The Tell-Tale Heart

by: Edgar Alan Poe


    TRUE! — nervous — very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am;

but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses

— not destroyed — not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing

acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many

things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily

— how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once

conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion

there was none. 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 vulture — a pale blue eye,

with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so

by degrees — very gradually — I made up my mind to take the life of the

old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you

should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded — with

what caution — with what foresight — with what dissimulation I went to

work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week

before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch

of his door and opened it — oh so gently! And then, when I had made an

opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed,

closed, that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you

would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it

slowly — very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man's

sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so

far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha! would a madman have

been so wise as this, And then, when my head was well in the room, I

undid the lantern cautiously-oh, so cautiously — cautiously (for the

hinges creaked) — I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell

upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nights — every night

just at midnight — but I found the eye always closed; and so it was

impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but

his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into

the chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a

hearty tone, and inquiring how he has passed the night. So you see he

would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every

night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.

Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the

door. A watch's minute hand moves more quickly than did mine. Never

before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers — of my

sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. To think that

there I was, opening the door, little by little, and he not even to

dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea; and

perhaps he heard me; for he moved on the bed suddenly, as if startled.

Now you may think that I drew back — but no. His room was as black as

pitch with the thick darkness, (for the shutters were close fastened,

through fear of robbers,) and so I knew that he could not see the

opening of the door, and I kept pushing it on steadily, steadily.

I had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb

slipped upon the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up in bed, crying

out — "Who's there?"

I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a

muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down. He was still

sitting up in the bed listening; — just as I have done, night after

night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall.

Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal

terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief — oh, no! — it was the

low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when

overcharged with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at

midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom,

deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me. I say

I knew it well. I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I

chuckled at heart. I knew that he had been lying awake ever since the

first slight noise, when he had turned in the bed. His fears had been

ever since growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless,

but could not. He had been saying to himself — "It is nothing but the

wind in the chimney — it is only a mouse crossing the floor," or "It is

merely a cricket which has made a single chirp." Yes, he had been trying

to comfort himself with these suppositions: but he had found all in

vain. All in vain; because Death, in approaching him had stalked with

his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim. And it was the

mournful influence of the unperceived shadow that caused him to feel —

although he neither saw nor heard — to feel the presence of my head

within the room.

When I had waited a long time, very patiently, without hearing him lie

down, I resolved to open a little — a very, very little crevice in the

lantern. So I opened it — you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily

— until, at length a simple dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot

from out the crevice and fell full upon the vulture eye.

It was open — wide, wide open — and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I

saw it with perfect distinctness — all a dull blue, with a hideous veil

over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones; but I could see

nothing else of the old man's face or person: for I had directed the ray

as if by instinct, precisely upon the damned spot.

And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but

over-acuteness of the sense? — now, I say, there came to my ears a low,

dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I

knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man's heart. It

increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into


But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I held the

lantern motionless. I tried how steadily I could maintain the ray upon

the eve. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew

quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant. The old man's

terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every

moment! — do you mark me well I have told you that I am nervous: so I

am. And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of

that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable

terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But

the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now

a new anxiety seized me — the sound would be heard by a neighbour! The

old man's hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and

leaped into the room. He shrieked once — once only. In an instant I

dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then

smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. But, for many minutes, the

heart beat on with a muffled sound. This, however, did not vex me; it

would not be heard through the wall. At length it ceased. The old man

was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone,

stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many

minutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. His eve would

trouble me no more.

If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe

the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night

waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismembered

the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.

I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and

deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boards so

cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye — not even his — could have

detected any thing wrong. There was nothing to wash out — no stain of

any kind — no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that. A tub

had caught all — ha! ha!

When I had made an end of these labors, it was four o'clock — still dark

as midnight. As the bell sounded the hour, there came a knocking 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 introduced themselves, with

perfect suavity, as officers of the police. A shriek had been heard by a

neighbour during the night; suspicion of foul play had been aroused;

information had been lodged at the police office, and they (the

officers) had been deputed to search the premises.

I smiled, — for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. The

shriek, I said, was my own in a dream. The old man, I mentioned, was

absent in the country. I took my visitors all over the house. I bade

them search — search well. I led them, at length, to his chamber. I

showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of my

confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here to

rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity of my

perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which

reposed the corpse of the victim.

The officers were satisfied. My manner had convinced them. I was

singularly at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerily, they

chatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale

and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears:

but still they sat and still chatted. The ringing became more distinct:

— It continued and became more distinct: I talked more freely to get rid

of the feeling: but it continued and gained definiteness — until, at

length, I found that the noise was not within my ears.

No doubt I now grew very pale; — but I talked more fluently, and with a

heightened voice. Yet the sound increased — and what could I do? It was

a low, dull, quick sound — much such a sound as a watch makes when

enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath — and yet the officers heard it

not. I talked more quickly — more vehemently; but the noise steadily

increased. I arose and argued about triflesound increased — and what

could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound — much such a sound as a

watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath — and yet the

officers heard it not. I talked more quickly — more vehemently; but the

noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high

key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased.

Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy

strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men — but the

noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed — I raved —

I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it

upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased.

It grew louder — louder — louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly,

and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! — no, no! They

heard! — they suspected! — they knew! — they wer

"Villains!" I shrieked, "dissemble no more! I admit the deed! — tear up

the planks! here, here! — It is the beating of his hideous heart!"

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