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

view the practical bearing of the case!  Do you confine yourself to the
childish delight of a political illusion, and neglect the chances of its
being carried into execution; in other words, the reality itself, is it

"My friend," said Aramis, emphasizing the word with a kind of disdainful
familiarity, "what does Heaven do in order to substitute one king for

"Heaven!" exclaimed Fouquet - "Heaven gives directions to its agent, who
seizes upon the doomed victim, hurries him away, and seats the triumphant
rival on the empty throne.  But you forget that this agent is called
death.  Oh!  Monsieur d'Herblay, in Heaven's name, tell me if you have
had the idea - "

"There is no question of that, monseigneur;  you are going beyond the
object in view.  Who spoke of Louis XIV.'s death? who spoke of adopting
the example which Heaven sets in following out the strict execution of
its decrees?  No, I wish you to understand that Heaven effects its
purposes without confusion or disturbance, without exciting comment or
remark, without difficulty or exertion; and that men, inspired by Heaven,
succeed like Heaven itself, in all their undertakings, in all they
attempt, in all they do."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, my _friend_," returned Aramis, with the same intonation on the
word friend that he had applied to it the first time - "I mean that if
there has been any confusion, scandal, and even effort in the
substitution of the prisoner for the king, I defy you to prove it."

"What!" cried Fouquet, whiter than the handkerchief with which he wiped
his temples, "what do you say?"

"Go to the king's apartment," continued Aramis, tranquilly, "and you who
know the mystery, I defy even you to perceive that the prisoner of the
Bastile is lying in his brother's bed."

"But the king," stammered Fouquet, seized with horror at the intelligence.

"What king?" said Aramis, in his gentlest tone; "the one who hates you,
or the one who likes you?"

"The king - of - _yesterday_."

"The king of yesterday! be quite easy on that score; he has gone to take
the place in the Bastile which his victim occupied for so many years."

"Great God!  And who took him there?"



"Yes, and in the simplest way.  I carried him away last night.  While he
was descending into midnight, the other was ascending into day.  I do not
think there has been any disturbance whatever.  A flash of lightning
without thunder awakens nobody."

Fouquet uttered a thick, smothered cry, as if he had been struck by some
invisible blow, and clasping his head between his clenched hands, he
murmured: "You did that?"

"Cleverly enough, too; what do you think of it?"

"You dethroned the king? imprisoned him, too?"

"Yes, that has been done."

"And such an action was committed _here_, at Vaux?"

"Yes, here, at Vaux, in the Chamber of Morpheus.  It would almost seem
that it had been built in anticipation of such an act."

"And at what time did it occur?"

"Last night, between twelve and one o'clock."

Fouquet made a movement as if he were on the point of springing upon
Aramis; he restrained himself.  "At Vaux; under my roof!" he said, in a
half-strangled voice.

"I believe so! for it is still your house, and it is likely to continue
so, since M. Colbert cannot rob you of it now."

"It was under my roof, then, monsieur, that you committed this crime?"

"This crime?" said Aramis, stupefied.

"This abominable crime!" pursued Fouquet, becoming more and more excited;
"this crime more execrable than an assassination! this crime which
dishonors my name forever, and entails upon me the horror of posterity."

"You are not in your senses, monsieur," replied Aramis, in an irresolute
tone of voice; "you are speaking too loudly; take care!"

"I will call out so loudly, that the whole world shall hear me."

"Monsieur Fouquet, take care!"

Fouquet turned round towards the prelate, whom he looked at full in the
face.  "You have dishonored me," he said, "in committing so foul an act
of treason, so heinous a crime upon my guest, upon one who was peacefully
reposing beneath my roof.  Oh! woe, woe is me!"

"Woe to the man, rather, who beneath your roof meditated the ruin of your
fortune, your life.  Do you forget that?"

"He was my guest, my sovereign."

Aramis rose, his eyes literally bloodshot, his mouth trembling
convulsively.  "Have I a man out of his senses to deal with?" he said.

"You have an honorable man to deal with."

"You are mad."

"A man who will prevent you consummating your crime."

"You are mad, I say."

"A man who would sooner, oh! far sooner, die; who would kill you even,
rather than allow you to complete his dishonor."

And Fouquet snatched up his sword, which D'Artagnan had placed at the
head of his bed, and clenched it resolutely in his hand.  Aramis frowned,
and thrust his hand into his breast as if in search of a weapon.  This
movement did not escape Fouquet, who, full of nobleness and pride in his
magnanimity, threw his sword to a distance from him, and approached
Aramis so close as to touch his shoulder with his disarmed hand.
"Monsieur," he said, "I would sooner die here on the spot than survive
this terrible disgrace; and if you have any pity left for me, I entreat
you to take my life."

