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The Absinthe Drinkers
by [?]


He’s yonder, on the terrace of the Cafe de la Paix,
The little wizened Spanish man, I see him every day.
He’s sitting with his Pernod on his customary chair;
He’s staring at the passers with his customary stare.
He never takes his piercing eyes from off that moving throng,
That current cosmopolitan meandering along:
Dark diplomats from Martinique, pale Rastas from Peru,
An Englishman from Bloomsbury, a Yank from Kalamazoo;
A poet from Montmartre’s heights, a dapper little Jap,
Exotic citizens of all the countries on the map;
A tourist horde from every land that’s underneath the sun–
That little wizened Spanish man, he misses never one.
Oh, foul or fair he’s always there, and many a drink he buys,
And there’s a fire of red desire within his hollow eyes.
And sipping of my Pernod, and a-knowing what I know,
Sometimes I want to shriek aloud and give away the show.
I’ve lost my nerve; he’s haunting me; he’s like a beast of prey,
That Spanish man that’s watching at the Cafe de la Paix.

Say! Listen and I’ll tell you all . . . the day was growing dim,
And I was with my Pernod at the table next to him;
And he was sitting soberly as if he were asleep,
When suddenly he seemed to tense, like tiger for a leap.
And then he swung around to me, his hand went to his hip,
My heart was beating like a gong–my arm was in his grip;
His eyes were glaring into mine; aye, though I shrank with fear,
His fetid breath was on my face, his voice was in my ear:
“Excuse my brusquerie,” he hissed; “but, sir, do you suppose–
That portly man who passed us had a wen upon his nose?

And then at last it dawned on me, the fellow must be mad;
And when I soothingly replied: “I do not think he had,”
The little wizened Spanish man subsided in his chair,
And shrouded in his raven cloak resumed his owlish stare.
But when I tried to slip away he turned and glared at me,
And oh, that fishlike face of his was sinister to see:
“Forgive me if I startled you; of course you think I’m queer;
No doubt you wonder who I am, so solitary here;
You question why the passers-by I piercingly review . . .
Well, listen, my bibacious friend, I’ll tell my tale to you.

“It happened twenty years ago, and in another land:
A maiden young and beautiful, two suitors for her hand.
My rival was the lucky one; I vowed I would repay;
Revenge has mellowed in my heart, it’s rotten ripe to-day.
My happy rival skipped away, vamoosed, he left no trace;
And so I’m waiting, waiting here to meet him face to face;
For has it not been ever said that all the world one day
Will pass in pilgrimage before the Cafe de la Paix?”

“But, sir,” I made remonstrance, “if it’s twenty years ago,
You’d scarcely recognize him now, he must have altered so.”
The little wizened Spanish man he laughed a hideous laugh,
And from his cloak he quickly drew a faded photograph.
“You’re right,” said he, “but there are traits (oh, this you must allow)
That never change; Lopez was fat, he must be fatter now.
His paunch is senatorial, he cannot see his toes,
I’m sure of it; and then, behold! that wen upon his nose.
I’m looking for a man like that. I’ll wait and wait until . . .”
“What will you do?” I sharply cried; he answered me: “Why, kill!
He robbed me of my happiness–nay, stranger, do not start;
I’ll firmly and politely put–a bullet in his heart.”