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The Monkey's Paw.


JacobsWilliam Wyman

 

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WITHOUTthe night was cold and wetbut in the small parlor of LakesnamVilla the blinds were drawn and the fire burned brightly. Father and son were atchessthe formerwho possessed ideas about the game involving radical changesputting his king into such sharp and unnecessary perils that it even provokedcomment from the white-haired old lady knitting placidly by the fire.

"Hark at the wind" said Mr. Whitewhohaving seen a fatalmistake after it was too latewas amiably desirous of preventing his son fromseeing it.

"I'm listening" said the lattergrimly surveying the board as hestretched out his hand. "Check."

"I should hardly think that he'd come to-night" said his fatherwith his hand poised over the board.

"Mate" replied the son.

"That's the worst of living so far out" bawled Mr. Whitewithsudden and unlooked-for violence; "of all the beastlyslushyout-of-the-way places to live inthis is the worst. Pathway's a bogand theroad's a torrent. I don't know what people are thinking about. I suppose becauseonly two houses on the road are letthey think it doesn't matter."

"Never minddear" said his wifesoothingly; "perhaps you'llwin the next one."

Mr. White looked up sharplyjust in time to intercept a knowing glancebetween mother and son. The words died away on his lipsand he hid a guiltygrin in his thin gray beard.

"There he is" said Herbert Whiteas the gate banged to loudly andheavy footsteps came towards the door.

The old man rose with hospitable hasteand opening the doorwas heardcondoling with the new arrival. The new arrival also condoled with himselfsothat Mrs. White said"Tuttut!" and coughed gently as her husbandentered the roomfollowed by a tall burly manbeady of eye and rubicund ofvisage.

"Sergeant-Major Morris" he saidintroducing him.

The sergeant-major shook handsand taking the proffered seat by the firewatched contentedly while his host got out whiskey and tumblers and stood asmall copper kettle on the fire.

At the third glass his eyes got brighterand he began to talkthe littlefamily circle regarding with eager interest this visitor from distant partsashe squared his broad shoulders in the chair and spoke of strange scenes anddoughty deedsof wars and plagues and strange peoples.

"Twenty-one years of it" said Mr. Whitenodding at his wife andson. "When he went away he was a slip of a youth in the warehouse. Now lookat him."

"He don't look to have taken much harm" said Mrs. Whitepolitely.

"I'd like to go to India myself" said the old man"just tolook round a bityou know."

"Better where you are" said the sergeant-majorshaking his head.He put down the empty glassand sighing softlyshook it again.

"I should like to see those old temples and fakirs and jugglers"said the old man. "What was that you started telling me the other day abouta monkey's paw or somethingMorris?"

"Nothing" said the soldierhastily. "Leastways nothing worthhearing."

"Monkey's paw?" said Mr. Whitecuriously.

"Wellit's just a bit of what you might call magicperhaps" saidthe sergeant-majoroff-handedly.

His three listeners leaned forward eagerly. The visitor absent-mindedly puthis empty glass to his lips and then set it down again. His host filled it forhim.

"To look at" said the sergeant-major

 

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fumbling in his pocket"it's just an ordinary little pawdried to a mummy."

He took something out of his pocket and proffered it. Mrs. White drew backwith a grimacebut her sontaking itexamined it curiously.

"And what is there special about it?" inquired Mr. White as he tookit from his sonand having examined itplaced it upon the table.

"It had a spell put on it by an old fakir" said the sergeant-major"a very holy man. He wanted to show that fate ruled people's livesand that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow. He put a spell onit so that three separate men could each have three wishes from it."

His manner was so impressive that his hearers were conscious that their lightlaughter jarred somewhat.

"Wellwhy don't you have threesir?" said Herbert Whitecleverly.

The soldier regarded him in the way that middle age is wont to regardpresumptuous youth. "I have" he saidquietlyand his blotchy facewhitened.

"And did you really have the three wishes granted?" asked Mrs.White.

"I did" said the sergeant-majorand his glass tapped against hisstrong teeth.

"And has anybody else wished?" inquired the old lady.

"The first man had his three wishesyes" was the reply. "Idon't know what the first two werebut the third was for death. That's how Igot the paw."

His tones were so grave that a hush fell upon the group.

"If you've had your three wishesit's no good to you nowthenMorris"said the old man at last. "What do you keep it for?"

The soldier shook his head. "FancyI suppose" he saidslowly."I did have some idea of selling itbut I don't think I will. It hascaused enough mischief already. Besidespeople won't buy. They think it's afairy-talesome of themand those who do think anything of it want to try itfirst and pay me afterwards."

"If you could have another three wishes" said the old maneyinghim keenly"would you have them?"

"I don't know" said the other. "I don't know."

He took the pawand dangling it between his front finger and thumbsuddenlythrew it upon the fire. Whitewith a slight crystooped down and snatched itoff.

"Better let it burn" said the soldiersolemnly.

"If you don't want itMorris" said the old man"give it tome."

"I won't" said his frienddoggedly. "I threw it on the fire.If you keep itdon't blame me for what happens. Pitch it on the fire againlike a sensible man."

The other shook his head and examined his new possession closely. "Howdo you do it?" he inquired.

"Hold it up in your right hand and wish aloud" said thesergeant-major"but I warn you of the consequences."

"Sounds like the Arabian Nights" said Mrs. Whiteas sherose and began to set the supper. "Don't you think you might wish for fourpairs of hands for me?"

Her husband drew the talisman from his pocketand then all three burst intolaughter as the sergeant-majorwith a look of alarm on his facecaught him bythe arm.

"If you must wish" he saidgruffly"wish for somethingsensible."

Mr. White dropped it back into his pocketand placing chairsmotioned hisfriend to the table. In the business of supper the talisman was partly forgottenand afterwards the three sat listening in an enthralled fashion to a secondinstalment of the soldier's adventures in India.

"If the tale about the monkey paw is not more truthful than those he hasbeen telling us" said Herbertas the door closed behind their guestjustin time for him to catch the last train"we sha'n't make much out of it."

"Did you give him anything for itfather?" inquired Mrs. Whiteregarding her husband closely.

"A trifle" said hecoloring slightly. "He didn't want itbut I made him take it. And he pressed me again to throw it away."

"Likely" said Herbertwith pretended horror. "Whywe'regoing to be richand famousand happy. Wish to be an emperorfatherto beginwith; then you can't be henpecked."

He darted round the tablepursued by the maligned Mrs. White armed with anantimacassar.

 

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Mr. White took the paw from his pocket and eyed it dubiously. "I don'tknow what to wish forand that's a fact" he saidslowly. "It seemsto me I've got all I want."

"If you only cleared the houseyou'd be quite happywouldn't you?"said Herbertwith his hand on his shoulder. "Wellwish for two hundredpoundsthen; that'll just do it."

His fathersmiling shamefacedly at his own credulityheld up the talismanas his sonwith a solemn face somewhat marred by a wink at his mothersat downat the piano and struck a few impressive chords.

"I wish for two hundred pounds" said the old mandistinctly.

A fine crash from the piano greeted the wordsinterrupted by a shudderingcry from the old man. His wife and son ran towards him.

"It moved" he criedwith a glance of disgust at the object as itlay on the floor. "As I wishedit twisted in my hands like a snake."

"WellI don't see the money" said his son as he picked it up andplaced it on the table"and I bet I never shall."

"It must have been your fancyfather" said his wiferegardinghim anxiously.

He shook his head. "Never mindthough; there's no harm donebut itgave me a shock all the same."

They sat down by the fire again while the two men finished their pipes.Outsidethe wind was higher than everand the old man started nervously at thesound of a door banging upstairs. A silence unusual and depressing settled uponall threewhich lasted until the old couple rose to retire for the night.

"I expect you'll find the cash tied up in a big bag in the middle ofyour bed" said Herbertas he bade them good-night"and somethinghorrible squatting up on top of the wardrobe watching you as you pocket yourill-gotten gains."

II

In the brightness of the wintry sun next morning as itstreamed over the breakfast table Herbert laughed at his fears. There was an airof prosaic wholesomeness about the room which it had lacked on the previousnightand the dirtyshrivelled little paw was pitched on the sideboard with acarelessness which betokened no great belief in its virtues.

"I suppose all old soldiers are the same" said Mrs. White."The idea of our listening to such nonsense! How could wishes be granted inthese days? And if they couldhow could two hundred pounds hurt youfather?"

"Might drop on his head from the sky" said the frivolous Herbert.

"Morris said the things happened so naturally" said his father"that you might if you so wished attribute it to coincidence."

"Welldon't break into the money before I come back" said Herbertas he rose from the table. "I'm afraid it'll turn you into a meanavaricious manand we shall have to disown you."

His mother laughedand following him to the doorwatched him down the roadand returning to the breakfast tablewas very happy at the expense of herhusband's credulity. All of which did not prevent her from scurrying to the doorat the postman's knocknor prevent her from referring somewhat shortly toretired sergeant- majors of bibulous habits when she found that the post broughta tailor's bill.

"Herbert will have some more of his funny remarksI expectwhen hecomes home" she said as they sat at dinner.

"I dare say" said Mr. Whitepouring himself out some beer; "butfor all thatthe thing moved in my hand; that I'll swear to."

"You thought it did" said the old ladysoothingly.

"I say it did" replied the other. "There was no thought aboutit; I had just -- What's the matter?"

His wife made no reply. She was watching the mysterious movements of a manoutsidewhopeering in an undecided fashion at the houseappeared to betrying to make up his mind to enter. In mental connection with the two hundredpoundsshe noticed that the stranger was well dressed and wore a silk hat ofglossy newness. Three times he paused at the gateand then walked on again. Thefourth time he stood with his hand upon itand then with sudden resolutionflung it open and walked up the path. Mrs. White at the same moment placed

 

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her hands behind herand hurriedly unfastening the strings of her apronputthat useful article of apparel beneath the cushion of her chair.

She brought the strangerwho seemed ill at easeinto the room. He gazedfurtively at Mrs. Whiteand listened in a preoccupied fashion as the old ladyapologized for the appearance of the roomand her husband's coata garmentwhich he usually reserved for the garden. She then waited as patiently as hersex would permit for him to broach his businessbut he was at first strangelysilent.

"I -- was asked to call" he said at lastand stooped and picked apiece of cotton from his trousers. "I come from 'Maw and Meggins.'"

The old lady started. "Is anything the matter?" she askedbreathlessly. "Has anything happened to Herbert? What is it? What is it?"

Her husband interposed. "Theretheremother" he saidhastily."Sit downand don't jump to conclusions. You've not brought bad newsI'msuresir" and he eyed the other wistfully.

"I'm sorry -- " began the visitor.

"Is he hurt?" demanded the mother.

The visitor bowed in assent. "Badly hurt" he saidquietly"buthe is not in any pain."

"Ohthank God!" said the old womanclasping her hands. "ThankGod for that! Thank -- "

She broke off suddenly as the sinister meaning of the assurance dawned uponher and she saw the awful confirmation of her fears in the other's averted face.She caught her breathand turning to her slower-witted husbandlaid hertrembling old hand upon his. There was a long silence.

"He was caught in the machinery" said the visitor at length in alow voice.

"Caught in the machinery" repeated Mr. White in a dazed fashion"yes."

He sat staring blankly out at the windowand taking his wife's hand betweenhis ownpressed it as he had been wont to do in their old courting days nearlyforty years before.

"He was the only one left to us" he saidturning gently to thevisitor. "It is hard."

The other coughedand risingwalked slowly to the window. "The firmwished me to convey their sincere sympathy with you in your great loss" hesaidwithout looking round. "I beg that you will understand I am onlytheir servant and merely obeying orders."

There was no reply; the old woman's face was whiteher eyes staringand herbreath inaudible; on the husband's face was a look such as his friend thesergeant might have carried into his first action.

"I was to say that Maw and Meggins disclaim all responsibility"continued the other. "They admit no liability at allbut in considerationof your son's service they wish to present you with a certain sum ascompensation."

Mr. White dropped his wife's handand rising to his feetgazed with a lookof horror at his visitor. His dry lips shaped the words"How much?"

"Two hundred pounds" was the answer.

Unconscious of his wife's shriekthe old man smiled faintlyput out hishands like a sightless manand droppeda senseless heapto the floor.

III

In the huge new cemeterysome two miles distantthe oldpeople buried their deadand came back to a house steeped in shadow and silence.It was all over so quickly that at first they could hardly realize itandremained in a state of expectation as though of something else to happen --something else which was to lighten this loadtoo heavy for old hearts to bear.

But the days passedand expectation gave place to resignation -- thehopeless resignation of the oldsometimes miscalled apathy. Sometimes theyhardly exchanged a wordfor now they had nothing to talk aboutand their dayswere long to weariness.

It was about a week after that that the old manwaking suddenly in thenightstretched out his hand and found himself alone. The room was in darknessand the sound of subdued weeping came from the window. He raised himself in bedand listened.

"Come back" he saidtenderly. "You will be cold."

"It is colder for my son" said the old womanand wept afresh.

The sound of her sobs died away on

 

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his ears. The bed was warmand his eyes heavy with sleep. He dozed fitfullyand then slept until a sudden wild cry from his wife awoke him with a start.

"The monkey's paw!" she criedwildly. "The monkey's paw!"

He started up in alarm. "Where? Where is it? What's the matter?"

She came stumbling across the room towards him. "I want it" shesaidquietly. "You've not destroyed it?"

"It's in the parloron the bracket" he repliedmarvelling."Why?"

