THE BLACK CAT
by Edgar Allan Poe
FOR the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to
pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be
to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence.
Yet, mad am I not --and very surely do I not dream. But to-morrow
I die, and to-day I would unburthen my soul. My immediate purpose
is to place before the world, plainly, succinctly, and without comment,
a series of mere household events. In their consequences, these
events have terrified --have tortured --have destroyed me. Yet I
will not attempt to expound them. To me, they have presented little
but Horror --to many they will seem less terrible than baroques.
Hereafter, perhaps, some intellect may be found which will reduce
my phantasm to the common-place --some intellect more calm, more
logical, and far less excitable than my own, which will perceive,
in the circumstances I detail with awe, nothing more than an ordinary
succession of very natural causes and effects.
From my infancy I was noted for the docility and humanity of my
disposition. My tenderness of heart was even so conspicuous as to
make me the jest of my companions. I was especially fond of animals,
and was indulged by my parents with a great variety of pets. With
these I spent most of my time, and never was so happy as when feeding
and caressing them. This peculiar of character grew with my growth,
and in my manhood, I derived from it one of my principal sources
of pleasure. To those who have cherished an affection for a faithful
and sagacious dog, I need hardly be at the trouble of explaining
the nature or the intensity of the gratification thus derivable.
There is something in the unselfish and self-sacrificing love of
a brute, which goes directly to the heart of him who has had frequent
occasion to test the paltry friendship and gossamer fidelity of
I married early, and was happy to find in my wife a disposition
not uncongenial with my own. Observing my partiality for domestic
pets, she lost no opportunity of procuring those of the most agreeable
kind. We had birds, gold fish, a fine dog, rabbits, a small monkey,
and a cat.
This latter was a remarkably large and beautiful animal, entirely
black, and sagacious to an astonishing degree. In speaking of his
intelligence, my wife, who at heart was not a little tinctured with
superstition, made frequent allusion to the ancient popular notion,
which regarded all black cats as witches in disguise. Not that she
was ever serious upon this point --and I mention the matter at all
for no better reason than that it happens, just now, to be remembered.
Pluto --this was the cat's name --was my favorite pet and playmate.
I alone fed him, and he attended me wherever I went about the house.
It was even with difficulty that I could prevent him from following
me through the streets.
Our friendship lasted, in this manner, for several years, during
which my general temperament and character --through the instrumentality
of the Fiend Intemperance --had (I blush to confess it) experienced
a radical alteration for the worse. I grew, day by day, more moody,
more irritable, more regardless of the feelings of others. I suffered
myself to use intemperate language to my At length, I even offered
her personal violence. My pets, of course, were made to feel the
change in my disposition. I not only neglected, but ill-used them.
For Pluto, however, I still retained sufficient regard to restrain
me from maltreating him, as I made no scruple of maltreating the
rabbits, the monkey, or even the dog, when by accident, or through
affection, they came in my way. But my disease grew upon me --for
what disease is like Alcohol! --and at length even Pluto, who was
now becoming old, and consequently somewhat peevish --even Pluto
began to experience the effects of my ill temper.
One night, returning home, much intoxicated, from one of my haunts
about town, I fancied that the cat avoided my presence. I seized
him; when, in his fright at my violence, he inflicted a slight wound
upon my hand with his teeth. The fury of a demon instantly possessed
me. I knew myself no longer. My original soul seemed, at once, to
take its flight from my body; and a more than fiendish malevolence,
gin-nurtured, thrilled every fibre of my frame. I took from my waistcoat-pocket
a pen-knife, opened it, grasped the poor beast by the throat, and
deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket! I blush, I burn,
I shudder, while I pen the damnable atrocity.
When reason returned with the morning --when I had slept off the
fumes of the night's debauch --I experienced a sentiment half of
horror, half of remorse, for the crime of which I had been guilty;
but it was, at best, a feeble and equivocal feeling, and the soul
remained untouched. I again plunged into excess, and soon drowned
in wine all memory of the deed.
In the meantime the cat slowly recovered. The socket of the lost
eye presented, it is true, a frightful appearance, but he no longer
appeared to suffer any pain. He went about the house as usual, but,
as might be expected, fled in extreme terror at my approach. I had
so much of my old heart left, as to be at first grieved by this
evident dislike on the part of a creature which had once so loved
me. But this feeling soon gave place to irritation. And then came,
as if to my final and irrevocable overthrow, the spirit of PERVERSENESS.
