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.

49

"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!"

50

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.

51

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.

52

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.

53

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."

54

"It is a lie, a damned, infernal lie!"

Max Breuck was maddened now. "Another jest

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