Six Creepy Stories by Edgar Allan Poe



Source: YouTube Channel EnOn English Online; Join EnOn




DOWNLOAD

PDF | EPUB

 

Text Scripts

THE TELL-TALE HEART.

TRUE!–nervous–very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but

why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses–not

destroyed–not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I

heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things

in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily–how

calmly I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once

conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion

there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had

never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his

eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture–a pale blue eye,

with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and

so by degrees–very gradually–I made up my mind to take the life of the

old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you

should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded–with

what caution–with what foresight–with what dissimulation I went to

work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week

before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch

of his door and opened it–oh so gently! And then, when I had made an

opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed,

closed, that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh,

you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it

slowly–very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man’s

sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so

far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha! would a madman have

been so wise as this, And then, when my head was well in the room, I

undid the lantern cautiously-oh, so cautiously–cautiously (for the

hinges creaked)–I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell

upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nights–every night

just at midnight–but I found the eye always closed; and so it was

impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but

his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into

the chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a

hearty tone, and inquiring how he has passed the night. So you see he

would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every

night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.

Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the

door. A watch’s minute hand moves more quickly than did mine. Never

before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers–of my

sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. To think

that there I was, opening the door, little by little, and he not even to

dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea; and

perhaps he heard me; for he moved on the bed suddenly, as if startled.

Now you may think that I drew back–but no. His room was as black as

pitch with the thick darkness, (for the shutters were close fastened,

through fear of robbers,) and so I knew that he could not see the

opening of the door, and I kept pushing it on steadily, steadily.

I had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb

slipped upon the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up in bed, crying

out–“Who’s there?”

I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a

muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down. He was still

sitting up in the bed listening;–just as I have done, night after

night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall.

Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal

terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief–oh, no!–it was the low

stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged

with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at midnight, when

all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with

its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me. I say I knew it well.

I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at

heart. I knew that he had been lying awake ever since the first slight

noise, when he had turned in the bed. His fears had been ever since

growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could

not. He had been saying to himself–“It is nothing but the wind in the

chimney–it is only a mouse crossing the floor,” or “It is merely a

cricket which has made a single chirp.” Yes, he had been trying to

comfort himself with these suppositions: but he had found all in vain.

All in vain; because Death, in approaching him had stalked with his

black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim. And it was the

mournful influence of the unperceived shadow that caused him to

feel–although he neither saw nor heard–to feel the presence of my head

within the room.

When I had waited a long time, very patiently, without hearing him lie

down, I resolved to open a little–a very, very little crevice in

the lantern. So I opened it–you cannot imagine how stealthily,

stealthily–until, at length a simple dim ray, like the thread of the

spider, shot from out the crevice and fell full upon the vulture eye.

It was open–wide, wide open–and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I

saw it with perfect distinctness–all a dull blue, with a hideous

veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones; but I could see

nothing else of the old man’s face or person: for I had directed the ray

as if by instinct, precisely upon the damned spot.

And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but

over-acuteness of the sense?–now, I say, there came to my ears a low,

dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I

knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man’s heart. It

increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into

courage.

But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I held the

lantern motionless. I tried how steadily I could maintain the ray upon

the eve. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew

quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant. The old man’s

terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every

moment!–do you mark me well I have told you that I am nervous: so I am.

And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of

that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable

terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But

the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now

a new anxiety seized me–the sound would be heard by a neighbour! The

old man’s hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern

and leaped into the room. He shrieked once–once only. In an instant

I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then

smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. But, for many minutes, the

heart beat on with a muffled sound. This, however, did not vex me; it

would not be heard through the wall. At length it ceased. The old man

was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone,

stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many

minutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. His eye would

trouble me no more.

If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe

the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night

waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismembered

the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.

I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and

deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boards so

cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye–not even his–could have

detected any thing wrong. There was nothing to wash out–no stain of any

kind–no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that. A tub had

caught all–ha! ha!

When I had made an end of these labors, it was four o’clock–still dark

as midnight. As the bell sounded the hour, there came a knocking at the

street door. I went down to open it with a light heart,–for what had

I now to fear? There entered three men, who introduced themselves, with

perfect suavity, as officers of the police. A shriek had been heard by

a neighbour during the night; suspicion of foul play had been aroused;

information had been lodged at the police office, and they (the

officers) had been deputed to search the premises.

I smiled,–for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. The

shriek, I said, was my own in a dream. The old man, I mentioned, was

absent in the country. I took my visitors all over the house. I bade

them search–search well. I led them, at length, to his chamber. I

showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of

my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here

to rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity of

my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which

reposed the corpse of the victim.

The officers were satisfied. My manner had convinced them. I was

singularly at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerily, they

chatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale

and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my

ears: but still they sat and still chatted. The ringing became more

distinct:–It continued and became more distinct: I talked more

freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained

definiteness–until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my

ears.

No doubt I now grew _very_ pale;–but I talked more fluently, and with a

heightened voice. Yet the sound increased–and what could I do? It was

a low, dull, quick sound–much such a sound as a watch makes when

enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath–and yet the officers heard

it not. I talked more quickly–more vehemently; but the noise steadily

increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with

violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why would

they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if

excited to fury by the observations of the men–but the noise steadily

increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed–I raved–I swore! I swung

the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the

boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It

grew louder–louder–louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and

smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God!–no, no! They

heard!–they suspected!–they knew!–they were making a mockery of my

horror!-this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than

this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear

those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die!

and now–again!–hark! louder! louder! louder! louder!

“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed!–tear up

the planks! here, here!–It is the beating of his hideous heart!”

THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH.

THE “Red Death” had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever

been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal–the

redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden

dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The

scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim,

were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy

of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress and termination of

the disease, were the incidents of half an hour.

But the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his

dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand

hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of

his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his

castellated abbeys. This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the

creation of the prince’s own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and

lofty wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron. The courtiers,

having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts.

They resolved to leave means neither of ingress or egress to the sudden

impulses of despair or of frenzy from within. The abbey was amply

provisioned. With such precautions the courtiers might bid defiance to

contagion. The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime

it was folly to grieve, or to think. The prince had provided all the

appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatori,

there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty,

there was wine. All these and security were within. Without was the “Red

Death.”

It was toward the close of the fifth or sixth month of his seclusion,

and while the pestilence raged most furiously abroad, that the Prince

Prospero entertained his thousand friends at a masked ball of the most

unusual magnificence.

It was a voluptuous scene, that masquerade. But first let me tell of the

rooms in which it was held. There were seven–an imperial suite. In many

palaces, however, such suites form a long and straight vista, while the

folding doors slide back nearly to the walls on either hand, so that

the view of the whole extent is scarcely impeded. Here the case was

very different; as might have been expected from the duke’s love of the

bizarre. The apartments were so irregularly disposed that the vision

embraced but little more than one at a time. There was a sharp turn at

every twenty or thirty yards, and at each turn a novel effect. To the

right and left, in the middle of each wall, a tall and narrow Gothic

window looked out upon a closed corridor which pursued the windings of

the suite. These windows were of stained glass whose color varied in

accordance with the prevailing hue of the decorations of the chamber

into which it opened. That at the eastern extremity was hung, for

example, in blue–and vividly blue were its windows. The second chamber

was purple in its ornaments and tapestries, and here the panes were

purple. The third was green throughout, and so were the casements. The

fourth was furnished and lighted with orange–the fifth with white–the

sixth with violet. The seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black

velvet tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls,

falling in heavy folds upon a carpet of the same material and hue. But

in this chamber only, the color of the windows failed to correspond with

the decorations. The panes here were scarlet–a deep blood color. Now in

no one of the seven apartments was there any lamp or candelabrum, amid

the profusion of golden ornaments that lay scattered to and fro or

depended from the roof. There was no light of any kind emanating from

lamp or candle within the suite of chambers. But in the corridors

that followed the suite, there stood, opposite to each window, a heavy

tripod, bearing a brazier of fire that protected its rays through the

tinted glass and so glaringly illumined the room. And thus were produced

a multitude of gaudy and fantastic appearances. But in the western or

black chamber the effect of the fire-light that streamed upon the dark

hangings through the blood-tinted panes, was ghastly in the extreme, and

produced so wild a look upon the countenances of those who entered,

that there were few of the company bold enough to set foot within its

precincts at all.

