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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/194

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THE MAN WHO LAUGHS.

was silent. He went on his way again, walking on at random, with nothing thenceforth to guide him.

As the child moved away the noise began again. This time he could doubt no longer. It was a groan, almost a sob. He turned and peered eagerly into the darkness, but saw nothing. The sound arose once more. It was the most penetrating and piercing, yet feeble voice imaginable, for it certainly was a voice. It arose from a soul. There was a strange palpitation in the murmur; nevertheless, it seemed uttered almost unconsciously. It was an appeal from some one in suffering, and yet from some one who was scarcely conscious of that suffering or the appeal for relief. The cry—perhaps a first breath, perhaps a last sigh—was equally removed from the rattle which ends life and the wail with which it commences. It breathed a gloomy supplication from the depths of night. The child gazed intently everywhere,—far, near, on high, below. There was no one in sight. He listened. The voice arose again; he heard it distinctly. The sound somewhat resembled the bleating of a lamb. Then he was frightened, and thought for an instant of flight. The sound arose again; this was the fourth time. It was strangely miserable and plaintive; one felt that after that last effort, which was more mechanical than voluntary, the cry would probably be extinguished. It was an expiring exclamation, instinctively appealing to the amount of aid lying dormant in space. It was an agonized appeal to a possible Providence.

The child advanced in the direction from which the sound seemed to proceed. Still he saw nothing. He advanced again, watchfully. The wail continued; inarticulate and confused as it was, it had become clear, almost vibrating. The child was near the voice; but where was it? While he was hesitating between an