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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/184

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THE MAN WHO LAUGHS.

"Meâ culpâ!"

"Asi sea!"

"Aro raï!"

"Amen!"

It was as though the gloomy voices of Babel were resounding through the shadows as Heaven uttered its awful refusal to hear them.

The doctor turned away from his companions in crime and distress, and took a few steps towards the gunwale. Reaching the side, he looked into space, and said, in a deep voice: "Bist du bei mir?" Perchance he was addressing some phantom.

The wreck was sinking. All the others stood as in a dream. Prayer mastered them by main force. They not only knelt, they cowered. There was something involuntary in their contrition; they wavered as a sail flaps when the breeze fails. And the haggard group took by degrees, with clasping of hands and prostration of foreheads, various attitudes expressive of profound humiliation. Some strange reflection of the deep seemed to soften their villainous features.

The doctor returned towards them. Whatever his past may have been, the old man was truly great in the presence of the catastrophe. He was not a man to be taken unawares. Brooding over him was the calm of a silent horror; on his countenance was the majesty of God's will comprehended. This old and thoughtful outlaw unconsciously assumed the air of a pontiff.

"Listen to me," he said solemnly. He contemplated the waste of water for a moment, and added: "We are about to die!"

Then he took the torch from the hands of Ave Maria, and waved it. A spark broke from it and flew into the night. Then the doctor cast the torch into the sea. It was extinguished: every glimmer of light had disap-