He broke into a run. In front, a line
Of candle-light banded the cobbled street.
Hilverdink's tavern! Not for many a day
Had he been there to take his old, accustomed seat.
"Why, Max! Stop, Max!" And out they came pell-mell,
His old companions. "Max, where have you been?
Not drink with us? Indeed you serve us well!
How many months is it since we have seen
You here? Jan, Jan, you slow, old doddering goat!
Here's Mynheer Breuck come back again at last,
Stir your old bones to welcome him. Fie, Max.
Business! And after hours! Fill your throat;
Here's beer or brandy. Now, boys, hold him fast.
Put down your cane, dear man. What really vicious whacks!"
They forced him to a seat, and held him there,
Despite his anger, while the hideous joke
Was tossed from hand to hand. Franz poured with care
A brimming glass of whiskey. "Here, we've broke
Into a virgin barrel for you, drink!
Tut! Tut! Just hear him! Married! Who, and when?
Married, and out on business. Clever Spark!
Which lie's the likeliest? Come, Max, do think."
Swollen with fury, struggling with these men,
Max cursed hilarity which must needs have a mark.
Forcing himself to steadiness, he tried
To quell the uproar, told them what he dared
Of his own life and circumstance. Implied
Most urgent matters, time could ill be spared.
In jesting mood his comrades heard his tale,
And scoffed at it. He felt his anger more
Goaded and bursting;--"Cowards! Is no one loth
To mock at duty--" Here they called for ale,
And forced a pipe upon him. With an oath
He shivered it to fragments on the earthen floor.
Sobered a little by his violence,
And by the host who begged them to be still,
Nor injure his good name, "Max, no offence,"
They blurted, "you may leave now if you will."
"One moment, Max," said Franz. "We've gone too far.
I ask your pardon for our foolish joke.
It started in a wager ere you came.
The talk somehow had fall'n on drugs, a jar
I brought from China, herbs the natives smoke,
Was with me, and I thought merely to play a game.
Its properties are to induce a sleep
Fraught with adventure, and the flight of time
Is inconceivable in swiftness. Deep
Sunken in slumber, imageries sublime
Flatter the senses, or some fearful dream
Holds them enmeshed. Years pass which on the clock
Are but so many seconds. We agreed
That the next man who came should prove the scheme;
And you were he. Jan handed you the crock.
Two whiffs! And then the pipe was broke, and you were freed."
"It is a lie, a damned, infernal lie!"
Max Breuck was maddened now. "Another jestDownload<<BackPagesMainNext>>