AT eight months of age his only experience of life had been one of well-being.
He was fed when hungry; he slept when sleepy; he woke when he had slept enough. When bored or annoyed or uneasy he could cry. If crying brought him attentions it was that much to the good; if the effort was thrown away it did no one any harm. Even when least fertile of results it was a change from the crowing and gurgling which were all he had to distract him when left to his own company.
Though his mind worked in co-operation with the subconscious more than with the conscious, it worked actively. In waking minutes there was everything to observe and register.
His intimate needs being met, there were the phenomena of light and darkness. He knew not only the difference between them, but in a general way when to expect the turn of each. He knew that light brought certain formalities, chiefly connected with his
person, and that darkness brought certain others. The reasons remained obscure, but the variety was pleasing.
Then there was the room, or rather the spectacular surroundings of his universe. The nursery was his earth, his atmosphere, his firmament, the ether in which his heavenly bodies went rolling away into the infinite. And, just as with grown-up people, the nearness and distance of Mars or Sirius or Betelgueuse have gone through experimental stages of guesswork first and calculation afterwards, so the exact location of the wardrobe, the table, or the mantelpiece, was a subject for endless wonderment. At times they were apparently so close that he would put out his hand to touch them from his crib; but at once they receded, fixing themselves against the light-blue walls, home of a menagerie of birds and animals, with something between him and them which he was learning to recognize as space.
There was also motion. Certain things remained in place; other things could move. He himself could move, but that was so near the fundamental necessities as hardly to call for notice. True, there were discoveries even here. The day when he learned that once his legs were freed he could lie on his back and kick was one of emancipation. In finding that he could catch his foot with his hands and put it in his mouth he made his first advance in skill. But there was motion superior to this. There were beings who walked about the room, who entered it and left it. Merely to watch their goings and comings sent spasms through his feet.
Little by little he had come to discern in these creatures a difference in function and personality. Enormous in size, irresistible in strength, they were nevertheless his satellites. One of them supplied his wants; another worshipped him; the third lifted him up, carried him about, tickled him deliciously with his mustache or his bushy outstanding eyebrows, and otherwise entertained him. For the first his tongue essayed the syllables, Na-Na; for the second his lips rose and fell with an explosive Ma-Ma; the last sent his tongue clicking toward the roof of his mouth in the harsher sound of Da-Da; and yet between these efforts and the accomplishment there was still some lack of correspondence.
Of his many enthralling interests speech was the most magical. In his analysis of life it came to him early that these coughings and barkings and gruntings were meant to express thought. He himself had thoughts. What he lacked was the connection of the sounds with the ideas, and of this he was not unaware. They supposed him a little animal who could only eat and sleep, when all the while he was listening, recording, distinguishing, defining, correlating the syllable with the thing that was evidently meant, so that later he should astonish his circle by uttering a word. It was a stimulating game and in it his daily progress was not far short of marvelous.
If the nursery was his universe, his crib was his private domain, cushioned and soft, and as spotless as an ermine's nest. It was a joy to wake up in it, and equally a joy to go to sleep. Joy, Tenderness, and Comfort, were the only elements in life with
which he was acquainted. Thriving on them as he throve on the carefully prepared formulas of his food, he grew in the spirit without obstacles to struggle with, as his body grew in the sunlight and the air.
By the time he had reached the May morning on which his story begins he had come to take Comfort, Tenderness, and Joy, as life's essentials. Never having known anything else, he had no suspicion that anything else would lurk within the possible. The ritual that attended his going out was as much a matter of course to him as a red carpet to tread on is to a queen. He took it for granted that, when he had been renewed by bottle and bath, she for whom he tried to say Na-Na would be in a flutter of preparation, while she whose sweet smile forced the Ma-Ma to his lips would put a little coat on his back, a little cap on his head, little mittens on his hands, and smother him with adoration all the time she was doing it.
On this particular morning these things had been done. Nestled into a canopied crib on wheels, he was ready for the two gigantic ministrants whom he could not yet distinguish as the first and second footmen. These colossi lifted his vehicle down the steps, to set it on the pavement of Fifth Avenue, where for the time being dramatic episodes were at an end. The town didn't interest him. Moreover, a filmy curtain, to protect him against flies as well as against too much sun, having shut him in from the vastness of the scene, he had nothing to do but let himself be lulled to his customary slumber.