List Of Contents | Contents of The Man in the Iron Mask, by Dumas, Pere
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military exercises, and practiced on horseback.  Well, one morning during
the summer, it being very hot, I went to sleep in the hall.  Nothing, up
to that period, except the respect paid me, had enlightened me, or even
roused my suspicions.  I lived as children, as birds, as plants, as the
air and the sun do.  I had just turned my fifteenth year - "

"This, then, is eight years ago?"

"Yes, nearly; but I have ceased to reckon time."

"Excuse me; but what did your tutor tell you, to encourage you to work?"

"He used to say that a man was bound to make for himself, in the world,
that fortune which Heaven had refused him at his birth.  He added that,
being a poor, obscure orphan, I had no one but myself to look to; and
that nobody either did, or ever would, take any interest in me.  I was,
then, in the hall I have spoken of, asleep from fatigue with long
fencing.  My preceptor was in his room on the first floor, just over me.
Suddenly I heard him exclaim, and then he called: 'Perronnette!
Perronnette!'  It was my nurse whom he called."

"Yes, I know it," said Aramis.  "Continue, monseigneur."

"Very likely she was in the garden; for my preceptor came hastily
downstairs.  I rose, anxious at seeing him anxious.  He opened the garden-
door, still crying out, 'Perronnette!  Perronnette!'  The windows of the
hall looked into the court; the shutters were closed; but through a chink
in them I saw my tutor draw near a large well, which was almost directly
under the windows of his study.  He stooped over the brim, looked into
the well, and again cried out, and made wild and affrighted gestures.
Where I was, I could not only see, but hear - and see and hear I did."

"Go on, I pray you," said Aramis.

"Dame Perronnette came running up, hearing the governor's cries.  He went
to meet her, took her by the arm, and drew her quickly towards the edge;
after which, as they both bent over it together, 'Look, look,' cried he,
'what a misfortune!'

"'Calm yourself, calm yourself,' said Perronnette; 'what is the matter?'

"'The letter!' he exclaimed; 'do you see that letter?' pointing to the
bottom of the well.

"'What letter?' she cried.

"'The letter you see down there; the last letter from the queen.'

"At this word I trembled.  My tutor - he who passed for my father, he who
was continually recommending me modesty and humility - in correspondence
with the queen!

"'The queen's last letter!' cried Perronnette, without showing more
astonishment than at seeing this letter at the bottom of the well; 'but
how came it there?'

"'A chance, Dame Perronnette - a singular chance.  I was entering my
room, and on opening the door, the window, too, being open, a puff of air
came suddenly and carried off this paper - this letter of her majesty's;
I darted after it, and gained the window just in time to see it flutter a
moment in the breeze and disappear down the well.'

"'Well,' said Dame Perronnette; 'and if the letter has fallen into the
well, 'tis all the same as if it was burnt; and as the queen burns all
her letters every time she comes - '

"And so you see this lady who came every month was the queen," said the

"'Doubtless, doubtless,' continued the old gentleman; 'but this letter
contained instructions - how can I follow them?'

"'Write immediately to her; give her a plain account of the accident, and
the queen will no doubt write you another letter in place of this.'

"'Oh! the queen would never believe the story,' said the good gentleman,
shaking his head; 'she will imagine that I want to keep this letter
instead of giving it up like the rest, so as to have a hold over her.
She is so distrustful, and M. de Mazarin so - Yon devil of an Italian is
capable of having us poisoned at the first breath of suspicion.'"

Aramis almost imperceptibly smiled.

"'You know, Dame Perronnette, they are both so suspicious in all that
concerns Philippe.'

"Philippe was the name they gave me," said the prisoner.

"'Well, 'tis no use hesitating,' said Dame Perronnette, 'somebody must go
down the well.'

"'Of course; so that the person who goes down may read the paper as he is
coming up.'

"'But let us choose some villager who cannot read, and then you will be
at ease.'

"'Granted; but will not any one who descends guess that a paper must be
important for which we risk a man's life?  However, you have given me an
idea, Dame Perronnette; somebody shall go down the well, but that
somebody shall be myself.'

"But at this notion Dame Perronnette lamented and cried in such a manner,
and so implored the old nobleman, with tears in her eyes, that he
promised her to obtain a ladder long enough to reach down, while she went
in search of some stout-hearted youth, whom she was to persuade that a
jewel had fallen into the well, and that this jewel was wrapped in a
paper.  'And as paper,' remarked my preceptor, 'naturally unfolds in
water, the young man would not be surprised at finding nothing, after
all, but the letter wide open.'

