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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/91

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STRUGGLE BETWEEN DEATH AND NIGHT.

hairs of beard on the cheek. The inclined head had an air of attention. Some repairs had recently been made; the face had been tarred afresh, as well as the ribs and the knee which protruded from the canvas. The feet hung out below. Just underneath, in the grass, were two shoes, which snow and rain had rendered shapeless. These shoes had fallen from the dead man's feet. The barefooted child looked at the shoes.

The wind, which had become more and more restless, was now and then interrupted by those pauses which foretell the approach of a storm. For the last few minutes it had altogether ceased to blow. The corpse no longer stirred; the chain was as motionless as a plumb line. Like all new-comers into life, and taking into account the peculiar influences of his fate, the child no doubt felt within him that awakening of ideas characteristic of early years, which endeavours to open the brain and which resembles the pecking of the young bird in the egg. But all that there was in his little consciousness just then was resolved into stupor. Excess of sensation has the effect of too much oil, and ends by putting out thought. A man would have put himself questions; the child put himself none; he only looked. The tar gave the face a wet appearance; drops of pitch, congealed in what had once, been the eyes, produced the effect of tears. However, thanks to the pitch, the ravages of death, if not annulled, had been greatly retarded. That which hung before the child was a thing of which great care was taken. The man was evidently precious; and though they had not cared to keep him alive, they had cared to preserve him dead. The gibbet was old and worm-eaten, although strong, and had been in use many years.

It was the custom in England to tar smugglers. They were hanged on the seaboard, coated over with