Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7967
Edward Irving Wortis, nicknamed “Avi” by his twin sister, is a prolific writer of children’s and young adult literature. He has published more than seventy books and has won both the Newbery Honor and the Newbery Medal. The Man Who Was Poe was published in 1989.
Providence, Rhode Island—November, 1848
Edmund sits alone on the edge of his bed in a small corner room on the top floor of a tenement building on Ann Street. A single candle lights and heats the cold room, and the frail, sad boy sits watching his sister. She resembles her brother, and she sits in front of a fairy tale book from which she has not read in hours. It has been two days since their Aunt Pru left them, and they are worried—and hungry. Their aunt has left to look for their mother before, but she has never been away this long before. There is nothing in the house to eat, and Sis suggests they go out to buy something to eat with the half dime they have. Edmund is hesitant; he reminds her they are new to America and there are unknown dangers everywhere. Because Edmund sees himself now as the head of this little family, he finally agrees to go alone and locks his sister safely inside the building.
Fearfully, he enters the saloon on the corner and asks what food he can buy for his coin. The imposing man behind the counter cuts a loaf of bread in half and wraps it for the boy. Edmund is dismayed by the meager amount of food but leaves quickly to get back to his sister. As he rounds the corner, a bent old man calls out to him, asking for directions. Edmund is torn, for he knows he should get back to his sister but he also knows Aunt Pru would want him to help an old man in need. They walk to Shamrock Street, the old man’s destination, much more slowly than Edmund would have liked. When Edmund finally arrives back at home, he unlocks the door and discovers his sister is gone.
A rather dark, intense man with a carpetbag is striding toward his destination, sometimes with purpose, sometimes hesitantly. It is a cold, dark evening, and he thinks about where he will stay tonight. He is a writer, but he is broke at the moment. He rummages through his carpetbag and finds a letter. Though he wrote it himself, he is still not satisfied with its contents. He knows he must deliver it anyway, so he approaches the red building, Number Eighty-Eight on Benefit Street. It seems to him a most horrifying sight, now that he is standing in front of it. He begins to sweat and his heart begins to hurt.
As he turns and flees from the frightening place, he someone crashes into him. The man looks around but sees no one, and he is terrified that a demon has struck him. Then he sees a young, frightened boy sitting on the pavement. Edmund apologizes for bumping into the man. The man scolds him and starts to walk away, but something about the shivering, frightened boy moves him. When he asks the boy what is wrong, Edmund tells him everything—his missing mother, his father lost long ago at sea, his missing aunt, his trip to the saloon for bread, his sister missing from a locked room. The man is sympathetic and says he may be able to help.
First, though, the man gives Edmund the letter and tells him to deliver it to a Mrs. Helen Whitman at Number Eighty-Eight on Benefit Street. Edmund is puzzled but does as he is asked. The man watches as a pale hand reaches out to take the letter from the boy. When Edmund returns to the spot where the man had been, he sees no one. The man suddenly appears and they both see a candle in a second-story room of the house the boy has just left. She is reading the letter, and the man is somewhat distraught.
The man seems suddenly to realize there is perhaps a potential story to be written (and money to be made) from the boy’s experience. He asks the boy’s name: Edmund Albert George Brimmer. When the boy asks him the same question, the man looks at Number Eighty-Eight speculatively and says his name is Mr. Auguste Dupin. He then asks if he can stay with the boy tonight, and Edmund again wants to know if he can help find Sis. Dupin asks if there is no one else to help; Edmund tells him he asked everyone he saw all day and no one offered to help. Dupin asks Edmund if he is sure he wants his help, and Edmund hesitates before answering. He remembers Aunt Pru’s warnings about dangers lurking in unexpected places, and he looks into this man’s penetrating eyes. Edmund tells Dupin he does want his help because he has no one else. As they walk away, the door to Number Eighty-Eight opens and a servant girl leaves to deliver a message to the Hotel American House: “Mr. Arnold, Edgar Allan Poe has come.”
The boy and his companion walk toward the tenement and get closer to the port; the writer is impressed with this setting for his future story. Edmund explains that when their Aunt Pru used to leave the house every day, he and Sis used to do the same. It was Sis’s idea, but he had to take care of her so he went, too. They made a friend of one of the ships’ captains, Captain Elias. Dupin wonders if Sis might have left when Edmund left to get bread and did not come back soon enough. Edmund explains he only stopped to help an old man get to his destination. This seems quite important to the older man, who says details are important.
