List Of Contents | Contents of The Man in the Iron Mask, by Dumas, Pere
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"True; but it is a grave matter, when the quality of races is called into

"A merely secondary question, after all.  So that, in fact, you have
never learned or heard anything in particular?"


"That is where my secret begins.  The queen, you must know, instead of
being delivered of a son, was delivered of twins."

Fouquet looked up suddenly as he replied:

"And the second is dead?"

"You will see.  These twins seemed likely to be regarded as the pride of
their mother, and the hope of France; but the weak nature of the king,
his superstitious feelings, made him apprehend a series of conflicts
between two children whose rights were equal; so he put out of the way -
he suppressed - one of the twins."

"Suppressed, do you say?"

"Have patience.  Both the children grew up; the one on the throne, whose
minister you are - the other, who is my friend, in gloom and isolation."

"Good heavens!  What are you saying, Monsieur d'Herblay?  And what is
this poor prince doing?"

"Ask me, rather, what has he done."

"Yes, yes."

"He was brought up in the country, and then thrown into a fortress which
goes by the name of the Bastile."

"Is it possible?" cried the surintendant, clasping his hands.

"The one was the most fortunate of men: the other the most unhappy and
miserable of all living beings."

"Does his mother not know this?"

"Anne of Austria knows it all."

"And the king?"

"Knows absolutely nothing."

"So much the better," said Fouquet.

This remark seemed to make a great impression on Aramis; he looked at
Fouquet with the most anxious expression of countenance.

"I beg your pardon; I interrupted you," said Fouquet.

"I was saying," resumed Aramis, "that this poor prince was the unhappiest
of human beings, when Heaven, whose thoughts are over all His creatures,
undertook to come to his assistance."

"Oh! in what way?  Tell me."

"You will see.  The reigning king - I say the reigning king - you can
guess very well why?"

"No.  Why?"

"Because _both_ of them, being legitimate princes, ought to have been
kings.  Is not that your opinion?"

"It is, certainly."


"Most unreservedly; twins are one person in two bodies."

"I am pleased that a legist of your learning and authority should have
pronounced such an opinion.  It is agreed, then, that each of them
possessed equal rights, is it not?"

"Incontestably! but, gracious heavens, what an extraordinary

"We are not at the end of it yet. - Patience."

"Oh!  I shall find 'patience' enough."

"Heaven wished to raise up for that oppressed child an avenger, or a
supporter, or vindicator, if you prefer it.  It happened that the
reigning king, the usurper - you are quite of my opinion, I believe, that
it is an act of usurpation quietly to enjoy, and selfishly to assume the
right over, an inheritance to which a man has only half a right?"

"Yes, usurpation is the word."

"In that case, I continue.  It was Heaven's will that the usurper should
possess, in the person of his first minister, a man of great talent, of
large and generous nature."

"Well, well," said Fouquet, "I understand you; you have relied upon me to
repair the wrong which has been done to this unhappy brother of Louis
XIV.  You have thought well; I will help you.  I thank you, D'Herblay, I
thank you."

"Oh, no, it is not that at all; you have not allowed me to finish," said
Aramis, perfectly unmoved.

"I will not say another word, then."

"M. Fouquet, I was observing, the minister of the reigning sovereign, was
suddenly taken into the greatest aversion, and menaced with the ruin of
his fortune, loss of liberty, loss of life even, by intrigue and personal
hatred, to which the king gave too readily an attentive ear.  But Heaven
permits (still, however, out of consideration for the unhappy prince who
had been sacrificed) that M. Fouquet should in his turn have a devoted
friend who knew this state secret, and felt that he possessed strength
and courage enough to divulge this secret, after having had the strength
to carry it locked up in his own heart for twenty years.

"Go no farther," said Fouquet, full of generous feelings.  "I understand
you, and can guess everything now.  You went to see the king when the
intelligence of my arrest reached you; you implored him, he refused to
listen to you; then you threatened him with that secret, threatened to
reveal it, and Louis XIV., alarmed at the risk of its betrayal, granted
to the terror of your indiscretion what he refused to your generous
intercession.  I understand, I understand; you have the king in your
power; I understand."

"You understand _nothing_ - as yet," replied Aramis, "and again you
interrupt me.  Then, too, allow me to observe that you pay no attention
to logical reasoning, and seem to forget what you ought most to remember."

"What do you mean?"

"You know upon what I laid the greatest stress at the beginning of our

"Yes, his majesty's hate, invincible hate for me; yes, but what feeling
of hate could resist the threat of such a revelation?"

"Such a revelation, do you say? that is the very point where your logic
fails you.  What! do you suppose that if I had made such a revelation to
the king, I should have been alive now?"

"It is not ten minutes ago that you were with the king."

"That may be.  He might not have had the time to get me killed outright,
but he would have had the time to get me gagged and thrown in a dungeon.
Come, come, show a little consistency in your reasoning, _mordieu!_"

And by the mere use of this word, which was so thoroughly his old
musketeer's expression, forgotten by one who never seemed to forget
anything, Fouquet could not but understand to what a pitch of exaltation
the calm, impenetrable bishop of Vannes had wrought himself.  He

"And then," replied the latter, after having mastered his feelings,
"should I be the man I really am, should I be the true friend you believe
me, if I were to expose you, whom the king already hates so bitterly, to
a feeling more than ever to be dreaded in that young man?  To have robbed
him, is nothing; to have addressed the woman he loves, is not much; but
to hold in your keeping both his crown and his honor, why, he would pluck
out your heart with his own hands."

"You have not allowed him to penetrate your secret, then?"

"I would sooner, far sooner, have swallowed at one draught all the
poisons that Mithridates drank in twenty years, in order to try and avoid
death, than have betrayed my secret to the king."

"What have you done, then?"

"Ah! now we are coming to the point, monseigneur.  I think I shall not
fail to excite in you a little interest.  You are listening, I hope."

"How can you ask me if I am listening?  Go on."

Aramis walked softly all round the room, satisfied himself that they were
alone, and that all was silent, and then returned and placed himself
close to the armchair in which Fouquet was seated, awaiting with the
deepest anxiety the revelation he had to make.

"I forgot to tell you," resumed Aramis, addressing himself to Fouquet,
who listened to him with the most absorbed attention - "I forgot to
mention a most remarkable circumstance respecting these twins, namely,
that God had formed them so startlingly, so miraculously, like each
other, that it would be utterly impossible to distinguish the one from
the other.  Their own mother would not be able to distinguish them."

"Is it possible?" exclaimed Fouquet.

"The same noble character in their features, the same carriage, the same
stature, the same voice."

"But their thoughts? degree of intelligence? their knowledge of human

"There is inequality there, I admit, monseigneur.  Yes; for the prisoner
of the Bastile is, most incontestably, superior in every way to his
brother; and if, from his prison, this unhappy victim were to pass to the
throne, France would not, from the earliest period of its history,
perhaps, have had a master more powerful in genius and nobility of

Fouquet buried his face in his hands, as if he were overwhelmed by the
weight of this immense secret.  Aramis approached him.

"There is a further inequality," he said, continuing his work of
temptation, "an inequality which concerns yourself, monseigneur, between
the twins, both sons of Louis XIII., namely, the last comer does not know
M. Colbert."

Fouquet raised his head immediately - his features were pale and
distorted.  The bolt had hit its mark - not his heart, but his mind and

"I understand you," he said to Aramis; "you are proposing a conspiracy to

"Something like it."

"One of those attempts which, as you said at the beginning of this
conversation, alters the fate of empires?"

"And of superintendents, too; yes, monseigneur."

"In a word, you propose that I should agree to the substitution of the
son of Louis XIII., who is now a prisoner in the Bastile, for the son of
Louis XIII., who is at this moment asleep in the Chamber of Morpheus?"

Aramis smiled with the sinister expression of the sinister thought which
was passing through his brain.  "Exactly," he said.

"Have you thought," continued Fouquet, becoming animated with that
strength of talent which in a few seconds originates, and matures the
conception of a plan, and with that largeness of view which foresees all
consequences, and embraces every result at a glance - "have you thought
that we must assemble the nobility, the clergy, and the third estate of
the realm; that we shall have to depose the reigning sovereign, to
disturb by so frightful a scandal the tomb of their dead father, to
sacrifice the life, the honor of a woman, Anne of Austria, the life and
peace of mind and heart of another woman, Maria Theresa; and suppose that
it were all done, if we were to succeed in doing it - "

"I do not understand you," continued Aramis, coldly.  "There is not a
single syllable of sense in all you have just said."

"What!" said the superintendent, surprised, "a man like you refuse to

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