The following short story was leaked to Tychy by a departing postgraduate student at Yale University. It was discovered in a valise of clothing and papers which Poe had left at Richmond’s White Swan Tavern when he toured Virginia in the weeks before his death. Poe claimed to have been robbed at least twice during this period, but he probably left the valise at the Swan and subsequently forgot to collect it. The manuscript remained at the tavern for over a century, where its existence was known only to a few people. Although Poe’s name was not on the manuscript, it survived the flood of 1955, in which the original Swan building was destroyed, and it eventually turned up in a carton of documents which had been donated to the Valentine Richmond History Center.
The authenticity of this untitled narrative is presently under review by Yale’s scholars, but it undoubtedly possesses several critical hallmarks of Poe’s fiction. The Yale review generally rejected the idea that Poe had penned the story during a homosexual relationship with Rufus Griswold in the spring of 1843. Yet there may be some merit to the argument that Poe found himself sexually attracted to Griswold in 1843, when the relationship between both men was at its best; and that he wrote this story during a period when he was repulsed and disturbed by his own feelings. That several drafts of the story were discovered (we have what was unanimously felt to be the first draft) demonstrates that Poe was trying to find some means of making the narrative acceptable to potential publishers.
In publishing this narrative, I am grateful for the assistance of Owen Dudley Edwards.
I have lingered beside every pool in these dreary, dismal marshes – but I cast no reflection upon their waters! I have wandered these wilds an outcast to all men, but unlike even the most dejected of beasts, my shadow never touches the dust before me and my footsteps leave no echo! O woe! – I have searched every corner of these marshes for a death which neglects to shadow me. My solitary hope lies with the fair leaves of these pages, upon which I aspire to impress a lasting image of myself, and one which will attest to my desperate and miserable circumstances.
I was – although, uncomprehending wretch, I knew it not – happy and prosperous in my youth. Upon returning from my education abroad, I courted and won the darling of my childhood years, and we were promptly married. At the court, I soon caught the eye of the gay and raring young princeling and became quickly lost in the fancies and play of his infant majesty. Yet my sweetheart never relinquished her sincerest and most sisterly fondness for me, however often we were parted, and I dearly recall – with tender appreciation and regret – the occasions when I had become injured in the rough merriment of the princeling, and she nursed my bleeding body.
With what speed did I ascend in favour at the court! Whereas, merely months before the king had spoken of sending me overseas as a dour ambassador, now I was tutor to the heir to the kingdom. And there surely existed an eager affection between myself and the boy! What esteemed me in the eyes of the princeling was my singular talent for reducing the stern politicians of the court to objects of mirth and merriment. In the company of the princeling, I spent an entire afternoon molesting the prime minister – knocking on his chamber door and then concealing our bodies behind a curtain so that he knew not who was calling for him. When the prime minister eventually discovered our secret he flew into such a temper that he had to be restrained by his servants! In another jape, we let loose a monkey in the chancellor’s apartment, and the wicked little monster skipped about inflicting havoc upon the papers of state!
But if only my fancy had not entertained such lofty ambitions! In gaining the confidence of the infant prince, I grew proud and dreamed that I would be his trusted advisor in manhood. I saw myself at his side as chancellor or prime minister. I began to style myself as a man of fashion; I decked myself in fine apparel and associated with the wits of the court. Yet in truth the king had long grown tired of my childish larks, and the prime minister went so far as to say that if he found me without the protection of the infant majesty (who refused to allow himself to be parted from me) then he would give me a thrashing which I would remember for all of my days. In my folly, however, I scorned these threats, and imagined that my favour at the court would long outlast that of my foes.
In my wretched vanity and ambition, I forgot those whom I had once held in affection. I neglected my dearest wife – she grew sick but I paid the scantest heed of her misfortune. I even abandoned the proper tuition of the princeling, and his temperament grew wild for want of instruction. I spent more and more time attending to my reflection in the mirror, preening and strutting in my gaudy finery and imagining myself a minister of state.
One gloomy afternoon, in the closing of November, I was racing with the princeling through the corridors of the palace, when we met a fashionable young man of the court who took me discreetly aside.
“You are invited to a masquerade in the chamber of state this evening” said he, “but you will appreciate that, due to the nature of the entertainment, it is hardly appropriate for the presence of the infant.”
At the mention of this orgy, my mind tumbled away with thoughts of dire apprehension. For I recalled that according to the rumours of the court, the former prime minister had met a miserable end at one of these amusements. It was said that he had been poisoned by his rivals, and that he had died after kissing a bosom which had been laced with a fatal toxin. In my pride, I fancied that I was to be the object of an assassin’s endeavours. Yet I could not refuse an invitation from the king and I thus resolved to attend the masquerade; but to be vigilant in being parted from my infant protector, for fear of assassination.
After sending the princeling to bed, I spent several hours parading before the looking glass, admiring the splendour of my garments, and the posture and shapeliness of my physique. I imagined, as I scrutinised my appearance, that there was something almost stately in my figure. In truth I dreamed that I would be the most envied and admired of the revellers. Once I thought that I heard my wife crying out from her chamber, but I readily dismissed this as a fancy, so enwrapped as I was in my own image.
And what costumes and music and laughter awaited me at the masque! Hundreds of gay revellers, their faces masked by the most fanciful and extravagant designs, made merry in the lofty rooms of state. And the figures who writhed and contorted at their eager sport, on the walnut cabinet chairs; on ornate trunks packed with documents of state; and underneath the great mahogany table where by day the political affairs of the kingdom were conducted; would have led Salome herself to blush.
On entering the chamber, a masked footman took me by the arm and conducted me through the interior, showing me the wenches on offer. On glimpsing a newcomer, the unoccupied females eagerly displayed themselves; their unclothed bodies glistening beneath their bright and gaudy masks. And yet whilst the loveliness of these undraped nymphs would have made others long for sport, I, as was my customary inclination, grew cold at gratifying lusts that I considered bestial and vulgar. I recalled my earlier fears, and in part remembered the fond, sisterly affection of my dear wife. I thus resolved to keep separate from the females. Many a time did the footman lead a panting wench up for my inspection, and she took my parts in her hand in order to arouse me, but I courteously removed her hand and communicated that I wished to be left alone. The footman grew more insistent and indicated, ever-more forcefully, that I should engage in the sport.
Then my attention was caught by a masquerader at the far end of the chamber. Like myself he was standing apart from the orgy. Something – and I know not how to describe it – attracted me to this solitary figure. There was a seemingly familiar quality in his bearing which instilled in me feelings of an unaccountable, but irresistible passion. And yet I was continually distracted by a rascally footman, who was urgently pressing me into intercourse with a glistening whore on his arm. “D – you sir!” I proclaimed, breaking from his grasp, “leave me at peace!” I inwardly cursed at the foolishness of making my voice heard to my would-be assassins in the writhing assembly.
I was now pushing through the throng in pursuit of the strange reveller, and I finally reached a door at the far end of the chamber. With hesitation – for I feared to unduly intrude into rooms of state – I followed the stranger down a darkened passage.
I proceeded through an endless sequence of corridors which seemed to inexplicably incline. This sensation was impressed upon my fancy by the cooling of the air. We soon arrived in a dark, cold room, decorated with sombre tapestries. My gaze fell on the figure of the mysterious stranger, who leant languidly against the wall, unclothed apart from his mask. His appearance rendered me speechless with amazement. His mask! – the locks of hair tumbling from his head! – the size and shape of his body! – even his parts! – were all identical to my own! I knew not what to say, and for several moments stood dumb with astonishment. Yet the same mysterious attraction which had originally drawn me to this figure, slowly began to impel me onwards. If only I had remembered the gentle fondness of my sweetest wife, rather than succumb to my vile and degraded lusts! Scarcely aware of what I was doing, I took the stranger by the waist and silently forced his quivering body downwards, so that his masked forehead rested gently against the cool stone floor.
And the sport we had! The feverish desire with which I inflicted the sins of Sodom upon the stranger – and the mighty, almost overwhelming gratification which ripped through our bodies – like a blast from the heavens! Our moans of lust echoed from wall to wall, erecting a groaning cathedral of sound.
But then – the horror! – as I moved to withdraw from the congress, I discovered with a desperate terror – that we were stuck! Somehow – despite imploring my intellect to demonstrate that what I felt was unreal! – that all was the quirk of a delirious brain! – it was as if my fluid had contained a supernatural adhesive and our bodies were now locked into a permanent and unbreakable union. Although the reader may suppose me mad – and in our frantic but hopeless struggle I readily believed that I had forsaken my wits – I can only state again that in truth I could not withdraw from our congress!
Oh pity our sorry plight – as like some damned and demented animal, we clambered awkwardly back up the passages – the hellish echoes pursuing us – and returned to the orgy, in the hope that some footman could detach our struggling bodies. But when we entered the chamber, the entire assembly instantly forgot their sport and surrounded us in amazement. “What is this?” one gasped. “Which of our company has been engaging in the forbidden passion?” shouted another. “How dare these villains expose the court to such indecency?” Soon the general cry was to, “Unmask these scoundrels!” and our masks were ripped from us, revealing our shamed faces to the revellers.
Soon the entire court was awakened by the clamour. The queen and the princesses; their chambermaids and butlers; the jesters and musicians; the lowliest and meanest kitchen hands; and even the infant prince and his pet monkey, emerged from their sleeping quarters clad in their nightcaps and rubbing their bleary eyes. Amongst the growing multitude I recognised the sickly, candlelit face of my dearest wife, contorted into an expression of abject horror. The entire throng was united by the cry of, “Flog them! Flog them through the palace!”
The mob smashed chairs and tables and windows to gather sticks and shards of glass with which to assail us. Locked in our miserable congress and still struggling to part from each other, we were flogged through the palace by the excited court. My partner bore the brunt of the attack, and how I sobbed to see his face – which had so perfectly resembled my own – bloodied by the efforts of the mob.
Suddenly, I was so overwhelmed by the furious onslaught, and I smarted so sorely from the whipping, that I became desperate for any means of escape. I seized a large shard of glass from the hands of the young princeling who – with only a limited degree of force – was jabbing me in the thigh; and I began to stab at the flesh of my partner’s back in a frantic effort to detach our bodies. Soon my hacking had become so frenzied that my echo was entirely dismembered and I freely withdrew my stinging member from his unrecognisable tatters. With that, I threw myself out of a palace window, and made off into the darkness, pursued only by the screams of the mob.
Now my groaning figure haunts the marshes; a wretched outcast from all society. Yet as I wait in vain for death to retrieve me, I note that my voice fails to echo; that my body casts no shadow; and that I leave no reflection on the waters.