Crystal's StorySite storysite.org
Leslies Storyby: Andrea
Foreword : England 1996
Its beginning to get dark outside. Soft shadows are creeping from behind the laurel bushes and spilling quietly over the lawn. Looking out on the Downs I see shifting shapes as the clouds change the nature of the light on the land. This has to be how my grandparents saw it and how their grandparents saw it and so on back through the ages. So little can change in a landscape over hundreds of years but so much can happen in one short lifetime. Sitting here at my desk in the stone cottage which has now been my home for something more than twenty years its really becoming difficult to think back on how it all really began. Everything in my life seemed so very complicated at the time but now it is as if most of if it never really occured, or at least if it did, it probably happened to another person. It is now so very, very distant and I thank sweet providence for that small mercy.
However, my dear, darling Sarah, my sweetest little pet, and my closest companion for the past nine years, who has until now heard only the tiniest titbits of my tale, now insists I have to set all my memories down on paper. She promises that she wont read any of my memoirs till Im gone. But Im so very sorry, I dont trust you at all Sarah - you can be an absolute darling, a real little pet, but you are also a rather sad, inquisitive, little bitch. Nonetheless, Sarah is absolutely right in one aspect. I do feel the cathartic urge to tell someone the complete story, so Ill write my story down on this electronic gizmo box and see if anyone can manage to find it. Of course, Sarah, you are such a absolutely silly little heifer that you will probably be the very last person on earth to know the complete truth. So here is the story, the warts and all the rest. Im not very proud of the details and if I were younger Id leave a out a great deal and embellish the good bits. However when youre terminally ill there is no point in being economical with the truth. So lets be done with pretense and tell the true history.
I am known in the village as Miss Laura of Rose Cottage and Ill actually be seventy three years old next Christmas, if I really have to live that long. Ive had a great life with lots of adventures and not a few problems. But let me confess that Ive been living a series of lies for almost all of my life. The least of these is that Laura Amanda Coswell-Smith is, in the terms of the trade I was once a part of, just a legend, a truly convenient fiction - a name stolen from a childs gravestone in a small Hertfordshire churchyard some fifty years ago. Unfortunately the age is totally correct and that was a really a very bad mistake - I could have made myself quite a few years younger if Id been a little smarter. Actually, and this is quite true, I was born Leslie Hillary Smith in the year 1929 in the Canton of Montreaux, Switzerland. But the interesting part of my story started almost eight years later.
Chapter 1: England to Paris 1934
On the 20th of June, 1934 I was just about eight years old. I was a little blonde child at a private day school with two serious problems. The first was my total inability at sports and the second my absolute failure to master third declension latin nouns.
It was raining outside during the lunch hour and in the second afternoon period, I think that my class were doing history, the head teacher called me to his study on the third floor.
"Im afraid", he said "that I have to inform you that there has been a message delivered to the school that there is some problem at your home and you are required to return there immediately. You have my permission to leave early I have asked the school nurse to accompany you. And incidentally," he added, raising his horn rimmed glasses, to reveal a pair of pale eyes, "You might remind your mother that, despite our repeated letters, your school fees for the last two terms still remain to be paid"
Nurse Turner, the school matron, and I walked to the station and we took the 3.05pm train to Tring. As I sat on the inside seat watching the telegraph poles whiz by, I thought of going home to Whitsname and to my darling Mama. Mama was absolutely the most beautiful lady in the world. She had long blonde hair, the most perfect complexion and an almost painful French accent. She rarely talked about my pater. According to my last nanny, who left angry and unpaid when I was six, my father had been a hero in the Great War and had gone back to France to live after he left the army. Mama and he had apparently met in Paris during the Great War and he brought her back to England just after I was born. However some time later he had to go back to Europe "on important business" and had never come back. When I was very little I used to sit at the window waiting for him to return. I imagined him as a big man in a soldier suit who would take me for long walks and perhaps teach me to fish or even how to row a boat. When I told Mama about my fantasies she told me that she sometimes wished for the same things but that they would never be - "the realite is most cruel and particularly unkind" she said. Sometimes when shed had a glass of wine she said a lot more, but when you are little you cant really understand grown-up talk.
