The Infernal Parliament

In an age when it has become increasingly difficult to accomplish anything new or original, Bavton Bidderdale interested his generation by dying of a new disease. ‘We always knew he would do something remarkable one of these days,’ observed his aunts; ‘he has justified our belief in him.’ But there is a section of humanity ever ready to refuse recognition to meritorious achievement, and a large and influential school of doctors asserted their belief that Bidderdale was not really dead. The funeral arrangements had to be held over until the matter was settled one way or the other, and the aunts went provisionally into half-mourning.

Meanwhile, Bidderdale remained in Hell as a guest pending his reception on a more regular footing. ‘If you are not really supposed to be dead,’ said the authorities of that region, ‘we don’t want to seem in an indecent hurry to grab you. The theory that Hell is in serious need of population is a thing of the past. Why, to take your family alone, there are any number of Bidderdales on our books, as you may discover later. It is part of our system that relations should be encouraged to live together down here. From observations made in another world we have abundant evidence that it promotes the ends we have in view. However, while you are a guest we should like you to be treated with every consideration and be shown anything that specially interests you. Of course, you would like to see our Parliament?’

‘Have you a Parliament in Hell?’asked Bidderdale in some surprise.

‘Only quite recently. Of course we’ve always had chaos, but not under Parliamentary rules. Now, however, that Parliaments are becoming the fashion, in Turkey and Persia, and I suppose before long in Afghanistan and China, it seemed rather ostentatious to stand outside the movement. That young Fiend just going by is the Member for East Brimstone; he’ll delighted to show you over the institution.’

‘You will just be in time to hear the opening of a debate,’ said the Member, as he led Bidderdale through a spacious outer lobby, decorated with frescoes representing the fall of man, the discovery of gold, the invention of playing cards, and other traditionally appropriate subjects. ‘The Member for Nether Furnace is proposing a motion “that this House do arrogantly protest to the legislatures of earthly countries against the wrongful and injurious misuse of the word ‘fiendish,’ in application to purely human misdemeanours, a misuse tending to create a false and detrimental impression concerning the Infernal Regions.” ’

A feature of the Parliament Chamber itself was its enormous size. The space allotted to Members was small and very sparsely occupied, but the public galleries stretched away tier on tier as far as the eye could reach, and were packed to their utmost capacity.

‘There seems to be a very great public interest in the debate,’ exclaimed Bidderdale.

‘Members are excused from attending the debates if they so desire,’ the Fiend proceeded to explain; ‘it is one of their most highly valued privileges. On the other hand, constituents are compelled to listen throughout to all the speeches. After all, you must remember, we are in Hell.’

Bidderdale repressed a shudder and turned his attention to the debate.

‘Nothing,’ the Fiend-Orator was observing, ‘is more deplorable among the cultured races of the present day than the tendency to identify fiendhood, in the most sweeping fashion, with all manner of disreputable excesses, excesses which can only be alleged against us on the merest legendary evidence. Vices which are exclusively or predominatingly human are unblushingly described as inhuman, and, what is even more contemptible and ungenerous, as fiendish. If one investigates such statements as “inhuman treatment of pit ponies” or “fiendish cruelties in the Congo,” so frequently to be heard in our brother Parliaments on earth, one finds accumulative and indisputable evidence that it is the human treatment of pit ponies and Congo natives that is really in question, and that no authenticated case of fiendish agency in these atrocities can be substantiated. It is, perhaps, a minor matter for complaint,’ continued the orator, ‘that the human race frequently pays us the doubtful compliment of describing as “devilish funny” jokes which are neither funny nor devilish.’

The orator paused, and an oppressive silence reigned over the vast chamber.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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