W. W. Jacobs’ short story opens with Mr. White and his son Herbert playing a game of chess. Mrs. White is knitting by the fire. Mr. White loses the game and becomes agitated and exasperated. Soon, there is a knock at the door and the Sergeant-Major enters. They share a few drinks and the Sergeant-Major tells them some tales about his trips to India, where he obtained a monkey’s paw. The paw is magical, allowing three men three wishes each. One man has died and the Sergeant-Major has used up his three wishes. He tosses the paw into the fire, but Mr. White snatches it out and keeps it for himself. The Sergeant-Major tells them that a fakir has put a spell on the paw ‘ ‘to show that fate ruled people’s lives.” Those who tamper with fate “did so to their sorrow.” But Herbert coaxes his father to wish for something modest, like 200 pounds. His father does so, while Herbert plays dramatic chords on the piano in accompaniment. They all go to bed for the night.
In the morning, Herbert leaves for work and tells his parents not to break into the money before he comes home that evening. Mr. and Mrs. White make light-hearted comments about Herbert’s return and his reactions to an arrival of the money.
Later, a stranger comes to the door and, after coming into the house, tells the parents that Herbert has been killed at work that morning when he was caught in some machinery. The stranger then gives them compensation from the company: 200 pounds.
Herbert is buried in a nearby cemetery. About a week later, Mr. White is awakened by the sounds of Mrs. White weeping over their son. Suddenly, she remembers the paw and the two wishes that remain. She pleads for Mr. White to get it and to make a wish that Herbert would be alive again. He tries to tell her that since he was mangled in the machinery and had been buried for a week, it would not be a wise wish. But she insists. Despite misgivings about invoking the magic of the paw again, Mr. White wishes for Herbert to be alive again.
They wait. They watch out the window, but nothing happens and no one arrives. They start to bed again when suddenly a slight knock is heard at the door.
Mrs. White then remembers that the cemetery is two miles away and that it would have taken Herbert a while to walk home. The knocking increases, ending in a series of rapid hangings on the door. Mr. White tries to stop her from opening the door. She persists and climbs up on a chair to open the top-most bolt.
Just as she opens the door, Mr. White asks his third wish. The door opens; the street is still and empty. Only a dim streetlight flickers on the roadway.
Short Stories for Students, Volume 2, W. W. Jacobs, Edited by Kathleen Wilson, Published by Gale Research, New York, 1997.