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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/93

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69
STRUGGLE BETWEEN DEATH AND NIGHT.

there for centuries past, accounted for the beauty of the grass. Earth feeds on man.

A dreary fascination held the child spell-bound. He only dropped his head a moment when a nettle, which felt like an insect, stung his leg; then he looked up again,—looked up at the face which was looking down on him. It appeared to regard him the more steadfastly because it had no eyes. It was a comprehensive glance, having an indescribable fixedness, in which there was both light and darkness, and which emanated from the skull and teeth as well as from the empty arches of the brow. The whole head of a dead man seems to have vision, and this is awful; no eyeball, yet we feel that we are being looked at.

Little by little the child himself was becoming petrified. He no longer moved. A deadly torpor was stealing over him. He did not even perceive that he was losing consciousness, though he was becoming benumbed and lifeless. Winter was silently delivering him over to night. There is something of the traitor in winter. The child was all but a statue. The coldness of stone was penetrating his bones; darkness, that insidious reptile, was creeping over him. The drowsiness resulting from snow steals over one like a dim tide. The child was being slowly invaded by a stagnation resembling that of the corpse. He was on the point of falling under the gibbet. He no longer knew whether he was standing upright or not.

The end always impending, no transition between to be and not to be, the return to the crucible, the slip possible every minute,—such is life! Another instant, and the child and the dead would be victims of the same obliteration.

The spectre seemed to understand this, and not to wish it. Suddenly it moved: one would have said it