By the last breath of the four winds that blow,
I’ll have revenge upon Fortunato,
Smile in his face, I’ll say “Come, let us go,
I’ve a cask of Amontillado.”
— Alan Parsons/Eric Woolfson
I had borne the thousand injuries of Fortunato as I best could, but when he ventured to insult me, I vowed revenge. Those who know my nature well would not imagine that I made a threat. In time I would be avenged–that was certain–but the very certainty with which I was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish him, but punish him with impunity. A wrong is unpunished when retribution overtakes its avenger. It is equally unpunished when the avenger fails to make himself known as such to the one who has done the wrong.
I give Fortunato no cause to doubt my good will, neither by word nor deed. I continued, as was my practice, to smile in his face, and he did not perceive that my smile was now at the thought of his immolation.
Fortunato had a weakness, although in other ways he was a man to be respected and even feared. He prided himself as a connoisseur of wine. Few Italians have the true virtuoso spirit; most merely pretend enthusiasm to suit the time and opportunity, to posture for the British and Austrian millionaires. In painting and the study of gems, Fortunato, like his countrymen, was a quack, but in the matter of old wines he was sincere. I too was knowledgeable of the Italian vintages, and bought in quantity whenever I could.
Near dusk, one evening during the supreme madness of the carnival season, I encountered my friend. He accosted me with excessive warmth, because he had been drinking heavily. He was dressed as a fool. He had on a tight fitting dress, striped in many colours, and a conical cap and bells on his head. I was so pleased to see him that I thought I might never stop shaking his hand.
“My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met,” I said to him. “How remarkably well you look today! I have received a large cask of what I believe to be Amontillado, though I have my doubts.”
“How?” said he. “Amontillado? A large cask? In the middle of the carnival? Impossible!”
“I have my doubts,” I replied, “and I was foolish enough to pay the full price of Amontillado without consulting you in the matter. You were nowhere to be found, and I feared to miss out on a bargain.”
“Amontillado!” he repeated.
“I have my doubts,” I reiterated.
“And I must satisfy them.”
“Since you were busy, I was on my way to see Luchesi. If anyone has critical ability, it is he. He will tell me—”
“Luchesi cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry.”
“And yet some fools say that his taste is a match for your own.”
“Come, let’s go.”
“To your vaults.”
“My friend, no. I will not impose upon your good nature. I see you have plans. Luchesi—”
“I have no plans. Come.”
“My friend, no. It’s not just your plans, but the severe cold that I see you are afflicted with. The vaults are insufferably damp. They’re encrusted with saltpetre.”
“Let’s go, despite it; this cold is nothing. Amontillado! You have been swindled. And as for Luchesi, he cannot distinguish Sherry from Amontillado.”
Fortunato took my arm. Putting on a black silk mask and drawing my knee-length cloak closely about me, I allowed him to hurry me to my home.
There were no servants at home. I had told them that I would not return until morning, but had given them explicit orders not to leave the house. These orders were sufficient, I knew, to insure their immediate disappearance, one and all, as soon as my back was turned, and as expected, they had left to merrily celebrate the holiday.
I took two torches from their sconces and, giving one to Fortunato, ushered him through several suites of rooms to the archway that led into the vaults. I went down the long and winding staircase, asking him to be careful as he followed. We came at last to the foot of the stairs, and stood together on the damp ground of the catacombs of the Montresor family.
My friend’s gait was unsteady, and the bells upon his cap jingled as he walked.
“The cask?” he asked.
“It’s further on,” I said. “Look at the white web work which gleams from these cavern walls.”
He turned to me and looked into my eyes, his own filmy orbs rheumy with intoxication.
“Saltpetre?” he asked, at length.
“Saltpetre,” I replied.
At that moment, Fortunato had a huge coughing fit.
“How long have you had that cough?” I asked.
He found it impossible to reply for many minutes.
“It is nothing,” he said, at last.
“Come,” I said decisively, “we will go back. Your health is precious. You are rich, respected, admired, beloved. You are happy, as I once was. You are a man who would be missed. For me, it is no big inconvenience. We will go back; you are ill, and I cannot be responsible. Besides, there is Luchesi—”
“Enough,” he said. “My cough is nothing. It won’t kill me. I won’t die of a cough.”
“True, true,” I replied. “I didn’t mean to alarm you unnecessarily, but you should take all proper precautions. A draft of this Bordeaux will defend us from the damp.”
I knocked off the neck of a bottle that I drew from a long row of its fellows that lay upon the ground.
“Drink,” I said, presenting him the wine.
He raised it to his lips with a leer. He paused and nodded to me familiarly, while his bells jingled.
“I drink,” he said, “to the buried dead that repose around us.”
“And I to your long life,” I said.
He took my arm again, and we proceeded.
“These vaults,” he said, “are extensive.”
“The Montresors,” I replied, “were once a great and numerous family.”
“I forget your arms,” he said.
“A huge, golden human foot, in a field azure, crushes a rampant serpent whose fangs are embedded in its heel.”
“And the motto?”
“Nemo me impune lacessit”, I replied, knowing he would know what it meant: ‘No one attacks me with impunity’.
“Good!” he said.
The wine sparkled in his eyes and his bells jingled. My own imagination grew warm with the Bordeaux. We passed between walls of piled bones, with casks intermingled, to the inmost recesses of the catacombs. I paused again, and this time I made so bold as to seize Fortunato by his arm above the elbow.
