Orpheus in Mayfair and Other Stories and Sketches

Author: Maurice Baring


Mrs. Bergmann was a widow. She was American by birth and marriage, and English by education and habits. She was a fair, beautiful woman, with large eyes and a white complexion. Her weak point was ambition, and ambition with her took the form of luncheon-parties.

It was one summer afternoon that she was seized with the great idea of her life. It consisted in giving a luncheon-party which should be more original and amusing than any other which had ever been given in London. The idea became a mania. It left her no peace. It possessed her like venom or like madness. She could think of nothing else. She racked her brains in imagining how it could be done. But the more she was harassed by this aim the further off its realisation appeared to her to be. At last it began to weigh upon her. She lost her spirits and her appetite; her friends began to remark with anxiety on the change in her behaviour and in her looks. She herself felt that the situation was intolerable, and that success or suicide lay before her.

One evening towards the end of June, as she was sitting in her lovely drawing-room in her house in Mayfair, in front of her tea-table, on which the tea stood untasted, brooding over the question which unceasingly tormented her, she cried out, half aloud:—

"I’d sell my soul to the devil if he would give me what I wish."

At that moment the footman entered the room and said there was a gentleman downstairs who wished to speak with her.

"What is his name?" asked Mrs. Bergmann.

The footman said he had not caught the gentleman’s name, and he handed her a card on a tray.

She took the card. On it was written:—

I, Pandemonium Terrace,
Telephone, No. I Central.

"Show him up," said Mrs. Bergmann, quite naturally, as though she had been expecting the visitor. She wondered at her own behaviour, and seemed to herself to be acting inevitably, as one does in dreams.

Mr. Satan was shown in. He had a professional air about him, but not of the kind that suggests needy or even learned professionalism. He was dark; his features were sharp and regular, his eyes keen, his complexion pale, his mouth vigorous, and his chin prominent. He was well dressed in a frock coat, black tie, and patent leather boots. He would never have been taken for a conjurer or a shop-walker, but he might have been taken for a slightly depraved Art-photographer who had known better days. He sat down near the tea-table opposite Mrs. Bergmann, holding his top hat, which had a slight mourning band round it, in his hand.

"I understand, madam," he spoke with an even American intonation, "you wish to be supplied with a guest who will make all other luncheonparties look, so to speak, like thirty cents."

"Yes, that is just what I want," answered Mrs. Bergmann, who continued to be surprised at herself.

"Well, I reckon there’s no one living who’d suit," said Mr. Satan, "and I’d better supply you with a celebrity of /a/ former generation." He then took out a small pocket-book from his coat pocket, and quickly turning over its leaves he asked in a monotonous tone: "Would you like a Philosopher? Anaxagoras, Aristotle, Aurelius, M.?"

"Oh! no," answered Mrs. Bergmann with decision, "they would ruin any luncheon."

"A Saint?" suggested Mr. Satan, "Antony, Ditto of Padua, Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm?"

"Good heavens, no," said Mrs. Bergmann.

"A Theologian, good arguer?" asked Mr. Satan, "Aquinas, T?"

"No," interrupted Mrs. Bergmann, "for heaven’s sake don’t always give me the A’s, or we shall never get on to anything. You’ll be offering me Adam and Abel next."

"I beg your pardon," said Mr. Satan, "Latimer, Laud—Historic Interest, Church and Politics combined," he added quickly.

"I don’t want a clergyman," said Mrs. Bergmann.

"Artist?" said Mr. Satan, "Andrea del Sarto, Angelo, M., Apelles?"

"You’re going back to the A’s," interrupted Mrs. Bergmann.

"Bellini, Benvenuto Cellini, Botticelli?" he continued imperturbably.

"What’s the use of them when I can get Sargent every day?" asked Mrs. Bergmann.

"A man of action, perhaps? Alexander, Bonaparte, Caesar, J., Cromwell, O., Hannibal?"

"Too heavy for luncheon," she answered, "they would do for /dinner/."

"Plain statesman? Bismarck, Count; Chatham, Lord; Franklin, B; Richelieu, Cardinal."

"That would make the members of the Cabinet feel uncomfortable," she said.

"A Monarch? Alfred; beg pardon, he’s an A. Richard III., Peter the Great, Louis XI., Nero?"

"No," said Mrs. Bergmann. "I can’t have a Royalty. It would make it too stiff."

"I have it," said Mr. Satan, "a highwayman: Dick Turpin; or a housebreaker: Jack Sheppard or Charles Peace?"

"Oh! no," said Mrs. Bergmann, "they might steal the Sevres."

"A musician? Bach or Beethoven?" he suggested.

"He’s getting into the B’s now," thought Mrs. Bergmann. "No," she added aloud, "we should have to ask him to play, and he can’t play Wagner, I suppose, and musicians are so touchy."

"I think I have it," said Mr. Satan, "a wit: Dr. Johnson, Sheridan, Sidney Smith?"

"We should probably find their jokes dull /now/," said Mrs. Bergmann, thoughtfully.

