Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869)/Chapter 49
URSUS, being a philosopher, understood all this, and approved of Dea's infatuation. The blind see the invisible. He said, "Conscience is vision." Then, looking at Gwynplaine, he murmured, "Half-monster, but demi-god, nevertheless."
Gwynplaine, on the other hand, was madly in love with Dea. There is the invisible eye,—the spirit; and the visible eye,—the pupil. He saw her with the visible eye. Dea was dazzled by the ideal; Gwynplaine, by the real. Gwynplaine was not ugly; he was frightful. He saw his contrast before him: in proportion as he was terrible, Dea was lovely. He was the personification of the horrible; she was the embodiment of grace. Dea was a dream. She seemed a vision scarcely embodied. In her Grecian form; in her delicate and supple figure, swaying like a reed; in her shoulders, on which might have been invisible wings; in the modest curves which indicated her sex, to the soul rather than to the senses; in her fairness, which amounted almost to transparency; in the earnest and quiet serenity of her look, divinely shut out from earth; in the sacred innocence of her smile,—she was almost an angel, and yet a woman.
Gwynplaine 's existence might be compared to the point of intersection of two rays; one from below and one from above,—a black and a white ray. The same crumb may perhaps be pecked at, at once, by the beaks of evil and good,—one giving a bite, the other a kiss. Gwynplaine was this crumb,—an atom, at once wounded and caressed. Misfortune had laid its hand upon him, and happiness as well. He had on him an anathema and a benediction. He was one of the elect, and one of the accursed. Who was he? He knew not. When he looked at himself, he saw one he knew not; but this unknown was a monster. Gwynplaine lived as it were beheaded, with a face which did not belong to him. This face was frightful, so frightful that it was absurd. It caused as much fear as laughter; it was a hell-concocted absurdity; it was the transformation of a human face into the mask of an animal. Never had there been such a total eclipse of humanity in any human face, never a more complete caricature; never had a more frightful apparition grinned in nightmare; never had everything that is repulsive to woman been more hideously amalgamated in a man. The unfortunate heart, masked and calumniated by the face, seemed forever condemned to solitude under it, as under a tombstone. Yet, no! When unknown malice had done its worst, invisible goodness lent its aid. It had caused a soul to fly with swift wings towards the deserted one; it had sent the dove to console the creature whom the thunderbolt had overwhelmed, and had made beauty adore deformity. For this to be possible it was necessary that beauty should not see the disfigurement. To bring about this good fortune, a misfortune was necessary; so Providence had deprived Dea of sight.
Gwynplaine vaguely felt himself the object of a redemption. Why had he been persecuted? He knew not. Why redeemed? He knew not. All he knew was that a halo had encircled his brand. When Gwynplaine had been old enough to understand, Ursus had read and explained to him the text of Doctor Conquest, "De Denasatis," and in another folio, Hugo Plagon, the passage, "Nares habens mutilas;" but Ursus had prudently abstained from "hypotheses," and had been reserved in his opinion of what it might mean. Suppositions were possible. The probability of violence inflicted on Gwynplaine when an infant was hinted at; but for Gwynplaine there was no proof except the result. It seemed to be his destiny to live under a stigma. Why this stigma? There was no answer. Everything connected with Gwynplaine's childhood was shrouded in mystery; nothing was certain save the one terrible fact.
In Gwynplaine's dire despondency Dea had angelically interposed between him and despair, and he perceived, that, horrible as he was, a sort of beautified wonder was softening his monstrous visage. Having been fashioned to create dread, he was, by a miraculous exception to the general rule, admired and adored as an angel of light by one who seemed as far above him as a star. Gwynplaine and Dea made a perfect pair; so these two suffering hearts very naturally adored each other. One nest and two birds,—that was their story. They had begun to obey the universal law,—to please, to seek, and to find.
Thus hatred had made a mistake. The persecutors of Gwynplaine, whoever they might have been, had missed their aim. They had intended to drive him to desperation: they had succeeded in driving him into enchantment. They had affianced him beforehand to a healing wound; they had predestined him to be consoled by an affliction. The pincers of the executioner had softly changed into the delicately moulded hand of a girl. Gwynplaine was horrible,—made horrible by the hand of man. They had hoped to exile him forever,—first, from his family, if his family existed; and then from humanity. When an infant, they had made him a ruin. Of this ruin Nature had repossessed herself, as she does of all ruins. Nature had consoled this solitary heart, as she consoles all solitudes. Nature comes to the aid of the deserted; when everything fails them she gives them herself. She flourishes and grows green amid ruins; she has ivy for the stones, and boundless sympathy for man.