Edgar Allan Poe

The Black Cat

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 mere Man.

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 

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 a pestilence.

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 purest pleasures.

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 a groan.

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 suspicious.

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 the tomb!