List Of Contents | Contents of The Man in the Iron Mask, by Dumas, Pere
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"We will renounce the idea of the prison," said he, in a lower tone: "we
will find a little retreat from which the invincible cannot possibly

"That was well spoken, our ally!" replied the duchesse.  "But it is
getting late; had we not better return?"

"The more willingly, madame, from my having my preparations to make for
setting out with the king."

"To Paris!" cried the duchesse to the coachman.

And the carriage returned towards the Faubourg Saint Antoine, after the
conclusion of the treaty that gave to death the last friend of Fouquet,
the last defender of Belle-Isle, the former friend of Marie Michon, the
new foe of the old duchesse.

Chapter XXXVII:
The Two Lighters.

D'Artagnan had set off; Fouquet likewise was gone, and with a rapidity
which doubled the tender interest of his friends.  The first moments of
this journey, or better say, this flight, were troubled by a ceaseless
dread of every horse and carriage to be seen behind the fugitive.  It was
not natural, in fact, if Louis XIV. was determined to seize this prey,
that he should allow it to escape; the young lion was already accustomed
to the chase, and he had bloodhounds sufficiently clever to be trusted.
But insensibly all fears were dispersed; the surintendant, by hard
traveling, placed such a distance between himself and his persecutors,
that no one of them could reasonably be expected to overtake him.  As to
his position, his friends had made it excellent for him.  Was he not
traveling to join the king at Nantes, and what did the rapidity prove but
his zeal to obey?  He arrived, fatigued, but reassured, at Orleans, where
he found, thanks to the care of a courier who had preceded him, a
handsome lighter of eight oars.  These lighters, in the shape of
gondolas, somewhat wide and heavy, containing a small chamber, covered by
the deck, and a chamber in the poop, formed by a tent, then acted as
passage-boats from Orleans to Nantes, by the Loire, and this passage, a
long one in our days, appeared then more easy and convenient than the
high-road, with its post-hacks and its ill-hung carriages.  Fouquet went
on board this lighter, which set out immediately.  The rowers, knowing
they had the honor of conveying the surintendant of the finances, pulled
with all their strength, and that magic word, the _finances_, promised
them a liberal gratification, of which they wished to prove themselves
worthy.  The lighter seemed to leap the mimic waves of the Loire.
Magnificent weather, a sunrise that empurpled all the landscape,
displayed the river in all its limpid serenity.  The current and the
rowers carried Fouquet along as wings carry a bird, and he arrived before
Beaugency without the slightest accident having signalized the voyage.
Fouquet hoped to be the first to arrive at Nantes; there he would see the
notables and gain support among the principal members of the States; he
would make himself a necessity, a thing very easy for a man of his merit,
and would delay the catastrophe, if he did not succeed in avoiding it
entirely.  "Besides," said Gourville to him, "at Nantes, you will make
out, or we will make out, the intentions of your enemies; we will have
horses always ready to convey you to Poitou, a bark in which to gain the
sea, and when once upon the open sea, Belle-Isle is your inviolable
port.  You see, besides, that no one is watching you, no one is
following."  He had scarcely finished when they discovered at a distance,
behind an elbow formed by the river, the masts of a huge lighter coming
down.  The rowers of Fouquet's boat uttered a cry of surprise on seeing
this galley.

"What is the matter?" asked Fouquet.

"The matter is, monseigneur," replied the patron of the bark, "that it is
a truly remarkable thing - that lighter comes along like a hurricane."

Gourville started, and mounted to the deck, in order to obtain a better

Fouquet did not go up with him, but said to Gourville, with restrained
mistrust: "See what it is, dear friend."

The lighter had just passed the elbow.  It came on so fast, that behind
it might be plainly seen the white wake illumined with the fires of the

"How they go," repeated the skipper, "how they go!  They must be well
paid!  I did not think," he added, "that oars of wood could behave better
than ours, but yonder oarsmen prove the contrary."

"Well they may," said one of the rowers, "they are twelve, and we but

"Twelve rowers!" replied Gourville, "twelve! impossible."

The number of eight rowers for a lighter had never been exceeded, even
for the king.  This honor had been paid to monsieur le surintendant, more
for the sake of haste than of respect.

"What does it mean?" said Gourville, endeavoring to distinguish beneath
the tent, which was already apparent, travelers which the most piercing
eye could not yet have succeeded in discovering.

"They must be in a hurry, for it is not the king," said the patron.

Fouquet shuddered.

"By what sign do you know that it is not the king?" said Gourville.

