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Gwynplaine of old had been transformed, by degrees, unconsciously in a mysterious growth. The ancient modesty of the youth felt itself misty and disquieted. We have an ear of light, where speaks the spirit ; and an ear of obscurity, where speaks instinct.
Anyone who saw Gwynplaine walk, would have said, “See !-a drunken man!”
He staggered almost under the weight of his own heart, of spring and of night.
The solitude in the bowling-green was so peaceful that occasionally he spoke aloud. The consciousness that there is no listener induces speech.
He walked with slow steps, his head down, his hands behind him, the left hand in the right, the fingers open.
All at once he felt something sliding between the division of his inert fingers.
He turned suddenly.
It was this man who, coming behind him with the stealth of a cat, had placed that paper within his fingers.
The paper was a letter.
The man, sufficiently visible in the starlight, was small, chubby cheeked, young, sedate, and dressed in a flame-coloured livery, seen from the top to the bottom through the opening of a long grey cloak, then called a capenoche, a Spanish word contracted; in French it was upe-de-nuit. His head was covered by a crimson cap, like the skullcap of a cardinal, on which servitude was indicated by a strip of lace. On this cap could be seen a bunch of tisserin feathers. He remained motionless before Gwynplaine. Like the dark outline of a clream.
Gwynplaine recognised the page of the duchess.
Before Gwynplaine could utter an exclamation of surprise, he heard the thin voice of the page, at once so childlike and feminine in its tone, saying to him,
“ Be, at this hour to-morrow, at the entrance to London Bridge. I will be there to conduct you
“Whither?” demanded Gwynplaine. “Where you are expected."
Gwynplaine dropped his eyes on the letter, which he held mechanically in his hand.
When he lifted his head, the page was no longer there.
A vague form might be perceived, lessening rapidly, in the obscurity of the fair-field. It was the little valet. He turned the corner of the street, and solitude reigned again.
Gwynplaine looked at the vanishing page, then at the letter. There are moments in our lives when what happens seems not to happen. Stupor keeps us for a moment at some distance from the fact.
Gwynplaine raised the letter to his eye, as if he would have read it, and perceived that he could not do so, for two reasons-first, because he had not broken the seal; and, secondly, because it was dark.
It was some minutes before he remembered there was a lamp at the inn. He walked a few steps sideways, as if he knew not whither he was going
A somnambulist, to whom a phantom had given a letter, might walk as he did.
At length he made up his mind. He ran, rather than walked, towards the inn, stood in the light seen through the half-open door, and examined again by that illumination the closed letter. He saw no design on the seal, and on the envelope was written, “ To Gwynplaine." He broke the seal, tore the envelope, unfolded the letter, put it directly under the light, and read as follows:
“ You are hideous; I am beautiful. You are a player; and I am a duchess. I am the highest; you are the lowest. I desire you! I love you! Come!”
PART II.-BOOK THE FOURTH.
The Torture Vault.
THE TEMPTATION OF ST. GWYNPLAINE.
One jet of flame hardly makes a prick in the darkness: another such sets fire to a volcano.
Some sparks are enormous..
Gwynplaine read the letter, then he re-read it. Yes, the words were there, " I love you!"
Terrors chased each other through his mind.
He was mad; that was certain. He had just seen what did not exist. The twilight spectres were making game of him, a poor wretch! The little man in scarlet had been a deception of vision.
Sometimes at night nothings condensed into flame come and laugh at us.
Having had his laugh out, the visionary being had disappeared, and left Gwynplaine behind him mad.
Such things are freaks of darkness.
How could that be? Had he not a letter in his hand? Does he not see an envelope, a seal, paper, and writing? Does he not know from whom that came? It is all clear enough. Someone took a pen and ink, and wrote. Someone lighted a taper, and sealed it with wax. Is not his name written on the letter—" To Gwynplaine?” The paper is scented. All is clear.
Gwynplaine recognised the little man. The dwarf is a page. This gleam wears a livery. That page had given a rendezvous to Gwynplaine, for the same time to-morrow, at the entry to London Bridge.
Is London Bridge an illusion ?
No, no. All is clear. There is no delirium. There all is reality. Gwynplaine is perfectly clear in his intellects. It was not a phantasmagoria, all at once dissolving above his head, and fading into nothingness. This is something which has really happened to him. No, Gwynplaine was not mad, nor did he dream. Again he read the letter.
Well ; yes ! But then ?
There is a woman who loves him! If so, let no one ever again pronounce the word incredible! A woman desire him! A woman who has seen his face! A woman who is not blind! And who is this woman? An ugly one? No; a beauty. A gipsey ? No; a duchess !
What was it all about; and what could it all mean? What peril in such a triumph! And how was he to help plunging headlong into it?
What ! this woman! The syren, the apparition, the lady, the spectatress in the visionary box, that light in the darkness! It was she. Yes; it was she !
