Part 1 out of 3
This etext was produced by David Widger
THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER
by Mark Twain
THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER
HUNTING THE DECEITFUL TURKEY
THE McWILLIAMSES AND THE BURGLAR ALARM
THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER
It was in 1590--winter. Austria was far away from the world, and asleep;
it was still the Middle Ages in Austria, and promised to remain so
forever. Some even set it away back centuries upon centuries and said
that by the mental and spiritual clock it was still the Age of Belief in
Austria. But they meant it as a compliment, not a slur, and it was so
taken, and we were all proud of it. I remember it well, although I was
only a boy; and I remember, too, the pleasure it gave me.
Yes, Austria was far from the world, and asleep, and our village was in
the middle of that sleep, being in the middle of Austria. It drowsed in
peace in the deep privacy of a hilly and woodsy solitude where news from
the world hardly ever came to disturb its dreams, and was infinitely
content. At its front flowed the tranquil river, its surface painted
with cloud-forms and the reflections of drifting arks and stone-boats;
behind it rose the woody steeps to the base of the lofty precipice; from
the top of the precipice frowned a vast castle, its long stretch of
towers and bastions mailed in vines; beyond the river, a league to the
left, was a tumbled expanse of forest-clothed hills cloven by winding
gorges where the sun never penetrated; and to the right a precipice
overlooked the river, and between it and the hills just spoken of lay a
far-reaching plain dotted with little homesteads nested among orchards
and shade trees.
The whole region for leagues around was the hereditary property of a
prince, whose servants kept the castle always in perfect condition for
occupancy, but neither he nor his family came there oftener than once in
five years. When they came it was as if the lord of the world had
arrived, and had brought all the glories of its kingdoms along; and when
they went they left a calm behind which was like the deep sleep which
follows an orgy.
Eseldorf was a paradise for us boys. We were not overmuch pestered with
schooling. Mainly we were trained to be good Christians; to revere the
Virgin, the Church, and the saints above everything. Beyond these
matters we were not required to know much; and, in fact, not allowed to.
Knowledge was not good for the common people, and could make them
discontented with the lot which God had appointed for them, and God would
not endure discontentment with His plans. We had two priests. One of
them, Father Adolf, was a very zealous and strenuous priest, much
There may have been better priests, in some ways, than Father Adolf, but
there was never one in our commune who was held in more solemn and awful
respect. This was because he had absolutely no fear of the Devil. He
was the only Christian I have ever known of whom that could be truly
said. People stood in deep dread of him on that account; for they
thought that there must be something supernatural about him, else he
could not be so bold and so confident. All men speak in bitter
disapproval of the Devil, but they do it reverently, not flippantly; but
Father Adolf's way was very different; he called him by every name he
could lay his tongue to, and it made everyone shudder that heard him; and
often he would even speak of him scornfully and scoffingly; then the
people crossed themselves and went quickly out of his presence, fearing
that something fearful might happen.
Father Adolf had actually met Satan face to face more than once, and
defied him. This was known to be so. Father Adolf said it himself. He
never made any secret of it, but spoke it right out. And that he was
speaking true there was proof in at least one instance, for on that
occasion he quarreled with the enemy, and intrepidly threw his bottle at
him; and there, upon the wall of his study, was the ruddy splotch where
it struck and broke.
But it was Father Peter, the other priest, that we all loved best and
were sorriest for. Some people charged him with talking around in
conversation that God was all goodness and would find a way to save all
his poor human children. It was a horrible thing to say, but there was
never any absolute proof that Father Peter said it; and it was out of
character for him to say it, too, for he was always good and gentle and
truthful. He wasn't charged with saying it in the pulpit, where all the
congregation could hear and testify, but only outside, in talk; and it is
easy for enemies to manufacture that. Father Peter had an enemy and a
very powerful one, the astrologer who lived in a tumbled old tower up the
valley, and put in his nights studying the stars. Every one knew he
could foretell wars and famines, though that was not so hard, for there
was always a war, and generally a famine somewhere. But he could also
read any man's life through the stars in a big book he had, and find lost
property, and every one in the village except Father Peter stood in awe
of him. Even Father Adolf, who had defied the Devil, had a wholesome
respect for the astrologer when he came through our village wearing his
tall, pointed hat and his long, flowing robe with stars on it, carrying
his big book, and a staff which was known to have magic power. The
bishop himself sometimes listened to the astrologer, it was said, for,
besides studying the stars and prophesying, the astrologer made a great
show of piety, which would impress the bishop, of course.
But Father Peter took no stock in the astrologer. He denounced him
openly as a charlatan--a fraud with no valuable knowledge of any kind, or
powers beyond those of an ordinary and rather inferior human being, which
naturally made the astrologer hate Father Peter and wish to ruin him. It
was the astrologer, as we all believed, who originated the story about
Father Peter's shocking remark and carried it to the bishop. It was said
that Father Peter had made the remark to his niece, Marget, though Marget
denied it and implored the bishop to believe her and spare her old uncle
from poverty and disgrace. But the bishop wouldn't listen. He suspended
Father Peter indefinitely, though he wouldn't go so far as to
excommunicate him on the evidence of only one witness; and now Father
Peter had been out a couple of years, and our other priest, Father Adolf,
had his flock.
Those had been hard years for the old priest and Marget. They had been
favorites, but of course that changed when they came under the shadow of
the bishop's frown. Many of their friends fell away entirely, and the
rest became cool and distant. Marget was a lovely girl of eighteen when
the trouble came, and she had the best head in the village, and the most
in it. She taught the harp, and earned all her clothes and pocket money
by her own industry. But her scholars fell off one by one now; she was
forgotten when there were dances and parties among the youth of the
village; the young fellows stopped coming to the house, all except
Wilhelm Meidling--and he could have been spared; she and her uncle were
sad and forlorn in their neglect and disgrace, and the sunshine was gone
out of their lives. Matters went worse and worse, all through the two
years. Clothes were wearing out, bread was harder and harder to get.
And now, at last, the very end was come. Solomon Isaacs had lent all the
money he was willing to put on the house, and gave notice that to-morrow
he would foreclose.
Three of us boys were always together, and had been so from the cradle,
being fond of one another from the beginning, and this affection deepened
as the years went on--Nikolaus Bauman, son of the principal judge of the
local court; Seppi Wohlmeyer, son of the keeper of the principal inn, the
"Golden Stag," which had a nice garden, with shade trees reaching down to
the riverside, and pleasure boats for hire; and I was the third--Theodor
Fischer, son of the church organist, who was also leader of the village
musicians, teacher of the violin, composer, tax-collector of the commune,
sexton, and in other ways a useful citizen, and respected by all. We
knew the hills and the woods as well as the birds knew them; for we were
always roaming them when we had leisure--at least, when we were not
swimming or boating or fishing, or playing on the ice or sliding down
And we had the run of the castle park, and very few had that. It was
because we were pets of the oldest servingman in the castle--Felix
Brandt; and often we went there, nights, to hear him talk about old times
and strange things, and to smoke with him (he taught us that) and to
drink coffee; for he had served in the wars, and was at the siege of
Vienna; and there, when the Turks were defeated and driven away, among
the captured things were bags of coffee, and the Turkish prisoners
explained the character of it and how to make a pleasant drink out of it,
and now he always kept coffee by him, to drink himself and also to
astonish the ignorant with. When it stormed he kept us all night; and
while it thundered and lightened outside he told us about ghosts and
horrors of every kind, and of battles and murders and mutilations, and
such things, and made it pleasant and cozy inside; and he told these
things from his own experience largely. He had seen many ghosts in his
time, and witches and enchanters, and once he was lost in a fierce storm
at midnight in the mountains, and by the glare of the lightning had seen
the Wild Huntsman rage on the blast with his specter dogs chasing after
him through the driving cloud-rack. Also he had seen an incubus once,
and several times he had seen the great bat that sucks the blood from the
necks of people while they are asleep, fanning them softly with its wings
and so keeping them drowsy till they die.
He encouraged us not to fear supernatural things, such as ghosts, and
said they did no harm, but only wandered about because they were lonely
and distressed and wanted kindly notice and compassion; and in time we
learned not to be afraid, and even went down with him in the night to the
haunted chamber in the dungeons of the castle. The ghost appeared only
once, and it went by very dim to the sight and floated noiseless through
the air, and then disappeared; and we scarcely trembled, he had taught us
so well. He said it came up sometimes in the night and woke him by
passing its clammy hand over his face, but it did him no hurt; it only
wanted sympathy and notice. But the strangest thing was that he had seen
angels--actual angels out of heaven--and had talked with them. They had
no wings, and wore clothes, and talked and looked and acted just like any
natural person, and you would never know them for angels except for the
wonderful things they did which a mortal could not do, and the way they
suddenly disappeared while you were talking with them, which was also a
thing which no mortal could do. And he said they were pleasant and
cheerful, not gloomy and melancholy, like ghosts.
It was after that kind of a talk one May night that we got up next
morning and had a good breakfast with him and then went down and crossed
the bridge and went away up into the hills on the left to a woody hill-
top which was a favorite place of ours, and there we stretched out on the
grass in the shade to rest and smoke and talk over these strange things,
for they were in our minds yet, and impressing us. But we couldn't
smoke, because we had been heedless and left our flint and steel behind.
Soon there came a youth strolling toward us through the trees, and he sat
down and began to talk in a friendly way, just as if he knew us. But we
did not answer him, for he was a stranger and we were not used to
strangers and were shy of them. He had new and good clothes on, and was
handsome and had a winning face and a pleasant voice, and was easy and
graceful and unembarrassed, not slouchy and awkward and diffident, like
other boys. We wanted to be friendly with him, but didn't know how to
begin. Then I thought of the pipe, and wondered if it would be taken as
kindly meant if I offered it to him. But I remembered that we had no
fire, so I was sorry and disappointed. But he looked up bright and
pleased, and said:
"Fire? Oh, that is easy; I will furnish it."
I was so astonished I couldn't speak; for I had not said anything. He
took the pipe and blew his breath on it, and the tobacco glowed red, and
spirals of blue smoke rose up. We jumped up and were going to run, for
that was natural; and we did run a few steps, although he was yearningly
pleading for us to stay, and giving us his word that he would not do us
any harm, but only wanted to be friends with us and have company. So we
stopped and stood, and wanted to go back, being full of curiosity and
wonder, but afraid to venture. He went on coaxing, in his soft,
persuasive way; and when we saw that the pipe did not blow up and nothing
happened, our confidence returned by little and little, and presently our
curiosity got to be stronger than our fear, and we ventured back--but
slowly, and ready to fly at any alarm.
He was bent on putting us at ease, and he had the right art; one could
not remain doubtful and timorous where a person was so earnest and simple
and gentle, and talked so alluringly as he did; no, he won us over, and
it was not long before we were content and comfortable and chatty, and
glad we had found this new friend. When the feeling of constraint was
all gone we asked him how he had learned to do that strange thing, and he
said he hadn't learned it at all; it came natural to him--like other
things--other curious things.
