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The Monkey's Paw, Page 2

W. W. Jacobs

crash from the piano greeted the words, interrupted by ashuddering 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 onthe 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 placedit on the table, "and I bet I never shall."

  "It must have been your fancy, father," said his wife, regarding himanxiously.

  He shook his head. "Never mind, though; there's no harm done, but itgave 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 nervouslyat the sound of a door banging upstairs. A silence unusual anddepressing settled upon all three, which lasted until the old couple roseto retire for the night.

  "I expect you'll find the cash tied up in a big bag in the middle of yourbed," said Herbert, as he bade them good-night, "and something horriblesquatting up on top of the wardrobe watching you as you pocket yourill-gotten gains."

  He sat alone in the darkness, gazing at the dying fire, and seeing facesin it. The last face was so horrible and so simian that he gazed at itin amazement. It got so vivid that, with a little uneasy laugh, he felton the table for a glass containing a little water to throw over it. Hishand grasped the monkey's paw, and with a little shiver he wiped his handon his coat and went up to bed.


  In the brightness of the wintry sun next morning as it streamed over thebreakfast table he laughed at his fears. There was an air of prosaicwholesomeness about the room which it had lacked on the previous night,and the dirty, shrivelled little paw was pitched on the sideboard with acarelessness which betokened no great belief in its virtues.

  "I suppose all old soldiers are the same," said Mrs. White. "The idea ofour listening to such nonsense! How could wishes be granted in thesedays? 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, "thatyou might if you so wished attribute it to coincidence."

  "Well, don't break into the money before I come back," said Herbert as herose from the table. "I'm afraid it'll turn you into a mean, avariciousman, and we shall have to disown you."

  His mother laughed, and following him to the door, watched him down theroad; and returning to the breakfast table, was very happy at the expenseof her husband's credulity. All of which did not prevent her fromscurrying to the door at the postman's knock, nor prevent her fromreferring somewhat shortly to retired sergeant-majors of bibulous habitswhen she found that the post brought a tailor's bill.

  "Herbert will have some more of his funny remarks, I expect, when hecomes home," she said, as they sat at dinner.

  "I dare say," said Mr. White, pouring himself out some beer; "but for allthat, 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 hadjust---- What's the matter?"

  His wife made no reply. She was watching the mysterious movements of aman outside, who, peering in an undecided fashion at the house, appearedto be trying to make up his mind to enter. In mental connection with thetwo hundred pounds, she noticed that the stranger was well dressed, andwore 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 uponit, 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 hurriedlyunfastening the strings of her apron, put that useful article of apparelbeneath the cushion of her chair.

  She brought the stranger, who seemed ill at ease, into the room. Hegazed at her furtively, and listened in a preoccupied fashion as the oldlady apologized for the appearance of the room, and her husband's coat, agarment which he usually reserved for the garden. She then waited aspatiently as her sex would permit, for him to broach his business, but hewas at first strangely silent.

  "I--was asked to call," he said at last, and stooped and picked a pieceof 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 isit?"

  Her husband interposed. "There, there, mother," he said, hastily. "Sitdown, and don't jump to conclusions. You've not brought bad news, I'msure, sir;" and he eyed the other wistfully.

  "I'm sorry--" began the visitor.

  "Is he hurt?" demanded the mother, wildly.

  The visitor bowed in assent. "Badly hurt," he said, quietly, "but he isnot in any pain."

  "Oh, thank God!" said the old woman, clasping her hands. "Thank God forthat! Thank--"

  She broke off suddenly as the sinister meaning of the assurance dawnedupon her and she saw the awful confirmation of her fears in the other'saverted face. She caught her breath, and turning to her slower-wittedhusband, 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 lowvoice.

  "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 handbetween his own, pressed it as he had been wont to do in their oldcourting-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 firmwished me to convey their sincere sympathy with you in your great loss,"he said, without looking round. "I beg that you will understand I amonly their servant and merely obeying orders."

  There was no reply; the old woman's face was white, her eyes staring, andher breath inaudible; on the husband's face was a look such as his friendthe 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 inconsideration of your son's services, they wish to present you witha certain sum as compensation."

  Mr. White dropped his wife's hand, and rising to his feet, gazed with alook of horror at his visitor. His dry lips shaped the words, "Howmuch?"

  "Two hundred pounds," was the answer.

  Unconscious of his wife's shriek, the old man smiled faintly, put out hishands like a sightless man, and dropped, a senseless heap, to the floor.


  In the huge new cemetery, some two miles distant, the old people buriedtheir dead, and came back to a house steeped in shadow and silence. Itwas all over so quickly that at first they could hardly realize it, andremained in a state of expectation as though of something else to happen--something else which was to lighten this load, too heavy for old heartsto bear.

  But the days passed, and expectation gave place to resignation--thehopeless resignation of the old, sometimes miscalled, apathy. Sometimesthey hardly exchanged a word, for now they had nothing to talk about, andtheir days were long to weariness.

  It was about a week after that the old man, waking suddenly in the night,stretched out his hand and found himself alone. The room was indarkness, and the sound of subdued weeping came from the window. Heraised 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 hiseyes heavy with sleep. He dozed fitfully, and then slept until a suddenwild cry from his wife awoke him with a start.

  "The 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,qui
etly. "You've not destroyed it?"

  "It's in the parlour, on the bracket," he replied, marvelling. "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 thinkof 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,