It was in this apartment, also, that there stood against the western

wall, a gigantic clock of ebony. Its pendulum swung to and fro with a

dull, heavy, monotonous clang; and when the minute-hand made the circuit

of the face, and the hour was to be stricken, there came from the

brazen lungs of the clock a sound which was clear and loud and deep and

exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note and emphasis that, at

each lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were constrained

to pause, momentarily, in their performance, to hearken to the sound;

and thus the waltzers perforce ceased their evolutions; and there was a

brief disconcert of the whole gay company; and, while the chimes of the

clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest grew pale, and the

more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in

confused reverie or meditation. But when the echoes had fully ceased,

a light laughter at once pervaded the assembly; the musicians looked at

each other and smiled as if at their own nervousness and folly, and made

whispering vows, each to the other, that the next chiming of the clock

should produce in them no similar emotion; and then, after the lapse of

sixty minutes, (which embrace three thousand and six hundred seconds of

the Time that flies,) there came yet another chiming of the clock,

and then were the same disconcert and tremulousness and meditation as

before.

But, in spite of these things, it was a gay and magnificent revel.

The tastes of the duke were peculiar. He had a fine eye for colors and

effects. He disregarded the decora of mere fashion. His plans were bold

and fiery, and his conceptions glowed with barbaric lustre. There are

some who would have thought him mad. His followers felt that he was not.

It was necessary to hear and see and touch him to be sure that he was

not.

He had directed, in great part, the moveable embellishments of the seven

chambers, upon occasion of this great fete; and it was his own guiding

taste which had given character to the masqueraders. Be sure they

were grotesque. There were much glare and glitter and piquancy and

phantasm–much of what has been since seen in “Hernani.” There were

arabesque figures with unsuited limbs and appointments. There were

delirious fancies such as the madman fashions. There was much of the

beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the

terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust.

To and fro in the seven chambers there stalked, in fact, a multitude of

dreams. And these–the dreams–writhed in and about, taking hue from the

rooms, and causing the wild music of the orchestra to seem as the echo

of their steps. And, anon, there strikes the ebony clock which stands in

the hall of the velvet. And then, for a moment, all is still, and all is

silent save the voice of the clock. The dreams are stiff-frozen as they

stand. But the echoes of the chime die away–they have endured but an

instant–and a light, half-subdued laughter floats after them as they

depart. And now again the music swells, and the dreams live, and writhe

to and fro more merrily than ever, taking hue from the many-tinted

windows through which stream the rays from the tripods. But to the

chamber which lies most westwardly of the seven, there are now none of

the maskers who venture; for the night is waning away; and there flows a

ruddier light through the blood-colored panes; and the blackness of the

sable drapery appals; and to him whose foot falls upon the sable carpet,

there comes from the near clock of ebony a muffled peal more solemnly

emphatic than any which reaches their ears who indulge in the more

remote gaieties of the other apartments.

But these other apartments were densely crowded, and in them beat

feverishly the heart of life. And the revel went whirlingly on, until at

length there commenced the sounding of midnight upon the clock. And then

the music ceased, as I have told; and the evolutions of the waltzers

were quieted; and there was an uneasy cessation of all things as before.

But now there were twelve strokes to be sounded by the bell of the

clock; and thus it happened, perhaps, that more of thought crept, with

more of time, into the meditations of the thoughtful among those who

revelled. And thus, too, it happened, perhaps, that before the last

echoes of the last chime had utterly sunk into silence, there were many

individuals in the crowd who had found leisure to become aware of the

presence of a masked figure which had arrested the attention of no

single individual before. And the rumor of this new presence having

spread itself whisperingly around, there arose at length from the

whole company a buzz, or murmur, expressive of disapprobation and

surprise–then, finally, of terror, of horror, and of disgust.

In an assembly of phantasms such as I have painted, it may well be

supposed that no ordinary appearance could have excited such sensation.

In truth the masquerade license of the night was nearly unlimited; but

the figure in question had out-Heroded Herod, and gone beyond the bounds

of even the prince’s indefinite decorum. There are chords in the hearts

of the most reckless which cannot be touched without emotion. Even with

the utterly lost, to whom life and death are equally jests, there are

matters of which no jest can be made. The whole company, indeed, seemed

now deeply to feel that in the costume and bearing of the stranger

neither wit nor propriety existed. The figure was tall and gaunt, and

shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave. The

mask which concealed the visage was made so nearly to resemble the

countenance of a stiffened corpse that the closest scrutiny must have

had difficulty in detecting the cheat. And yet all this might have been

endured, if not approved, by the mad revellers around. But the mummer

had gone so far as to assume the type of the Red Death. His vesture was

dabbled in blood–and his broad brow, with all the features of the face,

was besprinkled with the scarlet horror.

When the eyes of Prince Prospero fell upon this spectral image (which

with a slow and solemn movement, as if more fully to sustain its role,

stalked to and fro among the waltzers) he was seen to be convulsed, in

the first moment with a strong shudder either of terror or distaste;

but, in the next, his brow reddened with rage.

“Who dares?” he demanded hoarsely of the courtiers who stood near

him–“who dares insult us with this blasphemous mockery? Seize him and

unmask him–that we may know whom we have to hang at sunrise, from the

battlements!”

It was in the eastern or blue chamber in which stood the Prince Prospero

as he uttered these words. They rang throughout the seven rooms loudly

and clearly–for the prince was a bold and robust man, and the music had

become hushed at the waving of his hand.

It was in the blue room where stood the prince, with a group of pale

courtiers by his side. At first, as he spoke, there was a slight rushing

movement of this group in the direction of the intruder, who at the

moment was also near at hand, and now, with deliberate and stately step,

made closer approach to the speaker. But from a certain nameless awe

with which the mad assumptions of the mummer had inspired the whole

party, there were found none who put forth hand to seize him; so that,

unimpeded, he passed within a yard of the prince’s person; and, while

the vast assembly, as if with one impulse, shrank from the centres of

the rooms to the walls, he made his way uninterruptedly, but with the

same solemn and measured step which had distinguished him from the

first, through the blue chamber to the purple–through the purple to

the green–through the green to the orange–through this again to the

white–and even thence to the violet, ere a decided movement had been

made to arrest him. It was then, however, that the Prince Prospero,

maddening with rage and the shame of his own momentary cowardice, rushed

hurriedly through the six chambers, while none followed him on account

of a deadly terror that had seized upon all. He bore aloft a drawn

dagger, and had approached, in rapid impetuosity, to within three or

four feet of the retreating figure, when the latter, having attained the

extremity of the velvet apartment, turned suddenly and confronted his

pursuer. There was a sharp cry–and the dagger dropped gleaming upon the

sable carpet, upon which, instantly afterwards, fell prostrate in death

the Prince Prospero. Then, summoning the wild courage of despair,

a throng of the revellers at once threw themselves into the black

apartment, and, seizing the mummer, whose tall figure stood erect and

motionless within the shadow of the ebony clock, gasped in unutterable

horror at finding the grave-cerements and corpse-like mask which they

handled with so violent a rudeness, untenanted by any tangible form.

And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come

like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the

blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing

posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with

that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And

Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.