The sparkling of the fire began to burn over every part of his frame. It was the strange, unknown lady, she who had previously so troubled his thoughts; and his first tumultuous feelings about this woman re-appeared, heated by all this evil fire. Forgetfulness is nothing but a palimpsest: an incident happens unexpectedly, and all effaced before revives in the interlinings of wondering memory.
Gwynplaine thought he had dismissed that image from his remem
brance, and he found it still there; and she had put her mark in that unconscious brain guilty of a dream. Without his knowing it, the lines of the engraving had been bitten deep by reverie. And now a certain amount of evil had been done, and this train of thought from henceforth, perhaps, irreparable, he took up again with eagerness. What, she wish for him! What! the princess descend from her throne, the idol from its shrine, the statue from its pedestal, the phantom from its cloud! What! from the depth of the impossible has this chimera come! This deity of the sky! This irradiation ! This nereid all glistening with jewels! This proud and unattainable beauty, from the height of her radiant throne, bends down towards Gwynplaine! What! had she drawn up her chariot of the dawn, with its yoke of turtle doves and dragons, before Gwynplaine, and said to him, “Come!” What, had he, Gwynplaine, this terrible glory of being the object of such abasement from the empyrean !
The world seemed turned topsy-turvey. The insects swarmed on high, the stars were scattered below, whilst the wonderstruck Gwynplaine, overwhelmed by a falling ruin of light, and lying in the dust, was enshrined in a glory. One all-powerful, revolting against beauty and splendour, gave herself to the damned of night; preferred Gwynplaine to Antinoüs ; excited by curiosity, she entered the shadows, descending within them, and from this abdication of goddess-ship arose, crowned and prodigious, the royalty of the wretched. “ You are hideous. I love you." These words touched Gwynplaine in the ugly spot of pride. Pride is the heel in which all heroes are vulnerable. Gwynplaine was flattered in his vanity as a monster. He was loved as a deformed creature. He also was the exception as much, and perhaps more than the Jupiters and Apollos. He felt superhuman, and so much a monster as to be a god. Fearful bewilderment !
Now, who was this woman? What did he know of her ? All and nothing. It was a duchess, that he knew; he knew also that she was beautiful and rich ; that she had liveries, lackeys, pages and footmen running with torches by the side of her coronetted carriage.
He knew she was in love with him, at least she said so. Of all else he was ignorant. He knew her title; but not her name. He knew her thought; he knew not her life. Was she married, widow, maiden ? Was she free? Of what family was she? Were there snares, traps, dangers about her? Of the gallantry existing on the idle heights of society; the caves on those summits, in which savage charmers dream amid the scattered skeletons of the loves which they have already preyed on; the extent of tragic cynicism which the
experiments of a woman may attain who believes herself to be beyond the reach of man; of things such as these Gwynplaine had no idea. Nor had he even in his mind materials out of which to build up a conjecture, information of the kind being very scanty in the social depths in which he lived. Still he detected a shadow; he felt that a mist hung over all this brightness. Did he understand it? No. Could he guess at it? Still less. What was there behind that letter? One pair of folding doors opening before him, another closing on him, and causing him a vague anxiety. On the one side an avowal; on the other an enigma. Avowal and enigma, which, like two mouths, one tempting, the other threatening, pronounce the same word : Dare !
There are invasions which the mind may have to suffer. There are the Vandals of the soul, evil thoughts coming to devastate our virtue. A thousand contrary ideas rushed into Gwynplaine's brain, now following each other singly, now crowding all together. Then silence reigned again, and he would lean his head on his hands, in a kind of mournful attention, as of one who contemplates a landscape by night.
Suddenly he felt that he was no longer thinking. His reverie had reached the point of utter darkness when all things disappear.
He remembered, too, that he had not returned home. It might be about two o'clock in the morning.
He placed the letter which the page had brought him in his sidepocket, but perceiving that it was next his heart, he drew it out again, crumpled it up, and placed it in a pocket of his hose. He then directed his steps towards the inn, which he entered stealthily, and without awaking little Govicum, who, while waiting up for him, had fallen asleep on the table, with his arms for a pillow. He closed the door, lighted a candle at the lamp of the inn, fastened the bolt, turned the key in the lock, taking, mechanically, all the precautions common to a man who returns home late, ascended the staircase of the Green Box, slipped into the old hovel which he used as a bedroom, looked at Ursus who was asleep, blew out his candle, and did not go to bed.
Thus an hour passed away. Weary, at length, and fancying that bed and sleep were one, he laid his head upon the pillow without undressing, making darkness the concession of closing his eyes. But the storm of emotions which assailed him had not waned for an instant. Sleeplessness is a cruelty night inflicts on man. Gwynplaine suffered greatly. For the first time in his life, he was not pleased with himself. Ache of heart mingled with gratified vanity. What
Vol. IV., N. S. 1870.