chapter14

The next day came and went, Charlotte said nothing about her father, when and how to talk about such a thing? She was still working at Décoiffer's. She wanted Sonia to see for herself that Henri and herself were reasonable creatures, she was at work and that if she had not passed her baccalauréat-A levels, it was not her fault. Charlotte worked for about two hours a day then Henri picked her at ten to bring her home for lunch. Afterwards, they went together to the Bois de Boulogne; her friend felt that she needed fresh air, he was convinced that she was anemic. Dressed in a greyish-brown dress and a lace mantilla presented to her by Séraphine, she was delightful and her fiancé kept on telling her that. She raised her beautiful eyes, and said very softly while holding his hand: 

"my friend, my friend," 


It was never the time nor the place for horrible confessions.



That day, they returned home only at about six o'clock, Henri had bought flowers to fill the whole house; at least the poor things were fading for his beloved. He was going to pick up Sonia in Berlin, and stay four days with their friends, the Kindermanns; now he only wanted to stay for two days. The Kindermanns were very kind, he liked them very much, but he felt that he didn't need to see them that often. He wondered whether it never occurred to Sonia that the time of pilgrimages to merit the heart of his beloved was no longer fashionable. A postcard from Uncle Pierre reached them, he was welcoming this pretty French girl who, despite doing science, had great hair and did not wear glasses, he wrote that he was waiting impatiently for their arrival.



Séraphine was astonished that Henri, now that he had what he wanted, could not keep calm and was eager to get married. He was never happy, never. He did not give her any answer, he kissed Charlotte instead:


"My darling, you’re here, I am happy, so happy."



After dinner, he played music. They were alone only when they were going back to rue Flocon. Henry then requested her not to speak while telling her that she had a fever, and he did not stop talking. She remained curled up in his arms, like a trusting little bird feeling cold while, trying to find some courage.


"Ric, listen to me, you are young ...."

"Yes, and you aren’t (!)  Do you seriously believe that?"

"Don't laugh, I want to tell you something, I didn't  tell you everything ..."



She stopped as she was very embarrassed.


"But I'm listening. Really, Charlotte, so you’re keeping secrets from me, was your Man with Glove angry when he found out?"

"No, he wasn’t"

"He wasn’t? My crazy naive darling, kiss me."



He was really too cheerful and she could not to say it immediately, without preparation. She hesitated, then she said:

"My parents are poor, they didn't like me and they'll give me nothing, not even furniture and you are so rich."

"Wrong, my darling, I am poor."



His father and his mother had never been married; Sonia and him would not inherit anything. From his first day, Henry had lived on charity. this made no difference: without charity, he could have lived and found a way of doing mathematics.  Uncle Pierre had his ideas. When Sonia was due to marry Jacques, himself a rich man, the uncle arranged for a dowry to his niece, so that was financially independent.  He would probably do the same for his nephew, because Sonia had written that he had to consider that society had not given Charlotte the means to ensure her much-needed freedom to live a decent existence, therefore they would take a share from Henri's amount to give her a dowry. Henri had not talked about these things, because he did not want to bother the girl with money worries.


"Give me a dowry?"

" You, my dear, in case, I hit you, so you could leave our house. "

"I don't want that."

" Tell that to Sonia. Why antagonize her? If the 'myself' inside me decided to hit you, it will hit you. But I only want to kiss you, Charlotte, my gentle, my beautiful, my darling brown bee. "

" Ric! "

" My darling, I gave you a kiss, you took it, you’re in debt - in a  dependent situation where you can't fend for yourself. "

"Yes I love you."


It was such happiness that made Henri wondered whether he was still alive:

" My fairy, when I'm holding you, I feel the need to call you Charlotte, Charlotte and later , after you've left me I’ll believe that you’re with me, I’ll open my arms and realize that I'm wrong ."



She said quickly:

"I wish I could never leave you. " 

"It might happen."

"Listen to me, Ric: the people with whom I lived with were much more evil and worse than you may think ... my father drank ..."

