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Stories by Foreign Authors (French II)/The Sempstress' Story




From "The Sempstress' Story," by Gustave Droz.
Translated by E. T. D. Myers.
Published by West, Johnston & Co.

"YES, Ma'm'selle Adèle," said the sempstress, the real happiness of this world is not so unevenly distributed after all." Louise, as she said this, took from the reserve in the bosom of her dress a lot of pins, and applied them deftly to the trimming of a skirt which I was holding for her.

"A sufficiently comfortable doctrine," I answered, "but it does seem to me as if some people were born to live and to die unhappy."

"It is only folks who never find anybody to love enough; and I think it's nobody's fault but their own."

"But, my good Louise, would n't you have suffered much less last year, when you came so near losing your boy, if you had n't cared so much for him?"

I was only drawing her on, you see: Louise's chat was the greatest resource to me at that time.

"Why, Ma'm'selle Adèle, you are surely joking. You'd as well tell me to cut off my feet to save my shoes. You'll know one of these days—and not so far off neither, maybe—how mighty easy and sensible it would be not to love your children. They are a worry, too; but oh, the delight of 'em! I'd like to have had anybody tell me not to love my darling because it might grieve me, when he lay there in his mother's lap, with blue lips, gasping for his breath, and wellnigh dead; his face blackish, and his hands like this piece of wax. You could see that everything was going against him; and with his great big eyes he was staring in my face, until I felt as if the child was tugging at my very heartstrings. I kept smiling at him, though, through the tears that blinded me, hard as I tried to hide them. Oh! such tears are bitter salt indeed, ma'm'selle! And there was my poor husband on his knees, making paper figures to amuse him, and singing a funny song he used to laugh at. Now and then the corners of his mouth would pucker, and his cheeks would wrinkle a little bit under the eyes. You could tell he was still amused, but in such a dreamy way. Oh! our child seemed no longer with us, but behind a veil, like. Wait a minute. You must excuse me, for I can't help crying when I think of it."

And the poor creature drew out her handkerchief and fairly sobbed aloud. In the midst of it, however, she smiled and said, "Well, that's over now; 't was nothing, and I'm too silly. And, ma'm'selle, here I've gone and cried upon your mother's dress, and that's a pretty business."

I took her hand in mine and pressed it.

"Are n't you afraid you'll stick yourself, ma'm'-selle? I 've got my needle in that hand," she said playfully. "But you did not mean what you said just now, did you?"

"What did I say?"

"That it would be better not to love your children with all your heart, on account of the great anxiety. Don't you know such thoughts are wicked? When they come into your head your mind wants purifying. But I'm sure I beg your pardon for saying so."

"You are entirely right, Louise," I returned.

"Ah! so I thought. And now, let me see. Let's fix this ruche; pull it to the left a little, please."

"But about the sick boy. Tell me about his recovery."

"That was a miracle—I ought to say two miracles. It was a miracle that God restored him to us, and a miracle to find anybody with so much knowledge and feeling,—such talent. Such a tender heart, and so much, so much!—I'm speaking of the doctor. A famous one he was, too, you must know; for it was no less than Doctor Faron. Heaven knows how he is run after; and how rich and celebrated he is! Are n't you surprised to hear that it was he who attended our little boy? Indeed, the wonders begin with that. You may imagine my husband was at his wits' end when he saw how it was with the child; and all of a sudden I saw him jump up, get out his best coat and hat, and put them on."

"'Where are you going?' I asked.

"'To bring Doctor Faron.'

"Why, if he had said, 'To bring the Prime Minister,' it would have seemed as likely.

"'Don't you believe Doctor Faron is going to trouble himself about such as we. They will turn you out of doors.'

"But 'twas no use talking, my dear. He was already on the stairs, and I heard him running away as if the house was on fire. Fire, indeed; worse, far worse than any fire!

"And there I was, left alone with the child upon my knees. He would n't stay in bed; and was quieter so, wrapped up in his little blanket. Here will he die, I thought. Soon will his eyes close, and then it will be all over; and I held my own breath to listen to his feeble and oppressed pantings.

"About an hour had passed, when I heard a rapid step on the stairs—(we are poor, and live in attic rooms). The door opened, and my husband came in, wet with perspiration and out of breath. If I live a century I'll not forget his look when he said:


"I answered, 'No worse. But the doctor?'

"'He's coming.'

"Oh! those blessed words! It actually seemed as if my child were saved already. If you but knew how folks love their little ones. I kissed the darling, I kissed his father, I laughed, I cried, and I no longer felt the faintest doubt. It is by God's mercy that such gleams of hope are sent to strengthen us in our trials. It was very foolish, too; for something might easily have prevented the doctor's coming, after all.

"'You found him at home, then?' I inquired of my husband.

"Then he told me, in an undertone, what he had done, stopping every now and then to wipe his face and gather breath:

"'I ran to the Children's Hospital, which he manages, hoping to find him there. The porter showed me a low door at the end of the courtyard. I knocked and was let into a room full of young fellows, all smoking, talking and laughing away at a great rate.'

