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«The Poe Shadow», Matthew Pearl

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The Poe Shadow is a work of fiction. Many of the characters are inspired by historical figures; others are entirely imaginary creations of the author's. Apart from the historical figures, any resemblance between these fictional characters and actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

For my parents

 

PUBLISHER'S NOTE:The mystery related to the strange death of Edgar Allan Poe in 1849 has been uncovered through the following pages.

 

*  *  *

 

I PRESENT TO YOU, Your Honor and Gentlemen of the Jury, the truth about this man's death and my life. The narrative has not been told before. Whatever has been taken away from me, one last possession remains: this story. There are those of our city today who tried to stop it. There are those sitting here among you who still believe me a criminal, a liar, an outcast, a clever, vile murderer. Me, Your Honor: Quentin Hobson Clark, citizen of Baltimore, member of the bar, a fond reader.

But this story is not about me. Please think of this, if you think of nothing else! It never was about me; ambition had never been my chosen stimulus. This was not motivated by my own fortunes among my fellow class or reputation in the eyes of higher judges. It was about something greater than I am, greater than all this, about a man by whom time will remember us though you had forgotten him before the earth settled. Somebody had to do it. We could not just keep still. I could not keep still.

All that follows will be the plain truth. And I must tell you it because I am the one nearest the truth. Or, rather, the only one still living.

It is one of life's peculiar facts that it is usually those no longer alive whose stories preserve the truth…

 

These statements above I scribbled in the pages of my memorandum book (the last sentence is crossed out, I notice, with "philosophical!" written in my hand beside it as critique). Before walking into that courthouse, I scribbled these words in desperate preparation to face my defamers, those who thought ruining me rescued themselves. Because I am an attorney, you may think the prospect of all this-I mean standing before a courtroom of onlookers and former friends, and two women who might love me-you might think the prospect of doing that would be fairly effortless to the experienced Baltimore attorney. Not so. To be an attorney, you must be interested above all else in the interests of others. It does not prepare a man to decide what must be saved. It does not prepare a man to save himself.

BookI. October 8, 1849[?]

1

I REMEMBER THE day it began because I was impatient for an important letter to arrive. Also, because it was meant to be the day of my engagement to Hattie Blum. And, of course, it was the day I saw him dead.

 

The Blums were near neighbors of my family. Hattie was the youngest and most affable of four sisters who were considered nearly the prettiest four sisters in Baltimore. Hattie and I had been acquainted from our very infancies, as we were told often enough through the years. And each time we were told how long we'd known each other, I think the words were meant also to say, "and you shall know each other evermore, depend upon it."

And in spite of such pressure as might easily have pushed us apart, even at eleven years old I became like a little husband toward my playfellow. I never made outward professions of love to Hattie, but I devoted myself to her happiness in small ways while she entertained me with her talk. There was something hushed about her voice, which often sounded to me like a lullaby.

My own nature while in society as it developed was markedly quiet and tranquil, to the degree that I was often asked at any given moment if I had only just then been stirred awake. In quieter company, though, I had the habit of turning unaccountably loquacious and even rambling in my speech. Therefore, I savored the stretches of Hattie's animated conversation. I believe I depended upon them. I felt no need to call attention to myself when I was with her; I felt happy and modest and, above all, easy.

Now, I should note that I did not know that I was expected to propose marriage on the afternoon with which we begin this narration. I was on my way to the post office from the nearby chambers of our law practice when I crossed paths with a woman of good Baltimore society, Mrs. Blum-Hattie's aunt. She pointed out immediately that the errands of retrieving waiting mail should be assigned to one of my lesser and less occupied legal clerks.

"You are a specimen, aren't you, Quentin Clark!" Mrs. Blum said. "You wander the streets when you are working, and when you're not working, you have a look upon your face as though you were!"

She was your genuine Baltimorean; she suffered no man without proper commercial interests any more than she would tolerate a girl who was not beautiful.

This was Baltimore, and whether in fine weather or in this day's fog it was a very red-brick type of place, where the movements of the people on well-paved streets and marble steps were quick and boisterous but without gaiety. There was not much of that last quality in supply in our go-ahead city, where large houses stood elevated over a crowded trading bay. Coffee and sugar came in from South America and the West India Islands on great clipper ships, and the barrels of oysters and family flour moved out on the multiplying railway tracks toward Philadelphia and Washington. Nobody looked poor then in Baltimore, even those who were, and every other awning seemed to be a daguerreotype establishment ready to record that fact for posterity.

Mrs. Blum on this occasion smiled and took my arm as we walked through the thoroughfare. "Well, everything is quite perfectly arranged for this evening."


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