Classics, horror

The Monkey’s Paw

W.W. Jacobs, first published September 1902. Translated into modern English, otherwise exactly the same. Chapters separated by page breaks. 

I.

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. Pathway’s 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 don’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 on 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.