A knight died and left and only son, Eudo, an heir to great wealth. He was tall and handsome but indolent and dull and a bit of a waster.
A fool and his money do not grow old together and soon Eudo was reduced to begging. One day he was resting under a tree. He looked at the mean bit of bread that was his only food and he thought of the stages that had reduced him to this. He burst into tears at the meaness in which the world held him.
When he opened his eyes there standing by him was a man of great stature, though terribly ugly, who gave him a friendly greeting. “If you want a return to fortune then I promise I can achieve that for you, as long as you submit to my lordship in everything.”
“Who are you?” cried Eudo, fearing a demon.
“Do not let the fear of hell trouble you. You have a long life ahead of you. Before your death I will give you three plain tokens, so that you will have room to repent. Not all devils are the same. Some flatter to destroy but we harmless ones are stained by their ill repute. We are more skilled in comical tricks and delusions, we would do anything that makes for laughter but nothing that brings tears. In the old days people thought us demi-gods. Let me tell you a story to show you how we carry on.
“There was a monk, a painter and sacristan of his monastery. He was plagued by nightmares. In turn he lost no opportunity to paint Morpheus, my cousin, whom he held responsible, in the ugliest forms he could devise.
“Morpheus repeatedly warned him in his dreams not to make him so repellent and turn him into a figure of derision, threatening him with a similar loss of repute but the monk took no notice. Morpheus, by means of nocturnal visitations, persuaded all the noblewomen of the neighbourhood to send the monk presents, wines, sweets, gold, silver, all taken from their husbands, for, they reasoned, the monk was working long in the service of God. Look, he often cannot attend the feasts of the other monks because of his hard work. We will not see him lack because of his devotion.
“So the sacristan waxed fat. Soon he fell in love with a rich widow. Knowing himself inept in love, he decided to achieve his aims through gifts. At first she was repelled by him, but he overcame repulsion with obstinate persistence and lavish presents from the collection he had amassed. In the way of young lovers everywhere, they could find no place convenient to meet, her house was crowded with servants and his was, after all, a monastery. At last they decided to elope with the treasures of the church and the widow’s wealth and start a new life in a district where they were unknown.
“A few days later the monks awoke as usual at the hour of service. They waited for the bell of the sacristan to summon them to chapel but it did not come. At last they got up of their own volition, complaining of the slackness of the sacristan but, when they came into the chapel, they found the altar bare and all the other treasures missing. They chased after their erring brother, asking directions from amazed peasants and soon caught up with the pair, neither built for fast flight. They let the lady go, as she was no concern of theirs, but the monk was bound in iron chains and deposited in the coldest cell the monastery had available.
“Now Morpheus appeared to him and taunted him. “So, this is proper payment for your libels of paintings. But I will take pity on you and release you from your bonds and destroy all belief in your crime and make men think it was not you who committed this terrible deed, if you promise not to make me hideous in any more of your paintings.”
“The monk could not see how this could happen but Morpheus bid him have faith. He released the iron chains and then took on the monk’s appearance, telling the monk to return to his own bed, making sure to grunt and cough and make all the other noises of the night to be sure the other monks heard him and then, at the proper time, ring the bell for the morning service.
“This he did and the other monks were amazed to see him going about his duties as if nothing had happened. The lord abbot was summoned.
‘Who released you?’
‘Released me from what?’
“The abbot recounted the events of the previous day but the sacristan looked on him in amazement and declared that they must all have gone mad. He was roughly grabbed and taken back to the punishment cell, but there they found the simulacrum, moaning and groaning in the most demonic way. Then the demon snapped his fetters and leapt into the air and shot up through the roof. The abbot and the monks were dumbfounded and fell on their knees before the sacristan to beg his forgiveness. They also went to beg forgiveness to the widow and, from then on, held both in greater respect.
“So you see we do not drag men to hell but merely engage in amusing jests. So, become my liege man, pay me homage and you shall get back at your enemies.”
Eudo assented. They travelled off together and collected a band of lawless brigands. By day they slept, at night they roamed. The demon acting as their chief, such was their wickedness that they came to control the district of Beauvais. The chief seemed to have an uncanny knack of knowing where there was treasure that they could steal and also where ambushes were being prepared for them.
Eudo now possessed all his old estates. Once again he became slack and lazy, sated with victories, he began to enjoy massacre and the day was lost to him if he could count the dead. He was denounced by the church and cursed by the people, but he did not care, no bad deed of his band went unrewarded.
The demon, who went by the name of Holga, now sure of his servant, went one day to meet him in the shade of a wood. Eudo was keen to talk about his latest acts of evil and the demon praised him but then sighed.
“You must not put off taking council for your soul. You are exceeding everything that is comfortable to me. Now it is time to seek pardon from your sins.”
Eudo was amazed. “You are surely not a demon, but an angel of the Lord.”
Eudo went immediately to the bishop and pleaded for absolution. It was freely given him, the bishop overjoyed that such a black sleep should have returned to the flock. But resolving to sin no more and actually not sinning are two different things. Before long Eudo could not resist going back to robbery and pillage. Then fear drove him back to the bishop, who heard his confession, this time with a little more harshness. Even then he could not refrain from returning to evil.
Now the bishop was angry to be so deceived and declared Eudo worse than if he had been constant in sin and put a curse on him. Within a few days Eudo fell off his horse and broke his leg. He recognised that this was the first sign of his approaching death. With difficulty, both because of his physical condition and his backsliding, he went back to the bishop and gained another absolution. Slowly he returned to health but, as soon as he felt vitality return to him, he could not resist chancing his arm on more raids.
Then his first born son died and, in his grief, Eudo felt the uselessness of his life and determined to try to make good what ill he had done. He tracked down the bishop outside the walls of Beauvais where he was overseeing the May Day fires to purify the cattle, but now the bishop had hardened his heart against this deceiver. Eudo threw himself at the bishop’s feet but this did nothing to move the cleric. In remorse Eudo openly declared that Holga had been his lord but now he wished to abjure him. Even so the bishop withheld absolution. Eudo was so forceful in his despair that even those in the crowd who had lost their possessions thanks to Eudo’s gang also pleaded with the bishop to grant the wretch what he sought.
The bishop remained firm and, seeing that there was no hope and he had missed his chance, Eudo stood up. “Then may the Lord Himself deliver my soul into the hands of Satan if I do not dutifully carry out any penance you ask of me.”
The bishop, averting his gaze from Eudo, happened to be staring at the two huge bonfires between which the cattle would shortly be driven. He seemed to hear a voice in his head and an idea came to him. “Then jump into one of those pyres.”
Before anyone could stop him Eudo dashed into the nearest fire. For all his screams of horror and pain no one could come close enough to drag him out and his body was consumed by the flames. Though his body was gone only God and the devil know the destination of his soul.