“When the Devil Was Well”
The Devil locked the copper gates of Hell one night, and sauntered down a Spacian pathway. The later arrivals from the planet Earth had been of a distressingly commonplace character to his Majesty–a gentleman of originality and attainments, whatever his disagreements with the conventions. He was become seriously disturbed about the moral condition of the sensational little twinkler.
“What are my own about?” he thought, as he drifted past planets which yielded up their tributes with monotonous regularity. “What a squeezed old orange would Earth become did I forsake it! I must not neglect it so long again; my debt of gratitude is too great. Let me see. Where shall I begin? It is some years since I have visited America in person, and unquestionably she has most need of my attention; Europe is in magnificent running order. This is a section of her, if my geography does not fail me; but what? I do not recall it.”
He poised above a country that looked as if it still hung upon the edge of chaos: wild, fertile, massive, barren, luxuriant, crouching on the ragged line of the Pacific. From his point of vantage he saw long ranges of stupendous mountains, some but masses of scowling crags, some green with forests of mammoth trees projecting their gaunt rigid arms above a carpet of violets; indolent valleys and swirling rivers; snow on the black peaks of the North; the riotous colour of eternal summer in the South. Suddenly he uttered a sharp exclamation and swept downward, halting but a mile above the ground. He frowned heavily, then smiled–a long, placid, sardonic smile. There appeared to be but few inhabitants in this country, and those few seemed to live either in great white irregular buildings, surmounted by crosses, in little brown huts near by, in the caves, or in hollowed trees on the mountains. The large buildings were situated about sixty miles apart, in chosen valleys; they were imposing and rambling, built about a plaza. They boasted pillared corridors and bright red tiles on their roofs. Within the belfries were massive silver bells, and the crosses could be seen to the furthermost end of the valley and from the tops of the loftiest mountain.
“California!” exclaimed the Devil. “I know of her. Her scant history is outlined in the Scarlet Book. I remember the points: Climate, the finest, theoretically, in the world; satanically, simply magnificent. I have waited impatiently for the stream of humanity to deflect thitherward, but priests will answer my present purpose exactly–unless they are all too tough. To continue, gold under that grass in chunks–aha! I shall have to throw out an extra wing in Hell! Parched deserts where men will die cursing; fruitful valleys, more gratifying to my genius; about as much of one as of the other, but the latter will get all the advertising, and the former be carefully kept out of sight. Everything in the way of animal life, from grizzly bears to fleas. A very remarkable State! Well, I will begin on the priests.” Continue reading ““When the Devil Was Well” — Gertrude Atherton”