"Yes, I understand, my little soul, we’re going to need his consent and he’ll say that he needs help. You see Sonia’s right, yourself you’ll help yourself as you deem necessary and suitable. I beg of you, forget about these things, don't make yourself ill. Think of me, Charlotte, I'm so happy, we’re going to be so happy. "


It was very simple. When they returned from Russia at the start of the winter, they would move all of Charlotte’s possessions into Henri's room, including the Man with a Glove, the pink lampshade and her dear Pascal. She would prepare her A-levels very seriously this time, and he, his certificates. Afterwards they would make Science. There was no need to believe they would be insanely rich as long as Henri could not earn money himself, but obviously it would be enough to occasional book a booth to the Arlésienne, and relive together that beautiful evening when she was so adorable: 

"Do you remember the Farandole dance?" 

"Yes, but I didn't know that I loved you. I realized that after when you didn't come..."

"Really?"


She was such an exquisite little darling; Henri himself, had always had a natural inclination to malice, he needed to admit it. About that time he began to nurture some bad ideas about her. Charlotte was so shy, never asking for anything, he had believed that she was not moved, not interested. Charlotte had eyes that did not see, and ears that did not hear , but Henri had feet... to walk. Miss Martha was looking at him in such a way that he wanted to reply to her he was not really an animal from the Apocalypse. Nowadays, Henri knew that Charlotte had seen so many terrible things, she could not believe him and therefore doubted him; he wasn't offended.


"And I’ve cried a lot, listen to me, Ric, because I understood, because I understand that what you’re doing is madness and if Sonia ... listen to me, I want you to tell Sonia, right away, and I didn't want you to love me, so she can see that I wasn't a ... not a ... "


He stamped his foot impatiently and said a little harshly:

"Charlotte, you're making me angry. Sonia will know the truth, - agreed - Now I beseech you, don't be afraid of her she is idealistic and ethereal , but indulgence herself . She will forgive us both. Now, I want you to stop talking about this subject, I will not allow you , do you hear me? , I won't allow you to blaspheme against yourself, my wife whom I revere as my sister ... "  

" Ric ."

"Same as the memory of my mother about whom Séraphine and Sonia have so often spoken to me, like you she was a very honest, very generous creature. now you’re crying, sorry, my darling, my sweet darling. How can you be troubled by .. these things, believe that .... I can't even imagine what you believe. My heart would break before I could doubt you Charlotte. My mother was beautiful, rich, happy, popular, and she followed my father who knew everything that she was leaving behind and in return had to offer but his life, and he took her like I would take you if we were in their shoes. They became equally poor, depending only on their hearts. While we, because others will rejoice with us instead of cursing us. And because we won't have to suffer from poverty, won't we work anyway? Won't we love each other less? Be a little stoic, since you like this philosophy. we must see things on earth from a high place. When we’re like this, aren’t we far away from everything, outside the world, and what remains in this world, isn’t it indifferent to us? You think so, if you love me. Look at me, I love your eyes, it’s true that they're like a rainbow in the sky, the infinite colors of every weather. "


He kissed her. If only she could die right now! This idea came to Charlotte with the foreknowledge that she would not speak, she could never speak out; at the same time she felt the need to keep on  trying again, but since she had not been able  to say anything right away, why not wait until his departure?



"Darling, we'll get bored with paperwork however let's be reasonable creatures. Some people earn a living by doing paperwork, we can't take their livelihood away. I love you, darling, neither you nor I decided it, sweet life itself did.  Only listen to its voice, it is the truth, she only wants our happiness; and we'll give her what she wants from us - little children. "



Sonia loved children, so did Uncle Pierre. They would all look like their mother. Henri spoke as if he was already seeing them running around. Charlotte would teach them, because she was gentle, patient and that himself was so irritable. Charlotte preferred above all a small blonde girl as in Sonia's portrait, and the little one would also be called Sonia. She spoke with such passion about the girl of her dreams and Henri protested: 


"No, I do not want that: you'll love her too much. If we get a little Sonia, we'll give her to Séraphine.."


