List Of Contents | Contents of The Man in the Iron Mask, by Dumas, Pere
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

the guards, they penetrated further and further, with exclamations that
grew fainter as they advanced.  All at once, a discharge of musketry,
growling like thunder, exploded in the entrails of the vault.  Two or
three balls were flattened against the rock on which Biscarrat was
leaning.  At the same instant, cries, shrieks, imprecations burst forth,
and the little troop of gentlemen reappeared - some pale, some bleeding -
all enveloped in a cloud of smoke, which the outer air seemed to suck
from the depths of the cavern.  "Biscarrat!  Biscarrat!" cried the
fugitives, "you knew there was an ambuscade in that cavern, and you did
not warn us!  Biscarrat, you are the cause that four of us are murdered
men!  Woe be to you, Biscarrat!"

"You are the cause of my being wounded unto death," said one of the young
men, letting a gush of scarlet life-blood vomit in his palm, and
spattering it into Biscarrat's livid face.  "My blood be on your head!"
And he rolled in agony at the feet of the young man.

"But, at least, tell us who is there?" cried several furious voices.

Biscarrat remained silent.  "Tell us, or die!" cried the wounded man,
raising himself upon one knee, and lifting towards his companion an arm
bearing a useless sword.  Biscarrat rushed towards him, opening his
breast for the blow, but the wounded man fell back not to rise again,
uttering a groan which was his last.  Biscarrat, with hair on end,
haggard eyes, and bewildered head, advanced towards the interior of the
cavern, saying, "You are right.  Death to me, who have allowed my
comrades to be assassinated.  I am a worthless wretch!"  And throwing
away his sword, for he wished to die without defending himself, he rushed
head foremost into the cavern.  The others followed him.  The eleven who
remained out of sixteen imitated his example; but they did not go further
than the first.  A second discharge laid five upon the icy sand; and as
it was impossible to see whence this murderous thunder issued, the others
fell back with a terror that can be better imagined than described.  But,
far from flying, as the others had done, Biscarrat remained safe and
sound, seated on a fragment of rock, and waited.  There were only six
gentlemen left.

"Seriously," said one of the survivors, "is it the devil?"

"_Ma foi!_ it is much worse," said another.

"Ask Biscarrat, he knows."

"Where is Biscarrat?"  The young men looked round them, and saw that
Biscarrat did not answer.

"He is dead!" said two or three voices.

"Oh! no!" replied another, "I saw him through the smoke, sitting quietly
on a rock.  He is in the cavern; he is waiting for us."

"He must know who are there."

"And how should he know them?"

"He was taken prisoner by the rebels."

"That is true.  Well! let us call him, and learn from him whom we have to
deal with."  And all voices shouted, "Biscarrat!  Biscarrat!"  But
Biscarrat did not answer.

"Good!" said the officer who had shown so much coolness in the affair.
"We have no longer any need of him; here are reinforcements coming."

In fact, a company of guards, left in the rear by their officers, whom
the ardor of the chase had carried away - from seventy-five to eighty men
- arrived in good order, led by their captain and the first lieutenant.
The five officers hastened to meet their soldiers; and, in language the
eloquence of which may be easily imagined, they related the adventure,
and asked for aid.  The captain interrupted them.  "Where are your
companions?" demanded he.


"But there were sixteen of you!"

"Ten are dead.  Biscarrat is in the cavern, and we are five."

"Biscarrat is a prisoner?"


"No, for here he is - look."  In fact, Biscarrat appeared at the opening
of the grotto.

"He is making a sign to come on," said the officer.  "Come on!"

"Come on!" cried all the troop.  And they advanced to meet Biscarrat.

"Monsieur," said the captain, addressing Biscarrat, "I am assured that
you know who the men are in that grotto, and who make such a desperate
defense.  In the king's name I command you to declare what you know."

"Captain," said Biscarrat, "you have no need to command me.  My word has
been restored to me this very instant; and I came in the name of these

"To tell me who they are?"

"To tell you they are determined to defend themselves to the death,
unless you grant them satisfactory terms."

"How many are there of them, then?"

"There are two," said Biscarrat.

"There are two - and want to impose conditions upon us?"

"There are two, and they have already killed ten of our men."

"What sort of people are they - giants?"

"Worse than that.  Do you remember the history of the Bastion Saint-
Gervais, captain?"

"Yes; where four musketeers held out against an army."

"Well, these are two of those same musketeers."

"And their names?"

"At that period they were called Porthos and Aramis.  Now they are styled
M. d'Herblay and M. du Vallon."

