Part 12 out of 13
Jack-in-the-Box to them. It frightens them; but they like it. It is as
if a spring were touched and a devil jumps up. Mirabeau, who was also
deformed, was a case in point in France.
Gwynplaine felt within himself, at that moment, a strange elevation. In
addressing a body of men, one's foot seems to rest on them; to rest, as
it were, on a pinnacle of souls--on human hearts, that quiver under
one's heel. Gwynplaine was no longer the man who had been, only the
night before, almost mean. The fumes of the sudden elevation which had
disturbed him had cleared off and become transparent, and in the state
in which Gwynplaine had been seduced by a vanity he now saw but a duty.
That which had at first lessened now elevated him. He was illuminated by
one of those great flashes which emanate from duty.
All round Gwynplaine arose cries of "Hear, hear!"
Meanwhile, rigid and superhuman, he succeeded in maintaining on his
features that severe and sad contraction under which the laugh was
fretting like a wild horse struggling to escape.
"I am he who cometh out of the depths. My lords, you are great and rich.
There lies your danger. You profit by the night; but beware! The dawn is
all-powerful. You cannot prevail over it. It is coming. Nay! it is come.
Within it is the day-spring of irresistible light. And who shall hinder
that sling from hurling the sun into the sky? The sun I speak of is
Right. You are Privilege. Tremble! The real master of the house is about
to knock at the door. What is the father of Privilege? Chance. What is
his son? Abuse. Neither Chance nor Abuse are abiding. For both a dark
morrow is at hand. I am come to warn you. I am come to impeach your
happiness. It is fashioned out of the misery of your neighbour. You have
everything, and that everything is composed of the nothing of others. My
lords, I am an advocate without hope, pleading a cause that is lost; but
that cause God will gain on appeal. As for me, I am but a voice. Mankind
is a mouth, of which I am the cry. You shall hear me! I am about to
open before you, peers of England, the great assize of the people; of
that sovereign who is the subject; of that criminal who is the judge. I
am weighed down under the load of all that I have to say. Where am I to
begin? I know not. I have gathered together, in the vast diffusion of
suffering, my innumerable and scattered pleas. What am I to do with them
now? They overwhelm me, and I must cast them to you in a confused mass.
Did I foresee this? No. You are astonished. So am I. Yesterday I was a
mountebank; to-day I am a peer. Deep play. Of whom? Of the Unknown. Let
us all tremble. My lords, all the blue sky is for you. Of this immense
universe you see but the sunshine. Believe me, it has its shadows.
Amongst you I am called Lord Fermain Clancharlie; but my true name is
one of poverty--Gwynplaine. I am a wretched thing carved out of the
stuff of which the great are made, for such was the pleasure of a king.
That is my history. Many amongst you knew my father. I knew him not. His
connection with you was his feudal descent; his outlawry is the bond
between him and me. What God willed was well. I was cast into the abyss.
For what end? To search its depths. I am a diver, and I have brought
back the pearl, truth. I speak, because I know. You shall hear me, my
lords. I have seen, I have felt! Suffering is not a mere word, ye happy
ones! Poverty I grew up in; winter has frozen me; hunger I have tasted;
contempt I have suffered; pestilence I have undergone; shame I have
drunk of. And I will vomit all these up before you, and this ejection of
all misery shall sully your feet and flame about them. I hesitated
before I allowed myself to be brought to the place where I now stand,
because I have duties to others elsewhere, and my heart is not here.
What passed within me has nothing to do with you. When the man whom you
call Usher of the Black Rod came to seek me by order of the woman whom
you call the Queen, the idea struck me for a moment that I would refuse
to come. But it seemed to me that the hidden hand of God pressed me to
the spot, and I obeyed. I felt that I must come amongst you. Why?
Because of my rags of yesterday. It is to raise my voice among those who
have eaten their fill that God mixed me up with the famished. Oh, have
pity! Of this fatal world to which you believe yourselves to belong you
know nothing. Placed so high, you are out of it. But I will tell you
what it is. I have had experience enough. I come from beneath the
pressure of your feet. I can tell you your weight. Oh, you who are
masters, do you know what you are? do you see what you are doing? No.
Oh, it is dreadful! One night, one night of storm, a little deserted
child, an orphan alone in the immeasurable creation, I made my entrance
into that darkness which you call society. The first thing that I saw
was the law, under the form of a gibbet; the second was riches, your
riches, under the form of a woman dead of cold and hunger; the third,
the future, under the form of a child left to die; the fourth, goodness,
truth, and justice, under the figure of a vagabond, whose sole friend
and companion was a wolf."
Just then Gwynplaine, stricken by a sudden emotion, felt the sobs rising
in his throat, causing him, most unfortunately, to burst into an
uncontrollable fit of laughter.
The contagion was immediate. A cloud had hung over the assembly. It
might have broken into terror; it broke into delight. Mad merriment
seized the whole House. Nothing pleases the great chambers of sovereign
man so much as buffoonery. It is their revenge upon their graver
The laughter of kings is like the laughter of the gods. There is always
a cruel point in it. The lords set to play. Sneers gave sting to their
laughter. They clapped their hands around the speaker, and insulted him.
A volley of merry exclamations assailed him like bright but wounding
"Bravo, Gwynplaine!"--"Bravo, Laughing Man!"--"Bravo, Snout of the Green
Box!"--"Mask of Tarrinzeau Field!"--"You are going to give us a
performance."--"That's right; talk away!"--"There's a funny
fellow!"--"How the beast does laugh, to be sure!"--"Good-day,
pantaloon!"--"How d'ye do, my lord clown!"--"Go on with your
speech!"--"That fellow a peer of England?"--"Go on!"--"No, no!"--"Yes,
The Lord Chancellor was much disturbed.
A deaf peer, James Butler, Duke of Ormond, placing his hand to his ear
like an ear trumpet, asked Charles Beauclerk, Duke of St. Albans,--
"How has he voted?"
"By heavens!" said Ormond, "I can understand it, with such a face as
Do you think that you can ever recapture a crowd once it has escaped
your grasp? And all assemblies are crowds alike. No, eloquence is a bit;
and if the bit breaks, the audience runs away, and rushes on till it has
thrown the orator. Hearers naturally dislike the speaker, which is a
fact not as clearly understood as it ought to be. Instinctively he pulls
the reins, but that is a useless expedient. However, all orators try it,
as Gwynplaine did.
He looked for a moment at those men who were laughing at him. Then he
"So, you insult misery! Silence, Peers of England! Judges, listen to my
pleading! Oh, I conjure you, have pity. Pity for whom? Pity for
yourselves. Who is in danger? Yourselves! Do you not see that you are in
a balance, and that there is in one scale your power, and in the other
your responsibility? It is God who is weighing you. Oh, do not laugh.
Think. The trembling of your consciences is the oscillation of the
balance in which God is weighing your actions. You are not wicked; you
are like other men, neither better nor worse. You believe yourselves to
be gods; but be ill to-morrow, and see your divinity shivering in fever!
We are worth one as much as the other. I address myself to honest men;
there are such here. I address myself to lofty intellects; there are
such here. I address myself to generous souls; there are such here. You
are fathers, sons, and brothers; therefore you are often touched. He
amongst you who has this morning watched the awaking of his little child
is a good man. Hearts are all alike. Humanity is nothing but a heart.
Between those who oppress and those who are oppressed there is but a
difference of place. Your feet tread on the heads of men. The fault is
not yours; it is that of the social Babel. The building is faulty, and
out of the perpendicular. One floor bears down the other. Listen, and I
will tell you what to do. Oh! as you are powerful, be brotherly; as you
are great, be tender. If you only knew what I have seen! Alas, what
gloom is there beneath! The people are in a dungeon. How many are
condemned who are innocent! No daylight, no air, no virtue! They are
without hope, and yet--there is the danger--they expect something.
Realize all this misery. There are beings who live in death. There are
little girls who at twelve begin by prostitution, and who end in old age
at twenty. As to the severities of the criminal code, they are fearful.
I speak somewhat at random, and do not pick my words. I say everything
that comes into my head. No later than yesterday I who stand here saw a
man lying in chains, naked, with stones piled on his chest, expire in
torture. Do you know of these things? No. If you knew what goes on, you
would not dare to be happy. Who of you have been to Newcastle-upon-Tyne?
There, in the mines, are men who chew coals to fill their stomachs and
deceive hunger. Look here! in Lancashire, Ribblechester has sunk, by
poverty, from a town to a village. I do not see that Prince George of
Denmark requires a hundred thousand pounds extra. I should prefer
receiving a poor sick man into the hospital, without compelling him to
pay his funeral expenses in advance. In Carnarvon, and at Strathmore, as
well as at Strathbickan, the exhaustion of the poor is horrible. At
Stratford they cannot drain the marsh for want of money. The
manufactories are shut up all over Lancashire. There is forced idleness
everywhere. Do you know that the herring fishers at Harlech eat grass
when the fishery fails? Do you know that at Burton-Lazars there are
still lepers confined, on whom they fire if they leave their tan houses!
At Ailesbury, a town of which one of you is lord, destitution is
chronic. At Penkridge, in Coventry, where you have just endowed a
cathedral and enriched a bishop, there are no beds in the cabins, and
they dig holes in the earth in which to put the little children to lie,
so that instead of beginning life in the cradle, they begin it in the
grave. I have seen these things! My lords, do you know who pays the
taxes you vote? The dying! Alas! you deceive yourselves. You are going
the wrong road. You augment the poverty of the poor to increase the
riches of the rich. You should do the reverse. What! take from the
worker to give to the idle, take from the tattered to give to the
well-clad; take from the beggar to give to the prince! Oh yes! I have
old republican blood in my veins. I have a horror of these things. How I
execrate kings! And how shameless are the women! I have been told a sad
story. How I hate Charles II.! A woman whom my father loved gave herself
to that king whilst my father was dying in exile. The prostitute!
Charles II., James II.! After a scamp, a scoundrel. What is there in a
king? A man, feeble and contemptible, subject to wants and infirmities.
Of what good is a king? You cultivate that parasite royalty; you make a
serpent of that worm, a dragon of that insect. O pity the poor! You
increase the weight of the taxes for the profit of the throne. Look to
the laws which you decree. Take heed of the suffering swarms which you
crush. Cast your eyes down. Look at what is at your feet. O ye great,
there are the little. Have pity! yes, have pity on yourselves; for the
people is in its agony, and when the lower part of the trunk dies, the
higher parts die too. Death spares no limb. When night comes no one can
keep his corner of daylight. Are you selfish? then save others. The
destruction of the vessel cannot be a matter of indifference to any
passenger. There can be no wreck for some that is not wreck for all. O
believe it, the abyss yawns for all!"
The laughter increased, and became irresistible. For that matter, such
extravagance as there was in his words was sufficient to amuse any
assembly. To be comic without and tragic within, what suffering can be
more humiliating? what pain deeper? Gwynplaine felt it. His words were
an appeal in one direction, his face in the other. What a terrible
position was his!
Suddenly his voice rang out in strident bursts.
