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The Black Cat

by Edgar Allan Poe

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 baroques. 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 peculiar 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 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 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 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 every
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, had then with the flames, and the ammonia from the carcass, 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 fall 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 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 it at 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 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 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 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 could not every poss 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
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
free-man. 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 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 tolling 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 (1809 – 1849) was an American author, poet, editor and literary critic, considered part of the American Romantic Movement. Best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, Poe was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story and is considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre. He is further credited with contributing to the emerging genre of science fiction. He was the first well-known American writer to try to earn a living through writing alone.

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Fiction


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