The Squaw by Bram Stoker
Nurnberg at the time was not so much exploited as it has been since
then. Irving had not been playing Faust, and the very name of
the old town was hardly known to the great bulk of the travelling
public. My wife and I being in the second week of our honeymoon,
naturally wanted someone else to join our party, so that when the
cheery stranger, Elias P. Hutcheson, hailing from Isthmian City,
Bleeding Gulch, Maple Tree County, Neb. turned up at the station at
Frankfort, and casually remarked that he was going on to see the most
all-fired old Methuselah of a town in Yurrup, and that he guessed that
so much travelling alone was enough to send an intelligent, active
citizen into the melancholy ward of a daft house, we took the pretty
broad hint and suggested that we should join forces. We found, on
comparing notes afterwards, that we had each intended to speak with
some diffidence or hesitation so as not to appear too eager, such not
being a good compliment to the success of our married life; but the
effect was entirely marred by our both beginning to speak at the same
instant--stopping simultaneously and then going on together again.
Anyhow, no matter how, it was done; and Elias P. Hutcheson became one
of our party. Straightway Amelia and I found the pleasant benefit;
instead of quarrelling, as we had been doing, we found that the
restraining influence of a third party was such that we now took every
opportunity of spooning in odd corners. Amelia declares that ever since
she has, as the result of that experience, advised all her friends to
take a friend on the honeymoon. Well, we 'did' Nurnberg together, and
much enjoyed the racy remarks of our Transatlantic friend, who, from
his quaint speech and his wonderful stock of adventures, might have
stepped out of a novel. We kept for the last object of interest in the
city to be visited the Burg, and on the day appointed for the visit
strolled round the outer wall of the city by the eastern side.
The Burg is seated on a rock dominating the town and an immensely
deep fosse guards it on the northern side. Nurnberg has been happy in
that it was never sacked; had it been it would certainly not be so
spick and span perfect as it is at present. The ditch has not been used
for centuries, and now its base is spread with tea-gardens and
orchards, of which some of the trees are of quite respectable growth.
As we wandered round the wall, dawdling in the hot July sunshine, we
often paused to admire the views spread before us, and in especial the
great plain covered with towns and villages and bounded with a blue
line of hills, like a landscape of Claude Lorraine. From this we always
turned with new delight to the city itself, with its myriad of quaint
old gables and acre-wide red roofs dotted with dormer windows, tier
upon tier. A little to our right rose the towers of the Burg, and
nearer still, standing grim, the Torture Tower, which was, and is,
perhaps, the most interesting place in the city. For centuries the
tradition of the Iron Virgin of Nurnberg has been handed down as an
instance of the horrors of cruelty of which man is capable; we had long
looked forward to seeing it; and here at last was its home.
In one of our pauses, we leaned over the wall of the moat and looked
down. The garden seemed quite fifty or sixty feet below us, and the sun
pouring into it with an intense, moveless heat like that of an oven.
Beyond rose the grey, grim wall seemingly of endless height, and losing
itself right and left in the angles of bastion and counterscarp. Trees
and bushes crowned the wall; and above again towered the lofty houses
on whose massive beauty Time has only set the hand of approval. The sun
was hot and we were lazy; time was our own, and we lingered, leaning on
the wall. Just below us was a pretty sight--a great black cat lying
stretched in the sun, whilst round her gambolled prettily a tiny black
kitten. The mother would wave her tail for the kitten to play with, or
would raise her feet and push away the little one as an encouragement
to further play. They were just at the foot of the wall, and Elias P.
Hutcheson, in order to help the play, stooped and took from the walk a
moderate sized pebble.
'See!' he said, 'I will drop it near the kitten, and they will both
wonder where it came from.'
'Oh, be careful,' said my wife; you might hit the dear little thing!'
