At times Gwynplaine reproached himself. He made his happiness a case of conscience. He fancied that to allow a woman who could not see him to love him was to deceive her.
What would she have said could she have suddenly obtained her sight? How she would have felt repulsed by what had previously attracted her! How she would have recoiled from her frightful loadstone! What a cry! What covering of her face! What a flight! A bitter scruple harassed him. He told himself that such a monster as he had no right to love. He was a hydra idolized by a star. It was his duty to enlighten the blind star.
One day he said to Dea,--
"You know that I am very ugly."
"I know that you are sublime," she answered.
"When you hear all the world laugh, they laugh at me because I am horrible."
"I love you," said Dea.
After a silence, she added,--
"I was in death; you brought me to life. When you are here, heaven is by my side. Give me your hand, that I may touch heaven."
Their hands met and grasped each other. They spoke no more, but were silent in the plenitude of love.
Ursus, who was crabbed, had overheard this. The next day, when the three were together, he said,--
"For that matter, Dea is ugly also."
The word produced no effect. Dea and Gwynplaine were not listening. Absorbed in each other, they rarely heeded such exclamations of Ursus. Their depth was a dead loss.
This time, however, the precaution of Ursus, "Dea is also ugly," indicated in this learned man a certain knowledge of women. It is certain that Gwynplaine, in his loyalty, had been guilty of an imprudence. To have said, I am ugly, to any other blind girl than Dea might have been dangerous. To be blind, and in love, is to be twofold blind. In such a situation dreams are dreamt. Illusion is the food of dreams. Take illusion from love, and you take from it its aliment. It is compounded of every enthusiasm, of both physical and moral admiration.
Moreover, you should never tell a woman a word difficult to understand. She will dream about it, and she often dreams falsely. An enigma in a reverie spoils it. The shock caused by the fall of a careless word displaces that against which it strikes. At times it happens, without our knowing why, that because we have received the obscure blow of a chance word the heart empties itself insensibly of love. He who loves perceives a decline in his happiness. Nothing is to be feared more than this slow exudation from the fissure in the vase.
Happily, Dea was not formed of such clay. The stuff of which other women are made had not been used in her construction. She had a rare nature. The frame, but not the heart, was fragile. A divine perseverance in love was in the heart of her being.
The whole disturbance which the word used by Gwynplaine had produced in her ended in her saying one day,--
"To be ugly--what is it? It is to do wrong. Gwynplaine only does good. He is handsome."
Then, under the form of interrogation so familiar to children and to the blind, she resumed,--
"To see--what is it that you call seeing? For my own part, I cannot see; I know. It seems that to see means to hide."
"What do you mean?" said Gwynplaine.
"To see is a thing which conceals the true."
"No," said Gwynplaine.
"But yes," replied Dea, "since you say you are ugly."
She reflected a moment, and then said, "Story-teller!"
Gwynplaine felt the joy of having confessed and of not being believed. Both his conscience and his love were consoled.
Thus they had reached, Dea sixteen, Gwynplaine nearly twenty-five. They were not, as it would now be expressed, "more advanced" than the first day. Less even; for it may be remembered that on their wedding night she was nine months and he ten years old. A sort of holy childhood had continued in their love. Thus it sometimes happens that the belated nightingale prolongs her nocturnal song till dawn.
Their caresses went no further than pressing hands, or lips brushing a naked arm. Soft, half-articulate whispers sufficed them.
Twenty-four and sixteen! So it happened that Ursus, who did not lose sight of the ill turn he intended to do them, said,--
"One of these days you must choose a religion."
"Wherefore?" inquired Gwynplaine.
"That you may marry."
"That is already done," said Dea.
Dea did not understand that they could be more man and wife than they were already.
At bottom, this chimerical and virginal content, this innocent union of souls, this celibacy taken for marriage, was not displeasing to Ursus.
Besides, were they not already married? If the indissoluble existed anywhere, was it not in their union? Gwynplaine and Dea! They were creatures worthy of the love they mutually felt, flung by misfortune into each other's arms. And as if they were not enough in this first link, love had survened on misfortune, and had attached them, united and bound them together. What power could ever break that iron chain, bound with knots of flowers? They were indeed bound together.
Dea had beauty, Gwynplaine had sight. Each brought a dowry. They were more than coupled--they were paired: separated solely by the sacred interposition of innocence.
Though dream as Gwynplaine would, however, and absorb all meaner passions as he could in the contemplation of Dea and before the tribunal of conscience, he was a man. Fatal laws are not to be eluded. He underwent, like everything else in nature, the obscure fermentations willed by the Creator. At times, therefore, he looked at the women who were in the crowd, but he immediately felt that the look was a sin, and hastened to retire, repentant, into his own soul.
Let us add that he met with no encouragement. On the face of every woman who looked upon him he saw aversion antipathy, repugnance, and rejection. It was clear that no other than Dea was possible for him. This aided his repentance.
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