“Well, to refresh your soul I will tell you. This martyr, who was very young, was stretched out, his hands and feet bound, on a bed, then a superb specimen of femininity was brought in, who tried to force him. As he was burning and was about to sin, he bit off his tongue and spat it in the face of the woman, “and thus pain drove out temptation,” says the good de Voragine.”
“My heroism would not carry me so far as that, I confess. But must you go so soon?”
“Yes, I have a pressing engagement.”
“What a queer age,” said Durtal, conducting him to the door. “It is just at the moment when positivism is at its zenith that mysticism rises again and the follies of the occult begin.”
“Oh, but it’s always been that way. The tail ends of all centuries are alike. They’re always periods of vacillation and uncertainty. When materialism is rotten-ripe magic takes root. This phenomenon reappears every hundred years. Not to go further back, look at the decline of the last century. Alongside of the rationalists and atheists you find Saint-Germain, Cagliostro, Saint-Martin, Gabalis, Cazotte, the Rosicrucian societies, the infernal circles, as now. With that, good-bye and good luck.”
“Yes,” said Durtal, closing the door, “but Cagliostro and his ilk had a certain audacity, and perhaps a little knowledge, while the mages of our time—what inept fakes!”
In a fiacre they went up the rue de Vaugirard. Mme. Chantelouve was as in a shell and spoke not a word. Durtal looked closely at her when, as they passed a street lamp, a shaft of light played over her veil a moment, then winked out. She seemed agitated and nervous beneath her reserve. He took her hand. She did not withdraw it. He could feel the chill of it through her glove, and her blonde hair tonight seemed disordered, dry, and not so fine as usual.