The Monkey's Paw
by W. W. Jacobs (1863-1943)
Approximate Word Count: 4134
Without, the night was cold and wet, but in the small parlor of Lakesnam Villa the blinds were drawn and the fire burned brightly. Father and son were at chess, the former, who possessed ideas about the game involving radical changes, putting his king into such sharp and unnecessary perils that it even provoked comment from the whitehaired old lady knitting placidly by the fire.
"Hark at the wind," said Mr. White, who, having seen a fatal
mistake after it was too late, was amiably desirous of preventing
his son from seeing it.
"I'm listening," said the latter, grimly surveying the board as he
stretched out his hand. "Check."
"I should hardly think that he'd come tonight," said his father,
with his hand poised over the board.
"Mate," replied the son.
"That's the worst of living so far out," bawled Mr. White, with
sudden and unlooked-for violence; "of all the beastly, slushy,
out-of-the-way places to live in, this is the worst. Pathway's a
bog, and the road's a torrent. I don't know what people are
thinking about. I suppose because only two houses on the road are
let, they think it doesn't matter."
"Never mind, dear," said his wife soothingly; "perhaps you'll win
the next one."
Mr. White looked up sharply, just in time to intercept a knowing
glance between mother and son. The words died away on his lips, and
he hid a guilty grin in his thin grey beard.
"There he is," said Herbert White, as the gate banged to loudly and
heavy footsteps came toward the door.
The old man rose with hospitable haste, and opening the door, was
heard condoling with the new arrival. The new arrival also condoled
with himself, so that Mrs. White said, "Tut, tut!" and coughed
gently as her husband entered the room, followed by a tall, burly
man, beady of eye and rubicund of visage.
"Sergeant Major Morris," he said, introducing him.
The sergeant major shook hands, and taking the proffered seat by
the fire, watched contentedly while his host got out whisky and
tumblers and stood a small copper kettle on the fire.
At the third glass his eyes got brighter, and he began to talk, the
little family circle regarding with eager interest this visitor
from distant parts, as he squared his broad shoulders in the chair
and spoke of strange scenes and doughty deeds, of wars and plagues
and strange peoples.
"Twenty-one years of it," said Mr. White, nodding at his wife and
son. "When he went away he was a slip of a youth in the warehouse.
Now look at him."
"He don't look to have taken much harm," said Mrs. White politely.
"I'd like to go to India myself," said the old man, "just to look
round a bit, you know."
"Better where you are," said the sergeant major, shaking his head.
He put down the empty glass, and sighing softly, shook it again.
"I should like to see those old temples and fakirs and jugglers,"
said the old man. "What was that you started telling me the other
day about a monkey's paw or something, Morris?"
"Nothing," said the soldier hastily. "Leastways, nothing worth
"Monkey's paw?" said Mrs. White curiously.
"Well, it's just a bit of what you might call magic, perhaps," said
the sergeant major offhandedly.
His three listeners leaned forward eagerly. The visitor
absentmindedly put his empty glass to his lips and then set it down
again. His host filled it for him.
"To look at," said the sergeant major, fumbling in his pocket,
"it's just an ordinary little paw, dried to a mummy."
He took something out of his pocket and proffered it. Mrs. White
drew back with a grimace, but her son, taking it, examined it
"And what is there special about it?" inquired Mr. White, as he
took it from his son, and having examined it, placed it upon the
"It had a spell put on it by an old fakir," said the sergeant
major, "a very holy man. He wanted to show that fate ruled
people's lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to
their sorrow. He put a spell on it so that three separate men
could each have three wishes from it."
His manner was so impressive that his hearers were conscious that
their light laughter jarred somewhat.
"Well, why don't you have three, sir?" said Herbert White cleverly.
The soldier regarded him in the way that middle age is wont to
regard presumptuous youth. "I have," he said quietly, and his
blotchy face whitened.
"And did you really have the three wishes granted?" asked Mrs.
"I did," said the sergeant major, and his glass tapped against his
"And has anybody else wished?" inquired the old lady.
"The first man had his three wishes, yes," was the reply. "I don't
know what the first two were, but the third was for death. That's
how I got the paw."