And so, every evening, she let him build their future; really, she was living it. Cheerful and caressing, she laughed, approved, discussed. She was surprised to hear herself talk as if those words had come out of another mouth than hers.


Some time ago, Henri had a little ring made for her. He could not give it her. Sonia would do that, but he always carried it with him and liked her to try it on. It represented two small golden snakes entwined, with their flat heads flat set with diamond eyes and crossed one over the other. It looked strange, pretty, almost alive. Charlotte admired it, and kissed it:

"A little girl."


Back home in her bed, she could not sleep. She tried to think only about his last kiss and its flavour on her lips. She looked at her hands; when he chatted to her before leaving, he played with them, pressed them, stroke them, kissed them, so much so, that Charlotte felt that they belonged to him and that they had been sanctified. Yet, despite everything, obsessive thoughts came back to haunt her, especially Mr Décoiffer’s story about the antiquarian’s daughter; then she thought about seeing Martha to tell her everything and ask her advice. Then she got up, re-read Sonia's letter and Pascal until dawn. Then she finally slept for two or three hours. Because of her insomnia, she became feverish, her eyes were shining, her cheeks were rosy. Henri said that he had never seen her looking so beautiful but he was concerned that her hands felt so hot. He was counting on convincing Sonia to leave immediately for Clary; after all, they could rent a house. Séraphine who disliked travelling was indignant about the idea. 


Henri was still busy with arranging Charlotte's life during his absence. It was agreed that she would come and go like now, but she would return home after dinner by cab at nine hours o'clock. He was concerned by these return journeys. He found it increasingly difficult to leave her; hence his impatience for Sonia's arrival; he was annoyed that she had felt the need to make a few stops on the way. Charlotte was not well, he was sure of that, she was really too nervous, touchy and sensitive.


Did Sonia think seeing the Kindermanns was helpful to them? Could she not rather come here right away and settle their affairs? Sonia was not a rational person and why did she need to travel the world? All the women were like that, trying to make things right when it was not the right time.



"Really, you are unkind to your fiancée," Séraphine said, looking at the girl, but Charlotte very pale, remained absorbed in her constant concern, and with difficulty she held back from shouting that Henry was right, that she could no longer wait. He looked at her, became worried again, and went close to her:

"Forgive me my darling, the only kind one in this world."                       



Then she smiled, let herself be kissed, and led to the piano; she would have loved him to play forever and forget about everything, but Henry only played two or three pieces, as he preferred chatting: he owned quantities of photographs and albums brought from everywhere. They would look at those sitting in the rocking chair which they shared. She questioned him passionately, she believed that she was able to live his enchanted days. He explained he had seen everything in great haste, and finding these things in his memory, it was as if he understood them for the first time, as if Charlotte lent him her beautiful eyes to see them again; similarly, when he recalled the heydays of his happy youth. He had never cherished his family as much as today now that Charlotte had given him her sweet loving heart. He was only angry at Sonia because he could see that Charlotte was really too tired, with a poor tormented face, and a diminishing waist. Henri did not want this, if Charlotte listened to reason, she would sleep in the morning instead of going to the workshop. It would not be for much longer, Sonia would arrive in a few days, and both of them would nurse Charlotte back to health, they would love her, she should be certain of that. It felt so good to love her, she was so sensitive, and touched by the slightest attention.


They kissed. It seemed to Charlotte that everything about Henri came from the light, and she too could be like him if only she could find the courage to unburden herself. Maybe he would make it go away. He rocked her in his arms, anxious, without saying anything she was suddenly so silent; he promised to bring her back home early in the evening. They were always going home late; it was not only because he found it too difficult to say goodnight but he dreaded leaving her alone in that room, where she had been through such bad times. Once Sonia arrived, pending the settlement of this marriage, she would ask Charlotte at stay at theirs.


