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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/352

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THE MAN WHO LAUGHS.

crumb may perhaps be pecked at, at once, by the beaks of evil and good,—one giving a bite, the other a kiss. Gwynplaine was this crumb,—an atom, at once wounded and caressed. Misfortune had laid its hand upon him, and happiness as well. He had on him an anathema and a benediction. He was one of the elect, and one of the accursed. Who was he? He knew not. When he looked at himself, he saw one he knew not; but this unknown was a monster. Gwynplaine lived as it were beheaded, with a face which did not belong to him. This face was frightful, so frightful that it was absurd. It caused as much fear as laughter; it was a hell-concocted absurdity; it was the transformation of a human face into the mask of an animal. Never had there been such a total eclipse of humanity in any human face, never a more complete caricature; never had a more frightful apparition grinned in nightmare; never had everything that is repulsive to woman been more hideously amalgamated in a man. The unfortunate heart, masked and calumniated by the face, seemed forever condemned to solitude under it, as under a tombstone. Yet, no! When unknown malice had done its worst, invisible goodness lent its aid. It had caused a soul to fly with swift wings towards the deserted one; it had sent the dove to console the creature whom the thunderbolt had overwhelmed, and had made beauty adore deformity. For this to be possible it was necessary that beauty should not see the disfigurement. To bring about this good fortune, a misfortune was necessary; so Providence had deprived Dea of sight.

Gwynplaine vaguely felt himself the object of a redemption. Why had he been persecuted? He knew not. Why redeemed? He knew not. All he knew was that a halo had encircled his brand. When Gwynplaine had been old enough to understand, Ursus had read and explained to him the text of Doctor Conquest,