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PAGE 3

Simon’s Papa
by [?]

Suddenly a heavy hand was placed upon his shoulder, and a rough voice asked him:

“What is it that causes you so much grief, my little man?”

Simon turned round. A tall workman with a beard and black curly hair was staring at him good-naturedly. He answered with his eyes and throat full of tears:

“They beat me–because–I–I have no–papa–no papa.”

“What!” said the man, smiling; “why, everybody has one.”

The child answered painfully amid his spasms of grief:

“But I–I–I have none.”

Then the workman became serious. He had recognized La Blanchotte’s son, and, although himself a new arrival in the neighborhood, he had a vague idea of her history.

“Well,” said he, “console yourself, my boy, and come with me home to your mother. They will give you–a papa.”

And so they started on the way, the big fellow holding the little fellow by the hand, and the man smiled, for he was not sorry to see this Blanchotte, who was, it was said, one of the prettiest girls of the countryside, and, perhaps, he was saying to himself, at the bottom of his heart, that a lass who had erred might very well err again.

They arrived in front of a very neat little white house.

“There it is,” exclaimed the child, and he cried, “Mamma!”

A woman appeared, and the workman instantly left off smiling, for he saw at once that there was no fooling to be done with the tall pale girl who stood austerely at her door as though to defend from one man the threshold of that house where she had already been betrayed by another. Intimidated, his cap in his hand, he stammered out:

“See, madame, I have brought you back your little boy who had lost himself near the river.”

But Simon flung his arms about his mother’s neck and told her, as he again began to cry:

“No, mamma, I wished to drown myself, because the others had beaten me– had beaten me–because I have no papa.”

A burning redness covered the young woman’s cheeks; and, hurt to the quick, she embraced her child passionately, while the tears coursed down her face. The man, much moved, stood there, not knowing how to get away.

But Simon suddenly ran to him and said:

“Will you be my papa?”

A deep silence ensued. La Blanchotte, dumb and tortured with shame, leaned herself against the wall, both her hands upon her heart. The child, seeing that no answer was made him, replied:

“If you will not, I shall go back and drown myself.”

The workman took the matter as a jest and answered, laughing:

“Why, yes, certainly I will.”

“What is your name,” went on the child, “so that I may tell the others when they wish to know your name?”

“Philip,” answered the man:

Simon was silent a moment so that he might get the name well into his head; then he stretched out his arms, quite consoled, as he said:

“Well, then, Philip, you are my papa.”

The workman, lifting him from the ground, kissed him hastily on both cheeks, and then walked away very quickly with great strides. When the child returned to school next day he was received with a spiteful laugh, and at the end of school, when the lads were on the point of recommencing, Simon threw these words at their heads as he would have done a stone: “He is named Philip, my papa.”

Yells of delight burst out from all sides.

“Philip who? Philip what? What on earth is Philip? Where did you pick up your Philip?”

Simon answered nothing; and, immovable in his faith, he defied them with his eye, ready to be martyred rather than fly before them. The school master came to his rescue and he returned home to his mother.

During three months, the tall workman, Philip, frequently passed by La Blanchotte’s house, and sometimes he made bold to speak to her when he saw her sewing near the window. She answered him civilly, always sedately, never joking with him, nor permitting him to enter her house. Notwithstanding, being, like all men, a bit of a coxcomb, he imagined that she was often rosier than usual when she chatted with him.