Classic Horror Stories (public domain)List of classic horror stories available to read on this site
The Monkey's Paw
by W.W. Jacobs
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
"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 to-night," 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 in the road are let, they think it doesn't matter."
"Never mind, dear," said his wife, soothingly; "perhaps you'll win the
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 whiskey 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 wild scenes and doughty deeds; of wars and plagues and strange
"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
"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 hearing."
"Monkey's paw?" said Mrs. White, curiously.
"Well, it's just a bit of what you might call magic, perhaps," said the
His three listeners leaned forward eagerly. The visitor absent-mindedly
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 curiously.
"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 table.
"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
"And did you really have the three wishes granted?" asked Mrs. White.
"I did," said the sergeant-major, and his glass tapped against his strong
"And has anybody else wished?" persisted 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
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 forefinger 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 other, "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 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 in 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 instalment 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 sha'nt make much
out of it."
"Did you give him anything for it, father?" inquired Mrs. White,
regarding her husband closely.
"A trifle," said he, colouring 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 round the table, pursued by the maligned Mrs. White armed with
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 chords.
"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
"As I wished, it twisted in my hand like a snake."
"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 him
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
He sat alone in the darkness, gazing at the dying fire, and seeing faces
in it. The last face was so horrible and so simian that he gazed at it
in amazement.' It got so vivid that, with a little uneasy laugh, he felt
on the table for a glass containing a little water to throw over it. His
hand grasped the monkey's paw, and with a little shiver he wiped his hand
on his coat and went up to bed.
In the brightness of the wintry sun next morning as it streamed over the
breakfast table he 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, shrivelled 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 you, father?"
"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 tailor's bill.
"Herbert will have some more of his funny remarks, I expect, when he
comes home," she said, as they sat at dinner.
"I dare say," 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 at her furtively, 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 is
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, wildly.
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
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
perverted 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 low
"Caught in the machinery," repeated Mr. White, in a dazed fashion, "yes."
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 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
"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
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 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
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, marvelling. "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 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 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
"A coincidence," stammered the old man.
"Go and 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 toward 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 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 round the table, and groped along the wall until
he found himself in the small passage with the unwholesome thing in his
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 to his bed, and a
minute or two afterward the old woman came silently and apathetically
Neither spoke, but 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, 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, 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
His wife sat up in bed listening. A loud knock resounded through the
"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 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 courage to run down to her side, and then
and deserted road.