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Orpheus in Mayfair and Other Short Stories

A Luncheon-Party
I
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:--
MR. NICHOLAS L. SATAN,
I, Pandemonium Terrace,
BURNING MARLE, HELL.
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.
 
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