Edmund is reconsidering his request for this man’s help when Dupin notices a small commotion on the docks. He leaves his bag with the boy and goes to see if what he fears is true. Two men are examining something on the dock; Asa Throck is the night watchman, and Mr. Fortnoy is the man who found the body. When Dupin sees it is the body of a woman, ghastly pale in death, he is seized with a tremor of pain at such a loss of youth and beauty. As he recovers, he sees a marked resemblance between the woman and young Edmund. He asks the men what will happen to her if she is not identified, and they tell him she will be buried in a pauper’s field. Dupin fetches Edmund and asks if this is his aunt. The boy is stunned and says it is not her dress, but it is her. Dupin quickly ushers him away from the tragic scene.
When they arrive at the Ann Street tenement, Edmund wonders what if he must tell Sis what has happened to their aunt. Dupin reacts strongly when Edmund says “Sis,” explaining that was his late wife’s name. Edmund tries to apologize but Dupin rudely interrupts him to ask where the candles are and what there is to eat. Upon finding there are few candles and no food, the man gives Edmund a coin to buy a little food and some candles.
As soon as Edmund leaves, Dupin pulls out a notebook, quill, and pen and begins scribbling notes about Edmund and his tragic story. Writing helps ease his tension, and he reaches for a liquor bottle in his carpetbag. After drinking it all and staring morosely out the window, Dupin grows angry and wonders why death is so certain and why he is here, in this place. He finds another bottle in his bag and drinks it as well. Soon he is dozing at the table.
Outside the building, Edmund looks up at his window and examines his shattered emotions. So much has happened in the last twenty-four hours, and he is quite unsure whether Mr. Dupin will actually help him. He finally ventures to the saloon. As he walks, Edmund hears footsteps nearby; when he stops walking, the footsteps also stop. He looks around and sees someone with what seems to be white hair, and he calls out for his aunt; however, the shape seems to “collapse in on itself” and disappears. When he walks into the saloon, the entire crowd grows silent and stares at the young boy. Edmund makes his purchases and leaves, but the group discusses him after he is gone.
Fortney enters the saloon and makes his report to Throck: the boy only went from his house to the saloon and back. Throck asks about the man and is assured he has not left. Fortney thinks the boy may have spotted him, but he is not sure. Disgusted, Throck leaves the saloon, and Fortney follows. The man behind the bar explains what the two men are doing and shows everyone a wanted poster; anyone who finds Mrs. G. Rachett, formerly of London, is guaranteed a reward.
Edmund bursts into his room and discovers the drunk Mr. Dupin. He eats half the meat pie. He again wonders about his missing family and questions his choice to accept help from this rather odd and secretive man, then he goes to bed. Dupin wakes up and is delirious; he sees phantasmagorical images and hears imaginary footsteps pacing the hallway. Eventually he sinks painfully into a deep sleep. Soon a piece of paper is slipped under the door and quiet footsteps retreat down the hall.
Dupin wakes first and wonders where he is and who the sleeping boy is, then he remembers why he is here: courting Mrs. Whitman, trying to raise money for his new journal, and more. He remembers the boy’s story and reads what he wrote the night before. It is painful to think again about the certainty of death, and he reaches into his carpetbag for another bottle. They are all empty. He spots the remaining half of the meat pie and eats voraciously. When finished, he puts on his overcoat and prepares to leave; as he does, he sees the mysterious paper and reads it: “MEDDLE AT YOUR PERIL!” He sees this as a challenge and wonders if there is more to the boy’s story; however, he still intends to leave and almost makes it before Edmund wakes up and sees him. Dupin is a bit embarrassed that he was going to sneak out and leave the boy in such circumstances. Edmund asks if the man will still help him. Dupin considers. He knows he must gather more material if he is to write the boy’s story, so he promises to help until that afternoon, when he has an appointment.
He tells Edmund that he already has all the information needed to find his sister; it will simply take a man like himself, with an analytical mind, to synthesize the facts and discover the truth. Dupin settles in with pen and paper to capture the details as Edmund answers his questions. With some prodding, Edmund tells him the following story:
He, his sister, and his mother were living in London until a year ago when his mother unexpectedly left them with her sister (Aunt Pru). A month ago, the three of them had come to America to try to find Edmund’s mother. Their aunt brought them here after receiving a message delivered by a stranger, but she did not share the contents of the message with either of the children. Sis is eleven years old and is Edmund’s twin. Aunty used to go out every day searching for their mother, leaving them locked in their home with the only other key (in case they had to use the outside privy). The locked door does not open from the inside without a key. Two days ago she told them she was meeting a man who might help them, and they never saw her again. There is a locked trunk belonging to Aunt Pru that contains clothing and family photos.