There wasnt anyone waiting for us at the station. I was surprised. David, the groom, always met me with the trap when I came home from school. Nurse Turner was clearly upset . She had to get the train back or she would be late for dinner. I told her I would be quite alright on my own but she sat with me for another hour before finally having to take the last train. David still hadnt arrived so I struck out on foot and walked all the way to the house. There was a For Sale sign stuck awkwardly in the hedge which hadnt been there when Id last been at home in the Easter holidays. Millie, the maid, was standing by the gates with a battered brown cardboard suitcase beside her. "Ive got to get going" she said, "My sisters spectin me in Southamptn by eight. But your Mum told me to give this here letter before a left. Oh, Cook an Dave left yesterday - so I made a cheese an pickle sandwich for ye an left it in t kitchen." She gave me Mamas letter and the house key.
I watched her walking down the lane. She was desperately thin and had to lean sideways to counterbalance the heavy weight of her suitcase. It was surprising that it weighed so much since I remembered that, when she took up her job last April she had come with only the clothes she stood in. I watched her shape growing smaller and smaller till she turned the corner. Then I struck out up the drive. I dined, in a rather empty dining room, on a stale sandwich and a glass of water. The letter was crumpled and difficult to open. Some of the pages were stuck together. It said, "Im sorry, Leslie, it should have been quite different. Life has been impossible and I really cant cope anymore. I have written to a relation... your aunt ... who is a teacher at my old school, LEcole St Germaine in Paris, and I am sure she will take good care of you. The address is on the letter. Tell her I can no longer be held responsible."
So I took the money and the passport shed stuffed in the envelope and put them in the inside pocket of my blazer. Then I picked up my small schoolbag and my Teddy bear and walked back to the station. I took the late train to Paddington where I bought a first class single ticket to Paris which, I was fairly sure, was very near Dover.
It took a very, very long time to get to Paris. I hadnt realised that there was a sea crossing involved. I got sick on the boat and was very dizzy on the train afterwards. When Teddy and I arrived at the Gare du Nord it was morning and I was very tired, very confused and very hungry. I spent a long time wandering up and down outside the station until I finally found a taxi rank. I thought at the time that the taxi driver was really kind since he agreed to take only three English pounds to take me to LEcole St Germaine. Truthfully, I only had five pounds and three shillings left. He was such a fast driver, he said, that we arrived there in only twenty minutes. "Ici LEcole", he said, and thrust me out of the cab.
I stood on the pavement for a few moments clutching my bag to my chest. Lots of people marched by and I felt very small and insignificant. Finally I approached the door and stepped into the dull interior of the building. As I stood in the hall the disembodied voice of that most terrible of Gods creatures, the Parisienne concierge, assaulted me from a hatch hidden in the darkness beneath the stairs.
"Que ques ce va?"
"I wish..desiree.. to see ma Aunt Matilde, sil vous plais, Madame, she is an important teacher - Madmoiselle Matilde Forchand. I have a letter here for her. She works here - I mean - Elle est un institutrice, Elle travaille.. or something, ici. Please Madame.... Je suis Leslie, elle est ma tante ..
"Daccord, assigne tu! Mon Dieu, Sit!, Je telephone Madselle Matilde maintainent."
Months seemed to pass as I sat in the foyeur. The concierge finished on her telephone and then glared at me continously until I shrunk to half my size. Finally a very large woman dressed in a billowing print dress entered the hall. I approached her cautiously. "Excuse me Madame. Are you my Aunt Matilde? I am Leslie from England - my mother sent you a letter I think?"
The lady was visibly shaken. "Je suis Matilde Forchand, I tink I must be the aunt of .. my sisters.. child Leslie, mais mon petit cheri, tes un garcon, ce pas possible. You are not Lesley ... When Yvette, I mean my sister, wrote I expected a niece - une jeune fille - you understand - but you are obviously un garcon, a boy - you cannot come here. You are a boy and from the letter I am expecting a girl. It is clearly an impossible situation. St Germaine est un premier ecole pour les jeune filles; Im sorry, its not your fault, you cannot possibly begin to understand - this is a Catholic girls school. So Im sorry there is some mistake here, I expect a girl. Quelle problem! Lesley, je ne di... I dont know how to say ... But you cannot possibly stay, you must.... retourne a Angleterre ..now, Mon Dieu .. You cannot stay here. It is not .. how you say .. conceivable. Please, .. you have to go home - immediately!
