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spiral stair, and was caught and held whining in the bell vases.
Suddenly a light breeze, like the stirring of confined air, fanned his
cheek. He looked up. The current had been set in motion by the swaying
of a great bell beginning to get under way. There was a crash of sound,
the bell gathered momentum, and now the clapper, like a gigantic pestle,
was grinding the great bronze mortar with a deafening clamour. The tower
trembled, the balcony on which Durtal was standing trepidated like the
floor of a railway coach, there was the continuous rolling of a mighty
reverberation, interrupted regularly by the jar of metal upon metal.

In vain Durtal scanned the upper abyss. Finally he managed to catch
sight of a leg, swinging out into space and back again, in one of those
wooden stirrups, two of which, he had noticed, were fastened to the
bottom of every bell. Leaning out so that he was almost prone on one of
the timbers, he finally perceived the ringer, clinging with his hands to
two iron handles and balancing over the gulf with his eyes turned
heavenward.

Durtal was shocked by the face. Never had he seen such disconcerting
pallor. It was not the waxen hue of the convalescent, not the lifeless
grey of the perfume-or snuff-maker, it was a prison pallor of a
bloodless lividness unknown today, the ghastly complexion of a wretch of
the Middle Ages shut up till death in a damp, airless, pitch-dark
_in-pace_.

The eyes were blue, prominent, even bulging, and had the mystic's
readiness to tears, but their expression was singularly contradicted by
the truculent Kaiser Wilhelm moustache. The man seemed at once a dreamer
and a fighter, and it would have been difficult to tell which character
predominated.

He gave the bell stirrup a last yank with his foot and with a heave of
his loins regained his equilibrium. He mopped his brow and smiled down
at Des Hermies.

"Well! well!" he said, "you here."

He descended, and when he learned Durtal's name his face brightened and
the two shook hands cordially.

"We have been expecting you a long time, monsieur. Our friend here
speaks of you at great length, and we have been asking him why he didn't
bring you around to see us. But come," he said eagerly, "I must conduct
you on a tour of inspection about my little domain. I have read your
books and I know a man like you can't help falling in love with my
bells. But we must go higher if we are really to see them."

And he bounded up a staircase, while Des Hermies pushed Durtal along in
front of him in a way that made retreat impossible.

As he was once more groping along the winding stairs, Durtal asked, "Why
didn't you tell me your friend Carhaix - for of course that's who he
is - was a bell-ringer?"

Des Hermies did not have time to answer, for at that moment, having
reached the door of the room beneath the tower roof, Carhaix was
standing aside to let them pass. They were in a rotunda pierced in the
centre by a great circular hole which had around it a corroded iron
balustrade orange with rust. By standing close to the railing, which was
like the well curb of the Pit, one could see down, down, to the
foundation. The "well" seemed to be undergoing repairs, and from the top
to the bottom of the tube the beams supporting the bells were
crisscrossed with timbers bracing the walls.

"Don't be afraid to lean over," said Carhaix. "Now tell me, monsieur,
how do you like my foster children?"

But Durtal was hardly heeding. He felt uneasy, here in space, and as if
drawn toward the gaping chasm, whence ascended, from time to time, the
desultory clanging of the bell, which was still swaying and would be
some time in returning to immobility.

He recoiled.

"Wouldn't you like to pay a visit to the top of the tower?" asked
Carhaix, pointing to an iron stair sealed into the wall.

"No, another day."

They descended and Carhaix, in silence, opened a door. They advanced
into an immense storeroom, containing colossal broken statues of saints,
scaly and dilapidated apostles, Saint Matthew legless and armless, Saint
Luke escorted by a fragmentary ox, Saint Mark lacking a shoulder and
part of his beard, Saint Peter holding up an arm from which the hand
holding the keys was broken off.

"There used to be a swing in here," said Carhaix, "for the little girls
of the neighbourhood. But the privilege was abused, as privileges always
are. In the dusk all kinds of things were done for a few sous. The
curate finally had the swing taken down and the room closed up."

"And what is that over there?" inquired Durtal, perceiving, in a corner,
an enormous fragment of rounded metal, like half a gigantic skull-cap.
On it the dust lay thick, and and in the hollow the meshes on meshes of
fine silken web, dotted with the black bodies of lurking spiders, were
like a fisherman's hand net weighted with little slugs of lead.

"That? Ah, monsieur!" and there was fire in Carhaix's mild eyes, "that
is the skull of an old, old bell whose like is not cast these days. The
ring of that bell, monsieur, was like a voice from heaven." And suddenly
he exploded, "Bells have had their day! - As I suppose Des Hermies has
told you. - Bell ringing is a lost art. And why wouldn't it be? Look at
the men who are doing it nowadays. Charcoal burners, roofers, masons out
of a job, discharged firemen, ready to try their hand at anything for a
franc. There are curates who think nothing of saying, 'Need a man? Go
out in the street and pick up a soldier for ten sous. He'll do.' That's
why you read about accidents like the one that happened lately at Notre
Dame, I think. The fellow didn't withdraw in time and the bell came down
like the blade of a guillotine and whacked his leg right off.

"People will spend thirty thousand francs on an altar baldachin, and
ruin themselves for music, and they have to have gas in their churches,
and Lord knows what all besides, but when you mention bells they shrug
their shoulders. Do you know, M. Durtal, there are only two men in Paris
who can ring chords? Myself and Père Michel, and he is not married and
his morals are so bad that he can't be regularly attached to a church.
He can ring music the like of which you never heard, but he, too, is
losing interest. He drinks, and, drunk or sober, goes to work, then he
bowls up again and goes to sleep.

"Yes, the bell has had its day. Why, this very morning, Monsignor made
his pastoral visit to this church. At eight o'clock we sounded his
arrival. The six bells you see down here boomed out melodiously. But
there were sixteen up above, and it was a shame. Those extras jangled
away haphazard. It was a riot of discord."

Carhaix ruminated in silence as they descended. Then, "Ah, monsieur," he
said, his watery eyes fairly bubbling, "the ring of bells, there's your
real sacred music."

They were now above the main door of the building and they came out into
the great covered gallery on which the towers rest. Carhaix smiled and
pointed out a complete peal of miniature bells, installed between two
pillars on a plank. He pulled the cords, and, in ecstasies, his eyes
protruding, his moustache bristling, he listened to the frail tinkling
of his toy.

And suddenly he relinquished the cords.

"I once had a crazy idea," he said, "of forming a class here and
teaching all the intricacies of the craft, but no one cared to learn a
trade which was steadily going out of existence. Why, you know we don't
even sound for weddings any more, and nobody comes to look at the tower.

"But I really can't complain. I hate the streets. When I try to cross
one I lose my head. So I stay in the tower all day, except once in the
early morning when I go to the other side of the square for a bucket of
water. Now my wife doesn't like it up here. You see, the snow does come
in through all the loopholes and it heaps up, and sometimes we are
snowbound with the wind blowing a gale."

They had come to Carhaix's lodge. His wife was waiting for them on the
threshold.

"Come in, gentlemen," she said. "You have certainly earned some
refreshment," and she pointed to four glasses which she had set out on
the table.

The bell-ringer lighted a little briar pipe, while Des Hermies and
Durtal each rolled a cigarette.

"Pretty comfortable place," remarked Durtal, just to be saying
something. It was a vast room, vaulted, with walls of rough stone, and
lighted by a semi-circular window just under the ceiling. The tiled
floor was badly covered by an infamous carpet, and the furniture, very
simple, consisted of a round dining-room table, some old _bergère_
armchairs covered with slate-blue Utrecht velours, a little stained
walnut sideboard on which were several plates and pitchers of Breton
faience, and opposite the sideboard a little black bookcase, which might
contain fifty books.

"Of course a literary man would be interested in the books," said
Carhaix, who had been watching Durtal. "You mustn't be too critical,
monsieur. I have only the tools of my trade."

Durtal went over and took a look. The collection consisted largely of
works on bells. He read some of the titles:

On the cover of a slim parchment volume he deciphered the faded legend,
hand-written, in rust-coloured ink, "_De tintinnabulis_ by Jerome
Magius, 1664"; then, pell-mell, there were: _A curious and edifying
miscellany concerning church bells_ by Dom Rémi Carré; another _Edifying
miscellany_, anonymous; a _Treatise of bells_ by Jean-Baptiste Thiers,
curate of Champrond and Vibraye; a ponderous tome by an architect named
Blavignac; a smaller work entitled _Essay on the symbolism of bells_ by
a parish priest of Poitiers; a _Notice_ by the abbé Baraud; then a whole
series of brochures, with covers of grey paper, bearing no titles.

"It's no collection at all," said Carhaix with a sigh. "The best ones
are wanting, the _De campanis commentarius_ of Angelo Rocca and the _De
tintinnabulo_ of Percichellius, but they are so hard to find, and so
expensive when you do find them."

A glance sufficed for the rest of the books, most of them being pious
works, Latin and French Bibles, an _Imitation of Christ_, Görres'
_Mystik_ in five volumes, the abbé Aubert's _History and theory of
religious symbolism_, Pluquet's _Dictionary of heresies_, and several
lives of saints.

"Ah, monsieur, my own books are not much account, but Des Hermies lends
me what he knows will interest me."

"Don't talk so much!" said his wife. "Give monsieur a chance to sit
down," and she handed Durtal a brimming glass aromatic with the
acidulous perfume of genuine cider.

