Classics Translated

The Cask of Amontillado

Edgar Allan Poe, first published in the November 1846 issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book; translated to modern English, otherwise exactly the same.

I endured endless insults from Fortunato for as long as I could, and now, I have sworn revenge; you would not expect someone of my temperament to utter such a threat, but – in the end – I would be avenged. That was a fact, and I knew I must punish him without feeling guilty. A wrong can only be set right when the victim dominates their aggressor. I continued to smile, and he did not realize I was smiling at the thought of his murder.

You must understand that I did not say or do anything to warrant his ill-will. Fortunato was a man to be feared and respected, but he had a weakness; he prided himself on his knowledge of wine. Like other Italians, he did not care for paintings or jewels, but he was serious about old wines. That was something we had in common; I was also knowledgeable of Italian vintages, and I added to my collection whenever I could.

One evening, during the madness of carnival season, I encountered my friend. He greeted me warmly but only because he had been drinking too much. The man was dressed like a jester; he wore a tight, striped outfit and a cone-shaped hat with bells. I was so pleased to see him, I thought I would never finish shaking his hand.

“My dear Fortunato, you are looking remarkably well today, but I have tasted the Amontillado around here, and I doubt it’s authentic.” I said.

“How? Amontillado? Impossible! And in the middle of the carnival!”

“I have my doubts,” I repeated. “Plus, I was fool enough to pay full price without consulting you first, but I couldn’t find you, and I was afraid of losing a bargain.”

“Amontillado!”

“I have my doubts…”

“Amontillado!”

“And I must satisfy them…”

“Amontillado!”

“Since you are busy, I will go ask Luchresi. If anyone can help me – it’s him.”

“Luchresi cannot tell the difference between Amontillado and Sherry!”

“Yet some fools say his taste is a match for your own.”

“Come on, then; let’s go!”

“Where?”

“To your vaults.”

“No, my friend; I won’t impose on you. I can see you have a previous engagement. Luchresi—”

“I have no engagement; now, come on!”

“No, that was not the only reason for my reluctance. I can also see you are suffering from a cold, and the vaults are terribly damp.”

“Let’s go, anyway! The cold is nothing, and this is Amontillado! I insist; Luchresi simply cannot help.”

Fortunato took my arm, and I managed to endure his touch as we hurried to my palace. I put on a black, silk mask and pulled my cloak tightly shut.

None of the staff were home; they were all out, enjoying the holiday. I told them I would not return until the morning and gave them strict orders not to leave the house. I knew it would ensure their departure the moment my back was turned.

Retrieving two torches, I gave one to Fortunato before leading him through several suites and into the vaults. I cautioned him to be careful as we descended a long, winding staircase, and – at the bottom – was the entrance to the Montresors’ catacombs.

My friend was walking unsteadily, and it made the bells on his hat jingle. “The wine?” He asked.

“It’s farther ahead, but look at the white web-work gleaming on the cavern walls.” I said.

He turned towards me and looked into my eyes with two, filmy orbs that highlighted his intoxication. “Potassium Nitrate?” he asked.

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

My poor friend found it impossible to reply for several minutes as he endured a coughing fit.

“It’s nothing,” he finally said.

“Come, we must go back.” I said this assertively. “Your health is too important. You are rich, respected, admired, and loved; you are also happy – like I used to be. You would be missed, and I could not bear to be responsible. Besides, there is Luchresi—”

“Enough! The cough is nothing; it will not kill me.” He said.

“True…” I replied; “I had no intention of scaring you, but you should exercise the proper precautions. Here, this Medoc wine will keep us safe.” I opened one of the bottles and placed it before us. “Drink.”

He raised it to his lips, leering and paused only to give me a friendly nod – making his bells jingle. “I’ll drink to the dead resting around us.” He said.

“And I, to your long life.”

He took my arm once again, and we continued forward. “These vaults are extensive.” He said.

“The Montresors were a large, important family.” I replied.

“What is your coat-of-arms, again?”

“A human foot on a field sky blue; it crushes a raging serpent whose fangs are buried deep into the heel.”

“And the motto?”

“No one attacks me with impunity.”

“Good!” he said.

The wine sparkled in his eyes, and the bells continued to jingle. I, too, was growing warm from the drink; we passed through long halls with piles of skeletons and wine barrels – into the far depths of the catacombs. I paused again, and – this time – I was the one to boldly seize Fortunato’s arm.

