“Why, what did he do?”
“How do I know? He stood under the bell, at the risk of breaking his bones—a man of his age on the scaffolding there! He was halfway into the bell, the bell like a great hat, you see, coming clear down over his hips. And he soliloquized aloud and listened to the repercussions of his voice making the bronze vibrate.
“He spoke to me also of the interpretation of dreams about bells. According to him, whoever, in his sleep, sees bells swinging, is menaced by an accident; if the bell chimes, it is presage of slander; if it falls, ataxia is certain; if it breaks, it is assurance of afflictions and miseries. Finally he added, I believe, that if the night birds fly around a bell by moonlight one may be sure that sacrilegious robbery will be committed in the church, or that the curate’s life is in danger.
“Be all that as it may, this business of touching the bells, getting up into them—and you know they’re consecrated—of attributing to them the gift of prophecy, of involving them in the interpretation of dream—an art formally forbidden in Leviticus—displeased me, and I demanded, somewhat rudely, that he desist.”
“But you did not quarrel?”
“No, and I confess I regret having been so hasty.”
“Well then, I will arrange it. I shall go see him—agreed?” said Des Hermies.
“By all means.”
“With that we must run along and give you a chance to get to bed, seeing that you have to be up at dawn.”
“Oh, at half-past five for the six o’clock angelus, and then, if I want to, I can go back to bed, for I don’t have to ring again till a quarter to eight, and then all I have to do is sound a couple of times for the curate’s mass. As you can see, I have a pretty easy thing of it.”
“Mmmm!” exclaimed Durtal, “if I had to get up so early!”
“It’s all a matter of habit. But before you go won’t you have another little drink? No? Really? Well, good night!”
He lighted his lantern, and in single file, shivering, they descended the glacial, pitch-dark, winding stair.
Next morning Durtal woke later than usual. Before he opened his eyes there was a sudden flash of light in his brain, and troops of demon worshippers, like the societies of which Des Hermies had spoken, went defiling past him, dancing a saraband. “A swarm of lady acrobats hanging head downward from trapezes and praying with joined feet!” he said, yawning. He looked at the window. The panes were flowered with crystal fleurs de lys and frost ferns. Then he quickly drew his arms back under the covers and snuggled up luxuriously.
“A fine day to stay at home and work,” he said. “I will get up and light a fire. Come now, a little courage—” and—instead of tossing the covers aside he drew them up around his chin.
“Ah, I know that you are not pleased to see me taking a morning off,” he said, addressing his cat, which was hunched up on the counterpane at his feet, gazing at him fixedly, its eyes very black.