MoboReader > Literature > Monsieur, Madame, and Bebe -- C

   Chapter 23 NEW YEAR’S DAY

Monsieur, Madame, and Bebe -- C By Gustave Droz Characters: 12086

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02

It is barely seven o'clock. A pale ray of daylight is stealing through the double curtains, and already some one is tapping at the door. I can hear in the next room from the stifled laughter and the silvery tones of Baby, who is quivering with impatience, and asking leave to come in.

"Papa," he cries, "it is Baby, it is Baby come for the New Year."

"Come in, my darling; come quick, and kiss us."

The door opens and my boy, his eyes aglow, and his arms raised, rushes toward the bed. His curls, escaping from the nightcap covering his head, float on his forehead. His long, loose night-shirt, catching his little feet, increases his impatience, and causes him to stumble at every step.

At length he crosses the room, and, holding out his two hands to mine: "Baby wishes you a Happy New Year," he says, in an earnest voice.

"Poor little love, with his bare feet! Come, darling, and warm yourself under the counterpane."

I lift him toward me, but at this moment my wife, who is asleep, suddenly wakes.

"Who is there?" she exclaims, feeling for the bell. "Thieves!"

"It is we two, dear."

"Who? Good heavens! how you frightened me! I was dreaming the house was on fire, and that I heard your voice amid the raging flames. You were very indiscreet in shouting like that!"

"Shouting! but you forget, mamma, that it is New Year's Day, the day of smiles and kisses? Baby was waiting for you to wake up, as well as myself."

However, I wrap the little fellow up in the eiderdown quilt and warm his cold feet in my hands.

"Mamma, it is New Year's Day," he exclaims. With his arms he draws our two heads together, puts forward his own and kisses us at haphazard with his moist lips. I feel his dimpled fists digging into my neck, his little fingers entangled in my beard.

My moustache tickles the tip of his nose, and he bursts into a fit of joyous laughter as he throws his head back.

His mother, who has recovered from her fright, takes him in her arms and rings the bell.

"The year is beginning well, dear," she says, "but we must have a little daylight."

"Mamma, naughty children don't have any new toys on New Year's Day, do they?"

And as he says this the sly fellow eyes a pile of parcels and packages heaped up in one corner, visible despite the semidarkness.

Soon the curtains are drawn aside, and the shutters opened; daylight floods the room; the fire crackles merrily on the hearth, and two large parcels, carefully tied up, are placed on the bed. One is for my wife, and the other for my boy.

"What is it? What is it?" I have multiplied the knots and tripled the wrappings, and I gleefully follow their impatient fingers entangled among the strings.

My wife gets impatient, smiles, pouts, kisses me, and asks for the scissors.

Baby on his side tugs with all his might, biting his lips as he does so, and ends by asking my help. His look strives to penetrate the wrappers. All the signs of desire and expectation are stamped on his face. His hand, hidden under the coverlet, causes the silk to rustle with his convulsive movements, and his lips quiver as at the approach of some dainty.

At length the last paper falls aside. The lid is lifted, and joy breaks forth.

"A fur tippet!"

"A Noah's ark!"

"To match my muff, dear, kind husband."

"With a Noah on wheels, dear papa. I do love you so."

They throw themselves on my neck, four arms are clasped round me at once. Emotion gets the better of me, and a tear steals into my eye. There are two in those of my wife, and Baby, losing his head, sobs as he kisses my hand.

It is absurd.

Absurd, I don't know; but delightful, I can answer for it.

Does not grief, after all, call forth enough tears for us to forgive joy the solitary one she perchance causes us to shed!

Life is not so sweet for us to risk ourselves in it singlehanded, and when the heart is empty the way seems very long.

It is so pleasant to feel one's self loved, to hear beside one the cadenced steps of one's fellow-travellers, and to say, "They are here, our three hearts beat in unison." So pleasant once a year, when the great clock strikes the first of January, to sit down beside the path, with hands locked together, and eyes fixed on the unknown dusty road losing itself in the horizon, and to say, while embracing one another, "We still love one another, my dear children; you rely on me, and I rely on you. Let us have confidence, and walk steadfastly."

This is how I explain that one may weep a little while examining a new fur tippet and opening a Noah's ark.

But breakfast time draws near. I have cut myself twice while shaving; I have stepped on my son's wild beasts in turning round, and I have the prospect of a dozen duty calls, as my wife terms them, before me; yet I am delighted.

We sit down to the breakfast table, which has a more than usually festive aspect. A faint aroma of truffles perfumes the air, every one is smiling, and through the glass I see, startling sight! the doorkeeper, with his own hands, wiping the handrail of the staircase. It is a glorious day.

Baby has ranged his elephants, lions, and giraffes round his plate, and his mother, under pretext of a draught, breakfasts in her tippet.

"Have you ordered the carriage, dear, for our visits?" I ask.

"That cushion for Aunt Ursula will take up such a deal of room. It might be put beside the coachman."

"Poor aunt."

"Papa, don't let us go to Aunt Ursula," said Baby; "she pricks so when she kisses you."

"Naughty boy.... Think of all we have to get into the carriage. Leon's rocking-horse, Louise's muff, your father's slippers, Ernestine's quilt, the bonbons, the work-box. I declare, aunt's cushion must go under the coachman's feet."

"Papa, why doesn't the giraffe eat cutlets?"

"I really don't know, dear."

"Neither do I, papa."

