From this scene he had learned an alarming lesson: that the flesh domineers the soul and refuses to admit any schism. The flesh decisively does not intend that one shall get along without it and indulge in out-of-the-world pleasures which it can partake only on condition that it keep quiet. For the first time, reviewing these turpitudes, he really understood the meaning of that now obsolete word chastity, and he savoured it in all its pristine freshness. Just as a man who has drunk too deeply the night before thinks, the morning after, of drinking nothing but mineral water in future, so he dreamed, today, of pure affection far from a bed.
He was still ruminating these thoughts when Des Hermies entered.
They spoke of amorous misadventures. Astonished at once by Durtal’s languor and the ascetic tone of his remarks, Des Hermies exclaimed, “Ah, we had a gay old time last night?”
With the most decisive bad grace Durtal shook his head.
“Then,” replied Des Hermies, “you are superior and inhuman. To love without hope, immaculately, would be perfect if it did not induct such brainstorms. There is no excuse for chastity, unless one has a pious end in view, or unless the senses are failing, and if they are one had best see a doctor, who will solve the question more or less unsatisfactorily. To tell the truth, everything on earth culminates in the act you reprove. The heart, which is supposed to be the noble part of man, has the same form as the penis, which is the so-called ignoble part of man. There’s symbolism in that similarity, because every love which is of the heart soon extends to the organ resembling it. The human imagination, the moment it tries to create artificially animated beings, involuntarily reproduces in them the movements of animals propagating. Look at the machines, the action of the piston and the cylinder; Romeos of steel and Juliets of cast iron. Nor do the loftier expressions of the human intellect get away from the advance and withdrawal copied by the machines. One must bow to nature’s law if one is neither impotent nor a saint. Now you are neither the one nor the other, I think, but if, from inconceivable motives, you desire to live in temporary continence, follow the prescription of an occultist of the sixteenth century, the Neapolitan Piperno. He affirms that whoever eats vervain cannot approach a woman for seven days. Buy a jar, and let’s try it.”
Durtal laughed. “There is perhaps a middle course: never consummate the carnal act with her you love, and, to keep yourself quiet, frequent those you do not love. Thus, in a certain measure, you would conjure away possible disgust.”
“No, one would never get it out of one’s head that with the woman of whom one was enamoured one would experience carnal delights absolutely different from those which one feels with the others, so your method also would end badly. And too, the women who would not be indifferent to one, have not charity and discretion enough to admire the wisdom of this selfishness, for of course that’s what it is. But what say, now, to putting on your shoes? It’s almost six o’clock and Mama Carhaix’s beef can’t wait.”