"How gay these men are! Be it so. Here is irony face to face with agony;
a sneer mocking the death-rattle. They are all-powerful. Perhaps so; be
it so. We shall see. Behold! I am one of them; but I am also one of you,
O ye poor! A king sold me. A poor man sheltered me. Who mutilated me? A
prince. Who healed and nourished me? A pauper. I am Lord Clancharlie;
but I am still Gwynplaine. I take my place amongst the great; but I
belong to the mean. I am amongst those who rejoice; but I am with those
who suffer. Oh, this system of society is false! Some day will come that
which is true. Then there will be no more lords, and there shall be free
and living men. There will be no more masters; there will be fathers.
Such is the future. No more prostration; no more baseness; no more
ignorance; no more human beasts of burden; no more courtiers; no more
toadies; no more kings; but Light! In the meantime, see me here. I have
a right, and I will use it. Is it a right? No, if I use it for myself;
yes, if I use it for all. I will speak to you, my lords, being one of
you. O my brothers below, I will tell them of your nakedness. I will
rise up with a bundle of the people's rags in my hand. I will shake off
over the masters the misery of the slaves; and these favoured and
arrogant ones shall no longer be able to escape the remembrance of the
wretched, nor the princes the itch of the poor; and so much the worse,
if it be the bite of vermin; and so much the better, if it awake the
lions from their slumber."
Here Gwynplaine turned towards the kneeling under-clerks, who were
writing on the fourth woolsack.
"Who are those fellows kneeling down?--What are you doing? Get up; you
These words, suddenly addressed to inferiors whom a lord ought not even
to perceive, increased the merriment to the utmost.
They had cried, "Bravo!" Now they shouted, "Hurrah!" From clapping their
hands they proceeded to stamping their feet. One might have been back in
the Green Box, only that there the laughter applauded Gwynplaine; here
it exterminated him. The effort of ridicule is to kill. Men's laughter
sometimes exerts all its power to murder.
The laughter proceeded to action. Sneering words rained down upon him.
Humour is the folly of assemblies. Their ingenious and foolish ridicule
shuns facts instead of studying them, and condemns questions instead of
solving them. Any extraordinary occurrence is a point of interrogation;
to laugh at it is like laughing at an enigma. But the Sphynx, which
never laughs, is behind it.
Contradictory shouts arose,--
"Enough! enough!" "Encore! encore!"
William Farmer, Baron Leimpster, flung at Gwynplaine the insult cast by
Ryc Quiney at Shakespeare,--
Lord Vaughan, a sententious man, twenty-ninth on the barons' bench,
"We must be back in the days when animals had the gift of speech. In the
midst of human tongues the jaw of a beast has spoken."
"Listen to Balaam's ass," added Lord Yarmouth.
Lord Yarmouth presented that appearance of sagacity produced by a round
nose and a crooked mouth.
"The rebel Linnaeus is chastised in his tomb. The son is the punishment
of the father," said John Hough, Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, whose
prebendary Gwynplaine's attack had glanced.
"He lies!" said Lord Cholmondeley, the legislator so well read up in the
law. "That which he calls torture is only the _peine forte et dure_, and
a very good thing, too. Torture is not practised in England."
Thomas Wentworth, Baron Raby, addressed the Chancellor.
"My Lord Chancellor, adjourn the House."
"No, no. Let him go on. He is amusing. Hurrah! hip! hip! hip!"
Thus shouted the young lords, their fun amounting to fury. Four of them
especially were in the full exasperation of hilarity and hate. These
were Laurence Hyde, Earl of Rochester; Thomas Tufton, Earl of Thanet;
Viscount Hatton; and the Duke of Montagu.
"To your tricks, Gwynplaine!" cried Rochester.
"Put him out, put him out!" shouted Thanet.
Viscount Hatton drew from his pocket a penny, which he flung to
And John Campbell, Earl of Greenwich; Savage, Earl Rivers; Thompson,
Baron Haversham; Warrington, Escrick Rolleston, Rockingham, Carteret,
Langdale, Barcester, Maynard, Hunsdon, Caeernarvon, Cavendish,
Burlington, Robert Darcy, Earl of Holderness, Other Windsor, Earl of
There was a tumult as of pandemonium or of pantheon, in which the words
of Gwynplaine were lost.
Amidst it all, there was heard but one word of Gwynplaine's: "Beware!"
Ralph, Duke of Montagu, recently down from Oxford, and still a beardless
youth, descended from the bench of dukes, where he sat the nineteenth in
order, and placed himself in front of Gwynplaine, with his arms folded.
In a sword there is a spot which cuts sharpest, and in a voice an accent
which insults most keenly. Montagu spoke with that accent, and sneering
with his face close to that of Gwynplaine, shouted,--"What are you
"I am prophesying," said Gwynplaine.
The laughter exploded anew; and below this laughter, anger growled its
continued bass. One of the minors, Lionel Cranfield Sackville, Earl of
Dorset and Middlesex, stood upon his seat, not smiling, but grave as
became a future legislator, and, without saying a word, looked at
Gwynplaine with his fresh twelve-year old face, and shrugged his
shoulders. Whereat the Bishop of St. Asaph's whispered in the ear of the
Bishop of St. David's, who was sitting beside him, as he pointed to
Gwynplaine, "There is the fool;" then pointing to the child, "there is
A chaos of complaint rose from amidst the confusion of exclamations:--
"Gorgon's face!"--"What does it all mean?"--"An insult to the
House!"--"The fellow ought to be put out!"--"What a madman!"--"Shame!
shame!"--"Adjourn the House!"--"No; let him finish his speech!"--"Talk
away, you buffoon!"
Lord Lewis of Duras, with his arms akimbo, shouted,--
"Ah! it does one good to laugh. My spleen is cured. I propose a vote of
thanks in these terms: 'The House of Lords returns thanks to the Green
Gwynplaine, it may be remembered, had dreamt of a different welcome.
A man who, climbing up a steep and crumbling acclivity of sand above a
giddy precipice, has felt it giving way under his hands, his nails, his
elbows, his knees, his feet; who--losing instead of gaining on his
treacherous way, a prey to every terror of the danger, slipping back
instead of ascending, increasing the certainty of his fall by his very
efforts to gain the summit, and losing ground in every struggle for
safety--has felt the abyss approaching nearer and nearer, until the
certainty of his coming fall into the yawning jaws open to receive him,
has frozen the marrow of his bones;--that man has experienced the
sensations of Gwynplaine.
He felt the ground he had ascended crumbling under him, and his audience
was the precipice.
There is always some one to say the word which sums all up.
Lord Scarsdale translated the impression of the assembly in one
"What is the monster doing here?"
Gwynplaine stood up, dismayed and indignant, in a sort of final
convulsion. He looked at them all fixedly.
"What am I doing here? I have come to be a terror to you! I am a
monster, do you say? No! I am the people! I am an exception? No! I am
the rule; you are the exception! You are the chimera; I am the reality!
I am the frightful man who laughs! Who laughs at what? At you, at
himself, at everything! What is his laugh? Your crime and his torment!
That crime he flings at your head! That punishment he spits in your
face! I laugh, and that means I weep!"
He paused. There was less noise. The laughter continued, but it was more
subdued. He may have fancied that he had regained a certain amount of
attention. He breathed again, and resumed,--
"This laugh which is on my face a king placed there. This laugh
expresses the desolation of mankind. This laugh means hate, enforced
silence, rage, despair. This laugh is the production of torture. This
laugh is a forced laugh. If Satan were marked with this laugh, it would
convict God. But the Eternal is not like them that perish. Being
absolute, he is just; and God hates the acts of kings. Oh! you take me
for an exception; but I am a symbol. Oh, all-powerful men, fools that
you are! open your eyes. I am the incarnation of All. I represent
humanity, such as its masters have made it. Mankind is mutilated. That
which has been done to me has been done to it. In it have been deformed
right, justice, truth, reason, intelligence, as eyes, nostrils, and ears
have been deformed in me; its heart has been made a sink of passion and
pain, like mine, and, like mine, its features have been hidden in a mask
of joy. Where God had placed his finger, the king set his sign-manual.
Monstrous superposition! Bishops, peers, and princes, the people is a
sea of suffering, smiling on the surface. My lords, I tell you that the
people are as I am. To-day you oppress them; to-day you hoot at me. But
the future is the ominous thaw, in which that which was as stone shall
become wave. The appearance of solidity melts into liquid. A crack in
the ice, and all is over. There will come an hour when convulsion shall
break down your oppression; when an angry roar will reply to your jeers.
Nay, that hour did come! Thou wert of it, O my father! That hour of God
did come, and was called the Republic! It was destroyed, but it will
return. Meanwhile, remember that the line of kings armed with the sword
was broken by Cromwell, armed with the axe. Tremble! Incorruptible
solutions are at hand: the talons which were cut are growing again; the
tongues which were torn out are floating away, they are turning to
tongues of fire, and, scattered by the breath of darkness, are shouting
through infinity; those who hunger are showing their idle teeth; false
heavens, built over real hells, are tottering. The people are
suffering--they are suffering; and that which is on high totters, and
that which is below yawns. Darkness demands its change to light; the
damned discuss the elect. Behold! it is the coming of the people, the
ascent of mankind, the beginning of the end, the red dawn of the
catastrophe! Yes, all these things are in this laugh of mine, at which
you laugh to-day! London is one perpetual fete. Be it so. From one end
to the other, England rings with acclamation. Well! but listen. All that
you see is I. You have your fetes--they are my laugh; you have your
public rejoicings--they are my laugh; you have your weddings,
consecrations, and coronations--they are my laugh. The births of your
princes are my laugh. But above you is the thunderbolt--it is my laugh."
How could they stand such nonsense? The laughter burst out afresh; and
now it was overwhelming. Of all the lava which that crater, the human
mouth, ejects, the most corrosive is joy. To inflict evil gaily is a
contagion which no crowd can resist. All executions do not take place on
the scaffold; and men, from the moment they are in a body, whether in
mobs or in senates, have always a ready executioner amongst them, called
sarcasm. There is no torture to be compared to that of the wretch
condemned to execution by ridicule. This was Gwynplaine's fate. He was
stoned with their jokes, and riddled by the scoffs shot at him. He stood
there a mark for all. They sprang up; they cried, "Encore;" they shook
with laughter; they stamped their feet; they pulled each other's bands.
The majesty of the place, the purple of the robes, the chaste ermine,
the dignity of the wigs, had no effect. The lords laughed, the bishops
laughed, the judges laughed, the old men's benches derided, the
children's benches were in convulsions. The Archbishop of Canterbury
nudged the Archbishop of York; Henry Compton, Bishop of London, brother
of Lord Northampton, held his sides; the Lord Chancellor bent down his
head, probably to conceal his inclination to laugh; and, at the bar,
that statue of respect, the Usher of the Black Rod, was laughing also.
Gwynplaine, become pallid, had folded his arms; and, surrounded by all
those faces, young and old, in which had burst forth this grand Homeric
jubilee; in that whirlwind of clapping hands, of stamping feet, and of
hurrahs; in that mad buffoonery, of which he was the centre; in that
splendid overflow of hilarity; in the midst of that unmeasured gaiety,
he felt that the sepulchre was within him. All was over. He could no
longer master the face which betrayed nor the audience which insulted
That eternal and fatal law by which the grotesque is linked with the
sublime--by which the laugh re-echoes the groan, parody rides behind
despair, and seeming is opposed to being--had never found more terrible
expression. Never had a light more sinister illumined the depths of
Gwynplaine was assisting at the final destruction of his destiny by a
burst of laughter. The irremediable was in this. Having fallen, we can
raise ourselves up; but, being pulverized, never. And the insult of
their sovereign mockery had reduced him to dust. From thenceforth
nothing was possible. Everything is in accordance with the scene. That
which was triumph in the Green Box was disgrace and catastrophe in the
House of Lords. What was applause there, was insult here. He felt
something like the reverse side of his mask. On one side of that mask he
had the sympathy of the people, who welcomed Gwynplaine; on the other,
the contempt of the great, rejecting Lord Fermain Clancharlie. On one
side, attraction; on the other, repulsion; both leading him towards the
shadows. He felt himself, as it were, struck from behind. Fate strikes
treacherous blows. Everything will be explained hereafter, but, in the
meantime, destiny is a snare, and man sinks into its pitfalls. He had
expected to rise, and was welcomed by laughter. Such apotheoses have
lugubrious terminations. There is a dreary expression--to be sobered;
tragical wisdom born of drunkenness! In the midst of that tempest of
gaiety commingled with ferocity, Gwynplaine fell into a reverie.
An assembly in mad merriment drifts as chance directs, and loses its
compass when it gives itself to laughter. None knew whither they were
tending, or what they were doing. The House was obliged to rise,
adjourned by the Lord Chancellor, "owing to extraordinary
circumstances," to the next day. The peers broke up. They bowed to the
royal throne and departed. Echoes of prolonged laughter were heard
losing themselves in the corridors.
Assemblies, besides their official doors, have--under tapestry, under
projections, and under arches--all sorts of hidden doors, by which the
members escape like water through the cracks in a vase. In a short time
the chamber was deserted. This takes place quickly and almost
imperceptibly, and those places, so lately full of voices, are suddenly
given back to silence.
Reverie carries one far; and one comes by long dreaming to reach, as it
were, another planet.
Gwynplaine suddenly awoke from such a dream. He was alone. The chamber
was empty. He had not even observed that the House had been adjourned.
All the peers had departed, even his sponsors. There only remained here
and there some of the lower officers of the House, waiting for his
lordship to depart before they put the covers on and extinguished the
Mechanically he placed his hat on his head, and, leaving his place,
directed his steps to the great door opening into the gallery. As he was
passing through the opening in the bar, a doorkeeper relieved him of his
peer's robes. This he scarcely felt. In another instant he was in the
The officials who remained observed with astonishment that the peer had
gone out without bowing to the throne!
HE WOULD BE A GOOD BROTHER, WERE HE NOT A GOOD SON.
There was no one in the gallery.
Gwynplaine crossed the circular space, from whence they had removed the
arm-chair and the tables, and where there now remained no trace of his
investiture. Candelabra and lustres, placed at certain intervals, marked
the way out. Thanks to this string of light, he retraced without
difficulty, through the suite of saloons and galleries, the way which he
had followed on his arrival with the King-at-Arms and the Usher of the
Black Rod. He saw no one, except here and there some old lord with tardy
steps, plodding along heavily in front of him.
Suddenly, in the silence of those great deserted rooms, bursts of
indistinct exclamations reached him, a sort of nocturnal clatter unusual
in such a place. He directed his steps to the place whence this noise
proceeded, and found himself in a spacious hall, dimly lighted, which
was one of the exits from the House of Lords. He saw a great glass door
open, a flight of steps, footmen and links, a square outside, and a few
coaches waiting at the bottom of the steps.
This was the spot from which the noise which he had heard had proceeded.
Within the door, and under the hall lamp, was a noisy group in a storm
of gestures and of voices.
Gwynplaine approached in the gloom.
They were quarrelling. On one side there were ten or twelve young lords,
who wanted to go out; on the other, a man, with his hat on, like
themselves, upright and with a haughty brow, who barred their passage.
Who was this man? Tom-Jim-Jack.
Some of these lords were still in their robes, others had thrown them
off, and were in their usual attire. Tom-Jim-Jack wore a hat with
plumes--not white, like the peers; but green tipped with orange. He was
embroidered and laced from head to foot, had flowing bows of ribbon and
lace round his wrists and neck, and was feverishly fingering with his
left hand the hilt of the sword which hung from his waistbelt, and on
the billets and scabbard of which were embroidered an admiral's anchors.
It was he who was speaking and addressing the young lords; and
Gwynplaine overheard the following:--
"I have told you you are cowards. You wish me to withdraw my words. Be
it so. You are not cowards; you are idiots. You all combined against one
man. That was not cowardice. All right. Then it was stupidity. He spoke
to you, and you did not understand him. Here, the old are hard of
hearing, the young devoid of intelligence. I am one of your own order to
quite sufficient extent to tell you the truth. This new-comer is
strange, and he has uttered a heap of nonsense, I admit; but amidst all
that nonsense there were some things which were true. His speech was
confused, undigested, ill-delivered. Be it so. He repeated, 'You know,
you know,' too often; but a man who was but yesterday a clown at a fair
cannot be expected to speak like Aristotle or like Doctor Gilbert
Burnet, Bishop of Salisbury. The vermin, the lions, the address to the
under-clerks--all that was in bad taste. Zounds! who says it wasn't? It
was a senseless and fragmentary and topsy-turvy harangue; but here and
there came out facts which were true. It is no small thing to speak even
as he did, seeing it is not his trade. I should like to see you do it.
Yes, you! What he said about the lepers at Burton Lazars is an
undeniable fact. Besides, he is not the first man who has talked
nonsense. In fine, my lords, I do not like to see many set upon one.
Such is my humour; and I ask your lordships' permission to take offence.
You have displeased me; I am angry. I am grateful to God for having
drawn up from the depth of his low existence this peer of England, and
for having given back his inheritance to the heir; and, without heeding
whether it will or will not affect my own affairs, I consider it a
beautiful sight to see an insect transformed into an eagle, and
Gwynplaine into Lord Clancharlie. My lords, I forbid you holding any
opinion but mine. I regret that Lord Lewis Duras should not be here. I
should like to insult him. My lords, it is Fermain Clancharlie who has
been the peer, and you who have been the mountebanks. As to his laugh,
it is not his fault. You have laughed at that laugh; men should not
laugh at misfortune. If you think that people cannot laugh at you as
well, you are very much mistaken. You are ugly. You are badly dressed.
My Lord Haversham, I saw your mistress the other day; she is hideous--a
duchess, but a monkey. Gentlemen who laugh, I repeat that I should like
to hear you try to say four words running! Many men jabber; very few
speak. You imagine you know something, because you have kept idle terms
at Oxford or Cambridge, and because, before being peers of England on
the benches of Westminster, you have been asses on the benches at
Gonville and Caius. Here I am; and I choose to stare you in the face.
You have just been impudent to this new peer. A monster, certainly; but
a monster given up to beasts. I had rather be that man than you. I was
present at the sitting, in my place as a possible heir to a peerage. I
heard all. I have not the right to speak; but I have the right to be a
gentleman. Your jeering airs annoyed me. When I am angry I would go up
to Mount Pendlehill, and pick the cloudberry which brings the
thunderbolt down on the gatherer. That is the reason why I have waited
for you at the door. We must have a few words, for we have arrangements
to make. Did it strike you that you failed a little in respect towards
myself? My lords, I entertain a firm determination to kill a few of you.
All you who are here--Thomas Tufton, Earl of Thanet; Savage, Earl
Rivers; Charles Spencer, Earl of Sunderland; Laurence Hyde, Earl of
Rochester; you Barons, Gray of Rolleston, Cary Hunsdon, Escrick,
Rockingham, little Carteret; Robert Darcy, Earl of Holderness; William,
Viscount Hutton; and Ralph, Duke of Montagu; and any who choose--I,
David Dirry-Moir, an officer of the fleet, summon, call, and command you
to provide yourselves, in all haste, with seconds and umpires, and I
will meet you face to face and hand to hand, to-night, at once,
to-morrow, by day or night, by sunlight or by candlelight, where, when,
or how you please, so long as there is two sword-lengths' space; and you
will do well to look to the flints of your pistols and the edges of your
rapiers, for it is my firm intention to cause vacancies in your
peerages.--Ogle Cavendish, take your measures, and think of your motto,
_Cavendo tutus_.--Marmaduke Langdale, you will do well, like your
ancestor, Grindold, to order a coffin to be brought with you.--George
Booth, Earl of Warrington, you will never again see the County Palatine
of Chester, or your labyrinth like that of Crete, or the high towers of
Dunham Massy!--As to Lord Vaughan, he is young enough to talk
impertinently, and too old to answer for it. I shall demand satisfaction
for his words of his nephew Richard Vaughan, Member of Parliament for
the Borough of Merioneth.--As for you, John Campbell, Earl of Greenwich,
I will kill you as Achon killed Matas; but with a fair cut, and not from
behind, it being my custom to present my heart and not my back to the
point of the sword.--I have spoken my mind, my lords. And so use
witchcraft if you like. Consult the fortune-tellers. Grease your skins
with ointments and drugs to make them invulnerable; hang round your
necks charms of the devil or the Virgin. I will fight you blest or
curst, and I will not have you searched to see if you are wearing any
wizard's tokens. On foot or on horseback, on the highroad if you wish
it, in Piccadilly, or at Charing Cross; and they shall take up the
pavement for our meeting, as they unpaved the court of the Louvre for
the duel between Guise and Bassompierre. All of you! Do you hear? I mean
to fight you all.--Dorme, Earl of Caernarvon, I will make you swallow my
sword up to the hilt, as Marolles did to Lisle Mariveaux, and then we
shall see, my lord, whether you will laugh or not.--You, Burlington, who
look like a girl of seventeen--you shall choose between the lawn of your
house in Middlesex, and your beautiful garden at Londesborough in
Yorkshire, to be buried in.--I beg to inform your lordships that it does
not suit me to allow your insolence in my presence. I will chastise you,
my lords. I take it ill that you should have ridiculed Lord Fermain
Clancharlie. He is worth more than you. As Clancharlie, he has nobility,
which you have; as Gwynplaine, he has intellect, which you have not. I
make his cause my cause, insult to him insult to me, and your ridicule
my wrath. We shall see who will come out of this affair alive, because I
challenge you to the death. Do you understand? With any arm, in any
fashion, and you shall choose the death that pleases you best; and since
you are clowns as well as gentlemen, I proportion my defiance to your
qualities, and I give you your choice of any way in which a man can be
killed, from the sword of the prince to the fist of the blackguard."
To this furious onslaught of words the whole group of young noblemen
answered by a smile. "Agreed," they said.
"I choose pistols," said Burlington.
"I," said Escrick, "the ancient combat of the lists, with the mace and
"I," said Holderness, "the duel with two knives, long and short,
stripped to the waist, and breast to breast."
"Lord David," said the Earl of Thanet, "you are a Scot. I choose the
"I the sword," said Rockingham.
"I," said Duke Ralph, "prefer the fists; 'tis noblest."
Gwynplaine came out from the shadow. He directed his steps towards him
whom he had hitherto called Tom-Jim-Jack, but in whom now, however, he
began to perceive something more. "I thank you," said he, "but this is
Every head turned towards him.
Gwynplaine advanced. He felt himself impelled towards the man whom he
heard called Lord David--his defender, and perhaps something nearer.
Lord David drew back.