His tones were so grave that a hush fell upon the group.
"If you've had your three wishes, it's no good to you now, then,
Morris," said the old man at last. "What do you keep it for?"
The soldier shook his head. "Fancy, I suppose," he said slowly. "I
did have some idea of selling it, but I don't think I will. It has
caused enough mischief already. Besides, people won't buy. They
think it's a fairy tale, some of them, and those who do think
anything of it want to try it first and pay me afterward."
"If you could have another three wishes," said the old man, eyeing
him keenly, "would you have them?"
"I don't know," said the other. "I don't know."
He took the paw, and dangling it between his front finger and
thumb, suddenly threw it upon the fire. White, with a slight cry,
stooped down and snatched it off.
"Better let it burn," said the soldier solemnly.
"If you don't want it, Morris," said the old man, "give it to me."
"I won't," said his friend doggedly. "I threw it on the fire. If
you keep it, don't blame me for what happens. Pitch it on the fire
again, like a sensible man."
The other shook his head and examined his new possession closely.
"How do you do it?" he inquired.
"Hold it up in your right hand and wish aloud," said the sergeant
major, "but I warn you of the consequences."
"Sounds like the Arabian Nights," said Mrs. White, as she rose and
began to set the supper. "Don't you think you might wish for four
pairs of hands for me?"
Her husband drew the talisman from his pocket and then all three
burst into laughter as the sergeant major, with a look of alarm on
his face, caught him by the arm.
"If you must wish," he said gruffly, "wish for something sensible."
Mr. White dropped it back into his pocket, and placing chairs,
motioned his friend to the table. In the business of supper the
talisman was partly forgotten, and afterward the three sat
listening in an enthralled fashion to a second installment of the
soldier's adventures in India.
"If the tale about the monkey's paw is not more truthful than those
he has been telling us," said Herbert, as the door closed behind
their guest, just in time for him to catch the last train, "we
shan't make much out of it."
"Did you give him anything for it, Father?" inquired Mrs. White,
regarding her husband closely.
"A trifle," said he, coloring slightly. "He didn't want it, but I
made him take it. And he pressed me again to throw it away."
"Likely," said Herbert, with pretended horror. "Why, we're going
to be rich, and famous, and happy. Wish to be an emperor, Father,
to begin with; then you can't be henpecked."
He darted around the table, pursued by the maligned Mrs. White
armed with an antimacassar.
Mr. White took the paw from his pocket and eyed it dubiously. "I
don't know what to wish for, and that's a fact," he said slowly.
"It seems to me I've got all I want."
"If you only cleared the house, you'd be quite happy, wouldn't
you?" said Herbert, with his hand on his shoulder. "Well, wish for
two hundred pounds, then; that'll just do it."
His father, smiling shamefacedly at his own credulity, held up the
talisman, as his son, with a solemn face somewhat marred by a wink
at his mother, sat down at the piano and struck a few impressive
"I wish for two hundred pounds," said the old man distinctly.
A fine crash from the piano greeted the words, interrupted by a
shuddering cry from the old man. His wife and son ran toward him.
"It moved," he cried, with a glance of disgust at the object as it
lay on the floor. "As I wished, it twisted in my hand like a
"Well, I don't see the money," said his son, as he picked it up and
placed it on the table, "and I bet I never shall."
"It must have been your fancy, Father," said his wife, regarding
He shook his head. "Never mind, though; there's no harm done, but
it gave me a shock all the same."
They sat down by the fire again while the two men finished their
pipes. Outside, the wind was higher than ever, and the old man
started nervously at the sound of a door banging upstairs. A
silence unusual and depressing settled upon all three, which
lasted until the old couple rose to retire for the night.
"I expect you'll find the cash tied up in a big bag in the middle
of your bed," said Herbert, as he bade them good night, "and
something horrible squatting up on top of the wardrobe watching you
as you pocket your ill-gotten gains."
. . .
In the brightness of the wintry sun next morning as it streamed
over the breakfast table, Herbert laughed at his fears. There was
an air of prosaic wholesomeness about the room which it had lacked
on the previous night, and the dirty, shriveled little paw was
pitched on the sideboard with a carelessness which betokened no
great belief in its virtues.
"I suppose all old soldiers are the same," said Mrs. White. "The
idea of our listening to such nonsense! How could wishes be granted
in these days? And if they could, how could two hundred pounds hurt
"Might drop on his head from the sky," said the frivolous Herbert.
"Morris said the things happened so naturally," said his father,
"that you might, if you so wished, attribute it to coincidence."
"Well, don't break into the money before I come back," said
Herbert, as he rose from the table. "I'm afraid it'll turn you into
a mean, avaricious man, and we shall have to disown you."
His mother laughed, and following him to the door, watched him
down the road, and returning to the breakfast table, was very happy
at the expense of her husband's credulity. All of which did not
prevent her from scurrying to the door at the postman's knock, nor
prevent her from referring somewhat shortly to retired sergeant
majors of bibulous habits, when she found that the post brought a
"Herbert will have some more of his funny remarks, I expect, when
he comes home," she said, as they sat at dinner.
"I daresay," said Mr. White, pouring himself out some beer; "but
for all that, the thing moved in my hand; that I'll swear to."
"You thought it did," said the old lady soothingly.
"I say it did," replied the other. "There was no thought about it;
I had just-- What's the matter?"
His wife made no reply. She was watching the mysterious movements
of a man outside, who, peering in an undecided fashion at the
house, appeared to be trying to make up his mind to enter. In
mental connection with the two hundred pounds, she noticed that the
stranger was well dressed and wore a silk hat of glossy newness.
Three times he paused at the gate, and then walked on again. The
fourth time he stood with his hand upon it, and then with sudden
resolution flung it open and walked up the path. Mrs. White at the
same moment placed her hands behind her, and hurriedly unfastening
the strings of her apron, put that useful article of apparel
beneath the cushion of her chair.
She brought the stranger, who seemed ill at ease, into the room. He
gazed furtively at Mrs. White, and listened in a preoccupied
fashion as the old lady apologized for the appearance of the room,
and her husband's coat, a garment which he usually reserved for the
garden. She then waited as patiently as her sex would permit for
him to broach his business, but he was at first strangely silent.
"I--was asked to call," he said at last, and stooped and picked a
piece of cotton from his trousers. "I come from Maw and Meggins."
The old lady started. "Is anything the matter?" she asked
breathlessly. "Has anything happened to Herbert? What is it? What
Her husband interposed. "There, there, Mother," he said hastily.
"Sit down, and don't jump to conclusions. You've not brought bad
news, I'm sure, sir," and he eyed the other wistfully.
"I'm sorry--" began the visitor.
"Is he hurt?" demanded the mother.
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 suddenly as the sinister meaning of the assurance
dawned upon her and she saw the awful confirmation of her fears in
the other's averted face. She caught her breath, and turning to her
slower-witted husband, laid her trembling old hand upon his. There
was a long silence.
"He was caught in the machinery," said the visitor at length, in a
"Caught in the machinery," repeated Mr. White, in a dazed fashion,
He sat staring blankly out at 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 wished me to convey their sincere sympathy with you in your
great loss," he said, without looking around. "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
"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 a house steeped in shadow 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
expectation gave place to resignation--the hopeless resignation of
the old, sometimes miscalled 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 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 sound 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 cry from his wife awoke him with a start.
"The monkey's 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 parlor, on the bracket," he replied, marveling. "Why?"
She cried and laughed together, and bending over, kissed his
"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 up 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
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 and get it and wish," cried the old woman, and dragged him
toward the door.
He went down in the darkness, and felt his way to the parlor, and
then to the mantelpiece. 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 upon 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 around 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 shudderingly.
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 to his bed, and a minute or two afterward the old woman came
silently and apathetically beside him.
Neither spoke, but both lay 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, the husband 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, so quiet and
stealthy as to be scarcely audible, sounded on the front door.
The matches fell from his hand. 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
"It's Herbert!" she screamed. "It's Herbert!"
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 bottom 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 he could only 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
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 courage to run
down to her side, and then to the gate beyond. The streetlamp
flickering opposite shone on a quiet and deserted road.