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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDr. Dumany's Wife - Part 2 - Chapter 2. "What Is The Devil Like?"
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Dr. Dumany's Wife - Part 2 - Chapter 2. 'What Is The Devil Like?' Post by :AnnMur Category :Long Stories Author :Maurus Jokai Date :May 2012 Read :577

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Dr. Dumany's Wife - Part 2 - Chapter 2. "What Is The Devil Like?"

PART II CHAPTER II. "WHAT IS THE DEVIL LIKE?"

"We not know him?" asked the little one. "Why, we have his photograph in our album! Only he looks much nicer there. Such a Lord Byron face!"

"Well, this is really audacious!" cried Siegfried, "with such a face to appear before ladies! Coarse and stubby like that of a Slav field-labourer, and yet such a young lady as that calls it a Lord Byron face! Now I see that the old proverb is right, and a man has to be but one shade handsomer than the Devil, for women will find him handsome enough."

"Only that the proverb is a paradox in itself. The Evil One is not ugly; on the contrary, he is beautiful!" said Diodora.

"_Quien sabe_?" answered Siegfried. "I have seen his portrait in the Greek churches, in a large wall-painting, and there he is represented as a bandy-legged, ox-tailed, black-faced monster, with a pair of big horns on his forehead. Then, again, I have seen the Devil in the opera, as Goethe and Gounod's creation of Mephistopheles in _Faust_, and there he wore a goat's-beard and red-feathered cap, was a little lame in one leg, and had a baritone voice. He was not in the least beautiful."

"You ought to read Klopstock, then, and Milton," said Countess Diodora. "Their Devils are enchantingly handsome men, with pale faces, and deep, sorrowful eyes; and that is the real demon-type as given by the classics: for, originally, the Devil was not known as an evil spirit, but was an angel. Only he was haughty and ambitious, and tried to rival and dethrone the Almighty. It was after he was defeated, and due punishment was dealt to him, that he became the representative of Evil, and, after the creation of man, the tempter and seducer."

"So part of the Devil's corruption is due to man kind," said Siegfried, ironically.

"If you read the Cabalists and Gnostics you will learn how sinful pride had its downfall, and the angel fell. Still, in all his humiliation and his banishment from grace and glory, he never lost his beauty, and this is natural; for who would listen to the temptations of an ugly monster? A seducer must needs be handsome. In the old Jewish Scripture, from before Moses' time, the Evil Spirit is represented by a woman, Lilith, the ideal beauty. In the same manner Menander has painted Sybaris, and of Socrates it is said that he lived in intimate friendship with the demon."

Siegfried had made a desperate onslaught on the sandwiches; now he turned in comical vexation to me, and said--

"Friend, brother, help! for this learned woman is slaying me with pandects, and, if the Devil has such a champion, what can poor I do against him?"

It was a difficult task. If I said that she was right, she would scorn me as a simple, empty-headed flatterer. If, on the other hand, I tried to contradict her, she was sure to conquer me with arguments. So I thought I would plead scepticism.

"Indeed, I can't," was my reply. "All I have to say is that I do not believe in the existence of an actual Devil at all. I positively deny the existence of evil spirits or devils."

"Ah!" said the countess, astonished and seemingly dismayed, "do you know that such a negation includes a denial of the fundamental truths of all religion also? Turn wherever you will, and you will find that the Roman Catholic faith expressly commands us to believe in the Devil. The Protestants, with Martin Luther at the head, have in speech and writing gone so far as to compose a whole Shamanism of the Devil's special qualities; and so on in all positive religions. Are you an infidel, a so-called Freethinker, and not a Christian?"

At first I smilingly referred her to Becker's "Bewitched World," which made all belief in an actual Devil completely ridiculous, showing to demonstration that such a being is simply impossible. She answered me with Spinoza. I again spoke of Thomasius, whereupon the countess declared me a Rationalist.

Siegfried smiled, and smoked his cigarette complacently, and the two girls listened innocently and wonderingly to the strange dispute.

"You see, my lady," said I at last, "I am a physician, and I know of no bodily or mental ailment that is without some foundation or reason. I know of miasmata, spores, bacilli, as sources of bodily diseases, of inherited or fancied maladies, infections, contagions, and their proper remedies: vaccination, disinfection, prophylactics; but an invisible, immaterial spirit, which we ought to know by the title of Devil, has nothing to do with any of these. All evil-doers, murderers, etc., are prompted to the mischief they do by some abnormity in their brains, or by some powerful egotistic motive, as jealousy, revenge, greed, ambition, etc.; but the temptation is always material--a benefit they want to secure by their crime--never a spiritual Devil. We may fairly say that all crimes committed without a visible motive are founded upon lunacy, a disorder of the brain. I do not believe in one being, either corporal or spiritual, that would do mischief purely for mischief's sake, out of evil principle, of pure malice. I do not believe that any being exists which would inflict sorrow on others just in order to rejoice at the despair of the victims. The so-called hellish passions and inclinations in man are really created by that which is beneath him, the animal part of him, the material element, and it is superfluous to look to that which is above him, a spirit, for a motive."