"Oh!" said he. "It is you, is it? This is well-timed. I have a word for
you as well. Just now you spoke of a woman who, after having loved Lord
Linnaeus Clancharlie, loved Charles II."
"It is true."
"Sir, you insulted my mother."
"Your mother!" cried Gwynplaine. "In that case, as I guessed, we are--"
"Brothers," answered Lord David, and he struck Gwynplaine. "We are
brothers," said he; "so we can fight. One can only fight one's equal;
who is one's equal if not one's brother? I will send you my seconds;
to-morrow we will cut each other's throats."
BOOK THE NINTH.
IT IS THROUGH EXCESS OF GREATNESS THAT MAN REACHES EXCESS OF MISERY.
As midnight tolled from St. Paul's, a man who had just crossed London
Bridge struck into the lanes of Southwark. There were no lamps lighted,
it being at that time the custom in London, as in Paris, to extinguish
the public lamps at eleven o'clock--that is, to put them out just as
they became necessary. The streets were dark and deserted. When the
lamps are out men stay in. He whom we speak of advanced with hurried
strides. He was strangely dressed for walking at such an hour. He wore a
coat of embroidered silk, a sword by his side, a hat with white plumes,
and no cloak. The watchmen, as they saw him pass, said, "It is a lord
walking for a wager," and they moved out of his way with the respect due
to a lord and to a better.
The man was Gwynplaine. He was making his escape. Where was he? He did
not know. We have said that the soul has its cyclones--fearful
whirlwinds, in which heaven, the sea, day, night, life, death, are all
mingled in unintelligible horror. It can no longer breathe Truth; it is
crushed by things in which it does not believe. Nothingness becomes
hurricane. The firmament pales. Infinity is empty. The mind of the
sufferer wanders away. He feels himself dying. He craves for a star.
What did Gwynplaine feel? a thirst--a thirst to see Dea.
He felt but that. To reach the Green Box again, and the Tadcaster Inn,
with its sounds and light--full of the cordial laughter of the people;
to find Ursus and Homo, to see Dea again, to re-enter life. Disillusion,
like a bow, shoots its arrow, man, towards the True. Gwynplaine hastened
on. He approached Tarrinzeau Field. He walked no longer now; he ran. His
eyes pierced the darkness before him. His glance preceded him, eagerly
seeking the harbour on the horizon. What a moment for him when he should
see the lighted windows of Tadcaster Inn!
He reached the bowling-green. He turned the corner of the wall, and saw
before him, at the other end of the field, some distance off, the
inn--the only house, it may be remembered, in the field where the fair
He looked. There was no light; nothing but a black mass.
He shuddered. Then he said to himself that it was late; that the tavern
was shut up; that it was very natural; that every one was asleep; that
he had only to awaken Nicless or Govicum; that he must go up to the inn
and knock at the door. He did so, running no longer now, but rushing.
He reached the inn, breathless. It is when, storm-beaten and struggling
in the invisible convulsions of the soul until he knows not whether he
is in life or in death, that all the delicacy of a man's affection for
his loved ones, being yet unimpaired, proves a heart true. When all else
is swallowed up, tenderness still floats unshattered. Not to awaken Dea
too suddenly was Gwynplaine's first thought. He approached the inn with
as little noise as possible. He recognized the nook, the old dog kennel,
where Govicum used to sleep. In it, contiguous to the lower room, was a
window opening on to the field. Gwynplaine tapped softly at the pane. It
would be enough to awaken Govicum, he thought.
There was no sound in Govicum's room.
"At his age," said Gwynplaine, "a boy sleeps soundly."
With the back of his hand he knocked against the window gently. Nothing
He knocked louder twice. Still nothing stirred. Then, feeling somewhat
uneasy, he went to the door of the inn and knocked. No one answered. He
reflected, and began to feel a cold shudder come over him.
"Master Nicless is old, children sleep soundly, and old men heavily.
He had tapped, he had knocked, he had kicked the door; now he flung
himself against it.
This recalled to him a distant memory of Weymouth, when, a little child,
he had carried Dea, an infant, in his arms.
He battered the door again violently, like a lord, which, alas! he was.
The house remained silent. He felt that he was losing his head. He no
longer thought of caution. He shouted,--
At the same time he looked up at the windows, to see if any candle was
lighted. But the inn was blank. Not a voice, not a sound, not a glimmer
of light. He went to the gate and knocked at it, kicked against it, and
shook it, crying out wildly,--
The wolf did not bark.
A cold sweat stood in drops upon his brow. He cast his eyes around. The
night was dark; but there were stars enough to render the fair-green
visible. He saw--a melancholy sight to him--that everything on it had
There was not a single caravan. The circus was gone. Not a tent, not a
booth, not a cart, remained. The strollers, with their thousand noisy
cries, who had swarmed there, had given place to a black and sullen
All were gone.
The madness of anxiety took possession of him. What did this mean? What
had happened? Was no one left? Could it be that life had crumbled away
behind him? What had happened to them all? Good heavens! Then he rushed
like a tempest against the house. He struck the small door, the gate,
the windows, the window-shutters, the walls, with fists and feet,
furious with terror and agony of mind.
He called Nicless, Govicum, Fibi, Vinos, Ursus, Homo. He tried every
shout and every sound against this wall. At times he waited and
listened; but the house remained mute and dead. Then, exasperated, he
began again with blows, shouts, and repeated knockings, re-echoed all
around. It might have been thunder trying to awake the grave.
There is a certain stage of fright in which a man becomes terrible. He
who fears everything fears nothing. He would strike the Sphynx. He
defies the Unknown.
Gwynplaine renewed the noise in every possible form--stopping, resuming,
unwearying in the shouts and appeals by which he assailed the tragic
silence. He called a thousand times on the names of those who should
have been there. He shrieked out every name except that of Dea--a
precaution of which he could not have explained the reason himself, but
which instinct inspired even in his distraction.
Having exhausted calls and cries, nothing was left but to break in.
"I must enter the house," he said to himself; "but how?"
He broke a pane of glass in Govicum's room by thrusting his hand through
it, tearing the flesh; he drew the bolt of the sash and opened the
window. Perceiving that his sword was in the way, he tore it off
angrily, scabbard, blade, and belt, and flung it on the pavement. Then
he raised himself by the inequalities in the wall, and though the window
was narrow, he was able to pass through it. He entered the inn.
Govicum's bed, dimly visible in its nook, was there; but Govicum was not
in it. If Govicum was not in his bed, it was evident that Nicless could
not be in his.
The whole house was dark. He felt in that shadowy interior the
mysterious immobility of emptiness, and that vague fear which
signifies--"There is no one here."
Gwynplaine, convulsed with anxiety, crossed the lower room, knocking
against the tables, upsetting the earthenware, throwing down the
benches, sweeping against the jugs, and, striding over the furniture,
reached the door leading into the court, and broke it open with one blow
from his knee, which sprung the lock. The door turned on its hinges. He
looked into the court. The Green Box was no longer there.
Gwynplaine left the house, and began to explore Tarrinzeau Field in
every direction. He went to every place where, the day before, the tents
and caravans had stood. He knocked at the stalls, though he knew well
that they were uninhabited. He struck everything that looked like a
door or a window. Not a voice arose from the darkness. Something like
death had been there.
The ant-hill had been razed. Some measures of police had apparently been
carried out. There had been what, in our days, would be called a
_razzia_. Tarrinzeau Field was worse than a desert; it had been scoured,
and every corner of it scratched up, as it were, by pitiless claws. The
pocket of the unfortunate fair-green had been turned inside out, and
Gwynplaine, after having searched every yard of ground, left the green,
struck into the crooked streets abutting on the site called East Point,
and directed his steps towards the Thames. He had threaded his way
through a network of lanes, bounded only by walls and hedges, when he
felt the fresh breeze from the water, heard the dull lapping of the
river, and suddenly saw a parapet in front of him. It was the parapet of
the Effroc stone.
This parapet bounded a block of the quay, which was very short and very
narrow. Under it the high wall, the Effroc stone, buried itself
perpendicularly in the dark water below.
Gwynplaine stopped at the parapet, and, leaning his elbows on it, laid
his head in his hands and set to thinking, with the water beneath him.
Did he look at the water? No. At what then? At the shadow; not the
shadow without, but within him. In the melancholy night-bound landscape,
which he scarcely marked, in the outer depths, which his eyes did not
pierce, were the blurred sketches of masts and spars. Below the Effroc
stone there was nothing on the river; but the quay sloped insensibly
downwards till, some distance off, it met a pier, at which several
vessels were lying, some of which had just arrived, others which were on
the point of departure. These vessels communicated with the shore by
little jetties, constructed for the purpose, some of stone, some of
wood, or by movable gangways. All of them, whether moored to the jetties
or at anchor, were wrapped in silence. There was neither voice nor
movement on board, it being a good habit of sailors to sleep when they
can, and awake only when wanted. If any of them were to sail during the
night at high tide, the crews were not yet awake. The hulls, like large
black bubbles, and the rigging, like threads mingled with ladders, were
barely visible. All was livid and confused. Here and there a red cresset
pierced the haze.
Gwynplaine saw nothing of all this. What he was musing on was destiny.
He was in a dream--a vision--giddy in presence of an inexorable reality.
He fancied that he heard behind him something like an earthquake. It was
the laughter of the Lords.
From that laughter he had just emerged. He had come out of it, having
received a blow, and from whom?
From his own brother!
Flying from the laughter, carrying with him the blow, seeking refuge, a
wounded bird, in his nest, rushing from hate and seeking love, what had
He compared that darkness to the dream he had indulged in.
What a crumbling away!
Gwynplaine had just reached that sinister bound--the void. The Green Box
gone was his universe vanished.
His soul had been closed up.
What could have happened? Where were they? They had evidently been
carried away. Destiny had given him, Gwynplaine, a blow, which was
greatness; its reaction had struck them another, which was annihilation.
It was clear that he would never see them again. Precautions had been
taken against that. They had scoured the fair-green, beginning by
Nicless and Govicum, so that he should gain no clue through them.
Inexorable dispersion! That fearful social system, at the same time that
it had pulverized him in the House of Lords, had crushed them in their
little cabin. They were lost; Dea was lost--lost to him for ever. Powers
of heaven! where was she? And he had not been there to defend her!
To have to make guesses as to the absent whom we love is to put oneself
to the torture. He inflicted this torture on himself. At every thought
that he fathomed, at every supposition which he made, he felt within him
a moan of agony.
Through a succession of bitter reflections he remembered a man who was
evidently fatal to him, and who had called himself Barkilphedro. That
man had inscribed on his brain a dark sentence which reappeared now; he
had written it in such terrible ink that every letter had turned to
fire; and Gwynplaine saw flaming at the bottom of his thought the
enigmatical words, the meaning of which was at length solved: "Destiny
never opens one door without closing another."
All was over. The final shadows had gathered about him. In every man's
fate there may be an end of the world for himself alone. It is called
despair. The soul is full of falling stars.
This, then, was what he had come to.
A vapour had passed. He had been mingled with it. It had lain heavily on
his eyes; it had disordered his brain. He had been outwardly blinded,
intoxicated within. This had lasted the time of a passing vapour. Then
everything melted away, the vapour and his life. Awaking from the dream,
he found himself alone.
All vanished, all gone, all lost--night--nothingness. Such was his
He was alone.
