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PAGE 4

Simon’s Papa
by [?]

But a lost reputation is so difficult to regain and always remains so fragile that, in spite of the shy reserve of La Blanchotte, they already gossiped in the neighborhood.

As for Simon he loved his new papa very much, and walked with him nearly every evening when the day’s work was done. He went regularly to school, and mixed with great dignity with his schoolfellows without ever answering them back.

One day, however, the lad who had first attacked him said to him:

“You have lied. You have not a papa named Philip.”

“Why do you say that?” demanded Simon, much disturbed.

The youth rubbed his hands. He replied:

“Because if you had one he would be your mamma’s husband.”

Simon was confused by the truth of this reasoning; nevertheless, he retorted:

“He is my papa, all the same.”

“That can very well be,” exclaimed the urchin with a sneer, “but that is not being your papa altogether.”

La Blanchotte’s little one bowed his head and went off dreaming in the direction of the forge belonging to old Loizon, where Philip worked. This forge was as though buried beneath trees. It was very dark there; the red glare of a formidable furnace alone lit up with great flashes five blacksmiths; who hammered upon their anvils with a terrible din. They were standing enveloped in flame, like demons, their eyes fixed on the red-hot iron they were pounding; and their dull ideas rose and fell with their hammers.

Simon entered without being noticed, and went quietly to pluck his friend by the sleeve. The latter turned round. All at once the work came to a standstill, and all the men looked on, very attentive. Then, in the midst of this unaccustomed silence, rose the slender pipe of Simon:

“Say, Philip, the Michaude boy told me just now that you were not altogether my papa.”

“Why not?” asked the blacksmith,

The child replied with all innocence:

“Because you are not my mamma’s husband.”

No one laughed. Philip remained standing, leaning his forehead upon the back of his great hands, which supported the handle of his hammer standing upright upon the anvil. He mused. His four companions watched him, and Simon, a tiny mite among these giants, anxiously waited. Suddenly, one of the smiths, answering to the sentiment of all, said to Philip:

“La Blanchotte is a good, honest girl, and upright and steady in spite of her misfortune, and would make a worthy wife for an honest man.”

“That is true,” remarked the three others.

The smith continued:

“Is it the girl’s fault if she went wrong? She had been promised marriage; and I know more than one who is much respected to-day, and who sinned every bit as much.”

“That is true,” responded the three men in chorus.

He resumed:

“How hard she has toiled, poor thing, to bring up her child all alone, and how she has wept all these years she has never gone out except to church, God only knows.”

“This is also true,” said the others.

Then nothing was heard but the bellows which fanned the fire of the furnace. Philip hastily bent himself down to Simon:

“Go and tell your mother that I am coming to speak to her this evening.” Then he pushed the child out by the shoulders. He returned to his work, and with a single blow the five hammers again fell upon their anvils. Thus they wrought the iron until nightfall, strong, powerful, happy, like contented hammers. But just as the great bell of a cathedral resounds upon feast days above the jingling of the other bells, so Philip’s hammer, sounding above the rest, clanged second after second with a deafening uproar. And he stood amid the flying sparks plying his trade vigorously.

The sky was full of stars as he knocked at La Blanchotte’s door. He had on his Sunday blouse, a clean shirt, and his beard was trimmed. The young woman showed herself upon the threshold, and said in a grieved tone:

“It is ill to come thus when night has fallen, Mr. Philip.”

He wished to answer, but stammered and stood confused before her.

She resumed:

“You understand, do you not, that it will not do for me to be talked about again.”

“What does that matter to me, if you will be my wife!”

No voice replied to him, but he believed that he heard in the shadow of the room the sound of a falling body. He entered quickly; and Simon, who had gone to bed, distinguished the sound of a kiss and some words that his mother murmured softly. Then, all at once, he found himself lifted up by the hands of his friend, who, holding him at the length of his herculean arms, exclaimed:

“You will tell them, your schoolmates, that your papa is Philip Remy, the blacksmith, and that he will pull the ears of all who do you any harm.”

On the morrow, when the school was full and lessons were about to begin, little Simon stood up, quite pale with trembling lips:

“My papa,” said he in a clear voice, “is Philip Remy, the blacksmith, and he has promised to pull the ears of all who does me any harm.”

This time no one laughed, for he was very well known, was Philip Remy, the blacksmith, and was a papa of whom any one in the world would have been proud.