I remember being extremely brave and standing up very straight with my hands pointing down my shorts to my shoes. "Thats quite all right Tante Matilde," I said, "I really just popped over to Paris to say hello. Ill be going home right now." Then I turned and marched out of building. Left, right, left, right .. straight to the door. After all my daddy was a soldier in the Great War. Then down the steps and out onto the bright sunlit street. But, standing on the pavement, drenched in the heat of the Paris morning sun, not knowing what direction to turn, I realised that I was totally alone in the world. Mama was dead and no one really cared whether I lived or died. Thats just a little too much to take when youre only eight. So I just sat down on the step and cried and cried until my collar was soaked with tears.
With the benefit of hindsight I now realise that very few women can remain insensitive to a childs tears for very long, and Annette Le Blanc the concierge, or Madame "Le Dragon", as I later learned that the girls at LEcole St Germaine called her, despite her appearance, proved to be no exception. Tut, tut, tutting all the time she wrapped me in her long black skirt and dragged me back into the building. There, "Ici, mon petit", she crooned as she placed me on the chaise of her little room behind the stairs. After a little while, when Id quietened down to a little sniffle now and then, she stuffed a sandwich into my hands and went off to engage in battle. With the totalitarian, imperialistic, majesty, which I now realise that only a lady with the social stature of a Paris concierge can possibly muster, she summoned my Tante Matilde to the foyer by the telephone. I heard their heated exchange of views from my cubby hole, but to this day I have absolutely no idea what words passed between Annette Le Blanc and Tante Matilde. I can only say that the conversation was extremely passionate. Finally Tante Matilde burst into tears, broke into my closet and with tears running down her cheeks burbled, "Leslie mon cher, avec moi sil tu plais". Then clutching my elbow she swept me, still crying, out of the room and up the stairs to her quarters.
With what I still now think of as tenderness she put me in her bed and tucked me up in an eiderdown, muttering to herself "Je suis fou, je suis fou -- Im crazy, Im crazy" under her breath.
When I woke up the next morning Tante Matilde was standing at the foot of the bed in a diaphanous silk robe de chambre. She looked like a boy scout tent.
"You must understand Lesley that I am ... how you would say .. most sympathetique .. to your present condition. But that this here is un ecole pour les jeune filles - a most proper girls school - I am head teacher of the elementary school here, it is more than my job - it is a true vocation. So when you stay here, until I can afford and arrange un ecole alternative, I must have to pretend that you are my niece .. une jeune fille. This is a temporary condition, you understand, I hope, please. We have short time, now I go to work, but Madame Le Blanc will attend."
With that she dissappeared and I drifted back to sleep.
Minutes later I was woken to the words "Leslee, Leslee - reveille maintenent" and through bleary eyes I recognised the hawk-like features of Madame Le Blanc staring down at me. "Up, up, mon petit" Holding the covers to my chin, I looked round the room. Madame Le Blanc held out a very large dressing gown. "Ici, Leslee" she said. I let her put it round me and she guided me to the kitchen under the stairs where she served me a large glass of milk and a most gigantic croissant covered with strawberry jam. While I ate Madame Le Blanc just looked at me. When I finished she said, "You moost unerstand your tante - there is un petit problem - ici is a jeune girls school - Nous moost lecon you - I mean we moost teach you to be une jeune fille or you will hav to go away" With that she grabbed my dressing gown and yanked me into her bedroom. "Remove the robe, sil te plais" she said.
Then I saw that a complete set of new clothes were set out on the bed. What was obvious was that it was an outfit very similar to those Id seen the girls entering the building dressed in. You must wear these, said Madame and she looked at me sternly. I didnt understand why she should be so upset. After all, I had nowhere to go, and I was so happy to have found some people who liked me. So with some help from Madame, which I didnt really need, I put on a new pair of dark blue underpants (which were softer than my old pair but a bit strange since they were longer and had really tight elastic round the legs), a high necked white shirt (with buttons on the wrong side and no tie!) and a pair of knee length navy blue pleated shorts which werent fastened between the legs. The only real difficulty I had was with the socks which had to be rolled up very carefully past the knees and fastened with very tiny buttons. Then there were the shoes which also had tiny buttons on the inside leg. These had to be fastened with a button hook which is a terrible device. "Now I have to arrange your hair" she said. I never had any trouble with my hair before. Mama had always insisted that my hair was tidily trimmed just over my collar, but Madame spent a lot of time combing it back and clipping it till she was satisfied.
