The informant heart
Edgard Allan Poe
It is true! Nervous, very, very nervous even though I was and I am; but why are you going to say i’m crazy? The disease exacerbated my senses, did not destroy them, did not dull them. More than others, the sense of hearing was heightened. I heard all things in heaven and on earth. I heard many things in hell. How then can I be crazy? Watch! And notice how sanely, how calmly, I can tell you the whole story.
It is impossible to know how the idea first entered my brain, but once conceived, it tormented me day and night. There was no goal. There was no passion. I liked the old man. He never hurt me. He never insulted me. I didn’t want your gold. I think it was your eye! Yeah, that was it! One of his eyes looked like a vulture’s – a light blue eye covered by a veil. Whenever my blood fell on me, it froze, and then little by little, very slowly, I made the decision to take the old man’s life, and thereby get rid of the eye, forever.
Now that’s the point. You think I’m crazy. Crazy men know nothing. But you should have seen me. I should have seen how sensibly I acted – with what caution – with what prudence, with what concealment, I set to work! I was never as kind to the old man as I was all week before I killed him. And every night, around midnight, I would turn the latch on your door and open it, oh, so delicately! And then, when I had achieved a sufficient opening for my head, I would put a tightly closed firelight inside, closed so that no light would shine, and then I would pass my head. Ah! you would have laughed if you had seen how skillfully I put it. I moved it slowly, very, very slowly, so as not to disturb the old man’s sleep. It took him an hour to put his head through the opening, as far forward as possible, so I could see him lying on his bed. Aha! Had a madman been that smart? And then, when my head was right inside the room, I opened the flashlight carefully – oh, so carefully! – carefully (because the hinge creaked), I opened it just wide enough for a thin ray of light to fall on the vulture’s eye. And I did this for seven long nights, every night at midnight sharp, but I always found my eye closed, and then it was impossible to do the job, because it was not the old man who exasperated me, but his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day was breaking, I boldly entered the room and spoke with him full of courage, calling him by name in a friendly tone and asking how he had spent the night. So, you see that he would have to have been, in fact, a very cunning old man, to suspect that every night, at sharp midnight, I watched him in his sleep.
On the eighth night, I was even more careful when I opened the door. The minute hand on a watch moves faster than my hand then. Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers, of my wit. I could barely contain my feeling of triumph. To think that there I was, opening the door little by little, and he didn’t even suspect my secret thoughts or actions. I laughed at the idea, and he may have heard it, because he suddenly shifted on the bed as if with a start. Now you may think that I have withdrawn – but no. His room was pitch black with that thick darkness (because the shutters were tightly closed, for fear of thieves) and then I knew he couldn’t see the door being opened and I continued to push it more, and more.
My head was in and I almost opened the flashlight when my thumb slid over the metal tongue and the old man jumped on the bed, shouting:
– Who’s there?
I stood still and silent. I didn’t move a muscle for an entire hour, and during that time I didn’t hear him lie down. He was still sitting on the bed, listening to what I had done night after night, paying attention to the funeral clocks on the wall.
In that instant, I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of deadly terror. It was not a groan of pain or sadness – oh, no! it was the faint, muffled sound that rises from the bottom of the soul when overwhelmed with terror. I knew that sound well. Many nights, at midnight sharp, it had sprung from my own chest, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that troubled me. I say I knew them well. I knew what the old man felt and I pitied him even though he laughed inside. I knew he had been awake since the first noise when he turned over in bed. His fears have since grown inside him. He had been trying to pretend they were unfounded, but he had failed. He had said to himself, “This is just the wind in the chimney; it’s just a mouse walking on the floor,” or “It’s just a cricket chirping a little.” Yes, he had been trying to comfort himself with such assumptions; but he had found it all in vain.
All in vain, because Death, when approaching, attacked him head on with its black shadow and involved the victim with it. And the funereal influence of the unseen shadow had made me feel, even if I didn’t see or hear, feel the presence of my head inside the room.
When I had waited for a long time and very patiently without hearing him lie down, I decided to open a crack – a very, very small crack in the flashlight. So I opened it – you cannot imagine with which furtive gestures, so furtive – until at last a single ray as pale as the spider’s wire came out of the crack and fell on the vulture’s eye.
He was open, very, very open, and I was getting furious as I looked at him. I saw him with perfect clarity – all in a dull blue and covered by a hideous veil that chilled to the marrow of my bones, but it was all I could see from the old man’s face or body, because I had directed the beam, as if by instinct, exactly to the damn point.