By leaning out the window, Dupin can touch the window of the building next door. Suddenly Dupin heads out the door, and Edmund scurries to follow. The man examines both buildings closely, then shares his conclusion with the boy. Since Edmund is certain he locked the door behind him when he left, whoever took Sis must have been in the room directly opposite their room in the building next door. They immediately run to the spot and bang on the door. When no one answers, Dupin flings his shoulder to the door and pushes it in. The room is empty except for a wooden plank, a plank just long enough to reach across the gap to Edmund’s window.
Dupin tells the boy to search the floor; when Edmund questions him, he berates him for so much questioning. Edmund begins looking and soon finds a pearl button, one he identifies as being from his sister’s shoe. When asked why he thinks she might have left it behind, Edmund immediately tells him her favorite fairy tale is Hansel and Gretel. This is the crumb she left behind as a trail for him to follow, though Edmund is puzzled why she would play such a game with him. Dupin assures the boy it is no game and she was forced across the plank.
They leave the room and go to the main door of the tenement and inquire after the landlord. When the elderly lady who answered the door hesitates, Dupin tells her he is a city officer and needs to speak with the person in charge. She is still hesitant, but Dupin persists and asks for the name of the tenant in the room in question. She tells him the man arrived two weeks ago and insisted on that very room, but he never lived there. He and another man simply came and visited a few times; the renter was a rather large man who called himself Mr. Smith.
The pair leaves the building and goes to a nearby café. Soon Dupin sees Mr. Throck slip into the crowded room. Dupin keeps him in sight as he and Edmund talk and eat. Dupin explains to Edmund there are clearly two men who are part of the plot to kidnap his sister. After luring Aunt Pru out of the house, one of them was waiting for Edmund to leave and distract him if necessary while the other took Sis. When he places their order with the waiter, Dupin asks him if the man he has been watching is, indeed, named Throck. He is, and the waiter says the man has a great story to tell: the bank was robbed of all its California gold last night. Dupin begins to write, and Edmund asks him again if they should tell someone about Sis. Again Dupin asks Edmund if he truly wants his help and, if he does, to cease questioning him.
Dupin sends Edmund on an errand to a nearby tailor, and when he leaves Throck comes to Dupin’s table demanding to know if he has something on his mind. Dupin invites the man to sit and proceeds to tell Throck everything he has surmised about him. He was once in the army, as he knows because they are both wearing army coats, and he is a man who loves violence, judging by the scar on his face and the ill-concealed gun in his vest. When he asks Throck about the woman on the dock, Dupin is surprised when the man mentions the boy’s mother. Throck continues to antagonize Dupin until Dupin confronts him with the threatening note. The officer storms off with the paper.
Dupin ponders the similarities between Edmund’s life and his own. Both have been abandoned and have fathers who are dead; both have aunts who took the place of their mothers. Both have a loved one called “Sis.” There are two distinct differences: Dupin has a detestable step-father and his Sis is dead. He hopes the similarity does not extend to Edmund’s missing sister.
At the clothier’s, Edmund is intimidated by the rich fabrics and sees the tailor working on a rather portly man. They are discussing the missing gold, which had been somehow whisked away without any of the locks being touched. When the heavyset man turns around, his eyes widen at the sight of Edmund, and he displays a moment of panic before turning violently away. The owner shoos Edmund out of the store, and Edmund is humiliated. As he looks back at the shop, Edmund is surprised to see the portly man scurrying out of the store and looking around nervously.
Back at the café, Dupin is drunk; when Edmund arrives, he does not appear to remember that he sent the boy away so he could talk to Throck. Edmund is to take another note to Number Eighty-Eight Benefit Street; he is to give it only to Mrs. Helen Whitman and only if she is alone. As soon as Edmund leaves, Dupin asks the waiter for directions to the courthouse; he intends to observe the inquest of the dead woman on the docks.
Despite his filthy appearance, Edmund is taken to Mrs. Whitman’s richly appointed room and delivers his letter. She is temporarily confused when he tells her Mr. Dupin sent him, but she appears to realize something important and tells Edmund to say it was Mr. Dupin who sent him in case anyone should ask. The boy is confused. When a servant girl enters and tells Mrs. Whitman her mother would like to see her, Mrs. Whitman sends Edmund to the kitchen for some bread and butter.
