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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/196

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THE MAN WHO LAUGHS.

sometimes even produce rachitis. When the baby's face was exposed to the air it gave a cry, the continuation of its moan of distress. For the mother not to have heard that sob proved her irrevocably dead. The child took the infant in his arms.

The stiffened body of the mother was a fearful sight. A spectral light seemed to proceed from her face. Her parted, breathless lips seemed to be forming in the mysterious language of shadows her answer to the questions put to the dead by the Invisible. The ghastly reflection of the icy plains was on her countenance. There was a youthful forehead under the brown hair, an almost indignant knitting of the eyebrows, pinched nostrils, closed eyelids, the lashes glued together by the rime, and from the corners of the eyes to the corners of the mouth extended a channel of frozen tears. The snow lighted up the corpse. Winter and death are not unlike; the corpse is a human circle. The nakedness of the dead woman's breasts was pathetic. They had fulfilled their purpose. On them was a sublime blight of the life infused into one being by another from whom life has fled, and maternal majesty was there instead of virginal purity. At the point of one of the nipples was a white pearl. It was a drop of frozen milk.

Let us explain at once. On the plain over which the deserted boy was passing a beggar woman, nursing her infant and searching for a refuge, had lost her way a few hours before. Benumbed with cold she had fallen on the snow, and was unable to rise again. The falling snow covered her. As long as she was able she had clasped her little girl to her bosom; and thus she died.

The infant had tried to suck the marble breast of the mother. Blind trust, inspired by Nature; for it seems that it is possible for a woman to suckle her child even