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The Cask of Amontillado: Origins
I am the Lord Montresor of France, dealer and buyer of fine wines. I have a great many friends among the wine business, but one of the greatest was Lord Fortunato. He, like most wine connoisseurs, is an Italian. Our friendship began in the early days of my continuing of the family tradition. We met at a fair on the grounds of my manor as fellow wine-tasters, and, finding a mutual interest, talked late into the night. He was a man not to be taken lightly, nor his profession. His enthusiasm in wines ran deep, and if pressed would boast about his expertise and enterprise in the craft. We viewed each other as fellow craftsmen, and often, when invitations for a gathering were sent from one, the other was among the recipients. It was one of these gatherings which, unbeknownst to myself at the time, fate attended.
The fair was arriving once more, and as the event was bound to be a great one, I sent for Fortunato.
“Send out invitations to the Lord and Lady Fortunato, and invite them to the fair this year,” I instructed a manservant. I was sure that he would accept, an assumption that was correct. When they arrived a few days before the fair came, I myself greeted them under the iron gate, above which was the family arms. It is a large foot stamping on a serpent biting into its heel, set in a blue field.
“Fortunato! You seem remarkably well today!” I greeted him.
“And you, Montresor,” Fortunato replied. “What have you in store for us?”
“As the fair has not yet arrived, I have arranged a dinner,” I said, “and perhaps games to follow.”
“An enjoyable evening, then,” he remarked.
“We shall see,” I replied.
As our party walked up the path to the great wooden doors of my manor, sunlight winked through the waving leaves of the trees shading it. The sky was clear, with few clouds, but the faint, deep rumble of thunder betrayed the intentions of the blue expanse above us.
“What? A rainstorm? With barely a cloud in the sky?” Fortunato said. He seemed very surprised.
“Look to the west, my friend,” said I, and pointed. A large cloud was rising above the hills in the direction of the village, and seemed to hold the faintest shade of gray.
“It seems we shall not be eating in the open air then. Strange, the weather is so wonderful at this moment, yet if you are correct we shall look out a window and see rain falling to the ground in a short while,” Fortunato mused.
“In France’s summer, the sun may choose to cover it’s face at a whim,” I said. “But come, let us seek the shelter of a roof before the storm is upon us.”
I had planned the night meticulously, as was my wont. As dinner was served, I signaled to a servant to bring in several bottles of wine for all. Fortunato’s eyes lit up with glee. He rubbed his hands together as if he had just sat down for a meal.
“Well, my friend, you didn’t say any word of a wine tasting! This will be a good night indeed!” he exclaimed. “What have we?”
Glasses were set in front of all, and bottles uncorked. It could have been a good evening, had Fortunato not begun to talk. It started with the toast he made in the presence of many ears.
“I drink to the good fortune of my friend, Montresor, to have made such a collection of fine wines in his possession.”
Some would believe it a compliment, that he was praising my collection. Perhaps it would have truly been so had he changed the words. As it was, I viewed it as a hurt, albeit most likely unintended. My ire continued to rise slowly as the night progressed.
“The Merdoc is exceptional, Montresor. Wherever did you obtain it?” he asked.
I named a certain dealer in Sicily, a respectable businessman. Fortunato snorted with some contempt.
“Hardly worth traveling to,” said he. “There are better places to search out.” Upon saying so, he downed his glass in one gulp. Then, my friend raised his hand and signaled for more.
And he had just commended the Merdoc as great quality!
“Sherry, Montresor? This is beginning to seem much like the kind I may be able to expect at the fair, my friend.” The fair? The fair had cheaper wine than that which I bought! The tension could be felt in the room by others as an empty bottle was replaced by another, perhaps near a half an hour into our party. I noted out of the side of my eye that the Lady Fortunato seemed to be slightly worried. I kept my temper and hid it with another sip from my own glass. No ill feelings were noticed by Fortunato, as I may keep my true feelings hidden well if I wish.
Three more bottles were opened before I signaled for them to cease going into the cellar for more drink. Finally, as the tasting wound to a close, my friend treaded upon insult.
He looked about himself strangely, as if searching for something, belched loudly, stood from his chair and stretched.
“Ah, Montresor, my friend, is our sampling over? I would have assumed you would allow the evening to last longer. Ah, well,” he sighed, “I suppose there was nothing more to taste without repeating the order of wines tasted. Shall we play the games you implied earlier?”
“I would prefer to retire to my rooms. You and Lady Fortunato may amuse yourselves,” I told them tersely. I would not shout, as I wished to, but instead retreated to my own quarters. His insult must be redressed, however intentionally it was made. And an insult unattended to is a wrong twice as great as it was when said. But what should I do?
As I reclined in a chair, my eyes fell on the family coat of arms. It was a great foot stomping on a snake against a blue field. The serpent was biting the heel in an attempt to escape, as I had always viewed it. Below it was written, “Nemo me impune lacessit.”
“No one attacks me with impunity,” I translated to myself. A thought emerged in my head. I would forego all friendship possessed between us; revenge cares not for warm feelings. I would take advantage of his pride in wine. He would be drunk at the fair, and unsuspicious of any action I would take. And where better for him to end then among the catacombs below the manor, hidden from all sight? And what better than a cask of Amontillado to lure him down? Fortunato would pay dearly for his wrongs, and I would be the punisher.