The Telltale Heart by Edgar Allan 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! One of his eyes resembled that 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
for ever.

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 so 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
had 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 the 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 has 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 single dim ray like the thread of the spider shot
out from the crevice and fell 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 spot.

And now have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the
senses? 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 fur as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.

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 eye. 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 eye 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.
I 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 anything wrong. There was nothing to wash out -- no stain
of any kind -- no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that.

When I had made an end of these labours, 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
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: I talked more
freely to get rid of the feeling, but it continued and gained definitiveness -- 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. 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. O 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 were making a mockery of my horror! -- this I thought, and this I think. But
anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could
bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! -- and now --
again-- hark! louder! louder! louder! LOUDER!

"Villains!" I shrieked, "dissemble no more! I admit the deed! -- tear up the planks! here,
here! it is the beating of his hideous heart!"
Robert Burns

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