Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the door.
Never, before that night, had I felt the extent of my own powers – of my sagacity.
I had my head in, and was about to open the lantern… and the old man sprang up in the bed, crying out –
For a whole hour I did not move a muscle… and I didn’t hear him lie down.
Presently I heard… the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief – oh, no! – it was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe.
I knew the sound well…
I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him…
‘It is nothing but the wind in the chimney’
‘it is only a mouse crossing the floor’
‘it is merely a cricket which has made a single chirp’
Yes, he had been trying to comfort himself…
but… all in vain…
in approaching him,
had stalked with his black shadow before him,
and enveloped the victim.
… very patiently… I resolved to open… a very little crevice in the lantern… until… a single dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and fell upon the vulture eye.
It was open – wide open – and I grew furious as I gazed upon it.
And now… there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton.
I knew that sound well, too.
It was the beating of the old man’s heart.
It increased my fury…
It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant…
It grew louder, I say, louder every moment!
– do you mark me well? I have told you that I am nervous so I am.
I thought the heart must burst…
The sound would be heard by a neighbour!
The old man’s hour had come!
He shriek once – once only.