"'But perhaps the writing will be already effaced by that time,' said
Dame Perronnette.

"'No consequence, provided we secure the letter.  On returning it to the
queen, she will see at once that we have not betrayed her; and
consequently, as we shall not rouse the distrust of Mazarin, we shall
have nothing to fear from him.'

"Having come to this resolution, they parted.  I pushed back the shutter,
and, seeing that my tutor was about to re-enter, I threw myself on my
couch, in a confusion of brain caused by all I had just heard.  My
governor opened the door a few moments after, and thinking I was asleep
gently closed it again.  As soon as ever it was shut, I rose, and,
listening, heard the sound of retiring footsteps.  Then I returned to the
shutters, and saw my tutor and Dame Perronnette go out together.  I was
alone in the house.  They had hardly closed the gate before I sprang from
the window and ran to the well.  Then, just as my governor had leaned
over, so leaned I.  Something white and luminous glistened in the green
and quivering silence of the water.  The brilliant disk fascinated and
allured me; my eyes became fixed, and I could hardly breathe.  The well
seemed to draw me downwards with its slimy mouth and icy breath; and I
thought I read, at the bottom of the water, characters of fire traced
upon the letter the queen had touched.  Then, scarcely knowing what I was
about, and urged on by one of those instinctive impulses which drive men
to destruction, I lowered the cord from the windlass of the well to
within about three feet of the water, leaving the bucket dangling, at the
same time taking infinite pains not to disturb that coveted letter, which
was beginning to change its white tint for the hue of chrysoprase, -
proof enough that it was sinking, - and then, with the rope weltering in
my hands, slid down into the abyss.  When I saw myself hanging over the
dark pool, when I saw the sky lessening above my head, a cold shudder
came over me, a chill fear got the better of me, I was seized with
giddiness, and the hair rose on my head; but my strong will still reigned
supreme over all the terror and disquietude.  I gained the water, and at
once plunged into it, holding on by one hand, while I immersed the other
and seized the dear letter, which, alas! came in two in my grasp.  I
concealed the two fragments in my body-coat, and, helping myself with my
feet against the sides of the pit, and clinging on with my hands, agile
and vigorous as I was, and, above all, pressed for time, I regained the
brink, drenching it as I touched it with the water that streamed off me.
I was no sooner out of the well with my prize, than I rushed into the
sunlight, and took refuge in a kind of shrubbery at the bottom of the
garden.  As I entered my hiding-place, the bell which resounded when the
great gate was opened, rang.  It was my preceptor come back again.  I had
but just time.  I calculated that it would take ten minutes before he
would gain my place of concealment, even if, guessing where I was, he
came straight to it; and twenty if he were obliged to look for me.  But
this was time enough to allow me to read the cherished letter, whose
fragments I hastened to unite again.  The writing was already fading, but
I managed to decipher it all.

"And will you tell me what you read therein, monseigneur?" asked Aramis,
deeply interested.

"Quite enough, monsieur, to see that my tutor was a man of noble rank,
and that Perronnette, without being a lady of quality, was far better
than a servant; and also to perceived that I must myself be high-born,
since the queen, Anne of Austria, and Mazarin, the prime minister,
commended me so earnestly to their care."  Here the young man paused,
quite overcome.

"And what happened?" asked Aramis.

"It happened, monsieur," answered he, "that the workmen they had summoned
found nothing in the well, after the closest search; that my governor
perceived that the brink was all watery; that I was not so dried by the
sun as to prevent Dame Perronnette spying that my garments were moist;
and, lastly, that I was seized with a violent fever, owing to the chill
and the excitement of my discovery, an attack of delirium supervening,
during which I related the whole adventure; so that, guided by my avowal,
my governor found the pieces of the queen's letter inside the bolster
where I had concealed them."

"Ah!" said Aramis, "now I understand."

"Beyond this, all is conjecture.  Doubtless the unfortunate lady and
gentleman, not daring to keep the occurrence secret, wrote of all this to
the queen and sent back the torn letter."

"After which," said Aramis, "you were arrested and removed to the Bastile."

"As you see."

"Your two attendants disappeared?"


"Let us not take up our time with the dead, but see what can be done with
the living.  You told me you were resigned."

"I repeat it."

"Without any desire for freedom?"

"As I told you."

"Without ambition, sorrow, or thought?"

The young man made no answer.

"Well," asked Aramis, "why are you silent?"

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