A Street Of Paris and Its Inhabitant

Honore de Balzac


A Street Of Paris and Its Inhabitant Page 02

The legs are thin, the arm is long, one of the hands is gloved only on most solemn occasions and the other hand ignores absolutely the advantage of a second skin.

That personage avoids the alms and the pity that his venerable green frock coat invites, by wearing the red ribbon at his button-hole. This proves the utility of the Order of the Legion of Honor which has been contested too much in the past ten years, the new Knights of the Order say.

The battered hat, in a constant state of horror in the places where a reddish fuzz endures, would not be picked up by a rag picker, if the little old man let it fall and left it at a street corner.

Too absent-minded to submit to the bother that the wearing of a wig entails, that man of science--he is a man of science--shows, when he makes a bow, a head that, viewed from the top, has the appearance of the Farnese Hercules's knee.

Above each ear, tufts of twisted white hair shine in the sun like the angry silken hairs of a boar at bay. The neck is athletic and recommends itself to the notice of caricaturists by an infinity of wrinkles, of furrows; by a dewlap faded but armed with darts in the fashion of thistles.

The constant state of the beard explains at once why the necktie, always crumpled and rolled by the gestures of a disquiet head, has its own beard, infinitely softer than that of the good old man, and formed of threads scratched from its unfortunate tissue.

Now, if you have divined the torso and the powerful back, you will know the sweet tempered face, somewhat pale, the blue ecstatic eyes and the inquisitive nose of that good old man, when you learn that, in the morning, wearing a silk head kerchief and tightened in a dressing-gown, the illustrious professor--he is a professor--resembled an old woman so much that a young man who came from the depths of Saxony, of Weimar, or of Prussia, expressly to see him, said to him, "Forgive me, Madame!" and withdrew.

This silhouette of one of the most learned and most venerated members of the Institute betrays so well enthusiasm for study and absent-mindedness caused by application to the quest of truth, that you must recognize in it the celebrated Professor Jean Nepomucene Apollodore Marmus de Saint-Leu, one of the most admirable men of genius of our time.

III

MADAME ADOLPHE

When the old man--the professor counted then sixty-two summers--had walked three steps, he turned his head at this question, hurled in an acute tone by a voice that he recognized:

"Have you a handkerchief?"

A woman stood on the step of the garden door and was watching her master with solicitude.

She seemed to be fifty years of age, and her dress indicated that she was one of those servants who are invested with full authority in household affairs.

She was darning stockings.

The man of science came back and said naively:

"Yes, Madame Adolphe, I have my handkerchief."

"Have you your spectacles?" she asked.

The man of science felt the side pocket of his waistcoat.

"I have them," he replied.

"Show them to me," she said. "Often you have only the case."

The professor took the case out of his pocket and showed the spectacles with a triumphant air.

"You would do well to keep them on your nose," she said.

M. de Saint-Leu put on his spectacles, after rubbing the glasses with his handkerchief.

Naturally, he thrust the handkerchief under his left arm while he set his spectacles on his nose. Then he walked a few steps towards the Rue de Fleurus and relaxed his hold on the handkerchief, which fell.

"I was sure of it," said Madame Adolphe to herself. She picked up the handkerchief and cried:

"Monsieur! Monsieur!"

"Well!" exclaimed the professor, made indignant by her watchfulness.

"I beg your pardon," he said, receiving the handkerchief.

"Have you any money?" asked Madame Adolphe with maternal solicitude.

"I need none," he replied naively, explaining thus the lives of all men of science.

"It depends," Madame Adolphe said. "If you go by way of the Pont des Arts you need one sou."

"You are right," replied the man of science, as if he were retracing instructions for a voyage to the North Pole. "I will go through the Luxembourg, the Rue de Seine, the Pont des Arts, the Louvre, the Rue du Coq, the Rue Croix-des-Petits-Champs, the Rue des Fosses-Montmartre. It is the shortest route to the Faubourg Poissonniere."

"It is three o'clock," Madame Adolphe said. "Your sister-in-law dines at six. You have three hours before you--Yes--you'll be there, but you'll be late." She searched her apron pocket for two sous, which she handed to the professor.

"Very well, then," she said to him. "Do not eat too much. You are not a glutton, but you think of other things. You are frugal, but you eat when you are absent-minded as if you had no bread at home. Take care not to make Madame Vernet, your sister-in-law, wait. If you make her wait, you will never be permitted again to go there alone, and it will be shameful for you."

Madame Adolphe returned to the threshold of the little door and from there watched her master.

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