III.

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 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 the second?"

"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 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 to his bed, and a minute or two afterward the old woman came silently and apathetically beside him.

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 stairs."

His wife sat up in bed listening. A loud knock resounded through the house.

"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 to the gate beyond. The street lamp flickering opposite shone on a quiet and deserted road.

Footnotes

  1. The noun "fusillade" means a large number of gunshots fired in rapid succession. The word is used figuratively to describe the sound of the knocking.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. Why is it ironic that Mrs. White wants her husband to wish on the monkey's paw?

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. A countdown has begun: Can Mr. White find the paw and wish the corpse away before Mrs. White lets it inside? The tension and tone of urgency is at its peak here.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. Notice Mr. White’s choice of pronoun: “it” instead of “him.” This word choice betrays his fear. He truly believes that on the other side of the door is a mangled, reanimated corpse, not his son. This adds to the suspense of the scene, as husband and wife argue about what to do about the knocking.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. The atmosphere is growing increasing creepiness and suspenseful: the candle is burning out, the air is getting colder, and sinister shadows are flickering on the walls. As the Whites wait for Herbert to reappear, the environment reflects Mr. White’s growing unease.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. Notice Mr. White’s choice of words. Though Herbert may return alive, he may not return in the same body or health he had while living. What Mr. White fears may come true due to his poor wording of the wish.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. Recall how in the first section Herbert saw the fire morph into terrifying faces. The repetition of a formerly comforting image—a fire, a loving wife’s face—changing into something terrible contributes to the threatening tone bearing down on Mr. White.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. The noun “talisman” refers to an object thought to have magical or occult powers.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. Through Mr. White’s words, readers learn that Herbert’s body was so badly disfigured that his own father had a difficult time in recognizing him. Mr. White is thinking more rationally than his grief-stricken wife: while she only wants to see her son alive again, Mr. White remembers the tricky power of the monkey’s paw. He seems to suspect that Herbert will not return whole, even if they wish for him alive again.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. The noun “bracket” refers to a shelf or other architectural flat surface designed to hold items.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. The noun “apathy” refers to a feeling of lacking interest or concern. Without Herbert, the Whites have little else to care about.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. Like the previous two parts, the house’s atmosphere is described in the first sentence. With Herbert gone—the Whites’ only child and the source of much of their happiness—there is no joy left for them to come home to. This sets the tone for the rest of the section: unhappy and dark.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. The repetition of "resignation," especially paired with "hopeless" in the second repetition, conveys the opposite of what the word "resignation" really means. Here, it's as if repeating the word might make accepting what happened easier, but at the same time pairing the word with "hopeless" expresses just how difficult and seemingly impossible the task truly is.

    — Kate R
  14. What is not true about the diction in this passage?

    — Susan Hurn
  15. Which statement accurately describes the knocking on the front door?

    — Susan Hurn
  16. Considering the descriptive details in this paragraph, what seems to be the author's intent?

    — Susan Hurn
  17. What does Mr. White not fear at this point?

    — Susan Hurn
  18. What does Mrs. White's behavior suggest about her emotional state?

    — Susan Hurn
  19. In the context of Mr. White's experiences as related in the story, how would he use his last wish?

    — Susan Hurn
  20. Does the road look quiet and deserted because Herbert has been whisked back to his grave? Or was it a stranger seeking help who has vanished into the night because there is only a tiny section of the road illuminated by a flickering gas lamp? What would have happened if Mrs. White had been able to get that door open before her husband made his last wish?

    — William Delaney
  21. We all know that people cannot come back from the dead. Don't we? It couldn't have been Herbert knocking at the door in the middle of the night. But who else could it have been? Mrs. White had been standing at the window looking down the road in the direction of the cemetery while holding a lighted candle. Some stranger coming up the road from that direction would have seen that light "throwing pulsating shadows on the ceiling and walls of the bedroom." The stranger might have had something of importance to communicate to the people who lived in the only other occupied house in the new development but found they were not at home. He would have kept pounding at the Whites' door because he knew there was someone in the upstairs bedroom. He may have given up just at the time Mr. White made his third wish. But where could the stranger have gone? "The street lamp flickering opposite shone on a quiet and deserted road." Obviously a flickering gas lamp would only have illuminated a small section of the road, and the stranger could have passed out of the circle of light.

    — William Delaney
  22. It would seem that we can only wish for something to happen in the future and cannot wish for something not to have happened in the past. This is true of life in general. Many of us, if we had three wishes, would use a couple of them to undo part of the past. Lady Macbeth tells her husband: "What's done cannot be undone." Therefore, Mr. White does not think of wishing that his son were alive again and also wishing that Herbert would be exactly the same as he was before. It is noteworthy that the first wish was modest, but the second wish is outrageous. The Whites have gone from being modest and skeptical to sorcerers conspiring to raise the dead.

    — William Delaney
  23. We never get to see Herbert again, but we can imagine how he would look after being mangled by machinery and then lying in his grave for ten days. Even his cheerful personality would have completely vanished after his experiences with excrctiating pain and death. He would be a terrible monster.

    — William Delaney
  24. Here is another light which might attract the notice of the hypothetical lost motorist seeking directions and providing an alternative possibility to that of the horribly mangled Herbert returned from the dead in response to his father's second wish.

     

    — William Delaney
  25. The description will strengthen the alternative possibility that when the knocking at the door begins and grows louder and more insistent, it could be only a motorist in need of help, possibly completely lost in this desolate area and just needed directions. Mr. White established early in the story that there were only two occupied houses in this "out-of-the-way" new development. The hypothetical motorist might have tried the other house and found no one home; but he would be more insistent about getting someone to answer the door here because he had seen the light in the window and because it was his only hope. Mrs. White was standing right at the upstairs window holding a lighted candle in a china candlestick, and the light "was throwing pulsating shadows on the ceiling and walls." The motorist could hardly miss seeing it because it was right at the upstairs window and would have been the only light in all the darkness in this desolate region. 

    — William Delaney
  26. The word "it" is significant in the passage. It emphasizes the contrast between Mr. White and his wife in regard to how they now think of their son. Mrs. White hasn't accepted Herbert's death and continues to think of him as he had been in life. Mr. White is realistic and recalls Herbert's badly mangled body. Mr. White's use of "it" also increases the suspense.  

    — Susan Hurn
  27. Acceptance of something that a person would like to change but cannot.

    — Susan Hurn