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En Route   By: (1848-1907)

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First Page:

EN ROUTE

by

J. K. HUYSMANS

Translated by W. Fleming

EN ROUTE.

CHAPTER I.

During the first week in November, the week within the Octave of All Souls, Durtal entered St. Sulpice, at eight o'clock in the evening. He often chose to turn into that church, because there was a trained choir, and because he could there examine himself at peace, apart from the crowd. The ugliness of the nave, with its heavy vaulting, vanished at night, the aisles were often empty, it was ill lighted by a few lamps it was possible for a man to chide his soul in secret, as if at home.

Durtal sat down behind the high altar, on the left, in the aisle along the Rue de St. Sulpice; the lamps of the choir organ were lighted. Far off, in the almost empty nave, an ecclesiastic was preaching. He recognized, by the unctuousness of his delivery, and his oily accent, a well fed priest who poured on his audience, according to his wont, his best known commonplaces.

"Why are they so devoid of eloquence?" thought Durtal. "I have had the curiosity to listen to many of them, and they are much the same. They only vary in the tones of their voice. According to their temperament, some are bruised down in vinegar, others steeped in oil. There is no such thing as a clever combination." And he called to mind orators petted like tenors, Monsabré, Didon, those Coquelins of the Church, and lower yet than those products of the Catholic training school, that bellicose booby the Abbé d'Hulst.

"Afterwards," he continued, "come the mediocrities, each puffed by the handful of devotees who listen to them. If those cooks of the soul had any skill, if they served their clients with delicate meats, theological essences, gravies of prayer, concentrated sauces of ideas, they would vegetate misunderstood by their flocks. So, on the whole, it is all for the best. The low water mark of the clergy must conform to the level of the faithful, and indeed Providence has provided carefully for this."

A stamping of shoes, then the movement of chairs grinding on the flags interrupted him. The sermon was over.

Then a great stillness was broken by a prelude from the organ, which dropped to a low tone, a mere accompaniment to the voices.

A slow and mournful chant arose, the "De Profundis." The blended voices sounded under the arches, intermingling with the somewhat raw sounds of the harmonicas, like the sharp tones of breaking glass.

Resting on the low accompaniment of the organ, aided by basses so hollow that they seemed to have descended into themselves, as it were underground, they sprang out, chanting the verse "De profundis ad te clamavi, Do " and then stopped in fatigue, letting the last syllables "mine" fall like a heavy tear; then these voices of children, near breaking, took up the second verse of the psalm, "Domine exaudi vocem meam," and the second half of the last word again remained in suspense, but instead of separating, and falling to the ground, there to be crushed out like a drop, it seemed to gather itself together with a supreme effort, and fling to heaven the anguished cry of the disincarnate soul, cast naked, and in tears before God.

And after a pause, the organ, aided by two double basses, bellowed out, carrying all the voices in its torrent baritones, tenors, basses, not now serving only as sheaths to the sharp blades of the urchin voices, but openly with full throated sound yet the dash of the little soprani pierced them through all at once like a crystal arrow.

Then a fresh pause, and in the silence of the church, the verses mourned out anew, thrown up by the organ, as by a spring board. As he listened with attention endeavouring to resolve the sounds, closing his eyes, Durtal saw them at first almost horizontal, then rising little by little, then raising themselves upright, then quivering in tears, before their final breaking.

Suddenly at the end of the psalm, when the response of the antiphon came "Et lux perpetua luceat eis" the children's voices broke into a sad, silken cry, a sharp sob, trembling on the word "eis," which remained suspended in the void... Continue reading book >>




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