"Ah! the wretches! and with dying folks all round 'em."

"Don't say that until you know all. 'What do you want here, friend?' says a tall one in a white apron and black sleeves, and who, seeing my troubled looks, took me on one side. 'What's the matter?'

"'I'm sorry to trouble you, sir,' I began.

"'No ceremony, man. Speak out.'

"'I'm looking for Doctor Faron, to come and save my child, sir. He's dying with croup. I'm not rich, but all I can raise I will give.'

"'Oh! that's all right,' says he. 'How old's the child.'

"'Four years old, sir.'

"'Who's been attending it?'

"'A doctor who gives him little white pills in a heap of water, sir.'

"'Ah! hah!' says he, smiling; 'well, don't be downhearted,' and with that he threw off his apron and black sleeves, and wrote something on a bit of paper.'

"Take this to Doctor Faron. That's his address. Where do you live? I'll come when I get my coat on.'

"'Oh! how kind, sir!'

"I could have hugged him. But he said, 'Come, no nonsense, friend. Away with you!' So I hurried off to Doctor Faron's house, with the note; but he was dining out.

"'Where?' I asked, as the servant held the door ajar.

"'Don't know,' says he, very short; and shut the door in my face.

"At that I got angry, and it seemed to me the child came before my eyes. I pushed open the door, and in I went.

"'That won't do,' I said. 'One of the hospital doctors sent me here, and I must know where to find your master, and quick, too.'

"Seeing that I wouldn't stand trifling, he gave me the direction, and growled, 'Now clear out, and shut that door.'

"So I rushed away to the Rue de Lille. The courtyard was full of carriages, and the windows all in a blaze of light; but in I went, for all that.

"'My boy will die!—my boy will die!' I kept repeating, as I elbowed through the people. An old servant stopped me in the ante-chamber. 'Where now?' says he.

"'I want to speak to Doctor Faron,' says I; 'I must speak to him. Get him to come out here, won't you, please?'

"The old fellow looked at me hard, and then said very kindly, 'Sit down there an instant, and I'll try.'

"What possessed me to sit there and cry, with all those servants hurrying about with plates and dishes, I can't tell; but I could n't help it.

"In a minute or so, here comes a large gentleman with a white cravat on. 'Where's the man that wants me?' he asks in a gruff voice. Then seeing me there in the corner in such a state, with a searching look at me, he took the note, read it, and said quietly, 'Ah! the noble boy.' Then, turning to me, 'Go home, my man; I'll be there directly. Cheer up; I'll lose no time.'"

"My husband had scarcely uttered these words," continued Louise, "when I heard a step on the stairs. It was he! it was that blessed angel of a doctor come to help us in our sore distress.

"And what do you think he said in his deep voice when he got into the room?

"'God bless you, my friends, but I nearly broke my neck on those stairs. Where's that child?'

"'Here he is, my dear, darling doctor.' I knew no better way to speak to him, with his dress-cravat showing over his great coat, and his decorations dangling like a little bunch of keys at his buttonhole.

"He took off his wrappings, stooped over the child, turned him over, more gently even than his mother could have done, and laid his own head first against his back, then against his breast. How I tried to read his eyes! but they know how to hide their thoughts.

"'We must perform an operation here,' says he; 'and it is high time.'

"Just at this moment the hospital doctor came in, and whispered to him, 'I am afraid you did n't want to be disturbed, sir.'

"Oh, never mind. I am sorry it was n't sooner, though. Get everything ready now.'

"But, Ma'm'selle Adèle, why should I tell you all this? I'd better mind my work."

"Oh! go on, Louise, go on!"

"Well, then, ma'm'selle, if you believe me, those two doctors—neither of 'em kin, or even friends till then—went to work and made all the preparations, while my husband went off to borrow lights. The biggest one tied a mattress on the table, and the assistant spread out the bright little knives.

"You, who have not been through it all, ma'm'-selle, can 't know what it is to have your own little one in your lap, to know that those things are to be used upon him, to pierce his tender flesh, and, if the hand that guides them be not sure, that they may kill him.

"When all was ready, Doctor Faron took off his cravat, then lifted my child from my arms and laid him on the mattress, in the midst of the lamps, and said to my poor man:

"'You will hold his head, and your wife his feet. Joseph will pass me the instruments. You've brought a breathing tube with you, my son?'

"'Yes, sir.'

"My husband was as white as a sheet by this; and when I saw him about to take his place with his hands shaking so much, it scared me, so I said:

"'Doctor, please let me hold his head!'

"'But, my poor woman, if you should tremble?'

"'Please let me do it, Doctor!'

"'Be it so then,' and then added, with a bright look at me, and a cheering smile, 'we shall save him for you, my dear; you are a brave little woman, and you deserve it.'

"Yes, and save him, did he! God bless him! saved him as truly as if he had snatched him from the depths of the river."

