The Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Volume 2 Read online
Produced by David Widger
THE WORKS OF EDGAR ALLAN POE
The Raven Edition
[Redactor's Note--Some endnotes are by Poe and some were added byGriswold. In this volume the notes are at the end.]
The Purloined Letter The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherezade A Descent into the Maelstroem Von Kempelen and his Discovery Mesmeric Revelation The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar The Black Cat The Fall of the House of Usher Silence--a Fable The Masque of the Red Death The Cask of Amontillado The Imp of the Perverse The Island of the Fay The Assignation The Pit and the Pendulum The Premature Burial The Domain of Arnheim Landor's Cottage William Wilson The Tell-Tale Heart Berenice Eleonora
THE PURLOINED LETTER
Nil sapientiae odiosius acumine nimio.
At Paris, just after dark one gusty evening in the autumn of 18-, I wasenjoying the twofold luxury of meditation and a meerschaum, in companywith my friend C. Auguste Dupin, in his little back library, orbook-closet, au troisieme, No. 33, Rue Dunot, Faubourg St. Germain. Forone hour at least we had maintained a profound silence; while each, toany casual observer, might have seemed intently and exclusively occupiedwith the curling eddies of smoke that oppressed the atmosphere of thechamber. For myself, however, I was mentally discussing certain topicswhich had formed matter for conversation between us at an earlier periodof the evening; I mean the affair of the Rue Morgue, and the mysteryattending the murder of Marie Roget. I looked upon it, therefore, assomething of a coincidence, when the door of our apartment was thrownopen and admitted our old acquaintance, Monsieur G--, the Prefect of theParisian police.
We gave him a hearty welcome; for there was nearly half as much of theentertaining as of the contemptible about the man, and we had not seenhim for several years. We had been sitting in the dark, and Dupin nowarose for the purpose of lighting a lamp, but sat down again, withoutdoing so, upon G.'s saying that he had called to consult us, or ratherto ask the opinion of my friend, about some official business which hadoccasioned a great deal of trouble.
"If it is any point requiring reflection," observed Dupin, as heforebore to enkindle the wick, "we shall examine it to better purpose inthe dark."
"That is another of your odd notions," said the Prefect, who had afashion of calling every thing "odd" that was beyond his comprehension,and thus lived amid an absolute legion of "oddities."
"Very true," said Dupin, as he supplied his visiter with a pipe, androlled towards him a comfortable chair.
"And what is the difficulty now?" I asked. "Nothing more in theassassination way, I hope?"
"Oh no; nothing of that nature. The fact is, the business is very simpleindeed, and I make no doubt that we can manage it sufficiently wellourselves; but then I thought Dupin would like to hear the details ofit, because it is so excessively odd."
"Simple and odd," said Dupin.
"Why, yes; and not exactly that, either. The fact is, we have all beena good deal puzzled because the affair is so simple, and yet baffles usaltogether."
"Perhaps it is the very simplicity of the thing which puts you atfault," said my friend.
"What nonsense you do talk!" replied the Prefect, laughing heartily.
"Perhaps the mystery is a little too plain," said Dupin.
"Oh, good heavens! who ever heard of such an idea?"
"A little too self-evident."
"Ha! ha! ha--ha! ha! ha!--ho! ho! ho!" roared our visiter, profoundlyamused, "oh, Dupin, you will be the death of me yet!"
"And what, after all, is the matter on hand?" I asked.
"Why, I will tell you," replied the Prefect, as he gave a long, steadyand contemplative puff, and settled himself in his chair. "I will tellyou in a few words; but, before I begin, let me caution you that thisis an affair demanding the greatest secrecy, and that I should mostprobably lose the position I now hold, were it known that I confided itto any one."
"Proceed," said I.
"Or not," said Dupin.
"Well, then; I have received personal information, from a very highquarter, that a certain document of the last importance, has beenpurloined from the royal apartments. The individual who purloined it isknown; this beyond a doubt; he was seen to take it. It is known, also,that it still remains in his possession."
"How is this known?" asked Dupin.
"It is clearly inferred," replied the Prefect, "from the nature of thedocument, and from the non-appearance of certain results which would atonce arise from its passing out of the robber's possession; that is tosay, from his employing it as he must design in the end to employ it."
"Be a little more explicit," I said.
"Well, I may venture so far as to say that the paper gives its holdera certain power in a certain quarter where such power is immenselyvaluable." The Prefect was fond of the cant of diplomacy.
"Still I do not quite understand," said Dupin.
"No? Well; the disclosure of the document to a third person, who shallbe nameless, would bring in question the honor of a personage of mostexalted station; and this fact gives the holder of the document anascendancy over the illustrious personage whose honor and peace are sojeopardized."
"But this ascendancy," I interposed, "would depend upon the robber'sknowledge of the loser's knowledge of the robber. Who would dare--"
"The thief," said G., "is the Minister D--, who dares all things, thoseunbecoming as well as those becoming a man. The method of the theft wasnot less ingenious than bold. The document in question--a letter, tobe frank--had been received by the personage robbed while alone in theroyal boudoir. During its perusal she was suddenly interrupted by theentrance of the other exalted personage from whom especially it was herwish to conceal it. After a hurried and vain endeavor to thrust it ina drawer, she was forced to place it, open as it was, upon a table. Theaddress, however, was uppermost, and, the contents thus unexposed, theletter escaped notice. At this juncture enters the Minister D--. Hislynx eye immediately perceives the paper, recognises the handwritingof the address, observes the confusion of the personage addressed, andfathoms her secret. After some business transactions, hurried through inhis ordinary manner, he produces a letter somewhat similar to the onein question, opens it, pretends to read it, and then places it inclose juxtaposition to the other. Again he converses, for some fifteenminutes, upon the public affairs. At length, in taking leave, he takesalso from the table the letter to which he had no claim. Its rightfulowner saw, but, of course, dared not call attention to the act, in thepresence of the third personage who stood at her elbow. The ministerdecamped; leaving his own letter--one of no importance--upon the table."
"Here, then," said Dupin to me, "you have precisely what you demandto make the ascendancy complete--the robber's knowledge of the loser'sknowledge of the robber."
"Yes," replied the Prefect; "and the power thus attained has, for somemonths past, been wielded, for political purposes, to a very dangerousextent. The personage robbed is more thoroughly convinced, every day, ofthe necessity of reclaiming her letter. But this, of course, cannot bedone openly. In fine, driven to despair, she has committed the matter tome."
"Than whom," said Dupin, amid a perfect whirlwind of smoke, "no moresagacious agent could, I suppose, be desired, or even imagined."
"You flatter me," replied the Prefect; "but it is possible that somesuch opinion may have been entertained."
"It is clear," said I, "as you observe, that the letter is still inpossession of the minister; since it is this possession, and no