The Black Cat





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 tomorrow I die, and today 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 presented little but horror--to many they will

seem less terrible than baroques. Hereafter, perhaps, some intellect

may be found which will reduce my phantasm to the commonplace--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 favourite 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 fiber

of my frame. I took from my waistcoat-pocket a penknife, 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 gave 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 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 were 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 forward 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 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-stupefied 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

favourite 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 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 chimeras 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!--O, 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 woe! 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 nightmare 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 ax, 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 ax 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 neighbours. 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 merchandise, 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 rest 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 anything suspicious.



And in this calculation I was not deceived. By means of a crowbar 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 relaid 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 brick-work. When I had

finished I felt satisfied that all was all 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 last, then, my labour 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 forbore 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 by, 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 frenzy 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

damned 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.



EDGAR ALLAN POE.





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