Mr. White had possession of the monkey's paw but he didn't know what to wish for.
"I don't know what to wish for, and that's a fact," he said slowly. "It seems to me I've got all I want."
"If you only cleared the house, you'd be quite happy, wouldn't you?" said Herbert, with his hand on his shoulder. "Well, wish for two hundred pounds, then; that'll just do it."
The next morning after their son Herbert has gone off to work, a stranger appears and tells them he has come from Herbert's employers Maw and Meggins to give them the bad news that their son was killed in an accident at work. The company is giving them "a certain sum as compensation." When Mr. White brings himself to ask, "How much?"
"Two hundred pounds," was the answer.
Unconscious of his wife's shriek, the old man smiled faintly, put out his hands like a sightless man, and dropped, a senseless heap, to the floor.
Mr. White faints because he realizes that this is exactly the amount of money he wished for. He also remembers the warning he received from Sergeant-Major Morris that he should throw the paw back in the fire, and also that
"Morris said the things happened so naturally...that you might if you so wished attribute it to coincidence."
It could have been sheer coincidence that Herbert should have been killed at the factory the morning after the wish was made. After all, the family had stayed up later than usual because they had a visitor who was telling them interesting stories about India. And all three men were doing some drinking. If Herbert went to work after having drunk more and gotten less sleep than usual, he could have made some sort of mistake that got him caught in the machinery.
Throughout the story it is never certain whether the things that are happening are sheer coincidence or the result of the wishes Mr. White makes with the monkey's paw. His second wish is made at his wife's insistence.
He raised his hand. "I wish my son alive again."
Then when there is a knocking at their door in the middle of the night, both old people assume it must be their son. But Mr. White has had to identify the body and knows how horribly mangled it was.
He heard the creaking of the bolt as it came slowly back, and at the same moment he found the monkey's paw, and frantically breathed his third and last wish.
The reader will never know whther the person knocking at their door was really their son Herbert. When Mrs. White gets the door open, the road outside is quiet and deserted. It could have been some motorist wanting to use their phone.
Stories about three magical wishes are as old as history. Typically, the third wish is made to undo the bad result of the second wish. The moral of these stories seems to derive from Hindu scripture, which teaches that wanting things causes unhappiness. According to the Bhagavad-Gita:
He knows peace who has forgotten desire.
In one old story a couple is granted three wishes. The wife is hungry and thoughtlessly says she wishes she had a sausage. Her husband is furious at her having wasted one of their precious wishes. He says, "I wish you had that sausage on the end of your nose." And then he has to use their last wish to get rid of the sausage on his wife's nose.