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  • Story: Meeting the Devil July 5, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    Outstanding story about coming face to face with the devil in Paris. This first appeared in October 1888. The folklore motif that rounds the tale off is: G303.16.3.1. Happy reading…

    The chief persons named are a Russian Prince, Pomerantseff, and a French Abbé, Girod, who ridiculed the whole theory of apparitions. The conversation at a dinner party at the Due de Frontignan’s having turned on spiritualism, the Duke said he had I seen the spirit of Love. The Abbé, who was sceptical, and had just preached a great sermon demonstrating the existence of the personal Devil, laughed at the Duke, when the Prince declared that this was no way incredible inasmuch as he, the Prince, knew and had seen the Devil.

    ‘I tell you,’ said he, ‘I have seen him, the God of all Evil, the Prince of Desolation, and what is more, I will show him to you.’ He refused at first, but afterwards, fascinated by the offer, he accepted. So the matter was arranged, and he, the Abbé Girod, the renowned preacher of the celebrated Church, was to meet that very night, by special appointment, half-past nine, the Prince of Darkness; and this in January, in Paris, the height of the season, in the capital of civilisation— la ville lumiere!

    At half-past nine o’clock precisely the Prince arrived. He was in full evening dress, but – contrary to his usual custom wearing ribbon or decoration, and his face was of a deadly pallor. They entered the carriage, and the coachman, evidently instructed beforehand where to go, drove off without delay. The Prince immediately pulled down the blinds, and taking a silk pocket-handkerchief from his pocket began quietly to fold it lengthwise. ‘I must blindfold you, monsieur,’ he remarked simply, as if announcing the most ordinary fact.

    ‘Diable!’ cried the Abbé, now becoming a little nervous. ‘This is very unpleasant; I like to see where I am going.’ They drove; the time seemed interminable to the Abbé. ‘Are we near our destination yet?’ he inquired at last. ‘Not very far off,’ replied the other, in what seemed to Girod most sepulchral tone of voice. At length, after a drive of about half an hour, but which seemed to the Abbé double that time, Pomerantseff murmured in a loud tone, and with profound sigh, which sounded almost like sob, ‘Here we are;’ at that moment the Abbé felt the carriage was turning, and heard the horses’ hoofs clatter on what he imagined to the stones of a courtyard. The carriage stopped, Pomerantseff opened the door himself and assisted the blindfolded priest to alight. ‘There are five steps,’ he said, as be held the Abbé by the arm. ‘Take care!’

    The Abbé stumbled up five steps. When they had proceeded a few yards, Pomerantseff warned him that they were about to ascend a staircase, and up many shallow steps they went. When at length they had reached the top, the Prince guided him by the arm through what the Abbé imagined to be a hall, opened a door, which he closed and locked likewise, and over which the Abbé heard him pull a heavy curtain. The Prince then took him again by the arm, advanced him a few steps, and said in a low whisper: ‘Remain quietly standing where you are. I rely upon your honour not to attempt to remove the pocket handkerchief from your eyes until you hear voices.’

    The Abbé folded his arms and stood motionless, while he heard the Prince walk away, and then suddenly all sound ceased. It was evident to the unfortunate priest that the room in which he stood was not dark; for although he could, of course, see nothing, owing to the pocket-handkerchief which had been bound most skilfully over his eyes, there was sensation being in strong light, and his cheeks and hands felt as it were illuminated.

    Suddenly a horrible sound sent a thrill of tenor through him – a gentle noise as of naked flesh touching the waxed floor – and before he could recover from the shock occasioned by the sound, the voices of many men  –  voices of men groaning or wailing in some hideous ecstacy broke the stillness, crying.

    ‘Father and Creator of all Sin and Crime, Prince and King qf all Despair and Anguish come to us we implore thee!’

    ‘The Abbé’, wild with terror, tore off the pocket-handkerchief. found himself in a large old-fashioned room, panelled up to the lofty ceiling with oak, and filled with great light shed from innumerable tapers fitted into sconces on the wall, light which, though by its nature soft, was almost fierce by reason of its greatness and intensity, proceeded from these countless tapers. All this passed into his comprehension like a flash of lightning, for hardly had the bandage left his eyes ere his whole attention was rivetted upon the group before him. Twelve men, Pomerantseff among the number, of all ages from five-and-twenty to fifty-five, all dressed in evening dress, and all, so far as one could judge at such a moment, men of culture and refinement, lay nearly prone upon the floor, with hands linked. They were bowing and kissing the floor, which might account for the strange noise heard by Girod, and their faces were illuminated with a light of hellish ecstacy, half distorted, as if in pain, half smiling, as if in triumph. The Abba’s eyes instinctively sought out the Prince. He was the last on the left-hand side, and while his left hand grasped that of his neighbour, his right was sweeping nervously over the bare waxed floor, as if seeking to animate the boards. His face was more calm than those of the others, but of a deadly pallor, and the violet tints about the mouth and temples showed he was suffering from intense emotion. They were all, each after his own fashion, praying aloud, or rather moaning, as they writhed in ecstatic adoration.

    ‘O Father of Evil! come to us!’

    ‘O Prince of Endless Desolation who sitteth by the beds of Suicides, we adore thee.’

    ‘O Creator of Eternal Anguish!’

    ‘O, King of cruel pleasures and famishing desires! we worship thee!’

    ‘Come to us, thy foot upon the hearts of widows!’

    ‘Come to us, thy hair lurid with the slaughter of innocence!’