Of this spirit philosophy takes no account. Yet I am not more sure
that my soul lives, than I am that perverseness is one of the primitive
impulses of the human heart --one of the indivisible primary faculties,
or sentiments, which give direction to the character of Man. Who
has not, a hundred times, found himself committing a vile or a silly
action, for no other reason than because he knows he should not?
Have we not a perpetual inclination, in the teeth of our best judgment,
to violate that which is Law, merely because we understand it to
be such? This spirit of perverseness, I say, came to my final overthrow.
It was this unfathomable longing of the soul to vex itself --to
offer violence to its own nature --to do wrong for the wrong's sake
only --that urged me to continue and finally to consummate the injury
I had inflicted upon the unoffending brute. One morning, in cool
blood, I slipped a noose about its neck and hung it to the limb
of a tree; --hung it with the tears streaming from my eyes, and
with the bitterest remorse at my heart; --hung it because I knew
that it had loved me, and because I felt it had given me no reason
of offence; --hung it because I knew that in so doing I was committing
a sin --a deadly sin that would so jeopardize my immortal soul as
to place it --if such a thing were possible --even beyond the reach
of the infinite mercy of the Most Merciful and Most Terrible God.
On the night of the day on which this cruel deed was done, I was
aroused from sleep by the cry of fire. The curtains of my bed were
in flames. The whole house was blazing. It was with great difficulty
that my wife, a servant, and myself, made our escape from the conflagration.
The destruction was complete. My entire worldly wealth was swallowed
up, and I resigned myself thenceforward to despair.
I am above the weakness of seeking to establish a sequence of cause
and effect, between the disaster and the atrocity. But I am detailing
a chain of facts --and wish not to leave even a possible link imperfect.
On the day succeeding the fire, I visited the ruins. The walls,
with one exception, had fAllan in. This exception was found in a
compartment wall, not very thick, which stood about the middle of
the house, and against which had rested the head of my bed. The
plastering had here, in great measure, resisted the action of the
fire --a fact which I attributed to its having been recently spread.
About this wall a dense crowd were collected, and many persons seemed
to be examining a particular portion of it with every minute and
eager attention. The words "strange!" "singular!" and other similar
expressions, excited my curiosity. I approached and saw, as if graven
in bas relief upon the white surface, the figure of a gigantic cat.
The impression was given with an accuracy truly marvellous. There
was a rope about the animal's neck.
When I first beheld this apparition --for I could scarcely regard
it as less --my wonder and my terror were extreme. But at length
reflection came to my aid. The cat, I remembered, had been hung
in a garden adjacent to the house. Upon the alarm of fire, this
garden had been immediately filled by the crowd --by some one of
whom the animal must have been cut from the tree and thrown, through
an open window, into my chamber. This had probably been done with
the view of arousing me from sleep. The falling of other walls had
compressed the victim of my cruelty into the substance of the freshly-spread
plaster; the lime of which, had then with the flames, and the ammonia
from the carcass, accomplished the portraiture as I saw it.
Although I thus readily accounted to my reason, if not altogether
to my conscience, for the startling fact 'just detailed, it did
not the less fall to make a deep impression upon my fancy. For months
I could not rid myself of the phantasm of the cat; and, during this
period, there came back into my spirit a half-sentiment that seemed,
but was not, remorse. I went so far as to regret the loss of the
animal, and to look about me, among the vile haunts which I now
habitually frequented, for another pet of the same species, and
of somewhat similar appearance, with which to supply its place.
One night as I sat, half stupefied, in a den of more than infamy,
my attention was suddenly drawn to some black object, reposing upon
the head of one of the immense hogsheads of Gin, or of Rum, which
constituted the chief furniture of the apartment. I had been looking
steadily at the top of this hogshead for some minutes, and what
now caused me surprise was the fact that I had not sooner perceived
the object thereupon. I approached it, and touched it with my hand.
It was a black cat --a very large one --fully as large as Pluto,
and closely resembling him in every respect but one. Pluto had not
a white hair upon any portion of his body; but this cat had a large,
although indefinite splotch of white, covering nearly the whole
region of the breast.
Upon my touching him, he immediately arose, purred loudly, rubbed
against my hand, and appeared delighted with my notice. This, then,
was the very creature of which I was in search. I at once offered
to purchase it of the landlord; but this person made no claim to
it --knew nothing of it --had never seen it before.
I continued my caresses, and, when I prepared to go home, the animal
evinced a disposition to accompany me. I permitted it to do so;
occasionally stooping and patting it as I proceeded. When it reached
the house it domesticated itself at once, and became immediately
a great favorite with my wife.
For my own part, I soon found a dislike to it arising within me.
This was just the reverse of what I had anticipated; but I know
not how or why it was --its evident fondness for myself rather disgusted
and annoyed. By slow degrees, these feelings of disgust and annoyance
rose into the bitterness of hatred. I avoided the creature; a certain
sense of shame, and the remembrance of my former deed of cruelty,
preventing me from physically abusing it. I did not, for some weeks,
strike, or otherwise violently ill use it; but gradually --very
gradually --I came to look upon it with unutterable loathing, and
to flee silently from its odious presence, as from the breath of
What added, no doubt, to my hatred of the beast, was the discovery,
on the morning after I brought it home, that, like Pluto, it also
had been deprived of one of its eyes. This circumstance, however,
only endeared it to my wife, who, as I have already said, possessed,
in a high degree, that humanity of feeling which had once been my
distinguishing trait, and the source of many of my simplest and
With my aversion to this cat, however, its partiality for myself
seemed to increase. It followed my footsteps with a pertinacity
which it would be difficult to make the reader comprehend. Whenever
I sat, it would crouch beneath my chair, or spring upon my knees,
covering me with its loathsome caresses. If I arose to walk it would
get between my feet and thus nearly throw me down, or, fastening
its long and sharp claws in my dress, clamber, in this manner, to
my breast. At such times, although I longed to destroy it with a
blow, I was yet withheld from so doing, partly it at by a memory
of my former crime, but chiefly --let me confess it at once --by
absolute dread of the beast.
This dread was not exactly a dread of physical evil-and yet I should
be at a loss how otherwise to define it. I am almost ashamed to
own --yes, even in this felon's cell, I am almost ashamed to own
--that the terror and horror with which the animal inspired me,
had been heightened by one of the merest chimaeras it would be possible
to conceive. My wife had called my attention, more than once, to
the character of the mark of white hair, of which I have spoken,
and which constituted the sole visible difference between the strange
beast and the one I had y si destroyed. The reader will remember
that this mark, although large, had been originally very indefinite;
but, by slow degrees --degrees nearly imperceptible, and which for
a long time my Reason struggled to reject as fanciful --it had,
at length, assumed a rigorous distinctness of outline. It was now
the representation of an object that I shudder to name --and for
this, above all, I loathed, and dreaded, and would have rid myself
of the monster had I dared --it was now, I say, the image of a hideous
--of a ghastly thing --of the GALLOWS! --oh, mournful and terrible
engine of Horror and of Crime --of Agony and of Death!
And now was I indeed wretched beyond the wretchedness of mere Humanity.
And a brute beast --whose fellow I had contemptuously destroyed
--a brute beast to work out for me --for me a man, fashioned in
the image of the High God --so much of insufferable wo! Alas! neither
by day nor by night knew I the blessing of Rest any more! During
the former the creature left me no moment alone; and, in the latter,
I started, hourly, from dreams of unutterable fear, to find the
hot breath of the thing upon my face, and its vast weight --an incarnate
Night-Mare that I had no power to shake off --incumbent eternally
upon my heart!
Beneath the pressure of torments such as these, the feeble remnant
of the good within me succumbed. Evil thoughts became my sole intimates
--the darkest and most evil of thoughts. The moodiness of my usual
temper increased to hatred of all things and of all mankind; while,
from the sudden, frequent, and ungovernable outbursts of a fury
to which I now blindly abandoned myself, my uncomplaining wife,
alas! was the most usual and the most patient of sufferers.
One day she accompanied me, upon some household errand, into the
cellar of the old building which our poverty compelled us to inhabit.
The cat followed me down the steep stairs, and, nearly throwing
me headlong, exasperated me to madness. Uplifting an axe, and forgetting,
in my wrath, the childish dread which had hitherto stayed my hand,
I aimed a blow at the animal which, of course, would have proved
instantly fatal had it descended as I wished. But this blow was
arrested by the hand of my wife. Goaded, by the interference, into
a rage more than demoniacal, I withdrew my arm from her grasp and
buried the axe in her brain. She fell dead upon the spot, without
This hideous murder accomplished, I set myself forthwith, and with
entire deliberation, to the task of concealing the body. I knew
that I could not remove it from the house, either by day or by night,
without the risk of being observed by the neighbors. Many projects
entered my mind. At one period I thought of cutting the corpse into
minute fragments, and destroying them by fire. At another, I resolved
to dig a grave for it in the floor of the cellar. Again, I deliberated
about casting it in the well in the yard --about packing it in a
box, as if merchandize, with the usual arrangements, and so getting
a porter to take it from the house. Finally I hit upon what I considered
a far better expedient than either of these. I determined to wall
it up in the cellar --as the monks of the middle ages are recorded
to have walled up their victims.