Alone has a synonym, which is Dead. Despair is an accountant. It sets
itself to find its total; it adds up everything, even to the farthings.
It reproaches Heaven with its thunderbolts and its pinpricks. It seeks
to find what it has to expect from fate. It argues, weighs, and
calculates, outwardly cool, while the burning lava is still flowing on
Gwynplaine examined himself, and examined his fate.
The backward glance of thought; terrible recapitulation!
When at the top of a mountain, we look down the precipice; when at the
bottom, we look up at heaven. And we say, "I was there."
Gwynplaine was at the very bottom of misfortune. How sudden, too, had
been his fall!
Such is the hideous swiftness of misfortune, although it is so heavy
that we might fancy it slow. But no! It would likewise appear that snow,
from its coldness, ought to be the paralysis of winter, and, from its
whiteness, the immobility of the winding-sheet. Yet this is contradicted
by the avalanche.
The avalanche is snow become a furnace. It remains frozen, but it
devours. The avalanche had enveloped Gwynplaine. He had been torn like a
rag, uprooted like a tree, precipitated like a stone. He recalled all
the circumstances of his fall. He put himself questions, and returned
answers. Grief is an examination. There is no judge so searching as
conscience conducting its own trial.
What amount of remorse was there in his despair? This he wished to find
out, and dissected his conscience. Excruciating vivisection!
His absence had caused a catastrophe. Had this absence depended on him?
In all that had happened, had he been a free agent? No! He had felt
himself captive. What was that which had arrested and detained him--a
prison? No. A chain? No. What then? Sticky slime! He had sunk into the
slough of greatness.
To whom has it not happened to be free in appearance, yet to feel that
his wings are hampered?
There had been something like a snare spread for him. What is at first
temptation ends by captivity.
Nevertheless--and his conscience pressed him on this point--had he
merely submitted to what had been offered him? No; he had accepted it.
Violence and surprise had been used with him in a certain measure, it
was true; but he, in a certain measure, had given in. To have allowed
himself to be carried off was not his fault; but to have allowed himself
to be inebriated was his weakness. There had been a moment--a decisive
moment--when the question was proposed. This Barkilphedro had placed a
dilemma before Gwynplaine, and had given him clear power to decide his
fate by a word. Gwynplaine might have said, "No." He had said, "Yes."
From that "Yes," uttered in a moment of dizziness, everything had
sprung. Gwynplaine realized this now in the bitter aftertaste of that
Nevertheless--for he debated with himself--was it then so great a wrong
to take possession of his right, of his patrimony, of his heritage, of
his house; and, as a patrician, of the rank of his ancestors; as an
orphan, of the name of his father? What had he accepted? A restitution.
Made by whom? By Providence.
Then his mind revolted. Senseless acceptance! What a bargain had he
struck! what a foolish exchange! He had trafficked with Providence at a
loss. How now! For an income of L80,000 a year; for seven or eight
titles; for ten or twelve palaces; for houses in town, and castles in
the country; for a hundred lackeys; for packs of hounds, and carriages,
and armorial bearings; to be a judge and legislator; for a coronet and
purple robes, like a king; to be a baron and a marquis; to be a peer of
England, he had given the hut of Ursus and the smile of Dea. For
shipwreck and destruction in the surging immensity of greatness, he had
bartered happiness. For the ocean he had given the pearl. O madman! O
fool! O dupe!
Yet nevertheless--and here the objection reappeared on firmer ground--in
this fever of high fortune which had seized him all had not been
unwholesome. Perhaps there would have been selfishness in renunciation;
perhaps he had done his duty in the acceptance. Suddenly transformed
into a lord, what ought he to have done? The complication of events
produces perplexity of mind. This had happened to him. Duty gave
contrary orders. Duty on all sides at once, duty multiple and
contradictory--this was the bewilderment which he had suffered. It was
this that had paralyzed him, especially when he had not refused to take
the journey from Corleone Lodge to the House of Lords. What we call
rising in life is leaving the safe for the dangerous path. Which is,
thenceforth, the straight line? Towards whom is our first duty? Is it
towards those nearest to ourselves, or is it towards mankind generally?
Do we not cease to belong to our own circumscribed circle, and become
part of the great family of all? As we ascend we feel an increased
pressure on our virtue. The higher we rise, the greater is the strain.
The increase of right is an increase of duty. We come to many
cross-ways, phantom roads perchance, and we imagine that we see the
finger of conscience pointing each one of them out to us. Which shall we
take? Change our direction, remain where we are, advance, go back? What
are we to do? That there should be cross-roads in conscience is strange
enough; but responsibility may be a labyrinth. And when a man contains
an idea, when he is the incarnation of a fact--when he is a symbolical
man, at the same time that he is a man of flesh and blood--is not the
responsibility still more oppressive? Thence the care-laden docility and
the dumb anxiety of Gwynplaine; thence his obedience when summoned to
take his seat. A pensive man is often a passive man. He had heard what
he fancied was the command of duty itself. Was not that entrance into a
place where oppression could be discussed and resisted the realization
of one of his deepest aspirations? When he had been called upon to
speak--he the fearful human scantling, he the living specimen of the
despotic whims under which, for six thousand years, mankind has groaned
in agony--had he the right to refuse? Had he the right to withdraw his
head from under the tongue of fire descending from on high to rest upon
In the obscure and giddy debate of conscience, what had he said to
himself? This: "The people are a silence. I will be the mighty advocate
of that silence; I will speak for the dumb; I will speak of the little
to the great--of the weak to the powerful. This is the purpose of my
fate. God wills what He wills, and does it. It was a wonder that
Hardquanonne's flask, in which was the metamorphosis of Gwynplaine into
Lord Clancharlie, should have floated for fifteen years on the ocean, on
the billows, in the surf, through the storms, and that all the raging of
the sea did it no harm. But I can see the reason. There are destinies
with secret springs. I have the key of mine, and know its enigma. I am
predestined; I have a mission. I will be the poor man's lord; I will
speak for the speechless with despair; I will translate inarticulate
remonstrance; I will translate the mutterings, the groans, the murmurs,
the voices of the crowd, their ill-spoken complaints, their
unintelligible words, and those animal-like cries which ignorance and
suffering put into men's mouths. The clamour of men is as inarticulate
as the howling of the wind. They cry out, but they are understood; so
that cries become equivalent to silence, and silence with them means
throwing down their arms. This forced disarmament calls for help. I will
be their help; I will be the Denunciation; I will be the Word of the
people. Thanks to me, they shall be understood. I will be the bleeding
mouth from which the gag has been torn. I will tell everything. This
will be great indeed."
Yes; it is fine to speak for the dumb, but to speak to the deaf is sad.
And that was his second part in the drama.
Alas! he had failed irremediably. The elevation in which he had
believed, the high fortune, had melted away like a mirage. And what a
fall! To be drowned in a surge of laughter!
He had believed himself strong--he who, during so many years, had
floated with observant mind on the wide sea of suffering; he who had
brought back out of the great shadow so touching a cry. He had been
flung against that huge rock the frivolity of the fortunate. He believed
himself an avenger; he was but a clown. He thought that he wielded the
thunderbolt; he did but tickle. In place of emotion, he met with
mockery. He sobbed; they burst into gaiety, and under that gaiety he had
sunk fatally submerged.
And what had they laughed at? At his laugh. So that trace of a hateful
act, of which he must keep the mark for ever--mutilation carved in
everlasting gaiety; the stigmata of laughter, image of the sham
contentment of nations under their oppressors; that mask of joy produced
by torture; that abyss of grimace which he carried on his features; the
scar which signified _Jussu regis_, the attestation of a crime committed
by the king towards him, and the symbol of crime committed by royalty
towards the people;--that it was which had triumphed over him; that it
was which had overwhelmed him; so that the accusation against the
executioner turned into sentence upon the victim. What a prodigious
denial of justice! Royalty, having had satisfaction of his father, had
had satisfaction of him! The evil that had been done had served as
pretext and as motive for the evil which remained to be done. Against
whom were the lords angered? Against the torturer? No; against the
tortured. Here is the throne; there, the people. Here, James II.; there,
Gwynplaine. That confrontation, indeed, brought to light an outrage and
a crime. What was the outrage? Complaint. What was the crime? Suffering.
Let misery hide itself in silence, otherwise it becomes treason. And
those men who had dragged Gwynplaine on the hurdle of sarcasm, were they
wicked? No; but they, too, had their fatality--they were happy. They
were executioners, ignorant of the fact. They were good-humoured; they
saw no use in Gwynplaine. He opened himself to them. He tore out his
heart to show them, and they cried, "Go on with your play!" But,
sharpest sting! he had laughed himself. The frightful chain which tied
down his soul hindered his thoughts from rising to his face. His
disfigurement reached even his senses; and, while his conscience was
indignant, his face gave it the lie, and jested. Then all was over. He
was the laughing man, the caryatid of the weeping world. He was an agony
petrified in hilarity, carrying the weight of a universe of calamity,
and walled up for ever with the gaiety, the ridicule, and the amusement
of others; of all the oppressed, of whom he was the incarnation, he
partook the hateful fate, to be a desolation not believed in; they
jeered at his distress; to them he was but an extraordinary buffoon
lifted out of some frightful condensation of misery, escaped from his
prison, changed to a deity, risen from the dregs of the people to the
foot of the throne, mingling with the stars, and who, having once amused
the damned, now amused the elect. All that was in him of generosity, of
enthusiasm, of eloquence, of heart, of soul, of fury, of anger, of love,
of inexpressible grief, ended in--a burst of laughter! And he proved, as
he had told the lords, that this was not the exception; but that it was
the normal, ordinary, universal, unlimited, sovereign fact, so
amalgamated with the routine of life that they took no account of it.
The hungry pauper laughs, the beggar laughs, the felon laughs, the
prostitute laughs, the orphan laughs to gain his bread; the slave
laughs, the soldier laughs, the people laugh. Society is so constituted
that every perdition, every indigence, every catastrophe, every fever,
every ulcer, every agony, is resolved on the surface of the abyss into
one frightful grin of joy. Now he was that universal grin, and that grin
was himself. The law of heaven, the unknown power which governs, had
willed that a spectre visible and palpable, a spectre of flesh and bone,
should be the synopsis of the monstrous parody which we call the world;
and he was that spectre, immutable fate!
He had cried, "Pity for those who suffer." In vain! He had striven to
awake pity; he had awakened horror. Such is the law of apparitions.
But while he was a spectre, he was also a man; here was the heartrending
complication. A spectre without, a man within. A man more than any
other, perhaps, since his double fate was the synopsis of all humanity.
And he felt that humanity was at once present in him and absent from
him. There was in his existence something insurmountable. What was he? A
disinherited heir? No; for he was a lord. Was he a lord? No; for he was
a rebel. He was the light-bearer; a terrible spoil-sport. He was not
Satan, certainly; but he was Lucifer. His entrance, with his torch in
his hand, was sinister.
Sinister for whom? for the sinister. Terrible to whom? to the terrible.
Therefore they rejected him. Enter their order? be accepted by them?
Never. The obstacle which he carried in his face was frightful; but the
obstacle which he carried in his ideas was still more insurmountable.
