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Edgar Allan Poe:
The Tell-Tale Heart
(adapted by Marek Vít, read by Waylan Bram)
True, I had been and I am very, very nervous. But why do you say that I am mad? The disease had not destroyed my senses, it had made them sharper, especially the sense of hearing. I could hear all things in heaven and in the earth. I could hear many things in hell, too. How could I be mad? Watch and listen how calmly I can tell you the whole story.
It is impossible to say how the idea first entered my mind. I had no reason to do it, I loved the old man. He had never done anything wrong to me. I did not want his gold. It think it was his eye! Yes, his eye. He had the eye of a vulture – a pale blue eye with a film over it. Every time the eye looked at me, my blood ran cold. So, I slowly made up my mind to take the old man's life and destroy the eye forever.
You think I am mad. Madmen do not know anything. But you should have seen me, how cleverly and carefully I worked. I was very kind to the man the whole week before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I opened the door to his room, very gently. When it was open, I put in a dark lantern, it was closed so no light came out. Then I put in my head, slowly, very slowly, so that I would not disturb the old man. It took me an hour to place my head far enough to see him lying in his bed. Would a madman be so wise? When my head was in the room, I opened the lantern carefully. I opened it only a little, so that a single ray of light fell on the vulture eye. I did this for seven long nights, every night just after midnight. But the eye was always closed and so I could not do the work. It was not the old man who troubled me, it was his Evil Eye. And every morning, without fear, I went to his room and spoke to him kindly and asked him if he had slept well at night. You see, he would never think that every night, just at twelve, I looked at him while he slept.
On the eighth night I was even more careful. I opened the door so slowly! I had never felt such power before, such triumph. There I was, opening the door and he didn't even dream about my secret actions or thoughts. I laughed quietly and maybe he heard me, because he moved suddenly. I did not draw back, because I knew that he couldn't see me in the darkness.
My head was in and I was going to open the lantern when he suddenly sat up in his bed and cried out: “Who's there?”
I was quiet and said nothing. For an hour I did not move and while I was standing there, I didn't hear him lie down. He was still sitting up in his bed, listening. He could feel that death was watching him.
Then I heard him groan in terror. It wasn't a groan of pain, it had come from the bottom of the soul. I knew the sound so well. Every night, just after midnight, it came out of my own chest. I knew what the old man felt and was sorry for him. But I laughed quietly, too, because I knew that he had been awake since the first faint noise, since he had first turned in the bed. He had been saying to himself, “It's just the wind, it's nothing but a mouse crossing the floor.” These thoughts could not comfort him, because he knew that death was coming. He could not see the shadow, but he felt the presence of my head in the room.
When I had waited a long time, I decided to open the lantern a little, very little. You cannot imagine how quietly I did it, until a simple ray, like the thread of a spider, came out of the lantern and fell on the vulture eye.
It was open, wide open, and it made me very angry. I saw it very clearly, a pale eye with an ugly film over it, which chilled me. Suddenly I could hear a low, quick sound. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man's heart. It only made me more furious, just as the beating of a drum gives soldiers courage. However, I did not move. The beating of the man's heart grew quicker and quicker, louder and louder. His terror must have been extreme! Still I waited and the beating grew louder and louder. Now I was afraid, because the neighbours might hear the sound. The old man's hour had come. I cried out loudly, opened the lantern and jumped into the room. He screamed once – once only. I threw him on the floor and pulled the heavy bed over him. I smiled to myself at what I had done. The heart went on beating for many minutes, but it did not trouble me. Nobody could hear it through the wall. Finally the heart stopped. The old man was dead. I removed the bed and looked at his body. He was dead, stone dead. His eye would never trouble me again.
If you still think that I am mad, listen how carefully I hid the body. I worked quickly and silently. First, I cut off the head and the arms and the legs. Then I took up three floorboards, and hid everything under them. Then I replaced the boards so carefully, that no human eye – not even his – could notice anything wrong. There were no stains, because a tub had caught all the blood – ha! ha!
When I finished, it was still dark. Suddenly there came a knocking at the door. I went down to open it with a light heart. I had nothing to fear now. Three police officers entered. A scream was heard by one of the neighbours during the night and the police came to investigate it.
I smiled, because I had nothing to fear. I let the men in and explained that I had screamed in my dream and that the old man was away. I took them all over the house. I told them to search well, to look everywhere. Finally I led them into his room. I showed them all the man's treasures, all safe and undisturbed. I was so confident that I brought chairs into the room and invited them to sit down and rest. I placed my chair exactly on the place under which the dead body was hidden.
The officers believed me. I was relaxed and smiling when I was answering their questions. But after a while I wished that they would go away. My head ached and I could hear ringing in my ears. But they still sat and chatted. The ringing was getting clearer. Soon I realized that the noise was not in my ears.
I spoke more loudly but the noise grew louder, too. What could I do? It was a low, quick sound. I could not breathe but the officers did not hear it. I talked more quickly, but the sound grew even louder. Why wouldn't they go away? I walked across the room angrily, but the noise grew louder. Oh God! What could I do? I smashed the chair on which I had been sitting, but the noise was louder than everything else. It grew louder, louder, louder. But the men were still chatting happily, smiling. Was it possible that they did not hear the noise? Oh God! They heard! They knew! They were only making fun of me, of my horror. That is what I thought, that is what I think. I couldn't stand seeing their happy faces any longer. I felt that I must scream or die! And the noise was louder, louder, louder!
“Stop pretending!” I screamed. “I admit! I killed the man! Look under the boards, here, here! It is the beating of his ugly heart!”
Ilustrace: Markéta Vydrová, © 2007
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