“But what do these priests want?”
“Everything!” exclaimed Des Hermies.
“Hmmm. Like Gilles de Rais, who asked the demon for ’knowledge, power, riches,’ all that humanity covets, to be deeded to him by a title signed with his own blood.”
“Come right in and get warm. Ah, messieurs, you must not do that any more,” said Mme. Carhaix, seeing Durtal draw from his pocket some bottles wrapped in paper, while Des Hermies placed on the table some little packages tied with twine. “You mustn’t spend your money on us.”
“Oh, but you see we enjoy doing it, Mme. Carhaix. And your husband?”
“He is in the tower. Since morning he has been going from one tantrum into another.”
“My, the cold is terrible today,” said Durtal, “and I should think it would be no fun up there.”
“Oh, he isn’t grumbling for himself but for his bells. Take off your things.”
They took off their overcoats and came up close to the stove.
“It isn’t what you would call hot in here,” said Mme. Carhaix, “but to thaw this place you would have to keep a fire going night and day.”
“Why don’t you get a portable stove?”
“Oh, heavens! that would asphyxiate us.”
“It wouldn’t be very comfortable at any rate,” said Des Hermies, “for there is no chimney. You might get some joints of pipe and run them out of the window, the way you have fixed this tubing. But, speaking of that kind of apparatus, Durtal, doesn’t it seem to you that those hideous galvanized iron contraptions perfectly typify our utilitarian epoch?
“Just think, the engineer, offended by any object that hasn’t a sinister or ignoble form, reveals himself entire in this invention. He tells us, ‘You want heat. You shall have heat—and nothing else.’ Anything agreeable to the eye is out of the question. No more snapping, crackling wood fire, no more gentle, pervasive warmth. The useful without the fantastic. Ah, the beautiful jets of flame darting out from a red cave of coals and spurting up over a roaring log.”
“But there are lots of stoves where you can see the fire,” objected madame.
“Yes, and then it’s worse yet. Fire behind a grated window of mica. Flame in prison. Depressing! Ah, those fine fires of faggots and dry vine stocks out in the country. They smell good and they cast a golden glow over everything. Modern life has set that in order. The luxury of the poorest of peasants is impossible in Paris except for people who have copious incomes.”
The bell-ringer entered. Every hair of his bristling moustache was beaded with a globule of snow. With his knitted bonnet, his sheepskin coat, his fur mittens and goloshes, he resembled a Samoyed, fresh from the pole.
“I won’t shake hands,” he said, “for I am covered with grease and oil. What weather! Just think, I’ve been scouring the bells ever since early this morning. I’m worried about them.”