At the inquest, Dupin is lulled to sleep by the proceeding, which seems to drone on, until he hears someone react to the verdict that the dead woman was murdered. Though he tries to rouse himself to see who was upset at the news, he is unable to do more than see a blond-headed woman racing out of the room.
Edmund has been gone a long time and feels he must leave; when he approaches the room in which he left Mrs. Whitman, he overhears an urgent conversation. A woman’s voice says that she intercepted a letter last night, that a Mr. Poe is an “irresponsible drunkard,” and that the man to whom she speaks must expose him to prevent a marriage. They voices agree to send the housemaid to a nearby hotel. When they have gone, Edmund enters the room and sees a scrap of paper on the floor containing an odd sequence of numbers; when the servant girl enters to take him to Mrs. Whitman, Edmund stuffs the paper in his pocket.
Meanwhile, Dupin vows to stop drinking so he will be clear-headed for all that lies ahead of him. As he heads back to the café to meet Edmund, Dupin passes the bank. He is intrigued by the fact that the bank robbery happened concurrently with the woman’s death and decides to enter the building. Guards stop him and say he cannot enter unless he has specific business with the bank; he tells them he is with an insurance company and is promptly ushered into the building.
At the same time, Edmund is ushered back into the room to see Mrs. Whitman. She asks the boy how much Mr. Dupin has been drinking, how they met, and why he calls the man Mr. Dupin. Edmund does not know what to say, and Mrs. Whitman simply forges ahead with her plan. She sends a message that Dupin is to come at 3:30 rather than 4:00 and he is to come to the back door, through the cemetery on Church Street, which is behind the house. She also warns Edmund that Catherine, the housemaid, is loyal to Mrs. Whitman’s mother (Mrs. Powers), not her.
Posing as an insurance investigator, Dupin is taken directly to the bank’s vault. As he steps into the tomb-like room, Dupin fights back fear and nausea as he looks around him. He discovers a small pearl button, a strand of thread, and an air shaft leading to the outside—an opening much too small for even a thin young man. Then Dupin faints.
Edmund arrives at the café but Dupin is not there. The waiter explains that the man left immediately after Edmund left. He gives the boy the notebook Dupin left behind. The pages are full of words like death and search; he opens to a page titled “Plot” and begins to read his own story intermingled with the man’s. The last lines frighten him: “One can find life only through death. I know. My Sis is dead too.” He is now certain there is something very wrong with Mr. Dupin, even though he did figure out that Sis had been kidnapped. Aunty always told him to trust adults, so he will continue to do so.
Dupin slowly regains consciousness and sees the young accountant, a blond-haired Mr. Peterson, worrying over him. When Dupin is alert enough to walk, Peterson escorts him from the vault and gets permission to walk him to his lodgings. Before they leave, Peterson is given a note that arrived by messenger; he is a bit shaken when he reads it but dismisses the message as unimportant. As they leave the bank together, Peterson tells Dupin he one day wants to be an investigator, too. When the two men finally separate, Throck breaks away from the crowd to follow Dupin to a saloon; another man follows Peterson.
After waiting a long time at the café, Edmund decides he may have misunderstood his directions and goes back to his home. When he arrives he sees that the door has been broken and his home has been ransacked. He determines that the only missing item is a portrait of his mother and aunt. He is distraught but believes his sister is still alive; he leaves to find Mr. Dupin.
The rather drunk man is on his way back to the café, and he remembers he wanted to buy Edmund a coat. When he walks into the tailor’s shop, the tailor offers him a good deal on a coat that was ordered and never paid for by a man who left unexpectedly this morning. Dupin presses for more information and learns the man left because a ragged-looking boy entered the shop and the man’s name was Mr. Rachett.
After pacing between his home and the café for an hour, Edmund finally sees Dupin and confronts him with his broken promise. Dupin dismisses the boy’s obvious distress, telling him he has news of his sister. Edmund forgets his anger and follows Dupin back to the café, but Dupin is in no hurry to tell his news. Dupin asks about Edmund’s errand; Edmund delivers the message Mrs. Whitman gave him. When Edmund asks the man to tell what he learned, Dupin says he has learned why Edmund’s sister was taken but will not give him any particulars. Edmund is in tears of frustration, and Mr. Dupin is equally frustrated by the tearful boy across the table from him.
As they head back to Edmund’s home, Edmund remembers to tell Dupin that someone has broken into it. After they arrive and Dupin examines the trunk, he assures the boy that whoever took the picture had a key because the lock had not been forced—and it was no doubt the murderer who took the key from his dead aunt.