Tante Matilde came home in the late afternoon and looked at me very carefully. "Madame Le Blanc has made a good start and I think, although you look like a gypsie .. peut etre .. but its marginally acceptable . . Now begins the proper education. Thank God, next week begins the summer vacances - now, eat your dinner and go then to bed, we start tomorrow the training."
Chapter 2 : Paris 1934
"First", said Tante Matilde, after breakfast next morning, "I have an very important explanation for you. I have to tell you that I have now realised that after all not a boy. Please understand that there was a very most silly mistake made by your mama - but it is one which can now be completely rectified. You are in realite une jeune fille. And because you are my niece you must be the most perfect young girl. You are my niece Lesley from Londres and because you were unfortunate enough to be educated in England you have much to learn... and please, Leslee, when you sit down try to remember to fold your skirt underneath your bottom. That is better. And, for goodness sake stop bending over when you pick things up! Thank God your hair will grow - you are like a little beggar. Stop fidgeting, une jeune fille has .. what you say .. grace. You have totally none whatsoever. You have so much to learn. Now let us consider the walking..." Much of what she said that day passed me by .... but the next week was close to Hell on Earth.
"Posture is tres importante, Lesley. Try please to listen. Do not again lean forward like that. You are most totally impossible. Watch Madame Le Blanc when she walks. No, not like that, you are a total imbecile. You are the most tremendously stupide. It is the principle only, do not walk like an old lady. Like this, watch me, now try again. No, not like that, like this. And if the other girls ask you if you have ses regles .. they mean .. but you wont understand .., please just say that you dont understand. And dont dare talk about your old school again. And try, please try, to keep your knees together when you sit down. Dont stare at me, drop your eyes, look at your knees. Do not move so suddenly, try to have some tiny little bit of grace. I couldnt possibly trust you in company. And please dont sit like that,.... a nice girl must keep her knees tight together. Thats a little better."
And all the time those little pearl buttons of the knitted stockings and the tight elastic of the knickers dug into my thighs - I dont think that precious young things like Sarah, with their indulgent soft Marks and Spencers panties and lycra tights, can actually appreciate how painful this can be. I would have given just anything to put a hand under my skirt and adjust the wretched things, but even thinking about doing that in Tante Matildes company was a terrifying thought. That week was worse than all the cricket practices and Latin classes rolled into one!
One Friday evening in August Tante Matilde and Madame Le Blanc had a conference. Early the next morning Tante Matilde came to my room and said, "We think Lesley, that you pass our first examination - so now you can relax - and for a treat we two shall tour Paris together. There is no need to wear the uniform of the school so you may wear any of the clothes in your closet. Please be ready in the hall by ten oclock.
Really pleased with myself I dressed myself very quickly the next morning, ran a brush through my hair, and was waiting for Tante Matilde in the hall fifteen minutes early. My aunt took one look at me and became very angry. "After all my work you shame me and dress in your old school clothes. Quickly, come upstairs." She dragged me back to my room and stripped me completely naked throwing all my clothes in the corner of the chambre. "You are most impossible, so I must teach you again" she said, shaking her finger.
"First, we choose our underclothes -- you will wear this cotton chemise and a matching pair of pantalettes. Then we select a pretty dress suitable for an excursion with your favourite aunt. And here is the dress I would choose. You will notice the fact that it is pink, which is a suitable colour for a young girl, that it has frills on the hem to accentuate your femininity but that it prudently covers the lower leg. And here is a suitable underskirt. Now you will fasten the white stockings above the knee as you were shown and finally wear the the pumps which Madame Le Blanc has carefully polished. Now look into the mirror and tell me if this is not an improvement."
