Chapter 1                       Dance With The Devil         By Gunther Schwab                   Written in 1963



He banged the lift door shut, took off his hat and puffed as though

he had had to climb up to the second storey under his own steam.


He hesitated for a moment, looked round, and then went up to the front door

of a luxury flat that faced him, and rang the bell.

A butler answered.

"From the Ministry of Finance," said the visitor.


Bob Harding came into the hall to meet him. He looked sur­prised and a little uneasy.

"Won't you take off your coat," he said.

"Don't think I'll bother," replied the other.

Harding led the way into one of the rooms.

"Won't you sit down?"

"I prefer to stand."

"Would you like a drink?"

"Sorry, I'm on duty."


The butler was still hovering at the door. The visitor watched him somewhat warily.

When he had gone, he came close to Bob, and whispered  "PZO 98 66 403".

Harding, obviously still not at ease, gave a small, forced laugh.

"How d'you do,"

he said, and extended his hand towards his guest, who gave it a brief and uninterested shake.

"The boss isn't satisfied with you, Mr. Harding."

"Why's that?" said the young man, in a frightened tone.

"Haven't I always protected his interests wherever I went?

Haven't I always had something sensational, something wicked,

some great lie on my front page?"


"You have, indeed, and that is why you are a respected and wealthy man,

but you seem to have forgotten that every one of our people has a certain annual duty

to fulfil. You are more than three years in arrears, Bob Harding, and that is why the boss

is very dissatisfied with you and why I'm here. I give you one week.

By then you must have caught up with your arrears. The boss is expecting you."

"Yes, but. . ."

"That is all, Bob Harding. Good morning."


Robert Harding was reckoned to be a man who was up to the minute in every respect,

master of every situation, a man who knew all the answers. His articles were the hard

and polished instruments of a mind that cut like glass.

He was utterly sure of himself; almost arrogant. And yet it was precisely this that attracted people.

He had a host of friends and the parties which he was in the habit of giving were invariably crowded.


On this particular afternoon, the butler was rather surprised to see that only three guests were present,

and he scrutinized them with some interest.


There was that engineer, or chemist, or whatever it was, Alfred Groot, with his young wife

– or perhaps she wasn't his wife at all, but one always saw the two together, the tall,

broad-shouldered German and the slim, fair-haired young woman doctor.

She might well be a Frenchwoman by her accent.

Then there was Sten Stolpe, a writer and a Swede, who seemed such a modest, helpless kind of chap,

but who was now joining in a heated argument as eagerly as the rest.


Harding watched his guests for a little with an almost pitying smile on his lips.

Then he put his hands on the shoulders of Groot and Stolpe, pressing forward

 a little and broke into the conversation.

"Why are you getting so excited, my friends? You see things all wrong. Mankind

is struggling on a sinking ship. The world is determined on its own ruin and so all our values are reversed.

The lie is supreme and truth destroys him who utters it."


Sten turned towards the speaker and for a moment stared at him without speaking.

Then he said, almost in a whisper:

"I admire the frankness with which you betray your professional secrets."

Harding waved him aside. "I'm a modem man," he said, "and I see the world with

my eyes open. And what I'm saying is known to every child today. The powers

of life are now regarded as our enemies; and all that makes for degeneration

is at a premium."


"In that case, the world is the devil's indeed," said the girl.


Harding laughed. "You're right there, Rolande," he said. "The world is, indeed,

the devil's, and nothing can prevent the ultimate destruction of the human race.

So there's no sense in trying to change the course of things.

Why shouldn't we serve the devil, if he makes it worth our while?

The ages of decline are always the best for business.

 Let's enjoy ourselves while we can. Apris noun le deluge."

"And I say," said Sten, "that it's criminal and stupid to despair of mankind,

to give up all hope, all faith."


"What faith?" said the newspaperman with a sneer.

"Faith in the goodness of God, if you like, although you don't like to hear that.

I am convinced that despite all you can argue to the contrary, the eternal indestructible values

of humanity will win in the end."


Here Alfred joined in the conversation. "A packet of faith in goodness and beauty will get you nowhere,"

he cried, while Harding added :

"I told you ten years ago that you must get some new ideas.

Nobody can resist the inexorable trend of things."

"If the trend of things is leading us to ruin, then the man who doesn't resist

it is either a scoundrel or a fool."


