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The Monkey's Paw

في الجمعة أبريل 09, 2010 4:23 am



Without, the night was cold and wet, but in the small parlor of
Lakesnam Villa the blinds were drawn and the fire burned brightly.
Father and son were at chess, the former, who possessed ideas about the
game involving radical changes, putting his king into suchm sharp and
unnecessary perils that it even provoked comment from the whitehaired
old lady knitting placidly by the fire.
"Hark at the wind," said
Mr. White, who, having seen a fatal mistake after it was too late, was
amiably desirous of preventing his son from seeing it.
"I'm
listening," said the latter, grimly surveying the board as he stretched
out his hand. "Check."
"I should hardly think that he'd come
tonight," said his father, with his hand poised over the board.
"Mate,"
replied the son.
"That's the worst of living so far out," bawled
Mr. White, with sudden and unlooked-for violence; "of all the beastly,
slushy, out-of-the-way places to live in, this is the worst. Pathway's a
bog, and the road's a torrent. I don't know what people are thinking
about. I suppose because only two houses on the road are let, they think
it doesn't matter."
"Never mind, dear," said his wife soothingly;
"perhaps you'll win the next one."
Mr. White looked up sharply,
just in time to intercept a knowing glance between mother and son. The
words died away on his lips, and he hid a guilty grin in his thin grey
beard.
"There he is," said Herbert White, as the gate banged to
loudly and heavy footsteps came toward the door.
The old man rose
with hospitable haste, and opening the door, was heard condoling with
the new arrival. The new arrival also condoled with himself, so that
Mrs. White said, "Tut, tut!" and coughed gently as her husband entered
the room, followed by a tall, burly man, beady of eye and rubicund of
visage.
"Sergeant Major Morris," he said, introducing him.
The
sergeant major shook hands, and taking the proffered seat by the fire,
watched contentedly while his host got out whisky and tumblers and stood
a small copper kettle on the fire.
At the third glass his eyes
got brighter, and he began to talk, the little family circle regarding
with eager interest this visitor from distant parts, as he squared his
broad shoulders in the chair and spoke of strange scenes and doughty
deeds, of wars and plagues and strange peoples.
"Twenty-one years
of it," said Mr. White, nodding at his wife and son. "When he went away
he was a slip of a youth in the warehouse. Now look at him."
"He
don't look to have taken much harm," said Mrs. White politely. "I'd like
to go to India myself," said the old man, "just to look round a bit,
you know."
"Better where you are," said the sergeant major,
shaking his head. He put down the empty glass, and sighing softly, shook
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 about a monkey's paw or something, Morris?"
"Nothing,"
said the soldier hastily. "Leastways, nothing worth hearing."
"Monkey's
paw?" said Mrs. White curiously.
"Well, it's just a bit of what
you might call magic, perhaps," said the sergeant major offhandedly.
His
three listeners leaned forward eagerly. The visitor absentmindedly put
his empty glass to his lips and then set it down again. His host filled
it for him.
"To look at," said the sergeant major, fumbling in his
pocket, "it's just an ordinary little paw, dried to a mummy."
He
took something out of his pocket and proffered it. Mrs. White drew back
with a grimace, but her son, taking it, examined it curiously.
"And
what is there special about it?" inquired Mr. White, as he took it from
his son, and having examined it, placed 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 lives, and that
those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow. He put a spell on
it so that three separate men could each have three wishes from it."
His
manner was so impressive that his hearers were conscious that their
light laughter jarred somewhat.
"Well, why don't you have three,
sir?" said Herbert White cleverly.
The soldier regarded him in the
way that middle age is wont to regard presumptuous youth. "I have," he
said quietly, and his blotchy face whitened.
"And did you really
have the three wishes granted?" asked Mrs. White.
"I did," said
the sergeant major, and his glass tapped against his strong teeth.
"And
has anybody else wished?" inquired the old lady.
"The first man
had his three wishes, yes," was the reply. "I don't know what the first
two were, but the third was for death. That's how I got the paw."
His
tones were so grave that a hush fell upon the group.
"If you've
had your three wishes, it's no good to you now, then, Morris," said the
old man at last. "What do you keep it for?"
The soldier shook his
head. "Fancy, I suppose," he said slowly. "I did have some idea of
selling it, but I don't think I will. It has caused enough mischief
already. Besides, people won't buy. They think it's a fairy tale, some
of them, and those who do think anything of it want to try it first and
pay me afterward."