She cried and laughed togetherand bending overkissed his cheek.

"I only just thought of it" she saidhysterically. "Whydidn't I think of it before? Why didn't you think of it?"

"Think of what?" he questioned.

"The other two wishes" she repliedrapidly. "We've only hadone."

"Was not that enough?" he demandedfiercely.

"No" she criedtriumphantly; "we'll have one more. Go downand get it quicklyand wish our boy alive again."

The man sat up in bed and flung the bedclothes from his quaking limbs. "GoodGodyou are mad!" he criedaghast.

"Get it" she panted; "get it quicklyand wish -- Ohmy boymy boy!"

Her husband struck a match and lit the candle. "Get back to bed"he saidunsteadily. "You don't know what you are saying."

"We had the first wish granted" said the old womanfeverishly;"why not the second?"

"A coincidence" stammered the old man.

"Go and get it and wish" cried the old womanand dragged himtowards the door.

He went down in the darknessand felt his way to the parlorand then to themantel-piece. The talisman was in its placeand a horrible fear that theunspoken wish might bring his mutilated son before him ere he could escape fromthe room seized upon himand he caught his breath as he found that he had lostthe direction of the door. His brow cold with sweathe felt his way round thetableand groped along the wall until he found himself in the small passagewith the unwholesome thing in his hand.

Even his wife's face seemed changed as he entered the room. It was white andexpectantand to his fears seemed to have an unnatural look upon it. He wasafraid of her.

"Wish!" she criedin a strong voice.

"It is foolish and wicked" he faltered.

"Wish!" repeated his wife.

He raised his hand. "I wish my son alive again."

The talisman fell to the floorand he regarded it shudderingly. Then he sanktrembling into a chair as the old womanwith burning eyeswalked to the windowand raised the blind.

He sat until he was chilled with the coldglancing occasionally at thefigure of the old woman peering through the window. The candle endwhich hadburnt below the rim of the china candlestickwas throwing pulsating shadows onthe ceiling and wallsuntilwith a flicker larger than the restit expired.The old manwith an unspeakable sense of relief at the failure of the talismancrept back to his bedand a minute or two afterwards the old woman camesilently and apathetically beside him.

Neither spokebut both lay silently listening to the ticking of the clock. Astair creakedand a squeaky mouse scurried noisily through the wall. Thedarkness was oppressiveand after lying for some time screwing up his couragethe husband took the box of matchesand striking onewent down stairs for acandle.

At the foot of the stairs the match went outand he paused to strike anotherand at the same moment a knockso quiet and stealthy as to be scarcely audiblesounded on the front door.

The matches fell from his hand. He stood motionlesshis breath suspendeduntil the knock was repeated. Then he turned and fled swiftly back to his roomand closed the door behind him. A third knock sounded through the house.

" What's that?" cried the old womanstarting up.

"A rat" said the old man in shaking tones -- "a rat. Itpassed me on the stairs."

His wife sat up in bed listening. A loud knock resounded through the house.

"It's Herbert!" she screamed. "It's Herbert!"

 

"WHAT'S THAT?" CRIED THE OLD WOMAN



 

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She ran to the doorbut her husband was before herand catching her by thearmheld her tightly.

"What are you going to do?" he whispered hoarsely.

"It's my boy; it's Herbert!" she criedstruggling mechanically."I forgot it was two miles away. What are you holding me for? Let go. Imust open the door."

"For God's sake don't let it in" cried the old mantrembling.

"You're afraid of your own son" she criedstruggling. "Letme go. I'm comingHerbert; I'm coming."

There was another knockand another. The old woman with a sudden wrenchbroke free and ran from the room. Her husband followed to the landingandcalled after her appealingly as she hurried down stairs. He heard the chainrattle back and the bottom bolt drawn slowly and stiffly from the socket. Thenthe old woman's voicestrained and panting.

"The bolt" she cried loudly. "Come down. I can't reach it."

But her husband was on his hands and knees groping wildly on the floor insearch of the paw. If he could only find it before the thing outside got in. Aperfect fusillade of knocks reverberated through the houseand he heard thescraping of a chair as his wife put it down in the passage against the door. Heheard the creaking of the bolt as it came slowly backand at the same moment hefound the monkey's pawand frantically breathed his third and last wish.

The knocking ceased suddenlyalthough the echoes of it were still in thehouse. He heard the chair drawn back and the door opened. A cold wind rushed upthe staircaseand a long loud wail of disappointment and misery from his wifegave him courage to run down to her sideand then to the gate beyond. Thestreet lamp flickering opposite shone on a quiet and deserted road.