Open main menu
Man Who Laughs (1869) v1 p301.jpg



Photo-Etching.—From Drawing by G. Rochegrosse.




THAT boy was now a man. Fifteen years had elapsed. It was 1705. Gwynplaine was in his twenty-fifth year.

Ursus had kept the two children with him. They formed one family of wanderers. Ursus and Homo had aged. Ursus had become quite bald; the wolf was growing grey. The age of wolves is not known like that of dogs. According to Molière, there are wolves which live to eighty,—among others the little koupara, and the rank wolf, the Canis nubilus of Say.

The little girl found on the dead woman was now a tall creature of sixteen, with brown hair, slight, and exceedingly fragile in appearance, but wonderfully beautiful, with eyes full of brilliancy, though sightless. That fatal winter night which threw down the beggar woman and her infant in the snow had struck a double blow,—it had killed the mother, and blinded the child. Amaurosis had dimmed forever the eyes of the girl, now become a woman in her turn. On her face, through which the light of day never passed, the depressed corners of the mouth indicated the bitterness of the privation. Her eyes, large and clear, had this strange characteristic: extinguished forever to her, to others they were brilliant. They were mysterious torches lighting only the outside; they gave light, but possessed it not. These sightless eyes were resplendent. This prisoner of darkness illumined the dull place she inhabited. From the depths of her incurable darkness, from behind the black wall called blindness, she flung her rays. She saw not the sun without, but her soul was perceptible from within. In her gaze there was a celestial earnestness. She was the spirit of night, and from the irremediable darkness with which she was enshrouded she shone a star.

Ursus, with his mania for Latin names, had christened her Dea. He had taken his wolf into consultation. He had said to him, "You represent man; I represent the beasts. We are of the lower world; this little one shall represent the world above. Such feebleness is all-powerful. So shall the three orders of the universe be represented in our humble abode,—the human, the animal, and the divine." The wolf made no objection. Therefore the foundling was called Dea. As to Gwynplaine, Ursus had not had the trouble of inventing a name for him. The morning of the day on which he had realized the disfigurement of the little boy and the blindness of the infant, he said to him:—

"Boy, what is your name?"

"They call me Gwynplaine," answered the boy.

"Be Gwynplaine, then," said Ursus.

If there be such a thing as summing up human misery, it seemed to have been summed up in Gwynplaine and Dea. Each seemed to have been born in a sepulchre,—Gwynplaine of the horrors of it, Dea of the gloom. There was something of the phantom in Dea, and something of the spectre in Gwynplaine. For Gwynplaine, who could see, there was a heartrending possibility, to which Dea, who was blind, would never be subjected,—the chance of comparing himself with other men; and to one in Gwynplaine's situation, to compare himself with other men was to understand himself no longer. It is distressing, indeed, to be devoid of sight like Dea; but it is much more distressing to be an enigma to oneself, to see the universe, and not to be able to see oneself,—as was the case with Gwynplaine. Dea had a veil over her,—darkness; Gwynplaine wore a mask,—his face. And, strange to say, it was with his own flesh that Gwynplaine was masked. What his own face had been like he knew not: that face was gone forever. They had affixed a false self to him. His brain lived, and his face was dead; he did not even remember to have ever seen it. While Dea's isolation was terrible, because she could see nothing, Gwynplaine's isolation was even more terrible because he could see everything. For Dea, creation never exceeded the limits of touch and hearing; for Gwynplaine, life was to have mankind ever before him and—beyond him. Dea was debarred from light of the world; Gwynplaine was debarred from the light of life,—from all that makes life desirable. They were certainly two terribly unfortunate creatures; they seemed to be beyond the pale of hope. No observer could fail to feel boundless pity for them. How terribly they must have suffered! Surely, no such dire misfortunes had ever before befallen two innocent human beings, and conspired to make their life a hell!

And yet these two were perfectly happy. They loved each other. Gwynplaine adored Dea; Dea idolized Gwynplaine, "How handsome you are!" she often remarked to him.