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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/256

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THE MAN WHO LAUGHS.

of women, though by no means the most innocent. She disdained intrigues; but she would not have been displeased had she been suspected of some, provided that they had been of a brilliant character proportionate to the merits of one so exalted as herself. She thought little of her reputation, but a great deal of her glory. To appear yielding, and yet be unapproachable, is perfection. Josiana felt herself majestic and material. Hers was a cumbrous type of beauty. She usurped rather than charmed; she trod upon hearts; she was of the earth earthy. She would have been as much astonished to find a soul in her bosom as to see wings on her back. She discoursed learnedly on Locke; she was polite; she was even suspected of knowing Arabic.

To be flesh and to be a woman are two very different things. Where a woman is vulnerable,—on the side of pity for instance, which so readily turns to love,—Josiana was not. Yet she was not unfeeling. The old comparison of flesh with marble is absolutely false. The beauty of flesh consists in not being marble. Its beauty is to palpitate, to tremble, to blush, to bleed; to have firmness without hardness; to be white without being cold; to have its sensations and its infirmities. Its beauty is to be life, and marble is death. Flesh, when it attains a certain degree of beauty, has almost a claim to the right of nudity; it conceals itself in its own dazzling charms as in a veil. He who looked upon Josiana nude, would have perceived her outlines only through a sort of halo. She would have shown herself without hesitation to a satyr or a eunuch. She had the self-possession of a goddess. To have made her nudity a torment to an ever-pursuing Tantalus, would have been a delight to her.

The king had made her a duchess, and Jupiter a Nereid. In admiring her you felt yourself becoming at once a