FOR the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I

neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be to expect it,

in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence. Yet, mad am I

not–and very surely do I not dream. But to-morrow I die, and to-day

I would unburthen my soul. My immediate purpose is to place before

the world, plainly, succinctly, and without comment, a series of

mere household events. In their consequences, these events have

terrified–have tortured–have destroyed me. Yet I will not attempt to

expound them. To me, they have presented little but Horror–to many

they will seem less terrible than _barroques_. Hereafter, perhaps,

some intellect may be found which will reduce my phantasm to the

common-place–some intellect more calm, more logical, and far less

excitable than my own, which will perceive, in the circumstances I

detail with awe, nothing more than an ordinary succession of very

natural causes and effects.

From my infancy I was noted for the docility and humanity of my

disposition. My tenderness of heart was even so conspicuous as to make

me the jest of my companions. I was especially fond of animals, and was

indulged by my parents with a great variety of pets. With these I spent

most of my time, and never was so happy as when feeding and caressing

them. This peculiarity of character grew with my growth, and in my

manhood, I derived from it one of my principal sources of pleasure. To

those who have cherished an affection for a faithful and sagacious

dog, I need hardly be at the trouble of explaining the nature or the

intensity of the gratification thus derivable. There is something in the

unselfish and self-sacrificing love of a brute, which goes directly

to the heart of him who has had frequent occasion to test the paltry

friendship and gossamer fidelity of mere _Man_.

I married early, and was happy to find in my wife a disposition not

uncongenial with my own. Observing my partiality for domestic pets, she

lost no opportunity of procuring those of the most agreeable kind. We

had birds, gold-fish, a fine dog, rabbits, a small monkey, and _a cat_.

This latter was a remarkably large and beautiful animal, entirely black,

and sagacious to an astonishing degree. In speaking of his intelligence,

my wife, who at heart was not a little tinctured with superstition,

made frequent allusion to the ancient popular notion, which regarded all

black cats as witches in disguise. Not that she was ever _serious_ upon

this point–and I mention the matter at all for no better reason than

that it happens, just now, to be remembered.

Pluto–this was the cat’s name–was my favorite pet and playmate. I

alone fed him, and he attended me wherever I went about the house. It

was even with difficulty that I could prevent him from following me

through the streets.

Our friendship lasted, in this manner, for several years, during which

my general temperament and character–through the instrumentality of the

Fiend Intemperance–had (I blush to confess it) experienced a radical

alteration for the worse. I grew, day by day, more moody, more

irritable, more regardless of the feelings of others. I suffered myself

to use intemperate language to my wife. At length, I even offered her

personal violence. My pets, of course, were made to feel the change

in my disposition. I not only neglected, but ill-used them. For

Pluto, however, I still retained sufficient regard to restrain me from

maltreating him, as I made no scruple of maltreating the rabbits, the

monkey, or even the dog, when by accident, or through affection, they

came in my way. But my disease grew upon me–for what disease is like

Alcohol!–and at length even Pluto, who was now becoming old, and

consequently somewhat peevish–even Pluto began to experience the

effects of my ill temper.

One night, returning home, much intoxicated, from one of my haunts about

town, I fancied that the cat avoided my presence. I seized him; when, in

his fright at my violence, he inflicted a slight wound upon my hand with

his teeth. The fury of a demon instantly possessed me. I knew myself

no longer. My original soul seemed, at once, to take its flight from my

body and a more than fiendish malevolence, gin-nurtured, thrilled every

fibre of my frame. I took from my waistcoat-pocket a pen-knife, opened

it, grasped the poor beast by the throat, and deliberately cut one of

its eyes from the socket! I blush, I burn, I shudder, while I pen the

damnable atrocity.

When reason returned with the morning–when I had slept off the fumes of

the night’s debauch–I experienced a sentiment half of horror, half of

remorse, for the crime of which I had been guilty; but it was, at best,

a feeble and equivocal feeling, and the soul remained untouched. I again

plunged into excess, and soon drowned in wine all memory of the deed.

In the meantime the cat slowly recovered. The socket of the lost eye

presented, it is true, a frightful appearance, but he no longer appeared

to suffer any pain. He went about the house as usual, but, as might be

expected, fled in extreme terror at my approach. I had so much of my

old heart left, as to be at first grieved by this evident dislike on

the part of a creature which had once so loved me. But this feeling

soon gave place to irritation. And then came, as if to my final and

irrevocable overthrow, the spirit of PERVERSENESS. Of this spirit

philosophy takes no account. Yet I am not more sure that my soul lives,

than I am that perverseness is one of the primitive impulses of the

human heart–one of the indivisible primary faculties, or sentiments,

which give direction to the character of Man. Who has not, a hundred

times, found himself committing a vile or a silly action, for no other

reason than because he knows he should not? Have we not a perpetual

inclination, in the teeth of our best judgment, to violate that which

is _Law_, merely because we understand it to be such? This spirit

of perverseness, I say, came to my final overthrow. It was this

unfathomable longing of the soul _to vex itself_–to offer violence to

its own nature–to do wrong for the wrong’s sake only–that urged me to

continue and finally to consummate the injury I had inflicted upon the

unoffending brute. One morning, in cool blood, I slipped a noose about

its neck and hung it to the limb of a tree;–hung it with the

tears streaming from my eyes, and with the bitterest remorse at my

heart;–hung it _because_ I knew that it had loved me, and _because_

I felt it had given me no reason of offence;–hung it _because_ I knew

that in so doing I was committing a sin–a deadly sin that would

so jeopardize my immortal soul as to place it–if such a thing wore

possible–even beyond the reach of the infinite mercy of the Most

Merciful and Most Terrible God.

On the night of the day on which this cruel deed was done, I was aroused

from sleep by the cry of fire. The curtains of my bed were in flames.

The whole house was blazing. It was with great difficulty that my wife,

a servant, and myself, made our escape from the conflagration. The

destruction was complete. My entire worldly wealth was swallowed up, and

I resigned myself thenceforward to despair.

I am above the weakness of seeking to establish a sequence of cause

and effect, between the disaster and the atrocity. But I am detailing a

chain of facts–and wish not to leave even a possible link imperfect.

On the day succeeding the fire, I visited the ruins. The walls, with

one exception, had fallen in. This exception was found in a compartment

wall, not very thick, which stood about the middle of the house, and

against which had rested the head of my bed. The plastering had here,

in great measure, resisted the action of the fire–a fact which I

attributed to its having been recently spread. About this wall a

dense crowd were collected, and many persons seemed to be examining a

particular portion of it with very minute and eager attention. The

words “strange!” “singular!” and other similar expressions, excited my

curiosity. I approached and saw, as if graven in _bas relief_ upon the

white surface, the figure of a gigantic _cat_. The impression was given

with an accuracy truly marvellous. There was a rope about the animal’s

neck.

When I first beheld this apparition–for I could scarcely regard it as

less–my wonder and my terror were extreme. But at length reflection

came to my aid. The cat, I remembered, had been hung in a garden

adjacent to the house. Upon the alarm of fire, this garden had been

immediately filled by the crowd–by some one of whom the animal must

have been cut from the tree and thrown, through an open window, into my

chamber. This had probably been done with the view of arousing me

from sleep. The falling of other walls had compressed the victim of my

cruelty into the substance of the freshly-spread plaster; the lime of

which, with the flames, and the _ammonia_ from the carcass, had then

accomplished the portraiture as I saw it.

Although I thus readily accounted to my reason, if not altogether to my

conscience, for the startling fact just detailed, it did not the less

fail to make a deep impression upon my fancy. For months I could not rid

myself of the phantasm of the cat; and, during this period, there came

back into my spirit a half-sentiment that seemed, but was not, remorse.

I went so far as to regret the loss of the animal, and to look about me,

among the vile haunts which I now habitually frequented, for another pet

of the same species, and of somewhat similar appearance, with which to

supply its place.

One night as I sat, half stupified, in a den of more than infamy, my

attention was suddenly drawn to some black object, reposing upon

the head of one of the immense hogsheads of Gin, or of Rum, which

constituted the chief furniture of the apartment. I had been looking

steadily at the top of this hogshead for some minutes, and what now

caused me surprise was the fact that I had not sooner perceived the

object thereupon. I approached it, and touched it with my hand. It was

a black cat–a very large one–fully as large as Pluto, and closely

resembling him in every respect but one. Pluto had not a white hair upon

any portion of his body; but this cat had a large, although indefinite

splotch of white, covering nearly the whole region of the breast. Upon

my touching him, he immediately arose, purred loudly, rubbed against my

hand, and appeared delighted with my notice. This, then, was the very

creature of which I was in search. I at once offered to purchase it

of the landlord; but this person made no claim to it–knew nothing of

it–had never seen it before.

I continued my caresses, and, when I prepared to go home, the animal

evinced a disposition to accompany me. I permitted it to do so;

occasionally stooping and patting it as I proceeded. When it reached

the house it domesticated itself at once, and became immediately a great

favorite with my wife.

For my own part, I soon found a dislike to it arising within me. This

was just the reverse of what I had anticipated; but–I know not how

or why it was–its evident fondness for myself rather disgusted and

annoyed. By slow degrees, these feelings of disgust and annoyance rose

into the bitterness of hatred. I avoided the creature; a certain sense

of shame, and the remembrance of my former deed of cruelty, preventing

me from physically abusing it. I did not, for some weeks, strike, or

otherwise violently ill use it; but gradually–very gradually–I came

to look upon it with unutterable loathing, and to flee silently from its

odious presence, as from the breath of a pestilence.

What added, no doubt, to my hatred of the beast, was the discovery, on

the morning after I brought it home, that, like Pluto, it also had been

deprived of one of its eyes. This circumstance, however, only endeared

it to my wife, who, as I have already said, possessed, in a high degree,

that humanity of feeling which had once been my distinguishing trait,

and the source of many of my simplest and purest pleasures.

With my aversion to this cat, however, its partiality for myself seemed

to increase. It followed my footsteps with a pertinacity which it would

be difficult to make the reader comprehend. Whenever I sat, it would

crouch beneath my chair, or spring upon my knees, covering me with its

loathsome caresses. If I arose to walk it would get between my feet and

thus nearly throw me down, or, fastening its long and sharp claws in my

dress, clamber, in this manner, to my breast. At such times, although

I longed to destroy it with a blow, I was yet withheld from so doing,

partly by a memory of my former crime, but chiefly–let me confess it at

once–by absolute dread of the beast.

This dread was not exactly a dread of physical evil–and yet I should be

at a loss how otherwise to define it. I am almost ashamed to own–yes,

even in this felon’s cell, I am almost ashamed to own–that the terror

and horror with which the animal inspired me, had been heightened by one

of the merest chimaeras it would be possible to conceive. My wife had

called my attention, more than once, to the character of the mark of

white hair, of which I have spoken, and which constituted the sole

visible difference between the strange beast and the one I had

destroyed. The reader will remember that this mark, although large, had

been originally very indefinite; but, by slow degrees–degrees nearly

imperceptible, and which for a long time my Reason struggled to reject

as fanciful–it had, at length, assumed a rigorous distinctness of

outline. It was now the representation of an object that I shudder to

name–and for this, above all, I loathed, and dreaded, and would have

rid myself of the monster _had I dared_–it was now, I say, the image

of a hideous–of a ghastly thing–of the GALLOWS!–oh, mournful and

terrible engine of Horror and of Crime–of Agony and of Death!

And now was I indeed wretched beyond the wretchedness of mere Humanity.

And _a brute beast _–whose fellow I had contemptuously destroyed–_a

brute beast_ to work out for _me_–for me a man, fashioned in the image

of the High God–so much of insufferable wo! Alas! neither by day nor

by night knew I the blessing of Rest any more! During the former the

creature left me no moment alone; and, in the latter, I started, hourly,

from dreams of unutterable fear, to find the hot breath of _the thing_

upon my face, and its vast weight–an incarnate Night-Mare that I had no

power to shake off–incumbent eternally upon my _heart!_

Beneath the pressure of torments such as these, the feeble remnant

of the good within me succumbed. Evil thoughts became my sole

intimates–the darkest and most evil of thoughts. The moodiness of

my usual temper increased to hatred of all things and of all mankind;

while, from the sudden, frequent, and ungovernable outbursts of a fury

to which I now blindly abandoned myself, my uncomplaining wife, alas!

was the most usual and the most patient of sufferers.

One day she accompanied me, upon some household errand, into the cellar

of the old building which our poverty compelled us to inhabit. The cat

followed me down the steep stairs, and, nearly throwing me headlong,

exasperated me to madness. Uplifting an axe, and forgetting, in my

wrath, the childish dread which had hitherto stayed my hand, I aimed a

blow at the animal which, of course, would have proved instantly fatal

had it descended as I wished. But this blow was arrested by the hand of

my wife. Goaded, by the interference, into a rage more than demoniacal,

I withdrew my arm from her grasp and buried the axe in her brain. She

fell dead upon the spot, without a groan.

This hideous murder accomplished, I set myself forthwith, and with

entire deliberation, to the task of concealing the body. I knew that I

could not remove it from the house, either by day or by night, without

the risk of being observed by the neighbors. Many projects entered

my mind. At one period I thought of cutting the corpse into minute

fragments, and destroying them by fire. At another, I resolved to dig

a grave for it in the floor of the cellar. Again, I deliberated about

casting it in the well in the yard–about packing it in a box, as if

merchandize, with the usual arrangements, and so getting a porter to

take it from the house. Finally I hit upon what I considered a far

better expedient than either of these. I determined to wall it up in the

cellar–as the monks of the middle ages are recorded to have walled up

their victims.

For a purpose such as this the cellar was well adapted. Its walls were

loosely constructed, and had lately been plastered throughout with a

rough plaster, which the dampness of the atmosphere had prevented from

hardening. Moreover, in one of the walls was a projection, caused by

a false chimney, or fireplace, that had been filled up, and made to

resemble the red of the cellar. I made no doubt that I could readily

displace the bricks at this point, insert the corpse, and wall the whole

up as before, so that no eye could detect any thing suspicious. And in

this calculation I was not deceived. By means of a crow-bar I easily

dislodged the bricks, and, having carefully deposited the body against

the inner wall, I propped it in that position, while, with little

trouble, I re-laid the whole structure as it originally stood. Having

procured mortar, sand, and hair, with every possible precaution, I

prepared a plaster which could not be distinguished from the old, and

with this I very carefully went over the new brickwork. When I had

finished, I felt satisfied that all was right. The wall did not present

the slightest appearance of having been disturbed. The rubbish on

the floor was picked up with the minutest care. I looked around

triumphantly, and said to myself–“Here at least, then, my labor has not

been in vain.”

My next step was to look for the beast which had been the cause of so

much wretchedness; for I had, at length, firmly resolved to put it to

death. Had I been able to meet with it, at the moment, there could have

been no doubt of its fate; but it appeared that the crafty animal had

been alarmed at the violence of my previous anger, and forebore to

present itself in my present mood. It is impossible to describe, or to

imagine, the deep, the blissful sense of relief which the absence of the

detested creature occasioned in my bosom. It did not make its

appearance during the night–and thus for one night at least, since its

introduction into the house, I soundly and tranquilly slept; aye, slept

even with the burden of murder upon my soul!

The second and the third day passed, and still my tormentor came not.

Once again I breathed as a freeman. The monster, in terror, had fled the

premises forever! I should behold it no more! My happiness was supreme!

The guilt of my dark deed disturbed me but little. Some few inquiries

had been made, but these had been readily answered. Even a search had

been instituted–but of course nothing was to be discovered. I looked

upon my future felicity as secured.

Upon the fourth day of the assassination, a party of the police came,

very unexpectedly, into the house, and proceeded again to make rigorous

investigation of the premises. Secure, however, in the inscrutability of

my place of concealment, I felt no embarrassment whatever. The officers

bade me accompany them in their search. They left no nook or corner

unexplored. At length, for the third or fourth time, they descended into

the cellar. I quivered not in a muscle. My heart beat calmly as that of

one who slumbers in innocence. I walked the cellar from end to end. I

folded my arms upon my bosom, and roamed easily to and fro. The police

were thoroughly satisfied and prepared to depart. The glee at my heart

was too strong to be restrained. I burned to say if but one word, by

way of triumph, and to render doubly sure their assurance of my

guiltlessness.

“Gentlemen,” I said at last, as the party ascended the steps, “I delight

to have allayed your suspicions. I wish you all health, and a little

more courtesy. By the bye, gentlemen, this–this is a very well

constructed house.” [In the rabid desire to say something easily, I

scarcely knew what I uttered at all.]–“I may say an _excellently_ well

constructed house. These walls are you going, gentlemen?–these walls

are solidly put together;” and here, through the mere phrenzy of

bravado, I rapped heavily, with a cane which I held in my hand, upon

that very portion of the brick-work behind which stood the corpse of the

wife of my bosom.

But may God shield and deliver me from the fangs of the Arch-Fiend! No

sooner had the reverberation of my blows sunk into silence, than I was

answered by a voice from within the tomb!–by a cry, at first muffled

and broken, like the sobbing of a child, and then quickly swelling into

one long, loud, and continuous scream, utterly anomalous and inhuman–a

howl–a wailing shriek, half of horror and half of triumph, such as

might have arisen only out of hell, conjointly from the throats of the

dammed in their agony and of the demons that exult in the damnation.

Of my own thoughts it is folly to speak. Swooning, I staggered to

the opposite wall. For one instant the party upon the stairs remained

motionless, through extremity of terror and of awe. In the next, a dozen

stout arms were toiling at the wall. It fell bodily. The corpse, already

greatly decayed and clotted with gore, stood erect before the eyes of

the spectators. Upon its head, with red extended mouth and solitary eye

of fire, sat the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder,

and whose informing voice had consigned me to the hangman. I had walled

the monster up within the tomb!

THE RAVEN

ONCE upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore— While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. “ ’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door— Only this and nothing more.” Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December, And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor. Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore— For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore— Nameless here for evermore. And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before; So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating “ ’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door— Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; This it is and nothing more.” Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer, “Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore; But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping, And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door, That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;— Darkness there and nothing more. Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before; But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token, And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore!” This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”— Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning, Soon again I heard a tapping something louder than before. “Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice; Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore— Let my heart be still a moment, and this mystery explore;— ’Tis the wind and nothing more.” Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter, In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore. Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he, But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door— Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door— Perched, and sat, and nothing more. Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling, By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore, “Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven, Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore— Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!” Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.” Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly, Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore; For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door— Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door, With such name as “Nevermore.” But the Raven, sitting lonely on that placid bust, spoke only That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour. Nothing further then he uttered; not a feather then he fluttered— Till I scarcely more than muttered: “Other friends have flown before— On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.” Then the bird said, “Nevermore.” Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken, “Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store, Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore— Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore Of ‘Never—nevermore.’ ”

But the Raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling, Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door; Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore— What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore Meant in croaking “Nevermore.” This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core; This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er, But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er She shall press, ah, nevermore! Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor. “Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore! Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!” Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.” “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!— Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore, Desolate, yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted— On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore— Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!” Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.” “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil! By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore— Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn, It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore— Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.” Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.” “Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting— “Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore! Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken! Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door! Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!” Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door; And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming, And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor; And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor Shall be lifted—nevermore!

THE CASK OF AMONTILLADO.

THE thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could; but

when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the

nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to

a threat. _At length_ I would be avenged; this was a point definitively

settled–but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved,

precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish, but punish with

impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its

redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make

himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.

It must be understood, that neither by word nor deed had I given

Fortunato cause to doubt my good will. I continued, as was my wont, to

smile in his face, and he did not perceive that my smile _now_ was at

the thought of his immolation.

He had a weak point–this Fortunato–although in other regards he was

a man to be respected and even feared. He prided himself on his

connoisseurship in wine. Few Italians have the true virtuoso spirit.

For the most part their enthusiasm is adopted to suit the time and

opportunity–to practise imposture upon the British and Austrian

_millionaires_. In painting and gemmary, Fortunato, like his countrymen,

was a quack–but in the matter of old wines he was sincere. In this

respect I did not differ from him materially: I was skilful in the

Italian vintages myself, and bought largely whenever I could.

It was about dusk, one evening during the supreme madness of the

carnival season, that I encountered my friend. He accosted me with

excessive warmth, for he had been drinking much. The man wore motley. He

had on a tight-fitting parti-striped dress, and his head was surmounted

by the conical cap and bells. I was so pleased to see him, that I

thought I should never have done wringing his hand.

I said to him–“My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met. How remarkably

well you are looking to-day! But I have received a pipe of what passes

for Amontillado, and I have my doubts.”

“How?” said he. “Amontillado? A pipe? Impossible! And in the middle of

the carnival!”

“I have my doubts,” I replied; “and I was silly enough to pay the full

Amontillado price without consulting you in the matter. You were not to

be found, and I was fearful of losing a bargain.”

“Amontillado!”

“I have my doubts.”

“Amontillado!”

“And I must satisfy them.”

“Amontillado!”

“As you are engaged, I am on my way to Luchesi. If any one has a

critical turn, it is he. He will tell me–“

“Luchesi cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry.”

“And yet some fools will have it that his taste is a match for your

own.”

“Come, let us go.”

“Whither?”

“To your vaults.”

“My friend, no; I will not impose upon your good nature. I perceive you

have an engagement. Luchesi–“

“I have no engagement;–come.”

“My friend, no. It is not the engagement, but the severe cold with which

I perceive you are afflicted. The vaults are insufferably damp. They are

encrusted with nitre.”

“Let us go, nevertheless. The cold is merely nothing. Amontillado! You

have been imposed upon. And as for Luchesi, he cannot distinguish Sherry

from Amontillado.”

Thus speaking, Fortunato possessed himself of my arm. Putting on a mask

of black silk, and drawing a _roquelaire_ closely about my person, I

suffered him to hurry me to my palazzo.

There were no attendants at home; they had absconded to make merry in

honor of the time. I had told them that I should not return until the

morning, and had given them explicit orders not to stir from the house.

These orders were sufficient, I well knew, to insure their immediate

disappearance, one and all, as soon as my back was turned.

I took from their sconces two flambeaux, and giving one to Fortunato,

bowed him through several suites of rooms to the archway that led into

the vaults. I passed down a long and winding staircase, requesting him

to be cautious as he followed. We came at length to the foot of the

descent, and stood together on the damp ground of the catacombs of the

Montresors.

The gait of my friend was unsteady, and the bells upon his cap jingled

as he strode.

“The pipe,” said he.

“It is farther on,” said I; “but observe the white web-work which gleams

from these cavern walls.”

He turned towards me, and looked into my eyes with two filmy orbs that

distilled the rheum of intoxication.

“Nitre?” he asked, at length.

“Nitre,” I replied. “How long have you had that cough?”

“Ugh! ugh! ugh!–ugh! ugh! ugh!–ugh! ugh! ugh!–ugh! ugh! ugh!–ugh!

ugh! ugh!”

