List Of Contents | Contents of The Man in the Iron Mask, by Dumas, Pere
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is but by chance; and so gently, too, that the sleeping fisherman is not
awakened by the shock.  Should he wish to land, it is merely because he
has seen a large flight of landrails or plovers, of wild ducks, teal,
widgeon, or woodchucks, which fall an easy pray to net or gun.  Silver
shad, eels, greedy pike, red and gray mullet, swim in shoals into his
nets; he has but to choose the finest and largest, and return the others
to the waters.  Never yet has the food of the stranger, be he soldier or
simple citizen, never has any one, indeed, penetrated into that
district.  The sun's rays there are soft and tempered: in plots of solid
earth, whose soil is swart and fertile, grows the vine, nourishing with
generous juice its purple, white, and golden grapes.  Once a week, a boat
is sent to deliver the bread which has been baked at an oven - the common
property of all.  There - like the seigneurs of early days - powerful in
virtue of your dogs, your fishing-lines, your guns, and your beautiful
reed-built house, would you live, rich in the produce of the chase, in
plentitude of absolute secrecy.  There would years of your life roll
away, at the end of which, no longer recognizable, for you would have
been perfectly transformed, you would have succeeded in acquiring a
destiny accorded to you by Heaven.  There are a thousand pistoles in this
bag, monseigneur - more, far more, than sufficient to purchase the whole
marsh of which I have spoken; more than enough to live there as many
years as you have days to live; more than enough to constitute you the
richest, the freest, and the happiest man in the country.  Accept it, as
I offer it you - sincerely, cheerfully.  Forthwith, without a moment's
pause, I will unharness two of my horses, which are attached to the
carriage yonder, and they, accompanied by my servant - my deaf and dumb
attendant - shall conduct you - traveling throughout the night, sleeping
during the day - to the locality I have described; and I shall, at least,
have the satisfaction of knowing that I have rendered to my prince the
major service he himself preferred.  I shall have made one human being
happy; and Heaven for that will hold me in better account than if I had
made one man powerful; the former task is far more difficult.  And now,
monseigneur, your answer to this proposition?  Here is the money.  Nay,
do not hesitate.  At Poitou, you can risk nothing, except the chance of
catching the fevers prevalent there; and even of them, the so-called
wizards of the country will cure you, for the sake of your pistoles.  If
you play the other game, you run the chance of being assassinated on a
throne, strangled in a prison-cell.  Upon my soul, I assure you, now I
begin to compare them together, I myself should hesitate which lot I
should accept."

"Monsieur," replied the young prince, "before I determine, let me alight
from this carriage, walk on the ground, and consult that still voice
within me, which Heaven bids us all to hearken to.  Ten minutes is all I
ask, and then you shall have your answer."

"As you please, monseigneur," said Aramis, bending before him with
respect, so solemn and august in tone and address had sounded these
strange words.

Chapter X:
Crown and Tiara.

Aramis was the first to descend from the carriage; he held the door open
for the young man.  He saw him place his foot on the mossy ground with a
trembling of the whole body, and walk round the carriage with an unsteady
and almost tottering step.  It seemed as if the poor prisoner was
unaccustomed to walk on God's earth.  It was the 15th of August, about
eleven o'clock at night; thick clouds, portending a tempest, overspread
the heavens, and shrouded every light and prospect underneath their heavy
folds.  The extremities of the avenues were imperceptibly detached from
the copse, by a lighter shadow of opaque gray, which, upon closer
examination, became visible in the midst of the obscurity.  But the
fragrance which ascended from the grass, fresher and more penetrating
than that which exhaled from the trees around him; the warm and balmy air
which enveloped him for the first time for many years past; the ineffable
enjoyment of liberty in an open country, spoke to the prince in so
seductive a language, that notwithstanding the preternatural caution, we
would almost say dissimulation of his character, of which we have tried
to give an idea, he could not restrain his emotion, and breathed a sigh
of ecstasy.  Then, by degrees, he raised his aching head and inhaled the
softly scented air, as it was wafted in gentle gusts to his uplifted
face.  Crossing his arms on his chest, as if to control this new
sensation of delight, he drank in delicious draughts of that mysterious
air which interpenetrates at night the loftiest forests.  The sky he was
contemplating, the murmuring waters, the universal freshness - was not
all this reality?  Was not Aramis a madman to suppose that he had aught
else to dream of in this world?  Those exciting pictures of country life,
so free from fears and troubles, the ocean of happy days that glitters
incessantly before all young imaginations, are real allurements wherewith
to fascinate a poor, unhappy prisoner, worn out by prison cares,
emaciated by the stifling air of the Bastile.  It was the picture, it
will be remembered, drawn by Aramis, when he offered the thousand
pistoles he had with him in the carriage to the prince, and the enchanted
Eden which the deserts of Bas-Poitou hid from the eyes of the world.
Such were the reflections of Aramis as he watched, with an anxiety
impossible to describe, the silent progress of the emotions of Philippe,
whom he perceived gradually becoming more and more absorbed in his
meditations.  The young prince was offering up an inward prayer to
Heaven, to be divinely guided in this trying moment, upon which his life
or death depended.  It was an anxious time for the bishop of Vannes, who
had never before been so perplexed.  His iron will, accustomed to
overcome all obstacles, never finding itself inferior or vanquished on
any occasion, to be foiled in so vast a project from not having foreseen
the influence which a view of nature in all its luxuriance would have on
the human mind!  Aramis, overwhelmed by anxiety, contemplated with
emotion the painful struggle that was taking place in Philippe's mind.
This suspense lasted the whole ten minutes which the young man had
requested.  During this space of time, which appeared an eternity,
Philippe continued gazing with an imploring and sorrowful look towards
the heavens; Aramis did not remove the piercing glance he had fixed on
Philippe.  Suddenly the young man bowed his head.  His thought returned
to the earth, his looks perceptibly hardened, his brow contracted, his
mouth assuming an expression of undaunted courage; again his looks became
fixed, but this time they wore a worldly expression, hardened by
covetousness, pride, and strong desire.  Aramis's look immediately became
as soft as it had before been gloomy.  Philippe, seizing his hand in a
quick, agitated manner, exclaimed:

"Lead me to where the crown of France is to be found."

"Is this your decision, monseigneur?" asked Aramis.

"It is."

"Irrevocably so?"

Philippe did not even deign to reply.  He gazed earnestly at the bishop,
as if to ask him if it were possible for a man to waver after having once
made up his mind.

"Such looks are flashes of the hidden fire that betrays men's character,"
said Aramis, bowing over Philippe's hand; "you will be great,
monseigneur, I will answer for that."

"Let us resume our conversation.  I wished to discuss two points with
you; in the first place the dangers, or the obstacles we may meet with.
That point is decided.  The other is the conditions you intend imposing
on me.  It is your turn to speak, M. d'Herblay."

"The conditions, monseigneur?"

"Doubtless.  You will not allow so mere a trifle to stop me, and you will
not do me the injustice to suppose that I think you have no interest in
this affair.  Therefore, without subterfuge or hesitation, tell me the
truth - "

"I will do so, monseigneur.  Once a king - "

"When will that be?"

"To-morrow evening - I mean in the night."

"Explain yourself."

"When I shall have asked your highness a question."

"Do so."

"I sent to your highness a man in my confidence with instructions to
deliver some closely written notes, carefully drawn up, which will
thoroughly acquaint your highness with the different persons who compose
and will compose your court."

"I perused those notes."


"I know them by heart."

"And understand them?  Pardon me, but I may venture to ask that question
of a poor, abandoned captive of the Bastile?  In a week's time it will
not be requisite to further question a mind like yours.  You will then be
in full possession of liberty and power."

"Interrogate me, then, and I will be a scholar representing his lesson to
his master."

"We will begin with your family, monseigneur."

"My mother, Anne of Austria! all her sorrows, her painful malady.  Oh!  I
know her - I know her."

"Your second brother?" asked Aramis, bowing.

"To these notes," replied the prince, "you have added portraits so
faithfully painted, that I am able to recognize the persons whose
characters, manners, and history you have so carefully portrayed.
Monsieur, my brother, is a fine, dark young man, with a pale face; he
does not love his wife, Henrietta, whom I, Louis XIV., loved a little,
and still flirt with, even although she made me weep on the day she
wished to dismiss Mademoiselle de la Valliere from her service in

"You will have to be careful with regard to the watchfulness of the
latter," said Aramis; "she is sincerely attached to the actual king.  The
eyes of a woman who loves are not easily deceived."

"She is fair, has blue eyes, whose affectionate gaze reveals her
identity.  She halts slightly in her gait; she writes a letter every day,
to which I have to send an answer by M. de Saint-Aignan."

"Do you know the latter?"

"As if I saw him, and I know the last verses he composed for me, as well

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