Dupin prepares for his visit to Mrs. Whitman; as he is about to leave, Edmund says there is something he has not shared about his father. He says his real father died at sea, but he has a step-father—and as he mentions a step-father, Dupin is stricken. Edmund explains that his aunt told him not to tell anyone about the man who stole his mother’s money and left her right after they were married. When pressed, Edmund says he barely remembers the man but thinks his name was Mr. Rachett, and Dupin tells him that is the name of the man who fled from the tailor’s shop. When he asks the boy for a description, Edmund does not have much to offer. Sensing there is more that Edmund has not told him, Dupin presses him for more information. Edmund finally says his mother came to America to find the man, get her money, and divorce him, which she could not do in England. Edmund does not know if she ever found him. Dupin tells him how much they have in common—nearly everything, except the death of Sis, and Edmund refuses to believe this happened to his Sis.
Calmly, Dupin asks Edmund to find out all he can at the docks about The Lady Liberty, for he believes Mr. Fortnoy lied under oath at this morning’s inquest and is the man who killed Aunt Pru. Then he leaves to meet Mrs. Whitman.
Alone and confused, Edmund does not know whether to believe the strange drunkard; he decides to follow him and conduct a test. If Dupin does, indeed, meet Mrs. Whitman in the cemetery, Edmund will believe him; if he does not meet her as planned, Edmund will no longer align himself with the stranger. Dupin is not difficult to follow, but soon Edmund realizes he is not the only one following him, though it is quite foggy and he is unable to see who else is following. As he watches Dupin enter a Unitarian church, Edmund is disappointed and begins thinking about who else he can enlist to help him find Sis.
Inside the church, Dupin walks toward the steeple stairs and climbs until he reaches the bell tower. There he compares the fiber he found in the empty bank vault with the bell rope. They are the same. When he looks around, he is quickly able to spot the Providence Bank; from his vantage point, he sees how simple it would be to drive a carriage right to the bank and reach the roof of the building by standing on top of the carriage. He sees how easy it would be to drop a young child down the airshaft, where she could load the gold bars into a basket and then be raised back out by a rope.
Edmund is still watching when Dupin leaves the church, but the man is walking much more slowly as he keeps his appointment with Mrs. Whitman. Edmund is relieved and turns toward the docks to gather the information he needs; as he does so, he sees the duplicitous Catherine running out of the house. Remembering Mrs. Whitman’s warning about the servant girl, he follows her until she enters The Hotel American House.
The atmosphere is appropriate for a cemetery, and Dupin wonders if he should propose to Mrs. Whitman. After thinking of the stability and money such a match would give him, Dupin plans to propose. As he slips into a tomb to wait, he sees a blond-haired apparition. It is the murdered woman, asking him about her children. She advances toward Dupin then stops suddenly. Her eyes widen and then she turns and flees. When Dupin runs frantically the other way, he is caught by Mr. Throck.
Edmund waits to see Catherine leave the building with a man; he suddenly recognizes him as the man from the tailor’s shop that morning, Mr. Rachett. He follows them and sees them enter Mrs. Whitman’s house. Edmund turns and heads for the docks, unaware that he is now being followed.
Dupin and Throck tussle, and Dupin asks the night watchman if he had seen anything unusual. Throck saw nothing. Dupin steps further into the mausoleum and is shaken by the sight of what appears to be a dead body; as he approaches it, he sees it is only a straw mattress. He demands to know what Throck is doing there, and the man tells him he has been following him ever since he left the courtroom earlier that day. Dupin tries to walk past the man and is again frightened by the sight of a ghostly woman. This time it is Mrs. Whitman, asking if it is Mr. Poe. Throck leaves them with the reminder that he always finishes what he starts.
Without much explaining, Dupin tells her he is in great pain and would like her hand...he has been so alone...he would like...but she is not really listening. They enter the house knowing they are surrounded by enemies; Helen encourages him to lean on her for strength if he must. She presents him to the gathering as Mr. Edgar Allan Poe. As he looks around the room, all he sees are the faces of demons; as Mrs. Whitman introduces him, the faces around him remain spectral and ghastly. Though they praise his writing, the author still sees all of them as otherworldly beings. He is engaged in a discussion of evil and explains that he writes about the fears in all our hearts:
Writers write about what they know best. And...what some writers know best is what they fear.
