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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/318

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THE MAN WHO LAUGHS.

unless the pin be poisoned. This would be an extenuating circumstance, and was, we may remember, the case with Barkilphedro.

Every malicious pygmy is a phial in which is enclosed Solomon's dragon. The phial is microscopic in size; the dragon is immense,—a formidable condensation, awaiting the gigantic hour of dilation; ennui consoled by the premeditation of explosion! The prisoner is larger than the prison. A latent giant,—how wonderful! a minnow which contains a hydra! To be this fearful magical box, to contain within himself a Leviathan, is to the dwarf both a torture and a delight.

Nor would anything have caused Barkilphedro to let go his hold. He was biding his time. Would it ever come? Who knows? He was certainly watching for it. Self-love is mixed up in the malice of the very wicked man. To make holes and gaps in a fortune higher than your own; to undermine it at all risks and perils, carefully concealed, yourself, the while,—is, we repeat, extremely exciting. The player at such a game becomes eager, even to passion; he throws himself into the work as if he were composing an epic. To be very mean and to attack that which is great, is in itself a brilliant action. It is a fine thing to be a flea on a lion. The noble beast feels the bite, and tries to vent his rage upon the atom; an encounter with a tiger would weary him less. See how the actors exchange their parts: the lion, humiliated, feels the sting of the insect, and the flea can say, "I have in my veins the blood of a lion!"

These reflections, however, only half appeased the cravings of Barkilphedro's pride; they were poor consolation. To annoy is one thing; to torment would be infinitely better. One thought haunted Barkilphedro incessantly: he might not succeed in doing more than