Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869)/Chapter 52



GWYNPLAINE reproached himself at times. He made his happiness a matter of conscience. He fancied that in allowing a woman who could not see him to love him, he was guilty of a gross deception. What would she say if her sight were suddenly restored? How she would shrink from what had previously attracted her! How she would recoil from her frightful lover! What a cry! what covering of her face! what a flight! These bitter scruples harassed him. He told himself that such a monster as he was had no right to love. He was a hydra idolized by a star. It was his duty to enlighten the blind star.

One day Gwynplaine said to Dea, "You know that I am very ugly."

"I know that you are sublime," she answered.

He resumed: "When you hear everybody laugh, it is at me they are laughing, because I am horrible."

"I love you!" said Dea. After a silence, she added: "I was dead; you restored me to life. When you are near me heaven is beside me. Give me your hand, that I may touch heaven."

Their hands met and grasped each other. They spoke no more, but were silent in the plenitude of their love.

Ursus, who was a crabbed old fellow, overheard this. The next day when the three were together, he remarked, "For that matter, Dea is ugly too."

The words produced no effect. Dea and Gwynplaine were not even listening. Absorbed in each other, they rarely heeded the exclamations of Ursus.

The remark, "Dea is ugly too," showed that Ursus possessed considerable knowledge of women. It is certain that Gwynplaine, in his loyalty, had been guilty of an imprudence. To have said "I am ugly" to any other blind girl than Dea might have been dangerous. To be blind, and in love too, is to be doubly blind. In such a situation one indulges in all sorts of dreams. Illusion is the food of dreams. Take illusion from love, and you take from it its aliment. It is compounded of all sorts of enthusiasm, and of both physical and moral admiration.

Moreover, you should never tell a woman anything she cannot understand. She will dream about it, and she often dreams falsely. An enigma in a reverie spoils it. The shock caused by the fall of a careless word displaces that against which it strikes. At times it happens, without our knowing why, that because we have received an almost imperceptible blow from a chance word, the heart insensibly empties itself of love. He who loves, perceives a decline in his happiness. There is nothing more to be dreaded than this slow exudation from the fissure in the vase.

Happily, Dea was not formed of such clay. The stuff of which women are usually made had not been used in her construction. She had a rare nature. The frame was fragile, but not the hearty A divine perseverance in love was one of her attributes. The whole disturbance which the word used by Gwynplaine had created in her, ended in her saying one day,—

"What is it to be ugly? It is to do wrong. Gwynplaine only does good: he is handsome."

Then, under the form of interrogation so familiar to children and to the blind, Dea resumed: "Too see?— what is it that you call seeing? For my own part, I cannot see; I know! It seems that to see means to hide."

"What do you mean?" said Gwynplaine.

Dea answered: "To see is a thing which conceals the true."

"No," said Gwynplaine.

"But, yes," replied Dea, "since you say you are ugly."

She reflected a moment, and then exclaimed fondly, "Oh, you story-teller!"

Gwynplaine felt the joy of having confessed and of not being believed. Both his conscience and his love were consoled.

Dea was now sixteen, and Gwynplaine nearly twenty-five. A sort of holy childhood had continued in their love. Thus it sometimes happens that the belated nightingale prolongs her nocturnal song till dawn. Their caresses went no further than pressing hands, or lips brushing a naked arm. Soft, half articulate whispers sufficed them.

Twenty-four and sixteen! So it happened that Ursus, who did not lose sight of the ill-turn he intended to do them, said,—

"One of these days you must choose a religion."

"Wherefore?" inquired Gwynplaine.

"That you may marry."

"That is done already," said Dea.

Dea did not understand that they could be more man and wife than they were already. This chimerical and virginal content, this chaste union of souls, this celibacy taken for marriage, was not displeasing to Ursus. He had said what he had said because he thought it necessary; but the medical knowledge he possessed convinced him that Dea, if not too young, was too fragile and delicate for what he called "Hymen in flesh and bone." That would come soon enough. Besides, were they not already married? If the indissoluble existed anywhere, was it not in their union? Gwynplaine and Dea,—they were creatures worthy of the love they mutually felt, flung by misfortune into each other's arms. And as if they were not enough in this first link, love had supervened and united them yet more closely. What power could ever break that iron chain, bound with knots of flowers? They were indeed indissolubly united. Dea had beauty, Gwynplaine had sight. Each brought a dowry. They were more than coupled, they were paired; separated solely by the sacred interposition of innocence.

Still, in spite of all Gwynplaine's noble dreams and his absorbing love for Dea, he was a man. The laws of Nature are not to be evaded. He underwent, like everything else in the natural world, the mysterious fermentation ordained by the Creator. At times, therefore, he looked at the women in the crowd, but he immediately felt that the look was a sin, and hastened to retire, repentant, into his own soul. Let us add that he met with no encouragement. On the face of every woman who looked upon him, he saw aversion, antipathy, repugnance, and scorn. It was evident that no one save Dea was possible for him. This probably helped him to repent.