The Devil May Care

By Grace Dion

Mwebilton Hart was very much interested in the Devil. Which is not to say that he was fond of wickedness or delighted in vice. Certainly not. The Devil was his hobbyhorse, and he rode it far into many a solitary New England night. As the occupant of a scholarly position in a rather significant library, he had immediate access to a wealth of Satanic material dating from the Middle Ages to the present, and over the years had become intimate with the entirety of his library’s collection. He also made occasional forays into the colossal trove that lurked within the World Wide Web, although he did find it difficult to take information of an electronic nature quite seriously. As a result, he was conversant with every archetypal pattern and each deviation, all historical and geographical peculiarities, every level of theological and psychological symbolism. No mention of the Devil was too sacred or too profane for his attention, be it “Paradise Lost,” or the ravings of a backwoods evangelist. He was currently engaged in compiling his vast and varied knowledge into a scholarly work which certain members of the academic community who were in the know awaited as the definitive work of the twenty-first century on Diabolism.

The foregoing will make understandable Hart’s interest in an event which occurred shortly after midnight on a night in early November. Snuggled in the depths of his favorite chair, he was reviewing the similarities and contrasts in the various versions of the Faust legend when he was startled by a loud knock on his outer door. Upon opening it, he discovered the woman from the apartment upstairs, who had moved into the building only a few days before. He was not acquainted with her, had merely passed her once or twice in the hallway. The name on her mailbox read, “Mrs. Lucille Charts.” She was a middle-aged, dowdy little creature with henna-colored hair and a grayish moustache. Hart found her distinctly unattractive, and he looked at her now with some annoyance. Her hair was wildly standing up on her head, her eyes were round and popping, and her upper lip was lifted to reveal very unkempt false teeth.

“Yes?” Hart said, maintaining a mild manner.

“Oh, sir!” she gasped. “I’m terrified!” She clutched a faded orange and yellow housecoat over her sagging, but ample, bosom, and gazed up at him in what was, without a doubt, genuine horror.

“Why, what’s the matter?” Hart blinked at her through his spectacles.

“Please let me in. I’m so afraid!” She twisted this way and that, trying to see behind herself, and attempted to edge through his doorway.

“Well, really, ma’am, perhaps you ought to see the manager. I’m sure that . . .”

Desperately, she leaned close to his ear. “It’s the Devil, sir. He’s after me. He just left my apartment. Oh, please, I beg you, let me come in!” Tears filled her pale eyes.

“The Devil you say?” Two pinpricks of interest appeared in Hart’s weak eyes.  Almost without his consent, his intellectual curiosity leaped over his social reserve.

“Well,” he said more genially, “if the Devil is after you, then by all means, come in, come in.”

At these words, the little woman positively jumped over his threshold and slammed the door behind her. She stood with her back against the wall, panting and gasping.

Hart abandoned her there temporarily and, humming softly, put on the teapot in preparation for an hour or so of what was to him the most stimulating form of diversion. He was about to receive yet another slant on the Devil, an immediate first-person account, to correlate and contrast with the hundreds of others. What a pleasant surprise!

When the tea was ready, Hart courteously invited Mrs. Charts to have a seat, and she complied, although continuing to shiver and gasp.

“Now then,” he began, taking a delicate sip, “you say that you have just seen the Devil. Very interesting. Where did you see him? In your apartment, you say?”

“Yes,” the woman answered. “I was lying in bed reading a magazine when all of a sudden I felt a strange gust of wind, heard a flutter (of his cloak, I suppose), and then his evil laugh. Oh, sir, you can’t imagine how ghastly that laugh was. It was hideous, unearthly ….”

“Of course, of course. Unearthly. Now then, did you actually see him?”

“I saw his face. He was dressed in black and the darkness in the room hid everything except his horrible face and ugly little horns. He held out a scroll of paper and said, ‘Give me thy soul, Lucille Charts, and I shall be thy earthly slave. I shall return, and at that time you will sign this pact in blood. Farewell!’ Another gust of wind and he was gone. I ran out of the room and came down here. God bless you for letting me in!” She seemed prepared to throw herself at his feet. To avoid this disconcerting possibility, Hart stood up.

“So he demanded your soul, wants the pact signed in blood, hmm?” He was a bit disappointed. The woman’s story was unimaginative, commonplace. Another instance of that saddening truth which a scholar meets daily in his work: that there is no progress in human nature. Stories of interviews with the Devil were apt to be just as mediocre today as in the Dark Ages. A fascinating story was rare, and knew no limits of time or place. A simple mind eternally produced the melodramatic paraphernalia of the papyrus scroll and bloody signature; it took a more sophisticated order of mind to bring forth a tale in which the Devil used complex and subtle trickery to lure the subject into intercourse with him.

“What am I going to do?” Mrs. Charts moaned. “What on earth will I do if he comes back?”

Hart sighed, and returned his attention to the case at hand.

“Well, madam, you are slightly hysterical right now, which is understandable after such an experience. You are welcome to remain here for a while until you’re feeling better. In the meantime, Mrs. Charts—that is your name?—I ask you to put aside your emotions for a few moments and call upon your rational mind. After all, we both know now, don’t we, that the Devil doesn’t exist, at least not in the way in which you claim to have experienced him. Perhaps you fell asleep for a few moments and had a nightmare; perhaps you’re overwrought and have had an hallucination . . . .” Briskly, Hart ticked off the possibilities.

“Doesn’t exist! I just saw him! I know what you’re thinking, sir, but you’ve got to believe me. It’s a question of my eternal soul!”

“Now, now, now, Mrs. Charts. You are being a bit foolish, you know,” he chided. “Perhaps I might convince you of the truth of what I’m saying if I allow myself to supersede modesty for a few moments to suggest that in those matters where the Devil is concerned, I ought to know.” He paused and cleared his throat with some humility. “That is, there are certain people, perhaps I might even allow myself to say, a great many people, who consider me somewhat of . . . well, of an expert, where the Devil is concerned.”

She drew back a little.

“Now, don’t be frightened. I mean that I have spent a good many years studying the workings of the Devil; that is, the stories which men and women have written and spoken concerning the Arch Fiend. I’m telling you this to reassure you, to help convince you that when I say the Devil simply could not have appeared in your apartment, but that you only imagined it, I know what I’m talking about.”

“You study the Devil? Oh, dear. Do you think he likes being studied?”

“Why should he care?” Hart indicated his several filing cabinets and stacks of notebooks. “Those contain the results of years of the most exhaustive research on the subject. So. Don’t you think you can put your trust in what I say?”

She considered. Then she looked down at one of her clenched fists and her eyes grew wide and horrified once more. Slowly she extended the fist toward Hart.

“Then how do you explain this?” she asked. Carefully she unfolded her fingers until her palm was flat. Hart glanced at it, saw nothing.

“What?”

“That.” She gestured with her head toward her palm.

Hart gazed closely. There was nothing in the hand except one short black hair.

“What? That hair?”

“Yes,” she whispered. “It’s from his beard!”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Mrs. Charts!” Hart was losing his patience. “Stray hairs are rampant in this apartment building! In any apartment building!”

“But this one floated down onto my bedclothes following the final gust of wind. My hair isn’t this color.”

Hart had to concede that point.

“That has no bearing. You’ve lived here only a short while. Perhaps the former tenant had wiry black hair. Or his dog did, or his cat. Maybe you have a pet. Do you?”

“I have a cat.”

“Well? What color?”

“White,” she said smugly.

“Mrs. Charts, every white cat has at least one black hair! Oh, for heaven’s sake! Give it to me.”

With great concentration she turned her palm over Hart’s and flicked the hair from her hand to his.

“What are you going to do with it?”

“Don’t worry, my dear Mrs. Charts, it will be safe with me. Perhaps I’ll add it to my collection of purported Satanic relics. Now I suggest that you go back upstairs to your apartment and attempt to maintain serenity. And if you hear anything more from our friend the Fiend, be sure to inform me of it. Remember, the Devil isn’t going to hurt you—he only wants your soul. Now, good-night.”

Although obviously reluctant to do so, Mrs. Charts eased her way out the door.

Following her departure, Hart spent several moments considering the bristly black hair. It looked most like a boar bristle from a hair brush, he decided, except that it was too long. Perhaps it came from a clothes brush or a shoe brush. The Devil’s beard! Now that was an interesting quirk. As nearly as he could remember without checking references, it was original. The Devil usually left nothing behind other than the occasionally reported drop of blood spilled while signing the pact. And, of course, it was this lack of concrete evidence which caused the subject some embarrassment when faced with the skepticism of his fellows. Hart placed the hair into a small glass bottle. He directed a brief thought which was almost kindly to poor old Mrs. Charts, upstairs quaking in terror, for providing him with this delightful diversion.

***

Upon waking the next morning, the first thing he did was to check the bottle with the hair. The Devil didn’t stop by during the night to reclaim it, at least, he thought, with an inward chuckle. He whistled with unusual facility a few bars of “That Old Black Magic” as he prepared his breakfast tea.

After his repast, he seated himself at his desk and began a consideration of the best and most effective classification of the new incident in his book. He went over the tentative wording in his mind with relish: “The woman in question claimed that a hair dropped from the Devil’s beard as he was departing.” Or, no, “The woman in question claimed that in his hurried departure, the Devil inadvertently dropped a hair from his beard onto her bedclothes.” That was better, wittier. “Upon closer examination, the hair seemed more likely to have fallen from . . . the woman’s hairbrush? cat?” No, no, he couldn’t say “seemed more likely” in a scholarly work without a bothersome qualifying footnote. Exactness was requisite. In fact, if he could say, “a hairbrush manufactured in Massachusetts by John Doe, Inc. (Reg. U.S. Pat. Off., 1983), and used daily by the woman in question for the intended purpose ever since she’d received it for her birthday from her cousin Amelia in June, 1991,” that would be much more impressive, as well as soothing to his scholar’s conscience. He’d have to consult Mrs. Charts, review thoroughly all of the brushes and other bristled objects in her apartment. Heavens! he thought, with an undignified giggle, it might even have fallen from her own moustache!

***

An hour or so later, he made his way up the stairs to Mrs. Charts’ apartment for the required interview. A barely audible “Who is it?” answered his businesslike knock.

“It’s Milton Hart from downstairs, Mrs. Charts,” he said.

The door opened a crack and an eye peered out at his lapel. Satisfied of his identity, Mrs. Charts opened the door.

“I’m so glad to see you, to see anyone . . . human,” the little woman said bleakly. “Come in, won’t you?”

He would. “Well, Mrs. Charts, and did your visitor return again last night?” Hart smiled and rubbed his hands together just the slightest bit.

“No. I sat up the rest of the night, didn’t go near the bed. That’s where I was when it happened,” she reminded him.

“Why, you must be dead tired,” Hart said. “But I’ve thought of a way to convince you that the occurrence took place entirely in your imagination. I am going to prove to you that the hair you found came not from the Devil’s beard but from a hairbrush or something similar. Now, let us conduct a brush inventory. First, your hairbrush!”

“The only hairbrush I own is packed away in my trunk in the basement,” she said. “I always use a comb.”

“Oh. Well, tell me about your other brushes.”

“Brushes, brushes . . .,” the woman murmured, trying hard to concentrate on a minor subject in the midst of her major disaster. “Well, there’s my toothbrush.”

Hart beamed, looked ready to dash into the bathroom.

“But it has white bristles. And my fingernail brush has plastic bristles. Let me see. Whisk broom? No.”

“Clothes brush?”

“Don’t own one. That’s all the brushes I can think of, Mr. Hart. I’m sorry.”

He paced, following a circular route. Then he remembered her moustache, halted, and glared at her upper lip. The moustache was gone! Positively disappeared. She must have removed it, however they did it. He considered the frowsy little woman before him. No great improvement, but . . . she did look a little better, he supposed. Well, perhaps better it was gone. He probably wouldn’t have had the courage to suggest is as a possible hair source, anyway. Or even worse, maybe he would have. Better go back downstairs and think some more.

“I’ll go now then, Mrs. Charts. You lie down and get some rest. You needn’t be afraid of the bed in the daytime. The Devil never appears before dark. I’ll check with you again later.”

“All right, Mr. Hart, I’ll try.”

It wasn’t true about the Devil’s never appearing in the daytime, but it wouldn’t hurt to tell her so. Reassure her. He descended the stairs to his own apartment.

Relaxed in his favorite chair, he considered the best method for ascertaining the identity of a particular hair. Was there any way of finding out for sure? The police! Of course. Almost every program on television these days concerned crime scene investigation and the identification of DNA, fingerprints, fibers, and hairs. He jumped up, grabbed the glass bottle, his hat and coat, and headed for the door. In the hallway, he paused and shouted his intentions up the stairs to Mrs. Charts, who poked her head out in brief acknowledgment.

***

It was Milton Hart’s first visit to the police station. He entered a large wood-paneled room containing one desk, one man: the Chief.

“Good afternoon,” Hart said cheerily.

“‘Afternoon, Mac. What can I do for ya?” The Chief was working the daily crossword puzzle in the newspaper and didn’t bother to glance up.

“I have a hair that I want analyzed.”

The Chief did not answer but continued penciling in the short, rare words. Hart waited as long as he could. Then he leaned close to the Chief’s ear and said softly, “Did you hear what I said?”

