The Complete Stories (Page 25)
Wellby, with sad thoughts of his unattainable loved one, cared little enough at that moment for what would happen after ten years and he signed.
Yet the ten years passed quickly enough. Isidore Wellby was always reasonable, as the demon had predicted, and things worked well. Wellby accepted a position and because he was always at the right spot at the right time and always said the right thing to the right man, he was quickly promoted to a position of great authority.
Investments he made invariably paid off and, what was more gratifying still, his girl came back to him most sincerely repentant and most satisfactorily adoring.
His marriage was a happy one and was blessed with four children, two boys and two girls, all bright and reasonably well behaved. At the end of ten years, he was at the height of his authority, reputation and wealth, while his wife, if anything, had grown more beautiful as she had matured.
And ten years (to the day, naturally) after the making of the compact, he woke to find himself, not in his bedroom, but in a horrible bronze chamber of the most appalling solidity, with no company other than an eager demon.
"You have only to get out, and you will be one of us," said Shapur. "It can be done fairly and logically by using your demonic powers, provided you know exactly what it is you’re doing. You should, by now."
"My wife and children will be very disturbed at my disappearance," said Wellby with the beginning of regrets.
"They will find your dead body," said the demon consolingly. "You will seem to have died of a heart attack and you will have a beautiful funeral. The minister will consign you to Heaven and we will not disillusion him or those who listen to him. Now, come, Wellby, you have till noon."
Wellby, having unconsciously steeled himself for this moment for ten years, was less panic-stricken than he might have been. He looked about speculatively. "Is this room perfectly enclosed? No trick openings?"
"No openings anywhere in the walls, floor or ceiling," said the demon, with a professional delight in his handiwork. "Or at the boundaries of any of those surfaces, for that matter. Are you giving up?"
"No, no. Just give me time."
Wellby thought very hard. There seemed no sign of closeness in the room. There was even a feeling of moving air. The air might be entering the room by dematerializing across the walls. Perhaps the demon had entered by dematerialization and perhaps Wellby himself might leave in that manner. He asked.
The demon grinned. "Dematerialization is not one of your powers. Nor did I myself use it in entering."
"You’re sure now?"
"The room is my own creation," said the demon smugly, "and especially constructed for you."
"And you entered from outside?"
"With reasonably demonic powers which I possess, too?"
"Exactly. Come, let us be precise. You cannot move through matter but you can move in any dimension by a mere effort of will. You can move up, down, right, left, obliquely and so on, but you cannot move through matter in any way."
Wellby kept on thinking, and Shapur kept on pointing out the utter immovable solidity of the bronze walls, floor and ceiling; their unbroken ultimacy.
It seemed obvious to Wellby that Shapur, however much he might believe in the necessity for recruiting cadre, was barely restraining his demonic delight at possibly having an ordinary damned soul to amuse himself with.
"At least," said Wellby, with a sorrowful attempt at philosophy, "I’ll have ten happy years to look back on. Surely that’s a consolation, even for a damned soul in hell."
"Not at all," said the demon. "Hell would not be hell, if you were allowed consolations. Everything anyone gains on Earth by pacts with the devil, as in your case (or my own, for that matter), is exactly what one might have gained without such a pact if one had worked industriously and in full trust in-uh-Above. That is what makes all such bargains so truly demonic." And the demon laughed with a kind of cheerful howl.
Wellby said indignantly, "You mean my wife would have returned to me even if I had never signed your contract."
"She might have," said Shapur. "Whatever happens is the will of-uh- Above, you know. We ourselves can do nothing to alter that."
The chagrin of that moment must have sharpened Wellby’s wits for it was then that he vanished, leaving the room empty, except for a surprised demon. And surprise turned to absolute fury when the demon looked at the contract with Wellby which he had, until that moment, been holding in his hand for final action, one way or the other.
It was ten years (to the day, naturally) after Isidore Wellby had signed his pact with Shapur, that the demon entered Wellby’s office and said, most angrily, "Look here-"
Wellby looked up from his work, astonished. "Who are you?"
"You know very well who I am," said Shapur.
"Not at all," said Wellby.
The demon looked sharply at the man. "I see you are telling the truth, but I can’t make out the details." He promptly flooded Wellby’s mind with the events of the last ten years.
Wellby said, "Oh, yes. I can explain, of course, but are you sure we will not be interrupted?"
"We won’t be," said the demon grimly.
"I sat in that closed bronze room," said Wellby, "and-"
"Never mind that," said the demon hastily. "I want to know-"
"Please. Let me tell this my way."
The demon clamped his jaws and fairly exuded sulfur dioxide till Wellby coughed and looked pained.
Wellby said, "If you’ll move off a bit. Thank you. . . . Now I sat in that closed bronze room and remembered how you kept stressing the absolute