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The monkey paw


By JackmamaPublished 2 years ago 19 min read

Outside, the night was cold and damp, but in the small living room of the Rexnham cottage, the curtains were down and the fire was roaring. Father and son were playing chess, and the father's belief that the game was about to change radically, pushing the king on his side into critical and unnecessary peril, even drew a comment from the old white-haired woman, who was quietly knitting woolen work by the fire.

"Listen to that wind." Mr. White said, seeing too late that he had made a mistake that affected the whole game, and he was kindly trying not to let his son discover the error.

"I'm listening," said his son, examining the board coolly, holding out his hand on one side, "General."

"I can't believe he's coming tonight." The father said, his hand hesitating on the board.

"The general is dead." The son replied.

"It's awful to live in such a remote place," Mr. White shouted in a sudden and unexpected temper, "of all those awful, muddy and remote places to live, this is the worst. I don't know what people are thinking when the path is a swamp and the main road is a rapid. I guess because there are only two houses for rent on the main road, they think it's okay."

"Never mind, dear." His wife reassured him, "Maybe you'll win the next one."

Mr. White glanced up keenly, just in time to see mother and son exchange a knowing wink, the words disappearing from his lips, and he hid a guilty smile with his thinning gray beard.

"He's here." Herbert White said as the door slammed and heavy feet came toward the room.

The old man stood up hastily and opened the door, only to hear him say hello to the newcomer, and the newcomer to him, causing Mrs. White to utter a "tsk, tsk!" She coughed softly as a tall, strong, rosy-cheeked man with small, bright eyes followed her husband into the room.

"Sgt. Morris." Mr. White introduced.

The sergeant major shook their hands and took the seat reserved for him by the fireside. His host brought out whiskey and flat-bottomed glasses, and rested a small copper kettle on the fire, which he watched with satisfaction.

When he reached the third glass, his eyes glowed, and he began to talk. As he shrugged his broad shoulders in his chair and talked of wondrous sights, gallant exploits, wars, plagues and strange peoples, the little family gazed with eager interest at the distant guest.

"Twenty-one years," said Mr. White, nodding toward his wife and children, "he was a long, thin lad in the depot when he left. But look at him now."

"He doesn't look very traumatized." Mrs. White said politely.

"I'd like to go up to India myself," said the old man, "just to look around, you understand."

"You're better off staying where you are." The sergeant-major said, shaking his head. He put down his empty glass, sighed softly, and shook his head again.

"I want to see the ancient temples, the togas and the jugglers," the old man said. "One day not long ago you talked about some monkey's paw, what was that all about, Maurice?"

"Nothing," said the soldier hastily, "at least, nothing worth hearing."

"Monkey's paw?" Mrs. White said curiously.

"Well, perhaps, it's a bit like one of those things you'd call magic," the sergeant-major said without thinking.

His three listeners leaned forward eagerly. The guest absentmindedly brought his empty glass to his lips and set it down again.

His host poured him a full glass.

"It looks," said the sergeant-major, fumbling with his hand in his coat pocket, "like just the usual little claw that has dried up into a mummy."

He took something out of his coat pocket and offered it to them. Mrs. White's face twisted in disgust and backed away, but her son took it and inspected it curiously."" "What's so special about this?" Mr. White asked, taking the object from his son's hand, looking at it carefully for a moment, and setting it down on the table again.

"An old toga monk has subdued it with a charm," said the military earth chief, "and he is a very holy man. He wanted to show that it is fate that governs people's lives, and that those who interfere with fate will bring misfortune upon themselves. He subdued it with a charm so that three people, each of them, could fulfill their three wishes through it."

His demeanor was so touching that his listeners became aware that their soft laughter was a little dissonant.

"Well, then, why don't you make three wishes, sir?" Hubert White asked wittily." "I don't know," the sergeant-major gazed at him with the gaze that middle-aged men are accustomed to give to presumptuous young men. "I make them." He said calmly, his blotchy face whitening.

"Did those three wishes of yours really come true?" Mrs. White asked.

"Granted." The sergeant major said, his cup tapping gently against his solid teeth.

"Did anyone else make a wish?" The old lady asked.

"Yes, the first man got his three wishes," he replied. "I don't know what the first two wishes were, but the third was a prayer for death. That way I got this monkey's paw."

His tone was extremely heavy, and the group fell silent.

"If you have already fulfilled three wishes, then, at the moment it is no longer good for you, Maurice," the old man finally spoke, "then what do you keep it for?"

The soldier shook his head. "For fantasy, I guess," he said slowly, "I did think about selling it, but right now I don't want to sell it. It's done enough damage. Besides, people won't buy it. They think it's a myth, and some of them, and those who do believe in it somewhat, are going to try it before they pay me."

