It's true! Yes, I have been ill, very ill. But why do you say thatI have lost control of my mind,why do you say that I am mad?Can you not see that I have fullcontrol of my mind? Is it not clearthat I am not mad? Indeed, the illness only made my mind, myfeelings, my senses stronger, morepowerful. My sense of hearingespecially became more powerful.I could hear sounds I had neverheard before. I heard sounds fromheaven; and I heard sounds fromhell!
Listen! Listen, and I will tell you how it happened. You will see, you will hear how healthy my mindis.
It is impossible to say how the idea first entered my head. Therewas no reason for what I did. I did not hate the old man; I even lovedhim. He had never hurt me. I did not want his money. I think it washis eye. His eye was like the eye of a vulture, the eye of one of thoseterrible birds that watch and wait while an animal dies, and then fallupon the dead body and pull it to pieces to eat it. When the old manlooked at me with his vulture eye a cold feeling went up and down my back; even my blood became cold. And so, I finally decided I had tokill the old man and close that eye forever!
So you think that I am mad? A madman cannot plan. But youshould have seen me. During all of that week I was as friendly to theold man as I could be, and warm, and loving.
Every night about twelve o’clock I slowly opened his door. Andwhen the door was opened wide enough I put my hand in, and thenmy head. In my hand I held a light covered over with a cloth so thatno light showed. And I stood there quietly. Then, carefully, I lifted thecloth, just a little, so that a single, thin, small light fell across that eye.For seven nights I did this, seven long nights, every night at midnight.Always the eye was closed, so it was impossible for me to do the work.For it was not the old man I felt I had to kill; it was the eye, his EvilEye.
And every morning I went to his room, and with a warm, friendlyvoice I asked him how he had slept. He could not guess that everynight, just at twelve, I looked in at him as he slept.
The eighth night I was more than usually careful as I openedthe door. The hands of a clock move more quickly than did my hand.Never before had I felt so strongly my own power; I was now sure ofsuccess.
The old man was lying there not dreaming that I was at his door.Suddenly he moved in his bed. You may think I became afraid. But no.The darkness in his room was thick and black. I knew he could not seethe opening of the door. I continued to push the door, slowly, softly. Iput in my head. I put in my hand, with the covered light. Suddenly theold man sat straight up in bed and cried, “Who’s there??!”
I stood quite still. For a whole hour I did not move. Nor did Ihear him again lie down in his bed. He just sat there, listening. Then Iheard a sound, a low cry of fear which escaped from the old man. NowI knew that he was sitting up in his bed, filled with fear; I knew that heknew that I was there. He did not see me there. He could not hear methere. He felt me there. Now he knew that Death was standing there.
Slowly, little by little, I lifted the cloth, until a small, small lightescaped from under it to fall upon — to fall upon that vulture eye!It was open — wide, wide open, and my anger increased as it lookedstraight at me. I could not see the old man’s face. Only that eye, that hard blue eye, and the blood in my body became like ice.
Have I not told you that my hearing had become unusuallystrong? Now I could hear a quick, low, soft sound, like the sound of aclock heard through a wall. It was the beating of the old man’s heart.I tried to stand quietly. But the sound grew louder. The old man’s fearmust have been great indeed. And as the sound grew louder my angerbecame greater and more painful. But it was more than anger. In thequiet night, in the dark silence of the bedroom my anger becamefear — for the heart was beating so loudly that I was sure some onemust hear. The time had come! I rushed into the room, crying, “Die!Die!” The old man gave a loud cry of fear as I fell upon him and heldthe bedcovers tightly over his head. Still his heart was beating; butI smiled as I felt that success was near. For many minutes that heartcontinued to beat; but at last the beating stopped. The old man wasdead. I took away the bedcovers and held my ear over his heart. Therewas no sound. Yes. He was dead! Dead as a stone. His eye would trouble me no more!
So I am mad, you say? Youshould have seen how careful Iwas to put the body where no onecould find it. First I cut off thehead, then the arms and the legs. Iwas careful not to let a single dropof blood fall on the floor. I pulledup three of the boards that formedthe floor, and put the pieces of thebody there. Then I put the boardsdown again, carefully, so carefullythat no human eye could see thatthey had been moved.
As I finished this work Iheard that someone was at thedoor. It was now four o’clock inthe morning, but still dark. I hadno fear, however, as I went downto open the door. Three men wereat the door, three officers of the police. One of the neighbors had heard the old man’s cry and hadcalled the police; these three had come to ask questions and to searchthe house.
I asked the policemen to come in. The cry, I said, was my own, ina dream. The old man, I said, was away; he had gone to visit a friendin the country. I took them through the whole house, telling them tosearch it all, to search well. I led them finally into the old man’s bedroom. As if playing a game with them I asked them to sit down andtalk for a while.
My easy, quiet manner made the policemen believe my story. Sothey sat talking with me in a friendly way. But although I answeredthem in the same way, I soon wished that they would go. My head hurtand there was a strange sound in my ears. I talked more, and faster.The sound became clearer. And still they sat and talked.
Suddenly I knew that the sound was not in my ears, it was notjust inside my head. At that moment I must have become quite white.I talked still faster and louder. And the sound, too, became louder. Itwas a quick, low, soft sound, like the sound of a clock heard through awall, a sound I knew well. Louder it became, and louder. Why did themen not go? Louder, louder. I stood up and walked quickly around theroom. I pushed my chair across the floor to make more noise, to coverthat terrible sound. I talked even louder. And still the men sat andtalked, and smiled. Was it possible that they could not hear??
No! They heard! I was certain of it. They knew! Now it was theywho were playing a game with me. I was suffering more than I couldbear, from their smiles, and from that sound. Louder, louder, louder!Suddenly I could bear it no longer. I pointed at the boards and cried,“Yes! Yes, I killed him. Pull up the boards and you shall see! I killedhim. But why does his heart not stop beating?! Why does it not stop!?”
When Narcissus died the pool of his pleasure changed from a cup of sweet waters into a cup of salt tears, and the Oreads came weeping through the woodland that they might sing to the pool and give it comfort.
And when they saw that the pool had changed from a cup of sweet waters into a cup of salt tears, they loosened the green tresses of their hair and cried to the pool and said, 'We do not wonder that you should mourn in this manner for Narcissus, so beautiful was he.'
'But was Narcissus beautiful?' said the pool.
'Who should know that better than you?' answered the Oreads. 'Us did he ever pass by, but you he sought for, and would lie on your banks and look down at you, and in the mirror of your waters he would mirror his own beauty.'
And the pool answered, 'But I loved Narcissus because, as he lay on my banks and looked down at me, in the mirror of his eyes I saw ever my own beauty mirrored.'
In the morning of life came a good fairy with her basket, and said:
"Here are gifts. Take one, leave the others. And be wary, chose wisely; oh, choose wisely! for only one of them is valuable."
The gifts were five: Fame, Love, Riches, Pleasure, Death. The youth said, eagerly:
"There is no need to consider"; and he chose Pleasure.
He went out into the world and sought out the pleasures that youth delights in. But each in its turn was short-lived and disappointing, vain and empty; and each, departing, mocked him. In the end he said: "These years I have wasted. If I could but choose again, I would choose wisely.
The fairy appeared, and said:
"Four of the gifts remain. Choose once more; and oh, remember -- time is flying, and only one of them is precious.
The man considered long, then chose Love; and did not mark the tears that rose in the fairy's eyes.
After many, many years the man sat by a coffin, in an empty home. And he communed with himself, saying: "One by one they have gone away and left me; and now she lies here, the dearest and the last. Desolation after desolation has swept over me; for each hour of happiness the treacherous trader, Love, as sold me I have paid a thousand hours of grief. Out of my heart of hearts I curse him."
"Choose again." It was the fairy speaking.
"The years have taught you wisdom -- surely it must be so. Three gifts remain. Only one of them has any worth -- remember it, and choose warily."
The man reflected long, then chose Fame; and the fairy, sighing, went her way.
Years went by and she came again, and stood behind the man where he sat solitary in the fading day, thinking. And she knew his thought:
"My name filled the world, and its praises were on every tongue, and it seemed well with me for a little while. How little a while it was! Then came envy; then detraction; then calumny; then hate; then persecution. Then derision, which is the beginning of the end. And last of all came pity, which is the funeral of fame. Oh, the bitterness and misery of renown! target for mud in its prime, for contempt and compassion in its decay."
"Chose yet again." It was the fairy's voice.
"Two gifts remain. And do not despair. In the beginning there was but one that was precious, and it is still here."
"Wealth -- which is power! How blind I was!" said the man. "Now, at last, life will be worth the living. I will spend, squander, dazzle. These mockers and despisers will crawl in the dirt before me, and I will feed my hungry heart with their envy. I will have all luxuries, all joys, all enchantments of the spirit, all contentments of the body that man holds dear. I will buy, buy, buy! deference, respect, esteem, worship -- every pinchbeck grace of life the market of a trivial world can furnish forth. I have lost much time, and chosen badly heretofore, but let that pass; I was ignorant then, and could but take for best what seemed so."
Three short years went by, and a day came when the man sat shivering in a mean garret; and he was gaunt and wan and hollow-eyed, and clothed in rags; and he was gnawing a dry crust and mumbling:
"Curse all the world's gifts, for mockeries and gilded lies! And miscalled, every one. They are not gifts, but merely lendings. Pleasure, Love, Fame, Riches: they are but temporary disguises for lasting realities -- Pain, Grief, Shame, Poverty. The fairy said true; in all her store there was but one gift which was precious, only one that was not valueless. How poor and cheap and mean I know those others now to be, compared with that inestimable one, that dear and sweet and kindly one, that steeps in dreamless and enduring sleep the pains that persecute the body, and the shames and griefs that eat the mind and heart. Bring it! I am weary, I would rest."
The fairy came, bringing again four of the gifts, but Death was wanting. She said:
"I gave it to a mother's pet, a little child. It was ignorant, but trusted me, asking me to choose for it. You did not ask me to choose."
"Oh, miserable me! What is left for me?"
"What not even you have deserved: the wanton insult of Old Age."