“Why! You know very well that frost contracts the metal and sometimes cracks or breaks it. Some of these bitterly cold winters we have lost a good many, because bells suffer worse than we do in bad weather.—Wife, is there any hot water in the other room, so I can wash up?”
“Can’t we help you set the table?” Des Hermies proposed.
But the good woman refused. “No, no, sit down. Dinner is ready.”
“Mighty appetizing,” said Durtal, inhaling the odour of a peppery pot-au-feu, perfumed with a symphony of vegetables, of which the keynote was celery.
“Everybody sit down,” said Carhaix, reappearing with a clean blouse on, his face shining of soap and water.
They sat down. The glowing stove purred. Durtal felt the sudden relaxation of a chilly soul dipped into a warm bath: at Carhaix’s one was so far from Paris, so remote from the epoch....
The lodge was poor, but cosy, comfortable, cordial. The very table, set country style, the polished glasses, the covered dish of sweet butter, the cider pitcher, the somewhat battered lamp casting reflections of tarnished silver on the great cloth, contributed to the atmosphere of home.
“Next time I come I must stop at the English store and buy a jar of that reliable orange marmalade,” said Durtal to himself, for by common consent with Des Hermies he never dined with the bell-ringer without furnishing a share of the provisions. Carhaix set out a pot-au-feu and a simple salad and poured his cider. Not to be an expense to him, Des Hermies and Durtal brought wine, coffee, liquor, desserts, and managed so that their contributions would pay for the soup and the beef which would have lasted for several days if the Carhaixes had eaten alone.
“This time I did it!” said Mme. Carhaix triumphantly, serving to each in turn a mahogany-colour bouillon whose iridescent surface was looped with rings of topaz.
It was succulent and unctuous, robust and yet delicate, flavoured as it was with the broth of a whole flock of boiled chickens. The diners were silent now, their noses in their plates, their faces brightened by steam from the savoury soup, soup, two selected dishes, a salad, and a dessert.
“Now is the time to repeat the chestnut dear to Flaubert, ’You can’t dine like this in a restaurant,’” said Durtal.
“Let’s not malign the restaurants,” said Des Hermies. “They afford a very special delight to the person who has the instinct of the inspector. I had an opportunity to gratify this instinct just the other night. I was returning from a call on a patient, and I dropped into one of these establishments where for the sum of three francs you are entitled to soup, two selected dishes, a salad, and a dessert.
“The restaurant, where I go as often as once a month, has an unvarying clientele, hostile highbrows, officers in mufti, members of Parliament, bureaucrats.