The visitor bowed in assent.”Badly hurt,” he said quietly, “but he is not in any pain.”
“Oh thank God!” said the old woman, clasping her hands. “Thank God for that! Thank – “
She broke off as the sinister meaning of the assurance dawned on her and she saw the awful confirmation of her fears in the others averted face. She caught her breath, and turning to her slower-witted husband, laid her trembling hand on his. There was a long silence.
“He was caught in the machinery,” said the visitor at length in a low voice.
“Caught in the machinery,” repeated Mr. White, in a dazed fashion,”yes.”
He sat staring out the window, and taking his wife’s hand between his own, pressed it as he had been wont to do in their old courting days nearly forty years before.
“He was the only one left to us,” he said, turning gently to the visitor. “It is hard.”
The other coughed, and rising, walked slowly to the window. ” The firm wishes me to convey their sincere sympathy with you in your great loss,” he said, without looking round. “I beg that you will understand I am only their servant and merely obeying orders.”
There was no reply; the old woman’s face was white, her eyes staring, and her breath inaudible; on the husband’s face was a look such as his friend the sergeant might have carried into his first action.
“I was to say that Maw and Meggins disclaim all responsibility,” continued the other. “They admit no liability at all, but in consideration of your son’s services, they wish to present you with a certain sum as compensation.”
Mr. White dropped his wife’s hand, and rising to his feet, gazed with a look of horror at his visitor. His dry lips shaped the words, “How much?”
“Two hundred pounds,” was the answer.
Unconscious of his wife’s shriek, the old man smiled faintly, put out his hands like a sightless man, and dropped, a senseless heap, to the floor.
In the huge new cemetery, some two miles distant, the old people buried their dead, and came back to the house steeped in shadows and silence. It was all over so quickly that at first they could hardly realize it, and remained in a state of expectation as though of something else to happen – something else which was to lighten this load, too heavy for old hearts to bear.
But the days passed, and expectations gave way to resignation – the hopeless resignation of the old, sometimes mis-called apathy. Sometimes they hardly exchanged a word, for now they had nothing to talk about, and their days were long to weariness.
It was about a week after that the old man, waking suddenly in the night, stretched out his hand and found himself alone. The room was in darkness, and the sound of subdued weeping came from the window. He raised himself in bed and listened.
“Come back,” he said tenderly. “You will be cold.”
“It is colder for my son,” said the old woman, and wept afresh.
The sounds of her sobs died away on his ears. The bed was warm, and his eyes heavy with sleep. He dozed fitfully, and then slept until a sudden wild cry from his wife awoke him with a start.
“THE PAW!” she cried wildly. “THE MONKEY’S PAW!”
He started up in alarm. “Where? Where is it? What’s the matter?”
She came stumbling across the room toward him. “I want it,” she said quietly. “You’ve not destroyed it?”
“It’s in the parlour, on the bracket,” he replied, marveling. “Why?”
She cried and laughed together, and bending over, kissed his cheek.
“I only just thought of it,” she said hysterically. “Why didn’t I think of it before? Why didn’t you think of it?”
“Think of what?” he questioned.
“The other two wishes,” she replied rapidly. “We’ve only had one.”
“Was not that enough?” he demanded fiercely.
“No,” she cried triumphantly; “We’ll have one more. Go down and get it quickly, and wish our boy alive again.”
The man sat in bed and flung the bedclothes from his quaking limbs.”Good God, you are mad!” he cried aghast. “Get it,” she panted; “get it quickly, and wish – Oh my boy, my boy!”
Her husband struck a match and lit the candle. “Get back to bed he said unsteadily. “You don’t know what you are saying.”
“We had the first wish granted,” said the old woman, feverishly; “why not the second?”
“A coincidence,” stammered the old man.
“Go get it and wish,” cried his wife, quivering with excitement.
The old man turned and regarded her, and his voice shook. “He has been dead ten days, and besides he – I would not tell you else, but – I could only recognize him by his clothing. If he was too terrible for you to see then, how now?”
“Bring him back,” cried the old woman, and dragged him towards the door. “Do you think I fear the child I have nursed?”
He went down in the darkness, and felt his way to the parlour, and then to the mantlepiece. The talisman was in its place, and a horrible fear that the unspoken wish might bring his mutilated son before him ere he could escape from the room seized up on him, and he caught his breath as he found that he had lost the direction of the door. His brow cold with sweat, he felt his way round the table, and groped along the wall until he found himself in the small passage with the unwholesome thing in his hand.
Even his wife’s face seemed changed as he entered the room. It was white and expectant, and to his fears seemed to have an unnatural look upon it. He was afraid of her.
“WISH!” she cried in a strong voice.
“It is foolish and wicked,” he faltered.
“WISH!” repeated his wife.
He raised his hand. “I wish my son alive again.”
The talisman fell to the floor, and he regarded it fearfully. Then he sank trembling into a chair as the old woman, with burning eyes, walked to the window and raised the blind.
He sat until he was chilled with the cold, glancing occasionally at the figure of the old woman peering through the window. The candle-end, which had burned below the rim of the china candlestick, was throwing pulsating shadows on the ceiling and walls, until with a flicker larger than the rest, it expired. The old man, with an unspeakable sense of relief at the failure of the talisman, crept back back to his bed, and a minute afterward the old woman came silently and apathetically beside him.
Neither spoke, but sat silently listening to the ticking of the clock. A stair creaked, and a squeaky mouse scurried noisily through the wall. The darkness was oppressive, and after lying for some time screwing up his courage, he took the box of matches, and striking one, went downstairs for a candle.
At the foot of the stairs the match went out, and he paused to strike another; and at the same moment a knock came so quiet and stealthy as to be scarcely audible, sounded on the front door.
The matches fell from his hand and spilled in the passage. He stood motionless, his breath suspended until the knock was repeated. Then he turned and fled swiftly back to his room, and closed the door behind him. A third knock sounded through the house.
“WHAT’S THAT?” cried the old woman, starting up.
“A rat,” said the old man in shaking tones – “a rat. It passed me on the stairs.”
His wife sat up in bed listening. A loud knock resounded through the house.
She ran to the door, but her husband was before her, and catching her by the arm, held her tightly.
“What are you going to do?” he whispered hoarsely.
“It’s my boy; it’s Herbert!” she cried, struggling mechanically. “I forgot it was two miles away. What are you holding me for? Let go. I must open the door.”
“For God’s sake don’t let it in,” cried the old man, trembling.
“You’re afraid of your own son,” she cried struggling. “Let me go. I’m coming, Herbert; I’m coming.”
There was another knock, and another. The old woman with a sudden wrench broke free and ran from the room. Her husband followed to the landing, and called after her appealingly as she hurried downstairs. He heard the chain rattle back and the bolt drawn slowly and stiffly from the socket. Then the old woman’s voice, strained and panting.
“The bolt,” she cried loudly. “Come down. I can’t reach it.”
But her husband was on his hands and knees groping wildly on the floor in search of the paw. If only he could find it before the thing outside got in. A perfect fusillade of knocks reverberated through the house, and he heard the scraping of a chair as his wife put it down in the passage against the door. He heard the creaking of the bolt as it came slowly back, and at the same moment he found the monkey’s paw, and frantically breathed his third and last wish.
The knocking ceased suddenly, although the echoes of it were still in the house. He heard the chair drawn back, and the door opened. A cold wind rushed up the staircase, and a long loud wail of disappointment and misery from his wife gave him the courage to run down to her side, and then to the gate beyond. The street lamp flickering opposite shone on a quiet and deserted road.