Honestly, I didnt know if it was an improvement or not. A rather curious little girl looked back at me out of the mirror. But it was prudent to indulge Tante Matilde so I said "Je suis tres jolie, Madame, merci beaucoup"
Given that it didnt begin well, the outing got better. We went first to the Park and after we had admired the flowers I was allowed to go to the swings while Tante Matilde conversed with her friend Madame Perot. She introduced me as her niece from England and I had to curtsy to the lady. Then we had ice cream from a the cart of an Italian vendor who addressed me as a jeune signoritta and we walked ever so slowly, since (Tante Matilde said) it is not in the best taste for ladies of quality to be hurried, down the Rue de .. to a small cafe. There we met with a gentleman of Tante Matildes aquaintance who bought our lunch. He insisted that I call him Uncle Jules and made a fuss of making me taste a little of his wine. On our parting he kissed me on the forehead and patted my bottom. Then we walked to the Tuleries where ma Tante explained to me the beauties of the paintings. The best of this was that she bought me a large lemonade in the Cafe. However this caused a small problem. When it was finished I had a very desperate urge for a pee pee. Tante Matilde directed me to the ladies room but it took a long time for me to find the loo and when I got there I found that if you have to squat and balance against the wall and hold up your skirts out of the toilet then you have no hands left to control the pee - and it is under these conditions quite essential that you remove your underpants beforehand. I didnt, and so I totally soaked my pantalettes and my underskirts and for the rest of the afternoon I was forced to walk around the galleries in sodden, smelly undergarments. I didnt want to go back to the swings after that and I had a quite miserable ride home in the tram. My knickers were soaking and I had to sit very far forward on the seat. I spent the journey staring at my knees. The lady sitting next to Tante Matilde whispered that she thought her daughter had a very approvable and demure posture. Tante Matilde was pleased with this.
Sunday started well. Very early in the morning I dressed in the blue school knickers and a plain black dress with a high collar and smuggled my stained underclothing from where Id stuffed them in the night pot the previous evening down to the basement. Madame Le Blanc sniffed and muttered something about little accidents but she helped me to wash them in the big sink in the outhouse. By the time Tante Matilde was awake my petticoats and my collottes were already drying on the line, I had breakfasted with the concierge and was repaying her kindness by helping with the folding of the college bed linen. I thought that Tante Matilde might be angry but she was surprisingly gracious.
"I am glad that you have adopted a more serene attitude, Lesley. It pleases me that you sat properly in the tram on the journey yesterday without fidgeting and that today you help Madame with les petite household chores. You may continue until I have my petit-dejeunie, then please dress and come to my room. Today is a very special treat. We go to the Park. "
When we had finished Madame and I carried a large pan of boiling water upstairs to my room. She helped me undress and sat me in the enamel bath where she washed me from head to foot. Then she dried me with a large white towel and dressed me in a lacy white chemise and a pair of long white satin culottes decorated with little blue ribbons which terminated with blue bows round the front. Then while I brushed my hair with the compulsory hundred strokes she examined my closet. "Your aunt has bought you only a small wardrobe so far, ma Petite, and the choosing et ees difficult. This apres-midi, she takes you to a special picnic with her friends in the country. The most appropriate clothing is the short white skirt with the broderie anglais hem accompanied by the underskirt of white Belgian lace, and for an suitable blouse you might choose the one with little rouge roses embroidered on the bodice. The shoes must be white also. I will dress you." The dressing took forever and was followed by her combing and the arranging of my hair. This was topped by a white sun bonnet which was firmly pinned to my hair, and finally, just before ten oclock, I was seated outside my aunts room ready for our excursion.
