I am jumping around here, and beg the patience of readers. There is a particular reason I post this chapter. For friends who are writers and for a discussion.
DEVIL’S REVENGE, Chapter 32
When I came from the other room, Madame was sitting in the window, waving her fan slowly. Looking outside at the gray winter landscape, she seemed lost in thought. I could see her aged and transparent skin reflected in the cast of light.
Of course! Madame is old, she is pre-history, and I forget her age. She is such a fountain of knowledge and sometimes delightful. I was embarrassed at Garrett hissing at her, but then again, what do I know about manners between devils?
“Thank you, Madame! M. Demon must not be thinking clearly now because of his guests downstairs.” I came into the room, shaking out my petticoats and try to regain some steadiness in my walk.
“You must remember he is only part mortal and the other part of him does not suffer as mortals do. Non, ma petite. It is not because of his thinking. It is because he is cruel as all men are. And, yes, thoughtless.”
I wonder if Madame includes herself in this category, for I knew her to be also a man. I decide to be bold and ask a question.
“Madame? I know you are a shape-shifter. What would possess you to appear so? In my experience, men are covetous of their identity and their…..ah…equipment.”
“Mon Dieu! You are a saucy one! But since you ask, I will tell. We have a moment before M. Abigor appears at the door.” She considered her words before proceeding.
“There are many Demons of Lust and Love in Hell. But I am the only Demon to want to do such. Ah! Men die and go to Hell, and few have learned much on Earth. There is great seduction in women! Their sex developed the art, yet they are called ‘the weaker sex.’ They use their wiles and within a short time, have all men in thrall. You are weaker in strength, but you are stronger in the head.”
Madame snaps her fan closed and points at her head with it. I laugh, as much as my tight corset allows.
“But! We have short time, now. I must talk to you about M. Abigor. You must be on your guard, ma petite! Monsieur is a wily one. You don’t become an Arch Duke of Hell for your kindness. Non, M. Abigor is to be feared! Do not put too much faith in his charms. M. Abigor is known for his lust for mortal women. Your M. Demon was right to charm up your sex, mais tres cruelle!”
Cruel indeed, Madame! I could not agree more. Especially how tea goes through me.
“Fait Attention! M. Abigor’s knowledge is vast. He is known to be an intellectual in Hell. There are many stupid devils, you know.”
Madame rolled her eyes. “M. Abigor has many interests, cheri. Philosophy, music, the dance, politics, especially the French culture. Ah! I know what you must talk with him! He was un habitant of the salons of France! Ah! He was an intimate of Mme. Du Deffand et Mme.Necker, et Mme. Geoffrin, just a few! M. Abigor knew M. Grimm, Sainte-Beuve, Voltaire, Diedrot, so many illustrious men and women! Talk to him about the salons, cheri. Entertain him with philosophy.”
Ah, Madame Gomosy, I thought to myself. If only I could. My memory and knowledge of such a time and place was miniscule. But I would try. At least we could talk of music. Now, here I was competent. Or so I hoped.
“Mais…M. Abigor is a genius, ma cheri. But he leaves the trail of a serpent! When you see on his forehead the reflection of a ray from Plato, do not trust it. Look well, there is always the foot of a satyr beneath.”
Madame’s words made me shiver, though the room was warm. Well, what should I expect? I was dealing with devils!
“Now, when M. Abigor knocks, I will answer and present him, and you stand and curtsey your best. I will leave you both and then will return when he leaves. Ah! Be charming, my young friend. Your fate depends upon it!”
I wondered if we have time for a round of faro, just to calm my nerves, when we hear a strong knock on the door. Madame rose from her chair, blew me a kiss, and glided to the door. She opened it, and gave a deep curtsey to M. Abigor, who entered the room.
I rose as gracefully as my trembling legs allowed, and curtsied. Monsieur Abigor looked at me for a second, and bowed. Madame pasted out of the room and left me alone with my visitor.
“M. Abigor. It is delightful to see you today.” My voice sounded strange to my ears. Dancing with Devils! I looked at him as boldly as I dared and saw a tall and elegant man before me. He certainly had a presence about him. He was dressed in a black coat, with a dark wine colored waistcoat, embroidered in gold. Black breeches and hose, and a fine piece of plain linen at his throat completed his appearance. His grey hair, probably a wig, was powdered and curled.
I dared a glance into his face, and his eyes! They were blank, like the eyes of a dead dog! No reflection, dull like the light had faded. My fear rose in my throat. As though reading my thoughts, a small smile crept across his face. I motioned for him to sit in the chair across from me. Madame had moved the tea table between us, facing the chairs to each other. M. Abigor sat, and flipped out the tails of his coat behind him. I wondered if he had a tail. Just as the thought crossed my mind, I realized with horror he probably had the same power as all these other demons. He could read my thoughts. My face colored.
M. Abigor’s smile broadened, and I knew he had discovered my thoughts! All I could do was to go on, however uncomfortable. He cocked his head to one side, and I thought of an owl. Of course! I remembered a picture in one of those heavy books, of this Arch Duke of Hell. He rode on a wolf, had the face of an owl, and carried a sword. Otherwise, he was human. Very human, according to the drawing in the book. M. Abigor gave a chuckle. I was not doing well.
I cleared my throat, and tried to swallow my fear. “M. Abigor, would you like a cup of tea?”
“Perhaps that would be safest, my dear.” His voice was deep and low. He smiled at me, amused by my gaffes. I rose to pour him a cup of tea, and my hands shook. “Would you like cream and sugar?” I asked over my shoulder at the console on the wall where the silver service was placed.
“I take it black.” Of course, why didn’t I think of that!
“I understand from M.Garrett you are a writer. And, a bit of a musician and dancer.”
Oh God! What did my Demon say to him? “I am hardly a writer, M. Abigor, as I have only written one book. And that I have not finished. “
I brought him his tea and tried not to rattle the cup in the saucer.
“Ah. One would think your change of….ah…circumstance…would retard your progress. Very human.” M. Abigor picked up his cup, his eyes stared over the rim, two dead pools of darkness. My stomach gave a flip and my fear made me shiver.
Yes, very human. I decided to approach the issue of ‘circumstance’ delicately. “Yes, ‘one’ might say so. I find my world exciting and confusing now.”
“It is to be expected. You are out of your element as they say. It will take time to adjust.” M. Abigor regarded me with his head cocked again. I think, again, of an owl.
“Madame tells me you knew many of the men and women in the salons of Paris.” I sip my tea, and hoped to turn the conversation. “I have little knowledge of the salons, but I am very curious as to your experience, Monsieur.”
“Ah!” Here his face visibly brightened. “The Salons! Yes, they were a lovely invention. Some good friends I made on different days of the week. Some good friends I occasionally still see.”
I think about his words and again I shiver. I managed a smile.
“Did you know Mme. d’Epinay, Monsieur?” I had read some of her writings.
“Ah! Mme. d’Epinay! I remember her well, though I don’t think I have seen her sweet face since the 1770’s.”
Good, I thought. Then she isn’t in Hell. From what I had read of her, she was a wretched but sensible woman. She suffered terribly from an early marriage to a dissolute cousin.
“But her husband, now, M. d’Epinay….I have seen him around some.” M. Abigor’s grin reminded me of a wolf.
“Madame d.Epinay now…how she was to be pitied! She was peaceful, and sweet and trusting. And she was a good writer, and listened to so many others as they read their works out loud to the room. A sensible and courageous woman, married to a monster.”
I thought of what I knew of the women of that century. In my own century, which I had forgotten for my surroundings, women had all the hope to do so much with their lives. It was hard for us to understand a society in which the best female intellect was given over to entertaining and living their lives through the minds of the men around them. They had little place else to wield power except in the drawing rooms. But from these rooms, such ideas! Revolution, class warfare, the liberating and the terror, these were fermented by sentiments both vain and sensual.
M.Abigor threw out names in history. Mme. de Lambert, Mme. Geoffrin, Mme. Necker are just a few he mentioned. And the men! Grimm, Diedrot, Voltaire just a few more. M. Abigor captured my interest with his fascinating tales of long dead people. I was discreet enough to curb my interest as to who was where in the universe.
“M. Garrett tells me that you dance, n’est-ce pas?” He changed the direction of his conversation so fast it took me by surprise. M. Abigor relaxed in his chair, and stretched his long legs before him. I hastened to serve him some cake.
“Thank you. I don’t usually eat sweet things, but this looks divine.” M. Abigor took a bite of his cake and his eyebrows lifted in pleasure. Ah! One happy devil from Hell!
“M. Garrett overstates my talent. It is not the courtly dances you would be familiar.” I presumed too much, for M. Abigor was as old as the Alps and knew much of the world.
“I am familiar with the Harem dance. I have known many Sultans and their harems intimately over the centuries. In fact, in my youth, I affected the guise of a harem guard.” M. Abigor looked at me, that wolf smile again gleamed out over long, white teeth.
“But I read only eunuchs were allowed in the harem.” I spoke without thought.
M. Abigor laughed, his voice rumbling deep from his chest. “One of the privileges of being a Devil, my dear, is we can appear to be anything we want. Like our Madame Gormosy, we appear as a man, and a second later, a woman.” He waved one elegant long finger in the air. I blushed from my thoughtless words.
“And we can dismiss parts of our anatomy, and gain them back at will.” M. Abigor obviously enjoyed my embarrassment; his dead eyes suddenly glittered at me!
I took a drink of my now cooled tea to cover my distress. “M. Abigor, may I warm your tea?”
“You have already warmed my heart with your blunders.” He smiled like a wolf and gave me a little bow from his chair. My embarrassment was tinged with fear. I remembered Madame Gormosy’s words of caution about his ‘charm’.
“I can see your M. Demon has great fun with you. I myself have had many mortal wives in my time. I enjoyed the naivete and companionship. M. Demon is to be applauded his choice.” He chuckled and again bowed from his seat.
I inclined my head to him, my blush now covering my neck. I was being courted by an Arch Duke of Hell!
We talked about many things and I noticed the room was darkening. It must be about dusk. I rose to light a taper from the fire, and M. Abigor rose with me, picked up a hot cinder from the fire and lit the first candle. I made an exclamation, as he was sure to burn his fingers, but M. Abigor just smiled and showed me his unscorched palm. He took my hand and placed it against his. It was warm but did not burn. Close to me, I looked up into his face, and by the light of the one candle, saw something in his eyes that frightened. It was as if his eyes opened suddenly, like the lens of a camera, and I saw scenes horrifying and I could not think!
Like a card deck being shuffled slowly and each card held out for a nanosecond viewing, I saw wars, tragedies, famines, scenes of torment down through the ages.
I saw male babies thrown in the river Nile, to be drowned at the whim and command of Pharaoh, heard their gurgling screams as they sank beneath the waters, their mothers anguish ringing out on the banks of the turgid waters.
I saw the Crusades, many cards there, with Christians riding down the ‘unbelievers’, slaughtering young girls, children, raping them and cutting their throats.
I saw and felt the tumbrels rumbling through Paris’ streets, the fall of the guillotine, the roar of the crowds, the spray of blood from that steel knife cover the crowds, and the heads tumbling into the fouled straw baskets.
I saw the results of the War to End all Wars, the men falling to the ground, spewing their guts, vomiting in the mud from the mustard gas, nerve gasses. The horror of field hospitals with severed limbs piled up like cordwood, and broken lives never to be regained.
I saw the brutality of the boyars, the Cossacks, the military riding into peasant villages and all slaughtered, the babies smothered under the fallen bodies of their mothers. I smelled the cottages burning, heard again the wailing of the women.
And then I came to the card, flipped over in slow motion, of the Holocaust. I felt the fire of the ovens, saw the mounds of gold teeth, smelled the burning flesh that swept across the countryside and I stood there, looking at my forearms, and was covered by human ash. I saw the children clubbed to death, their bodies thrown into the pits after their parents were shot and rolled into the mass grave.
I think I stopped breathing. I felt time had suspended itself. M. Abigor’s eyes closed and a tear dropped from one eye. I watched the descent of that tear as if all the answers to this madness were in that one sign of human compassion.
But of course M. Abigor was not human.
Woodenly, I pulled away and place the candlestick on the table. Turning, I stood behind my chair, my face shocked beyond expression. I could not stop my heart from pounding. I wasn’t numb for I was able to feel an overwhelming sickness, a terror with every heartbeat. There was something in the room with us, a presence more than the two of us. It felt like the Ultimate Evil. I thought I would faint. In the growing gloom of the room, M. Abigor looked intently at me, and saw my distress.
“Madame, I have most enjoyed our tea. In the next few days, I will return and take you riding. I understand you pine to go out of doors. I will be your protection from the elements.”
M. Abigor bowed, a figure of masculine elegance. He turned at the door, smiled and left the room. Within moments, Madame Gormosy entered. I still stood behind my chair, frozen, barely breathing.
“Well, Madame, you have survived this visit unscorched. Ah! You minded your manners or at least you did not insult the Devil! Bon! You live another day. Your M. Demon will be glad of it.”
Rooted to the spot, blindly I put out my hand to her, and Madame came to my side. I almost fainted and I found Madame’s arms around me, supporting me. But it was Monsieur’s arms now around me, transformed by her particular magic, and at this moment, I was grateful. I leaned on his chest, and I could hear his heart. I started to shiver violently and Monsieur picked me up and sat down in a chair. He rubbed my arm, my back and thigh. I couldn’t stop shivering, my shock so great and Monsieur cooed to me gently. Soon I was weeping into his linen.
“Ah, my poor thing. Perhaps M. Abigor let down his glamour for a minute and you saw him for the demon he is? Perhaps you looked into his eyes and were frightened? Ah! It happens with devils. We look like humans, when we want to, it is our favorite disguise, but the eye will tell all. The horrors of hell show up in these pools of darkness. It is the one piece of ourselves we can not transform. Quel dommage!”
I still shivered and Monsieur crossed over to the bed. He pulled back the bedclothes and covered me to my chin, chaffing my arms under the covers. He also rubbed my legs but decided a few hot bricks would be of service. Bringing two of them from the fireplace he placed them by my feet. In a couple of minutes, my shivering stopped. I fell into deep sleep.
I was told I was unconscious for a day, and cried out. There was little to be done, for the shock I received from the presence of M. Abigor would have to be endured. I am now told M. Abigor was pleased with my company and his tea, and this was the usual fate of dining with such devils. The next time, my mortal system would adjust, and I would not suffer such effects.
If this is to encourage me, Madame Gormosy is wide of her mark. I saw too much in M. Abigor’s eyes. No amount of immortal elegance could hide those visions of Hell.
Copyrighted, 2009, 2013
Tags: 18th century salons, a novel, Devil's Revenge, Devils and Demons, Diderot, Hell, Holocaust, La Guillotine, M. Abigor, Madame Epinay, Madame Gormosy, madness, terrors of history, The Arch Duke of Hell, violence, Voltaire