An hour later we are ascending the staircase leading to Aunt Ursula's. My wife counts the steps as she pulls herself up by the hand-rail, and I carry the famous cushion, th

e bonbons, and my son, who has insisted on bringing his giraffe with him.

Aunt Ursula, who produces the same effect on him as the sight of a rod would, is waiting us in her icy little drawing-room. Four square armchairs, hidden beneath yellow covers, stand vacant behind four little mats. A clock in the shape of a pyramid, surmounted on a sphere, ticks under a glass case.

A portrait on the wall, covered with fly-spots, shows a nymph with a lyre, standing beside a waterfall. This nymph was Aunt Ursula. How she has altered!

"My dear aunt, we have come to wish you a Happy New Year."

"To express our hopes that-"

"Thank you, nephew, thank you, niece," and she points to two chairs. "I am sensible of this step on your part; it proves to me that you have not altogether forgotten the duties imposed upon you by family ties."

"You are reckoning, my dear aunt, without the affection we feel for you, and which of itself is enough... Baby, go and kiss your aunt."

Baby whispers in my ear, "But, papa, I tell you she does prick."

I place the bonbons on a side-table.

"You can, nephew, dispense with offering me that little gift; you know that sweetmeats disagree with me, and, if I were not aware of your indifference as to the state of my health, I should see in your offering a veiled sarcasm. But let that pass. Does your father still bear up against his infirmities courageously?"

"Thank you, yes."

"I thought to please you, dear aunt," observes my wife, "by embroidering for you this cushion, which I beg you to accept."

"I thank you, child, but I can still hold myself sufficiently upright, thank God, not to have any need of a cushion. The embroidery is charming, it is an Oriental design. You might have made a better choice, knowing that I like things much more simple. It is charming, however, although this red next to the green here sets one's teeth on edge. Taste in colors is, however, not given to every one. I have, in return, to offer you my photograph, which that dear Abbe Miron insisted on my having taken."

"How kind you are, and how like you it is! Do you recognize your aunt, Baby?"

"Do not think yourself obliged to speak contrary to your opinion. This photograph does not in any way resemble me, my eyes are much brighter. I have also a packet of jujubes for your child. He seems to have grown."

"Baby, go and kiss your aunt."

"And then we shall go, mamma?"

"You are very rude, my dear."

"Let him speak out; at any rate, he is frank. But I see that your husband is getting impatient, you have other... errands to fulfil; I will not keep you. Besides, I am going to church to pray for those who do not pray for themselves."

From twelve duty calls, subtract one duty call, and eleven remain. Hum! "Coachman, Rue St. Louis au Marais."

"Papa, has Aunt Ursula needles in her chin?"

Let us pass over the eleven duty calls, they are no more agreeable to write of than to make.

Toward seven o'clock, heaven be praised, the horses stop before my father's, where dinner awaits us. Baby claps his hands, and smiles at old Jeannette, who, at the sound of the wheels, has rushed to the door. "Here they are," she exclaims, and she carries off Baby to the kitchen, where my mother, with her sleeves turned up, is giving the finishing touch to her traditional plum cake.

My father, on his way to the cellar, lantern in hand, and escorted by his old servant, Jean, who is carrying the basket, halts. "Why, children, how late you are! Come to my arms, my dears; this is the day on which one kisses in good earnest. Jean, hold my lantern a minute." And as my old father clasps me to his breast, his hand seeks out mine and grasps it, with a long clasp. Baby, who glides in between our legs, pulls our coat-tails and holds up his little mouth for a kiss too.

"But I am keeping you here in the anteroom and you are frozen; go into the drawing-room, there are a good fire and good friends there."

They have heard us, the door opens, and a number of arms are held out to us. Amid handshakings, embracings, good wishes, and kisses, boxes are opened, bonbons are showered forth, parcels are undone, mirth becomes deafening, and good humor tumultuous. Baby standing amid his presents resembles a drunken man surrounded by a treasure, and from time to time gives a cry of joy on discovering some fresh toy.

"The little man's fable," exclaims my father, swinging his lantern which he has taken again from Jean.

A deep silence ensues, and the poor child, whose debut in the elocutionary art it is, suddenly loses countenance. He casts down his eyes, blushes and takes refuge in the arms of his mother, who, stooping down, whispers, "Come, darling, 'A lamb was quenching'; you know the wolf and the lamb."

"Yes, mamma, I know the little lamb that wanted to drink." And in a contrite voice, his head bent down on his breast, he repeats with a deep sigh, "'A little lamb was quenching his thirst in a clear stream."'

We all, with ears on the alert and a smile on our lips, follow his delightful little jargon.

Uncle Bertrand, who is rather deaf, has made an ear trumpet of his hand and drawn his chair up. "Ah! I can follow it," he says. "It is the fox and the grapes." And as there is a murmur of "Hush," at this interruption, he adds: "Yes, yes, he recites with intelligence, great intelligence."

Success restores confidence to my darling, who finishes his fable with a burst of laughter. Joy is communicative, and we take our places at table amid the liveliest mirth.

"By the way," says my father, "where the deuce is my lantern. I have forgotten all about the cellar. Jean, take your basket and let us go and rummage behind the fagots."

The soup is smoking, and my mother, after having glanced smilingly round the table, plunges her ladle into the tureen. Give me the family dinner table at which those we love are seated, at which we may risk resting our elbows at dessert, and at which at thirty we once more taste the wine offered at our baptism.

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