Monday, 21 January 2013

The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allen Poe

A nice creepy story by Poe involving a large amount of fortified wine used as a lure to bump someone off, The Cask of Amontillado is narrated by Montresor, an Italian nobleman, who wreaks a terrible revenge on another noble, Fortunato, whom he believes has insulted him.

Montresor has gone out to the local carnival in search of his quarry. He needs to bait the line and remembers that Fortunato, a braggart and a bullshit artist, likes to think of himself as a master wine-buff:

He had a weak point—this Fortunato—although in other regards he was a man to be respected and even feared. He prided himself on his connoisseurship in wine. Few Italians have the true virtuoso spirit. For the most part their enthusiasm is adopted to suit the time and opportunity—to practise imposture upon the British and Austrian millionaires. In painting and gemmary, Fortunato, like his countrymen, was a quack—but in the matter of old wines he was sincere. In this respect I did not differ from him materially: I was skilful in the Italian vintages myself, and bought largely whenever I could.

Fortunato himself is discovered stumbling around the carnival in jester’s motley:

He accosted me with excessive warmth, for he had been drinking much. The man wore motley. He had on a tight-fitting parti-striped dress, and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells. I was so pleased to see him, that I thought I should never have done wringing his hand.
I said to him—"My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met. How remarkably well you are looking to-day! But I have received a pipe of what passes for Amontillado, and I have my doubts."
"How?" said he. "Amontillado? A pipe? Impossible! And in the middle of the carnival!"
"I have my doubts," I replied; "and I was silly enough to pay the full Amontillado price without consulting you in the matter. You were not to be found, and I was fearful of losing a bargain."
"I have my doubts."
"And I must satisfy them."
"As you are engaged, I am on my way to Luchesi. If any one has a critical turn, it is he. He will tell me—"
"Luchesi cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry."

The bait taken, Montresor takes Fortunato back to his palazzo and then down to the cellars beneath the house. It’s cold and damp and the walls are white with nitre so he warns Fortunato, who has a terrible cough already, that it might prove injurious to his health:

"Enough," he said; "the cough is a mere nothing; it will not kill me. I shall not die of a cough."
"True—true," I replied; "and, indeed, I had no intention of alarming you unnecessarily—but you should use all proper caution. A draught of this Medoc will defend us from the damps."
Here I knocked off the neck of a bottle which I drew from a long row of its fellows that lay upon the mould.
"Drink," I said, presenting him the wine.

They knock out a couple of glasses, before setting off further into the vaults. Montresor tries one more time to time to dissuade his adversary from continuing. The unwitting victim scoffs, downs a glass of De Grâve in one go, then pretends he’s a Mason:

"The nitre!" I said: "see, it increases. It hangs like moss upon the vaults. We are below the river's bed. The drops of moisture trickle among the bones. Come, we will go back ere it is too late. Your cough—"
"It is nothing," he said; "let us go on. But first, another draught of the Medoc."
I broke and reached him a flagon of De Grâve. He emptied it at a breath. His eyes flashed with a fierce light. He laughed and threw the bottle upwards with a gesticulation I did not understand.

Montresor responds by producing his trowel from under his cloak. Unperturbed, Fortunato carries on towards the prize, the nonexistent cask of sherry. He is guided into a small niche at the back of the cellar.

It was in vain that Fortunato, uplifting his dull torch, endeavored to pry into the depths of the recess. Its termination the feeble light did not enable us to see.
"Proceed," I said; "herein is the Amontillado. As for Luchesi—"
"He is an ignoramus," interrupted my friend, as he stepped unsteadily forward, while I followed immediately at his heels. In an instant he had reached the extremity of the niche, and finding his progress arrested by the rock, stood stupidly bewildered. A moment more and I had fettered him to the granite.

The vengeful Montresor then proceeds to wall up the niche, leaving the unfortunate Fortunato immured...

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