The Telltale Heart - by Edgar Allan Poe
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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! One of his eyes resembled that 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 for ever.
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 so 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 had 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 the 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 has 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 single dim ray like the thread of the spider shot out from
the crevice and fell 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 now have I not told you that what you mistake for
madness is but over-acuteness of the senses? 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 eye. 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.
I 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 anything
wrong. There was nothing to wash out -- no stain of any kind -- no blood-spot
whatever. I had been too wary for that.
When I had made an end of these labours, 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 : I talked more freely
to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained definitiveness -- 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. O 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
Edgar Allan Poe