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Sunday, 28 May 2017

O. Henry's Tussle with the Devil

It was the hour when souls simply cling to their bodies by the merest thread—when I met His Satanic Majesty. 

He is well named, for he is majestic in every sense of the word—majestic of mien—majestic of gesture, of expression, and a god to look upon. 

He is a deceptive person, for one meeting him casually would think he was one of the great and good men of the day—abroad on errands of mercy and with kindness in his heart for all humanity. So carefully does he conceal his identity that he resembles most of mankind—who are one person to themselves and quite another to the world of men. 

We met. He knew me, but I had not yet had the pleasure of knowing this majestic lord—or thought I had not—and so was flattered when he accosted me and made me welcome. 

I was told you were coming, and so came to meet you, he said, with a smile of geniality. "We hoped to have greeted you earlier.

Just a minute, I said. Who are you? Who told you I was coming?

Making a sweeping gesture, and ignoring my questions, he continued 

Our land is fair—as you see—but there are many wonders which I desire to show you. Wonders which are unheard of—not even dreamt of—and which will make you desire to remain among us, I feel confident.

With this, my arm was taken in a friendly fashion, and we proceeded up an avenue lined with trees perfect in form and foliage—passed handsome houses, with playing fountains, flowers, and birds in abundance. 

With a magnificent gesture, he swept all this out of the way. The homes of our servants. We enter now the domains of those who rule and where we hope you will abide.

The turn of the street brought us to an estate situated on the crest of a magnificent mountain. Winding roads of dazzling whiteness and smoothness led through a garden of flowers and wonderful trees. Running streams made music and the song of birds—with brilliant plumage. 

With no word spoken—but many implied by gesture and nod—we reached, at last, the mansion. Transparent—the walls seemed—heavy the air, with perfume. It was a palace of dreams—resting in the hollow of my hand. 

With a smile of winning sweetness, he said

This is yours. Will you rest?

Mine! For what? I exclaimed. 

Do you give palaces like this to all your visitors?

Not to all, he answered; only to our favoured ones.

Why am I so favoured, then? What have I done to bring me this?

Nothing, he answered, as yet, but we have hopes of great things from you. We expect you will be of great benefit to us; will aid us in promoting our cause.

And how? I queried. 

Come, let us sit and sup and we will talk it over.

Leading me gently forward, we entered a banqueting hall, where costly viands and sparkling wines reposed among flowers, and gold and silver, and ruby and diamond, sapphire and emerald decked each goblet—while behind our places were fair women, who smiled and breathed perfume upon the air. 

Too dazed to remonstrate, I took my place, and, unconscious of what I did, sipped my wine from its jewelled goblet. 

 Lifting his wine, he saidTo our better acquaintance—our Brotherhood, I hope.

To our better acquaintance, certainly—but what do you mean by Brotherhood?

That I will explain. In this mountain fastness, there is a secret abode, which only the elect can enter, and where the members set in motion great events and accomplish great deeds. We have need of one like you to assist us.

What do you feel I can do? I asked. My talents are slight. I do not comprehend my selection.

Ah! That is not to be wondered at—for you have not correctly gauged your talents and ability.

Do you realise that you have the greatest talent ever known—in one direction?

What! I gasped. 

Quite true! I will tell you. 

In the beginning, you were presented, by lesser gods, with a talent for a love of everything, with love for the pure, for the true, for the beautiful. You aspired to be one of the unknown workers for humanity—to create beauty, in poem and song; to weave for them music which would make life an ecstasy. 

To scatter happiness was your ambition. Jealousy was unknown to you, and envy a word you never even thought of. 

Kindness was your password in the realm from which you came—but we, who were observing you, recognised a power much greater than you knew—a power to work results magical in their effect— and so we came near you and sought to make your better acquaintance. 

You were a shy bird, difficult to catch, however, and it took us many aeons of time before we finally won your confidence.

What was this great ability? I interrupted. 

You wish to know? That is well, for I see we shall be able to work more harmoniously if your interest is aroused, he replied. I will tell you. It was—but why should I say it was, rather, it is still, the great gift you possess, and which we desire to have you give to us in all its fullness. Let us review a bit what use you made of it. 

First, you were disappointed in the love of the woman whom you desired, and so began its development—until love for man or woman had no place in your heart. 

Then commenced your clear vision, which showed you the evil which was in all minds and hearts, and you recognised no one could be trusted. Ultimately, you nearly perfected that branch of your gift, and so had an honoured seat at our council table—and we desire you again to take your place at its head.

But why? I interrupted, did I lose that exalted seat?

Alas! he answered you went back to your old habits. An animal was the cause of your downfall—a mongrel cur! 

You interest me, I said. Explain how that occurred.

You were in a forsaken village—having lost your way and wandered there—and without food. Little by little your strength left you, and you lay down under a tree, with all hope abandoned. A rustle in the dead grass aroused you, and presently a tiny, mangy dog crept up and licked your hand. 

The relief from the loneliness was so great that you foolishly took the cur in your arms.

Foolishly! I exclaimed.

Yes, foolishly, for that was the beginning of your loss of power. True, the animal led you out to safety and warmth, eventually. But what a seed was sown! 

Where before the harvest was well-nigh perfect, it now had the weeds of Pity and Gratitude. So do the mighty fall! 

That was a fatal sowing and reaping for you, for it even affected your view of men. You commenced seeing in them bits of character before unseen. Such useless things as Consideration, Love and Pity!

Your habits, too, were affected by this poisonous weed. Where before you had been perfect in all ways vile, you now commenced to give up some of the most brilliant jewels—betrayal of women—the excitement and joy of perfect and exhilarating wines. Why! you even went so low as to prefer sparkling waters from Nature's sources.

Holding my jewelled goblet high, I laughed and saidTo what depths can man sink!

Ah! I rejoice to see you agree with me. It is well. We shall succeed together admirably, I feel sure, he made answer. 

Then, drawing closer to me, Now to our desires and agreement.

By all means, I replied. I am eager to hear your plan. For, certainly, if this domain is part of the reward, it interests me.

Good! That is better, he replied.

When you first left our abode and joined with others, who had contrary beliefs, we felt it was final— but as we watched and studied your soul—for you know, of course, souls are clearly visible to us— and saw there was within it, still, the desire to continue as one of us, I was given the task of keeping alive that seed, and adding to its force, so that in time a bountiful harvest might repay us. 

We feel that time has arrived. 

As I told you, this palace, with all it contains, its vault of priceless gems—such as are on your goblet, these fair women, and hundreds like them, are yours. Any honour you feel you desire shall be granted, and you shall be the lord of whatsoever you desire to possess.

At this, I glanced around the hall. 

Looked at the smiling faces—slender, voluptuous forms—at the sparkling gems—at the vista which was spread before me through the open windows—and then I mused upon what I could possess in addition—all honours whatsoever I desired. Coming back, finally, to a study of His Majesty's face, I found his eyes fixed upon me.

Will you accept? he asked. 

That is a little mystery, too, of yours, is it not? You ask if I will accept all that counts in the world, but you have not yet told me what I am to do for it all. Tell me that side of the mystery, I replied. 

Only a simple thing! 

Renew your association with us and take the leadership of the band which is ready to go forth and sow broadcast the seeds which are so much craved by the world. The seeds of Hate, of Malice, of Licentiousness, of Cruelty. 

Help us to rid the world of gaiety which is simple and wholesome. Help us to give them a greater excitement. Let us arouse the idea of hunting within their breasts—but children for game—not birds, which are only beautiful and give song, that would be tame sport! 

Take the lead and aid us to sow Revenge broadcast.

Is that all? I queried. 

All for the present, he answered.

Later, new things can be brought to a successful issue, if you desire. But that will satisfy our Brotherhood for the present.

Let us drink to our unity, he said, raising high his glass and looking with flashing eyes into mine.

I rose to my feet, goblet high. 

To our Brotherhood! I shouted;

May it be annihilated forever! 

O. Henry's Ghost

MY TUSSLE WITH THE DEVIL AND  OTHER STORIES, O. HENRY'S GHOST, I. M. Y. COMPANY, NEW YORK, 1918