“I can understand,” said Durtal dreamily. “I live in a quarter where there are a good many convents and at dawn the air is a-tingle with the vibrance of the chimes. When I was ill I used to lie awake at night awaiting the sound of the matin bells and welcoming them as a deliverance. In the grey light I felt that I was being cuddled by a distant and secret caress, that a lullaby was crooned over me, and a cool hand applied to my burning forehead. I had the assurance that the folk who were awake were praying for the others, and consequently for me. I felt less lonely. I really believe the bells are sounded for the special benefit of the sick who cannot sleep.”
“The bells ring for others, notably for the trouble-makers. The rather common inscription for the side of a bell, ‘Paco cruentos,’ ’I pacify the bloody-minded,’ is singularly apt, when you think it over.”
This conversation was still haunting Durtal when he went to bed. Carhaix’s phrase, “The ring of the bells is the real sacred music,” took hold of him like an obsession. And drifting back through the centuries he saw in dream the slow processional of monks and the kneeling congregations responding to the call of the angelus and drinking in the balm of holy sound as if it were consecrated wine.
All the details he had ever known of the liturgies of ages came crowding into his mind. He could hear the sounding of matin invitatories; chimes telling a rosary of harmony over tortuous labyrinths of narrow streets, over cornet towers, over pepper-box pignons, over dentelated walls; the chimes chanting the canonical hours, prime and tierce, sexte and none, vespers and compline; celebrating the joy of a city with the tinkling laughter of the little bells, tolling its sorrow with the ponderous lamentation of the great ones. And there were master ringers in those times, makers of chords, who could send into the air the expression of the whole soul of a community. And the bells which they served as submissive sons and faithful deacons were as humble and as truly of the people as was the Church itself. As the priest at certain times put off his chasuble, so the bell at times had put off its sacred character and spoken to the baptized on fair day and market day, inviting them, in the event of rain, to settle their affairs inside the nave of the church and, that the sanctity of the place might not be violated by the conflicts arising from sharp bargaining, imposing upon them a probity unknown before or since.
Today bells spoke an obsolete language, incomprehensible to man. Carhaix was under no misapprehension. Living in an aerial tomb outside the human scramble, he was faithful to his art, and in consequence no longer had any reason for existing. He vegetated, superfluous and demoded, in a society which insisted that for its amusement the holy place be turned into a concert hall. He was like a creature reverted, a relic of a bygone age, and he was supremely contemptuous of the miserable fin de siecle church showmen who to draw fashionable audiences did not fear to offer the attraction of cavatinas and waltzes rendered on the cathedral organ by manufacturers of profane music, by ballet mongers and comic opera-wrights.