They ask him for an example, and it appears he will not offer them one. Finally he posits a scenario in which a man orders a fine coat, goes in to have it properly fitted, and then leaves before the job is completed, without explanation or apparent reason. Mr. Arnold suddenly blusters about having to leave and does so without further explanation. This small victory seems to calm Dupin, and he discusses the idea that every image has two sides. When Mrs. Whitman tells him about a new daguerreotype shop that has recently opened, he announces he will go there straightaway and have his likeness made to give to Mrs. Whitman. When Mrs. Powers asks which of his two sides will be represented in the portrait, Dupin answers that he never knows.
Captain Elias is Edmund’s friend, and he seems to know everything worth knowing about the Providence port. When the man asks about his aunt and his sister, Edmund lies because he does not know how to explain what has happened and needs information from the sociable captain. The older man tells him he thought he saw his aunt that morning, though never having met her in person he is not sure; however, when the blond-haired, tattered-looking woman began asking about Aunt Pru, the captain knew it was not her. Elias confirms that Mr. Fortnoy discovered the dead woman and added that the man had been on watch aboard The Lady Liberty for three solid days before finding her. Having gathered this important information, Edmund wanders the docks until he feels he must go home.
As he turns to go there, someone jumps behind a barrel as if trying to hide from him. Edmund continues walking, trying to confirm the fact that he is being followed. He leads the man on a circuitous route and finally appears to walk off the end of the wharf. It is an illusion; he is actually holding on with all his might to some planks under the wharf and “climbs” his way back toward shore. He hears the stomping footsteps of his pursuer directly above him; when he tries to discover who it is, all he can clearly see is white hair. When the man leaves, Edmund walks to Mrs. Whitman’s to find Dupin and tell him what he has discovered.
He waits in the cold, damp weather and finally walks around to the back of the house where the cemetery is; there he sees a shimmering, kneeling figure. It is a man so blond his hair appears to be white; when Edmund tells him he is waiting for someone, the man runs away, dropping a prayer book embossed with the name of the First Unitarian Church. Edmund is about to run after him when he sees Mr. Dupin emerge from the house and stare intently at the cemetery. When Edmund tries to get the man’s attention, Dupin does not listen; instead, he sends the boy into the mausoleum and to report back with what he sees. When Edmund tells him there is nothing, no mattress, inside, Dupin says he has gone mad. He announces, “The story is over,” and heads toward the daguerreotype shop. Edmund follows him persistently, shouting at him that his sister is not dead and contemplating leaving the man altogether.
At the studio, Edmund sits off to the side as Dupin gets his portrait done. The photographer tells him he must hold still for an entire minute and should look over the man’s shoulders to the wall of portraits behind him. Dupin is stunned by something he sees and jumps into action as soon as the minute is over. He points at one of the portraits on the wall and asks when it was made; the frightened man tells him it was made months ago. Once the man leaves, Dupin asks Edmund when he arrived in America. When the boy stammers that it has only been a month, Dupin asks him how it could be and points to the portrait. It slowly dawns on Edmund that he is looking at a likeness of his mother; when he says so, Dupin is surprised and says he thought it was his aunt. Edmund tells him the two women are twins, just like he and Sis are. Dupin grabs Edmund and runs out the door just as the photographer is telling him it will only be another moment. Dupin tells him he will be back; when the man asks his name, Dupin says his name is Mr. Edgar Allan Poe.
Edmund tries to get the man to talk to him as they walk, but Dupin is silent until they arrive back at the cemetery. Dupin says they must look everywhere for something, anything. Suddenly Dupin exclaims that he has found straw, which must have been scattered from the mattress he saw. He sends Edmund back into the mausoleum on his knees to feel around for anything he can find, and he does the same. With a shout of triumph, he shows Edmund the pearl button in his hand.
As they head back to the tenement, Edmund again demands some explanation from the taciturn man, but Dupin says little except that it is clear his sister was alive recently. Edmund has had enough of the cryptic answers and expresses his frustrations then collapses into tears. Finally Dupin tells him a little of what he has been thinking. He is no longer sure if the dead woman was Edmund’s mother or his aunt, since the clothes were not right, and one of them is undoubtedly alive. Edmund shares his information regarding The Lady Liberty and the man who was shadowing him on the docks. Dupin insists he needs a drink; Edmund insists that he acts badly when he drinks. Edmund temporarily wins the standoff and asks who he really is. Dupin answers honestly and tells him his name is Edgar Allan Poe, but he is now “the man who was Poe.”
They seat themselves at the saloon near Edmund’s building; Dupin is interested in their food and drink, but Edmund only wants to know more about the woman Dupin saw. As the author greedily drinks his rum, Edmund notices a poster on the wall. It offers a reward for information regarding Mrs. G. Rachett; the contact person is Mr. Poley at Providence Bank. Suddenly everything becomes clear to Dupin, but Edmund is too confused to make sense of the information the man shares with him. They must now hurry to Edmund’s lodgings, and it is storming.
