jacques, a drunkard with just enough of an income to support his indolent life, was in the habit - and he was very much a creature of habit - of rising and taking to the street on the way to his cafe in the early morning - earlier than most honest and hard working folk.
one foggy morning he noticed an unfamiliar female form coming toward him. his first impression was that it was a child, but as it came closer he saw that it was a small woman, dressed neither in rags nor in the latest fashion, and no longer young - perhaps almost as old as himself.
though he had no reason to do so, jacques considered himself a bit of a rogue. he tipped his hat to the woman, and enquired with the trace of a leer, "on your way to mass, madam?'
without slowing or hastening her stride, but looking him full in the face, the woman replied from under her large hat, "why yes i am, sir, thank you for asking," and went on her way.
the next morning at approximately the same time jacques encountered the woman again. this time he tipped his hat and complimented her on her attire. she thanked him politely without pausing, and left him behind.
the next morning after that he saw her again, made the observation that her dress looked of fine quality and enquired if he might verify its excellence by touching it.
"no thank you, sir, " she replied with the barest trace of a polite smile, "i am afraid i do not have time for that."
on most - though not all - mornings after that jacques met the little woman and offered a different greeting or observation to her - each one more inane than the one before - but without succeeding in engaging her interest or slowing her progress.
then after a time - weeks? months? - jacques was a poor judge of time - she no longer appeared. otherwise his routine went on unchanged and he continued in his two occupations of drinking schnapps and drinking absinthe.
late afternoons always found him with his face on "his" table at his cafe.
the cafe paid its staff poorly, and the proprietress, madame geraldine, was a bit of a bully, so that there was a constant turnover of waiters. most of them roused our friend roughly from his inebriation, especially if he were snoring.