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A Luncheon-Party
by [?]


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 luncheon-parties 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.