Dupin is twenty paces behind the boy; when Edmund turns around to make sure Dupin is following, he sees a man point a pistol at Dupin. He shouts a warning and flings himself at the man with the gun, who knocks him aside and turns again to his target. Dupin is now charging the gunman and preparing to swing his cape at the man like a net. The man escapes—but not before Edmund sees his face. It is Rachett, the man who calls himself Mr. Arnold in Providence.
They hastily go to Edmund’s room and search for the newspaper in which the meatpie from the saloon the day before was wrapped. It is crumpled in a corner; Dupin tells Edmund to read the notices aloud. One of the ads catches the man’s attention. It is a notice posted by Mr. William Arnold, saying he is ready to do business with interested parties. Edmund remembers the paper with all the odd numbers on it and shows it to Dupin, who is shocked. He explains that he is the most famous author in America, and this note is written in code, a code from “The Gold Bug,” one of his stories. The note reads:
Meet me at the hotel. I have moved girl and gold. Must leave. Sunrise at six a.m.
Edmund wants to do something to find his sister, but Dupin asks for ten minutes in which to think. He stands, unmoving and eyes ablaze, for ten minutes. Then he tells Edmund he now understands it all. They sit at the table and Dupin sets out all the evidence, preparing to link every bit together as much for himself as for the boy. His story goes as follows:
Rachett stole his wife’s money and abandoned her, using the money to insinuate himself into the good graces of Mrs. Powers, an influential woman in Providence, and calling himself William Arnold. Edmund’s mother discovered he was in Providence and left England to search for him, leaving her children with her twin sister. Aunt Pru received a message regarding her sister; the fact that it was a message rather than a letter indicates the woman was under some kind of restraint; perhaps she was even her husband’s captive. All of this served to rouse Aunt Pru’s suspicions, so she brought the children to Providence. Upon her arrival, she asked the Providence Bank (and Mr. Poley, specifically) to help her post notice of a reward. Mr. Throck saw the bill posted at the saloon and eventually warned Dupin to quit meddling so he would not lose the reward money. One of the accountants at the bank, Mr. Randolf Peterson, heard of the reward. Rachett placed his own notice to see if anyone knew him here. The two men were living in the same house, and Peterson not only talked about the reward, he told the swindler about the California gold coming to the bank. Rachett saw this as an opportunity to meet his greatest needs: he must get rid of his first wife, for Mrs. Powers would never let her daughter marry a divorced man, and he must have money to make him a qualified suitor for Mrs. Whitman. Peterson became his partner and found out where Aunt Pru and the children are staying. He hired the adjacent room in the building next door and then plotted to lure the aunt away. When he had both women, he planned to rid himself of both. The women probably uncovered the nefarious scheme and tried to confound the men; it was probably Peterson who did the killing, though it is unclear which woman is dead. On the night of the robbery, the surviving sister escaped and tried to find Sis; she has gone rather mad in her searching. The white-haired Mr. Peterson acted as an old man to waylay Edmund on his errand for food. They needed one of the children to go down through the airshaft to steal the gold. Sis was brave and left her buttons behind in an attempt to be discovered. The men have been keeping her in the mausoleum, which they thought was abandoned. The men were not overly worried about the woman who could accuse them, but after Edmund met the author, they grew more than concerned. When Edmund walked into the tailor’s shop, Rachett saw the striking resemblance of the twin children, causing him to wonder about the twin sisters. He stole the photo in an attempt to discover which woman is now dead, and he discovered they killed Aunt Pru, not his wife. He hurried to remove the girl from the mausoleum but was waylaid. He sent Peterson to take care of that and capture Edmund as further insulation against his wife’s accusations. Rachett heard Dupin tell about the incident at the tailor’s and assumed Dupin knew the truth (which he did not because he still thought it was an actual ghost he saw in the cemetery) and tried to kill him. Now Rachett will flee. It is likely (as evidenced by the dropped prayer book) that the woman is at the Unitarian Church, where the homeless are allowed to sleep.