And now, didn’t I tell you that what you took for madness was nothing but hyper-sharpness of the senses? Now, I repeat, a low, deaf and fast noise reached my ears, something like a watch does when wrapped in cotton. I also knew that sound well. It was the old man’s heartbeat. It increased my fury, as the beating of the drum instigates the soldier’s courage.
But even then I stopped myself and remained motionless. I hardly breathed. He held the lantern still. I tried as much as possible to keep the beam over my eye. Meanwhile, the diabolic drumming of the heart increased. It grew faster and faster, higher and higher. The old man’s terror must have been extreme. It got louder, I am saying, louder at every moment! – are you understanding me? I told you that I’m nervous: I really am. And now, late at night, amid the dreadful silence of this old house, a noise as strange as this led me to uncontrollable terror. Still, for a few more minutes I restrained myself and remained motionless. But the beats got louder, louder! I thought the heart would explode. And now a new anxiety came over me – the sound would be heard by a neighbor! It was time for the old man! With a shout, I fully opened the flashlight and jumped into the room. He gave a high-pitched cry – one. In an instant, I dragged him to the floor and dropped the heavy bed over him. Then I smiled happily, seeing my act so far ahead. But for many minutes the heart beat with a muffled sound. That, however, did not exasperate me; would not be heard through the wall. Finally, it ceased. The old man was dead. I pushed the bed aside and examined the corpse. Yeah, he was dead, very dead. I put my hand on his heart and kept it there for many minutes. There was no pulse. He was quite dead. Your eye wouldn’t disturb me anymore.
If you still think I’m crazy, you won’t think so when I describe the sensible precautions I took to hide the body. The night wore on, and I worked quickly, but in silence. First of all, I dismembered the corpse. I separated my head, arms and legs.
I pulled three boards from the bedroom floor and deposited everything between the beams. Then I replaced the boards with such skill and cunning that no human eye – not even his – could detect anything wrong. There was nothing to be washed – no stains of any kind – no marks of blood. I had been very cautious. A tub had absorbed everything – ha! there is!
When I finished all that work, it was four o’clock – still as dark as midnight.
When the bell rang, there was a knock at the front door. I went down to open it with a light heart – for what now did I have to fear? Three men entered, who presented themselves, perfectly smoothly, as police officers. A shout had been heard by a neighbor during the night; suspicions of betrayal had been raised; a complaint had been filed with the police station and they (the police) had been tasked with examining the location.
I smiled – what did I have to fear? I welcomed you. The cry, he said, was mine, in a dream. The old man, I mentioned, was out in the field. I followed my visits throughout the house. I encouraged them to search – to search well. I finally took them to his room. I showed them their treasures, safe, undisturbed. In the excitement of my confidence, I took chairs to the bedroom and invited them to rest there from their duties, while myself, in the mad audacity of perfect triumph, I installed my own chair exactly where the victim’s corpse rested.
The officers were satisfied. My ways had convinced them. I was quite at ease. They sat down and, while I responded excitedly, they talked about familiar things. But soon after, I felt myself go pale and wished they were gone. My head hurt and it seemed to ring in my ears; but they remained seated and continued to speak. The tinnitus became clearer – it continued and it became clearer: I spoke more vividly to get rid of the sensation: but it continued and settled in – until, after all, I discovered that the noise was not inside my ears.
No doubt now, I was very pale; but I spoke more fluently, and in a louder voice. But the sound grew – and what could I do? It was a low, dull, fast sound – much like the sound of a watch when wrapped in cotton. I gasped for air, and the cops still couldn’t hear him. I spoke faster, more loudly, but the noise continued to grow. I got up and discussed trifles, in a loud tone and gesturing with emphasis; but the noise continued to grow. Why couldn’t they go? I paced back and forth in large, heavy steps, as if the men’s observations infuriated me, but the noise continued to grow. My goodness! What could I do? I frothed – shouted – cursed! I shook the chair I had been sitting on and dragged it across the boards, but the noise drowned out everything and continued to grow. It got louder – louder – louder! And the men were still talking animatedly, and smiling. Could it be possible that they did not hear? Almighty God! – no, no? They heard! – they suspected! – they knew! – They were mocking my horror! – So I thought and so I think. But anything would be better than this agony! Anything would be more tolerable than this mockery. I couldn’t take those hypocritical smiles any longer! I felt I needed to scream or die! – and now – again – listen! higher! higher! higher! higher!
– Miserable! – I screamed – Don’t disguise anymore! I admit what I did! lift the boards! – here here! – are the beating of the horrendous heart!
Text extracted from the book “The best tales of madness”, Ediouro – 2007, p. 175, organized by Flávio Moreira da Costa; translation by Celina Portocarrero.