In response to his compliments she told him that the cider came from
Brittany and was made by relatives of hers at Landévennec, her and
Carhaix's native village.

She was delighted when Durtal affirmed that long ago he had spent a day
in Landévennec.

"Why, then we know each other already!" she said, shaking hands with him
again.

The room was heated to suffocation by a stove whose pipe zigzagged over
to the window and out through a sheet-iron square nailed to the sash in
place of one of the panes. Carhaix and his good wife, with her honest,
weak face and frank, kind eyes, were the most restful of people. Durtal,
made drowsy by the warmth and the quiet domesticity, let his thoughts
wander. He said to himself, "If I had a place like this, above the roofs
of Paris, I would fix it up and make of it a real haven of refuge. Here,
in the clouds, alone and aloof, I would work away on my book and take my
time about it, years perhaps. What inconceivable happiness it would be
to escape from the age, and, while the waves of human folly were
breaking against the foot of the tower, to sit up here, out of it all,
and pore over antique tomes by the shaded light of the lamp."

He smiled at the naïveté of his daydream.

"I certainly do like your place," he said aloud, as if to sum up his
reflections.

"Oh, you wouldn't if you had to live here," said the good wife. "We have
plenty of room, too much room, because there are a couple of bedchambers
as big as this, besides plenty of closet space, but it's so
inconvenient - and so cold! And no kitchen - " and she pointed to a
landing where, blocking the stairway, the cook stove had had to be
installed. "And there are so many, many steps to go up when you come
back from market. I am getting old, and I have a twinge of the
rheumatics whenever I think about making the climb."

"You can't even drive a nail into this rock wall and have a peg to hang
things on," said Carhaix. "But I like this place. I was made for it. Now
my wife dreams constantly of spending her last days in Landévennec."

Des Hermies rose. All shook hands, and monsieur and madame made Durtal
swear that he would come again.

"What refreshing people!" exclaimed Durtal as he and Des Hermies crossed
the square.

"And Carhaix is a mine of information."

"But tell me, what the devil is an educated man, of no ordinary
intelligence, doing, working as a - as a day labourer?"

"If Carhaix could hear you! But, my friend, in the Middle Ages
bell-ringers were high officials. True, the craft has declined
considerably in modern times. I couldn't tell you myself how Carhaix
became hipped on the subject of bells. All I know is that he studied at
a seminary in Brittany, that he had scruples of conscience and
considered himself unworthy to enter the priesthood, that he came to
Paris and apprenticed himself to a very intellectual master bell-ringer,
Père Gilbert, who had in his cell at Notre Dame some ancient and of
course unique plans of Paris that would make your mouth water. Gilbert
wasn't a 'labourer,' either. He was an enthusiastic collector of
documents relating to old Paris. From Notre Dame Carhaix came to Saint
Sulpice, fifteen years ago, and has been there ever since."

"How did you happen to make his acquaintance?"

"First he was my patient, then my friend. I've known him ten years."

"Funny. He doesn't look like a seminary product. Most of them have the
shuffling gait and sheepish air of an old gardener."

"Carhaix will be all right for a few more years," said Des Hermies, as
if to himself, "and then let us mercifully wish him a speedy death. The
Church, which has begun by sanctioning the introduction of gas into the
chapels, will end by installing mechanical chimes instead of bells. That
will be charming. The machinery will be run by electricity and we shall
have real up-to-date, timbreless, Protestant peals."

"Then Carhaix's wife will have a chance to go back to Finistère."

"No, they are too poor, and then too Carhaix would be broken-hearted if
he lost his bells. Curious, a man's affection for the object that he
manipulates. The mechanic's love for his machine. The thing that one
tends, and that obeys one, becomes personalized, and one ends by falling
in love with it. And the bell is an instrument in a class of its own. It
is baptized like a Christian, anointed with sacramental oil, and
according to the pontifical rubric it is also to be sanctified, in the
interior of its chalice, by a bishop, in seven cruciform unctions with
the oil of the infirm that it may send to the dying the message which
shall sustain them in their last agonies.

"It is the herald of the Church, the voice from without as the priest is
the voice from within. So you see it isn't a mere piece of bronze, a
reversed mortar to be swung at a rope's end. Add that bells, like fine
wines, ripen with age, that their tone becomes more ample and mellow,
that they lose their sharp bouquet, their raw flavour. That will
explain - imperfectly - how one can become attached to them."

"Why, you seem to be an enthusiast yourself."

"Oh, I don't know anything about it. I am simply repeating what I have
heard Carhaix say. If the subject interests you, he will be only too
glad to teach you the symbolism of bells. He is inexhaustible. The man
is a monomaniac."

"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 aërial 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
siècle_ 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.