"Oh, a number; I don't know how many."
"Will you let us see you do them?"
"Do--please!" the others said.
"You won't run away again?"
"No--indeed we won't. Please do. Won't you?"
"Yes, with pleasure; but you mustn't forget your promise, you know."
We said we wouldn't, and he went to a puddle and came back with water in
a cup which he had made out of a leaf, and blew upon it and threw it out,
and it was a lump of ice the shape of the cup. We were astonished and
charmed, but not afraid any more; we were very glad to be there, and
asked him to go on and do some more things. And he did. He said he
would give us any kind of fruit we liked, whether it was in season or
not. We all spoke at once;
"They are in your pockets," he said, and it was true. And they were of
the best, too, and we ate them and wished we had more, though none of us
"You will find them where those came from," he said, "and everything else
your appetites call for; and you need not name the thing you wish; as
long as I am with you, you have only to wish and find."
And he said true. There was never anything so wonderful and so
interesting. Bread, cakes, sweets, nuts--whatever one wanted, it was
there. He ate nothing himself, but sat and chatted, and did one curious
thing after another to amuse us. He made a tiny toy squirrel out of
clay, and it ran up a tree and sat on a limb overhead and barked down at
us. Then he made a dog that was not much larger than a mouse, and it
treed the squirrel and danced about the tree, excited and barking, and
was as alive as any dog could be. It frightened the squirrel from tree
to tree and followed it up until both were out of sight in the forest.
He made birds out of clay and set them free, and they flew away, singing.
At last I made bold to ask him to tell us who he was.
"An angel," he said, quite simply, and set another bird free and clapped
his hands and made it fly away.
A kind of awe fell upon us when we heard him say that, and we were afraid
again; but he said we need not be troubled, there was no occasion for us
to be afraid of an angel, and he liked us, anyway. He went on chatting
as simply and unaffectedly as ever; and while he talked he made a crowd
of little men and women the size of your finger, and they went diligently
to work and cleared and leveled off a space a couple of yards square in
the grass and began to build a cunning little castle in it, the women
mixing the mortar and carrying it up the scaffoldings in pails on their
heads, just as our work-women have always done, and the men laying the
courses of masonry--five hundred of these toy people swarming briskly
about and working diligently and wiping the sweat off their faces as
natural as life. In the absorbing interest of watching those five
hundred little people make the castle grow step by step and course by
course, and take shape and symmetry, that feeling and awe soon passed
away and we were quite comfortable and at home again. We asked if we
might make some people, and he said yes, and told Seppi to make some
cannon for the walls, and told Nikolaus to make some halberdiers, with
breastplates and greaves and helmets, and I was to make some cavalry,
with horses, and in allotting these tasks he called us by our names, but
did not say how he knew them. Then Seppi asked him what his own name
was, and he said, tranquilly, "Satan," and held out a chip and caught a
little woman on it who was falling from the scaffolding and put her back
where she belonged, and said, "She is an idiot to step backward like that
and not notice what she is about."
It caught us suddenly, that name did, and our work dropped out of our
hands and broke to pieces--a cannon, a halberdier, and a horse. Satan
laughed, and asked what was the matter. I said, "Nothing, only it seemed
a strange name for an angel." He asked why.
"Because it's--it's--well, it's his name, you know."
"Yes--he is my uncle."
He said it placidly, but it took our breath for a moment and made our
hearts beat. He did not seem to notice that, but mended our halberdiers
and things with a touch, handing them to us finished, and said, "Don't
you remember?--he was an angel himself, once."
"Yes--it's true," said Seppi; "I didn't think of that."
"Before the Fall he was blameless."
"Yes," said Nikolaus, "he was without sin."
"It is a good family--ours," said Satan; "there is not a better. He is
the only member of it that has ever sinned."
I should not be able to make any one understand how exciting it all was.
You know that kind of quiver that trembles around through you when you
are seeing something so strange and enchanting and wonderful that it is
just a fearful joy to be alive and look at it; and you know how you gaze,
and your lips turn dry and your breath comes short, but you wouldn't be
anywhere but there, not for the world. I was bursting to ask one
question--I had it on my tongue's end and could hardly hold it back--but
I was ashamed to ask it; it might be a rudeness. Satan set an ox down
that he had been making, and smiled up at me and said:
"It wouldn't be a rudeness, and I should forgive it if it was. Have I
seen him? Millions of times. From the time that I was a little child a
thousand years old I was his second favorite among the nursery angels of
our blood and lineage--to use a human phrase--yes, from that time until
the Fall, eight thousand years, measured as you count time."
"Yes." He turned to Seppi, and went on as if answering something that was
in Seppi's mind: "Why, naturally I look like a boy, for that is what I
am. With us what you call time is a spacious thing; it takes a long
stretch of it to grow an angel to full age." There was a question in my
mind, and he turned to me and answered it, "I am sixteen thousand years
old--counting as you count." Then he turned to Nikolaus and said: "No,
the Fall did not affect me nor the rest of the relationship. It was only
he that I was named for who ate of the fruit of the tree and then
beguiled the man and the woman with it. We others are still ignorant of
sin; we are not able to commit it; we are without blemish, and shall
abide in that estate always. We--" Two of the little workmen were
quarreling, and in buzzing little bumblebee voices they were cursing and
swearing at each other; now came blows and blood; then they locked
themselves together in a life-and-death struggle. Satan reached out his
hand and crushed the life out of them with his fingers, threw them away,
wiped the red from his fingers on his handkerchief, and went on talking
where he had left off: "We cannot do wrong; neither have we any
disposition to do it, for we do not know what it is."
It seemed a strange speech, in the circumstances, but we barely noticed
that, we were so shocked and grieved at the wanton murder he had
committed--for murder it was, that was its true name, and it was without
palliation or excuse, for the men had not wronged him in any way. It
made us miserable, for we loved him, and had thought him so noble and so
beautiful and gracious, and had honestly believed he was an angel; and to
have him do this cruel thing--ah, it lowered him so, and we had had such
pride in him. He went right on talking, just as if nothing had happened,
telling about his travels, and the interesting things he had seen in the
big worlds of our solar systems and of other solar systems far away in
the remotenesses of space, and about the customs of the immortals that
inhabit them, somehow fascinating us, enchanting us, charming us in spite
of the pitiful scene that was now under our eyes, for the wives of the
little dead men had found the crushed and shapeless bodies and were
crying over them, and sobbing and lamenting, and a priest was kneeling
there with his hands crossed upon his breast, praying; and crowds and
crowds of pitying friends were massed about them, reverently uncovered,
with their bare heads bowed, and many with the tears running down--a
scene which Satan paid no attention to until the small noise of the
weeping and praying began to annoy him, then he reached out and took the
heavy board seat out of our swing and brought it down and mashed all
those people into the earth just as if they had been flies, and went on
talking just the same.
An angel, and kill a priest! An angel who did not know how to do wrong,
and yet destroys in cold blood hundreds of helpless poor men and women
who had never done him any harm! It made us sick to see that awful deed,
and to think that none of those poor creatures was prepared except the
priest, for none of them had ever heard a mass or seen a church. And we
were witnesses; we had seen these murders done and it was our duty to
tell, and let the law take its course.
But he went on talking right along, and worked his enchantments upon us
again with that fatal music of his voice. He made us forget everything;
we could only listen to him, and love him, and be his slaves, to do with
us as he would. He made us drunk with the joy of being with him, and of
looking into the heaven of his eyes, and of feeling the ecstasy that
thrilled along our veins from the touch of his hand.
The Stranger had seen everything, he had been everywhere, he knew
everything, and he forgot nothing. What another must study, he learned
at a glance; there were no difficulties for him. And he made things live
before you when he told about them. He saw the world made; he saw Adam
created; he saw Samson surge against the pillars and bring the temple
down in ruins about him; he saw Caesar's death; he told of the daily life
in heaven; he had seen the damned writhing in the red waves of hell; and
he made us see all these things, and it was as if we were on the spot and
looking at them with our own eyes. And we felt them, too, but there was
no sign that they were anything to him beyond mere entertainments. Those
visions of hell, those poor babes and women and girls and lads and men
shrieking and supplicating in anguish--why, we could hardly bear it, but
he was as bland about it as if it had been so many imitation rats in an
And always when he was talking about men and women here on the earth and
their doings--even their grandest and sublimest--we were secretly
ashamed, for his manner showed that to him they and their doings were of
paltry poor consequence; often you would think he was talking about
flies, if you didn't know. Once he even said, in so many words, that our
people down here were quite interesting to him, notwithstanding they were
so dull and ignorant and trivial and conceited, and so diseased and
rickety, and such a shabby, poor, worthless lot all around. He said it
in a quite matter-of-course way and without bitterness, just as a person
might talk about bricks or manure or any other thing that was of no
consequence and hadn't feelings. I could see he meant no offense, but in
my thoughts I set it down as not very good manners.
"Manners!" he said. "Why, it is merely the truth, and truth is good
manners; manners are a fiction. The castle is done. Do you like it?"
Any one would have been obliged to like it. It was lovely to look at, it
was so shapely and fine, and so cunningly perfect in all its particulars,
even to the little flags waving from the turrets. Satan said we must put
the artillery in place now, and station the halberdiers and display the
cavalry. Our men and horses were a spectacle to see, they were so little
like what they were intended for; for, of course, we had no art in making
such things. Satan said they were the worst he had seen; and when he
touched them and made them alive, it was just ridiculous the way they
acted, on account of their legs not being of uniform lengths. They
reeled and sprawled around as if they were drunk, and endangered
everybody's lives around them, and finally fell over and lay helpless and
kicking. It made us all laugh, though it was a shameful thing to see.
The guns were charged with dirt, to fire a salute, but they were so
crooked and so badly made that they all burst when they went off, and
killed some of the gunners and crippled the others. Satan said we would
have a storm now, and an earthquake, if we liked, but we must stand off a
piece, out of danger. We wanted to call the people away, too, but he
said never mind them; they were of no consequence, and we could make
more, some time or other, if we needed them.
A small storm-cloud began to settle down black over the castle, and the
miniature lightning and thunder began to play, and the ground to quiver,
and the wind to pipe and wheeze, and the rain to fall, and all the people
flocked into the castle for shelter. The cloud settled down blacker and
blacker, and one could see the castle only dimly through it; the
lightning blazed out flash upon flash and pierced the castle and set it
on fire, and the flames shone out red and fierce through the cloud, and
the people came flying out, shrieking, but Satan brushed them back,
paying no attention to our begging and crying and imploring; and in the
midst of the howling of the wind and volleying of the thunder the
magazine blew up, the earthquake rent the ground wide, and the castle's
wreck and ruin tumbled into the chasm, which swallowed it from sight, and
closed upon it, with all that innocent life, not one of the five hundred
poor creatures escaping. Our hearts were broken; we could not keep from
"Don't cry," Satan said; "they were of no value."
