This story begins without hesitation: the unnamed narrator explains that he was and is extremely nervous, but he wasn't and isn’t crazy. Instead of being nuttier than a fruitcake, the narrator claims to have a "disease" that makes all his senses - especially his hearing - super sensitive. To further prove that he is not crazy, the narrator brings up an event from his past.
The narrator says that it is impossible to say how he got this idea that haunted him day and night. There were no objects. There was no passion. He loved the old man. He never harmed him, never insulted him, never wanted his money. What bothered him was his eye. He had the eye of a vulture - a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever he looked at him, his blood froze in his veins; and so he gradually decided to kill the old man and thus get rid of the evil eye forever.
The narrator says that maybe the reader thinks he is crazy, but crazy people know nothing and that we should have seen how wisely he acted, with what caution and foresight.
"You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing."
He had never been kinder to the old man that whole week before he killed him. And every night, around midnight, he would grab the latch of the door and open it, gently. And then, when he would open them enough to push his head in, he would push the dark lantern he was holding and try to push his head through. It was a funny sight, but he didn't want to disturb him while he was sleeping. It took him almost an hour to push his entire head into the opening enough to see him lying on the bed. The narrator asks if a madman would be so wise.
"Ha! would a madman have been so wise as this,"
And then, when his head was in the room enough, he would carefully open the lantern just enough for a single thin ray to fall on his evil eye. And he did this for seven long nights - every night precisely at midnight - but he found that the eye was always closed; so it was impossible to do the work; because it was not the old man who angered him, but his evil eye.
And every morning, when it dawned, he boldly went into the room and spoke boldly to him, calling him by name in a cordial tone and asking how he spent the night. He thought that he would be a very profound old man indeed if he suspected that every night, exactly at midnight, he looked at him while he slept.
On the eighth night, he was even more careful than usual when opening the door. The minutes on the old man’s clock moved faster than on his, and never before that night had he felt the extent of his own power, his wisdom. He could barely contain his sense of triumph. To think that he is there, opens the door, little by little, and the old man does not even dream of his secret deeds or thoughts. He quite laughed at the idea, and the old man may have heard him because he suddenly shifted on the bed. The narrator did not take a step back. The old man's room was black in the thick darkness (because the shutters were firmly fastened, for fear of robbers), so the narrator knew that the old man did not see the door opening, and he kept pushing it, steadily.
He stuck his head in and was about to open the lantern when his thumb slipped on the tin shutter, and the old man jumped up in bed, shouting who was there.
The narrator was completely calm and did not say anything. He didn't move a muscle for the whole hour, and in the meantime, he didn't even hear that the old man laid down. He was still sitting in bed and listening; - just like the narrator was, night after night.
Soon he heard a soft sob and knew it was a sob of mortal terror. It was not a sob of pain or sorrow, but a low muffled sound that rises from the depths of the soul when it is filled with awe. He knew the sound well. Many nights, precisely at midnight, when the whole world slept, it gushed from his breast, deepening with a terrible echo the horrors that disturbed him. He knew that well. He knew what the old man knew and felt sorry for him, even though he was laughing in his heart. He knew he was lying awake from the first faint sound when he turned over in bed. His fears grew within him from then on. He tried to think of them as unreasonable, but he couldn't. He convinced himself that it was the wind in the chimney or a mouse walking on the floor.
When he had waited a long time, very patiently, he decided to open a little - a very, very small gap in the lantern. So he opened it stealthily, until at last a mere dim air, like the thread of a spider's web, flew out of the crack and fell entirely upon the evil eye.
It was open, wide open and the narrator was furious as he looked at it. He saw it with perfect clearness - all was dark blue, with a hideous film that chilled the very marrow in the narrator's bones; but he could see nothing but the old man's face because he directed the beam instinctively, right at the evil eye.
A low, dull, quick sound reached his ears like a watch makes when it is wrapped in cotton. And the narrator knew that sound well. It was the old man's heartbeat. This increased the narrator's anger, as the beating of a drum incites a soldier to courage.
But still, he restrained himself and remained calm. He was barely breathing. He held the lantern still. He tried to keep the ray steady in one place. In the meantime, that heartbeat increased. It was beating faster and faster, louder and louder every moment. The old man's horror must have been extreme! It was beating louder, and the narrator was getting more and more nervous.
In the dead of night, in the midst of the awful silence of that old house, such a strange noise excited him to an uncontrollable terror. However, for a few more minutes he restrained himself and stood still. But the beating was getting stronger, stronger! He thought the old man's heart must burst. And now he was gripped by a new apprehension - the neighbor will also hear the sound! The old man's hour has come! With a loud cry, he opened the lantern and jumped into the room.
The old man screamed once, just once. In an instant, he pulled him to the floor and pulled a heavy bed over him. Then he smiled cheerfully, finding the job done. But for many minutes the heart beat with a muffled sound. Which, however, did not disturb him; it was important to him not to be heard through the wall. Eventually, the beating stopped. The old man was dead.
The narrator removed the bed and examined the corpse. He was dead as a stone. He put his hand on his heart and held it there for many minutes. There was no pulsation. He was dead. His evil eye will no longer torment him.
He then described the wise precautions he had taken to hide the body. The night was waning, and he was busily working, but in silence. First of all, he dismembered the corpse. He cut off his head and arms and legs.
Then he took three planks from the floor and placed them all between the old man's body. Then he replaced the plates so cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye, not even the narrator's could detect that anything was strange. There was nothing to wash, no blood stains. He was too cautious for that.
"There was nothing to wash out --no stain of any kind --no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that. A tub had caught all --ha! ha!"
When he finished his work it was four o'clock, still as dark as midnight. When the bell rang the hour, someone knocked on the door. He went down to open them with a light heart, because what did he have to fear now? Three men entered, perfectly politely introducing themselves as police officers. A neighbor heard a scream during the night; he suspected that something was going on, reported it to the police, and they (the police) were sent to search the house.
The narrator smiled, what did he have to fear? He welcomed the gentlemen. The scream, he said, was his own in the dream. The old man, he mentioned, was away, out of the country. He led the policemen all over the house. He ordered them to search, search well. He led them to the old man's room. He showed them everything safely, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of his self-confidence, he brought chairs into the room and wished them here to rest from their fatigue, while he himself, in the wild boldness of his perfect triumph, placed his own seat in that place under which the corpse of the victim rested.
The policemen were satisfied. His behavior convinced them. He was unusually at ease. They sat and while he cheerfully answered, they chatted about familiar things. But soon he felt himself fading and wished they would go away. His head ached and he imagined his ears were ringing, but they sat and chatted anyway. The ringing became clearer, and the narrator spoke more freely to free himself from the feeling until, at last, he discovered that the noise was not in his ears.
It was a low, dull, quick sound, similar to the sound a watch makes when wrapped in cotton. The narrator ran out of breath, but still, the policemen did not hear the sound. He spoke faster and more fiercely, but the noise kept increasing. He got up and discussed trifles, in a high tone and with violent gesticulations, but the noise kept increasing.
He paced the floor to and fro with heavy steps, as if excited to the point of fury by the men's observations, but the noise steadily increased. He was foaming at the mouth, raving, cursing! He swung the chair he was sitting on and hit the boards, but the noise rose above everything and continued to increase. It was getting louder and louder! The policemen were still chatting pleasantly and smiling.
"I talked more quickly --more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men --but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed --I raved --I swore!"
The narrator thought they knew and were laughing at him. Everything was more tolerable for him than this mockery! He couldn't take those hypocritical smiles anymore!
"Almighty God! --no, no! They heard! --they suspected! --they knew! --they were making a mockery of my horror!"
He felt he had to scream or die. He screamed for them to stop pretending and admit the crime. To break the boards and point to the old man's body and his heartbeat.
"Villains!" I shrieked, "dissemble no more! I admit the deed! --tear up the planks! here, here! --It is the beating of his hideous heart!"