I have always loved picnics but this was an exception. We were picked up in an automobile by a ladyfriend of Tante Matildes and a boy called Pierre who was about two years older than me. But Pierre got to sit with the driver whereas I was forced to sit beween the ladies in the back seat. When we got to the picnic all the ladies and gentlemen sat and drunk wine on the grass and Pierre and I were told to play in the woods. This could really have been fun but as soon as we were out of sight of the grown ups Pierre insisted that I show him my panties. When I said that it wasnt nice he pushed me down on the grass, lifted my dress and pinched my bottom. So I caught him by the collar and punched him really hard on the nose. He looked at the blood running down his shirt and ran off to his mother howling. I got spanked for that and had to sit in the automobile all afternoon in the boiling heat. When we got home Tante Matilde was furious, "You embarrass me before my friends, Pierre told his mama that you pulled up all your petticoats and showed him your underwear, and when he refused to look you hit him!" I tried to explain that this was a barefaced lie but she got even more angry and made me stand in the corner of the room facing the long mirror on the wall. "Now lift your skirts, you dirty little slut! Thats right, hold them right up in the air. Now regard your culottes! Arent they pretty! Regard the little blue ribbons. Since you like to show them off so much you can stand there and look at yourself until I say you can stop. Dont drop your arms." Then she sat on the chaise-longue drinking her evening congac and explained to me that I was an uncivilised little vixen who deserved no less a fate than to be cast on the streets and made to embrace les organs of filthy mendiants for a crust of bread. Eventually she made me bend over a chair and hold my petticoats under my arms while she pulled my panties down to my knees. Then she thrashed my derriere with the back of her wooden hairbrush until I burst into tears. It was so very unfair.
Over the next week things slowly settled down. Pierres mama visited on the Tuesday and explained to Tante Matilde that les enfants had apparently had a petite misunderstanding. While she could not countenance that her Cher Pierre could in anyway be in fault apparently Pierres papa had discussed the matter in some detail with his son and as a consequence of their conversation had then elected to beat him to within a centimetre of his life. The ladies were most satisfied that the matter was now resolved and had tea together in the parlour. However I had no apology and still had red marks on my bottom.
That summer Tante Matilde made a point of staying in Paris. Every morning she gave me school lessons in the appartment. But for the afternoon I was put in the charge of Madame Le Blanc. I would help her with the cleaning and assist her with the laundry and the repair of the school linen. Madame was really strict but of course she was really not Le Dragon that I originally thought she was, although I would never have admitted that at the time. She was the widow of a tailor called Henri who perished gallantly sur le Somme. Since my Daddy had also been a soldier a bond of sympathy and compassion was formed between us which enabled me to see through her hawk-like appearance to a slightly gentler person. Honestly, she must have been a rather striking woman when she was young. In the late afternoon after Tante Matildes resting time I would return to the appartment. Then, over the evening meal, Tante Matilde would lecture me on the proper behaviour of a young lady and on the correct choice of dress and etiquette for different occasions. Sometimes she had some of her former pupils or an adult friend to dinner and on these occasions I would be asked to retire to Madame Le Blancs appartment where Madame allowed me to read her magazines until it was time for bed.
Every weekend that summer Tante Matilde made a point of taking me out on an excusion. On Friday over dinner she would discuss with me our outing and would expect to see me dressed appropriately for the occasion at the arranged time. Always the dressing was special and I would be arranged and groomed Comme une belle poupee - Like a little doll to reflect the exquisite taste of my aunt. Generally it was a visit to one of the parks or the galleries but occasionally it would be a real adventure like a carriage ride in the park, a visit to les jardins zoologique or le shopping dans the Grande Magazines of Paris. Tante Matilde was addicted to "Les antiques" and frequently we spent endless hours rummaging through junk shops purchasing bizarre little oddities for the parlour. Normally she purchased an old plate or some old jewelery but once she even spent an entire morning negotiating the purchase of a pair of ancient handcuffs and an 19th century gendarmes baton. On the way home we would invariably go to our little dressmakers in the Rue du Victor Hugo where she had our clothes made. Each time there would be package of new clothes made for Tante Matilde and a new dress, a hat or an item of underware ready for me. While I protested that I liked simple clothes like the black velvet dress with the little bow on the back she insisted on the most frilly confections suitable for a properly dressed jeune fille. I had a wardrobe stuffed with flouncy little dresses in delicate pastel colours decorated with pretty ribbons and bows and a most enormous collection of petticoats, long pantalettes and culottes in almost every colour of the rainbow. I would have just died to have had a simple little jumper with a petal collar and a straight skirt like Loretta Young wore when she met Tyrone Power in "Love is News" but Im afraid that was quite out of the question.
Once when we visited a childrens department in Le Magazine Delfors I requested she purchase me a set of lead soldiers of the Legion dEtranger which I could play with at home but she insisted on buying me a china doll with a white pinafore dress instead. On the way back to the appartment we christened her Florence. After my mishaps of the first weekend I had really tried to behave myself with restraint and decorum since it was obvious that Tante Matilde was easy to anger. So I learned to curtsey politely when introduced to the ladies of her aquaintance and to sit patiently while they discoursed on matters of extreme dullness. When we went to the park with other children I always sat next to my aunt or with the girls of the company and never ever played with the boys. Still it didnt always work since I never found it easy to be graceful and patient. I suppose that despite Florences company, since Ma Tante insisted that she had to accompany us on most excursions, sometimes I just got bored and had to find other outlets.
One particularly disasterous afternoon in September that year I remember sitting on a park bench in the Tulleries gardens surrounded by the remains of a picnic lunch while Tante Matilde walked with one of her ladyfriends. After swinging my heels for half an hour I sampled what was left in the wine bottle. After another half hour had past I had finished the bottle and decided that Florence and I would go for a little promenade. Unfortunately Florence fell over and pulled me to the ground beside the path and we really could not get up. We were still there when Tante Matilde returned. Surprisingly, she did not believe my explanation and insisted that we return home immediately. I had to lean heavily on Tante Matildes arm as my legs felt ever so wobbly. Also, on the way I had a most amazing desire to go pee pee and was unable to contain myself completely. Despite biting my lips, clutching Florence and crossing my legs it just slowly leaked out and Im afraid that by the time we got home I had wet my culottes thoroughly. A thin trail of liquid followed us upstairs to the appartment. When we got indoors I was sick all over the carpet. I was terminally ill but Tante Matilde didnt seem to care. She stripped me to my chemise, rolled up her sleeves and then thrashed me with the brush until I howled with pain. Then she marched out and slammed the door leaving me lying on the floor. Madame Le Blanc eventually appeared and carried me to bed.
The worst of this was that the next day Tante Matilde appeared with a pair of yellow rubber panties which she threw on the bed. "You disgraced me again, you dirty little imbecile. From now on you will wear these." They were horrible. The elastic was so tight that they bit into my waist and legs leaving deep red gouge marks. Every morning and evening Tante Matilde would make me lift my dress and check that I was wearing them. On the rare occassions that I rebelled and left them in my room she would make me stand in a corner of the room until I had to pee and then she would thrash me for wetting myself. I hated her more than I hated the gastly rubber panties. I was really glad when the evening came and I could undress and retire to my bed in my nightdress. There I would cuddle Florence and tell her little stories about what we would do when we escaped the clutches of the evil Tante Matilde.
This lasted for several weeks but eventually Madame Le Blanc came to my rescue and talked Ma Tante into being merciful. "Leslee est un bon enfant, nest pas, et ellest tres contrite maintainant" The rubber panties were finally put away in the closet and my aunt and I resumed a reasonable relationship. However the threat of the rubber pants and the hairbrush remained in the background and I shivered with fear everytime I thought of disobeying one of Ma Tantes requests.
One Monday morning in October Madame Le Blanc woke me very early. She steered me over to the dressing table and combed my hair.
"Madselle, today is the frst day of the junior school, an your tante she say you must hav to go to class today. So please, please, try to remember everything that I and your tante have teachd to you. Today you are now a proper schoolgirl. Youre clothes today are those of the Ecole." There on the dressing stool was the smart blue uniform of the junior school of LEcole St Germaine. First the white cotton blouse, then the long blue panties and the navy blue pleated skirt. Finally the tight blue stockings and buttoned ankle boots.
"Youre first class is with Sister Marie-Claude. She is your registration teacher."
She marched me downstairs and over the street to the junior school building. Then along a corridor, first a droite, then a gauche, and finally she propelled me into a classroom. "Bonjour, Souer Marie-Claude, Ici Leslee la niece de Madselle Forchand." then she disappeared. I stood looking down at my shoes. Then a bright young voice said,
"Bonjour Leslee, vous etre l jeune damoiselle Anglais, nest pas?" I looked up and saw Sister Marie-Claude. Even in the strict black habit of the Sisters she was the most beautiful, most radiant lady in the world.
"Everyone listen, Leslee is our new English student ... what do we say, girls? .. We say "Hello, Leslee" and then I was aware of a whole class of girls repeating "Allo Leslee".
"Now Leslee, where can we get a place for you to sit?" said Sister Marie-Claude.
A tall girl in the corner was waving her hand "Ici, Madselle, ici."
"Oui, Cest bon." said Sister Marie-Claude, "Madselle Leslee Forchand please meet Madselle Pamela Marquet, Pamela please meet Leslee. Madselle Marquet est une Canadienne. But this is quite approvable since she is from Quebec. You may sit together in my class but totally no English speaking, vous comprendez."
"Daccord Seour Marie-Claude" said Pamela.
Sister Marie-Claude took herself to the blackboard and started on the history class but even with all my practice over the summer her French was so fast that I couldnt follow her lesson. At lunch Pamela took control and steered me to a table in the dining room where a number of other girls were sitting. When we were eating our lunch Pamela said,
"This is to be totally, completely, educational, so we only speak the English. And Leslee is the immediate object of my inquiry. So the first question is this, Leslee. That you cannot possibly be the niece of Mathilde. You are petite and ellest trop grosse. Is it that she only likes the littl boys that she has your hair cut so short?"
A second girl called Bernice followed this up,
"La Dame Matilde est without doubt La Plus Grande and you must please explain this to us. Is she truelly "une Faggot" - tell us please. My sister, Margaritte, who is in the senior school says that Madselle Matilde likes in particular the little girls -- that elle aime les petite enfants seulement. Do you unrstand."
I was at a total loss for an answer to either of the questions, but a raven haired girl broke in to the conversation at this point "Pamela is extremely nasty, but she is une Canadienne, so she cannot actually help it, vous comprendez, it is quite understandable. Also Bernice and her elder sister are sadly, how you might say, most obsessed with sex at present and you must thus excuse them both."
Then she addressed Pamela and Bernice in extremely fast colloquial French. I couldnt follow her but both the other girls looked shaken. Then she addressed me calmly, "Je suis Marie Gabon, I am from Normandy and I intend to be a lawyer like my papa when I am growed up. I will be most quite delighted if you will please sit with me dans les classes apres midi, daccord?" So in the afternoon classes I sat beside Marie, the fierce little brunette from St Michel who lived in the school dormitory.
When the school classes were released I ran to Madame Le Blanc. "Madame, Madame, please. You must entreat my aunt to return me to England. The girls here are so grown up. They talk dirty and except for Marie I think they are all really evil. And please tell me it is not true what the girls say. They have said terrible things about Tante Matilde."
"Come, come, m enfant" said Madame Le Blanc, "Thees is the frst day at a new chool, it mus be plus difficile. And les jeune filles of your class, they are sans grace, nest pas. Madselle Matilde is an teacher of true excellence in the elementary school, but she exercises the discipline so severe that the girls who were in her classes make the stories about her. So plese go upstairs and tell to votre tante how much you enjoyd your frst day"
I was very quiet and subdued for a long time after that. In the morning classes I sat with Pamela and in the afternoon classes with Marie. When the evening bell rang I went to prayers in the chapel with the sisters and then I ran across the road and up the stairs to the sanctuary of Tante Matildes appartment. After dinner I would lay out my uniform for the morning and go to bed where I would tell Florence about everything that had happened during the day.
Tante Matilde would bear little idleness and I had to my chores to do before going to school. Before breakfast every Tuesday I helped the maid, Yvette, to collect the school dormitory laundry and deliver it to the boiler room. All the boarding girls had there own little baskets, each one marked with their name. Then on Wednesdays I would help her sort out the garments and return them to the dormitory. One Tuesday I made an astounding discovery.
"O Yvette look! Pascalle de Courteney must have injured herself. Look here, her coulottes are soaked in blood!"
Yvette seemed unconcerned. She sniffed and wiped her nose on her sleeve. "La pauvre petite," she said, "Elle avait ses regles". Then she continued sorting the washing.
This worried me for a long time. Pascalle wasnt the only one who seemed to have had the rulers. Mind you, it was very well known that Souer St Brigette, the science teacher in the senior school was very prone to snap her metre stick on the fingers of inattentive students. But imagine, to beat them on the derriere until they were bleeding. That was just too much. I decided that I if I got to the senior school I would never be naughty in a science class.
to be continued .
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