How professor Valeyon loses his handkerchief.
One warm afternoon in June—the warmest of the season thus far—Professor Valeyon sat, smoking a black clay pipe, upon the broad balcony, which extended all across the back of his house, and overlooked three acres of garden, inclosed by a solid stone-wall. All the doors in the house were open, and most of the windows, so that any one passing in the road might have looked up through the gabled porch and the passage-way, which divided the house, so to speak, into two parts, and seen the professor’s brown-linen legs, and slippers down at the heel, projecting into view beyond the framework of the balcony-door. Indeed—for the professor was an elderly man, and, in many respects, a creature of habit—precisely this same phenomenon could have been observed on any fine afternoon during the summer, even to the exact amount of brown-linen leg visible.
Why the old gentleman’s chair should always have been so placed as to allow a view of so much of his anatomy and no more is a question of too subtle and abstruse conditions to be solved here. One reason doubtless lay in the fact that, by craning forward over his knees, he could see down the passage-way, through the porch, and across the grass-plot which intervened between the house and the fence, to the road, thus commanding all approaches from that direction, while his outlook on either side, and in front, remained as good as from any other position whatsoever. To be sure, the result would have been more easily accomplished had the chair been moved two feet farther forward, but that would have made the professor too much a public spectacle, and, although by no means backward in appearing, at the fitting time, before his fellow-men, he enjoyed and required a certain amount of privacy.
Moreover, it was not toward the road that Professor Valeyon’s eyes were most often turned. They generally wandered southward, over the ample garden, and across the long, winding valley, to the range of rough-backed hills, which abruptly invaded the farther horizon. It was a sufficiently varied and vigorous prospect, and one which years had endeared to the old gentleman, as if it were the features of a friend. Especially was he fond of looking at a certain open space, near the summit of a high, wooded hill, directly opposite. It was like an oasis among a desert of trees. Had it become overgrown, or had the surrounding timber been cut away, the professor would have taken it much to heart. A voluntary superstition of this kind is not uncommon in elderly gentlemen of more than ordinary intellectual power. It is a sort of half-playful revenge they wreak upon themselves for being so wise. Probably Professor Valeyon would have been at a loss to explain why he valued this small green spot so much; but, in times of doubt or trouble, be seemed to find help and relief in gazing at it.