“Now,” quietly remarked Bishop, “having passed through death, we will explore hell.”
Mr. Thompkins seemed too weak, or unresisting, or apathetic to protest. His face betrayed a queer mixture of emotion, part suffering, part revulsion, part a sort of desperate eagerness for more.
We passed through a large, hideous, fanged, open mouth in an enormous face which shone eyes of blazing crimson. Curiously enough, it adjoined heaven, whose cool blue lights contrasted strikingly with a fierce ruddiness of hell. Red-hot bars and gratings through which flaming coals gleamed appeared in the walls within the red mouth. A placard announced that should the temperature of this inferno make one thirsty, innumerable bocks might be had at sixty five centimes each. A little red imp guarded the throat of the monster into whose mouth we had walked; he was cutting extraordinary capers, and made a great show of stirring the fires. The red imp opened the imitation heavy metal door for our passage to the interior, crying, -
“Ah, ah, ah! Still they come! Oh, how they will roast!” Then he looked keenly at Mr.Thompkins. It was interesting to note how that gentleman was always singled out by these shrewd students of humanity. This particular one added with great gusto, as he narrowly studied Mr.Thompkins, “Hist! Ye infernal whelps; stir well the coals and heat red the prods, for this is where we take our revenge on earthly saintliness!”
“Enter and be damned, - the Evil One awaits you! Growled a chorus of rough voices as we hesitated before the scene confronting us.
Near us was suspended a caldron over a fire, and hopping within it were half a dozen devil musicians, male and female, playing a selection from “Faust” on stringed instruments, while red imps stood by, prodding with red-hot irons those who lagged in their performance.
Crevices in the walls of this room ran with streams of molten gold and silver, and here and there were caverns lit up with smouldering fires from which thick smoke issued, and vapours emitting the odours of a volcano. Flames would suddenly burst from clefts in the rocks, and thunder rolled through the caverns. Red imps were everywhere, darting about noiselessly, and some carrying beverages for the thirsty lost souls, others stirring the fires or turning somersaults. Everything was in a high state of motion.
Numerous red tables stood against the fiery walls; at these sat the visitors. Mr.Thompkins seated himself at one of them. Instantly it became aglow with a mysterious light, which kept flaring up and disappearing in an erratic fashion; flames darted from the walls, fires crackled and roared. One of the imps came to take our order; it was for three coffees, black, with cognac; and this is how he shrieked out the order;
“Three seething bumpers of molten sins, with a dash of brimstone intensifier!” Then, when he had brought it, “This will season your intestines, and render them invulnerable, for a time at least, to the tortures of the melted iron that will be soon poured down your throats.” The glasses glowed with a phosphorescent light. “Three francs seventy-five, please, not counting me. Make it four francs. Thank you well. Remember that though hell is hot, there are cold drinks if you want them.”
Presently Satan himself strode into the cavern, gorgeous in his imperial robe of red, decked with blazing jewels, and brandishing a sword from which fire flashed. His black moustaches were waxed into sharp points, and turned rakishly upward above lips upon which a sneering grin appeared. Thus he leered at the new arrivals from his domain. His appearance lent new zest to the activity of the imps and musicians, and all cowered under his glance. Suddenly he burst into a shrieking laugh that gave one a creepy feeling. It rattled through the cavern with a startling effect as he strode up and down. It was a triumphant, cruel, merciless laugh. All at once he paused in front of a demure young Parisienne seated at a table with her escort, and, eyeing her keenly, broke into this speech;
“Ah you! Why do you tremble? How many men have you sent hither to damnation with those beautiful eyes, those rosy, tempting lips? Ah, for all that, you have found a sufficient hell on earth. But you,” he added, turning fiercely upon her escort, “you will have the finest, the most exquisite tortures that await the damned. For what? For being a fool. It is folly more than crime that hell punishes, for crime is a disease and folly a sin. You fool! For thus hanging upon the witching glance and oily words of a woman you have filled all hell with fuel for your roasting. You will suffer such tortures as only the fool invites, such tortures only as are adequate to punish folly. Prepare for the inconceivable, the unimaginable, the things that even the King of hell dare not mention lest the whole structure of damnation totter and crumble to dust.”
The man winced, and queer wrinkles came into the corners of his mouth. Then Satan happened to discover Mr.Thompkins, who shrank visibly under the scorching gaze. Satan made a low, mocking bow.
“You do me a great honour, sir,” he declared, unctuously. “You may have been expecting to avoid me, but reflect upon what you would have missed! We have many notables here, and you will have charming society. They do not include pickpockets and thieves, nor any others of the weak, stunted, crippled, and halting. You will find that most of your companions are distinguished gentlemen of learning and ability, who, knowing their duty, failed to perform it. You will be in excellent company, sir, “ he concluded, with another low bow. Then, suddenly turning and sweeping the room with a gesture, he commanded. “To the hot room, all of you!” while he swung his sword, from which flashes of lightning trailed and thunder rumbled.
We were led to the end of a passage, where a red-hot iron door barred further progress.
“Oh, oh, within there!” roared Satan. “Open the portal of the hot chamber, that these fresh arrivals may be introduced to the real temperature of hell!”
After numerous signals and mysterious passes the door swung open and we entered. It was not so very hot after all. The chamber resembled the other, except that a small stage occupied one end. A large green snake crawled out upon this, and suddenly it was transformed into a red devil with exceedingly long, thin legs, encased in tights that were ripped in places. He gave some wonderful contortion feats. A poor little white Pierrot came on and assisted the red devil in black art performances. By this time we discovered that in spite of the half molten condition of the rock-walls, the room was disagreeably chilly.
And that ended our experience in hell!
Could anything be worse than Hell? Oh yes! Next they have an encounter with the legendary Aristide Bruant.