Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869)/Chapter 51

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CHAPTER VI.


URSUS AS TUTOR, AND URSUS AS GUARDIAN.


URSUS said to himself, "Some of these days I will play them a mean trick,—I will marry them."

Ursus taught Gwynplaine the theory of love. He said to him: "Do you know how the Almighty lights the fire called love? He places the woman underneath, the devil between, and the man at the top. A match—that is to say, a look—and behold, it is all on fire."

"A look is unnecessary, " answered Gwynplaine, thinking of Dea.

And Ursus replied, "Idiot! do souls require mortal eyes to see each other?"

Ursus was a good fellow at times. Gwynplaine, madly in love with Dea, sometimes became melancholy, and made use of the presence of Ursus as a guard on himself. One day Ursus said to him: "Bah! do not put yourself out. When in love, the cock shows himself."

"But the eagle conceals himself, " replied Gwynplaine.

At other times Ursus would say to himself apart: "It is well to put some spokes in the wheels of the Cytherean car occasionally. They love each other too much. This may have its disadvantages. Let us avoid too much of a conflagration; let us moderate these raptures."

So Ursus had recourse to warnings of this nature,—speaking to Gwynplaine while Dea slept, and to Dea when Gwynplaine was out of hearing:—

"Dea, you must not be so fond of Gwynplaine. To live only in another is dangerous. Selfishness is the surest foundation for happiness, after all. Men play women false sometimes. Besides, Gwynplaine might end by becoming infatuated with you. His success is very great! You have no idea how great his success is!"

Again: "Gwynplaine, such disparities are unfortunate. So much ugliness on one side and so much beauty on another, ought to cause reflection. Temper your ardour, my boy; do not become too enthusiastic about Dea. Do you seriously consider that you are suited to her? Just think of your deformity and her perfection! See the difference between her and yourself. She has everything, this Dea. What a white skin! What hair! Lips like strawberries! and her foot, her hand! Those shoulders, with their exquisite curve! Her expression too is sublime. She seems to diffuse light around her as she moves; and when she speaks, that grave tone of voice is charming. And in spite of all this, to think that she is a woman! She would not be such a fool as to be an angel. She is a perfect beauty! Keep all this in mind, to calm your ardour."

These speeches only increased the mutual love of Gwynplaine and Dea; and Ursus marvelled at his want of success, like one who might say, "It is singular that with all the oil I throw on the fire, I cannot extinguish it!"

Did Ursus, then, really desire to extinguish their love, or to cool it even? Certainly not. He would have been sorely disappointed had he succeeded. In his secret heart this love delighted him beyond measure. But it is natural to scoff a little at that which charms us; men call it wisdom. Ursus had been, in his relations with Gwynplaine and Dea, almost a father and a mother. Grumbling all the while, he had brought them up; grumbling all the while, he had nourished them. His adoption of them had made the van harder to draw, and he had been oftener compelled to harness himself by Homo's side to help pull it. We may remark here, however, that after the first few years, when Gwynplaine was nearly grown up and Ursus had grown quite old, Gwynplaine had taken his turn and drawn Ursus.

Ursus, seeing that Gwynplaine was becoming a man, had cast the horoscope. "Your fortune is made," he said to him once, alluding to his disfigurement.

This family of an old man and two children, with a wolf, had become, as they wandered, more and more closely united. Their roving life had not hindered education. "To travel is to grow," Ursus said. Gwynplaine was evidently made to exhibit at fairs. Ursus had cultivated in him feats of dexterity, and had incrusted him with as much of the science and wisdom he himself possessed as possible. Ursus, contemplating the perplexing mask of Gwynplaine's face, often growled, "He has begun well." It was probably for this reason that he had tried to endow him with every ornament of philosophy and wisdom. He repeated constantly to Gwynplaine:—

"Be a philosopher. To be wise is to be invulnerable. You see what I am. I have never shed a tear. This is all the result of my wisdom. Do you think that occasion for tears has been wanting, had I felt disposed to weep?"

Ursus, in one of his monologues in the hearing of the wolf, said: "I have taught Gwynplaine everything, Latin included. I have taught Dea nothing, music included."

Ursus had taught them both to sing. He had himself quite a talent for playing on the oaten reed, a little flute of that period. He played on it very agreeably, as also on the chiffonie,—a sort of beggar's hurdy-gurdy, mentioned in the Chronicle of Bertrand Duguesclin as the "truant instrument," which started the symphony. These instruments attracted the crowd. Ursus would show them the chiffonie, and say, "It is called organistrum in Latin." He had taught Dea and Gwynplaine to sing according to the method of Orpheus and of Egide Binchois. Frequently he interrupted the lessons with enthusiastic cries, such as, "Orpheus, musician of Greece! Binchois, musician of Picardy!" These branches of culture did not occupy the children so much as to prevent their adoring each other. They had mingled their hearts together as they grew up, as two saplings planted near each other mingle their branches as they become trees.

"That is well," said Ursus. "I will have them marry, one of these days." Then he grumbled to himself: "They are quite tiresome with their love."

The past, at least their little past, had no existence for Dea and Gwynplaine. They knew only what Ursus had told them of it. They called Ursus father. The only remembrance which Gwynplaine had of his infancy was as of a passage of demons over his cradle. He had an impression of having been trodden in the darkness under deformed feet. Was this intentional or not? He was ignorant on this point. The one thing that he did remember clearly, even to the slightest detail, were his tragical adventures when deserted at Portland. The finding of Dea made the dismal night a notable date for him.

Dea's recollections were even more confused than those of Gwynplaine. In so young a child all remembrance soon melts away. She recollected her mother as something cold. Had she ever seen the sun? Perhaps so. "The sun! what was it like?" She had a vague idea of something luminous and warm, of which Gwynplaine now filled the place. They spoke to each other in low tones: it is certain that cooing is the most important thing in the world. Dea often said to Gwynplaine: "Light means that you are speaking."

Once, no longer able to restrain himself as he caught sight of Dea's bare arm through her thin muslin sleeve, Gwynplaine touched the transparent stuff with his lips: ideal kiss of a disfigured mouth! Dea felt a deep delight; she blushed like a rose. This kiss from a monster brought the roseate hues of dawn to gleam on this beautiful brow shrouded in night. Gwynplaine sighed with a sort of terror; but Dea pulled up her sleeve, and extending her naked arm to Gwynplaine, said, "Again!" Gwynplaine fled. The next day the game was renewed, with variations. It was a heavenly subsidence into that sweet abyss called love.

At such things Heaven smiles philosophically.