Short Story #185: The Middle Toe of the Right Foot by Ambrose Bierce

Title:  The Middle Toe of the Right Foot

Author:  Ambrose Bierce


Book cover: Complete Short Stories of Ambrose BierceThe story begins with four men visiting the old abandoned (and some say, haunted) Manton house, which was owned by a man who killed his wife and two children before disappearing.  One man, Mr. Grossmith is reluctant but comes in.  The reluctant one and another man are placed in corners and given knives.  They are instructed to wait until the candle is blown out and the outer doors are shut before proceeded to duel.  The story steps back to earlier to explain what caused the duel.  Grossmith happen to be listening in on the three men talking about the Manton wife.  They catch him listening in and one man insists on dueling for his poor manners.  The story then jumps to the day after the duel when one of the men who went was also accompanying the sheriff (he happened to be the sheriff's deputy) and others to examine the estate.  When they enter, they found a man dead with a bowie knife sticking out of him but nothing else.  As they examine the man closer, they realize that it was Manton.  The story tells us at this point that the deputy and his friends realized who Grossmith was and attempted to lock him in the room--that is, the other dueler had left in the darkness, leaving Grossmith/Manton alone in the dark.  As they further explored the scene, they see that there are two distinct footprints--Manton's and another that is missing a middle toe on the right foot, at which time, one of the examiners who was Mrs. Manton's brother says that his sister also was missing her toe.


A bit better than half-a-dozen tales and some playing with the order of the story.  There are several things throughout the story that are confusing or unclear until you make sense of it all in hindsight with this one.  
Short Story #185 out of 365
Rating: 2 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read: 7/2/2014
Source:  The Complete Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce, compiled by Ernest Jerome Hopkins.  Bison Books, 1984.  The full works of Ambrose Bierce, including this story can be found here on

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.

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  1. I don’t think you read the story very well. The victim was not stabbed, but died of fright. It was three sets of footprints that walked over to the victim - the wife and two children.


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