Story 18 - the Tell-Tale Heart by Spitoufs
Story 18 - the Tell-Tale Heart by Spitoufs
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 mans 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 watchs 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 - Whos 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
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 mans 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 mans 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 eye. Meantime the hellish tattoo of
the heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker, and louder
and louder every instant. The old mans 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 mans 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 oclock -
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!