"In the first place, because there is no white flag with fleurs-de-lis,
which the royal lighter always carries."

"And then," said Fouquet, "because it is impossible it should be the
king, Gourville, as the king was still in Paris yesterday."

Gourville replied to the surintendant by a look which said: "You were
there yourself yesterday."

"And by what sign do you make out they are in such haste?" added he, for
the sake of gaining time.

"By this, monsieur," said the patron; "these people must have set out a
long while after us, and they have already nearly overtaken us."

"Bah!" said Gourville, "who told you that they do not come from Beaugency
or from Moit even?"

"We have seen no lighter of that shape, except at Orleans.  It comes from
Orleans, monsieur, and makes great haste."

Fouquet and Gourville exchanged a glance.  The captain remarked their
uneasiness, and, to mislead him, Gourville immediately said:

"Some friend, who has laid a wager he would catch us; let us win the
wager, and not allow him to come up with us."

The patron opened his mouth to say that it was quite impossible, but
Fouquet said with much _hauteur_, - "If it is any one who wishes to
overtake us, let him come."

"We can try, monseigneur," said the man, timidly.  "Come, you fellows,
put out your strength; row, row!"

"No," said Fouquet, "on the contrary; stop short."

"Monseigneur! what folly!" interrupted Gourville, stooping towards his

"Pull up!" repeated Fouquet.  The eight oars stopped, and resisting the
water, created a retrograde motion.  It stopped.  The twelve rowers in
the other did not, at first, perceive this maneuver, for they continued
to urge on their boat so vigorously that it arrived quickly within musket-
shot.  Fouquet was short-sighted, Gourville was annoyed by the sun, now
full in his eyes; the skipper alone, with that habit and clearness which
are acquired by a constant struggle with the elements, perceived
distinctly the travelers in the neighboring lighter.

"I can see them!" cried he; "there are two."

"I can see nothing," said Gourville.

"You will not be long before you distinguish them; in twenty strokes of
their oars they will be within ten paces of us."

But what the patron announced was not realized; the lighter imitated the
movement commanded by Fouquet, and instead of coming to join its
pretended friends, it stopped short in the middle of the river.

"I cannot comprehend this," said the captain.

"Nor I," cried Gourville.

"You who can see so plainly the people in that lighter," resumed Fouquet,
"try to describe them to us, before we are too far off."

"I thought I saw two," replied the boatman.  "I can only see one now,
under the tent."

"What sort of man is he?"

"He is a dark man, broad-shouldered, bull-necked."

A little cloud at that moment passed across the azure, darkening the
sun.  Gourville, who was still looking, with one hand over his eyes,
became able to see what he sought, and all at once, jumping from the
deck into the chamber where Fouquet awaited him: "Colbert!" said he, in a
voice broken by emotion.

"Colbert!" repeated Fouquet.  "Too strange! but no, it is impossible!"

"I tell you I recognized him, and he, at the same time, so plainly
recognized me, that he is just gone into the chamber on the poop.
Perhaps the king has sent him on our track."

"In that case he would join us, instead of lying by.  What is he doing

"He is watching us, without a doubt."

"I do not like uncertainty," said Fouquet; "let us go straight up to him."

"Oh! monseigneur, do not do that, the lighter is full of armed men."

"He wishes to arrest me, then, Gourville?  Why does he not come on?"

"Monseigneur, it is not consistent with your dignity to go to meet even
your ruin."

"But to allow them to watch me like a malefactor!"

"Nothing yet proves that they are watching you, monseigneur; be patient!"

"What is to be done, then?"

"Do not stop; you were only going so fast to appear to obey the king's
order with zeal.  Redouble the speed.  He who lives will see!"

"That is better.  Come!" cried Fouquet; "since they remain stock-still
yonder, let us go on."

The captain gave the signal, and Fouquet's rowers resumed their task with
all the success that could be looked for from men who had rested.
Scarcely had the lighter made a hundred fathoms, than the other, that
with the twelve rowers, resumed its rapid course.  This position lasted
all day, without any increase or diminution of distance between the two
vessels.  Towards evening Fouquet wished to try the intentions of his
persecutor.  He ordered his rowers to pull towards the shore, as if to
effect a landing.  Colbert's lighter imitated this maneuver, and steered
towards the shore in a slanting direction.  By the merest chance, at the
spot where Fouquet pretended to wish to land, a stableman, from the
chateau of Langeais, was following the flowery banks leading three horses
in halters.  Without doubt the people of the twelve-oared lighter fancied
that Fouquet was directing his course to these horses ready for flight,

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