"The Squaw" is a short horror story by the Irish author Bram Stoker. It first appeared in print on December 2, 1893 in the British magazine Holly Leaves the Christmas Number of the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News. It was republished in 1914 as part of the anthology Dracula's Guest and Other Weird Stories.
The story describes in gory detail how an American tourist in the German city of Nuremberg accidentally kills a kitten. It goes on to describe, in equally gory detail, how the kitten's mother gets revenge on the American.
Due to the graphic descriptions of injuries that it contains, "The Squaw" is not for the squeamish. Some readers may also find the manner in which Native Americans are referred to in the story to be offensive. The story's title itself is likely to cause offense to some.
The story has been adapted to other media.
The story's narrator is an unnamed British man. He and his wife Amelia go to Germany on their honeymoon. They meet an American tourist named Elias P. Hutcheson who had been a soldier and a hunter. They travel together to the city of Nuremberg. All three of them are keen to visit Nuremberg Castle (referred to throughout the story as the "Burg") and to see the famous Iron Maiden of Nuremberg which is kept in the castle's Torture Tower. They make their way to the castle by walking along the top of the medieval wall that surrounds the city.
The three tourists see a black cat playing with her kitten at the bottom of the wall. Elias P. Hutcheson wants to join in their game. He picks up a small pebble. He plans to throw it down so that it will land next to the cats. The cats will then be confused because they will not understand how the pebble got there. Unfortunately, Hutcheson's aim is bad. The pebble lands on the kitten's head. The kitten is instantly killed. The black cat looks up at the wall and immediately focuses her attention on Hutcheson. The black cat licks the kitten's wounds for a short while. When she realizes that the kitten is dead, she turns her attention again towards Hutcheson. She tries to climb the city wall but finds that it is much too high for her.
Hutcheson says that the cat reminds him of an Apache woman he once knew. The Apache woman's child was killed by a soldier known as Splinters, who was part Native American himself. The Apache woman tracked Splinters for three years. He was eventually captured by Apache warriors who handed him over to the woman. Splinters was slowly tortured to death by the Apache woman. Hutcheson arrived at the Apache camp too late to save Splinters, although he did kill the Apache woman. He says that was the only time that he saw the Apache woman look happy.
The cat continues to try to climb the wall. When that fails, she tries to jump straight at Hutcheson, as if she believes her anger will give her the ability to fly. Amelia says she thinks that, given the opportunity, the cat would try to kill Hutcheson. Elias P. Hutcheson says that, as a man who has fought grizzly bears and Indians, he is not afraid of a cat. He laughs at the suggestion. The cat then stops trying to climb the wall. Hutcheson thinks that the cat has recognized the masterly tone in his voice.
The narrator and Amelia notice that the cat is still following them along the bottom of the wall. Amelia points this out to Hutcheson several times. He continues to laugh. Eventually, he says that he is carrying a gun and could shoot the cat if it would make Amelia feel better. Amelia does not want him to do that. As the three tourists enter the castle grounds, Hutcheson says to the cat, "Goodbye old girl. Sorry I injured your feelin's, but you'll get over it!'
The custodian of the Torture Tower tells the narrator, Amelia and Elias P. Hutcheson that they are the only visitors to have come there that day. On display are the blocks on which people who were condemned to be beheaded once rested their necks, the swords that were used to strike off their heads and many instruments of torture. The chief exhibit is the famous Iron Maiden of Nuremberg. The Iron Maiden's heavy door is opened by a rope on a pulley. On the inside of the door are several sharp spikes. They are designed to first pierce the eyes and then the heart and other organs of anyone placed inside the Iron Maiden.
Hutcheson decides that, for a new experience, he would like to go inside the Iron Maiden. To make his experience as close as possible to that of those condemned to death in the Iron Maiden, Hutcheson wants to be tied up first. After the custodian has been given some extra money and after he has been persuaded that Hutcheson is only trying to have fun and does not really want to be killed, he ties the American's hands together with some rope. After Hutcheson goes inside the Iron Maiden, the custodian ties his feet together too. Hutcheson asks the custodian to pull on the rope to make the Iron Maiden's spiked door slowly approach him. Hutcheson enjoys the experience immensely. He says that it is the most fun that he has had since he arrived in Europe.
As the spiked door slowly moves towards Hutcheson, the narrator and Amelia notice that the cat had been behind it. Hutcheson is not overly concerned. He finds it funny that the cat is still pursuing him. Instead of attacking Hutcheson, the cat jumps on the custodian and viciously claws at his face. In his shock and pain, the custodian lets go of the rope. The Iron Maiden's heavy spiked door slams shut on Hutcheson and kills him instantly. The narrator opens the door and Hutcheson falls out.
Amelia faints. The narrator carries her out. When he returns, he sees that the cat is sitting on Hutcheson's head and licking his blood. The narrator kills the cat with one of the executioners' swords.
Under the title "Cat's Cradle", "The Squaw" was adapted as the third episode of the first season of the British radio horror anthology series The Price of Fear, hosted and narrated by the American actor Vincent Price. The episode first aired on the BBC World Service on September 15, 1973. The action takes place in the present-day and the setting is changed from Nuremberg to the fictional German town of Sonderberg. The character of Elias P. Hutcheson is replaced by that of Malcolm Rivers, a boorish British horror movie director, who joins a fictionalized version of Vincent Price and the honeymooning British couple Jack and Beth. All references to Native Americans are removed.
An abridged version of "The Squaw" is read by the Welsh actor Dyfed Thomas in the fifth and final episode of the British radio mini-series Bram Stoker's Midnight Tales. The episode was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra on April 20, 2012.
- ↑ The Iron Maiden of Nuremberg (referred to throughout "The Squaw' as the "Iron Virgin") was the most famous iron maiden in Europe. It first went on display in 1802. It was said to have first been used in 1515 to execute a coin forger. It is highly likely that, in common with most iron maidens on display in museums around the world, it was a fake, made in the late 18th or early 19th century, that was never used to execute anybody. The original Iron Maiden of Nuremberg was destroyed during Allied bombing of the city in World War II. A copy of it is now on display in the Kriminalmuseum in the Bavarian town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, fifty miles away from Nuremberg.