The whole Scene:
“Monsieur Raymond?” I inquired politely of the young woman behind the counter.“Maître Raymond,” she corrected. She wiped a red nose inelegantly on her sleeve and gestured toward the end of the shop, where sinister clouds of a brownish smoke floated out over the transom of a half-door.Wizard or not, Raymond had the right setting for it. Smoke drifted up from a black slate hearth to coil beneath the low black beams of the roof. Above the fire, a stone table pierced with holes held glass alembics, copper “pelicans”—metal cans with long noses from which sinister substances dripped into cups—and what appeared to be a small but serviceable still. I sniffed cautiously. Among the other strong odors in the shop, a heady alcoholic note was clearly distinguishable from the direction of the fire. A neat lineup of clean bottles along the sideboard reinforced my original suspicions. Whatever his trade in charms and potions, Master Raymond plainly did a roaring business in high-quality cherry brandy.The distiller himself was crouched over the fire, poking errant bits of charcoal back into the grate. Hearing me come in, he straightened up and turned to greet me with a pleasant smile.“How do you do?” I said politely to the top of his head. So strong was the impression that I had stepped into an enchanter’s den that I would not have been surprised to hear a croak in reply.For Master Raymond resembled nothing so, much as a large, genial frog. A touch over four feet tall, barrel-chested and bandy-legged, he had the thick, clammy skin of a swamp dweller, and slightly bulbous, friendly black eyes. Aside from the minor fact that he wasn’t green, all he lacked was warts.
“Madonna!” he said, beaming expansively. “What may I have the pleasure of doing for you?” He lacked teeth altogether, enhancing the froggy impression still more, and I stared at him in fascination.“Madonna?” he said, peering up at me questioningly.Snapped abruptly to a realization of how rudely I had been staring, I blushed and said without thinking, “I was just wondering whether you’d ever been kissed by a beautiful young girl.”I went still redder as he shouted with laughter. With a broad grin, he said “Many times, madonna. But alas, it does not help. As you see. Ribbit.”We dissolved in helpless laughter, attracting the notice of the shopgirl, who peered over the half-door in alarm.
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