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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/51

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prachicos were by no means in bad odour at Court. On occasions they were used for reasons of State. For James II. they were almost an instrumentum regni. It was a time when families, which were refractory or in the way, were dismembered; when a descent was cut short; when heirs were suddenly suppressed. At times one branch was defrauded for the profit of another. The Comprachicos had a genius for disfigurement which recommended them to State policy. To disfigure is better than to kill. There was, indeed, the Iron Mask, but that was a dangerous measure. Europe could not be peopled with iron masks, while deformed mountebanks ran about the streets without creating any surprise. Besides, the iron mask is removable; not so the mask of flesh. You are masked forever by your own flesh: what can be more ingenious?

The Comprachicos worked on man as the Chinese work on trees. They had their secrets, as we have said; they had tricks which are now lost arts. A sort of fantastic stunted thing left their hands; it was ridiculous and wonderful. They could touch up a little being with such skill that its father would not have recognized it. Sometimes they left the spine straight and remade the face. Children destined for tumblers had their joints dislocated in a masterly manner; you would have said they had been boned. Thus gymnasts were made. The Comprachicos not only deprived a child of his natural lineaments, not only took away his face from the child, but they also took away his memory. At least they took away all they could of it; the child had no consciousness of the mutilation to which he had been subjected. The frightful operation left its traces on his countenance, but not on his mind. The most he could recall was that one day he had been seized by men; that next he had fallen asleep; and then that he had been