'Not me, ma'am,' said Elias P. 'Why, I'm as tender as a Maine
cherry-tree. Lor, bless ye, I wouldn't hurt the poor pooty little
critter more'n I'd scalp a baby. An' you may bet your variegated socks
on that! See, I'll drop it fur away on the outside so's not to go near
her!' Thus saying, he leaned over and held his arm out at full length
and dropped the stone. It may be that there is some attractive force
which draws lesser matters to greater; or more probably that the wall
was not plump but sloped to its base--we not noticing the inclination
from above; but the stone fell with a sickening thud that came up to us
through the hot air, right on the kitten's head, and shattered out its
little brains then and there. The black cat cast a swift upward glance,
and we saw her eyes like green fire fixed an instant on Elias P.
Hutcheson; and then her attention was given to the kitten, which lay
still with just a quiver of her tiny limbs, whilst a thin red stream
trickled from a gaping wound. With a muffled cry, such as a human being
might give, she bent over the kitten licking its wounds and moaning.
Suddenly she seemed to realise that it was dead, and again threw her
eyes up at us. I shall never forget the sight, for she looked the
perfect incarnation of hate. Her green eyes blazed with lurid fire, and
the white, sharp teeth seemed to almost shine through the blood which
dabbled her mouth and whiskers. She gnashed her teeth, and her claws
stood out stark and at full length on every paw. Then she made a wild
rush up the wall as if to reach us, but when the momentum ended fell
back, and further added to her horrible appearance for she fell on the
kitten, and rose with her black fur smeared with its brains and blood.
Amelia turned quite faint, and I had to lift her back from the wall.
There was a seat close by in shade of a spreading plane-tree, and here
I placed her whilst she composed herself. Then I went back to
Hutcheson, who stood without moving, looking down on the angry cat
As I joined him, he said: 'Wall, I guess that air the savagest beast
I ever see--'cept once when an Apache squaw had an edge on a half-breed
what they nicknamed "Splinters" 'cos of the way he fixed up her papoose
which he stole on a raid just to show that he appreciated the way they
had given his mother the fire torture. She got that kinder look so set
on her face that it jest seemed to grow there. She followed Splinters
mor'n three year till at last the braves got him and handed him over to
her. They did say that no man, white or Injun, had ever been so long
a-dying under the tortures of the Apaches. The only time I ever see her
smile was when I wiped her out. I kem on the camp just in time to see
Splinters pass in his checks, and he wasn't sorry to go either. He was
a hard citizen, and though I never could shake with him after that
papoose business--for it was bitter bad, and he should have been a
white man, for he looked like one--I see he had got paid out in full.
Durn me, but I took a piece of his hide from one of his skinnin' posts
an' had it made into a pocket-book. It's here now!' and he slapped the
breast pocket of his coat.
Whilst he was speaking the cat was continuing her frantic efforts to
get up the wall. She would take a run back and then charge up,
sometimes reaching an incredible height. She did not seem to mind the
heavy fall which she got each time but started with renewed vigour; and
at every tumble her appearance became more horrible. Hutcheson was a
kind-hearted man--my wife and I had both noticed little acts of
kindness to animals as well as to persons--and he seemed concerned at
the state of fury to which the cat had wrought herself.
'Wall, now!' he said, 'I du declare that that poor critter seems
quite desperate. There! there! poor thing, it was all an
accident--though that won't bring back your little one to you. Say! I
wouldn't have had such a thing happen for a thousand! Just shows what a
clumsy fool of a man can do when he tries to play!
Seems I'm too darned slipperhanded to even play with a cat. Say
Colonel!' it was a pleasant way he had to bestow titles freely--'I hope
your wife don't hold no grudge against me on account of this
unpleasantness? Why, I wouldn't have had it occur on no account.'
He came over to Amelia and apologised profusely, and she with her
usual kindness of heart hastened to assure him that she quite
understood that it was an accident. Then we all went again to the wall
and looked over.
The cat missing Hutcheson's face had drawn back across the moat, and
was sitting on her haunches as though ready to spring. Indeed, the very
instant she saw him she did spring, and with a blind unreasoning fury,
which would have been grotesque, only that it was so frightfully real.
She did not try to run up the wall, but simply launched herself at him
as though hate and fury could lend her wings to pass straight through
the great distance between them. Amelia, womanlike, got quite
concerned, and said to Elias P. in a warning voice:
'Oh! you must be very careful. That animal would try to kill you if
she were here; her eyes look like positive murder.'
He laughed out jovially. 'Excuse me, ma'am,' he said, 'but I can't
help laughin'. Fancy a man that has fought grizzlies an' Injuns bein'
careful of bein' murdered by a cat!'
When the cat heard him laugh, her whole demeanour seemed to change.
She no longer tried to jump or run up the wall, but went quietly over,
and sitting again beside the dead kitten began to lick and fondle it as
though it were alive.
'See!' said I, 'the effect of a really strong man. Even that animal
in the midst of her fury recognises the voice of a master, and bows to
'Like a squaw!' was the only comment of Elias P. Hutcheson, as we
moved on our way round the city fosse. Every now and then we looked
over the wall and each time saw the cat following us. At first she had
kept going back to the dead kitten, and then as the distance grew
greater took it in her mouth and so followed. After a while, however,
she abandoned this, for we saw her following all alone; she had
evidently hidden the body somewhere. Amelia's alarm grew at the cat's
persistence, and more than once she repeated her warning; but the
American always laughed with amusement, till finally, seeing that she
was beginning to be worried, he said:
'I say, ma'am, you needn't be skeered over that cat. I go heeled, I
du!' Here he slapped his pistol pocket at the back of his lumbar
region. 'Why sooner'n have you worried, I'll shoot the critter, right
here, an' risk the police interferin' with a citizen of the United
States for carryin' arms contrairy to reg'lations!' As he spoke he
looked over the wall, but the cat on seeing ,him, retreated, with a
growl, into a bed of tall flowers, and was hidden. He went on: 'Blest
if that ar critter ain't got more sense of what's good for her than
most Christians. I guess we've seen the last of her! You bet, she'll go
back now to that busted kitten and have a private funeral of it, all to
Amelia did not like to say more, lest he might, in mistaken kindness
to her, fulfil his threat of shooting the cat: and so we went on and
crossed the little wooden bridge leading to the gateway whence ran the
steep paved roadway between the Burg and the pentagonal Torture Tower.
As we crossed the bridge we saw the cat again down below us. When she
saw us her fury seemed to return, and she made frantic efforts to get
up the steep wall. Hutcheson laughed as he looked down at her, and said:
'Goodbye, old girl. Sorry I injured your feelin's, but you'll get
over it no time! So long!' And then we passed through the long, dim
archway and came to the gate of the Burg.
When we came out again after our survey of this most beautiful old
place which not even the well-intentioned efforts of the Gothic
restorers of forty years ago have been able to spoil--though their
restoration was then glaring white--we seemed to have quite forgotten
the unpleasant episode of the morning. The old lime tree with its great
trunk gnarled with the passing of nearly nine centuries, the deep well
cut through the heart of the rock by those captives of old, and the
lovely view from the city wall whence we heard, spread over almost a
full quarter of an hour, the multitudinous chimes of the city, had all
helped to wipe out from our minds the incident of the slain kitten.
