W.W. Jacobs, first published September 1902. Translated into modern English, otherwise exactly the same. Chapters separated by page breaks.
My good friend, Nightmare’s Edge, did an amazing job narrating this modern translation. If you’d rather sit back and listen, here’s the link!
Outside, the night was cold and wet, but in the small living room of Laburnam Villa the blinds were closed and the fire burned brightly. Father and son played chess. The father knew radical strategies, and put his king into enough danger to earn comment from the white-haired old lady knitting peacefully by the fire.
“Listen to the wind,” Mr. White said, seeing a fatal mistake and wanting to prevent his son from noticing.
“I’m listening,” the son said, grimly surveying the board as he stretched out his hand. “Check.”
“I should hardly think he’d come tonight,” the father said, hand poised over the board.
“Mate,” the son replied.
“That’s the worst part about living so far out! Of all the beastly, slushy, out-of-the-way places to live, this is the worst. The pathway is a bog, and the road’s a disaster. I don’t know what people are thinking. I suppose because only two houses on the road are occupied, they think it doesn’t matter.” Mr. White yelled with sudden, unprovoked anger.
“Never mind, dear. Perhaps you’ll win the next one.” His wife soothed.
Mr. White looked up sharply, just in time to see a knowing glance between mother and son. The words died away on his lips, and he hid a guilty grin in his thin, grey beard.
“There he is.” The son said as the gate banged loudly, and heavy footsteps approached the door.
The old man rose to open the door with friendly haste and was heard sympathizing with the guest. The guest complained so much that Mrs. White said, “Tut, tut!” coughing gently as her husband entered with a tall, burly man, with beady eyes and a pink complexion.
“Sergeant-Major Morris!” he said, introducing him.
The sergeant-major shook hands, sat by the fire, and watched contentedly as his host poured whiskey and put a small, copper kettle on the fire.
With the third glass, his eyes got brighter, and he eagerly began telling a story about a visitor from distant lands. He squared his broad shoulders in the chair and spoke of wild events and brave deeds of wars, plagues, and strange people.
“Twenty-one years of it. When he went away, he was a thin youth in the warehouse. Now look at him.” Mr. White said, nodding at his wife and son.
“He doesn’t seem to have taken much harm.” Mrs. White said politely.
“I’d like to go to India myself, just to look around a bit, you know.” The old man said.
“Better off where you are.” The sergeant-major said, shaking his head. He put down the empty glass, sighing softly before shaking it again.
“I would like to see those old temples, mystics, and jugglers. What was it you started telling me the other day about a monkey’s paw or something, Morris?” The old man asked.
“Nothing. At least, nothing worth hearing.” The soldier replied hastily.
“Monkey’s paw?” Mrs. White asked curiously.
“Well, it’s just a bit of what you might call magic, perhaps.” The sergeant-major said offhandedly.
His three listeners eagerly leaned forward. The soldier absent-mindedly put his empty glass to his lips, then set it down again. His host filled it for him.
“To look at, it’s just an ordinary little paw, dried as a mummy.” The sergeant-major said, fumbling in his pocket. He removed something and held it out. Mrs. White drew back with a grimace, but her son took it, examining it curiously.
“And what is special about it?” Mr. White inquired as he took it from his son. After examining it, he placed it on the table.
“An old mystic put a spell on it. A very holy man. He wanted to show fate ruled people’s lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow. He put a spell on it so that three separate men could each have three wishes from it.” The sergeant-major explained.
His manner was so serious, the family became aware their light laughter bothered him somewhat.
“Well, why don’t you have three, sir?” The son joked.
The soldier regarded him in the way middle age tends to regard presumptuous youth. “I have.” He whispered, his blotchy face whitened.
“And did you really have the three wishes granted?” Mrs. White asked.
“I did.” The sergeant-major answered, and his glass tapped against his teeth.
“And has anybody else wished?” The old lady persisted.
“The first man had his three wishes, yes. I don’t know what the first two were, but the third was for death. That’s how I got the paw.” The soldier answered in tones so grave, a hush fell over the group.
“If you’ve had your three wishes, it’s no good to you anymore, Morris. What do you keep it for?” The old man finally asked.
The soldier shook his head. “Fancy, I suppose,” he said, slowly. “I did think of selling it, but I don’t think I will. It has caused enough mischief already. Besides, people won’t buy. Some think it’s a fairy tale; and those who do think anything of it want to try it first and pay me after.”
“If you could have another three wishes, would you use them?” The old man asked, eyeing him keenly.
“I don’t know,” said the soldier. “I don’t know.”
He took the paw, dangling it between his forefinger and thumb, and suddenly threw it into the fire. Mr. White, with a slight cry, stooped down and snatched it out.
“Better to let it burn.” The soldier said, solemnly.
“If you don’t want it, Morris, give it to me.” Mr. White said.
“I won’t. I threw it on the fire. If you keep it, don’t blame me for what happens. Throw it in the fire again like a sensible man.” The soldier said grimly.
Mr. White shook his head and examined his new possession closely. “How do you do it?” he asked.
“Hold it up in your right hand and say the wish out loud, but I warn you of the consequences.” The sergeant-major said.
“Sounds like the Arabian Nights. Do you think you might wish for four pairs of hands for me?” Mrs. White joked as she rose to set the supper.
Her husband drew the talisman from his pocket, and all three burst into laughter as the sergeant-major, looking alarmed, caught him by the arm. “If you must wish, wish for something sensible.” He said gruffly.
Mr. White dropped it back in his pocket, placed the chairs, and motioned his friend to the table. During supper, the talisman was partly forgotten. Afterward the three sat fascinated, listening to a second installment of the soldier’s adventures in India.
“If the tale about the monkey’s paw is as exaggerated as those he has been telling us, we won’t make much of it.” The son joked, closing the door behind their guest who had to catch the last train.
“Did you give him anything for it?” Mrs. White inquired, regarding her husband closely.
“A little. He didn’t want it, but I made him take it. He again urged me to throw away the paw.” The old man admitted, blushing slightly.
“Not likely! Why, we’re going to be rich, famous, and happy. Start by wishing to be an emperor, father; then you can’t be ordered around by mother.”
He darted around the table, chased by the angry Mrs. White who was armed with a rag.
Mr. White took the paw from his pocket and eyed it suspiciously. “I don’t know what to wish for, and that’s a fact,” he said, slowly. “It seems to me, I’ve got all I want.”
“If you only paid off the house, you’d be quite happy, wouldn’t you? Well, wish for two hundred pounds, then; that’ll just do it.” The son suggested, his hand on his father’s shoulder.
The father, smiling shamefully at his indulgence, held up the talisman. His son sat down at the piano and struck a few impressive chords, his face solemn as he winked at his mother.
“I wish for two hundred pounds.” The old man said clearly.
A fine crash from the piano greeted the words, interrupted by a shuddering cry from the old man. His wife and son ran toward him.
“It moved! As I wished, it twisted in my hand like a snake.” He cried, looking at the object on the floor with disgust.
“Well, I don’t see the money, and I bet I never shall.” His son said, picking it up and placing it on the table.
“It must have been your imagination.” His wife suggested, regarding him anxiously.
He shook his head. “Well, never mind. There’s no harm done, but it gave 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 jumped nervously at the sound of a door banging upstairs. An unusual and depressing silence settled upon all three, lasting until the old couple retired for the night.
“I expect you’ll find the cash in a big bag in the middle of your bed, and something horrible squatting on top of the wardrobe, watching you pocket your ill-gotten gains.” The son joked as he said goodnight.
The old man sat alone in the darkness, gazing at the dying fire, and seeing faces in it. The last face was so horribly ape-like, he gazed at it in amazement. It got so vivid, he felt for a glass of water to throw over it. His hand grasped the monkey’s paw, and with a little shiver he wiped his hand on his coat and went to bed.
Next morning, as the bright, winter sun shone over the breakfast table, he laughed at his fears. There was a dull wholesomeness about the room that it lacked the previous night. The dirty, shrivelled little paw was placed carelessly on the mantle, doing little to inspire belief in its powers.
“I suppose all old soldiers are the same. I can’t believe we listened to such nonsense! How could wishes be granted these days? And if they could, how could two hundred pounds hurt you?” Mrs. White said.
“Might drop on his head from the sky.” The son said sarcastically.
“Morris said the things happened so naturally you could call it coincidence if you wanted.” The father said.
“Well, don’t spend the money before I come back. I’m afraid it’ll turn you into a mean, greedy man, and we will have to disown you.” The son said as he rose from the table.
His mother laughed, followed him to the door, and watched him down the road. Returning to the breakfast table, she laughed at her husband’s credulity. Though this did not prevent her from rushing to the door at the mailman’s knock, nor from rudely referring to retired sergeant-major’s drinking habits when the mail included a tailor’s bill.
