The following letter with attached manuscript was found in an attic in Essex, England, apparently unsent. It’s signed by W.W. Jacobs, the well-known writer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although he wrote in diverse genres, he is perhaps best known for his tale of the macabre, “The Monkey’s Paw.”
W.W. Jacob , Feltham House, Loughton, Essex
Mr. C.B. DeMille, Hollywood California
Dear Mr. DeMille;
January 4, 1914
Thank you for your letter of December 2.
Per your enquiry, I would be interested in pursuing discussions on having a motion picture made of my story “The Monkey’s Paw.”
I understand your concern that the conclusion of the story may have limited appeal to American audiences. To that end I am enclosing a draft of a revised ending which you may find more suitable for your purposes.
“For God’s sake, don’t let it in,” cried the old man trembling.
“You’re afraid of your own son,“ she cried, struggling. “Let me go. I’m coming, Herbert; I’m coming.”
There was another knock, and another. The old woman with a sudden wrench broke free and ran from the room. Her husband followed to the landing, and called after her appealingly as she hurried downstairs. He heard the chain rattle back and the bottom bolt drawn slowly and stiffly from the socket. Then the old woman’s voice, strained and panting.
“Welcome home” she whispered. “We’ve missed you.”
One Week Later
Mrs. White entered the drawing room and addressed her son, gently but with a decided firmness.
“Herbert, are you going to spend the whole day just sitting there looking at the stereopticon?”
Herbert glanced up from his device. ”It’s very interesting, mother. The Eiffel Tower in Paris is quite remarkable. Did you know that it’s more than twice as tall as the Great Pyramid? I should love to visit it one day”.
He twitched, shedding some rotted skin from his shoulder. “Mother would you be a dear and just nudge my left eyeball back into the socket? It’s very distracting from the binocular effect that’s required.”
She leaned forward, and with a sigh picked her son’s detritus from the carpet, before reaching over and gently nudging the errant orb back into its cavity.
“That is fascinating, Herbert. Just imagine.” The old woman paused, and a sadness entered her voice.
“Still, perhaps it’s time you began looking for work again. It’s very hard on your old father to support the three of us only on his army pension.”
Herbert picked up the walking stick next to his chair and attempted to stand, his full leg creaking under the strain.
“Of course, mother, I understand. But surely it’s not so costly. After all, I don’t eat anymore.”
His mother walked towards the window, and gazed out at the dreary, wet lane.
“No, that’s true. How we all laughed when you first tried and it fell right through your ribs and stained your shirt. And you must know we begrudge you nothing. But still, the costs of laundry, bedding, other things…” She trailed off.
“We know you’re not in condition to go back to the factory, but surely some office would hire a smart boy like you for accounts or such.”
Herbert collapsed back in his chair. “Mother, please. You must imagine how shocking it was to awaken and find myself in such a strange situation. Not to say a greatly diminished condition.”
Just then front door slammed, and the sounds of coats and boots being removed could be heard from the hallway.
Footsteps sounded, and the ruddy face of Mr. White appeared in the doorway.
“Ha, another wet one outside. Won’t be doing much gardening this week, I’ll warrant.”
The boy nodded curtly, and lurched up from his chair. “I believe I’ll do some reading in my room.” He hobbled out with a half-hop, half-shuffling gait.
The old man frowned at his wife. “What’s troubling the boy?”
Mrs. White sat, heaving a deep sigh.
“Ah, well, I just told him it might be good to make himself useful again. We’re not getting any younger, and surely he can’t be happy just lounging around the house all day and night.”
Mr. White nodded. “It can’t be easy for the lad.” He paused.
“Forgive me, but I sometimes wish this would never have happened. You had the paw – when you heard him, did you not think of taking the last wish to …to put him at peace again?”
She shook her head. “No. The wish was gone, I used it up for the new stove. You remember, it fell off a cart out front. Crushed the dog.” she added helpfully. ”Nothing to be done.”
The old man shook his head. “There must be something he can do to keep himself occupied.”
Two Weeks Later
Mrs. White looked out the window and dabbed at her eyes with a frayed kerchief. “Poor Herbert. I already miss him so. Perhaps this was the wrong thing.”
Mr. White spoke softly from behind her. “Of course not, missus. The circus life is wonderful – always travelling, seeing strange places, having adventures that any young man would be envious of. And circus folk are the gayest group in the world, always laughing and singing.”
The old woman turned. “Oh, I’m sure you’re right and I’m just an old fusspot. But he didn’t seem very pleased when they came for him.”
“Aye, it’ll take him time to get used to it. But he’ll have his own tent, and folk coming from all round the country to look at him. Plus we have one pound ten, and more to come if he can bring in a crowd regular.”
She nodded. “Very true, my love, and most helpful that will be. And surely he’ll come back to visit when they allow.”
The old woman sat down in her chair and picked up her knitting. “I wonder, do you suppose the Sergeant-Major has any more of those paws?”