"Miscellaneous?" inquired Mr. Satan, and turning over several leaves of his notebook, he rattled out the following names: "Alcibiades, kind of statesman; Beau Brummel, fop; Cagliostro, conjurer; Robespierre, politician; Charles Stuart, Pretender; Warwick, King-maker; Borgia, A., Pope; Ditto, C., toxicologist; Wallenstein, mercenary; Bacon, Roger, man of science; Ditto, F., dishonest official; Tell, W., patriot; Jones, Paul, pirate; Lucullus, glutton; Simon Stylites, eccentric; Casanova, loose liver; Casabianca, cabin-boy; Chicot, jester; Sayers, T., prize-fighter; Cook, Captain, tourist; Nebuchadnezzar, food-faddist; Juan, D., lover; Froissart, war correspondent; Julian, apostate?"

"Don’t you see," said Mrs. Bergmann, "we must have some one everybody has heard of?"

"David Garrick, actor and wit?" suggested Mr. Satan.

"It’s no good having an actor nobody has seen act," said Mrs. Bergmann.

"What about a poet?" asked Mr. Satan, "Homer, Virgil, Dante, Byron, Shakespeare?"

"Shakespeare!" she cried out, "the very thing. Everybody has heard of Shakespeare, more or less, and I expect he’d get on with everybody, and wouldn’t feel offended if I asked Alfred Austin or some other poet to meet him. Can you get me Shakespeare?"

"Certainly," said Mr. Satan, "day and date?"

"It must be Thursday fortnight," said Mrs. Bergmann. "And what, ah—er —your terms?"

"The usual terms," he answered. "In return for supernatural service rendered you during your lifetime, your soul reverts to me at your death."

Mrs. Bergmann’s brain began to work quickly. She was above all things a practical woman, and she immediately felt she was being defrauded.

"I cannot consent to such terms," she said. "Surely you recognise the fundamental difference between this proposed contract and those which you concluded with others—with Faust, for instance? They sold the full control of their soul after death on condition of your putting yourself at their entire disposal during the whole of their lifetime, whereas you ask me to do the same thing in return for a few hours’ service. The proposal is preposterous."

Mr. Satan rose from his chair. "In that case, madam," he said, "I have the honour to wish you a good afternoon."

"Stop a moment," said Mrs. Bergmann, "I don’t see why we shouldn’t arrive at a compromise. I am perfectly willing that you should have the control over my soul for a limited number of years—I believe there are precedents for such a course—let us say a million years."

"Ten million," said Mr. Satan, quietly but firmly.

"In that case," answered Mrs. Bergmann, "we will take no notice of leap year, and we will count 365 days in every year."

"Certainly," said Mr. Satan, with an expression of somewhat ruffled dignity, "we always allow leap year, but, of course, thirteen years will count as twelve."

"Of course," said Mrs. Bergmann with equal dignity.

"Then perhaps you will not mind signing the contract at once," said Mr. Satan, drawing from his pocket a type-written page.

Mrs. Bergmann walked to the writing-table and took the paper from his hand.

"Over the stamp, please," said Mr. Satan.

"Must I—er—sign it in blood?" asked Mrs. Bergmann, hesitatingly.

"You can if you like," said Mr. Satan, "but I prefer red ink; it is quicker and more convenient."

He handed her a stylograph pen.

"Must it be witnessed?" she asked.

"No," he replied, "these kind of documents don’t need a witness."

In a firm, bold handwriting Mrs. Bergmann signed her name in red ink across the sixpenny stamp. She half expected to hear a clap of thunder and to see Mr. Satan disappear, but nothing of the kind occurred. Mr. Satan took the document, folded it, placed it in his pocket-book, took up his hat and gloves, and said:

"Mr. William Shakespeare will call to luncheon on Thursday week. At what hour is the luncheon to be?"

"One-thirty," said Mrs. Bergmann.

"He may be a few minutes late," answered Mr. Satan. "Good afternoon, madam," and he bowed and withdrew.

Mrs. Bergmann chuckled to herself when she was alone. "I have done him," she thought to herself, "because ten million years in eternity is nothing. He might just as well have said one second as ten million years, since anything less than eternity in eternity is nothing. It is curious how stupid the devil is in spite of all his experience. Now I must think about my invitations."


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Chicago: Maurice Baring, "I," Orpheus in Mayfair and Other Stories and Sketches, trans. Evans, Sebastian in Orpheus in Mayfair and Other Stories and Sketches Original Sources, accessed September 28, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DK6U1X6JKEVWUGV.

MLA: Baring, Maurice. "I." Orpheus in Mayfair and Other Stories and Sketches, translted by Evans, Sebastian, in Orpheus in Mayfair and Other Stories and Sketches, Original Sources. 28 Sep. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DK6U1X6JKEVWUGV.

Harvard: Baring, M, 'I' in Orpheus in Mayfair and Other Stories and Sketches, trans. . cited in , Orpheus in Mayfair and Other Stories and Sketches. Original Sources, retrieved 28 September 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DK6U1X6JKEVWUGV.