Des Hermies interrupted the course of these reflections by ringing and walking in. He came to announce that Gevingey had returned and that they were all to dine at Carhaix’s the night after next.
“Is Carhaix’s bronchitis cured?”
Preoccupied with the idea of the Black Mass, Durtal could not keep silent. He let out the fact that he was to witness the ceremony—and, confronted by Des Hermies’s stare of stupefaction, he added that he had promised secrecy and that he could not, for the present, tell him more.
“You’re the lucky one!” said Des Hermies. “Is it too much to ask you the name of the abbe who is to officiate?”
“Not at all. Canon Docre.”
“Ah!” and the other was silent. He was evidently trying to divine by what manipulations his friend had been able to get in touch with the renegade.
“Some time ago you told me,” Durtal said, “that in the Middle Ages the Black Mass was said on the naked buttocks of a woman, that in the seventeenth century it was celebrated on the abdomen, and now?”
“I believe that it takes place before an altar as in church. Indeed it was sometimes celebrated thus at the end of the fifteenth century in Biscay. It is true that the Devil then officiated in person. Clothed in rent and soiled episcopal habits, he gave communion with round pieces of shoe leather for hosts, saying, ‘This is my body.’ And he gave these disgusting wafers to the faithful to eat after they had kissed his left hand and his breech. I hope that you will not be obliged to render such base homage to your canon.”
Durtal laughed. “No, I don’t think he requires a pretend like that. But look here, aren’t you of the decided opinion that the creatures who so piously, infamously, follow these offices are a bit mad?”
“Mad? Why? The cult of the Demon is no more insane than that of God. One is rotten and the other resplendent, that is all. By your reckoning all people who worship any god whatever would be demented. No. The affiliates of Satanism are mystics of a vile order, but they are mystics. Now, it is highly probable that their exaltations into the extra-terrestrial of Evil coincide with the rages of their frenzied senses, for lechery is the wet nurse of Demonism. Medicine classes, rightly or wrongly, the hunger for ordure in the unknown categories of neurosis, and well it may, for nobody knows anything about neuroses except that everybody has them. It is quite certain that in this, more than in any previous century, the nerves quiver at the least shock. For instance, recall the newspaper accounts of executions of criminals. We learn that the executioner goes about his work timidly, that he is on the point of fainting, that he has nervous prostration when he decapitates a man. Then compare this nervous wreck with the invincible torturers of the olden time. They would thrust your arm into a sleeve of moistened parchment which when set on