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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/322

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THE MAN WHO LAUGHS.

was to obtain a hold on her. He could say, "I hold her." Now, he wanted a means of taking advantage of his power for his own benefit. He had a foothold in the court. To be settled there was a fine thing; no chance could now escape him. More than once he had made the queen smile maliciously. This was equivalent to having a license to shoot. But was there any preserved game? Did this license to shoot permit him to break the wing or the leg of one like the sister of her Majesty? The first point to make clear was, did the queen love her sister? One false step would lose all. Barkilphedro watched.

Before he plays, the player examines his cards. What trumps has he? Barkilphedro began by comparing the ages of the two women,—Josiana, twenty-three; Anne, forty-one. So far so good; he held trumps. The moment that a woman ceases to count her age by springs, and begins to count by winters, she becomes cross. A dull rancour possesses her against the age of which she carries the marks. Fresh-blown beauties, perfumes for others, are to such a one but thorns. Of the roses she feels but the prick. It seems as if all the freshness is stolen from her, and that beauty decreases in her because it increases in others.

To profit by this secret ill-humour, to deepen the furrows on the face of this woman of forty, who was a queen, seemed a good game for Barkilphedro. Envy excels in exciting jealousy, as a rat lures the crocodile from its hole. Barkilphedro fixed his wise gaze on Anne. He saw into the queen, as one sees into a stagnant pool. The marsh has its transparency. In dirty water we see vices; in muddy water we see stupidity. Anne's mind was like muddy water. Embryos of sentiments and larvae of ideas moved sluggishly about in her thick brain. They were not distinct; they had scarcely