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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/114

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THE MAN WHO LAUGHS.

if habituated to an attitude of prayer. He had what might be called a wan countenance; for the countenance is above all things a reflection, and it is an error to believe that an idea is colourless. That countenance was evidently the reflection of a strange mental state, the result of a composition of contradictions,—some tending to drift away in good, others in evil; and to an observer it was the revelation of one who was less and more than human, capable of falling below the scale of the tiger or of rising above that of man. Such chaotic souls exist. There was something inscrutable in this old man's face. In his impassibility, which was perhaps only on the surface, there was portrayed a twofold petrifaction,—the petrifaction of heart proper to the hangman, and the petrifaction of mind proper to the mandarin. One might have said (for the monstrous has its mode of being complete) that all things were possible to him, even emotion. In every savant there is something of the corpse, and this man was a savant. One saw science imprinted in the gestures of his body and in the folds of his dress. His was a fossil face, the serious cast of which was counteracted by that wrinkled mobility of the polyglot which verges on grimace. But he was a severe man withal,—nothing of the hypocrite, nothing of the cynic; a tragic dreamer also. He was one of those men whom crime leaves pensive. He had the brow of an incendiary tempered by the eyes of an archbishop; his sparse grey locks had turned to white over his temples. The Christian was evident in him, complicated with the fatalism of the Turk. Chalkstones deformed his fingers, which were skeleton-like in their thinness. The stiffness of his tall frame was grotesque. He had his sea-legs on; he walked slowly about the deck, not looking at any one, with an air at once stern and sinister. His eyeballs were filled with the fixed