Rolande, the young woman doctor, had been sitting quietly for some time,

lost in thought. Now she spoke softly.

"If only one could speak to God; if only one could ask Him about these things."


Groot looked at her for a moment, and a sneer spread over his features.

"What can we expect from God? We no longer need Him.

We've looked over His shoulder and learned His secrets. Indeed, we can do everything better than

He can. His throne is wobbly, He would do well to abdicate,

before sovereign man overthrows Him and proclaims the Republic upon Earth within the universe."


But Sten took no notice of him, and turned to Rolande. "You're right, Rolande.

If only we could ask God. But is there anybody left who speaks His language?"


Harding made an impatient gesture. He twisted in his seat and gulped some whisky;

the subject of the conversation seemed to embarrass him.

The poet ignored him and followed the train of his own thoughts.

"If we were to ask Him, He would not answer for a thousand years.

We cannot wait that long."


"Perhaps," said the girl, "it's our task to hear the answers

to questions which man put to Him a thousand years ago."


"Perhaps. But who today understands His language?"

"I'll tell you what," said Harding, "we'll ask the Devil."

"You mock at everything."

"I mean what I say. The Devil is here, the Devil is amongst us. I have excellent relations with him."


Rolande looked at him with a smile. "In your case, we might almost believe that."

"Why not?" asked the newspaperman.

"The high art of the Press has always been accounted as the black art.

I suggest we visit the Devil and interview him.

It's as simple as that."


Next day, Groot and Rolande were alone together.

"What is Harding up to?" asked the girl.

"Oh, nothing. He often says things like that."

At that moment the telephone rang. It was Harding.

"It's all settled, my friends. I'll fetch you tomorrow at five.

We're driving to the Devil." He laughed a little wildly and hung up.


Rolande woke long before daybreak. The talk with her friends came back into her mind.

Certainly the world was in a sorry state. Did it, really, irrevocably belong

to the Devil? If only one could ask God ... God is far, but the Devil is near ...

We're driving to see the Devil this afternoon ... It's a joke, of course.

But wasn't this Bob Harding himself a very accomplished devil with his satanical dialectics,

his irrefutable arguments which often went against all reason and against every sound instinct.


Rolande, herself, was very much a modern person, with no nonsense about her

— at least, so she believed. But she was a woman, and, before it was light, she got up,

opened a drawer and took from it a tiny little linen sack. She put it in her hand­bag,

shut the bag, and placed it under her pillow; then she went back to sleep.


Early that afternoon, Rolande met Groot.

She opened her bag and brought out the little sack.

"Do you know what's in this?" Groot shook his head. "Look," said Rolande,

and let a few golden grains of wheat drop into the palm of her hand.

"What's all this about?" asked the engineer, frowning.

"Well, we're driving to see the Devil, aren't we?"


Groot muttered something incomprehensible.

The girl continued: "You must always be ready for surprises where Bob Harding

is concerned."

"What exactly do you mean?"

"I mean it's a good thing to take a talisman along."

"You're being childish."

"There is something sacred about these grains of wheat."


When Groot said nothing, she continued: "My ancestors were peasants."

"So were mine."

"The village had to be cleared because a dam was going to be built.

On the day when everybody left, my dying grandfather blessed the seed corn and

a handful of it has come down to me."


Rolande gave an embarrassed laugh. "You see, I hope it will protect me from the Devil."


Now it was Groot's turn to laugh. "You're nothing but a great big child, doctor ! "

Harding arrived on time, his grey car drawing up before the house at five o'clock.

Sten Stolpe was already seated within it. It seemed as though it were going

to be just an enjoyable ride on a sunny afternoon.

One of Harding's friends had converted a forester's old house into a modern hotel

and it was to be formally opened that even­ing. The newspaperman and his friends were loudly

welcomed when they arrived. There was much laughter, a walk through the woods,

some boating on the lake, plenty to eat and drink, nosh and dancing till late at night.


They were tired when they started their homeward journey homeward and all except

Harding soon fell asleep. So nobody noticed when a bright green light started winking

on Harding's car and an answering light appeared some distance away.

As Harding's car approached the spot, another car drew out into the road;

it drove on ahead with Harding following on behind.


In that state of half wakefulness that precedes the full awakening, Rolande noticed that something

very unusual had happened, for she was lying in bed with her clothes on. She opened her eyes

and an astonishing picture met her gaze.


She was in a room furnished in exquisite rococo style.

The sun-light was pouring in, and there was the comforting ticking of a clock.

On the table stood a vase of light and dark blue delphiniums.


Suddenly a voice close behind her said, "Good morning."


She started in alarm but there was nobody to be seen, nor was there any indication

whence the sound had come. The voice continued and Rolande realized it must be

a loud-speaker.


"Welcome to the house of the Devil."


Rolande thought she could recognize Harding's voice.

There was the sound of quiet laughter.

So the joke was to go on — the things that Bob Harding got up to!


"We hope our guests have slept well. We have done our best to make you comfortable.

If there's anything you want, please ring. It is now nine twenty-two.

At ten o'clock breakfast will be served in your room.

At ten thirty, the Devil will have the Honour of receiving his guests."


Rolande smiled. Even if some of his ideas were wild, Bob Harding was always original.


She jumped out of bed, opened the window. There was nothing facing her.

She leaned out, and gave a start. There were roofs far below and beyond them

an unknown city. She seemed to be on the twentieth or thirtieth floor of a sky-scraper.

Suddenly she was afraid. But the voice on the loud-speaker had spoken of 'guests'.

So Groot and Sten must be somewhere near at hand. She looked round the room again

and saw that one of the doors led to a well-equipped bathroom, but there was no other

door as far as she could see. In the corner was a built-in cupboard that did not fit the style of the room.

Did this contain a door by any chance? There was neither lock nor handle to be seen

— did this mean that she was a prisoner?

As she had been brought into the room, there must be a door somewhere.

She pressed the bell.


"You rang?" asked a voice.


"I want to know where Mr. Groot and Mr. Stolpe are," she cried.

"I want to know where I am myself.

I want to know why there is no way out of this place."


Now it was someone else that spoke.

"But, Rolande" – it was Bob Harding's comforting voice –"don't be afraid.

Fred and Sten areas well looked after as you are yourself. They're quite close by.

Do you want anything? You're in the house of the Devil, as you've already heard,

and I shall have the honour of presenting you personally to him this morning.

So get ready. Breakfast will be served very soon and in half an hour we'll be seeing each other."


So Bob was there, and so were the others; that was some com­fort.

Slowly Rolande began to undress. Suddenly she remem­bered the little sack of wheat kernels;

she hurried to her handbag, which lay on a chair, and opened it.

With a sigh of relief, her fingers found what she was looking for.


Her bath refreshed her. When she returned the table was laid with a quantity

of exquisite food, served on delicate china. Sud­denly she felt hungry and started

to eat. Then there was a noise in the hidden loud-speaker and a woman's voice came from it.

"The time is ten twenty-five. Please go to the lift."


"If you want me to go to the lift, you must show me the door," said Rolande.


She heard a faint rolling noise. The panel in the fitted ward­robe had slid back and there,

at the lift gates, she could see Groot and Sten.

"Bob's quite a character," said Groot, respect in his voice.

"I think he goes too far," said Sten, a little angrily.

"I'd like to know what he'll dish us up next," said Rolande

with a smile.


Meeting her friends had dispelled her anxiety. It was obvious that the men had had much

the same experiences as she had had herself, and neither of them knew exactly where they were.

The lift appeared and a boy in uniform invited them to enter.



"And now, I suppose, we're going to go down a thousand storeys to Hell?" asked Rolande.

"You're wrong, my girl," said Groot. "We're going up."

The lift stopped, and the lift-boy opened the gates. "Eighty-second floor."


Bob Harding was waiting and greeted his guests effusively. "Where are we?" asked Rolande.

"You'll see," said Harding. "Come along."

"Where to?"

"To the Devil."

"Very well."


They all followed the newspaperman and entered a modern office.

A well-dressed young lady got up to meet them.

"This is Do," said Harding. "The Devil's personal secretary."


The men made a kind of mock bow, and Sten said, "There's something I'd very much like to know.

Our friend, Bob Hard­ing, here, has brought us along to be introduced

to the Devil." At this he had to laugh, though the young lady did not seem amused.

"You can see that this is a very unusual situation for us.

Could you tell us something about the appearance of the gentle­man who is to receive us,

so that we may be prepared?"

"What does his Satanic majesty look like?" asked Rolande.