As I pronounced this conviction, the four persons present looked at each other and then at me, in wonder and defiance, but without a word. For a moment a chilly presentiment crept over me--a shadowy warning that the declaration I had just made would prove the _fatum of my life.

As a physician, I had given very much attention to disturbances of the mind; nervous distractions, diseases of the brain. In lunatic asylums I had had frequent opportunity of observing the different manifestations of extravagances of the mind diseased. There are cases in which simulation is identical with the symptoms of actual insanity, others in which it is mistaken for such; but still the simulator is never quite sane. I had speculated about the hidden motives of apparently motiveless crimes. I had seen a gallant youth, whose noble, manly features inspired love and confidence, and who yet had murdered many victims of his bestial desires; had lured them on, and killed them.

I had seen a tender, innocent, pleasant-looking young girl, with a winning smile on her ruby lips, after she had poisoned all the members of her family in turn; and I had known a miracle-working virgin, who had for years and years befooled and deceived aged and experienced men. All these and more I had seen, but all had possessed one common peculiarity which betrayed them as belonging to that large and unhappy class we term lunatics, and their mental disorder was revealed in a clear, glittering glance, cold and keen as a steel blade. The moment that unlucky assertion had escaped me, I saw my companions stare at each other and then at me, and in the eyes of all four of them I clearly discerned and recognised the same cold, keen, and gloomy expression. I felt a shock of terror, and then I laughed at my own folly. A professional habit of mentally examining and distinguishing all persons as sane and healthy, or diseased, I thought, and I tried to joke the matter away.

"Let us make a bargain, countess! We will leave the demon to those who cannot spare him; for there are people who would greatly protest against being robbed of their devils--as, for instance, some Western nations who worship him instead of God. They say God is good, and won't hurt them, anyhow, but the Devil must be bribed by compliments to keep him from doing mischief. Therefore they raise altars to him, and set up his images with many ceremonies. The Yakoots and Chuckches believe in a double creation, and think that all good things are created by God, and all bad things by the Devil."

"It would not hurt you to be of the same creed," said Countess Diodora.

"For instance, to believe that the rose was created by God and the cetonia by the Devil," I replied, smilingly.

"And why those?" she asked. "My niece has complained to me that you crush these beautiful little beetles to death. In what have they offended you?"

"Offended me? Do you hold me capable of such petty malice? I kill the cetonias because they are the deadliest foes of the rose; or, rather, as they love the rose, and in loving destroy the flower, I must call the cetonia the most dangerous friend of the rose."

"However, the beetles are necessary to my nieces, and therefore they must live."

"Necessary?" I cried. "How so?"

The blonde girl went into the grotto and, returning, brought with her a large teak board, upon which a Chinese sun-bird was enamelled. The bird was only half finished as yet, but it was the most artistic, tasteful, and delightful enamel-work I had ever seen, and all of it was composed of the delicate lids of the beetle-wings. The cetonias vary in colour: some of them are red with a tinge of gold; others green and gold; others again the colour of darkened copper, and still others in a metallic blue, like steel. All these were carefully arranged and pasted upon the teak board in a wonderful mosaic, the sun-bird's head and wings consisting of red, its neck of blue, and its breast of green cetonia-wings. I looked admiringly at the work. So, then, they had not protected the cetonias out of some sentimental fancy for them, but for industrial purposes. This changed my conception of the matter entirely; for the better in some respects--in some for the worse.

"So you save the life of the beetle in order to rob them of their wings?" I asked them, reproachfully.

"These are only their winter wings which we take off; their summer wings they keep, and we give them their liberty again. It is summer now; they have no need of their winter wings at present."

Well, this was girlish logic and philosophy: I have taken what I wanted, you must make the best of what I have left you. Rather a striking piece of egotism!

"Do you know that the cetonia contains poison?" asked I.

"What kind of poison?" was the inquiring response, given with great quickness.

"The poison," I said, evasively, "that gives the motive to the Bank-Ban tragedy."

At these words Siegfried puffed a whole cloud of tobacco-smoke full in my face, and at any other time I should have strongly resented the insult; but this time he was right. The explanation was, even as an allusion, objectionable in the presence of girls. Nevertheless I could perceive through the cloud of smoke that the pale face of Flamma had coloured violently, and that Cenni pouted and pushed the sun-bird away. The innocents were not so very innocent, after all.

"Is not this beetle identical with the holy scarabaeus of the Egyptians?" asked Countess Diodora.

"No. Because the cetonia lives on roses; and of the holy scarabaeus Herodotus tells us that he dies of the odour of roses. As soon as the roses begin to bloom the scarabaeus vanishes."

This interested the girls, and we continued the subject. I told them of the South American Hercules-beetle, that is as fond of liquor as any human tippler, and I really thought that I had succeeded in turning the conversation from the horned devil to the horned beetle, when Countess Diodora said--

"You are too much of a naturalist. This won't do, and you must try to amend. To deny God is bad enough, but He is kind and forgiving, and the infidel may yet be saved; but to deny the Devil is sure destruction, for the Devil knows no mercy, and he takes his revenge on the insulter."

I looked up astonished and met her eyes. Again I detected that bewildering cold glitter, and with an involuntary shiver I turned away.

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