The Chief planted the eraser of his pencil under his lower lip and slowly raised his heavy-lidded eyes. “Yeah, I heard ya, Mac. Look, you got a hair you want analyzed, take it to a psychiatrist.”

The Chief waved him away with his free hand. Hart felt overwhelmed with frustration at the impregnable density of the man. Mentally he stamped his foot. What was he going to do now? He couldn’t give up, would not. Then, slowly, he felt the permeation of his innards by a brand of energetic determination which he thought he had lost years ago along with his youth. Sighting a door at the back of the room, he marched straight past the Chief and through it to the back part of the police station.

There he found an old man reading a newspaper while balancing a chair on its two hind legs.

“Excuse me,” Hart said, with authority.

The man looked up.

“I am Dr. Milton Hart from the Fleming-Jones Library. Can you direct me to the laboratory?”

“Oh, you wanna see Harvey. Go down that staircase to the cellar. That’s where he usually hangs out this time of day.”

“Thank you, thank you,” Hart muttered. He started down the staircase indicated. It was built in a tight spiral, and there was no railing. Hart twisted his body onto each stair as best he could. Part-way down he ventured, “Mr. . . .uh, Harvey? Are you down there?”

His answer was a guttural snarl.

“Is that you, Harvey?”

“Of course it’s me, ya ——.” Hart heard a string of colorfully modified nouns, which he didn’t believe he’d ever heard applied to him before, being applied to him. He gasped a little, but nothing would stop him now.

“May I come down, Harvey?” More snarls. Hart chose to interpret them as affirmative and cautiously bent himself down the remaining stairs. Pitch black greeted him.

“Harvey? Where are you?”

“Right . . . HERE!” Two huge horny hands clasped his rib cage. Hart jumped a good way out of his skin, and then he heard the most devastating laugh of his life: a kind of heaving guffaw that seemed to penetrate the very marrow of his bones, not to mention the bowels of the earth.

With a mighty effort, Hart grasped the fleeting ends of his composure and said, right in the very face of that disconcerting laugh, “Are you the lab technician?”

The laughing ceased abruptly.

“Yeah,” the man said meekly.

Astounded at the sudden transformation, Hart kept his distance and clenched his elbows against his ribs.

“I have a hair which I would like you to analyze.”

“Okay.”

“I want to know whether it came from a person, animal, brush, or just what it did come from.”

“Mmmhmm.”

“Could you have the results for me by late this afternoon?”

“Ya.”

“Good. I’ll be back later on, then. And thank you.”

The man turned and disappeared into the blackness.

Hart cautiously twisted his way back up the stairs. My goodness, he thought, I’d forgotten how odd some people still are, in spite of the Reformation.

“Wild lab technician you have down there,” he remarked to the old man on his way out.

“Harvey? Wild? Are you kidding?”

***

Although it was one of his days off, Hart spent the next couple of hours at the library checking the older and more obscure sources for hair references. He considered consulting Mr. Google, but was fairly certain he knew everything that Google knew, and probably more. Though his library finds were few and insignificant, the scanty results served to intensify his interest in the present unusual case. He returned to the police station about five o’clock to pick up the lab report.

Both the Chief and the old man were in the front office now, playing cards.

“Excuse me,” Hart said, “but is my lab report ready?”

“You bet your life,” said the Chief, without looking up. “That’ll be four hundred dollars.”

“What? Four hundred dollars!”

“When a private citizen requests a lab report, there’s always Hell to pay,” the old man volunteered.

“Let me see the report.”

“Let me see your four hundred dollars.”

Hart sighed. “I’ll write you a check.” He did it. “Here. Now where’s my report?”

It turned out the Chief was sitting on it. After closely examining Hart’s check, and the three forms of identification accompanying it, he reached behind himself with an inelegant gesture and produced the report. It consisted of a thick sheaf of papers housed in a loose-leaf binder. Hart flipped through the densely printed pages.

“All this?” As a scholar, he was impressed by the obvious thoroughness. “Already?” Being a student in the Humanities, he was also aware of man’s limitations. “How could he produce all this since 2:30 this afternoon?”

