Story 19 - the Black Cat by Spitoufs
Story 19 - the Black Cat by Spitoufs
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 cats 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 nights 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 wrongs 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
animals 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 felons 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
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
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! --