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   Chapter 22 FAMILY LIFE

Monsieur, Madame, and Bebe -- C By Gustave Droz Characters: 11674

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02


It was the evening of the 15th of February. It was dreadfully cold. The snow drove against the windows and the wind whistled furiously under the doors. My two aunts, seated at a table in one corner of the drawing-room, gave vent from time to time to deep sighs, and, wriggling in their armchairs, kept casting uneasy glances toward the bedroom door. One of them had taken from a little leather bag placed on the table her blessed rosary and was repeating her prayers, while her sister was reading a volume of Voltaire's correspondence which she held at a distance from her eyes, her lips moving as she perused it.

For my own part, I was striding up and down the room, gnawing my moustache, a bad habit I have never been able to get rid of, and halting from time to time in front of Dr. C., an old friend of mine, who was quietly reading the paper in the most comfortable of the armchairs. I dared not disturb him, so absorbed did he seem in what he was reading, but in my heart I was furious to see him so quiet when I myself was so agitated.

Suddenly he tossed the paper on to the couch and, passing his hand across his bald and shining head, said:

"Ah! if I were a minister, it would not take long, no, it would not be very long.... You have read that article on Algerian cotton. One of two things, either irrigation.... But you are not listening to me, and yet it is a more serious matter than you think."

He rose, and with his hands in his pocket, walked across the room humming an old medical student's song. I followed him closely.

"Jacques," said I, as he turned round, "tell me frankly, are you satisfied?"

"Yes, yes, I am satisfied... observe my untroubled look," and he broke into his hearty and somewhat noisy laugh.

"You are not hiding anything from me, my dear fellow?"

"What a donkey you are, old fellow. I tell you that everything is going on well."

And he resumed his song, jingling the money in his pockets.

"All is going on well, but it will take some time," he went on. "Let me have one of your dressing-gowns. I shall be more comfortable for the night, and these ladies will excuse me, will they not?"

"Excuse you, I should think so, you, the doctor, and my friend!" I felt devotedly attached to him that evening.

"Well, then, if they will excuse me, you can very well let me have a pair of slippers."

At this moment a cry came from the next room and we distinctly heard these words in a stifled voice:

"Doctor... oh! mon Dieu!... doctor!"

"It is frightful," murmured my aunts.

"My dear friend," I exclaimed, seizing the doctor's arm, "you are quite sure you are not concealing anything from me?"

"If you have a very loose pair they will suit me best; I have not the foot of a young girl.... I am not concealing anything, I am not concealing anything.... What do you think I should hide from you? It is all going on very well, only as I said it will take time-By the way, tell Joseph to get me one of your smokingcaps; once in dressing-gown and slippers a smokingcap is not out of the way, and I am getting bald, my dear Captain. How infernally cold it is here! These windows face the north, and there are no sand-bags. Mademoiselle de V.," he added, turning to my aunt, "you will catch cold."

Then as other sounds were heard, he said: "Let us go and see the little lady."

"Come here," said my wife, who had caught sight of me, in a low voice, "come here and shake hands with me." Then she drew me toward her and whispered in my ear: "You will be pleased to kiss the little darling, won't you?" Her voice was so faint and so tender as she said this, and she added: "Do not take your hand away, it gives me courage."

I remained beside her, therefore, while the doctor, who had put on my dressing-gown, vainly strove to button it.

From time to time my poor little wife squeezed my hand violently, closing her eyes, but not uttering a cry. The fire sparkled on the hearth. The pendulum of the clock went on with its monotonous ticking, but it seemed to me that all this calm was only apparent, that everything about me must be in a state of expectation like myself and sharing my emotion. In the bedroom beyond, the door of which was ajar, I could see the end of the cradle and the shadow of the nurse who was dozing while she waited.

What I felt was something strange. I felt a new sentiment springing up in my heart, I seemed to have some foreign body within my breast, and this sweet sensation was so new to me that I was, as it were, alarmed at it. I felt the little creature, who was there without yet being there, clinging to me; his whole life unrolled itself before me. I saw him at the same time a child and a grown-up man; it seemed to me that my own life was about to be renewed in his and I felt from time to time an irresistible need of giving him something of myself.

Toward half-past eleven, the doctor, like a captain consulting his compass, pulled out his watch, muttered something and drew near the bed.

"Come, my dear lady," said he to my wife, "courage, we are all round you and all is going well; within five minutes you will hear him cry out."

My mother-in-law, almost beside herself, was biting her lips and each pang of the sufferer was reflected upon her face. Her cap had got disarranged in such a singular fashion that, under any other circumstances, I should have burst out laughing. At that moment I heard the drawing-room door open and saw the heads of my aunts, one above the other, and behind them that of my father, who was twisting his heavy white moustache with a grimace that was customary to him.

"Shut the door," cried the doctor, angrily, "don't bother me."

And with the greatest coolness in the world he turned to my mother-in-law and added, "I ask a thousand pardons."

But just then there was so

mething else to think of than my old friend's bluntness.

"Is everything ready to receive him?" he continued, growling.

"Yes, my dear doctor," replied my mother-in-law.

At length, the doctor lifted into the air a little object which almost immediately uttered a cry as piercing as a needle. I shall never forget the impression produced on me by this poor little thing, making its appearance thus, all of a sudden, in the middle of the family. We had thought and dreamed of it; I had seen him in my mind's eye, my darling child, playing with a hoop, pulling my moustache, trying to walk, or gorging himself with milk in his nurse's arms like a gluttonous little kitten; but I had never pictured him to myself, inanimate, almost lifeless, quite tiny, wrinkled, hairless, grinning, and yet, charming, adorable, and be loved in spite of all-poor, ugly, little thing. It was a strange impression, and so singular that it is impossible to understand it, without having experienced it.

"What luck you have!" said the doctor, holding the child toward me; "it is a boy."

"A boy!"

"And a fine one."

"Really, a boy!"

That was a matter of indifference to me now. What was causing me indescribable emotion was the living proof of paternity, this little being who was my own. I felt stupefied in presence of the great mystery of childbirth. My wife was there, fainting, overcame, and the little living creature, my own flesh, my own blood, was squalling and gesticulating in the hands of Jacques. I was overwhelmed, like a workman who had unconsciously produced a masterpiece. I felt myself quite small in presence of this quivering piece of my own handiwork, and, frankly, a little bit ashamed of having made it so well almost without troubling about it. I can not undertake to explain all this, I merely relate my impressions.

My mother-in-law held out her apron and the doctor placed the child on his grandmother's knees, saying: "Come, little savage, try not to be any worse than your rascal of a father. Now for five minutes of emotion. Come, Captain, embrace me."

We did so heartily. The doctor's little black eyes twinkled more brightly than usual; I saw very well that he was moved.

"Did it make you feel queer, Captain? I mean the cry? Ah! I know it, it is like a needle through the heart.... Where is the nurse? Ah! here she is. No matter, he is a fine boy, your little lancer. Open the door for the prisoners in the drawing-room."

I opened the door. Every one was listening on the other side of it. My father, my two aunts, still holding in their hands, one her rosary and the other her Voltaire, my own nurse, poor old woman, who had come in a cab.

"Well," they exclaimed anxiously, "well?"

"It is all over, it is a boy; go in, he is there."

You can not imagine how happy I was to see on all their faces the reflection of my own emotion. They embraced me and shook hands with me, and I responded to all these marks of affection without exactly knowing where they came from.

"Damn it all!" muttered my father, in my ear, holding me in his arms, with his stick still in his hand and his hat on his head, "Damn it all!"

But he could not finish, however brave he might wish to appear; a big tear was glittering at the tip of his nose. He muttered "Hum!" under his moustache and finally burst into tears on my shoulder, saying: "I can not help it."

And I did likewise-I could not help it either.

However, everybody was flocking round the grandmamma, who lifted up a corner of her apron and said:

"How pretty he is, the darling, how pretty! Nurse, warm the linen, give me the caps."

"Smile at your aunty," said my aunt, jangling her rosary above the baby's head, "smile at aunty."

"Ask him at the same time to recite a fable," said the doctor.

Meanwhile my wife was coming to herself; she half opened her eyes and seemed to be looking for something.

"Where is he?" she murmured in a faint voice.

They showed her her mother's apron.

"A boy, is it not?"

Taking my hand, she drew me down toward her and said in a whisper, "Are you satisfied with me? I did my best, dear."

"Come, no emotion," exclaimed the doctor, "you shall kiss each other tomorrow. Colonel," he said to my father, who still retained his hat and stick, "keep them from kissing. No emotion, and every one outside. I am going to dress the little lancer. Give me the little man, grandmamma. Come here, little savage. You shall see whether I don't know how to fasten pins in."

He took the baby in his two large hands and sat down on a stool before the fire.

I watched my boy whom Jacques was turning about like a doll, but with great skill. He examined him all over, touching and feeling him, and at each test said with a smile:

"He is a fine one, he is a fine one."

Then he rolled him up in his clothes, put a triple cap on his little bald head, tied a folded ribbon under his chin to prevent his head falling backward, and then, satisfied with his work, said:

"You saw how I did it, nurse? Well, you must dress this lancer every morning in the same way. Nothing but a little sugar and water till to-morrow. The mother has no fever. Come, all is going on well.

"Lucky Captain! I am so hungry. Do you know that it is one in the morning? You haven't got cold partridge or a bit of pie that you don't know what to do with, have you? It would suit me down to the ground, with a bottle of something."

We went both into the dining-room and laid the cloth without any more ceremony.

I never in my life ate and drank so much as on that occasion.

"Come, get off to bed," said the doctor, putting on his coat. "To-morrow morning you shall have the wet-nurse. No, by the way, I'll call for you, and we will go and choose her together; it is curious. Be under arms at half-past eight."

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