“I expect our son will have more of his funny jokes when he comes home.” She said as they sat at dinner.
“I dare say, but aside from all that, the thing moved in my hand. That I’ll swear to.” Mr. White said, pouring himself some beer.
“You thought it did.” The old lady soothed.
“I say it did! There was no mistake; I had just—- What’s the matter?” Replied the husband.
His wife made no reply. She was watching the mysterious movements of a man outside. He was looking at the house with uncertainty, as if trying to decide whether to enter. Thinking of the two hundred pounds, she noticed the stranger was well dressed and wore a new, glossy silk hat. Three times he paused at the gate before walking away again. The fourth time he stood with his hand on it, then with sudden resolution flung it open and walked up the path. At the same moment, Mrs. White hurriedly removed her apron, placing it beneath her chair.
She brought the uneasy stranger into the room. He stared at her nervously, listening impatiently as the old lady apologized for the appearance of the room and her husband’s garden coat. She then tried to wait patiently for him to explain his visit, but at first he was strangely silent.
“I– was asked to call. I come from Maw and Meggins.” He finally said, stooping to pick a piece of cotton from his trousers.
The old lady started. “Is anything the matter? Has anything happened to my son? What is it? What is it?” She asked, breathlessly.
Her husband interrupted. “There, there. Sit down, and don’t jump to conclusions. I’m sure you haven’t brought bad news, sir.” He said hastily, eyeing the man wistfully.
“I’m sorry–” began the visitor.
“Is he hurt?” The mother demanded wildly.
The visitor bowed in confirmation. “Badly hurt, but he is not in any pain.” He said quietly.
“Oh, thank God!” The old woman said, clasping her hands. “Thank God for that! Thank–“
She broke off suddenly as she understood his sinister meaning, and saw the awful confirmation in the man’s averted face. She caught her breath, turned to her slower-witted husband, and laid her trembling old hand upon his. There was a long silence.
“He was caught in the machinery.” The visitor explained in a low voice.
“Caught in the machinery.” Mr. White repeated, dazed. “Yes.”
He sat, staring blankly out the window. Taking his wife’s hand between his own, he pressed it as he had in their old courting-days, nearly forty years ago.
“He was the only one left to us. It is hard.” He said gently, turning to the visitor.
The man coughed as he stood and walked slowly to the window. “The firm wished me to convey their sincere sympathy with you in your great loss,” he said without looking round. “I beg you to understand I am only their servant and merely obeying orders.”
There was no reply. The old woman’s face was white, her eyes staring, and her breath inaudible. The husband’s face wore the same look the sergeant might have carried into his first battle.
“I was to say that ‘Maw and Meggins’ deny all responsibility.” The man continued. “They admit no liability at all, but in consideration of your son’s services, they wish to pay you compensation.”
Mr. White dropped his wife’s hand, rose to his feet, and gazed at the visitor with a look of horror. His dry lips shaped the words, “How much?”
“Two hundred pounds,” was the answer.
Unconscious of his wife’s shriek, the old man smiled faintly, put his hands out like a blind man, and dropped to the floor in a senseless heap.
In the huge new cemetery two miles away, the old people buried their dead and returned to a house filled with shadow and silence. It was all over so quickly they could hardly accept it at first. They kept expecting something else to happen– something to lighten this load that was too heavy for old hearts to bear.
But the days passed, and expectation gave place to resignation– the hopeless resignation of the old, sometimes mistaken for apathy. Sometimes they hardly said a word because now they had nothing to talk about. Their days were long and weary.
It was about a week after this the old man woke suddenly in the night, stretching out his hand to find himself alone. The room was in darkness, and the sound of muffled crying came from the window. He sat up and listened.
“Come back, you will be cold.” He said, tenderly.
“It is colder for my son!” The old woman said, weeping more.
The sound of her sobs died away in his ears. The bed was warm and his eyes were heavy. He dozed fitfully, then slept until his wife’s sudden, wild cry woke him with a start.
“The paw!” She cried wildly. “The monkey’s paw!”
He jumped up in alarm. “Where? Where is it? What’s the matter?”
She came stumbling across the room. “I want it,” she said, quietly. “You haven’t destroyed it?”
“It’s in the den, on the mantle.” He replied in wonder. “Why?”
She cried and laughed together, bending over to kiss his cheek.