"Don't ever speak of him like that ! It makes him angry," said the secretary.

"Simply call him 'Boss'."

"Agreed," said Groot. "And what is your boss like?"

The personal secretary seemed a little contemptuous. "I sup­pose you're thinking

of Satan, with horns and a tail and the smell of sulphur." Now it was her turn to laugh.

"Look at this television screen."

Do turned the knob. The smooth face of a typical business­man appeared

on the screen, with a bald head and a double chin. It smiled as it looked at them.

"Is that the Devil?" laughed Sten. "He looks just like a man."

Do replied quietly, "Why should he look so very different?


It's just one of his thousands of faces. Do you think that any of us could go dancing over

the earth dressed as the God Pan? We could never do our jobs if we did."

"Does that mean," asked Groot, "that you are also a devil –I mean, a deviless?"

"That'll do," said Harding. "I think we'd better sit down."


The smartly dressed lady seemed to be even more efficient than at first appeared.

With a businesslike expression she started sorting files, had several telephone conversations,

switched on the office inter-com., and gave a number of directions

in a self-possessed manner and with the minimum of words.


Rolande began to grow nervous. This personal secretary was genuine, she was not acting;

 and when there was a buzz and a green light appeared above the inter-com.,

Rolande anxiously clutched Groot's arm; her hand was cold and damp.

The per­sonal secretary stood before them.

"The Boss will see you," she said.


Harding went ahead, the others following. They passed through four doors,

then suddenly froze in their tracks, terrified by an apparition for which

they had been quite unprepared.


In front of them, tall and gaunt, stood horror personified –an old man in a ragged grey toga,

whose face was like a partially-decayed skull: the piercing eyes alone were alive.

In that moment Rolande knew that all she had seen and heard was far from being

a joke. Of that she was certain, though she could be certain of nothing else.


"Don't be frightened," cried a friendly voice. "My general manager is neither worse nor better

than I or any of my assistants."


The hideous old man remained motionless, like a hellish statue, turning a look

of bottomless hate upon the visitors. Harding made a deep bow before him,

and the others, almost without knowing it, did the same. Then they passed on.


Set against the wall, with a heavy piece of tapestry behind it, stood

a huge mahogany desk with gold decorations. Behind a battery of telephones,

all of pure gold, sat the prosperous businessman whom they had seen on the television screen.

There was a good-natured smile on his face, and he looked at his guests with little, sparkling eyes.


"Won't you present me to your nice friends, Bob?" he asked.

The newspaperman gave a deep bow. His friends had never seen him so subservient.

"This is my lord and master, the Boss, the Devil, the Almighty Ruler of the world."

"Do sit down," said the Boss.

He pointed to a half-circle of well-upholstered arm-chairs, which were turned towards

the opposite wall. But there was no wall there at all; the oblong was empty.

A mirror? No. A window? No. There was neither heaven nor landscape behind it.


Rolande looked at it in astonishment. The fat man had risen from his desk and came close to her.


"I'm sure you would like to know what this is, wouldn't you? Don't go too near.

It is everything and nothing. It is life and death, the finite and the infinite, time and eternity.

Where that wall should be, the world appears before me when I press this button – the world,

with all its colours and sounds and smells, including all that is past, present or to come.

With the help of this television screen I can control the world and make my dispositions without

ever leaving my office.

It is very convenient."


Rolande's pulse began to beat fast and her breath came in little gasps.

That grey spectre still stood behind them all.

They were glad that they no longer had to look at it.


Smiling, yet apparently weighing them up, the Boss looked from one visitor to another.

"I think I am going to like you," he began. "Bob Harding as asked permission

to introduce you. I gather you wish to work for me."

"I beg your pardon!" Groot was indignant.


The Devil took no notice, but continued: "That is most praiseworthy. But, first,

I shall have to get to know you and test you. Also, before entering my service,

you will have to be con­vinced of the greatness and invincibility of my power."


Sten and Rolande looked at each other.

Was all this a dream?

Nobody could quite grasp what was happening.



It was the Swede who first spoke. "We are not convinced, Mr. Devil,

and we never will be convinced that you are all-powerful."

"And why not, may I ask?"

"Because good is always stronger than evil, love greater than hatred,

nobility a more splendid thing than baseness."

