List Of Contents | Contents of The Man in the Iron Mask, by Dumas, Pere
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instant he remained standing, listening whether Baisemeaux and the
turnkey had retired; but as soon as he was assured by the sound of their
descending footsteps that they had left the tower, he put the lantern on
the table and gazed around.  On a bed of green serge, similar in all
respect to the other beds in the Bastile, save that it was newer, and
under curtains half-drawn, reposed a young man, to whom we have already
once before introduced Aramis.  According to custom, the prisoner was
without a light.  At the hour of curfew, he was bound to extinguish his
lamp, and we perceive how much he was favored, in being allowed to keep
it burning even till then.  Near the bed a large leathern armchair, with
twisted legs, sustained his clothes.  A little table - without pens,
books, paper, or ink - stood neglected in sadness near the window; while
several plates, still unemptied, showed that the prisoner had scarcely
touched his evening meal.  Aramis saw that the young man was stretched
upon his bed, his face half concealed by his arms.  The arrival of a
visitor did not caused any change of position; either he was waiting in
expectation, or was asleep.  Aramis lighted the candle from the lantern,
pushed back the armchair, and approached the bed with an evident mixture
of interest and respect.  The young man raised his head.  "What is it?"
said he.

"You desired a confessor?" replied Aramis.


"Because you were ill?"


"Very ill?"

The young man gave Aramis a piercing glance, and answered, "I thank
you."  After a moment's silence, "I have seen you before," he continued.
Aramis bowed.

Doubtless the scrutiny the prisoner had just made of the cold, crafty,
and imperious character stamped upon the features of the bishop of Vannes
was little reassuring to one in his situation, for he added, "I am

"And so?" said Aramis.

"Why, then - being better, I have no longer the same need of a confessor,
I think."

"Not even of the hair-cloth, which the note you found in your bread
informed you of?"

The young man started; but before he had either assented or denied,
Aramis continued, "Not even of the ecclesiastic from whom you were to
hear an important revelation?"

"If it be so," said the young man, sinking again on his pillow, "it is
different; I am listening."

Aramis then looked at him more closely, and was struck with the easy
majesty of his mien, one which can never be acquired unless Heaven has
implanted it in the blood or heart.  "Sit down, monsieur," said the

Aramis bowed and obeyed.  "How does the Bastile agree with you?" asked
the bishop.

"Very well."

"You do not suffer?"


"You have nothing to regret?"


"Not even your liberty?"

"What do you call liberty, monsieur?" asked the prisoner, with the tone
of a man who is preparing for a struggle.

"I call liberty, the flowers, the air, light, the stars, the happiness of
going whithersoever the sinewy limbs of one-and-twenty chance to wish to
carry you."

The young man smiled, whether in resignation or contempt, it was
difficult to tell.  "Look," said he, "I have in that Japanese vase two
roses gathered yesterday evening in the bud from the governor's garden;
this morning they have blown and spread their vermilion chalice beneath
my gaze; with every opening petal they unfold the treasures of their
perfumes, filling my chamber with a fragrance that embalms it.  Look now
on these two roses; even among roses these are beautiful, and the rose is
the most beautiful of flowers.  Why, then, do you bid me desire other
flowers when I possess the loveliest of all?"

Aramis gazed at the young man in surprise.

"If _flowers_ constitute liberty," sadly resumed the captive, "I am free,
for I possess them."

"But the air!" cried Aramis; "air is so necessary to life!"

"Well, monsieur," returned the prisoner; "draw near to the window; it is
open.  Between high heaven and earth the wind whirls on its waftages of
hail and lightning, exhales its torrid mist or breathes in gentle
breezes.  It caresses my face.  When mounted on the back of this
armchair, with my arm around the bars of the window to sustain myself, I
fancy I am swimming the wide expanse before me."  The countenance of
Aramis darkened as the young man continued: "Light I have! what is better
than light?  I have the sun, a friend who comes to visit me every day
without the permission of the governor or the jailer's company.  He comes
in at the window, and traces in my room a square the shape of the window,
which lights up the hangings of my bed and floods the very floor.  This
luminous square increases from ten o'clock till midday, and decreases
from one till three slowly, as if, having hastened to my presence, it
sorrowed at bidding me farewell.  When its last ray disappears I have
enjoyed its presence for five hours.  Is not that sufficient?  I have
been told that there are unhappy beings who dig in quarries, and laborers
who toil in mines, who never behold it at all."  Aramis wiped the drops
from his brow.  "As to the stars which are so delightful to view,"
continued the young man, "they all resemble each other save in size and
brilliancy.  I am a favored mortal, for if you had not lighted that
candle you would have been able to see the beautiful stars which I was
gazing at from my couch before your arrival, whose silvery rays were
stealing through my brain."

