Chapter 2: In the Beginning

In the beginning, since all histories must have some sort of beginning, the Devil landed near this small village before it existed, before the mountains grew, and before even the stars and planets gathered in milky constellations. He hit the water in the nearby river with a mighty roar. Once out of Heaven, the Devil filled himself up with destruction and blew it around the universe. He caressed everything with his darkness and as soon as he met Adam and Eve he cursed them and all future human hearts with the knowledge of death. This went on for millions of years until one afternoon when the Devil got bored with destruction and wrecking lives and decided to visit the place where he had first landed. He returned to find a village by the river in which he had first landed. This was Banios sur l’Ange. When the Devil found the place where God had dumped him, he lived again the despair of rejection and the sadness of his loneliness. The earth shook, the wind from Provence danced with the wind from Africa, and the river flowed backwards for five days.

From dawn to dusk, all the village people could hear was the Devil singing as he studied this village by the river that had developed while he was busy elsewhere. Sweet and low, with high notes and soft notes, his beautiful voice frightened everyone more than when he roared, because his singing meant he was thinking and his thinking always brought destruction of some kind. Everyone in the village prayed for a miracle.

This was a mistake, because God heard their pleading and took pity. He sent one of his most beautiful angels. She spun his mercy into a Cloud of Goodness and spread it over the village. This Cloud was like a veil, modest but protecting. Yet, it came with a certain price as the people in Banios soon found out. The Devil breathed in some of this goodness and felt a moment of joy. He knew at once that this joy was love, the great arrow of Heaven, which pierced all hearts and drew all Creation together into one. It was invisible but irresistible. It was this love he longed for after being condemned to be hated and feared by everyone. He longed to possess such love, but nothing he did could persuade the angel to step into his shadow. After stretching the Cloud over the village, she disappeared. The Devil sat by the river and cried. His tears changed the water into blood. Having always got his way on earth, this lion of the night with a howl of unhappiness turned all the village children into stones.

From that moment, these stones of Banios spoke to everyone of their common mother’s dust, now in the granite of the mountains, now risen up in the sap of their crops, and daily nourishing them in the water that passed down their throats. A dozen times a day they rolled stones between their palms and spoke of invisible things. They threw stones to forecast thunder and the outcome of love affairs. Sometimes the light of a forgotten wisdom shone on events. Sometimes people went about pretending the Cloud above them did not exist. Some tried to leave Banios, but they always returned. During their feeble attempts to change things, the Devil would float by on the river every few hundred years and wink at them. In terror and fascination, everyone would forget to look at where they were going until they stumbled over a stone, which brought then to their senses. So land might be cleared of stones, houses built with these spirits of lost ancestors, but no one could throw a single stone away. The stones appeared endlessly. It is said that for every radish you planted there, six stones grew. Centuries passed, then a thousand years. Still, how could anyone ever forget?

The price of God’s mercy had been virtue. No one born in Banios sur Ange could escape being good. It was a heavy burden for them just as it is for every man and woman who tries to keep vice at a distance. They complained about it. They tried working up all manner of desire and passion, but nothing came of it. From infancy to old age they were crowned with virtue. God was very pleased and thought it a fine thing but the people of Banios were not convinced. ‘Life here is too hard on a man’ was the opinion of Auguste Pontico, especially whenever he watched Juliette, the beautiful daughter of José-Marie Segaros, walk by. Everyone shared his opinion for various reasons.

As to the Devil, what he wanted was some of that Goodness that everyone complained about. He believed that it would bring him a joyous return to Heaven. If God saw that he was good, the Devil decided, his being invited back to heaven was a certainty. Often as he floated on the river, the Devil would recall the tale of the prodigal son, picturing himself as the sinner welcomed back as the favoured angel by the father.

What he finally decided to do was to stop the people of Banios from being so virtuous and to feel a bit of real vice in their lives. He wanted them so filled with worldly arrogance and concerns that God would send back the Angel of All Goodness to help them. Then, he would snatch her up, wrap himself in her glorious Cloud and be so filled with love that God would forgive him. Evil would once again be no more. Such was the Devil’s plan. After all, he thought, was God not the God of Forgiveness?

So the Devil kept tempting everyone in Banios, but they refused to be seduced. They ignored the changing fashions of the world. All ambition was avoided. Passions were never carried into action. Virtue rode them with a tight rein. But at long last the Devil got enough and sent a plague of worldly success. Fame and fortune were to become stars in the lives in Banios so that all might see the stones only as stones and forget their history of goodness and love. The Devil floated up and down the river, refining his schemes. He wanted to take the whole village in his mouth and swallow it then and there to end this hidden spot of virtue. But he resisted doing it. The people of Banios must be willing, as with all men and women, to be seduced by desire, the midwife of all temptations.

The people of Banios were so amazed when his plan unfolded that they did not see the trap and he kept oiling them up with their own innocence. One step at a time he tried to lead them, as he has successfully done with most of the world, away from each other and into that beguilement which is the belief in ourselves alone.

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