“Are you doing anything this evening?”
“Shall we dine together?”
And while Durtal was putting on his shoes, Des Hermies remarked, “To me the striking thing about the so-called literary world of this epoch is its cheap hypocrisy. What a lot of laziness, for instance, that word dilettante has served to cover.”
“Yes, it’s a great old alibi. But it is confounding to see that the critic who today decrees himself the title of dilettante accepts it as a term of praise and does not even suspect that he is slapping himself. The whole thing can be resolved into syllogism:
“The dilettante has no personal temperament, since he objects to nothing and likes everything.
“Whoever has no personal temperament has no talent.”
“Then,” rejoined Des Hermies, putting on his hat, “an author who boasts of being a dilettante, confesses by that very thing that he is no author?”
Toward the end of the afternoon Durtal quit work and went up to the towers of Saint Sulpice.
He found Carhaix in bed in a chamber connecting with the one in which they were in the habit of dining. These rooms were very similar, with their walls or unpapered stone, and with their vaulted ceilings, only, the bedroom was darker. The window opened its half-wheel not on the place Saint Sulpice but on the rear of the church, whose roof prevented any light from getting in. This cell was furnished with an iron bed, whose springs shrieked, with two cane chairs, and with a table that had a shabby covering of green baize. On the bare wall was a crucifix of no value, with a dry palm over it. That was all. Carhaix was sitting up in bed reading, with books and papers piled all around him. His eyes were more watery and his face paler than usual. His beard, which had not been shaved for several days, grew in grey clumps on his hollow cheeks, but his poor features were radiant with an affectionate, affable smile.
To Durtal’s questions he replied, “It is nothing. Des Hermies gives me permission to get up tomorrow. But what a frightful medicine!” and he showed Durtal a potion of which he had to take a teaspoonful every hour.
“What is it he’s making you take?”
But the bell-ringer did not know. Doubtless to spare him the expense, Des Hermies himself always brought the bottle.
“Isn’t it tiresome lying in bed?”
“I should say! I am obliged to entrust my bells to an assistant who is no good. Ah, if you heard him ring! It makes me shudder, it sets my teeth on edge.”
“Now you mustn’t work yourself up,” said his wife. “In two days you will be able to ring your bells yourself.”
But he went on complaining. “You two don’t understand. My bells are used to being well treated. They’re like domestic animals, those instruments, and they obey only their master. Now they won’t harmonize, they jangle. I can hardly recognize their voices.”