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 my Lady. She had wronged me. She delighted in giving me insult. For her gold I had no desire. I think it was her eyes! yes, it was this! She had the eyes of a rook –obsidian black eyes, that glinted like coal. Whenever her gaze fell upon me, such contempt I saw; and so by degrees –very gradually –I made up my mind to take my Lady to task, and thus change that look of contempt forever.
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 more akin to my Lady’s needs than during the whole week before I took her to task. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of her door and opened it –oh so gently! I would watch my Lady sleep, watch as she slept as deep as a babe. For when my Lady slept she was but an angel. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber, and spoke courteously to her, calling her by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how She has passed the night. So you see she would have been a very profound, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon her while she 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 desire. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. To think that there I was, opening the door, little by little, and she not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea; and perhaps she heard me; for she moved on the bed suddenly, as if startled. Now you may think that I drew back –but no. Her 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 she 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 light the lamp when she sprang up in 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 her lie down. She 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 my Lady felt, and pitied her, although I chuckled at heart. I knew that she had been lying awake ever since the first slight noise, when she had turned in the bed. Her fears had been ever since growing upon her. She had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could not. She 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, she had been trying to comfort herself with these suppositions: but she had found all in vain.
When I had waited a long time, very patiently, without hearing her lie down, I resolved to light the lamp. At length a simple dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and fell full upon the obsidian eyes.
They were open –full of contempt and scorn –and I grew furious as I gazed upon her. I saw her with perfect distinctness –black as soot, with a spiteful glint that stirred at the very marrow in my bones; but I could see nothing else of my Lady’s person: for I had directed the ray as if by instinct, precisely upon her face.
And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the sense? –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 my Lady’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 light upon her face. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant. The my Lady’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! My Lady’s hour had come! With a sense of purpose I strode to her bedside and drew back the covers. My Lady opened her delicious mouth to call out but this time twas mine eyes that did the commanding and she fell silent. With a force akin to hefting a bale of new-mown hay, I lifted my Lady from her bed and placed her over my sturdy knees. My Lady struggled some but none such as when I began to blaze her impetuous buttocks. A hand like iron I have been told, my Lady felt my iron that night. Felt it long and hard.
If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the swiftness with which I disrobe my Lady. I took hold of her bed clothing and lifted it high above her head so that it came to rest upon her shoulders. I saw her twin globes a quivering and the soft glow I had already imparted upon them.
I then took up my Lady’s hairbrush from the chamber side table. A wicked, ebony thing, I raised it high and with a scythe like motion brought it down upon my Lady’s rear. Ne’er has I seen a body arch that way. Again and again I repeated this motion, all the while my Lady screeched and moaned. All the while I scolded my Lady for her rudeness and cold gaze. My Lady begged, pleaded, but to no avail. This task I had started and I would carry out with joy. Never again would she turn cold eyes to me. My Lady would learn, or her rear end would know the reason why.
When I had made an end of these labors, it was two 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 that of my Lady. I bade them search –search well. I led them, at length, to her chamber. My Lady, through her tears did answer their questions. In the enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here to rest from their fatigues, while I myself sat with my Lady on her bed. To all eyes, the happy couple.
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 groin ached, and I felt a growing in my loins: but still they sat and still chatted. The growing became more apparent: –It continued and became more distinct: I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained definiteness –until, at length, I could keep quiet no longer.
“Officers!” I shrieked, “My Lady is safe as you see, now leave my home that I may finish what I have started!”
A knowing wink I have since seen, in my Lady’s eyes and in the eyes of others. For the way to my Lady’s heart is surely through her bottom.