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Honoré de Balzac – “At the Sign of the Cat and Racket” (1829)

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La Maison du chat-qui-pelote (At the Sign of the Cat and Racket) is a novel by Honoré de Balzac. It is the opening work in the Scènes de la vie privée (Scenes of Private Life), which comprises the first volume of Balzac’s La Comédie humaine.

And so Augustine’s expression of vague longing, her gentle voice, her jasmine skin, and her blue eyes had lighted in poor Lebas’ soul a flame as ardent as it was reverent. From an easily understood caprice, Augustine felt no affection for the orphan; perhaps she did not know that he loved her. On the other hand, the senior apprentice, with his long legs, his chestnut hair, his big hands and powerful frame, had found a secret admirer in Mademoiselle Virginie, who, in spite of her dower of fifty thousand crowns, had as yet no suitor. Nothing could be more natural than these two passions at cross-purposes, born in the silence of the dingy shop, as violets bloom in the depths of a wood. The mute and constant looks which made the young people’s eyes meet by sheer need of change in the midst of persistent work and cloistered peace, was sure, sooner or later, to give rise to feelings of love. The habit of seeing always the same face leads insensibly to our reading there the qualities of the soul, and at last effaces all its defects.

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