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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/339

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THE FACE OF GWYNPLAINE.

and to throw over it for a moment a kind of tragic veil; and then the spectator no longer laughed,—he shuddered. This exertion Gwynplaine scarcely ever made; it was a terrible effort, and an insupportable tension. Moreover, it happened that on the slightest distraction or change of emotion, the laugh, driven away for a moment, returned like the tide, with an impulse which was irresistible in proportion to the force of the adverse emotion. With this exception Gwynplaine's laugh was everlasting.

On first seeing Gwynplaine, everybody laughed. When they had laughed they turned away their heads. Women especially shrank from him with horror. The man was frightful. The paroxysm of laughter was a sort of spontaneous tribute paid to his deformity; they yielded to it gladly, but almost mechanically. Besides, when once the novelty was over, Gwynplaine was intolerable for a woman to see, and impossible to contemplate long. Yet he was tall, well-made, agile, and in no way deformed except in his face.

This strengthened the presumption that Gwynplaine was rather a creation of art than a work of Nature. Gwynplaine, beautiful in figure, had probably been equally beautiful in face. At his birth he had doubtless resembled other infants, and the body had been left intact, and the face alone been retouched. Gwynplaine had been made to order,—at least, that was probably the case. They had left him his teeth: teeth are necessary to a laugh; the death's head retains them. The operation performed on him must have been frightful. That he had no remembrance of it was no proof that it had never been performed. Surgical sculpture of the kind could never have succeeded except on a very young child, and consequently one who had little consciousness of what happened to him, and who might easily take a wound for an illness. Besides, we must re-