“High time it was over and done with,” he said, for this Saint Vitus’ dance went on not without certain diminution of force, which disturbed him. In fact he feared, after the febrile agitation of his nights, to reveal himself as a sorry paladin when the time came. “But why bother?” he rejoined, as he started toward Carhaix’s, where he was to dine with the astrologer Gevingey and Des Hermies.
“I shall be rid of my obsession awhile,” he murmured, groping along in the darkness of the tower.
Des Hermies, hearing him come up the stair, opened the door, casting a shaft of light into the spiral. Durtal, reaching the landing, saw his friend in shirt sleeves and enveloped in an apron.
“I am, as you see, in the heat of composition,” and upon a stew-pan boiling on the stove Des Hermies cast that brief and sure look which a mechanic gives his machine, then he consulted, as if it were a manometer, his watch, hanging to a nail. “Look,” he said, raising the pot lid.
Durtal bent over and through a cloud of vapour he saw a coiled napkin rising and falling with the little billows. “Where is the leg of mutton?”
“It, my friend, is sewn into that cloth so tightly that the air cannot enter. It is cooking in this pretty, singing sauce, into which I have thrown a handful of hay, some pods of garlic and slices of carrot and onion, some grated nutmeg, and laurel and thyme. You will have many compliments to make me if Gevingey doesn’t keep us waiting too long, because a gigot a l’Anglaise won’t stand being cooked to shreds.”
Carhaix’s wife looked in.
“Come in,” she said. “My husband is here.”
Durtal found him dusting the books. They shook hands. Durtal, at random, looked over some of the dusted books lying on the table.
“Are these,” he asked, “technical works about metals and bell-founding or are they about the liturgy of bells?”
“They are not about founding, though there is sometimes reference to the founders, the ‘sainterers’ as they were called in the good old days. You will discover here and there some details about alloys of red copper and fine tin. You will even find, I believe, that the art of the ‘sainterer’ has been in decline for three centuries, probably due to the fact that the faithful no longer melt down their ornaments of precious metals, thus modifying the alloy. Or is it because the founders no longer invoke Saint Anthony the Eremite when the bronze is boiling in the furnace? I do not know. It is true, at any rate, that bells are now made in carload lots. Their voices are without personality. They are all the same. They’re like docile and indifferent hired girls when formerly they were like those aged servants who became part of the family whose joys and griefs they have shared. But what difference does that make to the clergy and the congregation? At present these auxiliaries devoted to the cult do not represent any symbol. And that explains the whole difficulty.