"Poor Carhaix!" said Durtal, as he blew out the candle. "Another who
loves this epoch about as well as Des Hermies and I do. But he has the
tutelage of his bells, and certainly among his wards he has his
favourite. He is not to be pitied. He has his hobby, which renders life
possible for him, as hobbies do."




CHAPTER IV


"How is Gilles de Rais progressing?"

"I have finished the first part of his life, making just the briefest
possible mention of his virtues and achievements."

"Which are of no interest," remarked Des Hermies.

"Evidently, since the name of Gilles de Rais would have perished four
centuries ago but for the enormities of vice which it symbolizes. I am
coming to the crimes now. The great difficulty, you see, is to explain
how this man, who was a brave captain and a good Christian, all of a
sudden became a sacrilegious sadist and a coward."

"Metamorphosed over night, as it were."

"Worse. As if at a touch of a fairy's wand or of a playwright's pen.
That is what mystifies his biographers. Of course untraceable influences
must have been at work a long time, and there must have been occasional
outcropping not mentioned in the chronicles. Here is a recapitulation of
our material.

"Gilles de Rais was born about 1404 on the boundary between Brittany and
Anjou, in the château de Mâchecoul. We know nothing of his childhood.
His father died about the end of October, 1415, and his mother almost
immediately married a Sieur d'Estouville, abandoning her two sons,
Gilles and René. They became the wards of their grandfather, Jean de
Craon, 'a man old and ancient and of exceeding great age,' as the texts
say. He seems to have allowed his two charges to run wild, and then to
have got rid of Gilles by marrying him to Catherine de Thouars, November
30, 1420.

"Gilles is known to have been at the court of the Dauphin five years
later. His contemporaries represent him as a robust, active man, of
striking beauty and rare elegance. We have no explicit statement as to
the rôle he played in this court, but one can easily imagine what sort
of treatment the richest baron in France received at the hands of an
impoverished king.

"For at that moment Charles VII was in extremities. He was without
money, prestige, or real authority. Even the cities along the Loire
scarcely obeyed him. France, decimated a few years before, by the
plague, and further depopulated by massacres, was in a deplorable
situation.

"England, rising from the sea like the fabled polyp the Kraken, had cast
her tentacles over Brittany, Normandy, l'Ile de France, part of Picardy,
the entire North, the Interior as far as Orléans, and crawling forward
left in her wake towns squeezed dry and country exhausted.

"In vain Charles clamoured for subsidies, invented excuses for
exactions, and pressed the imposts. The paralyzed cities and fields
abandoned to the wolves could afford no succour. Remember his very claim
to the throne was disputed. He became like a blind man going the rounds
with a tin cup begging sous. His court at Chinon was a snarl of intrigue
complicated by an occasional murder. Weary of being hunted, more or less
out of harm's way behind the Loire, Charles and his partisans finally
consoled themselves by flaunting in the face of inevitable disaster the
devil-may-care debaucheries of the condemned making the most of the few
moments left them. Forays and loans furnished them with opulent cheer
and permitted them to carouse on a grand scale. The eternal _qui-vive_
and the misfortunes of war were forgotten in the arms of courtesans.

"What more could have been expected of a used-up sleepy-headed king, the
issue of an infamous mother and a mad father?"

"Oh, whatever you say about Charles VII pales beside the testimony of
the portrait of him in the Louvre painted by Foucquet. That bestial
face, with the eyes of a small-town ursurer and the sly psalm-singing
mouth that butter wouldn't melt in, has often arrested me. Foucquet
depicts a debauched priest who has a bad cold and has been drinking sour
wine. Yet you can see that this monarch is of the very same type as the
more refined, less salacious, more prudently cruel, more obstinate and
cunning Louis XI, his son and successor. Well, Charles VII was the man
who had Jean Sans Peur assassinated, and who abandoned Jeanne d'Arc.
What more need be said?"

"What indeed? Well, Gilles de Rais, who had raised an army at his own
expense, was certainly welcomed by this court with open arms. There is
no doubt that he footed the bills for tournaments and banquets, that he
was vigilantly 'tapped' by the courtiers, and that he lent the king
staggering sums. But in spite of his popularity he never seems to have
evaded responsibility and wallowed in debauchery, like the king. We find
Gilles shortly afterward defending Anjou and Maine against the English.
The chronicles say that he was 'a good and hardy captain,' but his
'goodness' and 'hardiness' did not prevent him from being borne back by
force of numbers. The English armies, uniting, inundated the country,
and, pushing on unchecked, invaded the interior. The king was ready to
flee to the Mediterranean provinces and let France go, when Jeanne d'Arc
appeared.

"Gilles returned to court and was entrusted by Charles with the 'guard
and defence' of the Maid of Orleans. He followed her everywhere, fought
at her side, even under the walls of Paris, and was with her at Rheims
the day of the coronation, at which time, says Monstrelet, the king


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