Meschini winced visibly and began to shuffle the cards, while he attempted to smile to hide his embarrassment.
“I was not well yesterday—at least—I do not know what was the matter—a headache, I think, nothing more. And then, this awful catastrophe—horrible! My nerves are unstrung. I can scarcely speak.”
“You need sleep first, and then a tonic.” said the apothecary in a business-like tone.
“I slept until late this morning. It did me no good. I am half dead myself. Yes, if I could sleep again it might do me good.”
“Go home and go to bed. If I were in your place I would not drink any more of that liquor. It will only make you worse.”
“Give me something to make me sleep. I will take it.”
The apothecary looked long at him and seemed to be weighing something in his judgment. An evil thought crossed his mind. He was very poor. He knew well enough, in spite of Meschini’s protestations, that he was not so poor as he pretended to be. If he were he could not have paid so regularly for the chemicals and for the experiments necessary to the preparation of his inks. More than once the operations had proved to be expensive, but the librarian had never complained, though he haggled for a baiocco over his dinner at Cicco’s wine shop, and was generally angry when he lost a paul at cards. He had money somewhere. It was evident that he was in a highly nervous state. If he could be induced to take opium once or twice it might become a habit. To sell opium was very profitable, and Colaisso knew well enough the power of the vice and the proportions it would soon assume, especially if Meschini thought the medicine contained only some harmless drug.
“Very well,” said the apothecary. “I will make you a draught. But you must be sure that you are ready to sleep when you take it. It acts very quickly.”
The draught which Meschini carried home with him was nothing but weak laudanum and water. It looked innocent enough, in the little glass bottle labelled “Sleeping potion.” But the effect of it, as Colaisso had told him, was very rapid. Exhausted by all he had suffered, the librarian closed the windows of his room and lay down to rest. In a quarter of an hour he was in a heavy sleep. In his dreams he was happier than he had ever been before. The whole world seemed to be his, to use as he pleased. He was transformed into a magnificent being such as he had never imagined in his waking hours. He passed from one scene of splendour to another, from glory to glory, surrounded by forms of beauty, by showers of golden light in a beatitude beyond all description. It was as though he had suddenly become emperor of the whole universe. He floated through wondrous regions of soft colour, and strains of divine music sounded in his ears. Gentle hands carried him with an easy swaying motion to transcendent heights, where every breath he drew was like a draught of sparkling