Of course I would propose, and of course we would marry! Hattie's presence in my life had been my good fortune. I brightened whenever I saw her and, even more, whenever we were apart and I thought about her. There had been so little change all this time knowing her, I suppose it had just seemed odd to call for it now with a proposal.
"What do you think about?" Peter seemed to say with his brow as I closed the carriage door to bid him good night. I pulled the door back open.
"There was a funeral earlier," I said, deciding to try to redeem myself with some explanation. "You see, I watched it pass, and I suppose it troubled me for a reason I had not . . ." But no, I still could not find the words to justify its effects on me.
"A funeral! A stranger's funeral!" Peter cried. "Now, what in heaven does that have to do with you?"
Everything, but I did not know that then. The next morning I came down in my dressing gown and opened the newspaper to distract myself. Had I been warned, I still could not have predicted my own alarm at what I saw that made me forget my other concerns. It was a small heading on one of the inside pages that caught me. Death of Edgar A. Poe.
I would toss the newspaper aside, then would pick it up again, turning pages to read something else; then I'd read again and again that heading: Death of Edgar A. Poe. . . . the distinguished American poet, scholar, and critic in the thirty-eighth year of his age.
No! Thirty-nine, I believed, but possessed of a wisdom worth a hundred times that . . . Born in this city. No again! (How questionable it all was, even before I knew more.)
Then I noticed . . . those four words.
Died in this city.
This city? This was not telegraphed news. This had occurred here in Baltimore. The death in our own city, the burial, maybe, too. Could it be that the very funeral on Greene and Fayette . . . No! That little funeral, that unceremonious ceremony, that entombment in the narrow burial yard?
At the office that day, Peter sermonized about Hattie, but I could hardly discuss it, intrigued instead by these tidings. I sent for confirmation from the sexton, the caretaker of the burial yard. Poor Poe, he replied. Yes, Poe was gone. As I rushed to the post office to see if any letter had arrived, my thoughts revolved around what I had unknowingly witnessed.
Excerpted from The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl Copyright © 2006 by Matthew Pearl. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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