"If you could make three other wishes," said the old man, looking at him with a sharp eye, "would you make them then?"

"I don't know," said the other party, "I don't know."

He picked up the monkey's paw, held it between his forefinger and thumb and shook it, and suddenly threw it on the fire. Wyatt gave a soft cry and bent down to hurry it away.

"Better let it burn." The soldier said gravely.

"If you don't want it, Maurice," said the old man, "give it to me."

"I won't give it," said his friend stubbornly, "I'll throw it into the fire. If you keep it, don't blame me if anything happens to it. Do as a wise man would, and throw it into the fire again."

The other party shook his head and looked carefully at his new thing, "How do you wish?" He asked.

"You take the monkey paw in your right hand and wish out loud," the sergeant major said, "but I warn you of the consequences."

"Sounds like a pipe dream," Mrs. White said, standing up and starting to set the meal, "Do you think you might wish me to grow four pairs of hands?"

Her husband took the amulet out of his pocket, and the sergeant-at-arms, with a warning look on his face, grabbed Mr. White's arm, and the whole family of three could not help but let out a laugh.

"If you must wish," he said gruffly, "make some reasonable wish."

Mr. White put the monkey's paw back in his pocket, set up his chair, and gestured for his friend to take his seat. The amulet was somewhat forgotten during dinner, and afterwards the three men sat fascinated to hear the sergeant major talk about the second part of his adventures in India.

"If the story about the monkey's paw isn't more true than what he just told us," said Hubert as the door closed behind his guest, allowing him to catch the last train just in time, "then we won't get much out of it."

"What did you give him for getting it, Daddy?" Mrs. White asked, looking closely at her husband.

"A little," he said, his face reddening slightly, "he didn't want it, but I let him have it. He forced me to throw it away again."

"Most likely," said Herbots, feigning fear. "Hey, we're about to be rich, famous and happy. Let's start with wishing you an emperor, Father, then you won't have to suffer your wife's wrath anymore."

He ran violently around the table, with a vilified Mrs. White chasing after him with a sofa back cover.

Mr. White took the monkey's paw out of his pocket and looked at it half-heartedly. "I don't know what to wish for, really," he said slowly, "as I see it, I've got everything I want."

"You'd be happy if you paid what you owed on this house, wouldn't you?" Hubert put his hand on his shoulder and said, "Well, then pray for 200 pounds, just to pay the bill."" "The father, smiling shamefacedly at his own gullibility, took up the talisman, when his son, with a look that would have been more solemn had it not been for the squeeze of his eyes toward his mother, sat down at the piano and played a few touching chords.

"I would like to get 200 pounds." The old man said clearly.

A violent sound from the piano greeted the words, but was interrupted by the old man's war cry. His wife and children ran toward him.

"It moved," he cried, glancing disgustedly at the thing lying on the floor, "and it wriggled in my hand like a snake when I wished it."

"Alas, I did not see the money," said his son, picking it up and laying it on the table; "I bet I shall never see this money again."

"It must be your illusion, father." His wife looked at him anxiously and said.

He shook his head: "But it doesn't matter, it didn't hurt, but it still gave me a fright."

They sat down again by the fireside, and the two men finished their pipes. Outside, the wind turned fierce, the door upstairs slammed, and the old man stirred nervously. An unusual, dull silence enveloped the family of three until the older two got up to go to bed.

"I hope you will find that sum bundled up in a big bag in the middle of the bed," said Hubert, as he bade them good-night, "and that there will be a terrible thing crouching on the top of the closet looking at you while you pocket that ill-gotten money."

The next morning as the winter sun poured down on the breakfast table, Hubert laughed at his fears in the bright sunlight. There was a tedious sense of security in the house that had been missing the night before, and the filthy, crumpled little monkey's paw had been placed casually on the sideboard, indicating less faith in its effectiveness.

"I think all veterans are the same," said Mrs. White, "that we should listen to such nonsense! How can a wish be granted now? If it did, how could two hundred pounds hurt you, Father?"

"It might have fallen on his head from heaven," said the frivolous Herbots.

"Maurice says it happens so naturally," said his father. "Though you wished it that way, you might still think it was only a coincidence."

"Well, don't move that money until I get back," said Hubert, rising from the table. "I'm afraid that would make you a selfish, greedy man, and then we'd have to disavow anything to do with you."

His mother laughed, followed him to the door, watched him go on his way, and returned to the breakfast table, amused by her husband's gullibility. But this did not prevent her from hurrying to the door as soon as she heard the letter carrier knock, nor did it prevent her from mentioning, somewhat harshly, the retired sergeant-major's habit of drinking when she found that he had brought the tailor's bill.