“The saltpetre!” I said. “See how it increases. It hangs like moss upon the vaults. We are below the river’s bed. Drops of moisture trickle among the bones. Come on, let’s go back before it’s too late. Your cough—”
“It is nothing,” he said. “Let’s go on. But first, another draft of Bordeaux.”
I broke open and passed him a flagon of Bordeaux from the vineyards of Punta de Grâve. He emptied it in a single draft. His eyes flashing with fierce light, he laughed and threw the bottle upwards with a gesticulation I didn’t understand.
I looked at him in surprise. He repeated the movement—a grotesque one.
“You do not comprehend?” he said.
“No,” I replied.
“Then you are not of the brotherhood.”
“You are not a mason.”
“Oh, yes,” I said, “I am.”
“You? A mason? Impossible!”
“A mason,” I replied.
“Show me a sign,” he said.
“It is this,” I answered, producing a trowel from beneath the folds of my roquelaire.
“You jest,” he exclaimed, recoiling a few paces. “But let us proceed to the Amontillado.”
“So be it,” I said, replacing the tool beneath the cloak, and again offering him my arm. He leaned upon it heavily. We continued our quest for the Amontillado. We passed through a range of low arches, descended, passed on, and, descending again, arrived in a deep crypt, in which the foulness of the air caused our torches to glow rather than flame.
At the furthest end of the crypt, it opened onto another, less spacious one. Its walls had been lined with human remains, piled to the vault overhead, in the fashion of the great catacombs of Paris. Three sides of this interior crypt were still decorated in this manner. From the fourth, the bones had been thrown down, and lay everywhere upon the ground, forming a mound of some size at one point. Within the wall exposed by the displaced bones, we saw a recess, about four feet deep, and three in width, in height, six or seven. It seemed to have been constructed for no special purpose, but merely formed the interval between two of the colossal supports of the roof of the catacombs, and was backed by one of their circumscribing walls of solid granite.
Fortunato, lifting his dull torch, tried in vain to see into the depths of the recess. The feeble light did not enable us to see its back wall.
“Proceed,” I said. “The Amontillado is in here. As for Luchesi—”
“He is an ignoramus,” interrupted my friend, as he stepped unsteadily forward.
I followed immediately at his heels. In an instant he had reached the extremity of the niche and, finding his progress arrested by the rock, stood stupidly, bewildered. Embedded in surface were two iron staples, about two feet apart, horizontally. From one of these, a short chain hung; from the other a padlock. Throwing the links about his waist, it took only a few seconds to secure it. He was too astounded to resist. Withdrawing the key, I stepped back from the recess.
“Pass your hand over the wall,” I said. “You cannot help feeling the saltpetre. Indeed, it is very damp. Once more let me implore you to return. No? Then I must positively leave you. But I must first render you all the little attentions in my power.”
“The Amontillado!” ejaculated my friend, not yet recovered from his astonishment.
“True,” I replied; “the Amontillado.”
As I said these words I busied myself among the pile of bones. Throwing them aside, I uncovered a quantity of building stone and mortar. With these materials and the aid of my trowel, I began to wall up the entrance of the niche.
I had scarcely laid the first tier of masonry when I discovered that Fortunato’s intoxication had worn off in great measure. I heard a low moaning cry from the depth of the recess. It was not the cry of a drunken man. Then there was a long and obstinate silence. I laid the second tier, the third, and the fourth, and then I heard furious vibrations of the chain. The noise lasted for several minutes, during which, so that I might listen to it with the more satisfaction, I ceased my labour and sat down upon the bones. When at last the clanking subsided, I resumed my work with the trowel, and finished without interruption the fifth, sixth, and seventh tiers. The wall was now nearly level with my chest. I paused again and, holding the torch over the brickwork, threw a few feeble rays upon the man within.
A succession of loud, shrill screams burst suddenly from the throat of his chained form, and seemed to thrust me violently back. For a brief moment I hesitated—I trembled. Unsheathing my rapier, I began to feel about the recess with it. But then a thought reassured me. I placed my hand upon the solid walls of the catacombs, and felt satisfied. I came back the wall and replied to his yells as he clamoured. I echoed, aided, and even surpassed them in volume and in strength. As I did this, his clamouring grew still.
It was now midnight, and my task was drawing to a close. I completed the eighth, ninth, and tenth courses. I had finished a portion of the last, the eleventh. There was only a single stone left to be fitted and plastered in. I struggled with its weight; I placed it partially in position. As I did, a low laugh came from the niche and raised the hairs upon my head. It was succeeded by a sad voice, which I had difficulty in recognizing as that of the noble Fortunato.
“Ha! ha! ha!—a very good joke indeed—an excellent jest. We will have many a rich laugh about it at the palazzo—he! he! he!—over our wine—he! he! he!”
“The Amontillado!” I said.
“He! he! he!—yes, the Amontillado. But isn’t it getting late? Won’t they be waiting for us at the palazzo, Lady Fortunato and the rest? Let us go.”
“Yes,” I said, “let us go.”
“For the love of God, Montressor!”
“Yes,” I said, “for the love of God!”
I listened in vain for a reply to these words. I grew impatient.
“Fortunato!” I called aloud.
“Fortunato!” I called again.
No answer still. I thrust a torch through the remaining aperture and let it fall within. Only the jingling of bells came forth in return. My heart grew sick, on account of the dampness of the catacombs. I hurried to finish my task. I forced the last stone into place and plastered it up. Against the new masonry, I reerected the old rampart of bones which for half a century no mortal had disturbed.
Rest in peace!