“Suppose it were true,” he said to himself, “that the Presence were real, as Hyacinthe and that miserable priest attest—No, decidedly, I have had enough. I am through. The occasion is timely for me to break with this creature whom from our very first interview I have only tolerated, and I’m going to seize the opportunity.”
Below, in the dive, he had to face the knowing smiles of the labourers. He paid, and without waiting for his change, he fled. They reached the rue de Vaugirard and he hailed a cab.
As they were whirled along they sat lost in their thoughts, not looking at each other.
“Soon?” asked Mme. Chantelouve, in an almost timid tone when he left her at her door.
“No,” he answered. “We have nothing in common. You wish everything and I wish nothing. Better break. We might drag out our relation, but it would finally terminate in recrimination and bitterness. Oh, and then—after what happened this evening, no! Understand me? No!”
And he gave the cabman his address and huddled himself into the furthest corner of the fiacre.
“He doesn’t lead a humdrum life, that canon!” said Des Hermies, when Durtal had related to him the details of the Black Mass. “It’s a veritable seraglio of hystero-epileptics and erotomaniacs that he has formed for himself. But his vices lack warmth. Certainly, in the matter of contumelious blasphemies, of sacrilegious atrocities, and sensual excitation, this priest may seem to have exceeded the limits, to be almost unique. But the bloody and investuous side of the old sabbats is wanting. Docre is, we must admit, greatly inferior to Gilles de Rais. His works are incomplete, insipid; weak, if I may say so.”
“I like that. You know it isn’t easy to procure children whom one may disembowel with impunity. The parents would raise a row and the police would interfere.”
“Yes, and it is to difficulties of this sort that we must evidently attribute the bloodless celebration of the Black Mass. But I am thinking just now of the women you described, the ones that put their heads over the chafing-dishes to drink in the smoke of the burning resin. They employ the procedure of the Aissaouas, who hold their heads over the braseros whenever the catalepsy necessary to their orgies is slow in coming. As for the other phenomena you cite, they are known in the hospitals, and except as symptoms of the demoniac effluence they teach us nothing new. Now another thing. Not a word of this to Carhaix, because he would be quite capable of closing his door in your face if he knew you had been present at an office in honour of Satan.”
They went downstairs from Durtal’s apartment and walked along toward the tower of Saint Sulpice.
“I didn’t bring anything to eat, because you said you would look after that,” said Durtal, “but this morning I sent Mme. Carhaix—in lieu of desserts and wine—some real Dutch gingerbread, and a couple of rather surprising liqueurs, an elixir of life which we shall take, by way of appetizer, before the repast, and a flask of creme de celeri. I have discovered an honest distiller.”