As they sat down to supper, she said, "I think there will be more interesting talk when Hubert comes home."

"Be that as it may," said Mr. White, pouring himself a little beer, "I dare say that east side moved in my hands, I swear."

"You think it moved." The old lady reassured him.

"I said it moved," replied the other, "I didn't think of it at the time; I just--what's the matter?" His wife did not answer. She was watching the mysterious movements of a man outside: he peered hesitantly into the room, as if about to make up his mind to enter. She thought of the two hundred pounds, and noticed that the stranger was well dressed, with a shiny, new silk hat on his head. Three times he stopped at the door and then walked forward again. The fourth time he stood there with his hand on the door, then suddenly resolved to open it and walk up the path. Just at the same time Mrs. White put her hands behind her back and hastily untied the apron straps and tucked the useful garment under the chair cushion.

She brought the stranger into the house, he seemed uneasy. He gazed surreptitiously at Mrs. White, and listened with rapt attention as the old woman apologized for being in the house like that and for the blouse her husband usually wore in the garden. Then she waited with as much patience as a woman could allow for him to announce his coming, but he was at first strangely silent.

"I - was ordered to come and visit," he said at last, leaning down again to remove a length of cotton thread from his pants, "and I come from Mau-McKins."

The old lady was taken aback. "Is something wrong?" She asked, holding her breath.

"Has something happened to Herbots? What's the matter? What's the matter?"

Her husband interjected. "Ay, ay, mother," he said hastily, "sit down, and don't be too quick to jump to conclusions. I believe that you bring no bad news, sir." He looked eagerly at the other man.

"I am so sorry-" began the guest.

"Is he hurt?" The mother asked.

The guest nodded. "It hurts badly," he said calmly, "but he is not in any pain."

"Ah, thank God!" the old woman said, clasping her hands together, "Thank God for that! Thank--" She stopped abruptly as she began to understand the ominous significance of this assurance. And her fears were dreadfully confirmed by the averted look of the other man. She held her breath, turned to her more intellectually retarded husband, and placed her trembling, senile hand in his. There was a long silence in the room.

"He's caught in the machine." The guest finally whispered.

"Caught in the machine," Mr. White repeated confusedly, "yes."

He sat there gazing blankly out of the window, taking his wife's hand in his own and squeezing it tightly, as he was wont to do when he courted each other nearly forty years ago.

"He is the only child left to us," he said, turning gently to his guest. "That's cruel."

The other man coughed a few times and stood up, walking slowly toward the window. "The company wishes me to convey to you their sincere sympathy for your great loss," he said, without looking around him either, "and I beg your understanding that I am merely their servant, and only obey their orders."

There was no answer; the old woman was pale, she looked straight in both eyes, her breathing was inaudible, and her husband's face looked like that of his friend the sergeant-major when he first went into battle.

"I should like to state that the Mau-Mackins Company deny any responsibility," continued the other party; "they are under no obligation, but in consideration of your son's services to the company, they are willing to present you with a sum of money as compensation. "

Mr. White dropped his wife's hand and stood up, gazing fearfully at his guest. His parched lips moved and formed two words: "How much?"

The answer was, "Two hundred pounds."

The old man did not feel his wife's scream, smiled debilitatingly, held out his hands as if he were blind, and then fell to the ground like a heap of senseless things.

In a huge new cemetery about two miles from home, the old couple buried their dead son and returned to the house, which was immersed in shadows and silence. It all passed so quickly that at first they simply did not realize it, remaining in a state of anticipation as if something else would happen - something else that would ease the burden, a burden too heavy for old hearts.

But as the days passed, expectation gave way to obedience - a hopeless obedience to the past, sometimes mistakenly called indifference. Sometimes the two of them hardly spoke a word, for now they had nothing to talk about, and their days were long and tiresome.

One night, about a week after that, the old man woke up suddenly, reached out his hand to touch it, and found that he was alone. The house was dark, and from the window came the soft sound of crying. He lifted himself up in bed to listen.

"Come back," he said gently, "you'll be cold."

"It's colder for my son." The old woman said, and cried again.

Her sobs faded from his ears. The bed was warm and sleep made his eyelids heavy. He dozed off in bursts and then fell asleep until a sudden, furious shout from his wife woke him up.

"Monkey's paw!" She shouted furiously, "Monkey's paw!"

He jumped up in horror: "Where? Where is it? What's happened?"

She stumbled toward him from the other side of the room. "I want it," she said calmly, "you didn't ruin it, did you?"