Aramis remained silent and motionless.

"You do not reply?" said Fouquet.

Aramis raised his head gently, and a glimmer of hope might be seen once
more to animate his eyes.  "Reflect, monseigneur," he said, "upon
everything we have to expect.  As the matter now stands, the king is
still alive, and his imprisonment saves your life."

"Yes," replied Fouquet, "you may have been acting on my behalf, but I
will not, do not, accept your services.  But, first of all, I do not wish
your ruin.  You will leave this house."

Aramis stifled the exclamation which almost escaped his broken heart.

"I am hospitable towards all who are dwellers beneath my roof," continued
Fouquet, with an air of inexpressible majesty; "you will not be more
fatally lost than he whose ruin you have consummated."

"You will be so," said Aramis, in a hoarse, prophetic voice, "you will be
so, believe me."

"I accept the augury, Monsieur d'Herblay; but nothing shall prevent me,
nothing shall stop me.  You will leave Vaux - you must leave France; I
give you four hours to place yourself out of the king's reach."

"Four hours?" said Aramis, scornfully and incredulously.

"Upon the word of Fouquet, no one shall follow you before the expiration
of that time.  You will therefore have four hours' advance of those whom
the king may wish to dispatch after you."

Four hours!" repeated Aramis, in a thick, smothered voice.

"It is more than you will need to get on board a vessel and flee to Belle-
Isle, which I give you as a place of refuge."

"Ah!" murmured Aramis.

"Belle-Isle is as much mine for you, as Vaux is mine for the king.  Go,
D'Herblay, go! as long as I live, not a hair of your head shall be

"Thank you," said Aramis, with a cold irony of manner.

"Go at once, then, and give me your hand, before we both hasten away; you
to save your life, I to save my honor."

Aramis withdrew from his breast the hand he had concealed there; it was
stained with his blood.  He had dug his nails into his flesh, as if in
punishment for having nursed so many projects, more vain, insensate, and
fleeting than the life of the man himself.  Fouquet was horror-stricken,
and then his heart smote him with pity.  He threw open his arms as if to
embrace him.

"I had no arms," murmured Aramis, as wild and terrible in his wrath as
the shade of Dido.  And then, without touching Fouquet's hand, he turned
his head aside, and stepped back a pace or two.  His last word was an
imprecation, his last gesture a curse, which his blood-stained hand
seemed to invoke, as it sprinkled on Fouquet's face a few drops of blood
which flowed from his breast.  And both of them darted out of the room by
the secret staircase which led down to the inner courtyard.  Fouquet
ordered his best horses, while Aramis paused at the foot of the staircase
which led to Porthos's apartment.  He reflected profoundly and for some
time, while Fouquet's carriage left the courtyard at full gallop.

"Shall I go alone?" said Aramis to himself, "or warn the prince?  Oh!
fury!  Warn the prince, and then - do what?  Take him with me?  To carry
this accusing witness about with me everywhere?  War, too, would follow -
civil war, implacable in its nature!  And without any resource save
myself - it is impossible!  What could he do without me?  Oh! without me
he will be utterly destroyed.  Yet who knows - let destiny be fulfilled -
condemned he was, let him remain so then!  Good or evil Spirit - gloomy
and scornful Power, whom men call the genius of humanity, thou art a
power more restlessly uncertain, more baselessly useless, than wild
mountain wind!  Chance, thou term'st thyself, but thou art nothing; thou
inflamest everything with thy breath, crumblest mountains at thy
approach, and suddenly art thyself destroyed at the presence of the Cross
of dead wood behind which stand another Power invisible like thyself -
whom thou deniest, perhaps, but whose avenging hand is on thee, and hurls
thee in the dust dishonored and unnamed!  Lost! - I am lost!  What can be
done?  Flee to Belle-Isle?  Yes, and leave Porthos behind me, to talk and
relate the whole affair to every one!  Porthos, too, who will have to
suffer for what he has done.  I will not let poor Porthos suffer.  He
seems like one of the members of my own frame; and his grief or
misfortune would be mine as well.  Porthos shall leave with me, and shall
follow my destiny.  It must be so."

And Aramis, apprehensive of meeting any one to whom his hurried movements
might appear suspicious, ascended the staircase without being perceived.
Porthos, so recently returned from Paris, was already in a profound
sleep; his huge body forgot its fatigue, as his mind forgot its
thoughts.  Aramis entered, light as a shadow, and placed his nervous
grasp on the giant's shoulder.  "Come, Porthos," he cried, "come."

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: