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Edgar Allan Poe
The Black Cat
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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 END-------------------------------------

 

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