His speech was to them more deformed than his face. He had no possible
thought in common with the world of the great and powerful, in which he
had by a freak of fate been born, and from which another freak of fate
had driven him out. There was between men and his face a mask, and
between society and his mind a wall. In mixing, from infancy, a
wandering mountebank, with that vast and tough substance which is called
the crowd, in saturating himself with the attraction of the multitude,
and impregnating himself with the great soul of mankind, he had lost, in
the common sense of the whole of mankind, the particular sense of the
reigning classes. On their heights he was impossible. He had reached
them wet with water from the well of Truth; the odour of the abyss was
on him. He was repugnant to those princes perfumed with lies. To those
who live on fiction, truth is disgusting; and he who thirsts for
flattery vomits the real, when he has happened to drink it by mistake.
That which Gwynplaine brought was not fit for their table. For what was
it? Reason, wisdom, justice; and they rejected them with disgust.
There were bishops there. He brought God into their presence. Who was
The two poles repel each other. They can never amalgamate, for
transition is wanting. Hence the result--a cry of anger--when they were
brought together in terrible juxtaposition: all misery concentrated in a
man, face to face with all pride concentrated in a caste.
To accuse is useless. To state is sufficient. Gwynplaine, meditating on
the limits of his destiny, proved the total uselessness of his effort.
He proved the deafness of high places. The privileged have no hearing on
the side next the disinherited. Is it their fault? Alas! no. It is their
law. Forgive them! To be moved would be to abdicate. Of lords and
princes expect nothing. He who is satisfied is inexorable. For those
that have their fill the hungry do not exist. The happy ignore and
isolate themselves. On the threshold of their paradise, as on the
threshold of hell, must be written, "Leave all hope behind."
Gwynplaine had met with the reception of a spectre entering the dwelling
of the gods.
Here all that was within him rose in rebellion. No, he was no spectre;
he was a man. He told them, he shouted to them, that he was Man.
He was not a phantom. He was palpitating flesh. He had a brain, and he
thought; he had a heart, and he loved; he had a soul, and he hoped.
Indeed, to have hoped overmuch was his whole crime.
Alas! he had exaggerated hope into believing in that thing at once so
brilliant and so dark which is called Society. He who was without had
re-entered it. It had at once, and at first sight, made him its three
offers, and given him its three gifts--marriage, family, and caste.
Marriage? He had seen prostitution on the threshold. Family? His brother
had struck him, and was awaiting him the next day, sword in hand. Caste?
It had burst into laughter in his face, at him the patrician, at him the
wretch. It had rejected, almost before it had admitted him. So that his
first three steps into the dense shadow of society had opened three
gulfs beneath him.
And it was by a treacherous transfiguration that his disaster had begun;
and catastrophe had approached him with the aspect of apotheosis!
Ascend had signified Descend!
His fate was the reverse of Job's. It was through prosperity that
adversity had reached him.
O tragical enigma of life! Behold what pitfalls! A child, he had
wrestled against the night, and had been stronger than it; a man, he had
wrestled against destiny, and had overcome it. Out of disfigurement he
had created success; and out of misery, happiness. Of his exile he had
made an asylum. A vagabond, he had wrestled against space; and, like the
birds of the air, he had found his crumb of bread. Wild and solitary, he
had wrestled against the crowd, and had made it his friend. An athlete,
he had wrestled against that lion, the people; and he had tamed it.
Indigent, he had wrestled against distress, he had faced the dull
necessity of living, and from amalgamating with misery every joy of his
heart, he had at length made riches out of poverty. He had believed
himself the conqueror of life. Of a sudden he was attacked by fresh
forces, reaching him from unknown depths; this time, with menaces no
longer, but with smiles and caresses. Love, serpent-like and sensual,
had appeared to him, who was filled with angelic love. The flesh had
tempted him, who had lived on the ideal. He had heard words of
voluptuousness like cries of rage; he had felt the clasp of a woman's
arms, like the convolutions of a snake; to the illumination of truth had
succeeded the fascination of falsehood; for it is not the flesh that is
real, but the soul. The flesh is ashes, the soul is flame. For the
little circle allied to him by the relationship of poverty and toil,
which was his true and natural family, had been substituted the social
family--his family in blood, but of tainted blood; and even before he
had entered it, he found himself face to face with an intended
fractricide. Alas! he had allowed himself to be thrown back into that
society of which Brantome, whom he had not read, wrote: "_The son has a
right to challenge his father!_" A fatal fortune had cried to him, "Thou
art not of the crowd; thou art of the chosen!" and had opened the
ceiling above his head, like a trap in the sky, and had shot him up,
through this opening, causing him to appear, wild, and unexpected, in
the midst of princes and masters. Then suddenly he saw around him,
instead of the people who applauded him, the lords who cursed him.
Mournful metamorphosis! Ignominious ennobling! Rude spoliation of all
that had been his happiness! Pillage of his life by derision!
Gwynplaine, Clancharlie, the lord, the mountebank, torn out of his old
lot, out of his new lot, by the beaks of those eagles!
What availed it that he had commenced life by immediate victory over
obstacle? Of what good had been his early triumphs? Alas! the fall must
come, ere destiny be complete.
So, half against his will, half of it--because after he had done with
the wapentake he had to do with Barkilphedro, and he had given a certain
amount of consent to his abductions--he had left the real for the
chimerical; the true for the false; Dea for Josiana; love for pride;
liberty for power; labour proud and poor for opulence full of unknown
responsibilities; the shade in which is God for the lurid flames in
which the devils dwell; Paradise for Olympus!
He had tasted the golden fruit. He was now spitting out the ashes to
which it turned.
Lamentable result! Defeat, failure, fall into ruin, insolent expulsion
of all his hopes, frustrated by ridicule. Immeasurable disillusion! And
what was there for him in the future? If he looked forward to the
morrow, what did he see? A drawn sword, the point of which was against
his breast, and the hilt in the hand of his brother. He could see
nothing but the hideous flash of that sword. Josiana and the House of
Lords made up the background in a monstrous chiaroscuro full of tragic
And that brother seemed so brave and chivalrous! Alas! he had hardly
seen the Tom-Jim-Jack who had defended Gwynplaine, the Lord David who
had defended Lord Clancharlie; but he had had time to receive a blow
from him and to love him.
He was crushed.
He felt it impossible to proceed further. Everything had crumbled about
him. Besides, what was the good of it? All weariness dwells in the
depths of despair.
The trial had been made. It could not be renewed.
Gwynplaine was like a gamester who has played all his trumps away, one
after the other. He had allowed himself to be drawn to a fearful
gambling-table, without thinking what he was about; for, so subtle is
the poison of illusion, he had staked Dea against Josiana, and had
gained a monster; he had staked Ursus against a family, and had gained
an insult; he had played his mountebank platform against his seat in the
Lords; for the applause which was his he had gained insult. His last
card had fallen on that fatal green cloth, the deserted bowling-green.
Gwynplaine had lost. Nothing remained but to pay. Pay up, wretched man!
The thunder-stricken lie still. Gwynplaine remained motionless. Anybody
perceiving him from afar, in the shadow, stiff, and without movement,
might have fancied that he saw an upright stone.
Hell, the serpent, and reverie are tortuous. Gwynplaine was descending
the sepulchral spirals of the deepest thought.
He reflected on that world of which he had just caught a glimpse with
the icy contemplation of a last look. Marriage, but no love; family, but
no brotherly affection; riches, but no conscience; beauty, but no
modesty; justice, but no equity; order, but no equilibrium; authority,
but no right; power, but no intelligence; splendour, but no light.
Inexorable balance-sheet! He went throughout the supreme vision in which
his mind had been plunged. He examined successively destiny, situation,
society, and himself. What was destiny? A snare. Situation? Despair.
Society? Hatred. And himself? A defeated man. In the depths of his soul
he cried. Society is the stepmother, Nature is the mother. Society is
the world of the body, Nature is the world of the soul. The one tends to
the coffin, to the deal box in the grave, to the earth-worms, and ends
there. The other tends to expanded wings, to transformation into the
morning light, to ascent into the firmament, and there revives into new
By degrees a paroxysm came over him, like a sweeping surge. At the close
of events there is always a last flash, in which all stands revealed
He who judges meets the accused face to face. Gwynplaine reviewed all
that society and all that nature had done for him. How kind had nature
been to him! How she, who is the soul, had succoured him! All had been
taken from him, even his features. The soul had given him all back--all,
even his features; because there was on earth a heavenly blind girl made
expressly for him, who saw not his ugliness, and who saw his beauty.
And it was from this that he had allowed himself to be separated--from
that adorable girl, from his own adopted one, from her tenderness, from
her divine blind gaze, the only gaze on earth that saw him, that he had
strayed! Dea was his sister, because he felt between them the grand
fraternity of above--the mystery which contains the whole of heaven.
Dea, when he was a little child, was his virgin; because every child has
his virgin, and at the commencement of life a marriage of souls is
always consummated in the plenitude of innocence. Dea was his wife, for
theirs was the same nest on the highest branch of the deep-rooted tree
of Hymen. Dea was still more--she was his light, for without her all was
void, and nothingness; and for him her head was crowned with rays. What
would become of him without Dea? What could he do with all that was
himself? Nothing in him could live without her. How, then, could he have
lost sight of her for a moment? O unfortunate man! He allowed distance
to intervene between himself and his star and, by the unknown and
terrible laws of gravitation in such things, distance is immediate loss.
Where was she, the star? Dea! Dea! Dea! Dea! Alas! he had lost her
light. Take away the star, and what is the sky? A black mass. But why,
then, had all this befallen him? Oh, what happiness had been his! For
him God had remade Eden. Too close was the resemblance, alas! even to
allowing the serpent to enter; but this time it was the man who had been
tempted. He had been drawn without, and then, by a frightful snare, had
fallen into a chaos of murky laughter, which was hell. O grief! O grief!
How frightful seemed all that had fascinated him! That Josiana, fearful
creature!--half beast, half goddess! Gwynplaine was now on the reverse
side of his elevation, and he saw the other aspect of that which had
dazzled him. It was baleful. His peerage was deformed, his coronet was
hideous; his purple robe, a funeral garment; those palaces, infected;
those trophies, those statues, those armorial bearings, sinister; the
unwholesome and treacherous air poisoned those who breathed it, and
turned them mad. How brilliant the rags of the mountebank, Gwynplaine,
appeared to him now! Alas! where was the Green Box, poverty, joy, the
sweet wandering life--wandering together, like the swallows? They never
left each other then; he saw her every minute, morning, evening. At
table their knees, their elbows, touched; they drank from the same cup;
the sun shone through the pane, but it was only the sun, and Dea was
Love. At night they slept not far from each other; and the dream of Dea
came and hovered over Gwynplaine, and the dream of Gwynplaine spread
itself mysteriously above the head of Dea. When they awoke they could be
never quite sure that they had not exchanged kisses in the azure mists
of dreams. Dea was all innocence; Ursus, all wisdom. They wandered from
town to town; and they had for provision and for stimulant the frank,
loving gaiety of the people. They were angel vagabonds, with enough of
humanity to walk the earth and not enough of wings to fly away; and now
all had disappeared! Where was it gone? Was it possible that it was all
effaced? What wind from the tomb had swept over them? All was eclipsed!
All was lost! Alas! power, irresistible and deaf to appeal, which weighs
down the poor, flings its shadow over all, and is capable of anything.
What had been done to them? And he had not been there to protect them,
to fling himself in front of them, to defend them, as a lord, with his
title, his peerage, and his sword; as a mountebank, with his fists and
And here arose a bitter reflection, perhaps the most bitter of all.
Well, no; he could not have defended them. It was he himself who had
destroyed them; it was to save him, Lord Clancharlie, from them; it was
to isolate his dignity from contact with them, that the infamous
omnipotence of society had crushed them. The best way in which he could
protect them would be to disappear, and then the cause of their
persecution would cease. He out of the way, they would be allowed to
remain in peace. Into what icy channel was his thought beginning to run!
Oh! why had he allowed himself to be separated from Dea? Was not his
first duty towards her? To serve and to defend the people? But Dea was
the people. Dea was an orphan. She was blind; she represented humanity.
Oh! what had they done to them? Cruel smart of regret! His absence had
left the field free for the catastrophe. He would have shared their
fate; either they would have been taken and carried away with him, or he
would have been swallowed up with them. And, now, what would become of
him without them? Gwynplaine without Dea! Was it possible? Without Dea
was to be without everything. It was all over now. The beloved group was
for ever buried in irreparable disappearance. All was spent. Besides,
condemned and damned as Gwynplaine was, what was the good of further
struggle? He had nothing more to expect either of men or of heaven. Dea!
Dea! Where is Dea? Lost! What? lost? He who has lost his soul can regain
it but through one outlet--death.
Gwynplaine, tragically distraught, placed his hand firmly on the
parapet, as on a solution, and looked at the river.
It was his third night without sleep. Fever had come over him. His
thoughts, which he believed to be clear, were blurred. He felt an
imperative need of sleep. He remained for a few instants leaning over
the water. Its darkness offered him a bed of boundless tranquillity in
the infinity of shadow. Sinister temptation!
He took off his coat, which he folded and placed on the parapet; then he
unbuttoned his waistcoat. As he was about to take it off, his hand
struck against something in the pocket. It was the red book which had
been given him by the librarian of the House of Lords: he drew it from
the pocket, examined it in the vague light of the night, and found a
pencil in it, with which he wrote on the first blank that he found these
"I depart. Let my brother David take my place, and may he be happy!"
Then he signed, "Fermain Clancharlie, peer of England."
He took off his waistcoat and placed it upon the coat; then his hat,
which he placed upon the waistcoat. In the hat he laid the red book open
at the page on which he had written. Seeing a stone lying on the ground,
he picked it up and placed it in the hat. Having done all this, he
looked up into the deep shadow above him. Then his head sank slowly, as
if drawn by an invisible thread towards the abyss.
There was a hole in the masonry near the base of the parapet; he placed
his foot in it, so that his knee stood higher than the top, and scarcely
an effort was necessary to spring over it. He clasped his hands behind
his back and leaned over. "So be it," said he.
And he fixed his eyes on the deep waters. Just then he felt a tongue
licking his hands.
He shuddered, and turned round.
Homo was behind him.
_THE NIGHT AND THE SEA._
A WATCH-DOG MAY BE A GUARDIAN ANGEL.
Gwynplaine uttered a cry.
"Is that you, wolf?"
Homo wagged his tail. His eyes sparkled in the darkness. He was looking
earnestly at Gwynplaine.
Then he began to lick his hands again. For a moment Gwynplaine was like
a drunken man, so great is the shock of Hope's mighty return.
Homo! What an apparition! During the last forty-eight hours he had
exhausted what might be termed every variety of the thunder-bolt. But
one was left to strike him--the thunderbolt of joy. And it had just
fallen upon him. Certainty, or at least the light which leads to it,
regained; the sudden intervention of some mysterious clemency possessed,
perhaps, by destiny; life saying, "Behold me!" in the darkest recess of
the grave; the very moment in which all expectation has ceased bringing
back health and deliverance; a place of safety discovered at the most
critical instant in the midst of crumbling ruins--Homo was all this to
Gwynplaine. The wolf appeared to him in a halo of light.
Meanwhile, Homo had turned round. He advanced a few steps, and then
looked back to see if Gwynplaine was following him.
Gwynplaine was doing so. Homo wagged his tail, and went on.
The road taken by the wolf was the slope of the quay of the
Effroc-stone. This slope shelved down to the Thames; and Gwynplaine,
guided by Homo, descended it.
Homo turned his head now and then, to make sure that Gwynplaine was
In some situations of supreme importance nothing approaches so near an
omniscient intelligence as the simple instinct of a faithful animal. An
animal is a lucid somnambulist.
There are cases in which the dog feels that he should follow his master;
others, in which he should precede him. Then the animal takes the
direction of sense. His imperturbable scent is a confused power of
vision in what is twilight to us. He feels a vague obligation to become
a guide. Does he know that there is a dangerous pass, and that he can
help his master to surmount it? Probably not. Perhaps he does. In any
case, some one knows it for him. As we have already said, it often
happens in life that some mighty help which we have held to have come
from below has, in reality, come from above. Who knows all the
mysterious forms assumed by God?
What was this animal? Providence.
Having reached the river, the wolf led down the narrow tongue of land
which bordered the Thames.
Without noise or bark he pushed forward on his silent way. Homo always
followed his instinct and did his duty, but with the pensive reserve of
Some fifty paces more, and he stopped. A wooden platform appeared on the
right. At the bottom of this platform, which was a kind of wharf on
piles, a black mass could be made out, which was a tolerably large
vessel. On the deck of the vessel, near the prow, was a glimmer, like
the last flicker of a night-light.
The wolf, having finally assured himself that Gwynplaine was there,
bounded on to the wharf. It was a long platform, floored and tarred,
supported by a network of joists, and under which flowed the river. Homo
and Gwynplaine shortly reached the brink.
The ship moored to the wharf was a Dutch vessel, of the Japanese build,
with two decks, fore and aft, and between them an open hold, reached by
an upright ladder, in which the cargo was laden. There was thus a
forecastle and an afterdeck, as in our old river boats, and a space
between them ballasted by the freight. The paper boats made by children
are of a somewhat similar shape. Under the decks were the cabins, the
doors of which opened into the hold and were lighted by glazed
portholes. In stowing the cargo a passage was left between the packages
of which it consisted. These vessels had a mast on each deck. The
foremast was called Paul, the mainmast Peter--the ship being sailed by
these two masts, as the Church was guided by her two apostles. A gangway
was thrown, like a Chinese bridge, from one deck to the other, over the
centre of the hold. In bad weather, both flaps of the gangway were
lowered, on the right and left, on hinges, thus making a roof over the
hold; so that the ship, in heavy seas, was hermetically closed. These
sloops, being of very massive construction, had a beam for a tiller, the
strength of the rudder being necessarily proportioned to the height of
the vessel. Three men, the skipper and two sailors, with a cabin-boy,
sufficed to navigate these ponderous sea-going machines. The decks, fore
and aft, were, as we have already said, without bulwarks. The great
lumbering hull of this particular vessel was painted black, and on it,
visible even in the night, stood out, in white letters, the words,
About that time many events had occurred at sea, and amongst others, the
defeat of the Baron de Pointi's eight ships off Cape Carnero, which had
driven the whole French fleet into refuge at Gibraltar; so that the
Channel was swept of every man-of-war, and merchant vessels were able to
sail backwards and forwards between London and Rotterdam, without a
The vessel on which was to be read the word _Vograat_, and which
Gwynplaine was now close to, lay with her main-deck almost level with
the wharf. But one step to descend, and Homo in a bound, and Gwynplaine
in a stride, were on board.
The deck was clear, and no stir was perceptible. The passengers, if, as
was likely, there were any, were already on board, the vessel being
ready to sail, and the cargo stowed, as was apparent from the state of
the hold, which was full of bales and cases. But they were, doubtless,
lying asleep in the cabins below, as the passage was to take place
during the night. In such cases the passengers do not appear on deck
till they awake the following morning. As for the crew, they were
probably having their supper in the men's cabin, whilst awaiting the
hour fixed for sailing, which was now rapidly approaching. Hence the
silence on the two decks connected by the gangway.
The wolf had almost run across the wharf; once on board, he slackened
his pace into a discreet walk. He still wagged his tail--no longer
joyfully, however, but with the sad and feeble wag of a dog troubled in
his mind. Still preceding Gwynplaine, he passed along the after-deck,
and across the gangway.
Gwynplaine, having reached the gangway, perceived a light in front of
him. It was the same that he had seen from the shore. There was a
lantern on the deck, close to the foremast, by the gleam of which was
sketched in black, on the dim background of the night, what Gwynplaine
recognized to be Ursus's old four-wheeled van.
This poor wooden tenement, cart and hut combined, in which his childhood
had rolled along, was fastened to the bottom of the mast by thick ropes,
of which the knots were visible at the wheels. Having been so long out
of service, it had become dreadfully rickety; it leant over feebly on
one side; it had become quite paralytic from disuse; and, moreover, it
was suffering from that incurable malady--old age. Mouldy and out of
shape, it tottered in decay. The materials of which it was built were
all rotten. The iron was rusty, the leather torn, the wood-work
worm-eaten. There were lines of cracks across the window in front,
through which shone a ray from the lantern. The wheels were warped. The
lining, the floor, and the axletrees seemed worn out with fatigue.
Altogether, it presented an indescribable appearance of beggary and
prostration. The shafts, stuck up, looked like two arms raised to
heaven. The whole thing was in a state of dislocation. Beneath it was
hanging Homo's chain.
Does it not seem that the law and the will of nature would have dictated
Gwynplaine's headlong rush to throw himself upon life, happiness, love
regained? So they would, except in some case of deep terror such as his.
But he who comes forth, shattered in nerve and uncertain of his way,
from a series of catastrophes, each one like a fresh betrayal, is
prudent even in his joy; hesitates, lest he should bear the fatality of
which he has been the victim to those whom he loves; feels that some
evil contagion may still hang about him, and advances towards happiness
with wary steps. The gates of Paradise reopen; but before he enters he
examines his ground.
Gwynplaine, staggering under the weight of his emotion, looked around
him, while the wolf went and lay down silently by his chain.
BARKILPHEDRO, HAVING AIMED AT THE EAGLE, BRINGS DOWN THE DOVE.
The step of the little van was down--the door ajar--there was no one
inside. The faint light which broke through the pane in front sketched
the interior of the caravan vaguely in melancholy chiaroscuro. The
inscriptions of Ursus, gloryifying the grandeur of Lords, showed
distinctly on the worn-out boards, which were both the wall without and
the wainscot within. On a nail, near the door, Gwynplaine saw his
esclavine and his cape hung up, as they hang up the clothes of a corpse
in a dead-house. Just then he had neither waistcoat nor coat on.
Behind the van something was laid out on the deck at the foot of the
mast, which was lighted by the lantern. It was a mattress, of which he
could make out one corner. On this mattress some one was probably lying,
for he could see a shadow move.
Some one was speaking. Concealed by the van, Gwynplaine listened. It was
Ursus's voice. That voice, so harsh in its upper, so tender in its
lower, pitch; that voice, which had so often upbraided Gwynplaine, and
which had taught him so well, had lost the life and clearness of its
tone. It was vague and low, and melted into a sigh at the end of every
sentence. It bore but a confused resemblance to his natural and firm
voice of old. It was the voice of one in whom happiness is dead. A voice
may become a ghost.
