“Oh!” and “Ah!” exclaimed Des Hermies and Durtal, who, while waiting for dinner, were sipping the elixir of life. “Do you know, Mme. Carhaix, your cooking tempts us to the sin of gluttony—If you keep on you will make perfect pigs of us.”
“Oh, you are joking. I wonder what is keeping Louis.”
“Somebody is coming upstairs,” said Durtal, hearing the creaking of shoes in the tower.
“No, it isn’t his step,” and she went and opened the door. “It’s Monsieur Gevingey.”
And indeed, clad in his blue cape, with his soft black hat on his head, the astrologer entered, made a bow, like an actor taking a curtain call, nibbed his great knuckles against his massive rings, and asked where the bell-ringer was.
“He is at the carpenter’s. The oak beams holding up the big bell are cracked and Louis is afraid they will break down.”
“Any news of the election?” and Gevingey took out his pipe and filled it.
“No. In this quarter we shan’t know the results until nearly ten o’clock. There’s no doubt about the outcome, though, because Paris is strong for this democratic stuff. General Boulanger will win hands down.”
“This certainly is the age of universal imbecility.”
Carhaix entered and apologized for being so late. While his wife brought in the soup he took off his goloshes and said, in answer to his friends’ questions, “Yes; the dampness had rusted the frets and warped the beams. It was time for the carpenter to intervene. He finally promised that he would be here tomorrow and bring his men without fail. Well, I am mighty glad to get back. In the streets everything whirls in front of my eyes. I am dizzy. I don’t know what to do. The only places where I am at home are the belfry and this room. Here, wife, let me do that,” and he pushed her aside and began to stir the salad.
“How good it smells!” said Durtal, drinking in the incisive tang of the herring. “Do you know what this perfume suggests? A basket funnelled fireplace, twigs of juniper snapping in it, in a ground-floor room opening on to a great harbour. It seems to me there is a sort of salt water halo around these little rings of gold and rusted iron.—Exquisite,” he said as he tasted the salad.
“We’ll make it again for you, Monsieur Durtal,” said Mme. Carhaix, “you are not hard to please.”
“Alas!” said her husband, “his palate isn’t, but his soul is. When I think of his despairing aphorisms of the other night! However, we are praying God to enlighten him. I’ll tell you,” he said to his wife, “we will invoke Saint Nolasque and Saint Theodulus, who are always represented with bells. They sort of belong to the family, and they will certainly be glad to intercede for people who revere them and their emblems.”
“It would take a stunning miracle to convince Durtal,” said Des Hermies.
“Bells have been known to perform them,” said the astrologer. “I remember to have read, though I forget where, that angels tolled the knell when Saint Isidro of Madrid was dying.”