Aramis lowered his head; he felt himself overwhelmed with the bitter flow
of that sinister philosophy which is the religion of the captive.

"So much, then, for the flowers, the air, the daylight, and the stars,"
tranquilly continued the young man; "there remains but exercise.  Do I
not walk all day in the governor's garden if it is fine - here if it
rains? in the fresh air if it is warm; in perfect warmth, thanks to my
winter stove, if it be cold?  Ah! monsieur, do you fancy," continued the
prisoner, not without bitterness, "that men have not done everything for
me that a man can hope for or desire?"

"Men!" said Aramis; "be it so; but it seems to me you are forgetting

"Indeed I have forgotten Heaven," murmured the prisoner, with emotion;
"but why do you mention it?  Of what use is it to talk to a prisoner of

Aramis looked steadily at this singular youth, who possessed the
resignation of a martyr with the smile of an atheist.  "Is not Heaven in
everything?" he murmured in a reproachful tone.

"Say rather, at the end of everything," answered the prisoner, firmly.

"Be it so," said Aramis; "but let us return to our starting-point."

"I ask nothing better," returned the young man.

"I am your confessor."


"Well, then, you ought, as a penitent, to tell me the truth."

"My whole desire is to tell it you."

"Every prisoner has committed some crime for which he has been
imprisoned.  What crime, then, have you committed?"

"You asked me the same question the first time you saw me," returned the

"And then, as now you evaded giving me an answer."

"And what reason have you for thinking that I shall now reply to you?"

"Because this time I am your confessor."

"Then if you wish me to tell what crime I have committed, explain to me
in what a crime consists.  For as my conscience does not accuse me, I
aver that I am not a criminal."

"We are often criminals in the sight of the great of the earth, not alone
for having ourselves committed crimes, but because we know that crimes
have been committed."

The prisoner manifested the deepest attention.

"Yes, I understand you," he said, after a pause; "yes, you are right,
monsieur; it is very possible that, in such a light, I am a criminal in
the eyes of the great of the earth."

"Ah! then you know something," said Aramis, who thought he had pierced
not merely through a defect in the harness, but through the joints of it.

"No, I am not aware of anything," replied the young man; "but sometimes I
think - and I say to myself - "

"What do you say to yourself?"

"That if I were to think but a little more deeply I should either go mad
or I should divine a great deal."

"And then - and then?" said Aramis, impatiently.

"Then I leave off."

"You leave off?"

"Yes; my head becomes confused and my ideas melancholy; I feel _ennui_
overtaking me; I wish - "


"I don't know; but I do not like to give myself up to longing for things
which I do not possess, when I am so happy with what I have."

"You are afraid of death?" said Aramis, with a slight uneasiness.

"Yes," said the young man, smiling.

Aramis felt the chill of that smile, and shuddered.  "Oh, as you fear
death, you know more about matters than you say," he cried.

"And you," returned the prisoner, "who bade me to ask to see you; you,
who, when I did ask to see you, came here promising a world of
confidence; how is it that, nevertheless, it is you who are silent,
leaving it for me to speak?  Since, then, we both wear masks, either let
us both retain them or put them aside together."

Aramis felt the force and justice of the remark, saying to himself, "This
is no ordinary man; I must be cautious. - Are you ambitious?" said he
suddenly to the prisoner, aloud, without preparing him for the alteration.

"What do you mean by ambitious?" replied the youth.

"Ambition," replied Aramis, "is the feeling which prompts a man to desire
more - much more - than he possesses."

"I said that I was contented, monsieur; but, perhaps, I deceive myself.
I am ignorant of the nature of ambition; but it is not impossible I may
have some.  Tell me your mind; that is all I ask."

"An ambitious man," said Aramis, "is one who covets that which is beyond
his station."

"I covet nothing beyond my station," said the young man, with an
assurance of manner which for the second time made the bishop of Vannes

He was silent.  But to look at the kindling eye, the knitted brow, and
the reflective attitude of the captive, it was evident that he expected
something more than silence, - a silence which Aramis now broke.  "You

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