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CHAPTER XII. URSUS THE POET DRAGS ON URSUS THE PHILOSOPHER.
Then Dea entered. He looked at her, and saw nothing but her. This is love; one may be carried away for a moment by the importunity of some other idea, but the beloved one enters, and all that does not appertain to her presence immediately fades away, without her dreaming that perhaps she is effacing in us a world.
Let us mention a circumstance. In "Chaos Vanquished," the word _monstruo_, addressed to Gwynplaine, displeased Dea. Sometimes, with the smattering of Spanish which every one knew at the period, she took it into her head to replace it by _quiero_, which signifies, "I wish it." Ursus tolerated, although not without an expression of impatience, this alteration in his text. He might have said to Dea, as in our day Moessard said to Vissot, _Tu manques de respect au repertoire_.
"The Laughing Man."
Such was the form of Gwynplaine's fame. His name, Gwynplaine, little known at any time, had disappeared under his nickname, as his face had disappeared under its grin.
His popularity was like his visage--a mask.
His name, however, was to be read on a large placard in front of the Green Box, which offered the crowd the following narrative composed by Ursus:--
"Here is to be seen Gwynplaine, deserted at the age of ten, on the night of the 29th of January, 1690, by the villainous Comprachicos, on the coast of Portland. The little boy has grown up, and is called now, THE LAUGHING MAN."
The existence of these mountebanks was as an existence of lepers in a leper-house, and of the blessed in one of the Pleiades. There was every day a sudden transition from the noisy exhibition outside, into the most complete seclusion. Every evening they made their exit from this world. They were like the dead, vanishing on condition of being reborn next day. A comedian is a revolving light, appearing one moment, disappearing the next, and existing for the public but as a phantom or a light, as his life circles round. To exhibition succeeded isolation. When the performance was finished, whilst the audience were dispersing, and their murmur of satisfaction was dying away in the streets, the Green Box shut up its platform, as a fortress does its drawbridge, and all communication with mankind was cut off. On one side, the universe; on the other, the caravan; and this caravan contained liberty, clear consciences, courage, devotion, innocence, happiness, love--all the constellations.
Blindness having sight and deformity beloved sat side by side, hand pressing hand, brow touching brow, and whispered to each other, intoxicated with love.
The compartment in the middle served two purposes--for the public it was a stage, for the actors a dining-room.
Ursus, ever delighting in comparisons, profited by the diversity of its uses to liken the central compartment in the Green Box to the arradach in an Abyssinian hut.