me happy; I was beginning to worry that you did not know how to. " 

He did not seem offended. He explained that he was not a watchmaker, but he was interested in astronomy for which it was essential to know the exact time. From one of the glass-cabinets, he took out her a small board with four chronometers -  each marking a different time - attached to it. By comparing their respective irregularities, he could reach a fairly accurate approximation of the truth. All those irregularities which happened to those well-built watches were caused by the vibrations of the house. In order to avoid those completely, he could of course put them in the cellar. 

As a result, the lesson was very cheerful. According to Charlotte, algebra was like Henri: a strange and paradoxical thing: Plus multiplied by minus equaled minus, and there was minus multiplied by minus which equaled the same numbers with a plus. She could not help but finding this miraculous. She would never learn, her teacher said, as long she could not understand that this was all very natural. 

He was using an old manual which she could take home with her. He explained while leaning against a corner of his desk, seemingly contemplating of his own red slippers. When Charlotte claimed that she understood, he held out a piece of chalk which he took from a wooden bowl, and asked her to demonstrate on the blackboard. He laughed when he saw that she was wrong and erased everything, then started explaining again. 

"Am I very stupid?" the young girl asked 

"Fortunately for me, Miss Charlotte, otherwise there would be nothing for us to do." 

At about four o'clock Eulalie entered the room to bring them tea and cakes. Henri closed the window. 

When they were alone, Charlotte felt like laughing again. Henri asked: 

" Sing something, will you? " 


" You told me that all of you are singing when the sun shines into your workshop." 

" Yes but I don't sing. " 

" You mean you can't play music, but you can sing, I suppose, like a small babbling brook. Try it, I won't look at you. " 

At Décoiffer's, they only sang rude songs or stupidly sentimental ones. Right on time, Charlotte remembered a meaningless little song learned at school. So she chirped shyly. 

" Well done, " said Henry, " you are in tune, music is a nice distraction, I'll teach you."

He sat down at the piano. As soon as the first notes resounded, Séraphine and Eulalie arrived, the housemaid was carrying the old lady's chair. Henri was playing beautifully and seemed to forget the world's existence. Charlotte listened while reclining in the rocking-chair, she was pale with emotion. From time to time, Séraphine turned her head toward her, and gave her a kind smile. She spoke to the young man when he stopped. When he went to the desk to pick up a cake; Séraphine gave him a kiss:

"My lovely little Ric, it's been a long time since you played. It's so kind of you to do so today." 

"Yes, sir," Eulalie said, "it's not miserable. I was feeling weary because things were getting sad here."

They dined at six, because Henri did not want Charlotte getting home too late. He gave her a bundle of books which she promised not to read at night, but only at her studio if there was nothing else to do. Then Eulalie escorted her back to the omnibus.