Là-bas eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 265 pages of information about L-bas.
fire would draw up and in a leisurely fashion reduce your flesh to dust.  Or they would drive wedges into your thighs and split the bones.  They would crush your thumbs in the thumbscrew.  Or they would singe all the hair off your epidermis with a poker, or roll up the skin from your abdomen and leave you with a kind of apron.  They would drag you at the cart’s tail, give you the strappado, roast you, drench you with ignited alcohol, and through it all preserve an impassive countenance and tranquil nerves not to be shaken by any cry or plaint.  Only, as these exercises were somewhat fatiguing, the torturers, after the operation, were ravenously hungry and required a deal of drink.  They were sanguinaries of a mental stability not to be shaken, while now!  But to return to your companions in sacrilege.  This evening, if they are not maniacs, you will find them—­doubt it not—­repulsive lechers.  Observe them closely.  I am sure that to them the invocation of Beelzebub is a prelibation of carnality.  Don’t be afraid, because, Lord! in this group there won’t be any to make you imitate the martyr of whom Jacques de Voragine speaks in his history of Saint Paul the Eremite.  You know that legend?”

“No.”

“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!”

CHAPTER XIX

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.

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Là-bas from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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