The Devil turned aside with a groan. "Fairy tales," he sneered.


"Why fairy tales?" said Sten.


"Because I am there ! Because I have provided for every­thing !

Because I have built up a world-wide organization of destruction !

And, believe me, my organization works. We have encircled man.

We have got him in our grip, and he can­not escape from us. Idealistic fools like you

– we arrange for them to be run over, or to be made otherwise harmless.

I see you don't believe me.

Listen !


“I have caused all aspects of human life to be permeated with my principles.

In all offices, councils, ministries; in all societies, in all gatherings of men,

whatever their purpose, I have those who work for me, my Commis­sioners, my assistants,

my confidential agents. I work according to plan and poison everything

that man needs for his existence – the air he breathes, and the water,

his food and the soil which grows it. I poison the beasts, the plants, the land,

the whole of nature, without which man cannot live.

I have done this and I go on doing it.


“I cause men to call this howling misery pros­perity, and they are unaware of the swindle.

I poison souls.

I spread hatred.

I make scoundrels rich and noble men poor.

I plant pride and presumption in the human heart, so that men neither know the world, nor themselves.

I strike them with stupidity and blindness, so that they can

no longer find the truth. I have planted greed in their souls and bribe them with

a pleasant life, or the prospect thereof.


“By using all the means of propaganda that are at my disposal, I have succeeded

in creating a frame of mind which aims at the destruction of all the values that make for life."


"A truly devilish programme," said Sten. He smiled as he spoke, yet he became aware that

this might be more than a mere programme. It might be an entirely faithful picture of the real world,

and to reassure himself he added: "But you'll never be able to carry it out."

"Why not?" asked the Devil, in a friendly tone.


"Because there are too many forces in man that are making for good and these will prevent you."


The Boss turned rather clumsily towards the newspaperman.

"What's the matter with your friend Stolpe, Bob? He seems to leave had damned little preparation

for the devilish service. Have you brought a spy into the house?"


The Devil then turned again to the poet. "As to the forces that make for good,

in which you appear to believe, Mr. Stolpe, I’m very sorry to have to disappoint you.

They will be quite helpless against the unbroken front of ruin, which I have set up against mankind.

I have one ally, who is invincible: Nature."


"I find it hard to believe that Nature can be the Devil's ally," Sten argued.

"You'll learn," said the Devil, "and one day you'll know what I mean."


Groot broke in: "Technological man by his energy and cool stimulation had made Nature his subject.

The one thing you must never leave out of your calculations

is progress; we never stand still. Problems which today appear insoluble are solved tomorrow,

thanks to progress."


The Devil turned to his general manager.

"They're talking about progress, Murduscatu."

They heard the spectre draw a deep breath. Anxiously they waited for the terrible one's first words,

then they heard his voice, which made a kind of dry, rattling yet penetrating sound;

cold, monotonous and tired.

"That is good. Progress is always good. Progress is the very best thing we've got here."


Without turning his head, for he did not wish to look at that gruesome face, Groot said:

"It seems that we are in a crisis. I admit it. But thanks to irresistible progress,

the victorious human spirit will overcome all obstacles."


The Boss looked out of the window into the empty sky, allowing the spectre to answer Groot's remark.

Slowly he began, and his speech seemed almost to have a certain element of friendliness.


"You know the story of the people who ate the apple and were expelled?”


"You mean Adam and Eve in Paradise?" said Rolande.


"Names are of no consequence. The story is very old and describes the way of man from its beginning

to its end with deep wisdom and prophetic insight.

What you call Paradise is life.

Adam and Eve represent man, while the apple represents con­ceptual knowledge and the will to apply it,

which you humans pluck without gathering truth.


“You have by your own action exiled yourselves from the Paradise, which is life,

because you deploy your free will, not on the side of life but against it.

You call this progress and, because of it, your exile continues with death waiting

at the end of it."


Groot looked questioningly at Bob and then at Rolande.

They were gazing straight ahead and said nothing.

The Boss watched them.

Then he switched on the intercom

on a small table in front of his chair.


"I want Mondo," he said. He turned towards his guests.

"Mondo is the Progress Devil and will place the facts before You."


He offered a box of sweets to Rolande and cigarettes to the men, while,

for himself he lit a very large black Brazilian cigar. Murduscatu,

the general manager, had disappeared. They had not noticed his departure.


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