Temple himself was profoundly moved. The utter helplessness of the man; his abject and complete surrender to the demon which possessed him—all this appalled him. He had seen many drunken men in his time—roysterers and brawlers, most of them—but never one like Poe. The poet seemed to have lost his identity—nothing of the man of the world was left—in speech, thought, or movement.
When Harry re-entered, his uncle was sitting beside the poet, who had not yet addressed him a word; nor had he again raised his head. Every now and then the sound of an indrawn breath would escape Poe, as if hot tears were choking him.
St. George waved his hand meaningly.
“Tell Todd I’ll ring for him when I want him, Harry,” he whispered, “and now do you go to sleep.” Then, pointing to the crouching man, “He must stay in my bed here to-night; I won’t leave him. What a pity! O God! what a pity! Poor fellow—how sorry I am for him!”
Harry was even more affected. Terrified and awestruck, he mounted the stairs to his room, locked his chamber door, and threw himself on his bed, his mother’s and Kate’s pleadings sounding in his ears, his mind filled with the picture of the poet standing erect with closed eyes, the prayer his mother had taught him falling from his lips. This, then, was what his mother and Kate meant—this—the greatest of all calamities—the overthrow of a man.
For the hundredth time he turned his wandering search-light into his own heart. The salient features of his own short career passed in review: the fluttering of the torn card as it fell to the floor; the sharp crack of Willits’s pistol; the cold, harsh tones of his father’s voice when he ordered him from the house; Kate’s dear eyes streaming with tears and her uplifted hands—their repellent palms turned toward him as she sobbed—“Go away—my heart is broken!” And then the refrain of the poem which of late had haunted him night and day:
“Disaster following fast and following faster, Till his song one burden bore,”
and then the full, rich tones of Poe’s voice pleading with his Maker:
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
“Yes:—Disaster had followed fast and faster. But why had it followed him? What had he done to bring all this misery upon himself? How could he have acted differently? Wherein had he broken any law he had been taught to uphold, and if he had broken it why should he not be forgiven? Why, too, had Kate turned away from him? He had promised her never to drink again; he had kept that promise, and, God helping him, he would always keep it, as would any other man who had seen what he had just seen to-night. Perhaps he had trespassed in the duel, and yet he would fight Willits again were the circumstances the same, and in this view Uncle George upheld him. But suppose he had trespassed—suppose he had committed a fault—as his father