"In the living room, on top of the bracket," he replied, surprised. "Why?"

She cried and laughed, and bent down 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?"

"Thought of what?" He asked.

"The other two wishes," she answered quickly, "which we wished for only once."

"Wasn't that one time enough?" He asked fiercely.

"No," she cried triumphantly, "we have to make one more wish. Go down and bring it, and wish our child back to life."

The old man sat up in bed and lifted the covers to reveal his trembling lower limbs. "My God, you're crazy!"

He shouted, stunned.

"Go and bring it," she panted, "bring it quickly, and wish-ho, my child, my child!"

Her husband struck a match and lit the candle. "Come back to bed," he said, not too firmly, "you don't know what you're talking about."

"Our first wish has come true." The old woman said fervently; "Why won't the second one come true?" "A coincidence." The old man stammered.

"Go and bring it to be wished." The old woman shouted, dragging him toward the door.

He walked downstairs in total darkness, groped his way into the living room, then to the mantelpiece. The amulet was in its usual place, and he felt a great fear that the unspoken wish might bring his mutilated son before he could escape from the house, and he found himself breathless as he could not find his way to the door. A cold sweat broke out on his brow as he groped around the table and along the walls until he found himself on the small aisle with the nasty thing in his hand.

Even his wife's face seemed to change when he entered the room. The face was pale and expectant in color, and what frightened him was the unnatural expression that seemed to be on it. He felt afraid of her.

"Good luck!" She shouted, her voice strong.

"It's stupid and evil." He said with a trembling voice.

"Good luck!" His wife said again.

He raised his hand, "I wish for the resurrection of my son."

The amulet fell to the floor, and he looked at it with trepidation. When the old woman, with a fiery eagerness in her eyes, went to the window and lifted the curtain, he fell back in his chair, shivering.

He sat, occasionally looking at the figure of the old woman peering out of the window, until he was freezing cold. The head of the candle, burning under the edge of the ceramic candlestick, continued to cast bouncing shadows on the ceiling and walls until the candle flame flickered violently and went out. The old man, feeling indescribably relieved by the amulet's failure, crawled toward the bed, and a minute or two later the old woman quietly got into bed and lay beside him indifferently.

No one spoke, and both listened in silence to the clock ticking. A staircase creaked, and a squeaky rat scurried noisily across the wall. The darkness was depressing, and after lying there for a while, the husband gathered his courage, took a matchbox and lit a match, and went downstairs to get a candle.

The match went out at the foot of the stairs, and he stopped to strike another one. At this same moment, there was a knock on the front door, a sound so soft and quiet that it was almost inaudible.

The match fell from his hand. He stood motionless, his breath stopped, until he heard another knock.

Then he turned and ran quickly back into the room, closing the door behind him. A third knock sounded throughout the house.

"What's that?" The old woman shouted, jerking up.

"A rat," the old man said, his voice trembling-"a rat. It ran past me on the stairs."

His wife sat up in bed and listened. A loud knock on the door echoed throughout the house.

"It's Herbots!" She shouted shrilly, "It's Herbert!"

She ran toward the door, but her husband was ahead of her, and he grabbed her by the arm and held her tightly. "What are you doing?" He whispered hoarsely.

"It's my child, it's Herbots!" She cried, struggling mechanically as she did so, "I just forgot the cemetery is two miles away. What are you holding me for? Let me go, I have to open the door."

"For God's sake don't let him in." The old man shivered and shouted.

"You're afraid of your own son," she shouted, struggling. "Let me go. I'm coming, Herbots, I'm coming."

Another knock on the door, followed by another. With a sudden twist, the old woman disengaged herself and ran from the house.

As she hurried down the stairs, her husband ran to the stair landing and called out to her pleadingly. He heard the door chain grating, and the bottom pin was slowly and painstakingly pulled out of the socket. Then came the sound of the old woman's hard, panting voice.

"The latch," she shouted, "come down, I can't reach it."

But her husband was on all fours, groping around frantically, looking for that monkey paw. If only he could find it before that thing outside came in. A series of violent knocks echoed through the house, and he heard the scraping of a chair as his wife set it down against the door in the aisle. He heard the creak of the latch as it slowly came out, and just at the same time he found the monkey's paw and frantically whispered his third and final wish.

The knocking suddenly disappeared, though its echoes still rippled through the house. He heard the chair being pulled back and the door to the room opened. A gust of cold wind rushed up the stairs. His wife let out a long, loud, disappointed and pained wail, which caused him to gather the courage to run down and rush to her side, and then to the door. Across the street the flickering streetlights illuminated the silent, desolate road.


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