We were the only visitors who had entered the Torture Tower that
morning--so at least said the old custodian--and as we had the place
all to ourselves were able to make a minute and more satisfactory
survey than would have otherwise been possible. The custodian, looking
to us as the sole source of his gains for the day, was willing to meet
our wishes in any way. The Torture Tower is truly a grim place, even
now when many thousands of visitors have sent a stream of life, and the
joy that follows life, into the place; but at the time I mention it
wore its grimmest and most gruesome aspect. The dust of ages seemed to
have settled on it, and the darkness and the horror of its memories
seem to have become sentient in a way that would have satisfied the
Pantheistic souls of Philo or Spinoza. The lower chamber where we
entered was seemingly, in its normal state, filled with incarnate
darkness; even the hot sunlight streaming in through the door seemed to
be lost in the vast thickness of the walls, and only showed the masonry
rough as when the builder's scaffolding had come down, but coated with
dust and marked here and there with patches of dark stain which, if
walls could speak, could have given their own dread memories of fear
and pain. We were glad to pass up the dusty wooden staircase, the
custodian leaving the outer door open to light us somewhat on our way;
for to our eyes- the one long-wick'd, evil-smelling candle stuck in a
sconce on the wall gave an inadequate light. When we came up through
the open trap in the corner of the chamber overhead, Amelia held on to
me so tightly that I could actually feel her heart beat. I must say for
my own part that I was not surprised at her fear, for this room was
even more gruesome than that below. Here there was certainly more
light, but only just sufficient to realise the horrible surroundings of
the place. The builders of the tower had evidently intended that only
they who should gain the top should have any of the joys of light and
prospect. There, as we had noticed from below, were ranges of windows,
albeit of mediaeval smallness, but elsewhere in the tower were only a
very few narrow slits such as were habitual in places of mediaeval
defence. A few of these only lit the chamber, and these so high up in
the wall that from no part could the sky be seen through the thickness
of the walls. In racks, and leaning in disorder against the walls, were
a number of headsmen's swords, great double-handed weapons with broad
blade and keen edge. Hard by were several blocks whereon the necks of
the victims had lain, with here and there deep notches where the steel
had bitten through the guard of flesh and shored into the wood. Round
the chamber, placed in all sorts of irregular ways, were many
implements of torture which made one's heart ache to see-- chairs full
of spikes which gave instant and excruciating pain; chairs and couches
with dull knobs whose torture was seemingly less, but which, though
slower, were equally efficacious; racks, belts, boots, gloves, collars,
all made for compressing at will; steel baskets in which the head could
be slowly crushed into a pulp if necessary; watchmen's hooks with long
handle and knife that cut at resistance--this a specialty of the old
Nurnberg police system; and many, many other devices for man's injury
to man. Amelia grew quite pale with the horror of the things, but
fortunately did not faint, for being a little overcome she sat down on
a torture chair, but jumped up again with a shriek, all tendency to
faint gone. We both pretended that it was the injury done to her dress
by the dust of the chair, and the rusty spikes which had upset her, and
Mr. Hutcheson acquiesced in accepting the explanation with a
But the central object in the whole of this chamber of horrors was
the engine known as the Iron Virgin, which stood near the centre of the
room. It was a rudely-shaped figure of a woman, something of the bell
order, or, to make a closer comparison, of the figure of Mrs. Noah in
the children's Ark, but without that slimness of waist and perfect
rondeur of hip which marks the aesthetic type of the Noah family.
One would hardly have recognised it as intended for a human figure at
all had not the founder shaped on the forehead a rude semblance of a
woman's face. This machine was coated with rust without, and covered
with dust; a rope was fastened to a ring in the front of the figure,
about where the waist should have been, and was drawn through a pulley,
fastened on the wooden pillar which sustained the flooring above. The
custodian pulling this rope showed that a section of the front was
hinged like a door at one side; we then saw that the engine was of
considerable thickness, leaving just room enough inside for a man to be
placed. The door was of equal thickness and of great weight, for it
took the custodian all his strength, aided though he was by the
contrivance of the pulley, to open it. This weight was partly due to
the fact that the door was of manifest purpose hung so as to throw its
weight downwards, so that it might shut of its own accord when the
strain was released. The inside was honeycombed with rust --nay more,
the rust alone that comes through time would hardly have eaten so deep
into the iron walls; the rust of the cruel stains was deep indeed! It
was only, however, when we came to look at the inside of the door that
the diabolical intention was manifest to the full. Here were several
long spikes, square and massive, broad at the base and sharp at the
points, placed in such a position that when the door should close the
upper ones would pierce the eyes of the victim, and the lower ones his
heart and vitals. The sight was too much for poor Amelia, and this time
she fainted dead off, and I had to carry her down the stairs, and place
her on a bench outside till she recovered. That she felt it to the
quick was afterwards shown by the fact that my eldest son bears to this
day a rude birthmark on his breast, which has, by family consent, been
accepted as representing the Nurnberg Virgin.
When we got back to the chamber we found Hutcheson still opposite
the Iron Virgin; he had been evidently philosophising, and now gave us
the benefit of his thought in the shape of a sort of exordium.
'Wall, I guess I've been learnin' somethin' here while madam has
been gettin' over her faint. 'Pears to me that we're a long way behind
the times on our side of the big drink. We uster think out on the
plains that the Injun could give us points in tryin' to make a man
Uncomfortable; but I guess your old mediaeval law-and-order party could
raise him every time. Splinters was pretty good in his bluff on the
squaw, but this here young miss held a straight flush all high on him.
The points of them spikes air sharp enough still, though even the edges
air eaten out by what uster be on them. It'd be a good thing for our
Indian section to get some specimens of this here play-toy to send
round to the Reservations jest to knock the stuffin' out of the bucks,
and the squaws too, by showing them as how old civilisation lays over
them at their best. Guess but I'll get in that box a minute jest to see
how it feels!'
'Oh no! no!' said Amelia. 'It is too terrible!'
'Guess, ma'am, nothin's too terrible to the explorin' mind. I've
been in some queer places in my time. Spent a night inside a dead horse
while a prairie fire swept over me in Montana Territory--an' another
time slept inside a dead buffler when the Comanches was on the war path
an' I didn't keer to leave my kyard on them. I've been two days in a
caved-in tunnel in the Billy Broncho gold mine in New Mexico, an' was
one of the four shut up for three parts of a day in the caisson what
slid over on her side when we was settin' the foundations of the
Buffalo Bridge. I've not funked an odd experience yet, an' I don't
propose to begin now!'
We saw that he was set on the experiment, so I said: 'Well, hurry
up, old man, and get through it quick!'
'All right, General,' said he, 'but I calculate we ain't quite ready
yet. The gentlemen, my predecessors, what stood in that thar canister,
didn't volunteer for the office--not much! And I guess there was some
ornamental tyin' up before the big stroke was made. I want to go into
this thing fair and square, so I must get fixed up proper first. I dare
say this old galoot can rise some string and tie me up accordin' to
This was said interrogatively to the old custodian, but the latter,
who understood the drift of his speech, though perhaps not appreciating
to the full the niceties of dialect and imagery, shook his head. His
protest was, however, only formal and made to be overcome. The American
thrust a gold piece into his hand, saying: 'Take it, pard! it's your
pot; and don't be skeer'd. This ain't no necktie party that you're
asked to assist in!' He produced some thin frayed rope and proceeded to
bind our companion with sufficient strictness for the purpose. When the
upper part of his body was bound. Hutcheson said:
'Hold on a moment. Judge. Guess I'm too heavy for you to tote into
the canister. You jest let me walk in. and then you can wash up
regardin' my legs!'
Whilst speaking he had backed himself into the opening which was
just enough to hold him. It was a close fit and no mistake. Amelia
looked on with fear in her eyes, but she evidently did not like lo say
anything. Then the custodian completed his task by tying the American's
feet together so that he was now absolutely helpless and fixed in his
voluntary prison. He seemed to really enjoy it. and the incipient smile
which was habitual to his face blossomed into actuality as he said:
'Guess this here Eve was made out of the rib of a dwarf! There ain't
much room for a full-grown citizen of the United States to hustle. We
uster make our coffins more roomier in Idaho territory. Now, Judge, you
jest begin to let this door down, slow, on to me. I want to
feel the same pleasure as the other jays had when those spikes began to
move toward their eyes!'
'Oh no! no! no!' broke in Amelia hysterically. 'It is too terrible!
I can't bear to see it! --I can't! I can't!' But the American was
obdurate. 'Say, Colonel," said he. 'why not take Madame for a little
promenade? I wouldn't hurt her feelin's for the world; but now that I
am here, havin' kem eight thousand miles, wouldn't it be too hard to
give up the very experience I've been pinin' an' pantin' fur? A man
can't get to feel like canned goods every time! Me and the Judge
here'll fix up this thing in no time, an' then you'll come back, an'
we'll all laugh together!'
Once more the resolution that is born of curiosity triumphed, and
Amelia stayed holding tight to my arm and shivering whilst the
custodian began to slacken slowly inch by inch the rope that held back
the iron door. Hutcheson's face was positively radiant as his eyes
followed the first movement of the spikes.
'Wall!' he said, 'I guess I've not had enjoyment like this since I
left Noo York. Bar a scrap with a French sailor at Wapping--an' that
warn't much of a picnic neither--I've not had a show fur real pleasure
in this dod-rotted Continent, where there ain't no b'ars nor no Injuns,
an' wheer nary man goes heeled. Slow there, Judge? Don't you rush this
business! I want a show
for my money this game--I du!'
The custodian must have had in him some of the blood of his
predecessors in that ghastly tower, for he worked the engine with a
deliberate and excruciating slowness which after five minutes, in which
the outer edge of the door had not moved half as many inches, began to
overcome Amelia. I saw her lips whiten, and felt her hold upon my arm
relax. I looked around an instant for a place whereon to lay her, and
when I looked at her again found that her eye had become fixed on the
side of the Virgin. Following its direction I saw the black cat
crouching out of sight. Her green eyes shone like danger lamps in the
gloom of the place, and their colour was heightened by the blood which
still smeared her coat and reddened her mouth. I cried out:
The cat! look out for the cat!' for even then she sprang out before
the engine. At this moment she looked like a triumphant demon. Her eyes
blazed with ferocity, her hair bristled out till she seemed twice her
normal size, and her tail lashed about as does a tiger's when the
quarry is before it. Elias P. Hutcheson when he saw her was amused, and
his eyes positively sparkled with fun as he said:
'Darned if the squaw hain't got on all her war paint! Jest give her
a shove off if she comes any of her tricks on me, for I'm so fixed
everlastingly by the boss, that durn my skin if I can keep my eyes from
her if she wants them! Easy there, Judge! don't you slack that ar rope
or I'm euchered!'
At this moment Amelia completed her faint, and I had to clutch hold
of her round the waist or she would have fallen to the floor. Whilst
attending to her I saw the black cat crouching for a spring, and jumped
up to turn the creature out.
Cut at that instant, with a sort of hellish scream, she hurled
herself, not as we expected at Hutcheson, but straight at the face of
the custodian. Her claws seemed to be tearing wildly as one sees in the
Chinese drawings of the dragon rampant, and as I looked I saw one of
them light on the poor man's eye, and actually tear through it and down
his cheek, leaving a wide band of red where the blood seemed to spurt
from every vein. With a yell of sheer terror which came quicker than
even his sense of pain, the man leaped back, dropping as he did so the
rope which held back the iron door. I jumped for it, but was too late,
for the cord ran like lightning through the pulley-block, and the heavy
mass fell forward from its own weight.
As the door closed I caught a glimpse of our poor companion's face.
He seemed frozen with terror. His eyes stared with a horrible anguish
as if dazed, and no sound came from his lips.
And then the spikes did their work. Happily the end was quick, for
when I wrenched open the door they had pierced so deep that they had
locked in the bones of the skull through which they had crushed, and
actually tore him--it--out of his iron prison till, bound as he was, he
fell at full length with a sickly thud upon the floor, the face turning
upward as he fell.
I rushed to my wife, lifted her up and carried her out, for I feared
for her very reason if she should wake from her faint to such a
scene. I laid her on the bench outside and ran back. Leaning against
the wooden column was the custodian moaning in pain whilst he held his
reddening handkerchief to his eyes. And sitting on the head of the poor
American was the cat, purring loudly as she licked the blood which
trickled through the gashed socket of his eyes.
I think no one will call me cruel because I seized one of the old
executioner's swords and shore her in two as she sat.