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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/206

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THE MAN WHO LAUGHS.

life press upon him. The surrounding chimera, in which he suspects a reality, impedes him. The waking man, wending his way amidst the sleep-phantoms of others, has, or imagines that he has, a vague fear of contact with the invisible, and feels at every moment the obscure pressure of a hostile encounter which immediately dissolves. A sleeping town has something of the effect of a forest.

This is what is called being afraid without cause. Very naturally, a child is even more susceptible to this feeling than a man. The uneasiness of nocturnal fear, increased by the spectral houses, increased the weight of the burden under which the boy was struggling. He entered Conycar Lane, and perceived at the end of that passage the Backwater, which he mistook for the ocean; he no longer knew in what direction the sea lay. He retraced his steps, struck to the left by Maiden Street, and returned as far as St. Alban's Row. There he knocked violently at any house that he happened to pass. His blows, on which he was expending his last energies, were faint and irregular,—now ceasing for a time, now renewed as if in irritation. One voice answered,—that of Time. Three o'clock tolled slowly behind him from the old belfry of St. Nicholas. Then silence reigned again.

That no inhabitant should have opened his lattice may appear surprising. But we must remember that in January, 1790, they were just over a severe outbreak of the plague in London, and that the fear of receiving sick vagabonds caused a diminution of hospitality everywhere. People would not even open their windows for fear of inhaling the poison.

The boy felt the coldness of men more deeply than the coldness of the night. The coldness of men is intentional. He felt a sinking of heart which he had not