    ‘Come to us, thy brow wreathed with the clinging Chaplet of Despair?’

    ‘Come to us.’

    The heart of the Abbé turned cold and sick as these beings, hardly human by reason of their great mental exaltation, swayed before him, and the air, charged with a subtle and overwhelming electricity, seemed to throb as from the echo innumerable voiceless harps. Suddenly – or rather the full conception of the fact was sudden, for the influence had been gradually stealing over him – he felt a terrible .coldness, a coldness more piercing than any he had ever before experienced even in Russia [!], and with the coldness there came to him the certain knowledge of the presence of some new being the room. Withdrawing his eyes from the semicircle men, who did not seem to be aware of his, the Abbé’s, presence, and who ceased not in their blasphemies, he turned them slowly around, and as he did so, they fell upon a new-comer, a Thirteenth, who seemed to spring into existence from the air, and before his very eyes.

    He was a young man apparently twenty, tall, beardless as the young Augustus, with bright golden hair falling from his forehead like a girl’s. He was dressed in evening dress, and his cheeks were flushed as if with wine or pleasure; but from his eyes there gleamed look of inexpressible sadness, of intense despair. The group of men had evidently become aware of his presence the same moment, for they all fell prone upon the floor adoring, and their words were now no longer words invocation, but words of praise and worship.

    The Abbé was frozen with horror: there was room in his breast for the lesser emotion of fear; indeed, the horror was so great and all-absorbing as to charm him and hold him spell-bound. He could not remove his eyes from the Thirteenth, who stood before him calmly, a faint smile playing over his intellectual and aristocratic face, a smile which only added to the intensity of the despair gleaming in his clear blue eyes. Girod was struck first with the sadness, then with the beauty, and then with the intellectual vigour of that marvellous countenance. The expression was not unkind, or even cold ; haughtiness and pride might indeed be read in the high-faced features, shell-like sensitive nostrils, and short upper lip; while the exquisite symmetry and perfect proportions of his figure showed suppleness and steel-like strength: for the rest, the face betokened, save for the flesh upon the cheeks, only great sadness. The eyes were fixed upon those of Girod, and he felt their soft, subtle, intense light penetrate into every nook and cranny of his soul and being. This terrible Thirteenth simply stood and gazed upon the priest, as the worshippers grew more wild, more blasphemous, more cruel. The Abbé could think of nothing but the face before him, and the great desolation that lay folded over it a veil. could think of no prayer, although he could remember there were prayers.

    Was this despair—the despair of a man drowning in sight land—being shed into him from the sad blue eyes? Was it despair or was it death? Ah, no, not death. Death was peaceful, and this was violent and passionate.

    Moreover, by degrees the blue eyes — it seemed as if their colour, their great blueness, had some fearful power — began pouring into him some more hideous pleasure. It was the ecstasy of great pain becoming a delight, the ecstasy of being beyond all hope, and of being thus enabled to look with scorn upon the Author of hope. And all the while the blue eyes still gazed sadly, with soft smile breathing overwhelming despair upon him. Girod knew that another moment he . would not sink, faint, or fall, but that he would,—oh much worse — he would smile ! At this very instant a name,—a familiar name, and one which the infernal worshippers had made frequent use of, but which he had never remarked before — struck his ear; the name ‘Christ’. Where had he heard it? He could not tell. It was: the name of a young man; he could remember that and nothing more.

    Again the name sounded, ‘Christ.’ There was another word like Christ, which seemed at some time have brought idea first of great suffering and then of great peace. Ay, peace, but pleasure. No delight like this shed from those marvellous blue eyes. Again the name sounded ‘Christ’. Ah! the other word was cross — croix — he remembered now; a long thing with a short thing across it. Was it that as he thought these things the charm of the blue eyes and their great sadness lessened in intensity? We dare not say; but as some faint conception of what a cross was flitted through the Abbé’s brain, although he could think no prayer – nay, of no distinct use of this cross – he drew his right hand slowly up, for it was pinioned by paralysis to his side, and feebly and half mechanically made the sign across his breast.

    The vision vanished. The men adoring ceased their clamour and lay crouched up one against another, as if some electric power had been taken from them and great weakness had succeeded, while, at the same time, the throbbing of the thousand voiceless harps was hushed. The pause lasted but for a moment, and then the men rose, stumbling, trembling, and with loosened hands, and stood feebly gazing at the Abbé, who felt faint and exhausted, and heeded them not. With extraordinary presence of mind, the Prince walked quickly up to him, pushed him out of the door by which they had entered, followed him, and locked the door behind them, thus precluding the possibility of being immediately pursued by the others. Once in the adjoining room, the Abbé and Pomcrantseff paused for an instant to recover breath, for the swiftness of their flight had exhausted them, worn out as they both were mentally and physically; but during this brief interval the Prince, who appeared to be retaining his presence of mind by a purely mechanical effort, carefully replaced over his friend’s eyes the bandage which the Abbé still hold tightly grasped in his hand. Then he led him on, and it was not till the cold air struck them, that they noticed;.they had left their hats behind. N’importe muttered Pomerantseff. ‘It would be dangerous to return;’ and hurrying the Abbé into the carriage which awaited them, bade the coachman speed them away— at a grand gallop. Not a word was spoken; the Abbé lay back as one in a swoon, and heeded nothing until he felt the carriage stop, and the Prince uncovered his eyes and told him he had reached home; then he alighted in silence, and passed into his house without word. How he reached his apartment he never knew; but the following morning found him raging with fever, and delirious.

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