He got no answer, and being too curious about the contents to waste time arguing, he departed with the report under his arm. He caught a bus headed back toward his apartment building and skimmed through the report on the way. The first pages listed what must be every animal species known to science, from Alpaca to Zebra, on the left-hand side of the page, and opposite each, on the right, he read, “Result: Negative.” Following these pages were more listing every type of extant human being, from Aborigine to Zulu, all indicating: “Result: Negative.” Next came pages of fibers, natural and synthetic, all confessing the same negative result. Hart was afraid he recognized here a stratagem he had often employed himself: the scholar’s way of saying, “I don’t know.” But on the final page of the report was a short paragraph which read:

 

Tests for all known substances showed negative results. However,

careful examination reveals that the specimen has many of the qualities

of asbestos. An application of the Carbon-14 dating process resulted in a

repeating decimal which has put our calculators out of commission

indefinitely.

 

Harvey Elroy LaLane

Laboratory Technician

City Police Department

 

Probably due to long-standing habit, Hart was able to keep his emotions admirably in check, while he applied his refined intellectual powers to the situation which confronted him. What he had before him, of course, was a classic example of paradox. That which the lab report indicated was completely contrary to scientific fact, not to mention common sense; on the other hand, it was exactly in accord with the story according to Lucille Charts. It was up to him as scholar, critic, and objective observer to find the rational mid-point between these two extremes. There was a rational answer, of course. That was a priori.

Milton Hart had grappled with thorny intellectual issues before; the thorniest. He could have displayed many a notch on his wooden desk top had he been the type to deface property. But it must be admitted that never had he encountered one which caused his heart to throb and his palms to perspire as this one was doing. It represented without a doubt the climax of his career. Though a scholar might have to deal day after day with petty problems, dreary research, and irritating details, sooner or later a day of restitution would dawn. And now, clearly, his had.

He would find the answer; of that he was confident. He thought of Mrs. Charts. Should he tell her about the report? It might only serve to terrify her more, to convince her beyond a doubt that her soul was dangling by a hair over the precipice of the Inferno. On the other hand, when he had everything all worked out, the seeming irrefutability of the report on first consideration would add momentum to produce a really crushing blow to her superstitions, one which they surely could not survive. In short, the end would justify the means. He would take adequate precautions for the woman’s safety, of course. After all, it wouldn’t do to have her throw herself out a window or something before he’d had the opportunity to light for her the lamp of Reason.

***

Upon reaching his apartment building, he bounded up the stairs and banged on Mrs. Charts’ door.

“Who is it?”

“It’s me, Milton. Open the door!”

She did, and he grinned down at her.

“What did you find out?” she asked, eyeing him a little strangely.

“I have the report right here. Come, I’ll tell you all about it.” Buoyantly he crossed the room, sat down on her sofa, and patted the cushion at his side. Slowly she followed and deposited herself upon the spot indicated.

With several rather superfluous gestures, Hart opened the binder to the first page.

“These pages contain lists of every known species of animal, including human, and type of fiber, both natural and synthetic. As you will readily observe, all tests showed negative results. The report terminates with this somewhat interesting paragraph.” He read it to her in what he hoped was a dry, factual manner. He watched closely as her eyes grew round and glazed and she clutched his sleeve, little whimpers of terror escaping her dry lips.

“It was him! It was him!” she cried. “Oh, what am I going to do?”

Hart laid a hand on her shoulder. “Now, now, Mrs. Charts,” he said, attempting to be soothing, but sounding rather merry, “you are perfectly safe. I am going to prove to you how foolish you are. I will admit that this report makes your story seem all the more valid and therefore terrifying to you, but I am going to show you, through logic, cool calculation, calm skepticism, and objective observation, that things are not what they may seem to be at this moment. All this can be easily explained, quite easily explained.”

“Then explain it!”

Hart stood up. “Oh my, no,” he said. “Not yet. It will take me a while to arrange everything, to gather this multitude of irrational facets into one pure sparkling gem of Reason!”

“You don’t know!” she yelled at him. “If you knew, you’d explain it to me right now!”

“Please be calm, my dear Mrs. Charts. I’m sorry if I’ve upset you. Now listen to me: you are expecting the Devil to return tonight to collect your signature, are you not?”

A horrified moan answered this reminder.

“Mrs. Charts, I promise that I will not leave your side all night. How’s that? You won’t be afraid if I’m here, will you? If the Devil comes, we’ll face him together. We’ll sit up the whole night, if necessary. And in the morning, when he hasn’t shown his face, won’t you feel silly. And then perhaps we can begin working on an explanation for this whole situation. All right?”

She nodded tearfully. What choice did she have? “Don’t leave me alone,” she moaned again and again.

***

Because it was November, darkness came early. Hart stood at the window, with Mrs. Charts quaking behind him, and watched it deepen.

