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There were no attendants at home; they had absconded to make merry
in honor of the time. I had told them that I should not return until the morning, and had given them explieit-orders-not to stir from the house. These orders were sufficient, I well knew, to insure their immediate disappearance, one and all, as soon-asmy back was turned.
I took from their sconces two flambeaux, and giving one to Fortunato, bowed him through several suites of rooms to the archway that led into the vaults. I passed down a long and winding staircase, requesting him to be cautious as he followed. We came at length to the foot of the descent, and stood together on the damp ground of the catacombs of the Montresors.
The gait of my friend was unsteady, and the bells upon his cap jingled as he strode.
“The pipe,” said he.
“ It is farther on,” said I; “but observe the white web-work which gleams from these cavern walls.”
He turned towards me, and tooked into my eyes with-two-filmy orbs that distilled the rheum of intoxication:
“Nitre ?” he asked, at length. “Nitre." I replied. “How long have you had that cough ?"
“Ugh! ugh! ugh!-ugh! ugh! ugh !-ugh! ugh! ugh! ugh! ugh! ugh!-ugh! ugh! ugh !"
My poor friend found it impossible-to-reply for many minutes. “It is nothing," he said, at last. “Come,” I said, with decision,
back is precious. You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as once I You are a man to be missed. For me it is no matter. We will go back; you will be ill, and I cannot be responsible. Besides, there is LuchesiEnough,” he said ; the cough is a mere nothing; it will not
I shall not die of a cough.” “True-true," I replied ; "and, indeed, I had no intention of 'alarming you unnecessarily--but you should use all proper caution. A draught of this Medoc will defend us from the damps."
Here I knocked off the neck of a bottle which I drew from a long row of its fellows that lay upon the mould.
“Drink,” I said, presenting him the wine.
; your health
He raised it to his lips with a teer. He paused and nodded to me familiarly, while his bells jingled.
“I drink,” he said, “ to the buried that repose around us.”
"The Montresors,". I replied, were a great and numerous family."
"I forget your arms.
"A huge human-foot-d'or, in a field azure ; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel."
"And the motto 9:19
The wine sparkled in his eyes and the bells jingled. My own fancy grew-warm with the Medoe. We had passed through walls of piled bones, with casks and puncheons intermingling, into the inmost recesses of the catacombs. I paused again, and this time I made bold to seize Fortunato by an arm above the elbow.
"The nitre !22.- said ;-“see, it increases." It hangs like moss upon the vaults. We are below the river's bed. The drops of moisture trickle among the bones. Come, we will go
back ere it is too late. Your cough
“ It is nothing," he said ; “ let us go on. But first, another draught of the Medoc."
I broke and reached him-a flacon of De Grâve. He emptied it at a breath. His eyes flashed with a fierce light. He laughed and threw the bottle upwards with a gesticulation I did not understand.
I looked at him in surprise. He repeated the movementgrotesque one.
“ You do not comprehend 7"-- he said.
“ A mason," I replied. “ 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.'
Be it so," I said, replacing the tool beneath the cloak, and again offering him my arm. He loaned upon it heavily. We continued our route in search of the Amontillado. We passed through a range of low arches, descended, passed on, and descending again, arrived at a deep crypt, in which the foulness of the air caused our flambeaux rather to glow than flame.
At the most remote end of the crypt there appeared another less spacious. Its walls had been lined with human remains, piled on to the vault-overhead, in the fashion of the great catacombs of Paris. Three sides of this interior crypt were still ornamented in this manner. From the fourth the bones had been thrown down, and lay promiscuously upon the earth, forming at one point a mound of some size. Within the wall thus exposed by the displacing of the bones, we perceived a still interior recess, in depth about four feet, in width three, in height six or seven. It seemed to have been constructed for no especial use within itself, but formed merely 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.
It was in vain that Fortunato, uplifting his dull torch, endeavored to pry into the depth of the recess. Its termination the feeble light did not enable us to see.
“Proceed," I said ; “ herein is the Amontillado. As for Luchesi
“He is an ignoramus," interrupted my friend, as he stepped unsteadily forward, while 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. A moment more and I had fettered him to the granite. In its surface were two iron staples, distant from each other about two feet, horizontally. From one of these depended a short chain, from the other a padlock. Throwing the links about his waist, it was
but the work of a few seconds to secure it. He was too much astounded to resist. Withdrawing the key I stepped back from the recess.
"Pass your hand,” I said, over the wall; you cannot help feeling the nitre. 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 of which I have before spoken. Throwing them aside, I soon uncovered a quantity of building stone and mortar. With these materials and with the aid of my trowel, I began vigorously to wall the entrance of the niche.
I had scarcely laid the first tier of the masonry when I discovered that the intoxication of Fortunato had in a great measure worn off. The earliest indication I had of this was a low moaning cry from the depth of the recess. It was not the
cry drunken man. There was then a long and obstinate silence. I laid the second tier, and the third, and the fourth; and then I heard the furious vibrations of the chain. The noise lasted for several minutes, during which, that I might hearken to it with the more satisfaetion, I ceased my labors and sat down upon the bones. When at last the clanking subsided, I resumed the trowel, and finished without interruption the fifth, the sixth, and the seventh tier. The wall was now nearly upon a level with my
breast. I again paused, and holding the flambeaux over the mason-work, threw a few feeble rays upon the figure within.
A succession of loud and shrill screams, bursting suddenly from the throat of the chained form, seemed to thrust me violently back. For a brief moment I hesitated--I trembled. Unsheathing my rapier, I began to grope with it about the recess : but the thought of an instant reassured me.
I placed my
upon the solid fabric of the catacombs, and felt satisfied. I reapproached the wall. I replied to the yells of him who clamored. I re-echoed-I aided-I surpassed them in volume and in strength. I did this, and the clamorer grew still.
It was now midnight, and my task was drawing to a close. I had completed the eighth, the ninth, and the tenth tier. I had finished a portion of the last and the eleventh ; there remained but a single stone to be fitted and plastered in. I struggled with its weight; I placed it partially in its destined position. But now there came from out the niche a low laugh that erected the hairs upon my head. It was succeeded by a sad voice, which I had difficulty in recognising as that of the noble Fortunato. The voice said-
“ Ha! ha! ha!-he! he !-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 !-he! he! he !--yes, the 'Amontillado. But is it not getting late !. Will not they be awaiting us at the palazzo, the Lady Fortunato and the rest ? Let us be gone."
“Yes," I said, " let us be gone."
But to these words I hearkened in vain for a reply. I grew impatient. I called aloud
“ Fortunato !"
No answer still. I thrust a torch through the remaining aperture and let it fall within. There came forth in return only a jingling of the bells. My heart grew sick-on account of the darupness of the catacombs. I hastened to make an end of my labor. I forced the last stone into its position; I plastered it up. Against the new masonry I re-erected the old rampart of bones. For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them. In pace requiescat !