"If you could have another three wishes," said
the old man, eyeing him keenly, "would you have them?"
"I don't
know," said the other. "I don't know."
He took the paw, and
dangling it between his front finger and thumb, suddenly threw it upon
the fire. White, with a slight cry, stooped down and snatched it off.
"Better
let it burn," said the soldier solemnly.
"If you don't want it,
Morris," said the old man, "give it to me."
"I won't," said his
friend doggedly. "I threw it on the fire. If you keep it, don't blame me
for what happens. Pitch it on the fire again, like a sensible man."
The
other shook his head and examined his new possession closely. "How do
you do it?" he inquired.
"Hold it up in your right hand and wish
aloud," said the sergeant major, "but I warn you of the consequences."
"Sounds
like the Arabian Nights," said Mrs. White, as she rose and began to set
the supper. "Don't you think you might wish for four pairs of hands for
me?"
Her husband drew the talisman from his pocket and then all
three burst into laughter as the sergeant major, with a look of alarm on
his face, caught him by the arm.
"If you must wish," he said
gruffly, "wish for something sensible."
Mr. White dropped it back
into his pocket, and placing chairs, motioned his friend to the table.
In the business of supper the talisman was partly forgotten, and
afterward the three sat listening in an enthralled fashion to a second
installment of the soldier's adventures in India.
"If the tale
about the monkey's paw is not more truthful than those he has been
telling us," said Herbert, as the door closed behind their guest, just
in time for him to catch the last train, "we shan't make much out of
it."
"Did you give him anything for it, Father?" inquired Mrs.
White, regarding her husband closely.
"A trifle," said he,
coloring slightly. "He didn't want it, but I made him take it. And he
pressed me again to throw it away."
"Likely," said Herbert, with
pretended horror. "Why, we're going to be rich, and famous, and happy.
Wish to be an emperor, Father, to begin with; then you can't be
henpecked."
He darted around the table, pursued by the maligned
Mrs. White armed with an antimacassar.
Mr. White took the paw from
his pocket and eyed it dubiously. "I don't know what to wish for, and
that's a fact," he said slowly. "It seems to me I've got all I want."
"If
you only cleared the house, you'd be quite happy, wouldn't you?" said
Herbert, with his hand on his shoulder. "Well, wish for two hundred
pounds, then; that'll just do it."
His father, smiling
shamefacedly at his own credulity, held up the talisman, as his son,
with a solemn face somewhat marred by a wink at his mother, sat down at
the piano and struck a few impressive chords.
"I wish for two
hundred pounds," said the old man distinctly.
A fine crash from
the piano greeted the words, interrupted by a shuddering cry from the
old man. His wife and son ran toward him.
"It moved," he cried,
with a glance of disgust at the object as it lay on the floor. "As I
wished, it twisted in my hand like a snake."
"Well, I don't see
the money," said his son, as he picked it up and placed it on the table,
"and I bet I never shall."
"It must have been your fancy,
Father," said his wife, regarding him anxiously.
He shook his
head. "Never mind, though; there's no harm done, but it gave me a shock
all the same."
They sat down by the fire again while the two men
finished their pipes. Outside, the wind was higher than ever, and the
old man started nervously at the sound of a door banging upstairs. A
silence unusual and depressing settled upon all three, which 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 of your bed,"
said Herbert, as he bade them good night, "and something horrible
squatting up on top of the wardrobe watching you as you pocket your
ill-gotten gains."
In the brightness of the wintry sun next
morning as it streamed over the breakfast table, Herbert laughed at his
fears. There was an air of prosaic wholesomeness about the room which it
had lacked on the previous night, and the dirty, shriveled little paw
was pitched on the sideboard with a carelessness 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 in these days? And if they could, how could two
hundred pounds hurt you, Father?"
"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."
"Well, don't break into the
money before I come back," said Herbert, as he rose from the table. "I'm
afraid it'll turn you into a mean, avaricious man, and we shall have to
disown you."
His mother laughed, and following him to the door,
watched him down the road, and returning to the breakfast table, was
very happy at the expense of her husband's credulity. All of which did
not prevent her from scurrying to the door at the postman's knock, nor
prevent her from referring somewhat shortly to retired sergeant majors
of bibulous habits, when she found that the post brought a tailor's
bill.