“The Nitrate!” I said. “Look – it’s increasing! It’s hanging from the vaults like moss; we’re below the river, and drops of water trickle down to the bones. Come on, let’s get back before it’s too late. Your cough—”

“It’s nothing!” He insisted. “Let’s keep going… But first, let’s have another sip of the Medoc.”

I gave him a glass of De Grave, and he emptied it in one gulp. His eyes flashed with a fierce gleam, and he laughed before throwing the bottle with a gesture I did not recognize.

I looked at him in surprise, and he repeated the same, grotesque gesture.

“You don’t understand?” he asked.

“No,” I replied.

“Then, you are not in the brotherhood.”

“Huh?”

“You are not a Mason.”

“Sure I am.” I said.

“You? A Mason? Impossible!”

“A Mason indeed,” I replied.

“Then prove it with a sign,” he said.

“It’s this.” I answered by producing a trowel from beneath the folds of my cloak.

“You’re joking!” He exclaimed, slowly backing away. “But let’s get the Amontillado, now.”

“So be it.” I said, putting the tool away and once more offering him my arm. He leaned on it heavily, and we continued our search for the Amontillado. We passed through a row of low arches leading deeper into the earth and arrived at a crypt where the foul air reduced our torches to a dull glow.

At the far end, there was a smaller crypt; three sides were lined with human remains stacked to the ceiling just like in the Paris catacombs. On the fourth side – the bones were thrown carelessly into a pile, and we noticed a recess in the exposed wall. It did not appear to serve any specific purpose; it was merely an empty space between two support columns and backed with a solid granite wall.

Fortunato lifted his dull torch in an attempt to see inside the dark recess, but the feeble light was not strong enough. “Keep going,” I said. “The Amontillado is here somewhere. As for Luchresi—”

“He is an idiot,” my friend blurted as he took an unsteady step into the nook, and I followed close behind. He quickly reached the end and was confused to find the path blocked. It took only a moment to chain him to the iron rings fixed in the granite wall. They were roughly two feet apart; a short chain hung from one and a padlock from the other. I threw the links around his waist, and it only took a few seconds to secure it; he was too surprised to resist. When finished, I stepped out of the small space.

“Pass your hands over the walls, and you will feel the Nitrate; it’s very damp. Once more, I would like to implore you to return with me… No? Then, I have no choice; I must leave you… But first, I’ll do what I can for you.” I said.

“The Amontillado!” My friend exclaimed, still in shock.

“True – the Amontillado.” I said, returning to the pile of bones. Throwing them aside, I uncovered the stones and mortar hidden beneath. With these materials and my trowel, I worked to cover the nook’s entrance.

I had only laid the first row of stone when I noticed Fortunato had sobered a great deal. I could tell by the low moan coming from the back of the nook; it was not the cry of a drunk man, and soon, he fell into a long, heavy silence.

I laid the second, third, and fourth rows, but then, the chain began rattling furiously. The noise lasted for several minutes, so I took a short break and sat on the pile of bones in order to enjoy the moment properly. When the clanking finally stopped, I resumed my work and finished three more rows without interruption. The wall was almost level with my chest. I paused once more and held up the torch to see the figure inside.

His sudden outburst of loud, shrill screams seemed to knock me back a few steps, and – for a brief moment – I hesitated, trembling. Drawing my sword, I swung it through the air and felt reassured; I placed my hand on the solid, catacomb wall and felt satisfied. Returning to the nook, I replied to Fortunato’s yells with an even longer, louder scream of my own, and he grew silent.

It was now midnight, and my task was almost complete. I finished three more rows and a portion of the next; there was only one stone left to insert. Struggling with its weight, I had it halfway into position when a low laugh erupted from the nook, and my hair instantly stood on end. It was followed by a sad voice that sounded nothing like the noble Fortunato.

“Hahaha! Hehehe! This was indeed a very good joke— an excellent one! We will have many rich laughs about it at the palace— Hehehe! Over our wine— Hehehe!”

“The Amontillado!” I said.

“Hehehe! Hehehe! Yes, the Amontillado! But isn’t it getting late… Everyone is probably waiting for us— including my wife. We should go.”

“Yes, let’s go.” I said.

“For the love of God, Montresor!”

“Yes, for the love of God!” I said. I grew impatient waiting for a reply and yelled his name into the darkness, but there was no answer. I called again, but still – there was nothing. I dropped the torch through the last opening, but his only reply was the jingling of bells.

My heart was growing sick from the damp catacombs, and I hurried to finish my task. Forcing the last stone into position, I plastered it, and re-stacked the bones against the wall. For the last fifty years, no mortal has disturbed them; may they rest in peace.

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