Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869)/Chapter 50

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SO these unfortunate creatures lived on together,—Dea depending, Gwynplaine sustaining. These orphans were all in all to each other; the feeble and the deformed were betrothed. Bliss unspeakable had resulted from their distress.

They were grateful. To whom? To the great Unknown. Be grateful in your own hearts, that suffices. Thanksgiving has wings, and flies to the right destination; your prayer knows its way better than you can. How many men have believed that they were praying to Jupiter, when they were really praying to Jehovah! How many believers in amulets are listened to by the Almighty! How many atheists there are who know not that in the simple fact of being good and sad they pray to God!

Gwynplaine and Dea were grateful. Deformity is exile; blindness is a precipice. The exiled one had been adopted; the precipice was habitable. Gwynplaine had seen a brilliant light descend upon him. As if in a dream he beheld a white cloud of beauty having the form of a woman, a radiant vision endowed with a heart. This phantom, part cloud and part woman, clasped him; the apparition embraced him, and the heart craved him. Gwynplaine was no longer deformed; he was beloved. The rose had demanded the caterpillar in marriage, feeling that within the caterpillar there was a divine butterfly. Gwynplaine the rejected, was chosen.

To have one's desire is everything. Gwynplaine had his, Dea hers. The dejection of the disfigured man was changed to profound gratitude and intoxicating delight. The wretched found a refuge in each other: two blanks, combining, filled each other. They were bound together by what they lacked: in that in which one was poor, the other was rich. The misfortune of the one was the good fortune of the other. If Dea had not been blind, would she have chosen Gwynplaine? If Gwynplaine had not been disfigured, would he have preferred Dea? She would probably have rejected the deformed man, as he would have passed by the afflicted woman. Hence how fortunate it was for Dea that Gwynplaine was hideous; and how fortunate for Gwynplaine that Dea was blind! A mighty need of each other was the foundation of their love. Gwynplaine saved Dea; Dea saved Gwynplaine. Apposition of misery produced adherence. It was the embrace of those swallowed in the abyss,—none closer, none more hopeless, none more exquisite.

"What should I be without her?" Gwynplaine thought.

"What should I be without him?" Dea thought.

The exile of each made a country for both. Two hopeless fatalities, Gwynplaine's hideousness and Dea's blindness, united them. They sufficed to each other; they imagined nothing beyond each other. To speak to each other was a delight; to approach was beatitude. By force of reciprocal intuition they became united in the same reverie, and thought the same thoughts. In Gwynplaine's tread Dea fancied she heard the step of one deified. They tightened their hold upon each other in a sort of sidereal chiaroscuro, full of perfumes, of light, and of music, in the radiant land of dreams. They belonged to each other; they knew themselves to be forever united in the same joy and the same ecstasy, and nothing could be stranger than this construction of an Eden by two of the damned. They were inexpressibly happy. Out of their hell they had created a heaven. Such is thy power, O Love! Dea heard Gwynplaine's laugh; Gwynplaine saw Dea's smile. Thus ideal felicity was created; the perfect joy of life was realized; the mysterious problem of happiness was solved. By whom? By two outcasts.

To Gwynplaine, Dea was splendour; to Dea, Gwynplaine was presence. Presence is that profound mystery which renders the invisible world divine, and from which results that other mystery,—faith. In religions this is the one thing which is irreducible; but this irreducible thing suffices. The great motive power is not seen, it is felt. Gwynplaine was Dea's religion. Sometimes, lost in her sense of love towards him, she knelt, like a beautiful priestess before a gnome in a pagoda, made happy by her adoration. Imagine to yourself an unfathomable abyss; in the centre of this abyss an oasis of light; and on this oasis two creatures shut out of any other life, dazzling each other. No purity could be compared to their loves. Dea did not even know what a kiss might be, though perhaps she desired it; because blindness, especially in a woman, has its dreams, and though trembling at the approaches of the unknown does not fear them all. As for Gwynplaine, his unhappy youth had made him sensitive. The more intensely he loved, the more timid he became. He might have dared anything with this companion of his early youth, with this creature as ignorant of fault as of light, with this blind girl who knew but one thing,—that she adored him. But he would have thought it a theft to take what she might have given; so he resigned himself with a melancholy satisfaction to love angelically, and the knowledge of his deformity imbued him with a proud purity of thought and action.

These happy creatures dwelt in the ideal world. They embraced and caressed each other only in spirit. They had always lived the same life; they knew themselves only in each other's society. The infancy of Dea had coincided with the youth of Gwynplaine; they had grown up side by side. For a long time they had slept in the same bed, for the sleeping accommodations of the van were limited. They slept on the chest; Ursus, on the floor,—that was the arrangement. One day, while Dea was still very young, Gwynplaine felt himself grown up; and it was now that a feeling of shame was first aroused in him. So he said to Ursus, "I too will sleep on the floor;" and at night he stretched himself on the bear-skin beside the old man. Then Dea cried for her bed-fellow; but Gwynplaine, become restless because he had begun to love, insisted upon remaining where he was. From that time he always in cold weather slept by Ursus on the floor. In the summer, when the nights were fine, he slept outside with Homo.