“I just thought of it!” She said, hysterically. “Why didn’t I think of it before? Why didn’t you think of it?”
“Think of what?” He questioned.
“The other two wishes! We’ve only had one.” She replied rapidly.
“Was that not enough?” He demanded fiercely.
“No, we’ll have one more. Go get it quickly, and wish our boy alive again.” She cried, triumphantly.
The man sat up, flinging the sheets from his quaking limbs. “Good God, you are mad!” He cried, horrified.
“Get it! Get it quickly, and wish– Oh, my boy, my boy!” She panted.
Her husband struck a match to light the candle. “Get back to bed. You don’t know what you are saying.” He said unsteadily.
“We had the first wish granted, why not the second?” The old woman argued feverishly.
“A coincidence.” The old man stammered.
“Go get it and wish!” His wife cried, quivering with excitement.
The old man turned, regarding her, and his voice shook. “He has been dead for ten days, and besides he– I did not want to tell you, but– I could only recognize him by his clothing. If he was too terrible for you to see then, how about now?”
“Bring him back! Do you think I fear the child I nursed?” The old woman cried, dragging him toward the door.
He went down into the darkness, feeling his way to the den, and then to the mantle. The talisman was there, and before he could escape the room, he was seized with a horrible fear the unspoken wish might bring his mutilated son to him. Catching his breath, he realized he could not find the exit. With the creepy thing in hand and his brow cold with sweat, he felt his way around the table, groping along the wall until he found the small door.
Even his wife’s face changed as he entered the room. It was white, expectant, and seemed to have an unnatural look upon it. He was afraid of her.
“Wish!” She cried in a strong voice.
“It is foolish and wicked.” He hesitated.
“Wish!” His wife repeated.
He raised his hand. “I wish my son was alive again.”
The talisman fell to the floor, and he regarded it fearfully. Then he sank into a chair, trembling. With burning eyes, the old woman walked to the window and raised the blinds.
He sat until chilled by the cold, occasionally glancing at the old woman looking out the window. The candle burned below the rim of the candlestick, throwing pulsating shadows on the ceiling and walls until it expired with a last flicker. The old man felt an unspeakable sense of relief at the talisman’s failure and crept back to bed. A minute or two later, the old woman followed, silently and without emotion.
Neither spoke, but lay listening to the ticking of the clock. A stair creaked, and a squeaky mouse scurried noisily through the wall. The darkness was oppressive. After working up his courage for some time, he struck a match, and went downstairs for a candle.
At the foot of the stairs the match went out, and he paused to light another. At the same moment, a quiet and stealthy knock sounded at the front door.
The matches fell from his hand, spilling to the floor. He stood motionless, not breathing until the knock was repeated. Then he turned and swiftly fled back to his room, closing the door behind him. A third knock sounded through the house.
“What’s that?” The old woman cried, sitting up.
“A rat,” the old man said in shaking tones— “a rat. It passed me on the stairs.”
His wife sat up in bed, listening. A loud knock echoed through the house.
“It’s our son!” She screamed. “It’s our son!”
She ran to the door, but her husband arrived first, catching her by the arm, and holding her tightly.
“What are you going to do?” He whispered hoarsely.
“It’s my boy!” She cried, struggling mechanically. “I forgot it was two miles away. What are you holding me for? Let go. I must open the door.”
“For God’s sake don’t let it in!” The old man cried, trembling.
“You’re afraid of your own son! Let me go. I’m coming, son; I’m coming.” She cried, struggling.
There was another knock and another. The old woman broke free with a sudden twist and ran from the room. Her husband followed to the landing, calling after her pleadingly as she hurried downstairs. He heard the chain rattle and the bottom bolt slide slowly and stiffly from the socket. Then the old woman’s voice, strained and panting.
“The bolt,” she cried, loudly. “Come down. I can’t reach it.”
But her husband was on his hands and knees, groping wildly on the floor in search of the paw. If he could only find it before the thing got in. A barrage of knocks reverberated through the house, and he heard the scraping of a chair as his wife put it against the door. He heard the creaking of the bolt as it came back slowly, and at the same moment he found the monkey’s paw, frantically breathing his third and last wish.
The knocking stopped suddenly, although the echoes of it were still in the house. He heard the chair removed and the door open. A cold wind rushed up the staircase, and his wife’s long, loud wail of disappointment gave him the courage to run past her, to the gate. The flickering street lamp shone on a quiet and deserted road.