"Herbert will have some more of his funny remarks, I expect,
when he comes home," she said, as they sat at dinner.
"I
daresay," said Mr. White, pouring himself out some beer; "but for all
that, the thing moved in my hand; that I'll swear to."
"You
thought it did," said the old lady soothingly.
"I say it did,"
replied the other. "There was no thought about it; I had just-- What's
the matter?"
His wife made no reply. She was watching the
mysterious movements of a man outside, who, peering in an undecided
fashion at the house, appeared to be trying to make up his mind to
enter. In mental connection with the two hundred pounds, she noticed
that the stranger was well dressed and wore a silk hat of glossy
newness. Three times he paused at the gate, and then walked on again.
The fourth time he stood with his hand upon it, and then with sudden
resolution flung it open and walked up the path. Mrs. White at the same
moment placed her hands behind her, and hurriedly unfastening the
strings of her apron, put that useful article of apparel beneath the
cushion of her chair.
She brought the stranger, who seemed ill at
ease, into the room. He gazed furtively at Mrs. White, and listened in a
preoccupied fashion as the old lady apologized for the appearance of
the room, and her husband's coat, a garment which he usually reserved
for the garden. She then waited as patiently as her sex would permit for
him to broach his business, but he was at first strangely silent.
"I--was
asked to call," he said at last, and stooped and picked a piece of
cotton from his trousers. "I come from Maw and Meggins."
The old
lady started. "Is anything the matter?" she asked breathlessly. "Has
anything happened to Herbert? What is it? What is it?"
Her husband
interposed. "There, there, Mother," he said hastily. "Sit down, and
don't jump to conclusions. You've not brought bad news, I'm sure, sir,"
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 said quietly, "but he is not in any pain."
"Oh,
thank God!" said the old woman, clasping her hands. "Thank God for that!
Thank--"
She broke off suddenly as the sinister meaning of the
assurance dawned upon her and she saw the awful confirmation of her
fears in the other's averted face. She caught her breath, and turning to
her slower-witted husband, laid her trembling old hand upon his. There
was a long silence.
"He was caught in the machinery," said the
visitor at length, in a low voice.
"Caught in the machinery,"
repeated Mr. White, in a dazed fashion, "yes."
He sat staring
blankly out at the window, and taking his wife's hand between his own,
pressed it as he had been wont to do in their old courting days nearly
forty years before.
"He was the only one left to us," he said,
turning gently to the visitor. "It is hard."
The other coughed,
and rising, walked slowly to the window. "The firm wished me to convey
their sincere sympathy with you in your great loss," he said, without
looking around. "I beg that you will understand I am only their servant
and merely obeying orders."
There was no reply; the old woman's
face was white, her eyes staring, and her breath inaudible; on the
husband's face was a look such as his friend the sergeant 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 all, but in consideration of your son's services they wish
to present you with a certain sum as compensation."
Mr. White
dropped his wife's hand, and rising to his feet, gazed with a look of
horror at his visitor. His dry lips shaped the words, "How much?"
"Two
hundred pounds," was the answer.
Unconscious of his wife's
shriek, the old man smiled faintly, put out his hands like a sightless
man, and dropped, a senseless heap, to the floor.
In the huge new
cemetery, some two miles distant, the old people buried their dead, and
came back to a house steeped in shadow and silence. It was all over so
quickly that at first they could hardly realize it, and remained in a
state of expectation, as though of something else to happen--something
else which was to lighten this load, too heavy for old hearts to bear.
But the days passed, and expectation gave place to resignation--the
hopeless resignation of the old, sometimes miscalled apathy. Sometimes
they hardly exchanged a word, for now they had nothing to talk about,
and their days were long to weariness.
It was about a week after
that that the old man, waking suddenly in the night, stretched out his
hand and found himself alone. The room was in darkness, and the sound of
subdued weeping came from the window. He raised himself in bed and
listened.
"Come back," he said tenderly. "You will be cold."
"It
is colder for my son," said the old woman, and wept afresh.
The
sound of her sobs died away on his ears. The bed was -warm, and his eyes
heavy with sleep. He dozed fitfully, and then slept until a sudden cry
from his wife awoke him with a start.
"The monkey's paw!" she
cried wildly. "The monkey's paw!"
He started up in alarm. "Where?
Where is it? What's the matter?" She came stumbling across the room
toward him. "I want it," she said quietly. "You've not destroyed it?"