"But they are gone to hell!"
"Oh, it is no matter; we can make plenty more."
It was of no use to try to move him; evidently he was wholly without
feeling, and could not understand. He was full of bubbling spirits, and
as gay as if this were a wedding instead of a fiendish massacre. And he
was bent on making us feel as he did, and of course his magic
accomplished his desire. It was no trouble to him; he did whatever he
pleased with us. In a little while we were dancing on that grave, and he
was playing to us on a strange, sweet instrument which he took out of his
pocket; and the music--but there is no music like that, unless perhaps in
heaven, and that was where he brought it from, he said. It made one mad,
for pleasure; and we could not take our eyes from him, and the looks that
went out of our eyes came from our hearts, and their dumb speech was
worship. He brought the dance from heaven, too, and the bliss of
paradise was in it.
Presently he said he must go away on an errand. But we could not bear
the thought of it, and clung to him, and pleaded with him to stay; and
that pleased him, and he said so, and said he would not go yet, but would
wait a little while and we would sit down and talk a few minutes longer;
and he told us Satan was only his real name, and he was to be known by it
to us alone, but he had chosen another one to be called by in the
presence of others; just a common one, such as people have--Philip Traum.
It sounded so odd and mean for such a being! But it was his decision,
and we said nothing; his decision was sufficient.
We had seen wonders this day; and my thoughts began to run on the
pleasure it would be to tell them when I got home, but he noticed those
thoughts, and said:
"No, all these matters are a secret among us four. I do not mind your
trying to tell them, if you like, but I will protect your tongues, and
nothing of the secret will escape from them."
It was a disappointment, but it couldn't be helped, and it cost us a sigh
or two. We talked pleasantly along, and he was always reading our
thoughts and responding to them, and it seemed to me that this was the
most wonderful of all the things he did, but he interrupted my musings
"No, it would be wonderful for you, but it is not wonderful for me. I am
not limited like you. I am not subject to human conditions. I can
measure and understand your human weaknesses, for I have studied them;
but I have none of them. My flesh is not real, although it would seem
firm to your touch; my clothes are not real; I am a spirit. Father Peter
is coming." We looked around, but did not see any one. "He is not in
sight yet, but you will see him presently."
"Do you know him, Satan?"
"Won't you talk with him when he comes? He is not ignorant and dull,
like us, and he would so like to talk with you. Will you?"
"Another time, yes, but not now. I must go on my errand after a little.
There he is now; you can see him. Sit still, and don't say anything."
We looked up and saw Father Peter approaching through the chestnuts. We
three were sitting together in the grass, and Satan sat in front of us in
the path. Father Peter came slowly along with his head down, thinking,
and stopped within a couple of yards of us and took off his hat and got
out his silk handkerchief, and stood there mopping his face and looking
as if he were going to speak to us, but he didn't. Presently he
muttered, "I can't think what brought me here; it seems as if I were in
my study a minute ago--but I suppose I have been dreaming along for an
hour and have come all this stretch without noticing; for I am not myself
in these troubled days." Then he went mumbling along to himself and
walked straight through Satan, just as if nothing were there. It made us
catch our breath to see it. We had the impulse to cry out, the way you
nearly always do when a startling thing happens, but something
mysteriously restrained us and we remained quiet, only breathing fast.
Then the trees hid Father Peter after a little, and Satan said:
"It is as I told you--I am only a spirit."
"Yes, one perceives it now," said Nikolaus, "but we are not spirits. It
is plain he did not see you, but were we invisible, too? He looked at
us, but he didn't seem to see us."
"No, none of us was visible to him, for I wished it so."
It seemed almost too good to be true, that we were actually seeing these
romantic and wonderful things, and that it was not a dream. And there he
sat, looking just like anybody--so natural and simple and charming, and
chatting along again the same as ever, and--well, words cannot make you
understand what we felt. It was an ecstasy; and an ecstasy is a thing
that will not go into words; it feels like music, and one cannot tell
about music so that another person can get the feeling of it. He was
back in the old ages once more now, and making them live before us. He
had seen so much, so much! It was just a wonder to look at him and try
to think how it must seem to have such experience behind one.
But it made you seem sorrowfully trivial, and the creature of a day, and
such a short and paltry day, too. And he didn't say anything to raise up
your drooping pride--no, not a word. He always spoke of men in the same
old indifferent way--just as one speaks of bricks and manure-piles and
such things; you could see that they were of no consequence to him, one
way or the other. He didn't mean to hurt us, you could see that; just as
we don't mean to insult a brick when we disparage it; a brick's emotions
are nothing to us; it never occurs to us to think whether it has any or
Once when he was bunching the most illustrious kings and conquerors and
poets and prophets and pirates and beggars together--just a brick-pile--I
was shamed into putting in a word for man, and asked him why he made so
much difference between men and himself. He had to struggle with that a
moment; he didn't seem to understand how I could ask such a strange
question. Then he said:
"The difference between man and me? The difference between a mortal and
an immortal? between a cloud and a spirit?" He picked up a wood-louse
that was creeping along a piece of bark: "What is the difference between
Caesar and this?"
I said, "One cannot compare things which by their nature and by the
interval between them are not comparable."
"You have answered your own question," he said. "I will expand it. Man
is made of dirt--I saw him made. I am not made of dirt. Man is a museum
of diseases, a home of impurities; he comes to-day and is gone to-morrow;
he begins as dirt and departs as stench; I am of the aristocracy of the
Imperishables. And man has the Moral Sense. You understand? He has the
Moral Sense. That would seem to be difference enough between us, all by
He stopped there, as if that settled the matter. I was sorry, for at
that time I had but a dim idea of what the Moral Sense was. I merely
knew that we were proud of having it, and when he talked like that about
it, it wounded me, and I felt as a girl feels who thinks her dearest
finery is being admired and then overhears strangers making fun of it.
For a while we were all silent, and I, for one, was depressed. Then
Satan began to chat again, and soon he was sparkling along in such a
cheerful and vivacious vein that my spirits rose once more. He told some
very cunning things that put us in a gale of laughter; and when he was
telling about the time that Samson tied the torches to the foxes' tails
and set them loose in the Philistines' corn, and Samson sitting on the
fence slapping his thighs and laughing, with the tears running down his
cheeks, and lost his balance and fell off the fence, the memory of that
picture got him to laughing, too, and we did have a most lovely and jolly
time. By and by he said:
"I am going on my errand now."
"Don't!" we all said. "Don't go; stay with us. You won't come back."
"Yes, I will; I give you my word."
"When? To-night? Say when."
"It won't be long. You will see."
"We like you."
"And I you. And as a proof of it I will show you something fine to see.
Usually when I go I merely vanish; but now I will dissolve myself and let
you see me do it."
He stood up, and it was quickly finished. He thinned away and thinned
away until he was a soap-bubble, except that he kept his shape. You
could see the bushes through him as clearly as you see things through a
soap-bubble, and all over him played and flashed the delicate iridescent
colors of the bubble, and along with them was that thing shaped like a
window-sash which you always see on the globe of the bubble. You have
seen a bubble strike the carpet and lightly bound along two or three
times before it bursts. He did that. He sprang--touched the grass--
bounded--floated along--touched again--and so on, and presently exploded
--puff! and in his place was vacancy.
It was a strange and beautiful thing to see. We did not say anything,
but sat wondering and dreaming and blinking; and finally Seppi roused up
and said, mournfully sighing:
"I suppose none of it has happened."
Nikolaus sighed and said about the same.
I was miserable to hear them say it, for it was the same cold fear that
was in my own mind. Then we saw poor old Father Peter wandering along
back, with his head bent down, searching the ground. When he was pretty
close to us he looked up and saw us, and said, "How long have you been
"A little while, Father."
"Then it is since I came by, and maybe you can help me. Did you come up
by the path?"
"That is good. I came the same way. I have lost my wallet. There
wasn't much in it, but a very little is much to me, for it was all I had.
I suppose you haven't seen anything of it?"
"No, Father, but we will help you hunt."
"It is what I was going to ask you. Why, here it is!"
We hadn't noticed it; yet there it lay, right where Satan stood when he
began to melt--if he did melt and it wasn't a delusion. Father Peter
picked it up and looked very much surprised.
"It is mine," he said, "but not the contents. This is fat; mine was
flat; mine was light; this is heavy." He opened it; it was stuffed as
full as it could hold with gold coins. He let us gaze our fill; and of
course we did gaze, for we had never seen so much money at one time
before. All our mouths came open to say "Satan did it!" but nothing came
out. There it was, you see--we couldn't tell what Satan didn't want
told; he had said so himself.
"Boys, did you do this?"
It made us laugh. And it made him laugh, too, as soon as he thought what
a foolish question it was.
"Who has been here?"
Our mouths came open to answer, but stood so for a moment, because we
couldn't say "Nobody," for it wouldn't be true, and the right word didn't
seem to come; then I thought of the right one, and said it:
"Not a human being."
"That is so," said the others, and let their mouths go shut.
"It is not so," said Father Peter, and looked at us very severely. "I
came by here a while ago, and there was no one here, but that is nothing;
some one has been here since. I don't mean to say that the person didn't
pass here before you came, and I don't mean to say you saw him, but some
one did pass, that I know. On your honor--you saw no one?"
"Not a human being."
"That is sufficient; I know you are telling me the truth."
He began to count the money on the path, we on our knees eagerly helping
to stack it in little piles.
"It's eleven hundred ducats odd!" he said. "Oh dear! if it were only
mine--and I need it so!" and his voice broke and his lips quivered.
"It is yours, sir!" we all cried out at once, "every heller!"
"No--it isn't mine. Only four ducats are mine; the rest...!" He fell to
dreaming, poor old soul, and caressing some of the coins in his hands,
and forgot where he was, sitting there on his heels with his old gray
head bare; it was pitiful to see. "No," he said, waking up, "it isn't
mine. I can't account for it. I think some enemy... it must be a
Nikolaus said: "Father Peter, with the exception of the astrologer you
haven't a real enemy in the village--nor Marget, either. And not even a
half-enemy that's rich enough to chance eleven hundred ducats to do you a
mean turn. I'll ask you if that's so or not?"
He couldn't get around that argument, and it cheered him up. "But it
isn't mine, you see--it isn't mine, in any case."
He said it in a wistful way, like a person that wouldn't be sorry, but
glad, if anybody would contradict him.
"It is yours, Father Peter, and we are witness to it. Aren't we, boys?"
"Yes, we are--and we'll stand by it, too."
"Bless your hearts, you do almost persuade me; you do, indeed. If I had
only a hundred-odd ducats of it! The house is mortgaged for it, and
we've no home for our heads if we don't pay to-morrow. And that four
ducats is all we've got in the--"
"It's yours, every bit of it, and you've got to take it--we are bail that
it's all right. Aren't we, Theodor? Aren't we, Seppi?"
We two said yes, and Nikolaus stuffed the money back into the shabby old
wallet and made the owner take it. So he said he would use two hundred
of it, for his house was good enough security for that, and would put the
rest at interest till the rightful owner came for it; and on our side we
must sign a paper showing how he got the money--a paper to show to the
villagers as proof that he had not got out of his troubles dishonestly.
It made immense talk next day, when Father Peter paid Solomon Isaacs in
gold and left the rest of the money with him at interest. Also, there
was a pleasant change; many people called at the house to congratulate
him, and a number of cool old friends became kind and friendly again;
and, to top all, Marget was invited to a party.
And there was no mystery; Father Peter told the whole circumstance just
as it happened, and said he could not account for it, only it was the
plain hand of Providence, so far as he could see.
One or two shook their heads and said privately it looked more like the
hand of Satan; and really that seemed a surprisingly good guess for
ignorant people like that. Some came slyly buzzing around and tried to
coax us boys to come out and "tell the truth;" and promised they wouldn't
ever tell, but only wanted to know for their own satisfaction, because
the whole thing was so curious. They even wanted to buy the secret, and
pay money for it; and if we could have invented something that would
answer--but we couldn't; we hadn't the ingenuity, so we had to let the
chance go by, and it was a pity.
We carried that secret around without any trouble, but the other one, the
big one, the splendid one, burned the very vitals of us, it was so hot to
get out and we so hot to let it out and astonish people with it. But we
had to keep it in; in fact, it kept itself in. Satan said it would, and
it did. We went off every day and got to ourselves in the woods so that
we could talk about Satan, and really that was the only subject we
thought of or cared anything about; and day and night we watched for him
and hoped he would come, and we got more and more impatient all the time.
We hadn't any interest in the other boys any more, and wouldn't take part
in their games and enterprises. They seemed so tame, after Satan; and
their doings so trifling and commonplace after his adventures in
antiquity and the constellations, and his miracles and meltings and
explosions, and all that.
During the first day we were in a state of anxiety on account of one
thing, and we kept going to Father Peter's house on one pretext or
another to keep track of it. That was the gold coin; we were afraid it
would crumble and turn to dust, like fairy money. If it did--But it
didn't. At the end of the day no complaint had been made about it, so
after that we were satisfied that it was real gold, and dropped the
anxiety out of our minds.
There was a question which we wanted to ask Father Peter, and finally we
went there the second evening, a little diffidently, after drawing
straws, and I asked it as casually as I could, though it did not sound as
casual as I wanted, because I didn't know how:
"What is the Moral Sense, sir?"
He looked down, surprised, over his great spectacles, and said, "Why, it
is the faculty which enables us to distinguish good from evil."
It threw some light, but not a glare, and I was a little disappointed,
also to some degree embarrassed. He was waiting for me to go on, so, in
default of anything else to say, I asked, "Is it valuable?"
"Valuable? Heavens! lad, it is the one thing that lifts man above the
beasts that perish and makes him heir to immortality!"
This did not remind me of anything further to say, so I got out, with the
other boys, and we went away with that indefinite sense you have often
had of being filled but not fatted. They wanted me to explain, but I was
We passed out through the parlor, and there was Marget at the spinnet
teaching Marie Lueger. So one of the deserting pupils was back; and an
influential one, too; the others would follow. Marget jumped up and ran
and thanked us again, with tears in her eyes--this was the third time--
for saving her and her uncle from being turned into the street, and we
told her again we hadn't done it; but that was her way, she never could
be grateful enough for anything a person did for her; so we let her have
her say. And as we passed through the garden, there was Wilhelm Meidling
sitting there waiting, for it was getting toward the edge of the evening,
and he would be asking Marget to take a walk along the river with him
when she was done with the lesson. He was a young lawyer, and succeeding
fairly well and working his way along, little by little. He was very
fond of Marget, and she of him. He had not deserted along with the
others, but had stood his ground all through. His faithfulness was not
lost on Marget and her uncle. He hadn't so very much talent, but he was
handsome and good, and these are a kind of talents themselves and help
along. He asked us how the lesson was getting along, and we told him it
was about done. And maybe it was so; we didn't know anything about it,
but we judged it would please him, and it did, and didn't cost us
On the fourth day comes the astrologer from his crumbling old tower up
the valley, where he had heard the news, I reckon. He had a private talk
with us, and we told him what we could, for we were mightily in dread of
him. He sat there studying and studying awhile to himself; then he
"How many ducats did you say?"
"Eleven hundred and seven, sir."
Then he said, as if he were talking to himself: "It is ver-y singular.
Yes... very strange. A curious coincidence." Then he began to ask
questions, and went over the whole ground from the beginning, we
answering. By and by he said: "Eleven hundred and six ducats. It is a
"Seven," said Seppi, correcting him.
"Oh, seven, was it? Of course a ducat more or less isn't of consequence,
but you said eleven hundred and six before."
It would not have been safe for us to say he was mistaken, but we knew he
was. Nikolaus said, "We ask pardon for the mistake, but we meant to say
"Oh, it is no matter, lad; it was merely that I noticed the discrepancy.
It is several days, and you cannot be expected to remember precisely.
One is apt to be inexact when there is no particular circumstance to
impress the count upon the memory."
"But there was one, sir," said Seppi, eagerly.
"What was it, my son?" asked the astrologer, indifferently.
"First, we all counted the piles of coin, each in turn, and all made it
the same--eleven hundred and six. But I had slipped one out, for fun,
when the count began, and now I slipped it back and said, 'I think there
is a mistake--there are eleven hundred and seven; let us count again.'
We did, and of course I was right. They were astonished; then I told how
it came about."
The astrologer asked us if this was so, and we said it was.
"That settles it," he said. "I know the thief now. Lads, the money was
Then he went away, leaving us very much troubled, and wondering what he
could mean. In about an hour we found out; for by that time it was all
over the village that Father Peter had been arrested for stealing a great
sum of money from the astrologer. Everybody's tongue was loose and
going. Many said it was not in Father Peter's character and must be a
mistake; but the others shook their heads and said misery and want could
drive a suffering man to almost anything. About one detail there were no
differences; all agreed that Father Peter's account of how the money came
into his hands was just about unbelievable--it had such an impossible
look. They said it might have come into the astrologer's hands in some
such way, but into Father Peter's, never! Our characters began to suffer
now. We were Father Peter's only witnesses; how much did he probably pay
us to back up his fantastic tale? People talked that kind of talk to us
pretty freely and frankly, and were full of scoffings when we begged them
to believe really we had told only the truth. Our parents were harder on
us than any one else. Our fathers said we were disgracing our families,
and they commanded us to purge ourselves of our lie, and there was no
limit to their anger when we continued to say we had spoken true. Our
mothers cried over us and begged us to give back our bribe and get back
our honest names and save our families from shame, and come out and
honorably confess. And at last we were so worried and harassed that we
tried to tell the whole thing, Satan and all--but no, it wouldn't come
out. We were hoping and longing all the time that Satan would come and
help us out of our trouble, but there was no sign of him.
Within an hour after the astrologer's talk with us, Father Peter was in
prison and the money sealed up and in the hands of the officers of the
law. The money was in a bag, and Solomon Isaacs said he had not touched
it since he had counted it; his oath was taken that it was the same
money, and that the amount was eleven hundred and seven ducats. Father
Peter claimed trial by the ecclesiastical court, but our other priest,
Father Adolf, said an ecclesiastical court hadn't jurisdiction over a
suspended priest. The bishop upheld him. That settled it; the case
would go to trial in the civil court. The court would not sit for some
time to come. Wilhelm Meidling would be Father Peter's lawyer and do the
best he could, of course, but he told us privately that a weak case on
his side and all the power and prejudice on the other made the outlook
So Marget's new happiness died a quick death. No friends came to condole
with her, and none were expected; an unsigned note withdrew her
invitation to the party. There would be no scholars to take lessons.
How could she support herself? She could remain in the house, for the
mortgage was paid off, though the government and not poor Solomon Isaacs
had the mortgage-money in its grip for the present. Old Ursula, who was
cook, chambermaid, housekeeper, laundress, and everything else for Father
Peter, and had been Marget's nurse in earlier years, said God would
provide. But she said that from habit, for she was a good Christian.
She meant to help in the providing, to make sure, if she could find a
We boys wanted to go and see Marget and show friendliness for her, but
our parents were afraid of offending the community and wouldn't let us.
The astrologer was going around inflaming everybody against Father Peter,
and saying he was an abandoned thief and had stolen eleven hundred and
seven gold ducats from him. He said he knew he was a thief from that
fact, for it was exactly the sum he had lost and which Father Peter
pretended he had "found."
In the afternoon of the fourth day after the catastrophe old Ursula
appeared at our house and asked for some washing to do, and begged my
mother to keep this secret, to save Marget's pride, who would stop this
project if she found it out, yet Marget had not enough to eat and was
growing weak. Ursula was growing weak herself, and showed it; and she
ate of the food that was offered her like a starving person, but could
not be persuaded to carry any home, for Marget would not eat charity
food. She took some clothes down to the stream to wash them, but we saw
from the window that handling the bat was too much for her strength; so
she was called back and a trifle of money offered her, which she was
afraid to take lest Marget should suspect; then she took it, saying she
would explain that she found it in the road. To keep it from being a lie
and damning her soul, she got me to drop it while she watched; then she
went along by there and found it, and exclaimed with surprise and joy,
and picked it up and went her way. Like the rest of the village, she
could tell every-day lies fast enough and without taking any precautions
against fire and brimstone on their account; but this was a new kind of
lie, and it had a dangerous look because she hadn't had any practice in
it. After a week's practice it wouldn't have given her any trouble. It
is the way we are made.
I was in trouble, for how would Marget live? Ursula could not find a
coin in the road every day--perhaps not even a second one. And I was
ashamed, too, for not having been near Marget, and she so in need of
friends; but that was my parents' fault, not mine, and I couldn't help
I was walking along the path, feeling very down-hearted, when a most
cheery and tingling freshening-up sensation went rippling through me, and
I was too glad for any words, for I knew by that sign that Satan was by.
I had noticed it before. Next moment he was alongside of me and I was
telling him all my trouble and what had been happening to Marget and her
uncle. While we were talking we turned a curve and saw old Ursula
resting in the shade of a tree, and she had a lean stray kitten in her
lap and was petting it. I asked her where she got it, and she said it
came out of the woods and followed her; and she said it probably hadn't
any mother or any friends and she was going to take it home and take care
of it. Satan said:
"I understand you are very poor. Why do you want to add another mouth to
feed? Why don't you give it to some rich person?"
Ursula bridled at this and said: "Perhaps you would like to have it. You
must be rich, with your fine clothes and quality airs." Then she sniffed
and said: "Give it to the rich--the idea! The rich don't care for
anybody but themselves; it's only the poor that have feeling for the
poor, and help them. The poor and God. God will provide for this
"What makes you think so?"
Ursula's eyes snapped with anger. "Because I know it!" she said. "Not a
sparrow falls to the ground without His seeing it."
"But it falls, just the same. What good is seeing it fall?"
Old Ursula's jaws worked, but she could not get any word out for the
moment, she was so horrified. When she got her tongue, she stormed out,
"Go about your business, you puppy, or I will take a stick to you!"
I could not speak, I was so scared. I knew that with his notions about
the human race Satan would consider it a matter of no consequence to
strike her dead, there being "plenty more"; but my tongue stood still, I
could give her no warning. But nothing happened; Satan remained
tranquil--tranquil and indifferent. I suppose he could not be insulted
by Ursula any more than the king could be insulted by a tumble-bug. The
old woman jumped to her feet when she made her remark, and did it as
briskly as a young girl. It had been many years since she had done the
like of that. That was Satan's influence; he was a fresh breeze to the
weak and the sick, wherever he came. His presence affected even the lean
kitten, and it skipped to the ground and began to chase a leaf. This
surprised Ursula, and she stood looking at the creature and nodding her
head wonderingly, her anger quite forgotten.
"What's come over it?" she said. "Awhile ago it could hardly walk."
"You have not seen a kitten of that breed before," said Satan.
Ursula was not proposing to be friendly with the mocking stranger, and
she gave him an ungentle look and retorted: "Who asked you to come here
and pester me, I'd like to know? And what do you know about what I've
seen and what I haven't seen?"
"You haven't seen a kitten with the hair-spines on its tongue pointing to
the front, have you?"
"No--nor you, either."
"Well, examine this one and see."
Ursula was become pretty spry, but the kitten was spryer, and she could
not catch it, and had to give it up. Then Satan said:
"Give it a name, and maybe it will come."
Ursula tried several names, but the kitten was not interested.
"Call it Agnes. Try that."
The creature answered to the name and came. Ursula examined its tongue.
"Upon my word, it's true!" she said. "I have not seen this kind of a cat
before. Is it yours?"
"Then how did you know its name so pat?"
"Because all cats of that breed are named Agnes; they will not answer to
Ursula was impressed. "It is the most wonderful thing!" Then a shadow of
trouble came into her face, for her superstitions were aroused, and she
reluctantly put the creature down, saying: "I suppose I must let it go; I
am not afraid--no, not exactly that, though the priest--well, I've heard
people--indeed, many people... And, besides, it is quite well now and
can take care of itself." She sighed, and turned to go, murmuring: "It
is such a pretty one, too, and would be such company--and the house is so
sad and lonesome these troubled days... Miss Marget so mournful and just
a shadow, and the old master shut up in jail."
"It seems a pity not to keep it," said Satan.
Ursula turned quickly--just as if she were hoping some one would
"Why?" she asked, wistfully.
"Because this breed brings luck."
"Does it? Is it true? Young man, do you know it to be true? How does
it bring luck?"
"Well, it brings money, anyway."
Ursula looked disappointed. "Money? A cat bring money? The idea! You
could never sell it here; people do not buy cats here; one can't even
give them away." She turned to go.
"I don't mean sell it. I mean have an income from it. This kind is
called the Lucky Cat. Its owner finds four silver groschen in his pocket
I saw the indignation rising in the old woman's face. She was insulted.
This boy was making fun of her. That was her thought. She thrust her
hands into her pockets and straightened up to give him a piece of her
mind. Her temper was all up, and hot. Her mouth came open and let out
three words of a bitter sentence,... then it fell silent, and the anger
in her face turned to surprise or wonder or fear, or something, and she
slowly brought out her hands from her pockets and opened them and held
them so. In one was my piece of money, in the other lay four silver
groschen. She gazed a little while, perhaps to see if the groschen would
vanish away; then she said, fervently:
"It's true--it's true--and I'm ashamed and beg forgiveness, O dear master
and benefactor!" And she ran to Satan and kissed his hand, over and over
again, according to the Austrian custom.
In her heart she probably believed it was a witch-cat and an agent of the
Devil; but no matter, it was all the more certain to be able to keep its
contract and furnish a daily good living for the family, for in matters
of finance even the piousest of our peasants would have more confidence
in an arrangement with the Devil than with an archangel. Ursula started
homeward, with Agnes in her arms, and I said I wished I had her privilege
of seeing Marget.
Then I caught my breath, for we were there. There in the parlor, and
Marget standing looking at us, astonished. She was feeble and pale, but
I knew that those conditions would not last in Satan's atmosphere, and it
turned out so. I introduced Satan--that is, Philip Traum--and we sat
down and talked. There was no constraint. We were simple folk, in our
village, and when a stranger was a pleasant person we were soon friends.
Marget wondered how we got in without her hearing us. Traum said the
door was open, and we walked in and waited until she should turn around
and greet us. This was not true; no door was open; we entered through
the walls or the roof or down the chimney, or somehow; but no matter,
what Satan wished a person to believe, the person was sure to believe,
and so Marget was quite satisfied with that explanation. And then the
main part of her mind was on Traum, anyway; she couldn't keep her eyes
off him, he was so beautiful. That gratified me, and made me proud. I
hoped he would show off some, but he didn't. He seemed only interested
in being friendly and telling lies. He said he was an orphan. That made
Marget pity him. The water came into her eyes. He said he had never
known his mamma; she passed away while he was a young thing; and said his
papa was in shattered health, and had no property to speak of--in fact,
none of any earthly value--but he had an uncle in business down in the
tropics, and he was very well off and had a monopoly, and it was from
this uncle that he drew his support. The very mention of a kind uncle
was enough to remind Marget of her own, and her eyes filled again. She
said she hoped their two uncles would meet, some day. It made me
shudder. Philip said he hoped so, too; and that made me shudder again.
"Maybe they will," said Marget. "Does your uncle travel much?"
"Oh yes, he goes all about; he has business everywhere."
And so they went on chatting, and poor Marget forgot her sorrow for one
little while, anyway. It was probably the only really bright and cheery
hour she had known lately. I saw she liked Philip, and I knew she would.
And when he told her he was studying for the ministry I could see that
she liked him better than ever. And then, when he promised to get her
admitted to the jail so that she could see her uncle, that was the
capstone. He said he would give the guards a little present, and she
must always go in the evening after dark, and say nothing, "but just show
this paper and pass in, and show it again when you come out"--and he
scribbled some queer marks on the paper and gave it to her, and she was
ever so thankful, and right away was in a fever for the sun to go down;
for in that old, cruel time prisoners were not allowed to see their
friends, and sometimes they spent years in the jails without ever seeing
a friendly face. I judged that the marks on the paper were an
enchantment, and that the guards would not know what they were doing, nor
have any memory of it afterward; and that was indeed the way of it.
Ursula put her head in at the door now and said:
"Supper's ready, miss." Then she saw us and looked frightened, and
motioned me to come to her, which I did, and she asked if we had told
about the cat. I said no, and she was relieved, and said please don't;
for if Miss Marget knew, she would think it was an unholy cat and would
send for a priest and have its gifts all purified out of it, and then
there wouldn't be any more dividends. So I said we wouldn't tell, and
she was satisfied. Then I was beginning to say good-by to Marget, but
Satan interrupted and said, ever so politely--well, I don't remember just
the words, but anyway he as good as invited himself to supper, and me,
too. Of course Marget was miserably embarrassed, for she had no reason
to suppose there would be half enough for a sick bird. Ursula heard him,
and she came straight into the room, not a bit pleased. At first she was
astonished to see Marget looking so fresh and rosy, and said so; then she
spoke up in her native tongue, which was Bohemian, and said--as I learned
afterward--"Send him away, Miss Marget; there's not victuals enough."
Before Marget could speak, Satan had the word, and was talking back to
Ursula in her own language--which was a surprise to her, and for her
mistress, too. He said, "Didn't I see you down the road awhile ago?"
"Ah, that pleases me; I see you remember me." He stepped to her and
whispered: "I told you it is a Lucky Cat. Don't be troubled; it will
That sponged the slate of Ursula's feelings clean of its anxieties, and a
deep, financial joy shone in her eyes. The cat's value was augmenting.
It was getting full time for Marget to take some sort of notice of
Satan's invitation, and she did it in the best way, the honest way that
was natural to her. She said she had little to offer, but that we were
welcome if we would share it with her.
We had supper in the kitchen, and Ursula waited at table. A small fish
was in the frying-pan, crisp and brown and tempting, and one could see
that Marget was not expecting such respectable food as this. Ursula
brought it, and Marget divided it between Satan and me, declining to take
any of it herself; and was beginning to say she did not care for fish to-
day, but she did not finish the remark. It was because she noticed that
another fish had appeared in the pan. She looked surprised, but did not
say anything. She probably meant to inquire of Ursula about this later.
There were other surprises: flesh and game and wines and fruits--things
which had been strangers in that house lately; but Marget made no
exclamations, and now even looked unsurprised, which was Satan's
influence, of course. Satan talked right along, and was entertaining,
and made the time pass pleasantly and cheerfully; and although he told a
good many lies, it was no harm in him, for he was only an angel and did
not know any better. They do not know right from wrong; I knew this,
because I remembered what he had said about it. He got on the good side
of Ursula. He praised her to Marget, confidentially, but speaking just
loud enough for Ursula to hear. He said she was a fine woman, and he
hoped some day to bring her and his uncle together. Very soon Ursula was
mincing and simpering around in a ridiculous girly way, and smoothing out
her gown and prinking at herself like a foolish old hen, and all the time
pretending she was not hearing what Satan was saying. I was ashamed, for
it showed us to be what Satan considered us, a silly race and trivial.
Satan said his uncle entertained a great deal, and to have a clever woman
presiding over the festivities would double the attractions of the place.
"But your uncle is a gentleman, isn't he?" asked Marget.
"Yes," said Satan indifferently; "some even call him a Prince, out of
compliment, but he is not bigoted; to him personal merit is everything,
My hand was hanging down by my chair; Agnes came along and licked it; by
this act a secret was revealed. I started to say, "It is all a mistake;
this is just a common, ordinary cat; the hair-needles on her tongue point
inward, not outward." But the words did not come, because they couldn't.
Satan smiled upon me, and I understood.
When it was dark Marget took food and wine and fruit, in a basket, and
hurried away to the jail, and Satan and I walked toward my home. I was
thinking to myself that I should like to see what the inside of the jail
was like; Satan overheard the thought, and the next moment we were in the
jail. We were in the torture-chamber, Satan said. The rack was there,
and the other instruments, and there was a smoky lantern or two hanging
on the walls and helping to make the place look dim and dreadful. There
were people there--and executioners--but as they took no notice of us, it
meant that we were invisible. A young man lay bound, and Satan said he
was suspected of being a heretic, and the executioners were about to
inquire into it. They asked the man to confess to the charge, and he
said he could not, for it was not true. Then they drove splinter after
splinter under his nails, and he shrieked with the pain. Satan was not
disturbed, but I could not endure it, and had to be whisked out of there.
I was faint and sick, but the fresh air revived me, and we walked toward
my home. I said it was a brutal thing.
"No, it was a human thing. You should not insult the brutes by such a
misuse of that word; they have not deserved it," and he went on talking
like that. "It is like your paltry race--always lying, always claiming
virtues which it hasn't got, always denying them to the higher animals,
which alone possess them. No brute ever does a cruel thing--that is the
monopoly of those with the Moral Sense. When a brute inflicts pain he
does it innocently; it is not wrong; for him there is no such thing as
wrong. And he does not inflict pain for the pleasure of inflicting it--
only man does that. Inspired by that mongrel Moral Sense of his! A
sense whose function is to distinguish between right and wrong, with
liberty to choose which of them he will do. Now what advantage can he
get out of that? He is always choosing, and in nine cases out of ten he
prefers the wrong. There shouldn't be any wrong; and without the Moral
Sense there couldn't be any. And yet he is such an unreasoning creature
that he is not able to perceive that the Moral Sense degrades him to the
bottom layer of animated beings and is a shameful possession. Are you
feeling better? Let me show you something."
In a moment we were in a French village. We walked through a great
factory of some sort, where men and women and little children were
toiling in heat and dirt and a fog of dust; and they were clothed in
rags, and drooped at their work, for they were worn and half starved, and
weak and drowsy. Satan said:
"It is some more Moral Sense. The proprietors are rich, and very holy;
but the wage they pay to these poor brothers and sisters of theirs is
only enough to keep them from dropping dead with hunger. The work-hours
are fourteen per day, winter and summer--from six in the morning till
eight at night--little children and all. And they walk to and from the
pigsties which they inhabit--four miles each way, through mud and slush,
rain, snow, sleet, and storm, daily, year in and year out. They get four
hours of sleep. They kennel together, three families in a room, in
unimaginable filth and stench; and disease comes, and they die off like
flies. Have they committed a crime, these mangy things? No. What have
they done, that they are punished so? Nothing at all, except getting
themselves born into your foolish race. You have seen how they treat a
misdoer there in the jail; now you see how they treat the innocent and
the worthy. Is your race logical? Are these ill-smelling innocents
better off than that heretic? Indeed, no; his punishment is trivial
compared with theirs. They broke him on the wheel and smashed him to
rags and pulp after we left, and he is dead now, and free of your
precious race; but these poor slaves here--why, they have been dying for
years, and some of them will not escape from life for years to come. It
is the Moral Sense which teaches the factory proprietors the difference
between right and wrong--you perceive the result. They think themselves
better than dogs. Ah, you are such an illogical, unreasoning race! And
Then he dropped all seriousness and just overstrained himself making fun
of us, and deriding our pride in our warlike deeds, our great heroes, our
imperishable fames, our mighty kings, our ancient aristocracies, our
venerable history--and laughed and laughed till it was enough to make a
person sick to hear him; and finally he sobered a little and said, "But,
after all, it is not all ridiculous; there is a sort of pathos about it
when one remembers how few are your days, how childish your pomps, and
what shadows you are!"
Presently all things vanished suddenly from my sight, and I knew what it
meant. The next moment we were walking along in our village; and down
toward the river I saw the twinkling lights of the Golden Stag. Then in
the dark I heard a joyful cry:
"He's come again!"
It was Seppi Wohlmeyer. He had felt his blood leap and his spirits rise
in a way that could mean only one thing, and he knew Satan was near,
although it was too dark to see him. He came to us, and we walked along
together, and Seppi poured out his gladness like water. It was as if he
were a lover and had found his sweetheart who had been lost. Seppi was a
smart and animated boy, and had enthusiasm and expression, and was a
contrast to Nikolaus and me. He was full of the last new mystery, now--
the disappearance of Hans Oppert, the village loafer. People were
beginning to be curious about it, he said. He did not say anxious--
curious was the right word, and strong enough. No one had seen Hans for
a couple of days.
"Not since he did that brutal thing, you know," he said.
"What brutal thing?" It was Satan that asked.
"Well, he is always clubbing his dog, which is a good dog, and his only
friend, and is faithful, and loves him, and does no one any harm; and two
days ago he was at it again, just for nothing--just for pleasure--and the
dog was howling and begging, and Theodor and I begged, too, but he
threatened us, and struck the dog again with all his might and knocked
one of his eyes out, and he said to us, 'There, I hope you are satisfied
now; that's what you have got for him by your damned meddling'--and he
laughed, the heartless brute." Seppi's voice trembled with pity and
anger. I guessed what Satan would say, and he said it.
"There is that misused word again--that shabby slander. Brutes do not
act like that, but only men."
"Well, it was inhuman, anyway."
"No, it wasn't, Seppi; it was human--quite distinctly human. It is not
pleasant to hear you libel the higher animals by attributing to them
dispositions which they are free from, and which are found nowhere but in
the human heart. None of the higher animals is tainted with the disease
called the Moral Sense. Purify your language, Seppi; drop those lying
phrases out of it."
He spoke pretty sternly--for him--and I was sorry I hadn't warned Seppi
to be more particular about the word he used. I knew how he was feeling.
He would not want to offend Satan; he would rather offend all his kin.
There was an uncomfortable silence, but relief soon came, for that poor
dog came along now, with his eye hanging down, and went straight to
Satan, and began to moan and mutter brokenly, and Satan began to answer
in the same way, and it was plain that they were talking together in the
dog language. We all sat down in the grass, in the moonlight, for the
clouds were breaking away now, and Satan took the dog's head in his lap
and put the eye back in its place, and the dog was comfortable, and he
wagged his tail and licked Satan's hand, and looked thankful and said the
same; I knew he was saying it, though I did not understand the words.
Then the two talked together a bit, and Satan said:
"He says his master was drunk."
"Yes, he was," said we.
"And an hour later he fell over the precipice there beyond the Cliff
"We know the place; it is three miles from here."
"And the dog has been often to the village, begging people to go there,
but he was only driven away and not listened to."
We remembered it, but hadn't understood what he wanted.
"He only wanted help for the man who had misused him, and he thought only
of that, and has had no food nor sought any. He has watched by his
master two nights. What do you think of your race? Is heaven reserved
for it, and this dog ruled out, as your teachers tell you? Can your race
add anything to this dog's stock of morals and magnanimities?" He spoke
to the creature, who jumped up, eager and happy, and apparently ready for
orders and impatient to execute them. "Get some men; go with the dog--he
will show you that carrion; and take a priest along to arrange about
insurance, for death is near."
With the last word he vanished, to our sorrow and disappointment. We got
the men and Father Adolf, and we saw the man die. Nobody cared but the
dog; he mourned and grieved, and licked the dead face, and could not be
comforted. We buried him where he was, and without a coffin, for he had
no money, and no friend but the dog. If we had been an hour earlier the
priest would have been in time to send that poor creature to heaven, but
now he was gone down into the awful fires, to burn forever. It seemed
such a pity that in a world where so many people have difficulty to put
in their time, one little hour could not have been spared for this poor
creature who needed it so much, and to whom it would have made the
difference between eternal joy and eternal pain. It gave an appalling
idea of the value of an hour, and I thought I could never waste one again
without remorse and terror. Seppi was depressed and grieved, and said it
must be so much better to be a dog and not run such awful risks. We took
this one home with us and kept him for our own. Seppi had a very good
thought as we were walking along, and it cheered us up and made us feel
much better. He said the dog had forgiven the man that had wronged him
so, and maybe God would accept that absolution.
There was a very dull week, now, for Satan did not come, nothing much was
going on, and we boys could not venture to go and see Marget, because the
nights were moonlit and our parents might find us out if we tried. But
we came across Ursula a couple of times taking a walk in the meadows
beyond the river to air the cat, and we learned from her that things were
going well. She had natty new clothes on and bore a prosperous look.
The four groschen a day were arriving without a break, but were not being
spent for food and wine and such things--the cat attended to all that.
Marget was enduring her forsakenness and isolation fairly well, all
things considered, and was cheerful, by help of Wilhelm Meidling. She
spent an hour or two every night in the jail with her uncle, and had
fattened him up with the cat's contributions. But she was curious to
know more about Philip Traum, and hoped I would bring him again. Ursula
was curious about him herself, and asked a good many questions about his
uncle. It made the boys laugh, for I had told them the nonsense Satan
had been stuffing her with. She got no satisfaction out of us, our
tongues being tied.
Ursula gave us a small item of information: money being plenty now, she
had taken on a servant to help about the house and run errands. She
tried to tell it in a commonplace, matter-of-course way, but she was so
set up by it and so vain of it that her pride in it leaked out pretty
plainly. It was beautiful to see her veiled delight in this grandeur,
poor old thing, but when we heard the name of the servant we wondered if
she had been altogether wise; for although we were young, and often
thoughtless, we had fairly good perception on some matters. This boy was
Gottfried Narr, a dull, good creature, with no harm in him and nothing
against him personally; still, he was under a cloud, and properly so, for
it had not been six months since a social blight had mildewed the family
--his grandmother had been burned as a witch. When that kind of a malady
is in the blood it does not always come out with just one burning. Just
now was not a good time for Ursula and Marget to be having dealings with
a member of such a family, for the witch-terror had risen higher during
the past year than it had ever reached in the memory of the oldest
villagers. The mere mention of a witch was almost enough to frighten us
out of our wits. This was natural enough, because of late years there
were more kinds of witches than there used to be; in old times it had
been only old women, but of late years they were of all ages--even
children of eight and nine; it was getting so that anybody might turn out
to be a familiar of the Devil--age and sex hadn't anything to do with it.
In our little region we had tried to extirpate the witches, but the more
of them we burned the more of the breed rose up in their places.
Once, in a school for girls only ten miles away, the teachers found that
the back of one of the girls was all red and inflamed, and they were
greatly frightened, believing it to be the Devil's marks. The girl was
scared, and begged them not to denounce her, and said it was only fleas;
but of course it would not do to let the matter rest there. All the
girls were examined, and eleven out of the fifty were badly marked, the
rest less so. A commission was appointed, but the eleven only cried for
their mothers and would not confess. Then they were shut up, each by
herself, in the dark, and put on black bread and water for ten days and
nights; and by that time they were haggard and wild, and their eyes were
dry and they did not cry any more, but only sat and mumbled, and would
not take the food. Then one of them confessed, and said they had often
ridden through the air on broomsticks to the witches' Sabbath, and in a
bleak place high up in the mountains had danced and drunk and caroused
with several hundred other witches and the Evil One, and all had
conducted themselves in a scandalous way and had reviled the priests and
blasphemed God. That is what she said--not in narrative form, for she
was not able to remember any of the details without having them called to
her mind one after the other; but the commission did that, for they knew
just what questions to ask, they being all written down for the use of
witch-commissioners two centuries before. They asked, "Did you do so and
so?" and she always said yes, and looked weary and tired, and took no
interest in it. And so when the other ten heard that this one confessed,
they confessed, too, and answered yes to the questions. Then they were
burned at the stake all together, which was just and right; and everybody
went from all the countryside to see it. I went, too; but when I saw
that one of them was a bonny, sweet girl I used to play with, and looked
so pitiful there chained to the stake, and her mother crying over her and
devouring her with kisses and clinging around her neck, and saying, "Oh,
my God! oh, my God!" it was too dreadful, and I went away.
It was bitter cold weather when Gottfried's grandmother was burned. It
was charged that she had cured bad headaches by kneading the person's
head and neck with her fingers--as she said--but really by the Devil's
help, as everybody knew. They were going to examine her, but she stopped
them, and confessed straight off that her power was from the Devil. So
they appointed to burn her next morning, early, in our market-square.
The officer who was to prepare the fire was there first, and prepared it.
She was there next--brought by the constables, who left her and went to
fetch another witch. Her family did not come with her. They might be
reviled, maybe stoned, if the people were excited. I came, and gave her
an apple. She was squatting at the fire, warming herself and waiting;
and her old lips and hands were blue with the cold. A stranger came
next. He was a traveler, passing through; and he spoke to her gently,
and, seeing nobody but me there to hear, said he was sorry for her. And
he asked if what she confessed was true, and she said no. He looked
surprised and still more sorry then, and asked her:
"Then why did you confess?"
"I am old and very poor," she said, "and I work for my living. There was
no way but to confess. If I hadn't they might have set me free. That
would ruin me, for no one would forget that I had been suspected of being
a witch, and so I would get no more work, and wherever I went they would
set the dogs on me. In a little while I would starve. The fire is best;
it is soon over. You have been good to me, you two, and I thank you."
She snuggled closer to the fire, and put out her hands to warm them, the
snow-flakes descending soft and still on her old gray head and making it
white and whiter. The crowd was gathering now, and an egg came flying
and struck her in the eye, and broke and ran down her face. There was a
laugh at that.
I told Satan all about the eleven girls and the old woman, once, but it
did not affect him. He only said it was the human race, and what the
human race did was of no consequence. And he said he had seen it made;
and it was not made of clay; it was made of mud--part of it was, anyway.
I knew what he meant by that--the Moral Sense. He saw the thought in my
head, and it tickled him and made him laugh. Then he called a bullock
out of a pasture and petted it and talked with it, and said:
"There--he wouldn't drive children mad with hunger and fright and
loneliness, and then burn them for confessing to things invented for them
which had never happened. And neither would he break the hearts of
innocent, poor old women and make them afraid to trust themselves among
their own race; and he would not insult them in their death-agony. For
he is not besmirched with the Moral Sense, but is as the angels are, and
knows no wrong, and never does it."
Lovely as he was, Satan could be cruelly offensive when he chose; and he
always chose when the human race was brought to his attention. He always
turned up his nose at it, and never had a kind word for it.
Well, as I was saying, we boys doubted if it was a good time for Ursula
to be hiring a member of the Narr family. We were right. When the
people found it out they were naturally indignant. And, moreover, since
Marget and Ursula hadn't enough to eat themselves, where was the money
coming from to feed another mouth? That is what they wanted to know; and
in order to find out they stopped avoiding Gottfried and began to seek
his society and have sociable conversations with him. He was pleased--
not thinking any harm and not seeing the trap--and so he talked
innocently along, and was no discreeter than a cow.
"Money!" he said; "they've got plenty of it. They pay me two groschen a
week, besides my keep. And they live on the fat of the land, I can tell
you; the prince himself can't beat their table."
This astonishing statement was conveyed by the astrologer to Father Adolf
on a Sunday morning when he was returning from mass. He was deeply
moved, and said:
"This must be looked into."
He said there must be witchcraft at the bottom of it, and told the
villagers to resume relations with Marget and Ursula in a private and
unostentatious way, and keep both eyes open. They were told to keep
their own counsel, and not rouse the suspicions of the household. The
villagers were at first a bit reluctant to enter such a dreadful place,
but the priest said they would be under his protection while there, and
no harm could come to them, particularly if they carried a trifle of holy
water along and kept their beads and crosses handy. This satisfied them
and made them willing to go; envy and malice made the baser sort even
eager to go.
And so poor Marget began to have company again, and was as pleased as a
cat. She was like 'most anybody else--just human, and happy in her
prosperities and not averse from showing them off a little; and she was
humanly grateful to have the warm shoulder turned to her and be smiled
upon by her friends and the village again; for of all the hard things to
bear, to be cut by your neighbors and left in contemptuous solitude is
maybe the hardest.
The bars were down, and we could all go there now, and we did--our
parents and all--day after day. The cat began to strain herself. She
provided the top of everything for those companies, and in abundance--
among them many a dish and many a wine which they had not tasted before
and which they had not even heard of except at second-hand from the
prince's servants. And the tableware was much above ordinary, too.
Marget was troubled at times, and pursued Ursula with questions to an
uncomfortable degree; but Ursula stood her ground and stuck to it that it
was Providence, and said no word about the cat. Marget knew that nothing
was impossible to Providence, but she could not help having doubts that
this effort was from there, though she was afraid to say so, lest
disaster come of it. Witchcraft occurred to her, but she put the thought
aside, for this was before Gottfried joined the household, and she knew
Ursula was pious and a bitter hater of witches. By the time Gottfried
arrived Providence was established, unshakably intrenched, and getting
all the gratitude. The cat made no murmur, but went on composedly
improving in style and prodigality by experience.
In any community, big or little, there is always a fair proportion of
people who are not malicious or unkind by nature, and who never do unkind
things except when they are overmastered by fear, or when their self-
interest is greatly in danger, or some such matter as that. Eseldorf had
its proportion of such people, and ordinarily their good and gentle
influence was felt, but these were not ordinary times--on account of the
witch-dread--and so we did not seem to have any gentle and compassionate
hearts left, to speak of. Every person was frightened at the
unaccountable state of things at Marget's house, not doubting that
witchcraft was at the bottom of it, and fright frenzied their reason.
Naturally there were some who pitied Marget and Ursula for the danger
that was gathering about them, but naturally they did not say so; it
would not have been safe. So the others had it all their own way, and
there was none to advise the ignorant girl and the foolish woman and warn
them to modify their doings. We boys wanted to warn them, but we backed
down when it came to the pinch, being afraid. We found that we were not
manly enough nor brave enough to do a generous action when there was a
chance that it could get us into trouble. Neither of us confessed this
poor spirit to the others, but did as other people would have done--
dropped the subject and talked about something else. And I knew we all
felt mean, eating and drinking Marget's fine things along with those
companies of spies, and petting her and complimenting her with the rest,
and seeing with self-reproach how foolishly happy she was, and never
saying a word to put her on her guard. And, indeed, she was happy, and
as proud as a princess, and so grateful to have friends again. And all
the time these people were watching with all their eyes and reporting all
they saw to Father Adolf.
But he couldn't make head or tail of the situation. There must be an
enchanter somewhere on the premises, but who was it? Marget was not seen
to do any jugglery, nor was Ursula, nor yet Gottfried; and still the
wines and dainties never ran short, and a guest could not call for a
thing and not get it. To produce these effects was usual enough with
witches and enchanters--that part of it was not new; but to do it without
any incantations, or even any rumblings or earthquakes or lightnings or
apparitions--that was new, novel, wholly irregular. There was nothing in
the books like this. Enchanted things were always unreal. Gold turned
to dirt in an unenchanted atmosphere, food withered away and vanished.
But this test failed in the present case. The spies brought samples:
Father Adolf prayed over them, exorcised them, but it did no good; they
remained sound and real, they yielded to natural decay only, and took the
usual time to do it.
Father Adolf was not merely puzzled, he was also exasperated; for these
evidences very nearly convinced him--privately--that there was no
witchcraft in the matter. It did not wholly convince him, for this could
be a new kind of witchcraft. There was a way to find out as to this: if
this prodigal abundance of provender was not brought in from the outside,
but produced on the premises, there was witchcraft, sure.
Marget announced a party, and invited forty people; the date for it was
seven days away. This was a fine opportunity. Marget's house stood by
itself, and it could be easily watched. All the week it was watched
night and day. Marget's household went out and in as usual, but they
carried nothing in their hands, and neither they nor others brought
anything to the house. This was ascertained. Evidently rations for
forty people were not being fetched. If they were furnished any
sustenance it would have to be made on the premises. It was true that
Marget went out with a basket every evening, but the spies ascertained
that she always brought it back empty.
The guests arrived at noon and filled the place. Father Adolf followed;
also, after a little, the astrologer, without invitation. The spies had
informed him that neither at the back nor the front had any parcels been
brought in. He entered, and found the eating and drinking going on
finely, and everything progressing in a lively and festive way. He
glanced around and perceived that many of the cooked delicacies and all
of the native and foreign fruits were of a perishable character, and he
also recognized that these were fresh and perfect. No apparitions, no
incantations, no thunder. That settled it. This was witchcraft. And
not only that, but of a new kind--a kind never dreamed of before. It was
a prodigious power, an illustrious power; he resolved to discover its
secret. The announcement of it would resound throughout the world,
penetrate to the remotest lands, paralyze all the nations with amazement-
-and carry his name with it, and make him renowned forever. It was a
wonderful piece of luck, a splendid piece of luck; the glory of it made
All the house made room for him; Marget politely seated him; Ursula
ordered Gottfried to bring a special table for him. Then she decked it
and furnished it, and asked for his orders.
"Bring me what you will," he said.
The two servants brought supplies from the pantry, together with white
wine and red--a bottle of each. The astrologer, who very likely had
never seen such delicacies before, poured out a beaker of red wine, drank
it off, poured another, then began to eat with a grand appetite.
I was not expecting Satan, for it was more than a week since I had seen
or heard of him, but now he came in--I knew it by the feel, though people
were in the way and I could not see him. I heard him apologizing for
intruding; and he was going away, but Marget urged him to stay, and he
thanked her and stayed. She brought him along, introducing him to the
girls, and to Meidling, and to some of the elders; and there was quite a
rustle of whispers: "It's the young stranger we hear so much about and
can't get sight of, he is away so much." "Dear, dear, but he is
beautiful--what is his name?" "Philip Traum." "Ah, it fits him!" (You
see, "Traum" is German for "Dream.") "What does he do?" "Studying for the
ministry, they say." "His face is his fortune--he'll be a cardinal some
day." "Where is his home?" "Away down somewhere in the tropics, they
say--has a rich uncle down there." And so on. He made his way at once;
everybody was anxious to know him and talk with him. Everybody noticed
how cool and fresh it was, all of a sudden, and wondered at it, for they
could see that the sun was beating down the same as before, outside, and
the sky was clear of clouds, but no one guessed the reason, of course.
The astrologer had drunk his second beaker; he poured out a third. He
set the bottle down, and by accident overturned it. He seized it before
much was spilled, and held it up to the light, saying, "What a pity--it
is royal wine." Then his face lighted with joy or triumph, or something,
and he said, "Quick! Bring a bowl."
It was brought--a four-quart one. He took up that two-pint bottle and
began to pour; went on pouring, the red liquor gurgling and gushing into
the white bowl and rising higher and higher up its sides, everybody
staring and holding their breath--and presently the bowl was full to the
"Look at the bottle," he said, holding it up; "it is full yet!" I glanced
at Satan, and in that moment he vanished. Then Father Adolf rose up,
flushed and excited, crossed himself, and began to thunder in his great
voice, "This house is bewitched and accursed!" People began to cry and
shriek and crowd toward the door. "I summon this detected household
His words were cut off short. His face became red, then purple, but he
could not utter another sound. Then I saw Satan, a transparent film,
melt into the astrologer's body; then the astrologer put up his hand, and
apparently in his own voice said, "Wait--remain where you are." All
stopped where they stood. "Bring a funnel!" Ursula brought it,
trembling and scared, and he stuck it in the bottle and took up the great
bowl and began to pour the wine back, the people gazing and dazed with
astonishment, for they knew the bottle was already full before he began.
He emptied the whole of the bowl into the bottle, then smiled out over
the room, chuckled, and said, indifferently: "It is nothing--anybody can
do it! With my powers I can even do much more."
A frightened cry burst out everywhere. "Oh, my God, he is possessed!"
and there was a tumultuous rush for the door which swiftly emptied the
house of all who did not belong in it except us boys and Meidling.
We boys knew the secret, and would have told it if we could, but we
couldn't. We were very thankful to Satan for furnishing that good help
at the needful time.
Marget was pale, and crying; Meidling looked kind of petrified; Ursula
the same; but Gottfried was the worst--he couldn't stand, he was so weak
and scared. For he was of a witch family, you know, and it would be bad
for him to be suspected. Agnes came loafing in, looking pious and
unaware, and wanted to rub up against Ursula and be petted, but Ursula
was afraid of her and shrank away from her, but pretending she was not
meaning any incivility, for she knew very well it wouldn't answer to have
strained relations with that kind of a cat. But we boys took Agnes and
petted her, for Satan would not have befriended her if he had not had a
good opinion of her, and that was indorsement enough for us. He seemed
to trust anything that hadn't the Moral Sense.
Outside, the guests, panic-stricken, scattered in every direction and
fled in a pitiable state of terror; and such a tumult as they made with
their running and sobbing and shrieking and shouting that soon all the
village came flocking from their houses to see what had happened, and
they thronged the street and shouldered and jostled one another in
excitement and fright; and then Father Adolf appeared, and they fell
apart in two walls like the cloven Red Sea, and presently down this lane
the astrologer came striding and mumbling, and where he passed the lanes
surged back in packed masses, and fell silent with awe, and their eyes
stared and their breasts heaved, and several women fainted; and when he
was gone by the crowd swarmed together and followed him at a distance,
talking excitedly and asking questions and finding out the facts.
Finding out the facts and passing them on to others, with improvements--
improvements which soon enlarged the bowl of wine to a barrel, and made
the one bottle hold it all and yet remain empty to the last.
When the astrologer reached the market-square he went straight to a
juggler, fantastically dressed, who was keeping three brass balls in the
air, and took them from him and faced around upon the approaching crowd
and said: "This poor clown is ignorant of his art. Come forward and see
an expert perform."
So saying, he tossed the balls up one after another and set them whirling
in a slender bright oval in the air, and added another, then another and
another, and soon--no one seeing whence he got them--adding, adding,
adding, the oval lengthening all the time, his hands moving so swiftly
that they were just a web or a blur and not distinguishable as hands; and
such as counted said there were now a hundred balls in the air. The
spinning great oval reached up twenty feet in the air and was a shining
and glinting and wonderful sight. Then he folded his arms and told the
balls to go on spinning without his help--and they did it. After a
couple of minutes he said, "There, that will do," and the oval broke and
came crashing down, and the balls scattered abroad and rolled every
whither. And wherever one of them came the people fell back in dread,
and no one would touch it. It made him laugh, and he scoffed at the
people and called them cowards and old women. Then he turned and saw the
tight-rope, and said foolish people were daily wasting their money to see
a clumsy and ignorant varlet degrade that beautiful art; now they should
see the work of a master. With that he made a spring into the air and
lit firm on his feet on the rope. Then he hopped the whole length of it
back and forth on one foot, with his hands clasped over his eyes; and
next he began to throw somersaults, both backward and forward, and threw
The people murmured, for the astrologer was old, and always before had
been halting of movement and at times even lame, but he was nimble enough
now and went on with his antics in the liveliest manner. Finally he
sprang lightly down and walked away, and passed up the road and around
the corner and disappeared. Then that great, pale, silent, solid crowd
drew a deep breath and looked into one another's faces as if they said:
"Was it real? Did you see it, or was it only I--and was I dreaming?"
Then they broke into a low murmur of talking, and fell apart in couples,
and moved toward their homes, still talking in that awed way, with faces
close together and laying a hand on an arm and making other such gestures
as people make when they have been deeply impressed by something.
We boys followed behind our fathers, and listened, catching all we could
of what they said; and when they sat down in our house and continued
their talk they still had us for company. They were in a sad mood, for
it was certain, they said, that disaster for the village must follow this
awful visitation of witches and devils. Then my father remembered that
Father Adolf had been struck dumb at the moment of his denunciation.
"They have not ventured to lay their hands upon an anointed servant of
God before," he said; "and how they could have dared it this time I
cannot make out, for he wore his crucifix. Isn't it so?"
"Yes," said the others, "we saw it."
"It is serious, friends, it is very serious. Always before, we had a
protection. It has failed."
The others shook, as with a sort of chill, and muttered those words over-
-"It has failed." "God has forsaken us."
"It is true," said Seppi Wohlmeyer's father; "there is nowhere to look
"The people will realize this," said Nikolaus's father, the judge, "and
despair will take away their courage and their energies. We have indeed
fallen upon evil times."
He sighed, and Wohlmeyer said, in a troubled voice: "The report of it all
will go about the country, and our village will be shunned as being under
the displeasure of God. The Golden Stag will know hard times."
"True, neighbor," said my father; "all of us will suffer--all in repute,
many in estate. And, good God!--"
"What is it?"
"That can come--to finish us!"
"Name it--um Gottes Willen!"
It smote like a thunderclap, and they were like to swoon with the terror
of it. Then the dread of this calamity roused their energies, and they
stopped brooding and began to consider ways to avert it. They discussed
this, that, and the other way, and talked till the afternoon was far
spent, then confessed that at present they could arrive at no decision.
So they parted sorrowfully, with oppressed hearts which were filled with
While they were saying their parting words I slipped out and set my
course for Marget's house to see what was happening there. I met many
people, but none of them greeted me. It ought to have been surprising,
but it was not, for they were so distraught with fear and dread that they
were not in their right minds, I think; they were white and haggard, and
walked like persons in a dream, their eyes open but seeing nothing, their
lips moving but uttering nothing, and worriedly clasping and unclasping
their hands without knowing it.
At Marget's it was like a funeral. She and Wilhelm sat together on the
sofa, but said nothing, and not even holding hands. Both were steeped in
gloom, and Marget's eyes were red from the crying she had been doing.
"I have been begging him to go, and come no more, and so save himself
alive. I cannot bear to be his murderer. This house is bewitched, and
no inmate will escape the fire. But he will not go, and he will be lost
with the rest."
Wilhelm said he would not go; if there was danger for her, his place was
by her, and there he would remain. Then she began to cry again, and it
was all so mournful that I wished I had stayed away. There was a knock,
now, and Satan came in, fresh and cheery and beautiful, and brought that
winy atmosphere of his and changed the whole thing. He never said a word
about what had been happening, nor about the awful fears which were
freezing the blood in the hearts of the community, but began to talk and
rattle on about all manner of gay and pleasant things; and next about
music--an artful stroke which cleared away the remnant of Marget's
depression and brought her spirits and her interests broad awake. She
had not heard any one talk so well and so knowingly on that subject
before, and she was so uplifted by it and so charmed that what she was
feeling lit up her face and came out in her words; and Wilhelm noticed it
and did not look as pleased as he ought to have done. And next Satan
branched off into poetry, and recited some, and did it well, and Marget
was charmed again; and again Wilhelm was not as pleased as he ought to
have been, and this time Marget noticed it and was remorseful.
I fell asleep to pleasant music that night--the patter of rain upon the
panes and the dull growling of distant thunder. Away in the night Satan
came and roused me and said: "Come with me. Where shall we go?"
"Anywhere--so it is with you."
Then there was a fierce glare of sunlight, and he said, "This is China."
That was a grand surprise, and made me sort of drunk with vanity and
gladness to think I had come so far--so much, much farther than anybody
else in our village, including Bartel Sperling, who had such a great
opinion of his travels. We buzzed around over that empire for more than
half an hour, and saw the whole of it. It was wonderful, the spectacles
we saw; and some were beautiful, others too horrible to think. For
instance--However, I may go into that by and by, and also why Satan chose
China for this excursion instead of another place; it would interrupt my
tale to do it now. Finally we stopped flitting and lit.
We sat upon a mountain commanding a vast landscape of mountain-range and
gorge and valley and plain and river, with cities and villages slumbering
in the sunlight, and a glimpse of blue sea on the farther verge. It was
a tranquil and dreamy picture, beautiful to the eye and restful to the
spirit. If we could only make a change like that whenever we wanted to,
the world would be easier to live in than it is, for change of scene
shifts the mind's burdens to the other shoulder and banishes old, shop-
worn wearinesses from mind and body both.
We talked together, and I had the idea of trying to reform Satan and
persuade him to lead a better life. I told him about all those things he
had been doing, and begged him to be more considerate and stop making
people unhappy. I said I knew he did not mean any harm, but that he
ought to stop and consider the possible consequences of a thing before
launching it in that impulsive and random way of his; then he would not
make so much trouble. He was not hurt by this plain speech; he only
looked amused and surprised, and said:
"What? I do random things? Indeed, I never do. I stop and consider
possible consequences? Where is the need? I know what the consequences
are going to be--always."
"Oh, Satan, then how could you do these things?"
"Well, I will tell you, and you must understand if you can. You belong
to a singular race. Every man is a suffering-machine and a happiness-
machine combined. The two functions work together harmoniously, with a
fine and delicate precision, on the give-and-take principle. For every
happiness turned out in the one department the other stands ready to
modify it with a sorrow or a pain--maybe a dozen. In most cases the
man's life is about equally divided between happiness and unhappiness.
When this is not the case the unhappiness predominates--always; never the
other. Sometimes a man's make and disposition are such that his misery-
machine is able to do nearly all the business. Such a man goes through
life almost ignorant of what happiness is. Everything he touches,
everything he does, brings a misfortune upon him. You have seen such
people? To that kind of a person life is not an advantage, is it? It is
only a disaster. Sometimes for an hour's happiness a man's machinery
makes him pay years of misery. Don't you know that? It happens every
now and then. I will give you a case or two presently. Now the people
of your village are nothing to me--you know that, don't you?"