It was a pheasant day, and instinctively I turned round a little to catch a glimpse on the sideboard of a dusty bottle of my old Chambertin. Pheasant and Chambertin! Providence created them for one another and my wife has never separated them.
"Ah! my children, how comfortable you are here," said I, and every one burst out laughing. Poor gendarmes! poor doctor!
Yes, yes, I am very fond of the autumn, and my darling boy liked it as well as I did, not only on account of the pleasure there is in gathering round a fine large fire, but also on account of the squalls themselves, the wind and the dead leaves. There is a charm in braving them. How many times we have both gone out for a walk through the country despite cold and threatening clouds. We were wrapped up and shod with thick boots; I took his hand and we started off at haphazard. He was five years old then and trotted along like a little man. Heavens! it is five-and-twenty years ago. We went up the narrow lane strewn with damp black leaves; the tall gray poplars stripped of their foliage allowed a view of the horizon, and we could see in the distance, under a violet sky streaked with cold and yellowish bands, the low thatched roofs and the red chimneys from which issued little bluish clouds blown away by the wind. Baby jumped for joy, holding with his hand his hat which threatened to fly off, and looking at me with eyes glittering through tears brought into them by the breeze. His cheeks were red with cold, and quite at the tip of his nose hung ready to drop a small transparent pearl. But he was happy, and we skirted the wet meadows overflowed by the swollen river. No more reeds, no more water lilies, no more flowers on the banks. Some cows, up to mid-leg in damp herbage, were grazing quietly.
At the bottom of a ditch, near a big willow trunk, two little girls were huddled together under a big cloak wrapped about them. They were watching their cows, their half bare feet in split wooden shoes and their two little chilled faces under the large hood. From time to time large puddles of water in which the pale sky was reflected barred the way, and we remained for a moment beside these miniature lakes, rippling beneath the north wind, to see the leaves float on them. They were the last. We watched them detach themselves from the tops of the tall trees, whirl through the air and settle in the puddles. I took my little boy in my arms and we went through them as we could. At the boundaries of the brown and stubble fields was an overturned plough or an abandoned harrow. The stripped vines were level with the ground, and their damp and knotty stakes were gathered in large piles.
I remember that one day in one of these autumnal walks, as we gained the top of the hill by a broken road which skirts the heath and leads to the old bridge, the wind suddenly began to blow furiously. My darling, overwhelmed by it, caught hold of my leg and sheltered himself in the skirt of my coat. My dog, for his part, stiffening his four legs, with his tail between the hind ones and his ears waving in the wind, looked up at me too. I turned, the horizon was as gloomy as the interior of a church. Huge black clouds were sweeping toward us, and the trees were bending and groaning on every side under the torrents of rain driven before the squall. I only had time to catch up my little man, who was crying with fright, and to run and squeeze myself against a hedge which was somewhat protected by the old willows. I opened my umbrella, crouched down behind it, and, unbuttoning my big coat, stuffed Baby inside. He clung closely to me. My dog placed himself between my legs, and Baby, thus sheltered by his two friends, began to smile from the depths of his hiding-place. I looked at him and said:
"Well, little man, are you all right?"
"Yes, dear papa."
I felt his two arms clasp round my waist—I was much thinner than I am now—and I saw that he was grateful to me for acting as a roof to him. Through the opening he stretched out his little lips and I bent mine down.
"Is it still raining outside, papa?"
"It will soon be over."
"Already, I am so comfortable inside you."
How all this stays in your heart. It is perhaps silly to relate these little joys, but how sweet it is to recall them.
We reached home as muddy as two water-dogs and we were well scolded. But when evening had come and Baby was in bed and I went to kiss him and tickle him a little, as was our custom, he put his two little arms round my neck and whispered: "When it rains we will go again, eh?"
CHAPTER XXXII. HE WOULD HAVE BEEN FORTY NOW
When you have seen your child born, have watched his first steps in life, have noted him smile and weep, have heard him call you papa as he stretches out his little arms to you, you think that you have become acquainted with all the joys of paternity, and, as though satiated with these daily joys that are under your hand, you already begin to picture those of the morrow. You rush ahead, and explore the future; you are impatient, and gulp down present happiness in long draughts, instead of tasting it drop by drop. But Baby's illness suffices to restore you to reason.
To realize the strength of the ties that bind you to him, it is necessary to have feared to see them broken; to know that a river is deep, you must have been on the point of drowning in it.