"It's
in the parlor, on the bracket," he replied, marveling. "Why?"
She
cried and laughed together, and bending over, kissed his cheek.
"I
only just thought of it," she said hysterically. "Why didn't I think of
it before? Why didn't you think of it?"
"Think of what?" he
questioned.
"The other two wishes," she replied rapidly. "We've
only had one."
"Was not that enough?" he demanded fiercely.
"No,"
she cried triumphantly; "we'll have one more. Go down and get it
quickly, and wish our boy alive again."
The man sat up in bed and
flung the bedclothes from his quaking limbs. "Good God, you are mad!" he
cried, aghast.
"Get it," she panted; "get it quickly, and wish--
Oh, my boy, my boy!"
Her husband struck a match and lit the
candle. "Get back to bed," he said unsteadily. "You don't know what you
are saying."
"We had the first wish granted," said the old woman
feverishly; "why not the second?"
"A coincidence," stammered the
old man.
"Go and get it and wish," cried the old woman, and
dragged him toward the door.
He went down in the darkness, and
felt his way to the parlor, and then to the mantelpiece. The talisman
was in its place, and a horrible fear that the unspoken wish might bring
his mutilated son before him ere he could escape from the room seized
upon him, and he caught his breath as he found that he had lost the
direction of the door. His brow cold with sweat, he felt his way around
the table, and groped along the wall until he found himself in the small
passage with the unwholesome thing in his hand.
Even his wife's
face seemed changed as he entered the room. It was white and expectant,
and to his fears seemed to have an unnatural look upon it. He was afraid
of her.
"Wish!" she cried, in 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 floor, and he regarded it shudderingly. Then he sank trembling
into a chair as the old woman, with burning eyes, walked to the window
and raised the blind.
He sat until he was chilled with the cold,
glancing occasionally at the figure of the old woman peering through the
window. The candle end, which had burned below the rim of the china
candlestick, was throwing pulsating shadows on the ceiling and walls,
until, with a flicker larger than the rest, it expired. The old man,
with an unspeakable sense of relief at the failure of the talisman,
crept back to his bed, and a minute or two afterward the old woman came
silently and apathetically beside him.
Neither spoke, but both lay
silently listening to the ticking of the clock. A stair creaked, and a
squeaky mouse scurried noisily through the wall. The darkness was
oppressive, and after lying for some time screwing up his courage, the
husband took the box of matches, and striking one, went downstairs for a
candle.
At the foot of the stairs the match went out, and he
paused to strike another, and at the same moment a knock, so quiet and
stealthy as to be scarcely audible, sounded on the front door.
The
matches fell from his hand. He stood motionless, his breath suspended
until the knock was repeated. Then he turned and fled swiftly back to
his room, and closed the door behind him. A third knock sounded through
the house.
"What's that?" cried the old woman, starting up.
"A
rat," said the old man, in shaking tones, "a rat. It passed 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!"
She
ran to the door, but her husband was before her, and catching her by
the arm, held her tightly.
"What are you going to do?" he
whispered hoarsely.
"It's my boy; it's Herbert!" she cried,
struggling mechanically. "I forgot it was two miles away. What are you
holding me for? Let go. I must open the door."
"For God's sake
don't let it in," cried the old man, trembling.
"You're afraid of
your own son," she cried, struggling. "Let me go. I'm coming, Herbert;
I'm coming."
There was another knock, and another. The old woman
with a sudden wrench broke free and ran from the room. Her husband
followed to the landing, and called after her appealingly as she hurried
downstairs. He heard the chain rattle back and the bottom bolt drawn
slowly and stiffly from the socket. Then the old woman's voice, strained
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 in search of the paw. If he could only find it
before the thing outside got in. A perfect fusillade of knocks
reverberated through the house, and he heard the scraping of a chair as
his wife put it down in the passage against the door. He heard the
creaking of the bolt as it came slowly back, and at the same moment, he
found the monkey's paw, and frantically breathed his third and last
wish.
The knocking ceased suddenly, although the echoes of it were
still in the house. He heard the chair drawn back and the door opened. A
cold wind rushed up the staircase, and a long, loud wail of
disappointment and misery from his wife gave him courage to run down to
her side, and then to the gate beyond. The streetlamp flickering
opposite shone on a quiet and deserted road.











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رد: The Monkey's Paw

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