"And you did n't tremble, Louise?"

"You may depend on that. If I had, it would have been the last of my child."

"How in the world did you keep yourself steady?"

"The Lord knows; but I was like a rock. When you must, you must, I suppose."

"And you had to behold every detail of that operation?"

"Yes, indeed; and often have I dreamed it over since. His poor little neck laid open, and the veins, which the doctor pushed aside with his fingers and the little silver tube which he inserted, and all that; and then the face of the child, changing as the air passed into his lungs. You’ve seen a lamp almost out, when you pour in oil? It was like that. They had laid him there but half alive, with his eyes all but set; and they gave him back to me, pale and with bloodless lips, it is true, but with life in his looks, and breathing—breathing the free, fresh air.

"'Kiss him, mother,' says the doctor, 'and put him to bed. Cover the place with some light thing or other, and Joseph must stay with you tonight; won't you, Joseph? Ah, well, that's all arranged.'

"He put on his things and wrapped himself up to go. He was shaking hands with my husband, when I seized one hand, and kissed it—like a fool, as I was—but I did n't stop to think. He laughed heartily, and said to my husband, 'Are you not jealous, friend? Your wife is making great advances to me. But I must be off now. Good-night, good people.'

"And from that night he always talks so friendly and familiarly to us, not a bit contemptuously either, but as if he liked us, and was glad to be of service to us.

"The next morning, at half-past five, there he was, as fresh as a rose, and larger, as it seemed to me, than before. And no wonder, neither, for don't you think he had brought four bottles of old Bordeaux! two in his pockets and two under his arms.

"'The little fellow must take this,' says he. 'Everything gone on well in the night, eh?'

"'Admirably well, sir,' answered Mr. Joseph. I call him Mr. Joseph, but I have since found out that he was a rising physician, nephew to the old doctor, and 'way above the common run. But he always spoke to the other like a soldier to his general.

"Well, that's not all the doctor did; for during the entire week after, he came every day, and when I would hear his carriage rumbling over our poor little street, I would say, 'Heaven knows what we shall ever do to pay him.' For we well knew that Doctor Faron attended dukes and noblemen, and charged them by the thousand.

"We had some hundred francs in the Savings, to be sure, but I was thinking what we should do if he charged two or three times as much. You can understand how very awkward it would have been. It fairly made me sick.

"At last, one morning when my husband was at home, I mustered up all my courage and began:

"'Doctor Faron, you have been so good, too good to us. You have saved our boy's life.'

"'You may prate over that just as much as you please, my dear; but recollect it is my trade to cut up such little chaps.'

"'But not those who live au cinquième in the Rue Serpente, sir.'

"You see, ma'm'selle, how I was leading up to the question?

"'How's that? how's that? Why, what are you talking about? Those before anybody else, to be sure. Are they not most in need?'

"'I know you have the best heart in the world, doctor; but that's not what I mean. Now, that the child is well, we want to—we are not rich—but still—'

"By this time I was as red as a cock's comb, and the more I tried to express myself the worse it got.

"'You want to pay me. I see, I see,' said he suddenly. 'Well, you owe me precisely nothing, if you don't think that too much.'

"'Oh! doctor! we could n't—we must—'

"'Let us pay according to our means, doctor,' says my husband.

"Well, then, I don't want to wound you, my friends. If you prefer to pay something, my charge is just fifty francs. And now don't bother me any more about it. (He pretended to be angry, and it was so droll.) Don't bother me, I say, you lunatics. Fifty francs, I tell you, and not a copper less; in specie, too; no paper money for me. Next Sunday dress the little man, and have him ready; for I wish him to take a turn in the Bois de Boulogne.'

"Ah! there's no end to your kindness, doctor.'

"'Do n't interrupt me, I say. After his drive, bring him to see me; and let him fetch the money himself. Do you hear?'

"Well, ma'm'selle," added Louise, "that very evening here comes a basket of wine, although we had n't finished the other. What a man! you may well say. And I declare to you, if he had wanted my right arm, I should have said, 'Cut it off, sir.'

"Fifty francs, indeed! It was n't the twentieth of what we owed him; and he only took that to save our feelings. And seeing this, I was still more anxious to please him; so I bought some linen, the finest I could get, and did n't I make him an elegant set of shirts!"

"Why, how did you get his measure?"

"Ah! that was hard; but when I make up my mind nothing stops me. I went to his valet—who knew me, because he had brought the wine—and I told him the doctor wanted me to look over his linen in the wash. So I got to the laundress, and I made her think he had ordered some shirts like those she had in hand, and so I got the pattern.

"I was full of work at that time, but I made all those shirts at night; and it gave me such satisfaction to think, 'Ah! you won't let us pay you—you obstinate man—but you can't prevent my sitting up and working for you the livelong night; and the way I worked! you should have seen me at it!

"You may depend on it there was plenty of hemstitching on those shirts, and you know when I try I can hemstitch.

"But I am trifling away my time, and this dress will never be done."