|True! Nervous --
very, very nervous I had been and am! But why will you say that I am mad?
The disease had sharpened my senses -- not destroyed them.
Above all was the sense of hearing. I heard all things in the heaven and
in the earth. I heard many things in the underworld. How, then, am I mad?
Observe how healthily -- how calmly I can tell you the whole story.
It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain. I loved the
old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his
gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this! He had
the eye of a bird, a vulture -- a pale blue eye, with a film over it.
Whenever it fell on me, my blood ran cold; and so -- very slowly -- I
made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and free myself of the
Now this is the point. You think that I am mad. Madmen know nothing. But
you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely and carefully I
went to work!
I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I
killed him. And every night, late at night, I turned the lock of his
door and opened it – oh, so gently! And then, when I had made an opening
big enough for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed that no
light shone out, and then I stuck in my head. I moved it slowly, very
slowly, so that I might not interfere with the old man's sleep. And then,
when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern just so much that
a single thin ray of light fell upon the vulture eye.
And this I did for seven long nights -- but I found the eye always
closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old
man who was a problem for me, but his Evil Eye.
On the eighth night, I was more than usually careful in opening the door.
I had my head in and was about to open the lantern, when my finger slid
on a piece of metal and made a noise. The old man sat up in bed, crying
out "Who's there?"
I kept still and said nothing. I did not move a muscle for a whole hour.
During that time, I did not hear him lie down. He was still sitting up
in the bed listening -- just as I have done, night after night.
Then I heard a noise, and I knew it was the sound of human terror. It
was the low sound that arises from the bottom of the soul. I knew the
sound well. Many a night, late at night, when all the world slept, it
has welled up from deep within my own chest. I say I knew it well.
I knew what the old man felt, and felt sorry for him, although I laughed
to myself. I knew that he had been lying awake ever since the first
noise, when he had turned in the bed. His fears had been ever since
growing upon him.
When I had waited a long time, without hearing him lie down, I decided
to open a little -- a very, very little -- crack in the lantern. So I
opened it. You cannot imagine how carefully, carefully. Finally, a
single ray of light shot from out and fell full upon the vulture eye.
It was open -- wide, wide open -- and I grew angry as I looked at it. I
saw it clearly -- all a dull blue, with a horrible veil over it that
chilled my bones; but I could see nothing else of the old man's face or
person. For I had directed the light exactly upon the damned spot.
And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but a kind
of over-sensitivity? Now, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound,
such as a watch makes when inside a piece of cotton. I knew that sound
well, too. It was the beating of the old man's heart. It increased my
But even yet I kept still. I hardly breathed. I held the lantern
motionless. I attempted to keep the ray of light upon the eye. But the
beating of the heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker, and louder
and louder every second. The old man's terror must have been extreme!
The beating grew louder, I say, louder every moment!
And now at the dead hour of the night, in the horrible silence of that
old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable
terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I stood still. But the beating grew
louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst.
And now a new fear seized me -- the sound would be heard by a neighbor!
The old man's hour had come! With a loud shout, I threw open the lantern
and burst into the room.
He cried once -- once only. Without delay, I forced him to the floor,
and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then smiled, to find the action so
But, for many minutes, the heart beat on with a quiet sound. This,
however, did not concern me; it would not be heard through the wall. At
length, it stopped. The old man was dead. I removed the bed and examined
the body. I placed my hand over his heart and held it there many
minutes. There was no movement. He was stone dead. His eye would trouble
me no more.
If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe
the wise steps I took for hiding the body. I worked quickly, but in
silence. First of all, I took apart the body. I cut off the head and the
arms and the legs.
I then took up three pieces of wood from the flooring, and placed his
body parts under the room. I then replaced the wooden boards so well
that no human eye -- not even his -- could have seen anything wrong.
There was nothing to wash out -- no mark of any kind -- no blood
whatever. I had been too smart for that. A tub had caught all -- ha! ha!
When I had made an end of these labors, it was four o'clock in the
morning. As a clock sounded the hour, there came a noise at the street
door. I went down to open it with a light heart -- for what had I now to
fear? There entered three men, who said they were officers of the police.
A cry had been heard by a neighbor during the night; suspicion of a
crime had been aroused; information had been given at the police office,
and the officers had been sent to search the building.
I smiled -- for what had I to fear? The cry, I said, was my own in a
dream. The old man, I said, was not in the country. I took my visitors
all over the house. I told them to search -- search well. I led them, at
length, to his room. I brought chairs there, and told them to rest. I
placed my own seat upon the very place under which lay the body of the
The officers were satisfied. I was completely at ease. They sat, and
while I answered happily, they talked of common things. But, after a
while, I felt myself getting weak and wished them gone. My head hurt,
and I had a ringing in my ears; but still they sat and talked.
The ringing became more severe. I talked more freely to do away with the
feeling. But it continued until, at length, I found that the noise was
not within my ears.
I talked more and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased --
and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound like a watch makes
when inside a piece of cotton. I had trouble breathing -- and yet the
officers heard it not. I talked more quickly -- more loudly; but the
noise increased. I stood up and argued about silly things, in a high
voice and with violent hand movements. But the noise kept increasing.
Why would they not be gone? I walked across the floor with heavy steps,
as if excited to anger by the observations of the men -- but the noise
increased. What could I do? I swung my chair and moved it upon the floor,
but the noise continually increased. It grew louder -- louder -- louder!
And still the men talked pleasantly, and smiled.
Was it possible they heard not? No, no! They heard! They suspected! They
knew! They were making a joke of my horror! This I thought, and this I
think. But anything was better than this pain! I could bear those smiles
no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! And now -- again! Louder!
"Villains!" I cried, "Pretend no more! I admit the deed! Tear up the
floor boards! Here, here! It is the beating of his hideous heart!"