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The Cask of Amontillado

Fortunato had hurt me a thousand times, but there came a point when I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I uttered a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitely settled. I must not only punish him, but get away with it. A wrong is unavenged when its avenger is caught. It is equally unavenged when the avenger fails to make it known to the wrongdoer.

It must be understood that neither by word nor deed had I given Fortunato cause to doubt my good will. I continued, as usual, to smile in his face, and he did not perceive that my smile now was at the thought of his future suffering. He had a weak point — this Fortunato — although in other regards he was a man to be respected and even feared. He prided himself on his expert knowledge of wine. In this respect I did not differ from him. I was knowledgeable about the vintages myself, and bought largely whenever I could.

It was about dusk, one evening during the supreme madness of the carnival season, that I encountered my friend. He greeted me with excessive warmth, for he had been drinking much. He had on a tight-fitting striped outfit, and his head was topped by a conical cap and bells. I was so pleased to see him that I thought I should never have done wringing his hand.

I said to him — “My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met. How remarkably well you are looking today! But I have received a cask of what I’ve been told is Amontillado , and I have my doubts.”

“How?” said he. “Amontillado? A cask? Impossible! And in the middle of the carnival!”

“I have my doubts,” I replied, “and I was silly enough to pay the full Amontillado price without consulting you in the matter. You were not to be found, and I was fearful of losing a bargain.”

“Amontillado!”
“I have my doubts.”
“Amontillado!”
“And I must satisfy them.”
“Amontillado!”
“I am on my way to see Luchesi. If anyone is a good wine critic it is he. He will tell me ——”

“Luchesi cannot tell Amontillado from ordinary sherry.”
“And yet some fools will have it that his taste is a match for your own.”
“Come, let us go.”
“Where?”
“To your vaults.”
“My friend, no. I will not impose upon your good nature. I perceive you have an engagement. Luchesi ——”

“I have no engagement — come.”

“My friend, no. It is not the engagement, but the severe cold with which I perceive you are afflicted. The vaults are insufferably damp. They are encrusted with mineral deposits.”

“Let us go, nevertheless. The cold is merely nothing. Amontillado! You have been imposed upon. And as for Luchesi, he cannot distinguish sherry from Amontillado.”

Thus speaking, Fortunato possessed himself of my arm. Putting on a mask of black silk and drawing a knee-length cape about me, I allowed him to hurry me to my home.

There were no attendants at home; they had left to make merry in honor of the festival. I had told them that I should not return until the morning, and had given them orders not to stir from the house. These orders were sufficient, I well knew, to insure their immediate disappearance, one and all, as soon as my back was turned.

I took two flaming torches from their holders on the wall, and giving one to Fortunato, bowed him through several suites of rooms to the archway that led into the vaults. I passed down a long and winding staircase, requesting him to be cautious as he followed. We came at length to the foot of the descent, and stood together on the damp ground of the catacombs of my ancestors, the Montresors.

The gait of my friend was unsteady, and the bells upon his cap jingled as he strode.

“The cask,” said he.

“It is farther on,” said I, “but observe the white web-work which gleams from these cavern walls.”

He turned towards me, and looked into my eyes drunkenly. “Mineral deposits?” he asked.

“Mineral deposits,” I replied. “How long have you had that cough?”

“Ugh! ugh! ugh! — ugh! ugh! ugh!”

My poor friend found it impossible to reply for many minutes.

“It is nothing,” he said, at last.

“Come,” I said, with decision, “we will go back. Your health is precious. You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as once I was. You are a man to be missed. For me it is no matter. We will go back. You will be ill, and I cannot be responsible. Besides, there is Luchesi ——”

“Enough,” he said. “The cough is a mere nothing; it will not kill me. I shall not die of a cough.”

“True — true,” I replied, “and, indeed, I had no intention of alarming you unnecessarily — but you should use all proper caution. A drink of this Medoc will defend us from the damps.”

Here I knocked off the neck of a bottle which I drew from a long row of its fellows that lay upon the mould. “Drink,” I said, presenting him the wine.

He raised it to his lips with a leer. He paused and nodded to me familiarly, while his bells jingled.

“I drink,” he said, “to the dead that rest here.”

“And I to your long life.”

He again took my arm, and we proceeded.

“These vaults,” he said, “are extensive.”

“The Montresors,” I replied, “were a great and numerous family.”

The wine sparkled in his eyes and the bells jingled. My own fancy grew warm with the Medoc. We had passed through walls of piled bones, with casks intermingled, into the inmost depths of the catacombs. I paused again, and this time I seized Fortunato by the arm, above the elbow.

“The mineral deposit!” I said. “See, it increases. It hangs like moss upon the vaults. We are below the river bed. The drops of moisture trickle among the bones. Come, we will go back before it is too late. Your cough ——”

“It is nothing,” he said. “Let us go on. But first, another drink of the Medoc.”
I broke and reached him a flask. He emptied it at a breath. His eyes flashed with a fierce light. “Let us proceed to the Amontillado.”

