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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/121

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CHAPTER IV.


A CLOUD DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS ENTERS ON THE SCENE.


THE old man whom the chief of the band had called first the Madman, then the Sage, now never left the forecastle. Since they crossed the Shambles shoal, his attention had been divided between the heavens and the waters. He looked down, he looked upwards, and above all watched the northeast. The captain gave the helm to a sailor, stepped over the aft hatchway, crossed the gangway, and went on to the forecastle. He approached the old man, but not from the front; he passed a little behind him, with elbows resting on his hips, with outstretched hands, his head on one side, with open eyes and arched eyebrows, and a smile in the corners of his mouth,—an attitude of curiosity hesitating between mockery and respect. The old man, either because it was his habit to talk to himself, or because hearing some one behind him incited him to speech, began to soliloquize while he looked into space:—

"The Meridian from which the right ascension is calculated is marked in this century by four stars,—the Polar, Cassiopeia's Chair, Andromeda's Head, and the star Algenib, which is in Pegasus. But not one of them is visible."

These words followed one another mechanically, and were scarcely articulated, as if he did not care to pronounce them. They floated out of his mouth and dispersed. Soliloquy is the smoke exhaled by the inmost fires of the soul.