“‘Now that the gloomy shadow of the night, / Longing to view Orion’s drizzling looks, /  Leaps from th’antarctic world into the sky / And dims the welkin with her pitchy breath’…we will begin our incantations,” he said, “‘And try if devils will obey our hest.’”

“I beg your pardon?” said Mrs. Charts.

Hart laughed merrily. “Never mind, Mrs. Charts, just put out the light and we will sit here together to see if your friend is brave enough to keep his appointment!”

Somewhat hesitantly, she did as he wished. They were silent for a few moments. Then, “Mr. Hart?” the little woman said softly.

“Yes?”

“I know you think I’m just an ignorant old woman, but would you mind if I asked you a question?”

“Of course not. I love questions! What is it?”

“You say the Devil doesn’t exist. Yet your life’s work is studying him. How can you study something that doesn’t exist?” Her tone revealed that she felt she had caught him in his own trap: logic.

“He exists in people’s minds. That is, people who (you’ll pardon me, Mrs. Charts) don’t know any better, believe that he exists. Therefore, this belief influences their actions, thoughts, and so on, and any force which influences human life is valid material for scholarly study.”

“But if he exists in people’s minds, if many, many people believe he exists, then how can you be so sure he doesn’t?”

“That is not a valid argument in favor of his existence. People have held similar errors to be true for centuries, firmly believing in them, living their lives in accordance with them, and yet today we realize—today even you realize, Mrs. Charts—that such beliefs were indeed errors. For instance, the gods of the Ancient Greeks. Do you believe that Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, exist, or existed? Of course not. Yet one of the most highly civilized cultures of all time believed that they did. And that is why we study those gods: because through studying them we gain insight into the workings of the ancient Greek mind.”

“The Greeks were pagans—they don’t count. How do you know the Devil doesn’t exist?”

“Oh, for Heaven’s sake, Mrs. Charts! But that’s why I’m here: to prove it to you. Now, relax. The Devil would have to get up pretty early in the morning to put something over on me.”

Hart was finding it hard to sit still. He wanted to get up and look out the window, but he had to control himself for Mrs. Charts’ sake. After all, her life could be completely in his hands. The superstitious ignorance of the woman was really appalling. He had to handle things with care.

The hours passed. Hart sat tensely poised, starting at every night sound. He kept his eye on Mrs. Charts. She was exhausted from fear and lack of sleep. Occasionally she would begin to nod, then jerk herself awake and glance swiftly around the room. Observing her in profile, Hart noted that against the darkness her cheek and jaw bones appeared more sharply defined. Her terror of the last two days had brought a real sparkle to her faded eyes, he thought, and the fact that her wild hair now blended into the shadows was definitely in her favor. Poor little woman. She was completely dependent on him at this moment. Hart felt a wave of something which he quickly labeled compassion, and he said to her, with some tenderness, “Mrs. Charts, you must be extremely tired. Why don’t you lie down on the bed for a while. I am wide awake and I swear to you that I will remain here all night to protect you from the Devil. He can’t get you as long as I’m here.”

Mrs. Charts turned to him, looking unbelievably desolate. Her eyelids were heavy and her shoulder sagged even more than usual.

“I’m so tired,” she said, in childlike tones. “If you promise you won’t leave me . . . .”

Hart put his hand on her shoulder. “I promise, Mrs. Charts.”

He helped her to stand and led her to the bed. She collapsed on it with a slight moan which intensified Hart’s compassion. He pulled the bedclothes over her and she seemed to fall asleep at once.

Hart moved quickly back to the couch. He was wide awake, and what is more, intensely nervous. He stared out the window, saw only black trees and a deserted street. His brain felt charged with electricity. Strange pictures and phrases exploded inside it, shooting up from somewhere—the cellar of his psyche perhaps.

“‘Quid tu moraris?’” he muttered. “Why do you delay? ‘Ipse nunc surgat nobis dicatus Mephistophilis!’”

An icy wind hit his face, taking his breath away. He shivered, his teeth clicked spasmodically, his fingers and toes felt numb with cold. His eyes seem unable to focus on anything but the form of Mrs. Charts, huddled under the warm blankets at one side of the bed.

Then the words, “Solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris,” misery loves company, were on his lips, striking him with their profound wisdom, and he was across the room and under the blankets beside Mrs. Charts. From this position, he removed his shoes and other clothing and dropped them to the floor. As he did so, he sighed a huge soul-deep sigh, and his sensation of cold completely disappeared.

“Lucy,” he murmured, stretching delicate white fingers toward her through the darkness.


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