At last he began to descend, slowly at first and then with increasing speed, till he grew giddy and unconscious in the fall. He awoke and uttered a cry of terror. It was night, and he was alone in the dark. He was chilled to the bone, too, and his head was heavy, but the darkness was unbearable, and though he would gladly have slept again he dared not remain an instant without a light. He groped about for his matches, found them, and lit a candle. A neighbouring clock tolled out the hour of midnight, and the sound of the bells terrified him beyond measure. Cold, miserable, in an agony of fear, his nervousness doubled by the opium and by a need of food of which he was not aware, there was but one remedy within his reach. The sleeping potion had been calculated for one occasion only, and it was all gone. He tried to drain a few drops from the phial, and a drowsy, half-sickening odour rose from it to his nostrils. But there was nothing left, nothing but the brandy, and little more than half a bottle of that. It was enough for his present need, however, and more than enough. He drank greedily, for he was parched with thirst, though hardly conscious of the fact. Then he slept till morning. But when he opened his eyes he was conscious that he was in a worse state than on the previous day. He was not only nervous but exhausted, and it was with feeble steps that he made his way to his friend’s shop, in order to procure a double dose of the sleeping mixture. If he could sleep through the twenty-four hours, he thought, so as not to wake up in the dead of night, he should be better. When he made his appearance Tiberio Colaisso knew what he wanted, and although he had half repented of what he had done, the renewed possibility of selling the precious drug was a temptation he could not withstand.
One day succeeded another, and each morning saw Arnoldo Meschini crossing the Ponte Quattro Capi on his way to the apothecary’s. In the ordinary course of human nature a man does not become an opium-eater in a day, nor even, perhaps, in a week, but to the librarian the narcotic became a necessity almost from the first. Its action, combined with incessant doses of alcohol, was destructive, but the man’s constitution was stronger than would have been believed. He possessed, moreover, a great power of controlling his features when he was not assailed by supernatural