THE JUDGE AND THE DEVIL
Faust conjures Mephistopheles. Woodcut from
Die Historie van Docter Joh. Faustus, die een
uitnemende grooten Tovenaer ende swerte
Constenaer was ("the story of Dr. Johannes
Faust, who was an exceedingly accomplished magician
and master of the black arts"), Amsterdam, probably
about 1600. The Dutch translations of the famous
Historia von D. Johann Fausten (Frankfurt, 1587)
were the first illustrated versions of the story.
Once there was a judge so wicked that I couldn't begin to list all his vices, nor would it be well for me to do so, even if I were able. People would have taken it as providential had the earth opened to swallow him, such a consummate sinner was he. There were two reasons for his reputation: no one in the land was quite so corrupt, nor so rich.
The judge determined one day to go and inspect his favorite vineyard. Now, the Devil took notice of the judge's intention, and contrived to appear in the vineyard also, in the form of a young lord, very elegantly dressed. There they met. The judge inquired of the stranger who he might be and whence he had come. But the Devil roundly refused to answer.
"Listen here," snapped the judge, "you'll answer me or suffer for it. Don't you know who* you're dealing with? Why, for your insolence I can seize all your possessions or even take your life, and no one can stop me!"
"Oh, in that case," replied the Devil with a flourish, "you shall indeed know my name and pedigree. I am the Devil."
"And what business employs you today?" the judge demanded.
"On this day, I have the right to take full possession of whatever anyone in this town earnestly wishes upon me," explained the Devil.
"That I would enjoy observing," said the judge. "We'll go together to the market."
Again the Devil tried to refuse, but the judge burst out with a stream of oaths. "By God, you will indeed show me your gains today--I swear by God's power and wrath, whereby you and all your kind were brought to the Fall, and by all God's commandments, to which you are subject, and by God's awful judgment, that you'll do as I say--"
"Ah! Ow! Enough!" the Devil yelped. "Not for ages have I been so tightly bound--but this can be of no profit to you, and therefore I request that you absolve me."
"Indeed I shall not," declared the judge. "No matter what happens, I intend to watch your harvest this day."
"What I must, I must," groaned the Devil, "sore though it pains me. Yet if you knew truly the eternal enmity that divides your kind from mine, you would desist from conjuring me."
"I care not how you like it," snapped the judge. "And I tell you this: you'll take nothing whatever without my permission!"
The Devil smiled. "So that's the way the wind blows. Very well, Your Honor, today you shall see marvels you never saw before."
The two elegant lords made their way down into the town, where it was market day. As they passed among the crowded stalls, many a cooling drink was offered to His Honor, the judge, but no one recognized his companion. Suddenly there was a commotion nearby. A big, fat pig had gotten into one of the booths, and the vendor woman was trying to drive it out.
"Filthy swine," she shrieked, "the Devil take you!"
"My friend," the judge addressed the Devil, "take your pig. You hear what she says."
The Devil shook his head. "Unfortunately, I can't. I would gladly have it, did she but mean what she says. That is her pig, and were I really to take it, her remorse would be genuine."
As they strolled on, they passed another woman struggling with a balky calf. "Ah, this is the Devil's own brute," she exclaimed.
"Now there's a fine calf for you," said the judge. "Take it!"
"Nay, she would regret it if I did," replied the Devil. "I have no power to take it."
Another woman was trying to threaten her child into obedience. "Oh, you are so bad! The Devil will get you!" she hissed.
Again the judge invited the Devil to accept what was offered him, and again the Devil explained that, as much as he would like to seize the child, he could not. "She would not take all the money in this market for that brat," he observed.
And so they walked on. The crowd became so thick at the center of the market plaza that they could hardly pass. Suddenly, an aged widow, impoverished and ill, spied the judge, and cried out tearfully: "woe to you, so rich, and I so poor! With all your wealth, still you had to have my only milk cow, the one source of my livelihood. I am reduced to begging, for which I scarcely have the strength. I pray to God, by the passion he suffered when made man for the souls of poor mankind, to hear the plea of a poor woman and commit you, body and soul, to the Devil!"
"Aha," said the Devil. "You see, no doubt, that she is in earnest." He seized his victim by the hair and flew straight up with him, like an eagle snatching a chicken, before the astounded eyes of all the townspeople, who watched until they disappeared into the distance.
What further may have befallen the judge, I do not know. But I do know that the Devil has a thousand tricks. He who chooses to deal with him may expect to get the worst of the bargain.
*The Devil, of course, would have said whom.