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   Chapter 27 THE LITTLE BOOTS

Monsieur, Madame, and Bebe -- C By Gustave Droz Characters: 11298

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02

In the morning when I left my room, I saw placed in line before the door his boots and mine. His were little laced-up boots rather out of shape, and dulled by the rough usage to which he subjects them. The sole of the left boot was worn thin, and a little hole was threatening at the toe of the right. The laces, worn and slack, hung to the right and left. Swellings in the leather marked the places of his toes, and the accustomed movements of his little foot had left their traces in the shape of creases, slight or deep.

Why have I remembered all this? I really do not know, but it seems to me that I can still see the boots of the dear little one placed there on the mat beside my own, two grains of sand by two paving stones, a tom tit beside an elephant. They were his every-day boots, his playfellows, those with which he ascended sand hills and explored puddles. They were devoted to him, and shared his existence so closely that something of himself was met with again in them. I should have recognized them among a thousand; they had an especial physiognomy about them; it seemed to me that an invisible tie attached them to him, and I could not look at their undecided shape, their comic and charming grace, without recalling their little master, and acknowledging to myself that they resembled him.

Everything belonging to a baby becomes a bit babyish itself, and assumes that expression of unstudied and simple grace peculiar to a child.

Beside these laughing, gay, good-humored little boots, only asking leave to run about the country, my own seemed monstrous, heavy, coarse, ridiculous, with their heels. From their heavy and disabused air one felt that for them life was a grave matter, its journeys long, and the burden borne quite a serious one.

The contrast was striking, and the lesson deep. I would softly approach these little boots in order not to wake the little man who was still asleep in the adjoining room; I felt them, I turned them over, I looked at them on all sides, and I found a delightful smile rise to my lips. Never did the old violet-scented glove that lay for so long in the inmost recess of my drawer procure me so sweet an emotion.

Paternal love is no trifle; it has its follies and weaknesses, it is puerile and sublime, it can neither be analyzed nor explained, it is simply felt, and I yielded myself to it with delight.

Let the papa without weakness cast the first stone at me; the mammas will avenge me.

Remember that this little laced boot, with a hole in the toe, reminded me of his plump little foot, and that a thousand recollections were connected with that dear trifle.

I recalled him, dear child, as when I cut his toe nails, wriggling about, pulling at my beard, and laughing in spite of himself, for he was ticklish.

I recalled him as when of an evening in front of a good fire, I pulled off his little socks. What a treat.

I would say "one, two." And he, clad in his long nightgown, his hands lost in the sleeves, would wait with glittering eyes, and ready to break into a fit of laughter for the "three."

At last after a thousand delays, a thousand little teasings that excited his impatience and allowed me to snatch five or six kisses, I said "three."

The sock flew away. Then there was a wild joy; he would throw himself back on my arm, waving his bare legs in the air. From his open mouth, in which two rows of shining little pearls could be distinguished, welled forth a burst of ringing laughter.

His mother, who, however, laughed too, would say the next minute, "Come, baby, come, my little angel, you will get cold... But leave off... Will you have done, you little demon?"

She wanted to scold, but she could not be serious at the sight of his fair-haired head, and flushed, smiling, happy face, thrown back on my knee.

She would look at me, and say:

"He is unbearable. Good gracious! what a child."

But I understood that this meant:

"Look how handsome, sturdy and healthy he is, our baby, our little man, our son."

And indeed he was adorable; at least I thought so.

I had the wisdom-I can say it now that my hair is white-not to let one of those happy moments pass without amply profiting by it, and really I did well. Pity the fathers who do not know how to be papas as often as possible, who do not know how to roll on the carpet, play at being a horse, pretend to be the great wolf, undress their baby, imitate the barking of the dog, and the roar of the lion, bite whole mouthfuls without hurting, and hide behind armchairs so as to let themselves be seen.

Pity sincerely these unfortunates. It is not only pleasant child's play that they neglect, but true pleasure, delightful enjoyment, the scraps of that happiness which is greatly calumniated and accused of not existing because we expect it to fall from heaven in a solid mass when it lies at our feet in fine powder. Let us pick up the fragments, and not grumble too much; every day brings us with its bread its ration of happiness.

Let us walk slowly and look down on the ground, searching around us and seeking in the corners; it is there that Providence has its hiding-places.

I have always laughed at those people who rush through life at full speed, with dilated nostrils, uneasy eyes, and glance rivetted on the horizon. It seems as though the present scorched their feet, and when you say to them, "Stop a moment, alight, take a glass of this good old wine, let us chat a little, laugh a little, kiss your child."

"Impossible," they reply; "I am expected over there. There I shall converse, there I shall drink delicious wine, there I shall giv

e expansion to paternal love, there I shall be happy!"

And when they do get "there," breathless and tired out, and claim the price of their fatigue, the present, laughing behind its spectacles, says, "Monsieur, the bank is closed."

The future promises, it is the present that pays, and one should have a good understanding with the one that keeps the keys of the safe.

Why fancy that you are a dupe of Providence?

Do you think that Providence has the time to serve up to each of you perfect happiness, already dressed on a golden plate, and to play music during your repast into the bargain? Yet that is what a great many people would like.

We must be reasonable, tuck up our sleeves and look after our cooking ourselves, and not insist that heaven should put itself out of the way to skim our soup.

I used to muse on all this of an evening when my baby was in my arms, and his moist, regular breathing fanned my hand. I thought of the happy moments he had already given me, and was grateful to him for them.

"How easy it is," I said to myself, "to be happy, and what a singular fancy that is of going as far as China in quest of amusement."

My wife was of my opinion, and we would sit for hours by the fire talking of what we felt.

"You, do you see, dear? love otherwise than I do," she often said to me. "Papas calculate more. Their love requires a return. They do not really love their child till the day on which their self-esteem as its father is flattered. There is something of ownership in it. You can analyze paternal love, discover its causes, say 'I love my child because he is so and so, or so and so.' With the mother such analysis is impossible, she does not love her child because he is handsome or ugly, because he does or does not resemble her, has or has not her tastes. She loves him because she can not help it, it is a necessity. Maternal love is an innate sentiment in woman. Paternal love is, in man, the result of circumstances. In her love is an instinct, in him a calculation, of which, it is true, he is unconscious, but, in short, it is the outcome of several other feelings."

"That is all very fine; go on," I said. "We have neither heart nor bowels, we are fearful savages. What you say is monstrous." And I stirred the logs furiously with the tongs.

Yet my wife was right, I acknowledged to myself. When a child comes into the world the affection of the father is not to be compared to that of the mother. With her it is love already. It seems that she has known him for a long time, her pretty darling. At his first cry it might be said that she recognized him. She seems to say, "It is he." She takes him without the slightest embarrassment, her movements are natural, she shows no awkwardness, and in her two twining arms the baby finds a place to fit him, and falls asleep contentedly in the nest created for him. It would be thought that woman serves a mysterious apprenticeship to maternity. Man, on the other hand, is greatly troubled by the birth of a child. The first wail of the little creature stirs him, but in this emotion there is more astonishment than love. His affection is not yet born. His heart requires to reflect and to become accustomed to these fondnesses so new to him.

There is an apprenticeship to be served to the business of a father. There is none to that of a mother.

If the father is clumsy morally in his love for his firstborn, it must be acknowledged that he is so physically in the manifestation of his fondness.

It is only tremblingly, and with contortions and efforts, that he lifts the slight burden. He is afraid of smashing the youngster, who knows this, and thence bawls with all the force of his lungs. He expands more strength, poor man, in lifting up his child than he would in bursting a door open. If he kisses him, his beard pricks him; if he touches him, his big fingers cause him some disaster. He has the air of a bear threading a needle.

And yet it must be won, the affection of this poor father, who, at the outset, meets nothing but misadventures; he must be captivated, captured, made to have a taste for the business, and not be left too long to play the part of a recruit.

Nature has provided for it, and the father rises to the rank of corporal the day the baby lisps his first syllables.

It is very sweet, the first lisping utterance of a child, and admirably chosen to move-the "pa-pa" the little creature first murmurs. It is strange that the first word of a child should express precisely the deepest and tenderest sentiment of all?

Is it not touching to see that the little creature finds of himself the word that is sure to touch him of whom he stands most in need; the word that means, "I am yours, love me, give me a place in your heart, open your arms to me; you see I do not know much as yet, I have only just arrived, but, already, I think of you, I am one of the family, I shall eat at your table, and bear your name, pa-pa, pa-pa."

He has discovered at once the most delicate of flatteries, the sweetest of caresses. He enters on life by a master stroke.

Ah! the dear little love! "Pa-pa, pa-pa," I still hear his faint, hesitating voice, I can still see his two coral lips open and close. We were all in a circle around him, kneeling down to be on a level with him. They kept saying to him, "Say it again, dear, say it again. Where is papa?" And he, amused by all these people about him, stretched out his arms, and turned his eyes toward me.

I kissed him heartily, and felt that two big tears hindered me from speaking.

From that moment I was a papa in earnest. I was christened.

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