My poor friend found it impossible to reply for many minutes.

“It is nothing,” he said, at last.

“Come,” I said, with decision, “we will go back; your health is

precious. You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as

once I was. You are a man to be missed. For me it is no matter. We will

go back; you will be ill, and I cannot be responsible. Besides, there is

Luchesi–“

“Enough,” he said; “the cough is a mere nothing; it will not kill me. I

shall not die of a cough.”

“True–true,” I replied; “and, indeed, I had no intention of alarming

you unnecessarily–but you should use all proper caution. A draught of

this Medoc will defend us from the damps.”

Here I knocked off the neck of a bottle which I drew from a long row of

its fellows that lay upon the mould.

“Drink,” I said, presenting him the wine.

He raised it to his lips with a leer. He paused and nodded to me

familiarly, while his bells jingled.

“I drink,” he said, “to the buried that repose around us.”

“And I to your long life.”

He again took my arm, and we proceeded.

“These vaults,” he said, “are extensive.”

“The Montresors,” I replied, “were a great and numerous family.”

“I forget your arms.”

“A huge human foot d’or, in a field azure; the foot crushes a serpent

rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel.”

“And the motto?”

“_Nemo me impune lacessit_.”

“Good!” he said.

The wine sparkled in his eyes and the bells jingled. My own fancy grew

warm with the Medoc. We had passed through walls of piled bones, with

casks and puncheons intermingling, into the inmost recesses of the

catacombs. I paused again, and this time I made bold to seize Fortunato

by an arm above the elbow.

“The nitre!” I said: “see, it increases. It hangs like moss upon the

vaults. We are below the river’s bed. The drops of moisture trickle

among the bones. Come, we will go back ere it is too late. Your cough–“

“It is nothing,” he said; “let us go on. But first, another draught of

the Medoc.”

I broke and reached him a flagon of De Grâve. He emptied it at a breath.

His eyes flashed with a fierce light. He laughed and threw the bottle

upwards with a gesticulation I did not understand.

I looked at him in surprise. He repeated the movement–a grotesque one.

“You do not comprehend?” he said.

“Not I,” I replied.

“Then you are not of the brotherhood.”

“How?”

“You are not of the masons.”

“Yes, yes,” I said, “yes, yes.”

“You? Impossible! A mason?”

“A mason,” I replied.

“A sign,” he said.

“It is this,” I answered, producing a trowel from beneath the folds of

my _roquelaire_.

“You jest,” he exclaimed, recoiling a few paces. “But let us proceed to

the Amontillado.”

“Be it so,” I said, replacing the tool beneath the cloak, and again

offering him my arm. He leaned upon it heavily. We continued our route

in search of the Amontillado. We passed through a range of low arches,

descended, passed on, and descending again, arrived at a deep crypt, in

which the foulness of the air caused our flambeaux rather to glow than

flame.

At the most remote end of the crypt there appeared another less

spacious. Its walls had been lined with human remains, piled to the

vault overhead, in the fashion of the great catacombs of Paris. Three

sides of this interior crypt were still ornamented in this manner. From

the fourth the bones had been thrown down, and lay promiscuously upon

the earth, forming at one point a mound of some size. Within the wall

thus exposed by the displacing of the bones, we perceived a still

interior recess, in depth about four feet, in width three, in height

six or seven. It seemed to have been constructed for no especial use

in itself, but formed merely the interval between two of the colossal

supports of the roof of the catacombs, and was backed by one of their

circumscribing walls of solid granite.

It was in vain that Fortunato, uplifting his dull torch, endeavored to

pry into the depths of the recess. Its termination the feeble light did

not enable us to see.

“Proceed,” I said; “herein is the Amontillado. As for Luchesi–“

“He is an ignoramus,” interrupted my friend, as he stepped unsteadily

forward, while I followed immediately at his heels. In an instant he had

reached the extremity of the niche, and finding his progress arrested

by the rock, stood stupidly bewildered. A moment more and I had fettered

him to the granite. In its surface were two iron staples, distant from

each other about two feet, horizontally. From one of these depended

a short chain, from the other a padlock. Throwing the links about his

waist, it was but the work of a few seconds to secure it. He was too

much astounded to resist. Withdrawing the key I stepped back from the

recess.

“Pass your hand,” I said, “over the wall; you cannot help feeling the

nitre. Indeed it is _very_ damp. Once more let me _implore_ you to

return. No? Then I must positively leave you. But I must first render

you all the little attentions in my power.”

“The Amontillado!” ejaculated my friend, not yet recovered from his

astonishment.

“True,” I replied; “the Amontillado.”

As I said these words I busied myself among the pile of bones of which I

have before spoken. Throwing them aside, I soon uncovered a quantity of

building stone and mortar. With these materials and with the aid of my

trowel, I began vigorously to wall up the entrance of the niche.

I had scarcely laid the first tier of my masonry when I discovered

that the intoxication of Fortunato had in a great measure worn off. The

earliest indication I had of this was a low moaning cry from the depth

of the recess. It was _not_ the cry of a drunken man. There was then a

long and obstinate silence. I laid the second tier, and the third, and

the fourth; and then I heard the furious vibrations of the chain. The

noise lasted for several minutes, during which, that I might hearken to

it with the more satisfaction, I ceased my labors and sat down upon the

bones. When at last the clanking subsided, I resumed the trowel, and

finished without interruption the fifth, the sixth, and the seventh

tier. The wall was now nearly upon a level with my breast. I again

paused, and holding the flambeaux over the mason-work, threw a few

feeble rays upon the figure within.

A succession of loud and shrill screams, bursting suddenly from the

throat of the chained form, seemed to thrust me violently back. For a

brief moment I hesitated–I trembled. Unsheathing my rapier, I began to

grope with it about the recess: but the thought of an instant reassured

  1. I placed my hand upon the solid fabric of the catacombs, and felt

satisfied. I reapproached the wall. I replied to the yells of him

who clamored. I re-echoed–I aided–I surpassed them in volume and in

strength. I did this, and the clamorer grew still.

It was now midnight, and my task was drawing to a close. I had completed

the eighth, the ninth, and the tenth tier. I had finished a portion

of the last and the eleventh; there remained but a single stone to

be fitted and plastered in. I struggled with its weight; I placed it

partially in its destined position. But now there came from out the

niche a low laugh that erected the hairs upon my head. It was succeeded

by a sad voice, which I had difficulty in recognising as that of the

noble Fortunato. The voice said–

“Ha! ha! ha!–he! he!–a very good joke indeed–an excellent jest. We

will have many a rich laugh about it at the palazzo–he! he! he!–over

our wine–he! he! he!”

“The Amontillado!” I said.

“He! he! he!–he! he! he!–yes, the Amontillado. But is it not getting

late? Will not they be awaiting us at the palazzo, the Lady Fortunato

and the rest? Let us be gone.”

“Yes,” I said, “let us be gone.”

“_For the love of God, Montressor!_”

“Yes,” I said, “for the love of God!”

But to these words I hearkened in vain for a reply. I grew impatient. I

called aloud–

“Fortunato!”

No answer. I called again–

“Fortunato!”

No answer still. I thrust a torch through the remaining aperture and let

it fall within. There came forth in return only a jingling of the bells.

My heart grew sick–on account of the dampness of the catacombs. I

hastened to make an end of my labor. I forced the last stone into its

position; I plastered it up. Against the new masonry I re-erected the

old rampart of bones. For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed

them. _In pace requiescat!_

BERENICE

Dicebant mihi sodales, si sepulchrum amicae visitarem, curas

meas aliquantulum forelevatas.

MISERY is manifold. The wretchedness of earth is multiform. Overreaching

the wide horizon as the rainbow, its hues are as various as the hues of

that arch–as distinct too, yet as intimately blended. Overreaching the

wide horizon as the rainbow! How is it that from beauty I have derived

a type of unloveliness?–from the covenant of peace, a simile of sorrow?

But as, in ethics, evil is a consequence of good, so, in fact, out of

joy is sorrow born. Either the memory of past bliss is the anguish of

to-day, or the agonies which _are_, have their origin in the ecstasies

which _might have been_.

My baptismal name is Egaeus; that of my family I will not mention. Yet

there are no towers in the land more time-honored than my gloomy, gray,

hereditary halls. Our line has been called a race of visionaries; and

in many striking particulars–in the character of the family

mansion–in the frescos of the chief saloon–in the tapestries of the

dormitories–in the chiselling of some buttresses in the armory–but

more especially in the gallery of antique paintings–in the fashion of

the library chamber–and, lastly, in the very peculiar nature of the

library’s contents–there is more than sufficient evidence to warrant

the belief.

The recollections of my earliest years are connected with that chamber,

and with its volumes–of which latter I will say no more. Here died my

mother. Herein was I born. But it is mere idleness to say that I had not

lived before–that the soul has no previous existence. You deny it?–let

us not argue the matter. Convinced myself, I seek not to convince. There

is, however, a remembrance of aerial forms–of spiritual and meaning

eyes–of sounds, musical yet sad–a remembrance which will not be

excluded; a memory like a shadow–vague, variable, indefinite, unsteady;

and like a shadow, too, in the impossibility of my getting rid of it

while the sunlight of my reason shall exist.

In that chamber was I born. Thus awaking from the long night of what

seemed, but was not, nonentity, at once into the very regions of fairy

land–into a palace of imagination–into the wild dominions of monastic

thought and erudition–it is not singular that I gazed around me with a

startled and ardent eye–that I loitered away my boyhood in books,

and dissipated my youth in reverie; but it _is_ singular that as years

rolled away, and the noon of manhood found me still in the mansion of my

fathers–it _is_ wonderful what stagnation there fell upon the springs

of my life–wonderful how total an inversion took place in the character

of my commonest thought. The realities of the world affected me as

visions, and as visions only, while the wild ideas of the land of dreams

became, in turn, not the material of my every-day existence, but in very

deed that existence utterly and solely in itself.

Berenice and I were cousins, and we grew up together in my paternal

halls. Yet differently we grew–I, ill of health, and buried in

gloom–she, agile, graceful, and overflowing with energy; hers, the

ramble on the hill-side–mine the studies of the cloister; I, living

within my own heart, and addicted, body and soul, to the most intense

and painful meditation–she, roaming carelessly through life, with

no thought of the shadows in her path, or the silent flight of the

raven-winged hours. Berenice!–I call upon her name–Berenice!–and

from the gray ruins of memory a thousand tumultuous recollections are

startled at the sound! Ah, vividly is her image before me now, as in the

early days of her light-heartedness and joy! Oh, gorgeous yet fantastic

beauty! Oh, sylph amid the shrubberies of Arnheim! Oh, Naiad among its

fountains! And then–then all is mystery and terror, and a tale which

should not be told. Disease–a fatal disease, fell like the simoon upon

her frame; and, even while I gazed upon her, the spirit of change swept

over her, pervading her mind, her habits, and her character, and, in a

manner the most subtle and terrible, disturbing even the identity of

her person! Alas! the destroyer came and went!–and the victim–where is

she? I knew her not–or knew her no longer as Berenice.

Among the numerous train of maladies superinduced by that fatal and

primary one which effected a revolution of so horrible a kind in the

moral and physical being of my cousin, may be mentioned as the most

distressing and obstinate in its nature, a species of epilepsy not

unfrequently terminating in _trance_ itself–trance very nearly

resembling positive dissolution, and from which her manner of recovery

was in most instances, startlingly abrupt. In the mean time my own

disease–for I have been told that I should call it by no other

appellation–my own disease, then, grew rapidly upon me, and assumed

finally a monomaniac character of a novel and extraordinary form–hourly

and momently gaining vigor–and at length obtaining over me the most

incomprehensible ascendancy. This monomania, if I must so term it,

consisted in a morbid irritability of those properties of the mind in

metaphysical science termed the _attentive_. It is more than probable

that I am not understood; but I fear, indeed, that it is in no manner

possible to convey to the mind of the merely general reader, an adequate

idea of that nervous _intensity of interest_ with which, in my case,

the powers of meditation (not to speak technically) busied and buried

themselves, in the contemplation of even the most ordinary objects of

the universe.

To muse for long unwearied hours, with my attention riveted to some

frivolous device on the margin, or in the typography of a book; to

become absorbed, for the better part of a summer’s day, in a quaint

shadow falling aslant upon the tapestry or upon the floor; to lose

myself, for an entire night, in watching the steady flame of a lamp,

or the embers of a fire; to dream away whole days over the perfume of a

flower; to repeat, monotonously, some common word, until the sound, by

dint of frequent repetition, ceased to convey any idea whatever to the

mind; to lose all sense of motion or physical existence, by means of

absolute bodily quiescence long and obstinately persevered in: such

were a few of the most common and least pernicious vagaries induced by a

condition of the mental faculties, not, indeed, altogether unparalleled,

but certainly bidding defiance to anything like analysis or explanation.

Yet let me not be misapprehended. The undue, earnest, and morbid

attention thus excited by objects in their own nature frivolous, must

not be confounded in character with that ruminating propensity common

to all mankind, and more especially indulged in by persons of ardent

imagination. It was not even, as might be at first supposed, an extreme

condition, or exaggeration of such propensity, but primarily and

essentially distinct and different. In the one instance, the dreamer,

or enthusiast, being interested by an object usually _not_ frivolous,

imperceptibly loses sight of this object in a wilderness of deductions

and suggestions issuing therefrom, until, at the conclusion of a day

dream _often replete with luxury_, he finds the _incitamentum_, or first

cause of his musings, entirely vanished and forgotten. In my case, the

primary object was _invariably frivolous_, although assuming, through

the medium of my distempered vision, a refracted and unreal importance.

Few deductions, if any, were made; and those few pertinaciously

returning in upon the original object as a centre. The meditations were

_never_ pleasurable; and, at the termination of the reverie, the first

cause, so far from being out of sight, had attained that supernaturally

exaggerated interest which was the prevailing feature of the disease. In

a word, the powers of mind more particularly exercised were, with me, as

I have said before, the _attentive_, and are, with the day-dreamer, the

_speculative_.

My books, at this epoch, if they did not actually serve to irritate the

disorder, partook, it will be perceived, largely, in their imaginative

and inconsequential nature, of the characteristic qualities of the

disorder itself. I well remember, among others, the treatise of the

noble Italian, Coelius Secundus Curio, “_De Amplitudine Beati Regni

Dei;_” St. Austin’s great work, the “City of God;” and Tertullian’s “_De

Carne Christi_,” in which the paradoxical sentence “_Mortuus est Dei

filius; credible est quia ineptum est: et sepultus resurrexit; certum

est quia impossibile est,_” occupied my undivided time, for many weeks

of laborious and fruitless investigation.

Thus it will appear that, shaken from its balance only by trivial

things, my reason bore resemblance to that ocean-crag spoken of by

Ptolemy Hephestion, which steadily resisting the attacks of human

violence, and the fiercer fury of the waters and the winds, trembled

only to the touch of the flower called Asphodel. And although, to

a careless thinker, it might appear a matter beyond doubt, that the

alteration produced by her unhappy malady, in the _moral_ condition of

Berenice, would afford me many objects for the exercise of that intense

and abnormal meditation whose nature I have been at some trouble in

explaining, yet such was not in any degree the case. In the lucid

intervals of my infirmity, her calamity, indeed, gave me pain, and,

taking deeply to heart that total wreck of her fair and gentle life, I

did not fall to ponder, frequently and bitterly, upon the wonder-working

means by which so strange a revolution had been so suddenly brought

to pass. But these reflections partook not of the idiosyncrasy of

my disease, and were such as would have occurred, under similar

circumstances, to the ordinary mass of mankind. True to its own

character, my disorder revelled in the less important but more startling

changes wrought in the _physical_ frame of Berenice–in the singular and

most appalling distortion of her personal identity.

During the brightest days of her unparalleled beauty, most surely I had

never loved her. In the strange anomaly of my existence, feelings with

me, _had never been_ of the heart, and my passions _always were_ of the

mind. Through the gray of the early morning–among the trellised shadows

of the forest at noonday–and in the silence of my library at night–she

had flitted by my eyes, and I had seen her–not as the living and

breathing Berenice, but as the Berenice of a dream; not as a being of

the earth, earthy, but as the abstraction of such a being; not as a

thing to admire, but to analyze; not as an object of love, but as

the theme of the most abstruse although desultory speculation. And

_now_–now I shuddered in her presence, and grew pale at her approach;

yet, bitterly lamenting her fallen and desolate condition, I called to

mind that she had loved me long, and, in an evil moment, I spoke to her

of marriage.

And at length the period of our nuptials was approaching, when, upon

an afternoon in the winter of the year–one of those unseasonably

warm, calm, and misty days which are the nurse of the beautiful Halcyon

(*1),–I sat, (and sat, as I thought, alone,) in the inner apartment of

the library. But, uplifting my eyes, I saw that Berenice stood before

me.

Was it my own excited imagination–or the misty influence of the

atmosphere–or the uncertain twilight of the chamber–or the gray

draperies which fell around her figure–that caused in it so vacillating

and indistinct an outline? I could not tell. She spoke no word; and

I–not for worlds could I have uttered a syllable. An icy chill ran

through my frame; a sense of insufferable anxiety oppressed me; a

consuming curiosity pervaded my soul; and sinking back upon the chair,

I remained for some time breathless and motionless, with my eyes riveted

upon her person. Alas! its emaciation was excessive, and not one vestige

of the former being lurked in any single line of the contour. My burning

glances at length fell upon the face.

The forehead was high, and very pale, and singularly placid; and the

once jetty hair fell partially over it, and overshadowed the hollow

temples with innumerable ringlets, now of a vivid yellow, and jarring

discordantly, in their fantastic character, with the reigning melancholy

of the countenance. The eyes were lifeless, and lustreless, and

seemingly pupilless, and I shrank involuntarily from their glassy stare

to he contemplation of the thin and shrunken lips. They parted; and in a

smile of peculiar meaning, _the teeth_ of the changed Berenice disclosed

themselves slowly to my view. Would to God that I had never beheld them,

or that, having done so, I had died!

The shutting of a door disturbed me, and, looking up, I found that my

cousin had departed from the chamber. But from the disordered chamber

of my brain, had not, alas! departed, and would not be driven away,

the white and ghastly _spectrum_ of the teeth. Not a speck on their

surface–not a shade on their enamel–not an indenture in their

edges–but what that period of her smile had sufficed to brand in upon

my memory. I saw them _now_ even more unequivocally than I beheld

them _then_. The teeth!–the teeth!–they were here, and there, and

everywhere, and visibly and palpably before me; long, narrow, and

excessively white, with the pale lips writhing about them, as in the

very moment of their first terrible development. Then came the full

fury of my _monomania_, and I struggled in vain against its strange and

irresistible influence. In the multiplied objects of the external world

I had no thoughts but for the teeth. For these I longed with a phrenzied

desire. All other matters and all different interests became absorbed in

their single contemplation. They–they alone were present to the mental

eye, and they, in their sole individuality, became the essence of

my mental life. I held them in every light. I turned them in every

attitude. I surveyed their characteristics. I dwelt upon their

peculiarities. I pondered upon their conformation. I mused upon the

alteration in their nature. I shuddered as I assigned to them in

imagination a sensitive and sentient power, and even when unassisted by

the lips, a capability of moral expression. Of Mademoiselle Salle it

has been well said, “_Que tous ses pas etaient des sentiments_,” and

of Berenice I more seriously believed _que toutes ses dents etaient des

idees_. _Des idees!_–ah here was the idiotic thought that destroyed me!

_Des idees!_–ah _therefore_ it was that I coveted them so madly! I felt

that their possession could alone ever restore me to peace, in giving me

back to reason.

And the evening closed in upon me thus–and then the darkness came, and

tarried, and went–and the day again dawned–and the mists of a second

night were now gathering around–and still I sat motionless in that

solitary room–and still I sat buried in meditation–and still the

_phantasma_ of the teeth maintained its terrible ascendancy, as, with

the most vivid hideous distinctness, it floated about amid the changing

lights and shadows of the chamber. At length there broke in upon my

dreams a cry as of horror and dismay; and thereunto, after a pause,

succeeded the sound of troubled voices, intermingled with many low

moanings of sorrow or of pain. I arose from my seat, and throwing open

one of the doors of the library, saw standing out in the ante-chamber

a servant maiden, all in tears, who told me that Berenice was–no more!

She had been seized with epilepsy in the early morning, and now, at the

closing in of the night, the grave was ready for its tenant, and all the

preparations for the burial were completed.

I found myself sitting in the library, and again sitting there alone. It

seemed that I had newly awakened from a confused and exciting dream.

I knew that it was now midnight, and I was well aware, that since the

setting of the sun, Berenice had been interred. But of that dreary

period which intervened I had no positive, at least no definite

comprehension. Yet its memory was replete with horror–horror more

horrible from being vague, and terror more terrible from ambiguity. It

was a fearful page in the record my existence, written all over with

dim, and hideous, and unintelligible recollections. I strived to

decypher them, but in vain; while ever and anon, like the spirit of a

departed sound, the shrill and piercing shriek of a female voice seemed

to be ringing in my ears. I had done a deed–what was it? I asked myself

the question aloud, and the whispering echoes of the chamber answered

me,–“_what was it?_”

On the table beside me burned a lamp, and near it lay a little box. It

was of no remarkable character, and I had seen it frequently before, for

it was the property of the family physician; but how came it _there_,

upon my table, and why did I shudder in regarding it? These things were

in no manner to be accounted for, and my eyes at length dropped to the

open pages of a book, and to a sentence underscored therein. The words

were the singular but simple ones of the poet Ebn Zaiat:–“_Dicebant

mihi sodales si sepulchrum amicae visitarem, curas meas aliquantulum

fore levatas_.” Why then, as I perused them, did the hairs of my head

erect themselves on end, and the blood of my body become congealed

within my veins?

There came a light tap at the library door–and, pale as the tenant of a

tomb, a menial entered upon tiptoe. His looks were wild with terror,

and he spoke to me in a voice tremulous, husky, and very low. What said

he?–some broken sentences I heard. He told of a wild cry disturbing the

silence of the night–of the gathering together of the household–of

a search in the direction of the sound; and then his tones grew

thrillingly distinct as he whispered me of a violated grave–of

a disfigured body enshrouded, yet still breathing–still

palpitating–_still alive_!

He pointed to garments;–they were muddy and clotted with gore. I spoke

not, and he took me gently by the hand: it was indented with the impress

of human nails. He directed my attention to some object against the

wall. I looked at it for some minutes: it was a spade. With a shriek I

bounded to the table, and grasped the box that lay upon it. But I could

not force it open; and in my tremor, it slipped from my hands, and fell

heavily, and burst into pieces; and from it, with a rattling sound,

there rolled out some instruments of dental surgery, intermingled with

thirty-two small, white and ivory-looking substances that were scattered

to and fro about the floor.

 




5 thoughts on “Six Creepy Stories by Edgar Allan Poe

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *