A Midnight Walk
By David Hartley Mark
When I awoke, I found myself—walking. The night was clear, the air brisk, and I felt myself unusually invigorated. I strode along, whistling—I never whistle; it is not my habit.
I found myself telling myself, “Here now, stop that whistling; it won’t do. You never whistle. Stop it, this instant!”
But I couldn’t stop. There was something so simply ravishing—yes, that was it; ravishingly beautiful, in a melancholy sort of way, about the night, the way the clouds wrapt about the moon, like a Dark Prince around a faery lover, like my arms around my poor Sissy, my Virginia Clemm Poe, God and Heaven rest her soul—
What could it be, making me so positively happy? I, usually so melancholy.
And, more than that: where was I? I seemed to have lost my way. This was not like the times I had grown ill—that is, with drink; like the time I applied to my fellows in the writing trade, and told them, “My wife and Mrs. Clemm, my mother-in-law, are starving,” and so, kind-hearted fellows that they were, they immediately got up a collection for me, their fellow-starving-artist—of fifteen dollars! A king’s ransom, indeed.
And I, wretch that I was!—caught myself off to Decatur Street, that horrid boulevard, where all the grog-houses were, all those nasty dives that advertised, “Mint Juleps, Cobblers, Egg Noggs etcetera.” And drank it all away—that was my sickness. And my shame.
It was also disappointment—I knew, as did so many others, writers and readers both, that I, and I alone, was the best writer in all of America—and perhaps Europe, as well. Indeed, Graham, one of my publishers, who was bold enough to take yet another chance on me, brave fellow! Had brought out a number of my “prose romances,” including “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” featuring my champion of rationcination, as I called it, my masterly C. Auguste Dupin, along with yet another, little-noticed gem of my writing, “The Man Who Was Used Up” (which might well have applied to myself, and my talent). The entire affair was to be issued in pamphlets, easily affordable, easily acquired by my panting public—for the easy price of twelve-and-a-half cents.
But it failed. Can you blame me now, can you truly blame me for turning to drink? How could I face my failure? And I cannot help but believe there was some sort of family curse on us Poes—for my Mama’s family had it; yes, and surely Papa’s, as well—and my own dear brother Henry died of it, along with the Red Death, consumption, which was to take off my own dear Ginny….
And she did die, in a very short time. I was maddened by her illness, and her passing. I was maddened—and driven, even harder, to succeed. Which is why I walk, and walk still. Where am I going? Oh—
I just caught a glance of myself in a shop-window as I passed, as the moon crept out from its jealous clouds, and lit the street as fully as if it were day—whose suit am I wearing? And whose nasty straw hat is this? And whose cane? It is Malacca-wood, and very fine—far too fine for me to afford, or own—and heavens, it is a sword-cane!
I must sit down, and rest—here’s a bench—luckily, the Town Watch isn’t about, or he would ask me to move on—heavens, this ragged old suit is not mine! It’s far too big for someone of my slight size.
Let me think—where have I been, these hours, these days? I honestly cannot remember….
I can vaguely remember riding a train—buying a ticket—yes! I was gathering subscriptions for my proposed magazine—a magazine to outstrip, outwrite, out-subscribe any other writings in America, and to overshadow any other English-language, or any-other-language periodical in the entire World—to be called, The Penn—no! The Stylus. Yes. No longer would I be subject to the whims of some empty-headed businessman, or tycoon. I would be my own publisher, my own editor-in-chief, my own writing staff, my own man.
My. Own. Man.Yes.
After Virginia’s passing (God rest her soul in that purest Heaven, far beyond our earthly vision), I set out to visit the wealthy widows who admired my work, and whom I could charm and impress into bringing my lifelong dream to fruition. I was off to Philadelphia—but did I ever arrive?
I seem to recall lying down, and then, after a short nap—I do find napping so refreshing! Arising, and seeing a stone monument near my head, containing the word, “Baltimore.” So that fool conductor, or engineer, must have taken the wrong railroad crossing somewhere. Fools! Everyone needs my guidance—must I do everything, out in the world?
And still I walk—armed with my? Someone else’s? Malacca cane, a fine weapon for defending myself—but I am uncertain where I am—Baltimore? Philadelphia? It cannot be Richmond or New York; the weather of either of those fine cities I have graced with my presence and writings in the past, is clearly not evident here—
Wait! There stands a hooded figure at the street-corner! I will tug at his sleeve, and inquire of him, where I am—Sir! Mister! I beg your pardon—Can you inform me, please, where I am?
I am Mr. Edgar Poe, late of Fordham Village, north of New-York, that fine city, and a visitor to yours—what is its name? I note the raven on your shoulder, Sir—tell me the name where we are, Sir, I beg you! I note a body of water nearby—is it the Chesapeake Bay, which would make this Baltimore?
Why, why, Sir, are you turning away? Why are you walking away, so fast?
I note there is a raft close-by, a raft full of other folks—why do they look so saddened, so grievous, and stare, and beckon in my direction? What is your name, I beg of you? I gave you mine—Mr. Edgar Poe. And yours is—is—
Charon? And the River—Lethe? And the place—Hell?