Recall the morning when, on drawing aside the curtain of his bed, you saw on the pillow his little face, pale and thin. His sunken eyes, surrounded by a bluish circle, were half closed. You met his glance, which seemed to come through a veil; he saw you, without smiling at you. You said, "Good morning," and he did not answer. His face only expressed dejection and weakness, it was no longer that of your child. He gave a kind of sigh, and his heavy eyelids drooped. You took his hands, elongated, transparent, and with colorless nails; they were warm and moist. You kissed them, those poor little hands, but there was no responsive thrill to the contact of your lips. Then you turned round, and saw your wife weeping behind you. It was at that moment when you felt yourself shudder from head to foot, and that the idea of a possible woe seized on you, never more to leave you. Every moment you kept going back to the bed and raising the curtains again, hoping perhaps that you had not seen aright, or that a miracle had taken place; but you withdrew quickly, with a lump in your throat. And yet you strove to smile, to make him smile himself; you sought to arouse in him the wish for something, but in vain; he remained motionless, exhausted, not even turning round, indifferent to all you said, to everything, even yourself.
And what is all that is needed to strike down this little creature, to reduce him to this pitch? Only a few hours. What, is that all that is needed to put an end to him? Five minutes. Perhaps.
You know that life hangs on a thread in this frail body, so little fitted to suffer. You feel that life is only a breath, and say to yourself: "Suppose this one is his last." A little while back he was complaining. Already he does so no longer. It seems as though someone is clasping him, bearing him away, tearing him from your arms. Then you draw near him, and clasp him to you almost involuntarily, as though to give him back some of your own life. His bed is damp with fever sweats, his lips are losing their color. The nostrils of his little nose, grown sharp and dry, rise and fall. His mouth remains wide open. It is that little rosy mouth which used to laugh so joyfully, those are the two lips that used to press themselves to yours, and... all the joys, the bursts of laughter, the follies, the endless chatter, all the bygone happiness, flock to your recollection at the sound of that gasping, breathing, while big hot tears fall slowly from your eyes. Poor wee man. Your hand seeks his little legs, and you dare not touch his chest, which you have kissed so often, for fear of encountering that ghastly leanness which you foresee, but the contact of which would make you break out in sobs. And then, at a certain moment, while the sunlight was flooding the room, you heard a deeper moan, resembling a cry. You darted forward; his face was contracted, and he looked toward you with eyes that no longer saw. And then all was calm, silent and motionless, while his hollow cheeks became yellow and transparent as the amber of his necklaces.
The recollection of that moment lasts for a lifetime in the hearts of those who have loved; and even in old age, when time has softened your grief, when other joys and other sorrows have filled your days, his dying bed still appears to you when sitting of an evening beside the fire. You see amid the sparkling flames the room of the lost child, the table with the drinks, the bottles, the arsenal of illness, the little garments, carefully folded, that waited for him so long, his toys abandoned in a corner. You even see the marks of his little fingers on the wall paper, and the zigzags he made with his pencil on the door; you see the corner scribbled over with lines and dates, in which he was measured every month, you see him playing, running, rushing up in a perspiration to throw himself into your arms, and, at the same time, you also see him fixing his glazing eyes on you, or motionless and cold under a white sheet, wet with holy water.
Does not this recollection recur to you sometimes, Grandma, and do not you still shed a big tear as you say to yourself: "He would have been forty now?" Do we not know, dear old lady, whose heart still bleeds, that at the bottom of your wardrobe, behind your jewels, beside packets of yellow letters, the handwriting of which we will not guess at, there is a little museum of sacred relics—the last shoes in which he played about on the gravel the day he complained of being cold, the remains of some broken toys, a dried sprig of box, a little cap, his last, in a triple wrapper, and a thousand trifles that are a world to you, poor woman, that are the fragments of your broken heart?
The ties that unite children to parents are unloosed. Those which unite parents to children are broken. In one case, it is the past that is wiped out; in the other, the future that is rent away.
CHAPTER XXXIII. CONVALESCENCE
But, my patient reader, forget what have just said. Baby does not want to leave you, he does not want to die, poor little thing, and if you want a proof of it, watch him very closely; there, he smiles.
A very faint smile like those rays of sunlight that steal between two clouds at the close of a wet winter. You rather guess at than see this smile, but it is enough to warm your heart. The cloud begins to disperse, he sees you, he hears you, he knows that papa is there, your child is restored to you. His glance is already clearer. Call him softly. He wants to turn, but he can not yet, and for his sole answer his little hand, which is beginning to come to life again, moves and crumples the sheet. Just wait a little, poor impatient father, and tomorrow, on his awakening, he will say "Papa." You will see what good it will do you, this "Papa," faint as a mere breath, this first scarcely intelligible sign of a return to life. It will seem to you that your child has been born again a second time.
He will still suffer, he will have further crises, the storm does not become a calm all at once, but he will be able now to rest his head on your shoulder, nestle in your arms among the blankets; he will be able to complain, to ask help and relief of you with eye and voice; you will, in short, be reunited, and you will be conscious that he suffers less by suffering on your knees. You will hold his hand in yours, and if you seek to go away he will look at you and grasp your finger. How many things are expressed in this grasp. Dear sir, have you experienced it?
"Papa, do stay with me, you help to make me better; when I am alone I am afraid of the pain. Hold me tightly to you, and I shall not suffer so much."
The more your protection is necessary to another the more you enjoy granting it. What is it then when this other is a second self, dearer than the first. With convalescence comes another childhood, so to speak. Fresh astonishments, fresh joys, fresh desires come one by one as health is restored. But what is most touching and delightful, is that delicate coaxing by the child who still suffers and clings to you, that abandonment of himself to you, that extreme weakness that gives him wholly over to you. At no period of his life has he so enjoyed your presence, has he taken refuge so willingly in your dressing-gown, has he listened more attentively to your stories and smiled more intelligently at your merriment. Is it true, as it seems to you, that he has never been more charming? Or is it simply that threatened danger has caused you to set a higher value on his caresses, and that you count over your treasures with all the more delight because you have been all but ruined?
But the little man is up again. Beat drums; sound trumpets; come out of your hiding-places, broken horses; stream in, bright sun; a song from you little birds. The little king comes to life again—long live the king! And you, your majesty, come and kiss your father.
What is singular is that this fearful crisis you have gone through becomes in some way sweet to you; you incessantly recur to it, you speak of it, you speak of it and cherish it in your mind; and, like the companions of AEneas, you seek by the recollection of past dangers to increase the present joy.
"Do you remember," you say, "the day when he was so ill? Do you remember his dim eyes, his poor; thin, little arm, and his pale lips? And that morning the doctor went away after clasping our hands?"
It is only Baby who does not remember anything. He only feels an overpowering wish to restore his strength, fill out his cheeks and recover his calves.
"Papa, are we going to have dinner soon, eh, papa?"
"Yes, it is getting dusk, wait a little."
"But, papa, suppose we don't wait?"
"In twenty minutes, you little glutton."
"Twenty, is twenty a great many? If you eat twenty cutlets would it make you ill? But with potatoes, and jam, and soup, and—is it still twenty minutes?"
Then again: "Papa, when there is beef with sauce," he has his mouth full of it, "red tomato sauce."
"Yes, dear, well?"
"Well, a bullock is much bigger than what is on the dish; why don't they bring the rest of the bullock? I could eat it all and then some bread and then some haricots, and then—"
He is insatiable when he has his napkin under his chin, and it is a happiness to see the pleasure he feels in working his jaws. His little eyes glisten, his cheeks grow red; what he puts away into his little stomach it is impossible to say, and so busy is he that he has scarcely time to laugh between two mouthfuls. Toward dessert his ardor slackens, his look becomes more and more languid, his fingers relax and his eyes close from time to time.
"Mamma, I should like to go to bed," he says, rubbing his eyes. Baby is coming round.
CHAPTER XXXIV. FAMILY TIES
The exhilaration of success and the fever of life's struggle take a man away from his family, or cause him to live amid it as a stranger, and soon he no longer finds any attractions in the things which charmed him at the outset. But let ill luck come, let the cold wind blow rather strongly, and he falls back upon himself, he seeks near him something to support him in his weakness, a sentiment to replace his vanished dream, and he bends toward his child, he takes his wife's hand and presses it. He seems to invite these two to share his burden. Seeing tears in the eyes of those he loves, his own seem diminished to that extent. It would seem that moral suffering has the same effect as physical pain. The drowning wretch clutches at straws; in the same way, the man whose heart is breaking clasps his wife and children to him. He asks in turn for help, protection, and comfort, and it is a touching thing to see the strong shelter himself in the arms of the weak and recover courage in their kiss. Children have the instinct of all this; and the liveliest emotion they are capable of feeling is that which they experience on seeing their father weep.
Recall, dear reader, your most remote recollections, seek in that past which seems to you all the clearer the farther you are removed from it. Have you ever seen your father come home and sit down by the fire with a tear in his eye? Then you dared not draw near him at first, so deeply did you feel his grief. How unhappy he must be for his eyes to be wet. Then you felt that a tie attached you to this poor man, that his misfortune struck you too, that a part of it was yours, and that you were smitten because your father was. And no one understands better than the child this joint responsibility of the family to which he owes everything. You have felt all this; your heart has swollen as you stood silent in the corner, and sobs have broken forth as, without knowing why, you have held out your arms toward him. He has turned, he has understood all, he has not been able to restrain his grief any further, and you have remained clasped in one another's arms, father, mother, and child, without saying anything, but gazing at and understanding one another. Did you, however, know the cause of the poor man's grief?
Not at all.
This is why filial love and paternal love have been poetized, why the family is styled holy. It is because one finds therein the very source of that need of loving, helping and sustaining one another, which from time to time spreads over the whole of society, but in the shape of a weakened echo. It is only from time to time in history that we see a whole nation gather together, retire within itself and experience the same thrill.
A frightful convulsion is needed to make a million men hold out their hands to one another and understand one another at a glance; it needs a superhuman effort for the family to become the nation, and for the boundaries of the hearth to extend to the frontiers.
A complaint, a pang, a tear, is enough to make a man, a woman, and a child, blend their hearts together and feel that they are but one.
Laugh at marriage; the task is easy. All human contracts are tainted with error, and an error is always smiled at by those who are not the victims of it. There are husbands, it is certain; and when we see a man tumble down, even if he knocks his brains out, our first impulse it to burst out laughing. Hence the great and eternal mirth that greets Sganarelle.
But search to the bottom and behold that beneath all these trifles, beneath all this dust of little exploded vanities, ridiculous mistakes and comical passions, is hidden the very pivot of society. Verify that in this all is for the best, since this family sentiment, which is the basis of society, is also its consolation and joy.
The honor of our flag, the love of country, and all that urges a man to devote himself to something or some one not himself, are derived from this sentiment, and in it, you may assert, is to be found the source whence flow the great streams at which the human heart quenches its thirst.
Egotism for three, you say. What matter, if this egotism engenders devotion?
Will you reproach the butterfly with having been a caterpillar?
Do not accuse me in all this of exaggeration, or of poetic exaltation.
Yes, family life is very often calm and commonplace, the stock-pot that figures on its escutcheon has not been put there without reason, I admit. To the husband who should come and say to me: "Sir, for two days running I have fallen asleep by the fireside," I should reply: "You are too lazy, but after all I understand you."
I also understand that Baby's trumpet is noisy, that articles of jewellery are horribly dear, that lace flounces and sable trimmings are equally so, that balls are wearisome, that Madame has her vapors, her follies, exigencies; I understand, in short, that a man whose career is prosperous looks upon his wife and child as two stumbling blocks.
But I am waiting for the happy man, for the moment when his forehead will wrinkle, when disappointment will descend upon his head like a leaden skull-cap, and when picking up the two blocks he has cursed he will make two crutches of them.
I admit that Alexander the Great, Napoleon the First, and all the demi-gods of humanity, have only felt at rare intervals the charm of being fathers and husbands; but we other poor little men, who are less occupied, must be one or the other.
I do not believe in the happy old bachelor; I do not believe in the happiness of all those who, from stupidity or calculation, have withdrawn themselves from the best of social laws. A great deal has been said on this subject, and I do not wish to add to the voluminous documents in this lawsuit. Acknowledge frankly all you who have heard the cry of your new-born child and felt your heart tingle like a glass on the point of breaking, unless you are idiots, acknowledge that you said to yourselves: "I am in the right. Here, and here alone, lies man's part. I am entering on a path, beaten and worn, but straight; I shall cross the weary downs, but each step will bring me nearer the village spire. I am not wandering through life, I am marching on, I stir with my feet the dust in which my father has planted his. My child, on the same road, will find the traces of my footsteps, and, perhaps, on seeing that I have not faltered, will say: 'Let me act like my old father and not lose myself in the ploughed land.'"
If the word holy has still a meaning, despite the uses it has been put to, I do not see that a better use can be made of it than by placing it beside the word family.
They speak of progress, justice, general well-being, infallible policies, patriotism, devotion. I am for all these good things, but this bright horizon is summed up in these three words: "Love your neighbor," and this is precisely, in my opinion, the thing they forget to teach.
To love your neighbor is as simple as possible, but the mischief is that you do not meet with this very natural feeling. There are people who will show you the seed in the hollow of their hand, but even those who deal in this precious grain are the last to show you it in leaf.
Well, my dear reader, this little plant which should spring up like the poppies in the wheat, this plant which has never been seen growing higher than watercress, but which should overtop the oaks, this undiscoverable plant, I know where it grows.
It grows beside the domestic hearth, between the shovel and tongs; it is there that it perpetuates itself, and if it still exists, it is to the family that we owe it. I love pretty nearly all the philanthropists and saviours of mankind; but I only believe in those who have learned to love others by embracing their own children.
Mankind can not be remodelled to satisfy the wants of humanitarian theories; man is egotistical, and he loves, above all, those who are about him. This is the natural human sentiment, and it is this which must be enlarged, extended and cultivated. In a word, it is in family love that is comprised love of country and consequently of humanity. It is from fathers that citizens are made.
Man has not twenty prime movers, but only one in his heart; do not argue but profit by it.
Affection is catching. Love between three—father, mother, and child—when it is strong, soon requires space; it pushes back the walls of the house, and by degrees invites the neighbors. The important thing, then, is to give birth to this love between three; for it is madness, I am afraid, to thrust the whole human species all at once on a man's heart. Such large mouthfuls are not to be swallowed at a gulp, nor without preparation.
This is why I have always thought that with the numerous sous given for the redemption of the little Chinese, we might in France cause the fire to sparkle on hearths where it sparkles no longer, make many eyes grow brighter round a tureen of smoking soup, warm chilled mothers, bring smiles to the pinched faces of children, and give pleasure and happiness to poor discouraged ones on their return home.
What a number of hearty kisses you might have brought about with all these sous, and, in consequence, what a sprinkling with the watering-pot for the little plant you wot of.
"But then what is to become of the redemption of the little Chinese?"
We will think of this later; we must first know how to love our own before we are able to love those of others.
No doubt, this is brutal and egotistical, but you can not alter it; it is out of small faults that you build up great virtues. And, after all, do not grumble, this very vanity is the foundation stone of that great monument—at present still propped up by scaffolding—which is called Society.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
A ripe husband, ready to fall from the tree Affection is catching All babies are round, yielding, weak, timid, and soft And I shall say 'damn it,' for I shall then be grown up Answer "No," but with a little kiss which means "Yes" As regards love, intention and deed are the same But she thinks she is affording you pleasure Clumsily, blew his nose, to the great relief of his two arms Do not seek too much Emotion when one does not share it First impression is based upon a number of trifles He Would Have Been Forty Now Hearty laughter which men affect to assist digestion How many things have not people been proud of How rich we find ourselves when we rummage in old drawers Husband who loves you and eats off the same plate is better I would give two summers for a single autumn I do not accept the hypothesis of a world made for us I came here for that express purpose I am not wandering through life, I am marching on Ignorant of everything, undesirous of learning anything In his future arrange laurels for a little crown for your own It (science) dreams, too; it supposes It is silly to blush under certain circumstances Learned to love others by embracing their own children Life is not so sweet for us to risk ourselves in it singlehanded Love in marriage is, as a rule, too much at his ease Man is but one of the links of an immense chain Rather do not give—make yourself sought after Reckon yourself happy if in your husband you find a lover Recollection of past dangers to increase the present joy Respect him so that he may respect you Shelter himself in the arms of the weak and recover courage Sometimes like to deck the future in the garments of the past The heart requires gradual changes The future that is rent away The recollection of that moment lasts for a lifetime The future promises, it is the present that pays Their love requires a return There are pious falsehoods which the Church excuses Ties that unite children to parents are unloosed Ties which unite parents to children are broken To be able to smoke a cigar without being sick To love is a great deal—To know how to love is everything We are simple to this degree, that we do not think we are When time has softened your grief Why mankind has chosen to call marriage a man-trap