For a purpose such as this the cellar was well adapted. Its walls
were loosely constructed, and had lately been plastered throughout
with a rough plaster, which the dampness of the atmosphere had prevented
from hardening. Moreover, in one of the walls was a projection,
caused by a false chimney, or fireplace, that had been filled up,
and made to resemble the rest of the cellar. I made no doubt that
I could readily displace the at this point, insert the corpse, and
wall the whole up as before, so that no eye could detect anything
And in this calculation I was not deceived. By means of a crow-bar
I easily dislodged the bricks, and, having carefully deposited the
body against the inner wall, I propped it in that position, while,
with little trouble, I re-laid the whole structure as it originally
stood. Having procured mortar, sand, and hair, with every possible
precaution, I prepared a plaster could not every poss be distinguished
from the old, and with this I very carefully went over the new brick-work.
When I had finished, I felt satisfied that all was right. The wall
did not present the slightest appearance of having been disturbed.
The rubbish on the floor was picked up with the minutest care. I
looked around triumphantly, and said to myself --"Here at least,
then, my labor has not been in vain."
My next step was to look for the beast which had been the cause
of so much wretchedness; for I had, at length, firmly resolved to
put it to death. Had I been able to meet with it, at the moment,
there could have been no doubt of its fate; but it appeared that
the crafty animal had been alarmed at the violence of my previous
anger, and forebore to present itself in my present mood. It is
impossible to describe, or to imagine, the deep, the blissful sense
of relief which the absence of the detested creature occasioned
in my bosom. It did not make its appearance during the night --and
thus for one night at least, since its introduction into the house,
I soundly and tranquilly slept; aye, slept even with the burden
of murder upon my soul!
The second and the third day passed, and still my tormentor came
not. Once again I breathed as a free-man. The monster, in terror,
had fled the premises forever! I should behold it no more! My happiness
was supreme! The guilt of my dark deed disturbed me but little.
Some few inquiries had been made, but these had been readily answered.
Even a search had been instituted --but of course nothing was to
be discovered. I looked upon my future felicity as secured.
Upon the fourth day of the assassination, a party of the police
came, very unexpectedly, into the house, and proceeded again to
make rigorous investigation of the premises. Secure, however, in
the inscrutability of my place of concealment, I felt no embarrassment
whatever. The officers bade me accompany them in their search. They
left no nook or corner unexplored. At length, for the third or fourth
time, they descended into the cellar. I quivered not in a muscle.
My heart beat calmly as that of one who slumbers in innocence. I
walked the cellar from end to end. I folded my arms upon my bosom,
and roamed easily to and fro. The police were thoroughly satisfied
and prepared to depart. The glee at my heart was too strong to be
restrained. I burned to say if but one word, by way of triumph,
and to render doubly sure their assurance of my guiltlessness.
"Gentlemen," I said at last, as the party ascended the steps, "I
delight to have allayed your suspicions. I wish you all health,
and a little more courtesy. By the bye, gentlemen, this --this is
a very well constructed house." (In the rabid desire to say something
easily, I scarcely knew what I uttered at all.) --"I may say an
excellently well constructed house. These walls --are you going,
gentlemen? --these walls are solidly put together"; and here, through
the mere phrenzy of bravado, I rapped heavily, with a cane which
I held in my hand, upon that very portion of the brick-work behind
which stood the corpse of the wife of my bosom.
But may God shield and deliver me from the fangs of the Arch-Fiend!
No sooner had the reverberation of my blows sunk into silence than
I was answered by a voice from within the tomb! --by a cry, at first
muffled and broken, like the sobbing of a child, and then quickly
swelling into one long, loud, and continuous scream, utterly anomalous
and inhuman --a howl --a wailing shriek, half of horror and half
of triumph, such as might have arisen only out of hell, conjointly
from the throats of the damned in their agony and of the demons
that exult in the damnation.
Of my own thoughts it is folly to speak. Swooning, I staggered
to the opposite wall. For one instant the party upon the stairs
remained motionless, through extremity of terror and of awe. In
the next, a dozen stout arms were tolling at the wall. It fell bodily.
The corpse, already greatly decayed and clotted with gore, stood
erect before the eyes of the spectators. Upon its head, with red
extended mouth and solitary eye of fire, sat the hideous beast whose
craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing voice had
consigned me to the hangman. I had walled the monster up within