Enough was, indeed, quite enough! Long had I suffered, and many were the humiliations I had endured at the hands of the wretch, Niles Fortunato, and 'twas after the very last of these I vowed revenge! Fortunato, the raving beast, the taunting childish thing heaping insults, one upon the next, so many of them at me, Frasier Montresor. You who would condemn me should understand: one may, in the spirited byplay among refined gentlemen, hurl a well-aimed barb in my direction and I will savor the bon mot with good humor; but to wantonly dishonor my ancestry, among polite company, in those enviable social climes I'd labored hard to earn a place within, well – to speak plainly, he goes too far!
Fortunato! Is it any wonder, really, that I desired to take his measure? In our circle, at our dinners and at our soirees, the others speak of us as one and the same. Balderdash! I am a first-born, Fortunato is a second son; I come from hearty stock, while the girl-wristed fop Fortunato is sickly and pale. I worked, like a team of mighty oxen, to earn my way into university; Fortunato, born into wealth, saw naught but the best schools in his youth and into adulthood. But we are both counselors, you say? Well, have that! But while Fortunato tended to the mercies of the well-heeled, I, Frasier Montresor, spent many a morning in taverns and the like imparting my expertise to the people.
In retrospect, I suppose the first of my errors was to discuss this matter with others, even if they had previously earned my complete confidence. There was the constable, M. Crane, he with the walking stick and the rapier mind. His enthusiasm for my plight was rather easily constrained.
"Frasier, it's plain that Fortunato is a loathsome ass; what's not clear is why this sort of thing would drive a man to seek revenge."
"That a servant of the law could ask such a question! This Fortunato intends to sully a family's good name and suffer no redress – well, as a university-trained counselor, it is my sworn duty to help rid a man of his delusions. Nemo me impune lacessit!"
"Your Latin stinks."
The cheek! A man like Crane, a vulgar man of common lineage, has the gall to disparage my elocution! Fleetingly did I muse upon avenging this insult, but for my respect for the elderly, Crane has earned respite from my wrath.
My soul could not permit me to undertake my revenge without the reassurances of a sympathizer, and I knew exactly where to find one. Rosalyn, the comely, unmarried lady whom I acquaintenced in the course of my work had suffered Fortunato's japes nearly so much as I. I quite naturally expected to find in her a kindred spirit, but even here I did not find the reassurance I sought.
"Fortunato? God, just leave him be, Frasier. I've taken more insults than a lady should from that irreverent imp, but you don't see me retaliating with violence."
"First of all, it is the duty of gentlemen, and not ladies, to effect the sort of justice which honor demands. Second of all, have you no sense of outrage? If not for yourself, then for others? I have been wronged to excess, Rosalyn, and I cannot, nor shall not, allow the perpetrator to go unpunished! Nemo me impune lacessit!"
"I'm sorry, I don't speak French."
French! French? What is this community coming to? Is there no one left who recognizes a proper pronunciation of Latin? First M. Crane, now the harlot! It's unfathomable!
There were others who lent me an ear – Lady Moon, the Englishwoman with mysterious mental powers; Kenneth, the town crier; Briscoe, the philanderer and sporting enthusiast; Chesterton, the ambiguously effeminate gourmand – but none of them seemed to grasp that the cackling fool Fortunato was due a righteous retribution. Though my resolve was weakened slightly by their lack of sympathy, it was not broken. For mine is the cause of Good! I wield the sword of the Just! And with it I shall banish the Wicked! Nemo me impune lacessit! Yes, and NONE SHALL CRITIQUE MY LATIN EVERMORE!
It was a most trivial matter enticing Fortunato to my estate. He and I, though so very different in many ways, share a fondness for many of the same luxuries: music, art, literature, drama – and wine. And like me, Fortunato has long sought to acquire a quantity, however scant, of amontillado. Once, within the fortnight past, I casually averred to a mutual friend that I might have come into possession of that exquisite libation; I knew such a rumor would bring him round ere long, and so it happened that on this night, Fortunato was once again in the House of Montresor.
"A fine sight, having you in my home once more," I greeted, with much warmth in my voice and in my bearing.
"You are agreeable enough of course, Montresor, but I would have guessed that by now a competent decorator would have seen to your foyer," he replied acidly. Even now, on the cusp of oblivion, he taunts me!
"Well, one cannot hope to rival the home kept by you and Lady Fortunato," I replied, obsequy and flattery guiding my words most carefully, "But could not Maris accompany you this evening?" An empty gesture on my part, for the Lady Fortunato never accompanies her betrothed.
"My Maris? Heavens, no. She is most despondent – it seems she is due to see a specialist within a week."
"My word! You have my sympathies."
"Worry not – this particular specialist is the finest in the world, Horst Goehring."
"I am surprised – I've not heard of this man."
"Oh, you wouldn't have – he fashions corsets for child's dolls. Of late, my Maris' unique dimensions have confounded dress makers all throughout the states."
"Ah, I see."
"But enough of that! I am to understand that you have acquired amontillado!"
"Well, I was assured that within this cask was the genuine article, but-"
"An entire CASK?"
"Yes, a cask, but I am now worried that perhaps I was led astray."
"Indeed. I bought it straight away – I should have consulted with you prior to the purchase, but I feared that, in dithering, I would have missed such an opportunity."
"But what good is haste if it leads to naught? I felt the pull of doubt whilst taking measure of the man who offered the sale; I did not perceive in him any measure of taste or refinement, such as those qualities possessed in abundance by your self. Perhaps I was a fool to take him at his word."
"STOP SAYING AMONTILLADO!"
"Goodness, my apologies," replied Fortunato sheepishly. I was lucky that my sudden rebuke did not drive my guest away.
"Not at all, friend."
"You are most gracious to tolerate me in my ebullience."
"And you are most brave to venture out on such an evening, tormented by such a dreadful head cold."
"This? 'Tis nothing. Nothing more than a minor seasonal inconvenience."
"Perhaps this is so, Fortunato – and yet, together with the December chill and that you have obviously imbibed before arriving here, this cold may be more formidable than you suspect."
"Montresor! Your concern is noted and, I should add, in the best traditions of honor and gentlemanly comport, but: though I am a man of brains and not brawn, I assure you I am made of sterner stuff than that. Why, I have crossed swords with a mighty German and fended off a pair of vicious hounds. I can deal with a simple head cold."
"Yes, but what has it done with your sense of taste? Could you accurately judge the authenticity of my amontillado with it? No, I could imposition the Englishman Chesterton. His is a learned palate."
"Chesterton, you say? Montresor, I have, only thrice, had cause to utter the phrase 'Nutty with a fruity bouquet': 1) The sherries coming out of Holland last year; 2) the 1828 Sauvignon Rouge; and 3) Gil Chesterton. No, Montresor – it is my duty, as the leading sommelier in this region, to authenticate this amontillado. And I suspect I shall not so enjoy another tasting henceforth!"
Though I darest not share this with him…I feel the same way.
It was a long and winding path deep into the bowels of the Montresor family catacombs, our journey afoot taking nearly half the hour. The exact location I selected to exact my revenge was indeed the most distant point from the entrance, but start to finish the walk normally takes ten to fifteen minutes. However, Fortunato's incessant coughing, wine-swilling, and pontificating made for a needlessly protracted journey. This was fine by me. Better that the japing jack-ass should meet his end whilst bloviating about subjects well out of his depth!
"…and that was why the Belgian army did away with jodhpurs in their officers' uniforms," concluded Fortunato, thus proving my previous point.
"Fascinating! No one else weaves a tale quite in your way, Fortunato. My compliments."
"You're just drunking that because I'm said. So is this our amontillado?"
"What? Oh, yes! Why, I was so enraptured with your anecdotes I forgot why we came here."
"Oh, of course. You didn't matriculate in the Ivy League, so it's understandable that you lack a certain focus."
"Well, we weren't all as lucky as that, Fortunato. Now look here. Before I draw amontillado for each of us, I have something I must present to you."
"Really? What is it?"
"This!" And with that, my right fist lashed out, landing square in the abdomen! The naïve fool crumbled to the ground, like the statue of Ozymandias itself! Though comparing the reedy and wan Fortunato to a very Colossus is unseemly, I thought it prudent to sacrifice accuracy in favor of clarity by using an easily-grasped literary reference. "Dumbing it down" is the term they use, I believe. You're welcome.
Shocked by the sudden reversal, Fortunato writhed in pain, wailing, "Why, Montresor, why?"
"Why indeed! That you have the gall, even now, to protest! You have mocked and japed and derided and censured for the very last time, Fortunato! You and your whip-tongue have brought this end upon yourselves!" With that, I hauled the churl to his feet and pressed him against the stone wall, where hanging above his head were a pair of manacles I set into the stone eight days ago. Infirm, inebriated, and in serious pain, Fortunato offered no resistance as I secured his wrists into the shackles.
"There! With you lashed to the wall I can now work unencumbered. Once I place brick upon brick, sealed with mortar I mixed myself, you will have this place all to yourself. And there! You will be free to crack wise all the rest of your days!"
"Montresor – be reasonable! It is the custom to make merry in our circle, even if it comes at each other's expense!"
"NO!" I hissed, "YOU, do not simply make merry! You wound! You gravely insult! And you drag into the dirt the good names of all the upstanding families! The Montresors! The Chesterons! Oh, AND that of Lady Rosalyn as well!"
"Lady Rosalyn has a good name?"
"Well, she has A name! Nevertheless, friend Fortunato, know this: this is your end, sir!"
"Stop right there!"
The voice behind me – it is the constable, M. Crane! And he wields a dueling pistol, trained right upon me!
"No! No! How did you know? What a razor-sharp mind! Good Lord, you see everything!"
"Absolutely. You have no idea how hard it was to deduce that you wanted revenge. I had to think way back to when you told me explicitly."
"But…but…no! It was all going perfectly! I lured him here with tales of amontillado! I specially prepared this area to exact justice! And I mixed the very mortar which holds him fast right now!"
Naturally, at that precise moment, the aptly-named monster Fortunato pulled the manacles right out of the place in the wall where I had moored them one week ago. Should have used more gypsum, I suppose.
"It's over, Montresor. Unlock Mr. Fortunato, then you can come with me."
Unlock Fortunato! Has the doddering old man any idea what he is asking me to loose upon the world! But I know when I am beaten, and I did as the lawman ordered.
"You know, if you were upset with me, you might have just asked to have a talk, man to man."
I paused before speaking. "You know, it is likely that I shall be hanged for this, and thus meet my end rather sooner than you will, but know this: I shall make it the focus of my remaining days, even from the fetters of confinement, to see to it that somehow, in some way, revenge shall be mine. Nemo me impune lacessit!"
"I believe it is pronounced 'Naymo', and 'Impunay'."
"Oh, shut up!"