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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/90

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CHAPTER VI.


STRUGGLE BETWEEN DEATH AND NIGHT.


THE child stood before this thing with staring eyes, dumb and wondering. To a man it would have been a gibbet; to the child it was an apparition. Where a man would have seen a corpse, the child saw a spectre. Besides, he did not understand.

The attractions of mysterious horrors are manifold. There was one on the summit of that hill. The child took one step, then another; he ascended, wishing all the while to descend; and he approached, wishing all the while to retreat. When he got close under the gibbet, he looked up and examined the spectre. It was tarred, and here and there it shone. The child could distinguish the face. That too was coated with pitch; and this mask, which appeared viscous and sticky, varied its aspect even in the night shadows. The child saw the mouth, which was a holeĀ ; the nose, which was a hole; the eyes, which were holes.

The body was wrapped, and apparently corded up, in coarse canvas, soaked in naphtha. The canvas was mouldy and torn. A knee protruded through it; a rent disclosed the ribs. The face was the colour of earth; slugs, wandering over it, had traced across it vague ribbons of silver. The skull, cracked and fractured, gaped like a huge rotten apple. The teeth were still human, for they retained a laugh; the remains of a cry seemed to linger in the open mouth. There were a few