He seemed to be engaged in monologue rather than in conversation. We are
already aware, however, that soliloquy was a habit with him. It was for
that reason that he passed for a madman.
Gwynplaine held his breath, so as not to lose a word of what Ursus
said, and this was what he heard.
"This is a very dangerous kind of craft, because there are no bulwarks
to it. If we were to slip, there is nothing to prevent our going
overboard. If we have bad weather, we shall have to take her below, and
that will be dreadful. An awkward step, a fright, and we shall have a
rupture of the aneurism. I have seen instances of it. O my God! what is
to become of us? Is she asleep? Yes. She is asleep. Is she in a swoon?
No. Her pulse is pretty strong. She is only asleep. Sleep is a reprieve.
It is the happy blindness. What can I do to prevent people walking about
here? Gentlemen, if there be anybody on deck, I beg of you to make no
noise. Do not come near us, if you do not mind. You know a person in
delicate health requires a little attention. She is feverish, you see.
She is very young. 'Tis a little creature who is rather feverish. I put
this mattress down here so that she may have a little air. I explain all
this so that you should be careful. She fell down exhausted on the
mattress as if she had fainted. But she is asleep. I do hope that no one
will awake her. I address myself to the ladies, if there are any
present. A young girl, it is pitiful! We are only poor mountebanks, but
I beg a little kindness, and if there is anything to pay for not making
a noise, I will pay it. I thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Is there any
one there? No? I don't think there is. My talk is mere loss of breath.
So much the better. Gentlemen, I thank you, if you are there; and I
thank you still more if you are not. Her forehead is all in
perspiration. Come, let us take our places in the galleys again. Put on
the chain. Misery is come back. We are sinking again. A hand, the
fearful hand which we cannot see, but the weight of which we feel ever
upon us, has suddenly struck us back towards the dark point of our
destiny. Be it so. We will bear up. Only I will not have her ill. I must
seem a fool to talk aloud like this, when I am alone; but she must feel
she has some one near her when she awakes. What shall I do if somebody
awakes her suddenly! No noise, in the name of Heaven! A sudden shock
which would awake her suddenly would be of no use. It will be a pity if
anybody comes by. I believe that every one on board is asleep. Thanks be
to Providence for that mercy. Well, and Homo? Where is he, I wonder? In
all this confusion I forgot to tie him up. I do not know what I am
doing. It is more than an hour since I have seen him. I suppose he has
been to look for his supper somewhere ashore. I hope nothing has
happened to him. Homo! Homo!"
Homo struck his tail softly on the planks of the deck.
"You are there. Oh! you are there! Thank God for that. If Homo had been
lost, it would have been too much to bear. She has moved her arm.
Perhaps she is going to awake. Quiet, Homo! The tide is turning. We
shall sail directly. I think it will be a fine night. There is no wind:
the flag droops. We shall have a good passage. I do not know what moon
it is, but there is scarcely a stir in the clouds. There will be no
swell. It will be a fine night. Her cheek is pale; it is only weakness!
No, it is flushed; it is only the fever. Stay! It is rosy. She is well!
I can no longer see clearly. My poor Homo, I no longer see distinctly.
So we must begin life afresh. We must set to work again. There are only
we two left, you see. We will work for her, both of us! She is our
child, Ah! the vessel moves! We are off! Good-bye, London! Good evening!
good-night! To the devil with horrible London!"
He was right. He heard the dull sound of the unmooring as the vessel
fell away from the wharf. Abaft on the poop a man, the skipper, no
doubt, just come from below, was standing. He had slipped the hawser and
was working the tiller. Looking only to the rudder, as befitted the
combined phlegm of a Dutchman and a sailor, listening to nothing but the
wind and the water, bending against the resistance of the tiller, as he
worked it to port or starboard, he looked in the gloom of the after-deck
like a phantom bearing a beam upon its shoulder. He was alone there. So
long as they were in the river the other sailors were not required. In a
few minutes the vessel was in the centre of the current, with which she
drifted without rolling or pitching. The Thames, little disturbed by the
ebb, was calm. Carried onwards by the tide, the vessel made rapid way.
Behind her the black scenery of London was fading in the mist.
Ursus went on talking.
"Never mind, I will give her digitalis. I am afraid that delirium will
supervene. She perspires in the palms of her hands. What sin can we have
committed in the sight of God? How quickly has all this misery come upon
us! Hideous rapidity of evil! A stone falls. It has claws. It is the
hawk swooping on the lark. It is destiny. There you lie, my sweet child!
One comes to London. One says: What a fine city! What fine buildings!
Southwark is a magnificent suburb. One settles there. But now they are
horrid places. What would you have me do there? I am going to leave.
This is the 30th of April. I always distrusted the month of April. There
are but two lucky days in April, the 5th and the 27th; and four unlucky
ones--the 10th, the 20th, the 29th, and the 30th. This has been placed
beyond doubt by the calculations of Cardan. I wish this day were over.
Departure is a comfort. At dawn we shall be at Gravesend, and to-morrow
evening at Rotterdam. Zounds! I will begin life again in the van. We
will draw it, won't we, Homo?"
A light tapping announced the wolf's consent.
"If one could only get out of a grief as one gets out of a city! Homo,
we must yet be happy. Alas! there must always be the one who is no more.
A shadow remains on those who survive. You know whom I mean, Homo. We
were four, and now we are but three. Life is but a long loss of those
whom we love. They leave behind them a train of sorrows. Destiny amazes
us by a prolixity of unbearable suffering; who then can wonder that the
old are garrulous? It is despair that makes the dotard, old fellow!
Homo, the wind continues favourable. We can no longer see the dome of
St. Paul's. We shall pass Greenwich presently. That will be six good
miles over. Oh! I turn my back for ever on those odious capitals, full
of priests, of magistrates, and of people. I prefer looking at the
leaves rustling in the woods. Her forehead is still in perspiration. I
don't like those great violet veins in her arm. There is fever in them.
Oh! all this is killing me. Sleep, my child. Yes; she sleeps."
Here a voice spoke: an ineffable voice, which seemed from afar, and
appeared to come at once from the heights and the depths--a voice
divinely fearful, the voice of Dea.
All that Gwynplaine had hitherto felt seemed nothing. His angel spoke.
It seemed as though he heard words spoken from another world in a
The voice said,--
"He did well to go. This world was not worthy of him. Only I must go
with him. Father! I am not ill; I heard you speak just now. I am very
well, quite well. I was asleep. Father, I am going to be happy."
"My child," said Ursus in a voice of anguish, "what do you mean by
The answer was,--
"Father, do not be unhappy."
There was a pause, as if to take breath, and then these few words,
pronounced slowly, reached Gwynplaine.
"Gwynplaine is no longer here. It is now that I am blind. I knew not
what night was. Night is absence."
The voice stopped once more, and then continued,--
"I always feared that he would fly away. I felt that he belonged to
heaven. He has taken flight suddenly. It was natural that it should end
thus. The soul flies away like a bird. But the nest of the soul is in
the height, where dwells the Great Loadstone, who draws all towards Him.
I know where to find Gwynplaine. I have no doubt about the way. Father,
it is yonder. Later on, you will rejoin us, and Homo, too."
Homo, hearing his name pronounced, wagged his tail softly against the
"Father!" resumed the voice, "you understand that once Gwynplaine is no
longer here, all is over. Even if I would remain, I could not, because
one must breathe. We must not ask for that which is impossible. I was
with Gwynplaine. It was quite natural, I lived. Now Gwynplaine is no
more, I die. The two things are alike: either he must come or I must go.
Since he cannot come back, I am going to him. It is good to die. It is
not at all difficult. Father, that which is extinguished here shall be
rekindled elsewhere. It is a heartache to live in this world. It cannot
be that we shall always be unhappy. When we go to what you call the
stars, we shall marry, we shall never part again, and we shall love,
love, love; and that is what is God."
"There, there, do not agitate yourself," said Ursus.
The voice continued,--
"Well, for instance; last year. In the spring of last year we were
together, and we were happy. How different it is now! I forget what
little village we were in, but there were trees, and I heard the linnets
singing. We came to London; all was changed. This is no reproach, mind.
When one comes to a fresh place, how is one to know anything about it?
Father, do you remember that one day there was a woman in the great box;
you said: 'It is a duchess.' I felt sad. I think it might have been
better had we kept to the little towns. Gwynplaine has done right,
withal. Now my turn has come. Besides, you have told me yourself, that
when I was very little, my mother died, and that I was lying on the
ground with the snow falling upon me, and that he, who was also very
little then, and alone, like myself, picked me up, and that it was thus
that I came to be alive; so you cannot wonder that now I should feel it
absolutely necessary to go and search the grave to see if Gwynplaine be
in it. Because the only thing which exists in life is the heart; and
after life, the soul. You take notice of what I say, father, do you not?
What is moving? It seems as if we are in something that is moving, yet I
do not hear the sound of the wheels."
After a pause the voice added,--
"I cannot exactly make out the difference between yesterday and to-day.
I do not complain. I do not know what has occurred, but something must
These words, uttered with deep and inconsolable sweetness, and with a
sigh which Gwynplaine heard, wound up thus,--
"I must go, unless he should return."
Ursus muttered gloomily: "I do not believe in ghosts."
He went on,--
"This is a ship. You ask why the house moves; it is because we are on
board a vessel. Be calm; you must not talk so much. Daughter, if you
have any love for me, do not agitate yourself, it will make you
feverish. I am so old, I could not bear it if you were to have an
illness. Spare me! do not be ill!"
Again the voice spoke,--
"What is the use of searching the earth, when we can only find in
Ursus replied, with a half attempt at authority,--
"Be calm. There are times when you have no sense at all. I order you to
rest. After all, you cannot be expected to know what it is to rupture a
blood-vessel. I should be easy if you were easy. My child, do something
for me as well. If he picked you up, I took you in. You will make me
ill. That is wrong. You must calm yourself, and go to sleep. All will
come right. I give you my word of honour, all will come right. Besides,
it is very fine weather. The night might have been made on purpose.
To-morrow we shall be at Rotterdam, which is a city in Holland, at the
mouth of the Meuse."
"Father," said the voice, "look here; when two beings have always been
together from infancy, their state should not be disturbed, or death
must come, and it cannot be otherwise. I love you all the same, but I
feel that I am no longer altogether with you, although I am as yet not
altogether with him."
"Come! try to sleep," repeated Ursus.
The voice answered,--
"I shall have sleep enough soon."
Ursus replied, in trembling tones,--
"I tell you that we are going to Holland, to Rotterdam, which is a
"Father," continued the voice, "I am not ill; if you are anxious about
that, you may rest easy. I have no fever. I am rather hot; it is nothing
Ursus stammered out,--
"At the mouth of the Meuse--"
"I am quite well, father; but look here! I feel that I am going to die!"
"Do nothing so foolish," said Ursus. And he added, "Above all, God
forbid she should have a shock!"
There was a silence. Suddenly Ursus cried out,--
"What are you doing? Why are you getting up? Lie down again, I implore
Gwynplaine shivered, and stretched out his head.
PARADISE REGAINED BELOW.
He saw Dea. She had just raised herself up on the mattress. She had on a
long white dress, carefully closed, and showing only the delicate form