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

having the details.  The fisherman informed him that six days previously,
a man had come in the night to hire his boat, for the purpose of visiting
the island of St. Honnorat.  The price was agreed upon, but the gentleman
had arrived with an immense carriage case, which he insisted upon
embarking, in spite of the many difficulties that opposed the operation.
The fisherman wished to retract.  He had even threatened, but his threats
had procured him nothing but a shower of blows from the gentleman's cane,
which fell upon his shoulders sharp and long.  Swearing and grumbling, he
had recourse to the syndic of his brotherhood at Antibes, who administer
justice among themselves and protect each other; but the gentleman had
exhibited a certain paper, at sight of which the syndic, bowing to the
very ground, enjoined obedience from the fisherman, and abused him for
having been refractory.  They then departed with the freight.

"But all this does not tell us," said Athos, "how you injured your boat."

"This is the way.  I was steering towards St. Honnorat as the gentleman
desired me; but he changed his mind, and pretended that I could not pass
to the south of the abbey."

"And why not?"

"Because, monsieur, there is in front of the square tower of the
Benedictines, towards the southern point, the bank of the _Moines_."

"A rock?" asked Athos.

"Level with the water, but below water; a dangerous passage, yet one I
have cleared a thousand times; the gentleman required me to land him at


"Well, monsieur!" cried the fisherman, with his _Provencal_ accent, "a
man is a sailor, or he is not; he knows his course, or he is nothing but
a fresh-water lubber.  I was obstinate, and wished to try the channel.
The gentleman took me by the collar, and told me quietly he would
strangle me.  My mate armed himself with a hatchet, and so did I.  We had
the affront of the night before to pay him out for.  But the gentleman
drew his sword, and used it in such an astonishingly rapid manner, that
we neither of us could get near him.  I was about to hurl my hatchet at
his head, and I had a right to do so, hadn't I, monsieur? for a sailor
aboard is master, as a citizen is in his chamber; I was going, then, in
self-defense, to cut the gentleman in two, when, all at once - believe me
or not, monsieur - the great carriage case opened of itself, I don't know
how, and there came out of it a sort of a phantom, his head covered with
a black helmet and a black mask, something terrible to look upon, which
came towards me threatening with its fist."

"And that was - " said Athos.

"That was the devil, monsieur; for the gentleman, with great glee, cried
out, on seeing him: 'Ah! thank you, monseigneur!'"

"A most strange story!" murmured the comte, looking at Raoul.

"And what did you do?" asked the latter of the fisherman.

"You must know, monsieur, that two poor men, such as we are, could be no
match for two gentlemen; but when one of them turned out to be the devil,
we had no earthly chance!  My companion and I did not stop to consult one
another; we made but one jump into the sea, for we were within seven or
eight hundred feet of the shore."

"Well, and then?"

"Why, and then, monseigneur, as there was a little wind from the
southwest, the boat drifted into the sands of Sainte-Marguerite's."

"Oh! - but the travelers?"

"Bah! you need not be uneasy about them!  It was pretty plain that one
was the devil, and protected the other; for when we recovered the boat,
after she got afloat again, instead of finding these two creatures
injured by the shock, we found nothing, not even the carriage or the

"Very strange! very strange!" repeated the comte.  "But after that, what
did you do, my friend?"

"I made my complaint to the governor of Sainte-Marguerite's, who brought
my finger under my nose by telling me if I plagued him with such silly
stories he would have me flogged."

"What! did the governor himself say so?"

"Yes, monsieur; and yet my boat was injured, seriously injured, for the
prow is left upon the point of Sainte-Marguerite's, and the carpenter
asks a hundred and twenty livres to repair it."

"Very well," replied Raoul; "you will be exempted from the service.  Go."

"We will go to Sainte-Marguerite's, shall we?" said the comte to
Bragelonne, as the man walked away.

"Yes, monsieur, for there is something to be cleared up; that man does
not seem to me to have told the truth."

"Nor to me either, Raoul.  The story of the masked man and the carriage
having disappeared, may be told to conceal some violence these fellows
have committed upon their passengers in the open sea, to punish him for
his persistence in embarking."

"I formed the same suspicion; the carriage was more likely to contain
property than a man."

"We shall see to that, Raoul.  The gentleman very much resembles
D'Artagnan; I recognize his methods of proceeding.  Alas! we are no
longer the young invincibles of former days.  Who knows whether the
hatchet or the iron bar of this miserable coaster has not succeeded in
doing that which the best blades of Europe, balls, and bullets have not
been able to do in forty years?"

