The beginning of day is sinister. A sad pale light penetrated the hut. It was the frozen dawn. That wan light which throws into relief the mournful reality of objects which are blurred into spectral forms by the night, did not awake the children, so soundly were they sleeping. The caravan was warm. Their breathings alternated like two peaceful waves. There was no longer a hurricane without. The light of dawn was slowly taking possession of the horizon. The constellations were being extinguished, like candles blown out one after the other. Only a few large stars resisted. The deep-toned song of the Infinite was coming from the sea.
The fire in the stove was not quite out. The twilight broke, little by little, into daylight. The boy slept less heavily than the girl. At length, a ray brighter than the others broke through the pane, and he opened his eyes. The sleep of childhood ends in forgetfulness. He lay in a state of semi-stupor, without knowing where he was or what was near him, without making an effort to remember, gazing at the ceiling, and setting himself an aimless task as he gazed dreamily at the letters of the inscription--"Ursus, Philosopher"--which, being unable to read, he examined without the power of deciphering.
The sound of the key turning in the lock caused him to turn his head.
The door turned on its hinges, the steps were let down. Ursus was returning. He ascended the steps, his extinguished lantern in his hand. At the same time the pattering of four paws fell upon the steps. It was Homo, following Ursus, who had also returned to his home.
The boy awoke with somewhat of a start. The wolf, having probably an appetite, gave him a morning yawn, showing two rows of very white teeth. He stopped when he had got halfway up the steps, and placed both forepaws within the caravan, leaning on the threshold, like a preacher with his elbows on the edge of the pulpit. He sniffed the chest from afar, not being in the habit of finding it occupied as it then was. His wolfine form, framed by the doorway, was designed in black against the light of morning. He made up his mind, and entered. The boy, seeing the wolf in the caravan, got out of the bear-skin, and, standing up, placed himself in front of the little infant, who was sleeping more soundly than ever.
Ursus had just hung the lantern up on a nail in the ceiling. Silently, and with mechanical deliberation, he unbuckled the belt in which was his case, and replaced it on the shelf. He looked at nothing, and seemed to see nothing. His eyes were glassy. Something was moving him deeply in his mind. His thoughts at length found breath, as usual, in a rapid outflow of words. He exclaimed,--
"Happy, doubtless! Dead! stone dead!"
He bent down, and put a shovelful of turf mould into the stove; and as he poked the peat he growled out,--
"I had a deal of trouble to find her. The mischief of the unknown had buried her under two feet of snow. Had it not been for Homo, who sees as clearly with his nose as Christopher Columbus did with his mind, I should be still there, scratching at the avalanche, and playing hide and seek with Death. Diogenes took his lantern and sought for a man; I took my lantern and sought for a woman. He found a sarcasm, and I found mourning. How cold she was! I touched her hand--a stone! What silence in her eyes! How can any one be such a fool as to die and leave a child behind? It will not be convenient to pack three into this box. A pretty family I have now! A boy and a girl!"
Whilst Ursus was speaking, Homo sidled up close to the stove. The hand of the sleeping infant was hanging down between the stove and the chest. The wolf set to licking it. He licked it so softly that he did not awake the little infant.
Ursus turned round.
"Well done, Homo. I shall be father, and you shall be uncle."
Then he betook himself again to arranging the fire with philosophical care, without interrupting his aside.
"Adoption! It is settled; Homo is willing."
He drew himself up.
"I should like to know who is responsible for that woman's death? Is it man? or...."
He raised his eyes, but looked beyond the ceiling, and his lips murmured,--
"Is it Thou?"
Then his brow dropped, as if under a burden, and he continued,--
"The night took the trouble to kill the woman."
Raising his eyes, they met those of the boy, just awakened, who was listening. Ursus addressed him abruptly,--
"What are you laughing about?"
The boy answered,--
"I am not laughing."
Ursus felt a kind of shock, looked at him fixedly for a few minutes, and said,--
"Then you are frightful."
The interior of the caravan, on the previous night, had been so dark that Ursus had not yet seen the boy's face. The broad daylight revealed it. He placed the palms of his hands on the two shoulders of the boy, and, examining his countenance more and more piercingly, exclaimed,--
"Do not laugh any more!"
"I am not laughing," said the child.
Ursus was seized with a shudder from head to foot.
"You do laugh, I tell you."
Then seizing the child with a grasp which would have been one of fury had it not been one of pity, he asked him: roughly,--
"Who did that to you?"
The child replied,--
"I don't know what you mean."
"How long have you had that laugh?"
"I have always been thus," said the child.
Ursus turned towards the chest, saying in a low voice,--
"I thought that work was out of date."
He took from the top of it, very softly, so as not to awaken the infant, the book which he had placed there for a pillow.
"Let us see Conquest," he murmured.
It was a bundle of paper in folio, bound in soft parchment. He turned the pages with his thumb, stopped at a certain one, opened the book wide on the stove, and read,--
"'De Denasatis,' it is here."
And he continued,--
"Bucca fissa usque ad aures, genezivis denudatis, nasoque murdridato, masca eris, et ridebis semper."
"There it is for certain."
Then he replaced the book on one of the shelves, growling.
"It might not be wholesome to inquire too deeply into a case of the kind. We will remain on the surface. Laugh away, my boy!"
Just then the little girl awoke. Her good-day was a cry.
"Come, nurse, give her the breast," said Ursus.
The infant sat up. Ursus taking the phial from the stove gave it to her to suck.
Then the sun arose. He was level with the horizon. His red rays gleamed through the glass, and struck against the face of the infant, which was turned towards him. Her eyeballs, fixed on the sun, reflected his purple orbit like two mirrors. The eyeballs were immovable, the eyelids also.
"See!" said Ursus. "She is blind."
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