You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitively settled - but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved, precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish, but punish with impunity.
He had a weak point - this Fortunato - although in other regards he was a man to be respected and even feared. He prided himself on his connoisseurship in wine. Few Italians have the true virtuoso spirit. In painting and gemmary, Fortunato, like his countrymen, was a quack - but in the matter of old wines he was sincere.
It was about dusk, one evening during the supreme madness of the carnival season, that I encountered my friend. He accosted me with excessive warmth, for he had been drinking much. I was so pleased to see him, that I thought I should never have done wringing his hand.
I said to him - "My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met. How remarkably well you are looking to-day ! But I have received a pipe of what passes for Amontillado, and I have my doubts."
"How?" said he. "Amontillado? A pipe? Impossible! And in the middle of the carnival!"
"I have my doubts," I replied; "and I was silly enough to pay the full Amontillado price without consulting you in the matter. You were not to be found, and I was fearful of losing a bargain."
"As you are engaged, I am on my way to Luchesi. If any one has a critical turn, it is he. He will tell me --"
"Luchesi cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry. Come, let us go to your vaults."
"My friend, no; I will not impose upon your good nature. I perceive you have an engagement. Luchesi --"
"I have no engagement; - come."
"My friend, no. It is not the engagement, but the severe cold with which I perceive you are afflicted. The vaults are insufferably damp."
"Let us go, nevertheless. The cold is merely nothing. Amontillado! You have been imposed upon. And as for Luchesi, he cannot distinguish Sherry from Amontillado." Thus speaking, Fortunato possessed himself of my arm. I suffered him to hurry me to my palazzo.
There were no attendants at home; they had absconded to make merry in honor of the time. 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. "The pipe," said he.
"It is farther on," said I.
"How long have you had that cough?"
My poor friend found it impossible to reply for many minutes. "It is nothing," he said, at last.
"Come," I said, with decision, "we will go back; your health is precious. You will be ill, and I cannot be responsible. Besides, there is Luchesi --"
"Enough," he said; "the cough is a mere nothing; it will not kill me. 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.
He raised it to his lips with a leer. "I drink," he said, "to the buried that repose around us. These vaults," he said, "are extensive."
"The Montresors," I replied, "were a great and numerous family."
"You are not of the brotherhood. You are not of the masons."
"Yes, yes," I said, "yes, yes."
"You? Impossible! A mason? 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 leaned 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. We perceived a still interior recess, in depth about four feet, in width three, in height six or seven.
"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.
"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 up the entrance of the niche.
I had scarcely laid the first tier of my 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. The noise lasted for several minutes, during which, that I might hearken to it with the more satisfaction, I ceased my labors and sat down upon the bones.
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. But now there came from out the niche a sad voice, which I had difficulty in recognising as that of the noble Fortunato. "For the love of God, Montressor!"
"Fortunato!" No answer. I called again - "Fortunato!" No answer still. My heart grew sick - on account of the dampness 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!
- End -