A Conversation for A Place to Call Home

Chapter 23

Post 1



A week passed without any sign of Guillaume. On Jeannot’s first birthday, Charlotte arranged that there were pieces of cake for all the children, and everyone sang a Hebrew song. Danielle was touched by the gesture and impressed by the warmth with which the house was run. The children had lost their families and yet they were surrounded by love. Jeannot was developing well, too. He was beginning to walk, although he collapsed after a few steps unless she held his hand, or he found something to hang onto. He made a variety of sounds, some of which were recognisable words.
Danielle’s main worry concerned Guillaume: she had been taken aback by his kiss As she sat with Jeannot beside her in his makeshift bed,, she wondered if she had given Guillaume the wrong impression. It was clear he had thought her a woman who’d been abandoned by her husband, and was therefore free to please herself. Which wasn’t true. Was it? She frequently ran through the sequence of events in Clermont. It was clear Michel had expected to return within an hour or two. Something had happened to stop him and she didn’t want to think too much about the possibilities. Her love for Michel was strong as ever, and she longed to see him again. She would feel safer with him at her side.
The thought of leaving this run down house and going to find Michel occurred to her. However, she didn’t know whether he was still in Clermont, and she had not left him a note, as she didn't expect to go further than the station. However, she knew Michel well enough to see in him a certain restlessness, a desire to be active. If he was alive and free, he might have joined the local resistance or a maquis. He might have gone to fight against the Germans and the collaborators. She would be glad to hear from him, even if the message was that he’d travelled some distance away. Not knowing was such a strain.
One evening, she was putting Jeannot to bed, when there was a knock on the door. It was Guillaume, smiling and carrying a wooden cot .
“I managed to get this for you. It’s second hand but it’s in good condition.” He placed the cot in the space between the bed and the wardrobe.
Danielle rubbed her hand along the cot rail. It was of good quality wood, well made and would provide Jeannot with a decent bed for as long as he needed it. She wanted it, yet didn’t want to be further indebted to Guillaume. “I can’t afford to pay you for it,” she said.
“That doesn’t matter,” he said with a smile.
Jeannot was sleeping in his pile of clothes, so she scooped him up and lay him in the cot. He didn’t stir. “Can I get you something to drink? I’ve got red wine and some substitute coffee.”
Guillaume produced a bottle from his pocket. “I’ve got some aperitif. That would improve the coffee.”
As she made coffee on the little gas ring in her room, she was aware of him sitting on the hard chair and watching her.
“Have you heard from your husband?” he asked.
She shook her head.
“How long are you going to wait for him?”
“Until the end of the war.” Danielle took the few steps across the room, carrying a coffee cup.
“That might be a long time.” Guillaume poured some aperitif into his cup. “Don’t you want some?”
“I don’t drink much.”She sat on the bed.
“It won’t do you any harm.” He rose and poured aperitif into her cup, then stood facing her. “You know, I don’t think you’re facing the facts about your situation.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re a woman on your own with a child and not much money. Your husband’s left you.”
“No, he hasn’t.”
“All right. But he’s somewhere else doing I don’t know what. You haven’t said.”
“He’s working,” said Danielle, then lowered her eyes when he raised an eyebrow. The statement wasn’t true but she didn’t trust Guillaume with the truth. If he knew of their role supporting the resistance, he could easily tell the authorities.
“What you need is a man who’ll look after you and your son, provide for you.”
“No, I’m all right,” Danielle said, looking up at him. In this position, she was very much aware of his power over and started to feel afraid of him.
“Look Danielle, I’ll look after you, but I want something in return. I want you.”
Danielle jumped to her feet, full of horror and revulsion, as she realised the nature of the bargain she was being offered. “No. I’m not that sort of woman.”
“Oh, but I think you are.”
He forced her back down onto the bed and started tearing her dress open. Danielle tried to push him off but he pinned her down on the bed with his body weight. She felt his breath on her face and turned her head away, but she couldn’t prevent him fondling her breasts. As he pushed up her skirt and forced himself into her she wept.

Danielle woke with bruises all over her body, remembered what happened, climb and wept again. However, she recovered herself, dressed, woke Jeannot and prepared a simple breakfast . She had made a decision to leave the house as soon as possible. Within half an hour, she had packed as many clothes and as much bedding as she could carry. With Jeannot in a sling on her back, she hurried down the stairs, without a glance behind. She left the cot in the middle of the room.
When she reached the ground floor, she knocked on the door of Madame Garcia. She took a while to answer the door and, when she did emerge, she had a flowered cotton housecoat over an old nightdress and her hair pinned in papers.
“I came to pay the outstanding rent,” said Danielle. “I’m leaving.”
Madame Garcia stared at her. “Monsieur Dupont said you’d already paid the rent.”
“Did he? Well here’s the rest,” said Danielle, handing over the money she had saved up. To avoid further argument, she walked out of the front door with her head high and a surprising sense of relief.
However, when she reached the children’s home and walked in to see a line of children making their way down the stairs, she felt a pang of regret. When she’d arrived, she’d thought she had found a place she could stay, but events had proved otherwise. She knocked on Charlotte’s door and was soon sitting at the desk, with Jeannot on her knee.
“I’m sorry, Charlotte, but I can’t stay here any longer. I’ll do my day’s work but leave at the end of today.”
Charlotte gazed at her with big, brown eyes. “I thought you liked it here.”
“I do but something has happened. I can’t explain.” However, tears were rising to her eyes and, though she wiped them away, she couldn’t hide them. Moved, perhaps by some awareness of emotion, Jeannot started crying too until Danielle sat him down on the floor. There, he recovered after a few moments, stood up and started toddling across the floor.
“You can tell me,” said Charlotte.“It will stay in this room.”
Through her tears, Danielle recounted her encounter with Guillaume.
Charlotte rose from her chair, walked round the desk and wrapped her arm round Danielle. “I’m so sorry. I knew he traded on the black market but it didn’t occur to me he might do that.”
“I didn’t do anything to encourage him.”
“No, don’t blame yourself. It’s not your fault.”
When Danielle had stopped crying Charlotte turned to her chair and sat with her fingers pressed hands together in a pyramid shape.
“You can’t leave here in the evening. Where would you stay the night?”
Danielle shook her head. The truth was she had set out without a plan, simply determined to get away from Guillaume. If she had known where Michel had gone, she might have tried to find him. But she didn’t, so she simply wanted to find a place where she and Jeannot could live safely. If anywhere was safe in this time of war.
“Go now. We’ll manage with your class today. That’ll give you a chance to get well away from here by the evening.” She opened her desk, took out a grey paper file and thumbed through the entries. “You might like to try the Deschamps. They live east of Montauban but you can get a train most of the way. You’ll need to change train at Montauban. ”
Danielle took a note of the address, thanked Charlotte and gave her a hug. “It’s a pity I have to leave. I’ve been happy here and I'll never forget you. ” She picked up Jeannot, collected her belongings and left.

Chapter 23

Post 2

Dmitri Gheorgheni - Post Editor

smiley - applause This is a good way to demonstrate the life-or-death decisions that got made every day.

Chapter 23

Post 3


smiley - applause

What a smiley - bleep

Chapter 23

Post 4


Thanks. smiley - smiley

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