The Vaults of Montresor

Who knows what even those closest to us think? No human is given the art of judging completely the character, the veracity of another. I, myself, was content with knowing as much about wines, the other of my downfalls. For drunkenness proved to be my doom, although in a very unusual way. But the story ought to be told from the first.

In the time of festival, though it may still proceed above whilst I wait below, there approached me a constant friend of mine, a certain Montresor, with whom I had passed many a year in absolute peace. At once he lured me, saying, "How odd to see you on this day. Yesterday, perhaps, you might have saved me from some small waste. But, today, you are again, I see, occupied by your revelries. I'll not disturb you with my folly. Another will serve just as well."

However, the folly was mine, for fool I was, and looked the part, dressed in the pied garb and foolscap of a jester. Thus, I could not but reply, "Why bother another, when you at once have my full attention? My occupation is insignificant. How did you make yourself a fool, and how might I have prevented you?"

"Yesterday I saw offered a pipe of Amontillado, which I at once purchased, only going on my own belief in its veracity. I paid the full price, and considered myself lucky then, but now I have doubts. Yet Luchesi will be able to tell as well as you could, and perchance Luchesi will have no engagement."

"Amontillado, during festival?" I questioned. "Impossible, lead me there at once, and I will decide whether you were wise or not. I have no commitment here. Let us go at once."

"In fact," he explained. "The reason I sought Luchesi over you is that you have a cough I would not wish to aggravate. Perhaps another time I will offer you a taste, if it is indeed Amontillado."

I could hardly accept his reason, nor could I wait, so I said, "The cough is of no consequence. Let us go at once." And I started for his palazzo, no long journey. As we walked, I, leading, wondered how a man could be so foolish to think Amontillado could be found during festival. My thoughts wandered for a time, and thus we soon arrived at the ancient home of the Montresors.

Upon our arrival, no servants hindered our passage, as they had clearly been allowed to leave for the night. So we immediately sought the catacombs, the resting place of bones past and future, and wines present. Taking up torches, we descended a long stair, and at last were in the depths.

Montresor's vaults are rather unusual in their scale, considering the relatively small size of his home. From the stairs, passages lead away in several directions, lined with niches filled with interspersed bones and bottles. Where the torches pass, nitre gleams on the cold stone walls in thin webs, shaped perhaps as the maze itself would look if traced on a scrap of parchment. But from the foot of the steps, I had no idea of the expanse of the place, and I believed our goal would be close by.

However, Montresor stated that the Amontillado was beyond, in the far reaches of the catacombs. Tired as I was by the descent, and annoyed by the prospect of a long, dark, damp walk, I lapsed into a fit of coughing.

When I recovered, he worried aloud that I was too important, and that it would be terrible if I were to collapse in his vaults. He insisted that he send me back, and find that Luchesi of his. "A cough won't kill me, " I retorted, since I was eager to know if the wine was real. "Lead onward."

"Indeed," he stated. "A cough won't kill you." And he was correct in this; a cough will not be my death, although it may have contributed to it, for to stabilize my health he drew out from the bones a bottle of Medoc, which we shared, and then set off into the labyrinth.

The catacombs of the ancient Montresor palazzo are vast, for we walked for a long time before reaching our destination. After a time, I commented on the size and he told me, "My people were once as powerful as yours are now. Witness the many bones." Still, there will be more bones stored there, for the Montresor family has not entirely failed in its purpose.

Then I mentioned, "I do not recall the arms nor the motto of your illustrious house," which caused him to tell me: a golden foot treading on a serpent with its fangs imbedded. He added that the motto to accompany it was Nemo me impune lacessit, both odd, I thought, for a man I had known as peaceable for so many years. But I did not know then, as I do now, that a certain madness ran though that fateful family. However, I will leave that to be revealed to you as it was to me.

"Look," he said soon after. "There is more nitre here. We are now beneath the river. The damp is worse. Perhaps we should go back..."

But I would allow no protest. I was too eager to taste the Amontillado, and had come too far already, both in the catacombs, and in the day's drinking to return. We did pause for another bottle of Medoc, which I drained, and tossed in the air. Thinking, drunkenly, that he might be a Mason, like I, I performed one of the secret signs.

There then proceeded an exchange I took for a drunken antic: I repeated my gesture, and he asked "What are you doing?"

"Then you are not a Mason," I said, trying not to be embarrassed.

"In fact I do have some experience with masonry," he replied.

When I looked at him doubtfully, he produced from his cloak as evidence, of all things, a trowel. At the time I did not understand the hints he was giving me, but, it seems he was not then so drunk as I, and was indeed a mason. Once more he guided me through the passages to the Amontillado.

As we proceeded, the damp increased, and so our firebrands produced less illumination, until finally, after an interminable journey, we came to a large room. The walls had been built up with bones, and there were pillars made of skulls. Three of the walls of the place were thus covered, but the fourth had been taken down, and the bones scattered haphazardly across the floor. With this wall removed, the columns behind it were revealed, and between them, darkness.

"In there, the Amontillado!" he said, pointing to the middle opening, and I walked in.

At once I hit the opposite wall of the place, which was closer than I had imagined, since the torch shed little light because of the damp. In my surprise and drunkenness, I was unable to stop my friend Montresor from binding me with chains which were attached already at one end to a ring on the inmost wall of the alcove. The other end, after he bound me, he locked firmly in place on another ring on the same wall. Having done this, he stood back and waited for me to realize my predicament.

When I began to understand, he spoke. "Notice, my friend, how very damp it is down here. Notice also how much nitre has built up. Really, we ought to go back." Before I could speak, he answered for me, though I know not what I would have said in that state. "No? Then I must leave you, for I am needed above once again. But first, I will make sure you are most comfortable."

Not quite comprehending his treachery even yet, for I had indeed drunk deeply, I wondered, "The Amontillado?"

"Yes," he said. "The Amontillado."

At this I fell silent. When he saw this, he turned to his diabolical labor. First he revealed, out of the scattered bones of the fallen wall, a pile of bricks and again the trowel, now ready for its dire task, and began to build the wall of the room in front of the alcove in which I stood bound. I quickly realized what he was beginning, and upon completion of the first row, recovered my senses sufficiently to let forth a long low moan.

He listened eagerly to my sound while it lasted, and when it was followed by nothing, he continued construction. Interminable the procedure seemed, no less difficult for me than for him, and he finished the second and third and fourth level before I felt required to make some action, lest I be buried without a fight. I tried to free myself, hoping that he had been as little careful in binding me as I was in following him. Alas, the chains were secure, and I was seized by a panic. This arrested his efforts, but only whilst it lasted, and produced no chance of escape on my own account. Once I stopped in exhaustion and terror, he continued his dire proceedings.

In this period, he built up the fifth tier and the sixth and seventh. Then he paused and, taking up his torch, held it over the stonework. In the darkness I had not realized how small my resting place was to be, and the extent to which the construction had proceeded. The sudden view of these inspired in me a new horror, and this time I began to scream. He stepped back in surprise at my volume, and disappeared from sight for a moment, then thrust the point of his sword into the niche and tried momentarily to quiet me. But soon he must have begun to feel secure in the solid walls and the great depth of his vaults, because he, putting away his rapier, joined me in screaming, ridiculing my panic and my attempt to call attention by shouting still louder and more horribly than I. After a time we both fell silent, and he resumed his task.

As I saw it, the night must have been nearly through when he had laid the eighth, the ninth and the tenth rows. By this point, I was fully sober and in total realization of my danger, if he did not cease at once. As he struggled to place the last block of the final row in place, I spoke in confusion and hysteria.

"Very clever," I stated, through my laughter. "a perfect trick. In our homes we shall laugh over it many a time. Indeed, my friend, let us drink to it!"

"The Amontillado!"

"Of course, but should we not return now?" I managed out of my laughter. "The time grows late, and my wife will worry about us."

Then he spoke, and I at once knew that my fate was sealed; no jest was here: "Yes, let us go back."

From behind the wall, I knew I could no more have taken his earlier advice to avoid my destruction, as I could now break my shackles and the wall and follow his imminent departure; his knowledge of my desires and prides enabled him to lead me into gravest danger.

Then, for the first time, I recognized, too late by far, the spirit of unwarranted revenge in his raving mind. Somehow he had not the clear idea of our friendship I had, and I now understood the true significance of the motto of his house. Before he finished the wall and, surely, replaced the bones of those dead long ago, he called out to me repeatedly, but the only response I made to the madman before the darkness enclosed me forever was a jingling of the bells of my folly and this prayer:

"For the love of God, Montresor."

After this, he left for the world above. Again and again I have thought through all that happened during this fateful festival, and before, in the attempt to find the reason for Montresor to so hate me. I have tried, unsuccessfully, to probe his confused mind. I have tried many things to keep from thinking of the wall of masonry inches from my face, which I will never reach, but which will certainly be my death. What is there to think, when thoughts will never be recorded, nor related to another mortal? Prayer, perhaps, could take up a portion of eternity, but only so long can prayer last below the earth. Sleep is impossible, standing hungry, wet, thirsty and cold. All that is left is to entertain the possibility, however unlikely, that at some time, another will find my bones, and say, "Here died someone in suffering, betrayed and consigned to the worst of all deaths."

[Editor's Note: This story was supplied by a certain amateur archeologist, by the name of John Douglas Bradshaw, who states that it was discovered in a little-known Italian catacomb. Since there is no evidence to support his claim, the story should be taken as a work of fiction]