“Be it so,” I said, replacing the tool beneath the cloak and again offering him my arm. He leaned upon it heavily. We continued our route in search of the Amontillado. We passed through a range of low arches, descended, passed on, and descending again, arrived at a deep chamber, in which the foulness of the air caused our torches rather to glow than flame.

At the most remote end of the chamber there appeared another, less spacious. Its walls had been lined with human remains, piled to the vault overhead, in the fashion of the great catacombs of Paris. Three sides of this inner crypt were still ornamented in this manner. From the fourth the bones had been thrown down, and lay heaped upon the earth, forming at one point a mound of some size. Within the wall thus exposed, we perceived a still deeper niche, or recess, in depth about four feet, in width three, in height six or seven backed by a wall of solid granite.

It was in vain that Fortunato, uplifting his dull torch, endeavored to pry into the depths of the recess. The feeble light did not enable us to see its end.

“Proceed,” I said; “herein is the Amontillado. As for Luchesi ——”

“He is an ignoramus,” interrupted my friend, as he stepped unsteadily forward, while I followed immediately at his heels. In an instant he had reached the far end of the niche, and finding his progress arrested by the rock, stood stupidly bewildered. A moment more and I had chained him to the granite. In its surface were two iron staples, distant from each other about two feet, horizontally. From one of these hung a short chain, from the other a padlock. Throwing the links about his waist, it was but the work of a few seconds to secure it. He was too much astounded to resist. Withdrawing the key I stepped back from the recess.

“Pass your hand,” I said, “over the wall. You cannot help feeling the damp. Indeed, it is very damp. Once more let me implore you to return. No? Then I will positively leave you. But I must first render you all the little attentions in my power.”

“The Amontillado!” exclaimed my friend, not yet recovered from his astonishment.

“True,” I replied, “the Amontillado.”

As I said these words I busied myself among the pile of bones of which I have before spoken. Throwing them aside, I soon uncovered a quantity of building stone and mortar. With these materials and with the aid of my trowel, I began vigorously to wall up the entrance of the niche.

I had scarcely laid the first tier of my masonry when I discovered that Fortunato’s intoxication had in a great measure worn off. The earliest indication I had of this was a low moaning cry from the depth of the recess. It was not the cry of a drunken man. There was then a long silence. I laid the second tier, and the third, and the fourth; and then I heard the furious vibrations of the chain. The noise lasted for several minutes, during which, that I might listen to it with more satisfaction, I ceased my labors and sat down upon the bones. When at last the clanking decreased, I resumed the trowel, and finished without interruption the fifth, the sixth, and the seventh tier. The wall was now nearly upon a level with my chest. I again paused, and holding the torch over the mason-work, threw a few feeble rays upon the figure within.

A series of loud and shrill screams, bursting suddenly from the throat of the chained form, seemed to thrust me violently back. For a brief moment I hesitated; I trembled. Unsheathing my sword, I began to grope with it about the recess; but a thought reassured me. I placed my hand upon the solid fabric of the catacombs, and felt satisfied. I re-approached the wall. I replied to the yells of him who clamored. I re-echoed — I aided — I surpassed them in volume and in strength. I did this, and the clamorer grew still.

It was now midnight, and my task was drawing to a close. I had completed the eighth, the ninth, and the tenth tier. I had finished a portion of the eleventh and last; there remained but a single stone to be fitted and plastered in. I struggled with its weight; I placed it partially in its destined position. But now there came from out the niche a low laugh that made the hairs upon my head stand up. It was followed by a sad voice, which I had difficulty in recognizing as that of the noble Fortunato. The voice said —

“Ha! ha! ha! — a very good joke, indeed — an excellent jest. We will have many a rich laugh about it over our wine.”

“The Amontillado!” I said.

“He! he! he! yes, the Amontillado. But is it not getting late? Will not they be awaiting us above — the Lady Fortunato and the rest? Let us be gone.”

“Yes,” I said, “let us be gone.”

For the love of God, Montresor!

“Yes,” I said, “for the love of God!”

But to these words I hearkened in vain for a reply. I grew impatient. I called aloud —

“Fortunato!”

No answer. I called again —

“Fortunato!” No answer still. I thrust a torch through the remaining opening and let it fall within. There came forth in return only a jingling of the bells. My heart grew sick — on account of the dampness of the catacombs. I hastened to make an end of my labor. I forced the last stone into its position; I plastered it up. Against the new masonry I re-erected the old wall of bones. For half a century no mortal has disturbed them. Rest in peace!

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Source: The Cask of Amontillado
By Edgar Allan Poe, Gutenberg.org, Public Domain

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