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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

How the Baby was Saved

By Gustave Droz (1832–1895)

From ‘The Seamstress’s Story’

“YES, Ma’m’selle Adèle,” said the seamstress, “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, wouldn’t you have suffered much less last year, when you came so near losing your boy, if you hadn’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 well-nigh 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 heart-strings. 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; ’twas 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.

“Aren’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! Aren’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 wouldn’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 upon 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 asked 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.


“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 greatcoat, 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’m afraid you didn’t want to be disturbed, sir.’

“‘Oh, never mind. I am sorry it wasn’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 he did! God bless him! saved him as truly as if he had snatched him from the depths of the river.”

“And you didn’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 to-night; 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 didn’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.”