Edmund wants Dupin to go with him to the church to search for his aunt or mother; however, Poe has become the author, and for him the story is over. In his world, both women will die. Edmund is appalled at the man’s lack of concern for the welfare of his loved ones, but Poe says he is no longer Auguste Dupin. He is now “the man who is Edgar—Allan—Poe,” and he is a writer, not an adventurer. Furthermore, he is shocked that the boy is not more grateful at his having solved his great mystery; he hands him several coins and tells Edmund to buy him something to drink from the saloon. After a pause, Edmund places the coins on the table and walks out of the room. As soon as he hears the boy’s footsteps recede and the hallway door close, Poe sighs, picks up the coins, puts on his coat, and leaves the room.
Edmund runs in the storm all the way to the First Unitarian Church. The side door is open, and he quietly enters the building. He follows the sound of restless sleeping and sees a woman in a tattered white dress curled up near the pulpit. It is his mother, and she can hardly believe she is really seeing her son. After they sit together for a moment, Edmund asks her to tell him what happened. Her story matches the story Poe told; she was a prisoner, and Prudence sacrificed herself for her sister, hoping she could be united with her children. Neither Edmund nor his mother knows where to find Sis, but Edmund vows to find her.
Poe is nearly finished with his third bottle of liquor and his story when he hears Edmund telling him he has found her. When Poe looks up from his work, a ripple of excitement courses through him. For the first time, the characters from his writing have actually come to life before his eyes. As Edmund puts his mother to bed, Poe’s character boy does the same for his mother. Edmund interrupts the author’s reverie to ask for money to buy food for his weak mother; Poe is reluctant but finally gives it to him. Edmund hesitates, wondering if it is safe to leave his mother with this man. He eventually locks them in, remembering the last time he did this, and he goes to the saloon for something to eat.
He sees a man he presumes to be Mr. Throck and asks him to help get Dupin, or Poe, to help him find his sister. In exchange, Edmund will ensure Throck gets the reward. Edmund returns to his room and Poe is in a stupor, either from writing or drink—or both. Throck enters the room behind the boy. It is clear that Poe is in no mood to cooperate, so Edmund takes the notebook in which his story is written. He demands that Poe help him find his sister or he will destroy the manuscript. Finally Poe capitulates and they discuss where she might be. They settle on the encoded message Edmund found, though they agree sunrise is at seven, not six. The two men share a bottle and both appear to fall into a drunken stupor.
Edmund wakes with a start at four o’clock; as he looks around at the three adults in the room, he realizes they will not be any help to him in finding Sis. He continues to ponder the time discrepancy and realizes that “Sunrise” must be the name of a ship. The excited boy tries to rouse both men, to no avail. In anger, he tears Poe’s manuscript into small scraps and throws them on the floor. He slips Throck’s gun from his jacket and heads for the docks. The mist shrouds him as he searches for the Sunrise; as the mist begins to lift, Edmund finds himself face to face with the white-haired Mr. Peterson. Holding the pistol steady, Edmund demands that his sister be returned to him. Peterson lures the boy closer to the ship; as Edmund leans over to call for his sister, he is struck from behind.
When he comes to, Poe and Throck are looking down at him. They see the Sunrise sailing out of the harbor. Throck unmoors a smaller boat, the Peggy, to catch the escaping boat. Edmund has to leap aboard to join the men, and the Peggy is racing quickly toward the outgoing boat. Edmund is certain his sister is still alive; Poe is equally certain she is dead, for that is what he wrote. Throck is a skilled sailor and is able to overtake then trap the Sunrise. Peterson brings Sis to the deck and holds her captive. In an on-deck scuffle, the Sunrise founders on the rocks and Sis is thrown into the water. Edmund immediately starts to jump in after her; however, Poe holds him tightly and reminds him about how the story ends. Breaking free, Edmund jumps into the frigid water to save his sister. Throck manages to maneuver the smaller boat to the twins and hauls them aboard. The other ship is now below the water, and when Edmund turns to Poe he sees the man is weeping. His tears are not for the two men who have died.
A short time later, Poe and Edmund are preparing to part ways. Poe will give Mrs. Whitman his daguerreotype, and perhaps they will marry. Poe says he has too many enemies, that his “art is too strong.” He frightens those who are timid. Edmund asks him if he ever really wanted Sis to be found alive. Poe does not answer. The boy is disgusted and tells him his fear is not of death and dying but of living. Poe turns away, but he is angry. He pulls out a single piece of folded paper and asks Edmund which would have allowed his sister to live longer—her natural life, or an immortalized life in the pages of his story? The author walks away but drops the paper to the ground behind him. Once Poe is truly gone, Edmund reads the prologue to the story Poe had written. The story begins as this story begins, but the sad little boy sitting on the bed is named Edgar. That name has been crossed out. In its place is Edmund.
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