Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/190

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

falling to the bottom of the precipice; in the isthmus, his fear was of falling into the holes. After contending with the precipice, he had now to contend with pitfalls. Everything on the sea-shore is a trap; the rock is slippery, the strand is full of quicksands. Resting-places are but snares. It is walking on ice which may suddenly crack and yawn with a fissure, through which you will disappear. The ocean has false stages below, like a well-arranged theatre.

The long backbone of granite, from which both sides of the isthmus slope, is difficult of access. It is hard to find there what, in scene-shifters' language, are termed "practicables." Man need expect no hospitality from the ocean,—from the rock no more than from the wave; the sea is kind to the bird and the fish alone. Isthmuses are especially bare and rugged; the wave, which wears and undermines them on either side, reduces them to the simplest form. Everywhere there were sharp ridges, cuttings, frightful fragments of torn stone yawning with many points like the jaws of a shark, breakneck places of wet moss, rapid slopes of rock ending in the sea. Whosoever undertakes to cross an isthmus encounters at every step huge blocks of stone as large as houses, in the shape of shin-bones, shoulder-blades, and thigh-bones,—the hideous anatomy of dismembered rocks. It is not without reason that these striæ of the sea-shore are called ribs. The wayfarer must escape as he best can out of the confusion of these ruins. It is like journeying over the bones of an enormous skeleton.

Imagine a child put to this Herculean task! Broad daylight might have aided him; but it was night. A guide was necessary; but he was alone. All the vigour of manhood would not have been too much; but he had only the feeble strength of a child. In default of a