That same day they set out for Sainte-Marguerite's, on board a _chasse-
maree_ come from Toulon under orders.  The impression they experienced on
landing was a singularly pleasing one.  The island seemed loaded with
flowers and fruits.  In its cultivated part it served as a garden for the
governor.  Orange, pomegranate, and fig trees bent beneath the weight of
their golden or purple fruits.  All round this garden, in the
uncultivated parts, red partridges ran about in conveys among the
brambles and tufts of junipers, and at every step of the comte and Raoul
a terrified rabbit quitted his thyme and heath to scuttle away to the
burrow.  In fact, this fortunate isle was uninhabited.  Flat, offering
nothing but a tiny bay for the convenience of embarkation, and under the
protection of the governor, who went shares with them, smugglers made use
of it as a provisional _entrepot_, at the expense of not killing the game
or devastating the garden.  With this compromise, the governor was in a
situation to be satisfied with a garrison of eight men to guard his
fortress, in which twelve cannons accumulated coats of moldy green.  The
governor was a sort of happy farmer, harvesting wines, figs, oil, and
oranges, preserving his citrons and _cedrates_ in the sun of his
casemates.  The fortress, encircled by a deep ditch, its only guardian,
arose like three heads upon turrets connected with each other by terraces
covered with moss.

Athos and Raoul wandered for some time round the fences of the garden
without finding any one to introduce them to the governor.  They ended by
making their own way into the garden.  It was at the hottest time of the
day.  Each living thing sought its shelter under grass or stone.  The
heavens spread their fiery veils as if to stifle all noises, to envelop
all existences; the rabbit under the broom, the fly under the leaf, slept
as the wave did beneath the heavens.  Athos saw nothing living but a
soldier, upon the terrace beneath the second and third court, who was
carrying a basket of provisions on his head.  This man returned almost
immediately without his basket, and disappeared in the shade of his
sentry-box.  Athos supposed he must have been carrying dinner to some
one, and, after having done so, returned to dine himself.  All at once
they heard some one call out, and raising their heads, perceived in the
frame of the bars of the window something of a white color, like a hand
that was waved backwards and forwards - something shining, like a
polished weapon struck by the rays of the sun.  And before they were
able to ascertain what it was, a luminous train, accompanied by a hissing
sound in the air, called their attention from the donjon to the ground.
A second dull noise was heard from the ditch, and Raoul ran to pick up a
silver plate which was rolling along the dry sand.  The hand that had
thrown this plate made a sign to the two gentlemen, and then
disappeared.  Athos and Raoul, approaching each other, commenced an
attentive examination of the dusty plate, and they discovered, in
characters traced upon the bottom of it with the point of a knife, this

"_I am the brother of the king of France - a prisoner to-day - a madman
to-morrow.  French gentlemen and Christians, pray to God for the soul and
the reason of the son of your old rulers_."

The plate fell from the hands of Athos whilst Raoul was endeavoring to
make out the meaning of these dismal words.  At the same moment they
heard a cry from the top of the donjon.  Quick as lightning Raoul bent
down his head, and forced down that of his father likewise.  A musket-
barrel glittered from the crest of the wall.  A white smoke floated like
a plume from the mouth of the musket, and a ball was flattened against a
stone within six inches of the two gentlemen.

"_Cordieu!_" cried Athos.  "What, are people assassinated here?  Come
down, cowards as you are!"

"Yes, come down!" cried Raoul, furiously shaking his fist at the castle.

One of the assailants - he who was about to fire - replied to these cries
by an exclamation of surprise; and, as his companion, who wished to
continue the attack, had re-seized his loaded musket, he who had cried
out threw up the weapon, and the ball flew into the air.  Athos and
Raoul, seeing them disappear from the platform, expected they would come
down to them, and waited with a firm demeanor.  Five minutes had not
elapsed, when a stroke upon a drum called the eight soldiers of the
garrison to arms, and they showed themselves on the other side of the
ditch with their muskets in hand.  At the head of these men was an
officer, whom Athos and Raoul recognized as the one who had fired the
first musket.  The man ordered the soldiers to "make ready."

"We are going to be shot!" cried Raoul; "but, sword in hand, at least,
let us leap the ditch!  We shall kill at least two of these scoundrels,

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: