Mr. Poe through Letters
I feel I must write to you concerning this story, “Murders in the Rue Morgue.” I find it a perplexing tale, accelerating in random places, dense and packed with the animal energy of the Southern Tropics. I find it out of pace with the usual fare of your respected journal. Who is this man Poe? Is he a savage, or merely one who fans the interest of the pliable masses with Equatorial winds?
Mrs. Nelly Bombast, Petherton.
My Darling Ann,
I cannot speak of the delight I find in reaching my humble abode and finding your letter. These days have been so dark, not just psychologically dark, you know, but also really dark. Winter is coming. I sit hunched at my desk, and even at mid-day, the small sunshine from the window is thin and inadequate to my purposes. There is a new editor, a Mr. Poe, who has gained some respect in literary circles, but I don’t think much of him, as he is often unkempt, and keeps bottles on his desk-a bottle of spirits, as well as a bottle of ink- and that desk is also where he places his feet. These habits are not interrupted in the least from one day to the next,even when he meets with staff, ragtag band such as we are. He speaks in a drawling manner, laced with caustic wit, and his fancies control him completely.
I react with much disgust to your rejection of my contribution to your periodical, if it may be elevated to that status. The Southern Literary Messenger prefers romps through the supernatural, it appears, peering around corners, privileging feminine shrieks and table rapping to the condition of our Union, where men are enslaved and lacking all human decency. Sir, there are real horrors in this time, men deprived of their dignity, famine, disease, if only you could see.
August Dearwood, Esq.
I hate you.
You are wrong about everything.
You might bring me something for this cough, if it doesn’t trouble you too much. I slept a little this afternoon, and felt much refreshed. I even put on a light dress and a wrap to sit outside in the sun. It was trouble to walk. I felt unsteady on my feet. I don’t think they want to walk anymore, these feet. I do so want to be so much lighter, like a little bird, and then I might use them to perch. These useless legs will dangle and clatter together, like dried twigs, when I fly to heaven. These are my porch-sitting thoughts. But don’t worry. I plan to gather all my strength to meet your friend, Mrs. Osgood, and we will be like sisters, having you in our mutual affection. If only you would bring me something for this cough.
I wonder if you think this is right, forcing a woman to keep herself out at all hours, creeping through underbrush, crouching under window ledges, just to catch a glimpse of you laughing with friends? That is just exactly what I have been reduced to. I wonder when we can talk with your wife. If you don’t do it, I swear I will. I don’t care if she is sick. I’ve seen sicker. I don’t know if that’s a word and I don’t much care.
I am sure she didn’t harm me, so very much, but I do so wish, you know, to be a real wife to you, not just a spirit wife, and not even that, really, because don’t spirits inhabit the slightest draft, and flutter like leaves, and I am so, so tired and heavy on the ground. I want so much to sit with you and repeat all the things Mrs. Osgood told me, because I am quite sure you can very rationally and reasonably explain them all, but my head aches, and I must sleep a little, before I can make the effort. I think, just now, staying with Aunt is the very thing, but don’t worry, I shall be home soon.
I can’t repeat to you all of what he said, much as I would try, for I know you are interested in understanding all this man says. Only for your amusement do I try and remember these winding conversations. Last night at dusk I followed him out, and he invited me to a tavern. Much as I dislike humoring these wicked impulses, only to have something to tell you, I did so. Together we went to a low bar, and he sat, and detailed much of this thinking, but it seemed to me black as old crows hanging about the rafters of a haunted mansion, and I could not get the sense of it. His black eyes roved, his pointed chin rat-a-tat-tatted a tale of sorry and misery, more sorrowful and more pitiful than any I have every heard, and as I sat, bleeding with misery, eyes full of tears, didn’t he leap from his chair, stick in his finger in my face, and yell out, “Fool, don’t you know that all my troubles have been of my own making!” and ran out the door in a great hurry, leaving me to pay the bill with the last of my week’s wages. I shan’t eat tomorrow, because of this, and I plan to leave on the next train, because I am sure I cannot take any more of this erratic man.
Trite and Tired,
Yes of course, it shall be as you request, and as soon as possible. I will commission the undertaker, immediately, after scribbling this note, and I trust you will feel comfortable leaving all arrangements in our hands. I am a little shocked, but not very, as I have heard that she was quite ill for some time. Don’t worry about the bill, leave it to us, as old friends grateful to have access to a plot for dear Virginia. I shan’t write much more, for I am anxious, for your sake, to have the matter straightened out. I am sure it is quite unsettling to sit with the corpse of a young woman, with nothing left to cover her with but your old black coat, as you write. You must burn that, you know, and you must burn the bedding that touched her, for these are carriers of disease. You must think of yourself now.
I burn with no earthly fire, you needn’t worry, it is all burning, burning now.
Just a grey little wedding it must be, then, if there is to be a wedding. Just a grey little wedding in a grey little church, at dawn, for that is the cleanest hour, the dawn, the most fitting to our mutual and beloved Creator. That is all I think seemly, two souls clasping hands in mutual friendship, and I am sure the Lord would smile upon it. All my old affections have been used up in the past, and even if I wanted to drag them out now, they would be as half washed garments left to dry in a summer sun, stiff and retaining a grotesque shape. I haven’t made up my mind totally about it. I will pray about it.
Oh I will write the obituary, alright, and it will be on time, as well.
Can you think of it, I saw him once more in Baltimore, of all places. In all things, our destinies were linked. I was walking alone, at night, and something brushed at me, dull and heavy, and it was quite dark and foggy, and, you will think it ridiculous, but for a moment I thought it must be a horse off its track or something like that. Then of course, I fell back and gaped, and it was none other than a man, and that man Poe, for he lifted his sagging head, and stared at me, and he was ill, I certainly saw he was ill. I said to him, sir, I must take you were you can rest, and he leveled his gaze at me and righted himself. “Don’t you see, all my troubles have been my own,” he yelped, that parting shot from so many years before. At this, I am ashamed to say, Ann, I remembered that unpaid bill, and I said, “Poe you owe me money.” He handed me his cane, said, “Sell this, then, for it is not bad.” I looked it. I was a mahogany walking stick crested with a brass duck. I said, “Did you steal this?” For, from this condition, I could not believe it to be his. He walked on quickly, and then turned a little, and, seeming to make another smart remark, stalled, his lips moved, but he had lost his strength, could not get the words out, and then he moved on, staggering a little, thrusting his hand out behind him, as though he were waving off a beggar, which is ridiculous because it was ever so much the other way around with this moneyless scribbler. The dark enclosed him, and I moved on, still clutching the cane in my hand, determined to get something from him, something solid, because it was more than I ever had of him, that solid thing.