“Connected with the fall of Satan is his lameness. The devil is represented in art and in legion as limping on one foot; this was occasioned by his having broken his leg in his fall” – Sabine Baring-Gould
If you’re going to sell your soul to the Devil, you should probably retain counsel and have a professional review the contract. There’s always a lot of fine print and existential loopholes involved. And finding an experienced attorney is not easy. As far as I know they don’t offer holistic jurisprudence in your higher quality institutions of legal education. Which of course begs the question, is the act of retaining counsel the same thing as selling your soul to the Devil? Not that I have anything against lawyers, it’s just that when properly translated from the Old Testament Hebrew, Satan was just a prosecuting attorney in the celestial court. This did no good for Job, but after all he’d never bothered to pay a retainer to a qualified attorney. Old Testament prophets really needed to consider pre-emptively lawyering up. When you already have an established reputation as a bad dude, contracting for demonic services just formalizes what everybody else already knows about you. May as well own it. And this is exactly what a certain Richard Cabell (d.1677), of Brook Hall, in the parish of Buckfastleigh on the southwestern edge of Dartmoor in Devon, opted for.
It’s pretty clear that the Devil didn’t have to enter into any complex contract negotiations when it came to Richard Cabell, considered to be the inspiration for the central bad guy, Hugo Baskerville, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901). Squire Richard Cabell was known to posterity as “Dirty Dick”, for obvious if not literal reasons involving sexually transmitted diseases. He was described by contemporaries as a “monstrously evil man” and an exemplar of the finest in 17th century immorality. Of course, 17th Century morals included eschewing daily showers and avoiding the imbibement of coffee (the “Bitter Invention of Satan”), so let’s take that with a grain of salt. While Cabell may very well have been an unhygienic coffee addict, this wasn’t why he was disdained by polite company. He was noted for problems with rage and unbridled violence.
Rumors abounded that he had murdered his wife, Elizabeth Fowell, a daughter of Sir Edmund Fowell, 1st Baronet (1593–1674), of Fowelscombe, and that he was involved in the sordid affair of pursuing his favorite pastime of hunting to its macabre extreme by occasionally hunting humans across the moors (although this may have been an affectation seized upon by Arthur Conan Doyle when he went about describing the cursed Squire who was harassed by demon dogs in the Baskervilles). Accusations of murder were no doubt ill-founded as genealogical records indicate that his wife outlived him by about a decade. Nonetheless, it was popularly suspected he had sold his soul to the Devil. We’re not sure what his side of the bargain was, but it probably involved an extension to the amount of time he had to be a horrible human being.
Much to everybody’s relief, Richard Cabell died on July 5, 1677. Locals were no doubt concerned that having sold his soul to the Devil, there might be repercussions in the afterlife assignments to which His Satanic Majesty sought to recoup on his investment. In short, he probably had a job waiting for him in Hell. One wonders if there is a pitchfork-training bootcamp, or at least some refresher courses on the legalities and technical language to be used in the standard demonic pact. You can’t have inexperienced imps loitering about crossroads without adequate negotiation skills or a basic paralegal education in writing an airtight “Request for Soul Proposal”. Clearly, the educational system in the hoary underworld is sub-standard as the Devil traditionally gets cheated out of a lot of what would otherwise be binding agreements. It’s hard to get good help these days. Clearly something is amiss in the infernal recruitment process.
Although it seems that whatever diabolical representative signed up Richard Cabell probably had all his ducks in a row, and folks in Buckfastleigh wanted to error on the side of prudence. Consequently, they made some special arrangements for Cabell’s final disposition. Cabell was “the last male of his race, and died with such an evil reputation that he was placed under a heavy stone, and a sort of penthouse was built over that with iron gratings to it, to prevent his coming up and haunting the neighbourhood” (Baring-Gould, 1907, p126). Demonic pact aside (since we only have hearsay that any official document was filed with the Devil), provisions were made by local notables to “take special precautions against the possibility of his ghost’s ‘walking’” (Salmon, 1922, p191).
Indeed, Richard Cabell’s tomb still stands today, and in contrast to the more modest gravestones and monuments scattered about the burial grounds adjoining Holy Trinity Church in Buckfastleigh, and has the distinction of being one of the first two freestanding mausoleums in England. It is a free-standing structure containing a heavy white slab of stone over the family graves, surrounded by solid iron bars, obviously intended to keep the living out, and the undead in. While this may seem like overkill (although “overkill” seems like an appropriate response to the prospect of the dead wandering about your parish, since a mundane “kill” was not likely to be entirely effective). Now, this may have had the added effect of cheating the devil out of his contractual claims, since the folklore of Buckfastleigh reports that upon Richard Cabell’s internment, “that ﬁends and black dogs breathing fire raced over Dartmoor and surrounded Brooke, howling (Baring-Gould, 1907, p126). Animal control is never pleased when they have to deal with Hell Hounds. I mean, even if you manage to wrangle them and cart them off to the shelter, its darned hard to get them adopted. Behavioural problems, and all. Sit. Roll over. Breathe fire.
Death be not proud, what with all the rotting and such, but when your reputed nastiness in life requires special engineering feats once you’re headed for the grave, it has to make you consider laying there quietly in your tomb and hoping nobody notices you. And if the Devil’s process servers can’t get to you, well, bonus points. The first lesson for members of the landed gentry is not to be a homicidal jerk. Surprisingly, this rarely seems to be taught in aristocrat school (maybe this is just sour grapes as they rejected my application). Or anywhere else for that matter. Secondly, the Devil really needs to seek better legal counsel when it comes to bargaining for people’s souls. Being Prince of Darkness seems like a gig with some perks, except when it turns out you can be easily thwarted from collecting on debts by a big slab of stone and some iron bars. And then you’ve got your hellish canines running all over Dartmoor raising a ruckus when they might be gainfully employed hauling in some notorious serial killer or any given politician. Total waste of resources.
Or maybe, it’s just that us egotistical little apes have convinced ourselves that our souls are worth something in trade. Seems like a dubious proposition and smacks of vanity. As American YouTuber and Social Critic T.J. Kirk once said, “even if there were souls, and there was a devil, he’s not going around granting fame and fortune just for your soul in return. If he is, he’s a fucking idiot. According to the standards of the Bible, most people are Hellbound anyway, so it ain’t like Satan would be hurting for more souls, he’s already got a shit-ton of souls. Satan going around granting fame and fortune just for Kanye West’s soul would be like an apple farmer paying ten million dollars for a fucking apple.”
Baring-Gould, S. 1834-1924. Devon. London: Methuen & Co., 1907.
Salmon, Arthur, Leslie, 1865-. The Heart of the West: a Book of the West Country From Bristol to Land’s End. London: R. Scott, 1922.