The day before his departure, they agreed that Charlotte would not go to work. Henri picked her up at around six o'clock. For the second time, he visited her home. He arranged her recalcitrant curls and placed this masterpiece of a hat on the head of his fiancée. He looked out of the window then he locked the door and carried Charlotte downstairs. He liked to show her that he was very strong. She did not want that, as she afraid of falling, so she escaped, but he quickly caught up with her, cheating, jumping six steps at a time. He kissed her through her veil, everywhere on her face.



"Oh, Ric, you are going to tear it"


She agreed to remove it and so they continued, their laughter brought out the concierge. Henry bravely greeted: 

"Hello Madam", 

Then he led Charlotte outside. She was redder than a poppy.

 


They lunched very far away at Saint-Cloud, in a large park. Charlotte was cheerful, all the time she kept on asking for things. He loved to please and get paid:

"Please, kiss me."


She offered her lips to him, her little face had an ardent and serious expression, and looked striking and pale, confused, he kissed her and felt his heart beating.



Then Charlotte wanted to go for a walk. All the time she spoke about Clary. Henri feared that Sonia may not agree to leave her Séraphine behind whom she loved so much. They were alone in a park alley, he stealthily kissed her cheek and they began to talk about their journey. They would go wherever Charlotte decided, they would stop where she wanted, as long as she wanted. Since she did not know the mountains, maybe they could visit the Vosges on the way. He wanted was that none no longer had any rights over her, she should be free from all fears, at peace.

" But I am. "

"No, you're not my darling, but we’ll ask Sonia. She’ll seek your parent’s consent of your parents, believe me, they won't stand in our way, why should they? "


Two men walked on by, turned their heads at the young girl, so dark in her pale dress and lace and looking so in love. She did not see them, she was all his, clutching his strong arm, he was dazzled by her beloved face looking up to him with beautiful soft eyes, he turned his face a little to resist the desire of kissing her again: 

"My little goddess, before today, I didn't know how to exist. Now I want to jump, run, dance, invent extravagant things. Your eyes on me are like two stars watching me. Will I ever love you enough for all this sweetness they are giving me? Oh, tell me so. "

"Yes, Ric, once, when I was unhappy, very unhappy, I believed in something great that was fair, afterwards I thought there was nothing. Now I know: it was you. All that’s been good, and beautiful for me in the world it's you. And you must always believe that, and I would so too, I would like, I’ve nothing but ... my life, my friend, Ric. I love you."

"My love!"


Her admission of love confused him. She opened her eyes and stared at him, her lips quivered. It was stupid and irrevocable, she was like Henriette Pageol, who so many years ago wanted to hide her monstrous sores, even if it meant that she had to die. She had hers, they was a monstrous, a terrible injustice that and nothing could redeem her.


They kissed again, for a long time, gently and they heard their hearts beat as if those wanted to escape. 


They only returned at seven in the evening. A telegram from Sonia had been delivered earlier in the day and announced her arrival in Berlin, she kissed her little sister, and apologized from taking her brother away.


Charlotte was very tired, she reclined in the rocking chair; the windows were wide open, and it was delightful. Henri only wanted to watch her tonight. For four, five days, he would not see her. Sitting in front of her, he was rocking the chair, stopping it again, he would take her in his arms and kiss her. Without any resistance from her, he unbuttoned her sleeves, and rolled them up to her elbows. Why did Séraphine not make her a short sleeved dress? He wanted her new dress to have short sleeves, he said that he was so much in love, he laughed like a child at her round, matt, smooth arms which he had just discovered.


He stopped a little surprised that she seemed to think of something else, since she was showing no emotion, and he painfully moved to see her overly pale with a fixed gaze.


"My Charlotte…."


She was far, very far behind, at the bottom of a well. Which could draw her out of it, if not her friend? 

" My Charlotte?! "


She snatched his hands, threw herself on his knees and put her arms around his neck while kissing him frantically, calling and shouting, Ric! Ric! Deeply distressed, he reciprocated her caresses, while gently trying to free himself. Suddenly, her body felt limp on his shoulder, she had fainted.

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