"And what interest have they in all this?"

"It is they who were holding Bell-Isle for M. Fouquet."

A murmur ran through the ranks of the soldiers on hearing the two words
"Porthos and Aramis."  "The musketeers! the musketeers!" repeated they.
And among all these brave men, the idea that they were going to have a
struggle against two of the oldest glories of the French army, made a
shiver, half enthusiasm, two-thirds terror, run through them.  In fact,
those four names - D'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis - were
venerated among all who wore a sword; as, in antiquity, the names of
Hercules, Theseus, Castor, and Pollux were venerated.

"Two men - and they have killed ten in two discharges!  It is impossible,
Monsieur Biscarrat!"

"Eh! captain," replied the latter, "I do not tell you that they have not
with them two or three men, as the musketeers of the Bastion Saint-
Gervais had two or three lackeys; but, believe me, captain, I have seen
these men, I have been taken prisoner by them - I know they themselves
alone are all-sufficient to destroy an army."

"That we shall see," said the captain, "and that in a moment, too.
Gentlemen, attention!"

At this reply, no one stirred, and all prepared to obey.  Biscarrat alone
risked a last attempt.

"Monsieur," said he, in a low voice, "be persuaded by me; let us pass on
our way.  Those two men, those two lions you are going to attack, will
defend themselves to the death.  They have already killed ten of our men;
they will kill double the number, and end by killing themselves rather
than surrender.  What shall we gain by fighting them?"

"We shall gain the consciousness, monsieur, of not having allowed eighty
of the king's guards to retire before two rebels.  If I listened to your
advice, monsieur, I should be a dishonored man; and by dishonoring myself
I should dishonor the army.  Forward, my men!"

And he marched first as far as the opening of the grotto.  There he
halted.  The object of this halt was to give Biscarrat and his companions
time to describe to him the interior of the grotto.  Then, when he
believed he had a sufficient acquaintance with the place, he divided his
company into three bodies, which were to enter successively, keeping up a
sustained fire in all directions.  No doubt, in this attack they would
lose five more, perhaps ten; but, certainly, they must end by taking the
rebels, since there was no issue; and, at any rate, two men could not
kill eighty.

"Captain," said Biscarrat, "I beg to be allowed to march at the head of
the first platoon."

"So be it," replied the captain; "you have all the honor.  I make you a
present of it."

"Thanks!" replied the young man, with all the firmness of his race.

"Take your sword, then."

"I shall go as I am, captain," said Biscarrat, "for I do not go to kill,
I go to be killed."

And placing himself at the head of the first platoon, with head uncovered
and arms crossed, - "March, gentlemen," said he.

Chapter XLIX:
An Homeric Song.

It is time to pass to the other camp, and to describe at once the
combatants and the field of battle.  Aramis and Porthos had gone to the
grotto of Locmaria with the expectation of finding there their canoe
ready armed, as well as the three Bretons, their assistants; and they at
first hoped to make the bark pass through the little issue of the cavern,
concealing in that fashion both their labors and their flight.  The
arrival of the fox and dogs obliged them to remain concealed.  The grotto
extended the space of about a hundred _toises_, to that little slope
dominating a creek.  Formerly a temple of the Celtic divinities, when
Belle-Isle was still called Kalonese, this grotto had beheld more than
one human sacrifice accomplished in its mystic depths.  The first
entrance to the cavern was by a moderate descent, above which distorted
rocks formed a weird arcade; the interior, very uneven and dangerous from
the inequalities of the vault, was subdivided into several compartments,
which communicated with each other by means of rough and jagged steps,
fixed right and left, in uncouth natural pillars.  At the third
compartment the vault was so low, the passage so narrow, that the bark
would scarcely have passed without touching the side; nevertheless, in
moments of despair, wood softens and stone grows flexible beneath the
human will.  Such was the thought of Aramis, when, after having fought
the fight, he decided upon flight - a flight most dangerous, since all
the assailants were not dead; and that, admitting the possibility of
putting the bark to sea, they would have to fly in open day, before the
conquered, so interested on recognizing their small number, in pursuing
their conquerors.  When the two discharges had killed ten men, Aramis,
familiar with the windings of the cavern, went to reconnoiter them one by
one, and counted them, for the smoke prevented seeing outside; and he
immediately commanded that the canoe should be rolled as far as the great
stone, the closure of the liberating issue.  Porthos collected all his
strength, took the canoe in his arms, and raised it up, whilst the

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: