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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/105

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The child began now to descend the side of the plateau. The descent was difficult and rough. It was (with less ruggedness, however) the reverse of the ascent he had made on leaving the creek. Every ascent is balanced by a decline; after having clambered up, he now crawled down. He leaped from one rock to another at the risk of a sprain, and at the risk of falling into the vague depths below. To save himself when he slipped on the rock or on the ice, he caught hold of tufts of weeds and furze, thick with thorns, the points of which ran into his fingers. Sometimes he came to an easier declivity, where he took breath as he descended; then came to a precipice again, where each step was fraught with peril. In descending precipices every movement is a problem. One must be skilful under penalty of death. These problems the child solved with an instinct which would have won him the admiration of apes and mountebanks. The descent was steep and long. Nevertheless he was nearing the Isthmus, of which from time to time he caught a glimpse. Now and then, as he bounded or dropped from rock to rock, he pricked up his ears, his head erect the while like a listening deer. He was hearkening to a diffused and faint uproar, far away to the left, like the deep note of a clarion. It was the roar of the winds, preceding that fearful northern blast, which is heard rushing from the pole, like an invasion of trumpets. At the same time the child felt on his brow, on his eyes, and on his cheeks something which was like the palms of cold hands being placed on his face. These were large frozen flakes, sown at first softly in space, then eddying wildly and heralding a snow-storm. The child was soon covered with them. The snow-storm, which for the last hour had been raging on the sea, had now reached the land, and was slowly invading the plains.