Dream Tales and Prose Poems/Poems in Prose/Friend and Enemy

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A prisoner, condemned to confinement for life, broke out of his prison and took to head-long flight. . . . After him, just on his heels flew his gaolers in pursuit.

He ran with all his might. . . . His pursuers began to be left behind.

But behold, before him was a river with precipitous banks, a narrow, but deep river. . . . And he could not swim!

A thin rotten plank had been thrown across from one bank to the other. The fugitive already had his foot upon it. . . . But it so happened that just there beside the river stood his best friend and his bitterest enemy.

His enemy said nothing, he merely folded his arms; but the friend shrieked at the top of his voice: 'Heavens! What are you doing? Madman, think what you're about! Don't you see the plank's utterly rotten? It will break under your weight, and you will inevitably perish!'

'But there is no other way to cross . . . and don't you hear them in pursuit?' groaned the poor wretch in despair, and he stepped on to the plank.

'I won't allow it! . . . No, I won't allow you to rush to destruction!' cried the zealous friend, and he snatched the plank from under the fugitive. The latter instantly fell into the boiling torrent, and was drowned.

The enemy smiled complacently, and walked away; but the friend sat down on the bank, and fell to weeping bitterly over his poor . . . poor friend!

To blame himself for his destruction did not however occur to him . . . not for an instant.

'He would not listen to me! He would not listen!' he murmured dejectedly.

'Though indeed,' he added at last. 'He would have had, to be sure, to languish his whole life long in an awful prison! At any rate, he is out of suffering now! He is better off now! Such was bound to be his fate, I suppose!

'And yet I am sorry, from humane feeling!'

And the kind soul continued to sob inconsolably over the fate of his misguided friend.

Dec. 1878.