Montressor feels insulted by Fortunado and plots to kill him. While we are not told the nature of this insult, we do know how Montressor completes his plan. Making sure all of the servants are gone for the evening, Montressor lures Fortuando back to his house and the catacombs beneath it. He assure Fortuando that he has a cask of very expensive and popular wine stored in the catacombs. Fortunado cannot believe that Montressor has found such a wonderful wine in the middle of the Carnival season. He counts himself lucky and heads into the catacombs with Montressor. He begins to feel unnerved but Montressor calms him with flattery and wine. He assures Fortunado that he needs his opinion since Fortuando is a great wine taster and has superior knowledge of wines. Fortunado is reassured by this flatter to continue farther into the catacombs where he will meet his demise.
It should be noted that Fortunato does not need to go with Montresor to the underground vaults or catacombs in order to sample the Amontillado (if it existed). Once Fortunato learns that Amontillado is available for sale at a bargain price, he could easily find the seller for himself. No doubt a shipload of casks of Amontillado has just arrived in port (at least according to Montresor’s story). That ship (if it existed) would be easy for a man with Fortunato’s experience to find, and he could sample the wine aboard the ship and probably buy directly from the captain.
Montresor knows that Fortunato would think this way, because he has had plenty of dealings with the man in the past and has frequently been injured by him in business transactions. When Fortunato says, “Impossible!” he is only expressing his surprise that a shipload of gourmet wine should have arrived without his having heard about it. He assumes that he has missed out on this information because he has been drinking and carousing during the carnival season.
Montresor only entices Fortunato to his palazzo by telling him he is on his way to consult Luchesi. Fortunato doesn’t want Luchesi to hear about the shipload of Amontillado, because Luchesi would go searching for it on the waterfront himself. Then Fortunato would be competing with Luchesi in bargaining for the wine. Presumably either one of them would buy the entire shipload. Poor Montresor would have bought more than one cask if he had been sure of its quality, but he could not afford to buy the entire cargo of wine under any circumstances. At best he could buy another cask or two (if it existed!).
So Fortunato decides to go with Montresor. The alternative, if Luchesi had not been mentioned, would have been to decline to go with Montresor on any pretext, find the ship and sample the wine on board. But now what Fortunato is probably planning is to taste Montresor’s wine, shake his head, and tell him it is only ordinary sherry—then go looking for the ship, having eliminated both Montresor and Luchesi as potential competitors. And when Fortunato had beaten his competitors out of all the valuable Amontillado, he would laugh and call it “an excellent jest.”
It is a common mistake to believe that Fortunato is mainly interested in drinking a glass of Amontillado and also showing off his connoisseurship of wine. Montresor tells him he has bought a cask at a bargain price. Both men refer to the cask as a “pipe,” which is a cask containing 126 gallons. Naturally Fortunato assumes there must be more for sale, probably a whole shipload newly arrived from Spain. He wants to buy some for himself. Being rich, he could afford to buy the entire shipload. Neither man is mainly interested in the Amontillado for personal consumption. The third paragraph of Poe’s story strongly suggests that they both buy and sell luxury goods, which would include fine wines as well as “paintings and gemmary.” Luchesi is also in this business, and Fortunato is anxious to buy up the wine before Luchesi hears about it. But he has to taste it to make sure it is genuine Amontillado. Montresor has told him, “I have my doubts.” Montresor implies that he probably would have bought more of the wine himself if he had been sure of its quality. Fortunato may have been planning to taste the wine and tell Montresor it is ordinary sherry even if it is excellent Amontillado, then find the ship and buy up the entire cargo. Injuries like these are among the “thousand injuries” Montresor has suffered at Fortunato’s hands over the years, since Fortunato is richer and better connected in Italy. He is not just eager to drink a glass of Amontillado deep underground at night. Surely he could buy plenty of glasses of Amontillado in the city if he wanted that particular wine. He does not really believe that Luchesi is an “ignoramus.” He is afraid of Luchesi and wants Montresor to believe that this competitor is an unreliable judge of wines. Montresor knows from past experience exactly what Fortunato is thinking and planning. If he beats Montresor out of purchasing more of the Amontillado, he will laugh and say it was “an excellent jest.”
“But I have received a pipe of what passes for Amontillado, and I have my doubts.”
Edgar Allan Poe makes every element in his story serve a dual or multiple purpose, in keeping with his well-known dictum regarding the short story that
In the whole composition there should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one pre-established design.
When Montresor tells Fortunato, “I have my doubts” and then repeats these exact words twice more, he is using a ploy he has carefully worked out and patiently rehearsed. By telling his intended victim that he has doubts about the quality of the wine he is virtually inviting the other man to impose on him. If Fortunato samples the wine and finds it to be genuine, he can shake his head and say that it is only ordinary sherry—then rush off to find the seller and buy up the entire cargo. This is the kind of trick Fortunato is quite capable of playing, and Montresor knows it from prior experience. By giving his enemy the opportunity to play another trick--to inflict another “injury”--Montresor is augmenting Fortunato’s motivation to accompany him to the catacombs.
By expressing doubts about the wine, Montresor is suggesting that he would have bought more if he had been sure of its quality. He says he got a bargain. This would explain why he is in such a hurry to obtain an expert opinion . He claims to be on his way to Luchesi that very evening, indicating that he would buy more as soon as possible if only he were sure it was the real Amontillado. If Fortunato should decline to accompany Montresor to his vaults immediately, he could find himself competing with both Luchesi and Montresor for the remainder of the shipment the next morning.
The third paragraph of Poe’s story suggests that all three of these men, Montresor, Fortunato, and Luchesi, are gentlemen traders or brokers dealing in expensive merchandise such as paintings, antiques, gemmary (jewelry), and no doubt in gourmet wines, their main customers being “Britisn and Austrian millionaires.” They are colleagues, competitors, friendly enemies, living in the ancient, decaying city of Venice where old families must occasionally part with heirlooms in order to exist or where the death of a patriarch might force the liquidation of an entire estate.
By telling Fortunato he has doubts about “what passes for Amontillado,” Montresor is insuring himself against becoming suspected of some sort of plot. If Fortunato for some reason is unable or unwilling to go to Montresor’s palazzo that evening, he is sure to question him about the wine later on. Montresor can bring him a bottle of sherry from his vault and tell him it is from the cask he just acquired. Fortunato would drink a glass and tell him truthfully that it was just fairly good Spanish sherry and definitely not Amontillado, and that would be the end of it. Montresor could explain that he had been unable to find Luchesi on the previous evening. But if Fortunato got the idea that the so-called Amontillado had never really existed, he would become extremely suspicious of Montresor’s friendship and his intentions. Montresor would have to bide his time and think of an entirely new way of disposing of Fortunato without getting caught.