List Of Contents | Contents of The Man in the Iron Mask, by Dumas, Pere
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"I think I have spoken enough," answered the prisoner, "and that now it
is your turn.  I am weary."

Aramis gathered himself up, and a shade of deep solemnity spread itself
over his countenance.  It was evident that he had reached the crisis in
the part he had come to the prison to play.  "One question," said Aramis.

"What is it? speak."

"In the house you inhabited there were neither looking-glasses nor

"What are those two words, and what is their meaning?" asked the young
man; "I have no sort of knowledge of them."

"They designate two pieces of furniture which reflect objects; so that,
for instance, you may see in them your own lineaments, as you see mine
now, with the naked eye."

"No; there was neither a glass nor a mirror in the house," answered the
young man.

Aramis looked round him.  "Nor is there anything of the kind here,
either," he said; "they have again taken the same precaution."

"To what end?"

"You will know directly.  Now, you have told me that you were instructed
in mathematics, astronomy, fencing, and riding; but you have not said a
word about history."

"My tutor sometimes related to me the principal deeds of the king, St.
Louis, King Francis I., and King Henry IV."

"Is that all?"

"Very nearly."

"This also was done by design, then; just as they deprived you of
mirrors, which reflect the present, so they left you in ignorance of
history, which reflects the past.  Since your imprisonment, books have
been forbidden you; so that you are unacquainted with a number of facts,
by means of which you would be able to reconstruct the shattered mansion
of your recollections and your hopes."

"It is true," said the young man.

"Listen, then; I will in a few words tell you what has passed in France
during the last twenty-three or twenty-four years; that is, from the
probable date of your birth; in a word, from the time that interests you."

"Say on."  And the young man resumed his serious and attentive attitude.

"Do you know who was the son of Henry IV.?"

"At least I know who his successor was."


"By means of a coin dated 1610, which bears the effigy of Henry IV.; and
another of 1612, bearing that of Louis XIII.  So I presumed that, there
being only two years between the two dates, Louis was Henry's successor."

"Then," said Aramis, "you know that the last reigning monarch was Louis

"I do," answered the youth, slightly reddening.

"Well, he was a prince full of noble ideas and great projects, always,
alas! deferred by the trouble of the times and the dread struggle that
his minister Richelieu had to maintain against the great nobles of
France.  The king himself was of a feeble character, and died young and

"I know it."

"He had been long anxious about having a heir; a care which weighs
heavily on princes, who desire to leave behind them more than one pledge
that their best thoughts and works will be continued."

"Did the king, then, die childless?" asked the prisoner, smiling.

"No, but he was long without one, and for a long while thought he should
be the last of his race.  This idea had reduced him to the depths of
despair, when suddenly, his wife, Anne of Austria - "

The prisoner trembled.

"Did you know," said Aramis, "that Louis XIII.'s wife was called Anne of

"Continue," said the young man, without replying to the question.

"When suddenly," resumed Aramis, "the queen announced an interesting
event.  There was great joy at the intelligence, and all prayed for her
happy delivery.  On the 5th of September, 1638, she gave birth to a son."

Here Aramis looked at his companion, and thought he observed him turning
pale.  "You are about to hear," said Aramis, "an account which few indeed
could now avouch; for it refers to a secret which they imagined buried
with the dead, entombed in the abyss of the confessional."

"And you will tell me this secret?" broke in the youth.

"Oh!" said Aramis, with unmistakable emphasis, "I do not know that I
ought to risk this secret by intrusting it to one who has no desire to
quit the Bastile."

"I hear you, monsieur."

"The queen, then, gave birth to a son.  But while the court was rejoicing
over the event, when the king had show the new-born child to the nobility
and people, and was sitting gayly down to table, to celebrate the event,
the queen, who was alone in her room, was again taken ill and gave birth
to a second son."

"Oh!" said the prisoner, betraying a bitter acquaintance with affairs
than he had owned to, "I thought that Monsieur was only born in - "

Aramis raised his finger; "Permit me to continue," he said.

The prisoner sighed impatiently, and paused.

"Yes," said Aramis, "the queen had a second son, whom Dame Perronnette,
the midwife, received in her arms."

"Dame Perronnette!" murmured the young man.

"They ran at once to the banqueting-room, and whispered to the king what
had happened; he rose and quitted the table.  But this time it was no
longer happiness that his face expressed, but something akin to terror.
The birth of twins changed into bitterness the joy to which that of an
only son had given rise, seeing that in France (a fact you are assuredly
ignorant of) it is the oldest of the king's sons who succeeds his father."

"I know it."

"And that the doctors and jurists assert that there is ground for
doubting whether the son that first makes his appearance is the elder by
the law of heaven and of nature."

The prisoner uttered a smothered cry, and became whiter than the coverlet
under which he hid himself.

"Now you understand," pursued Aramis, "that the king, who with so much
pleasure saw himself repeated in one, was in despair about two; fearing
that the second might dispute the first's claim to seniority, which had
been recognized only two hours before; and so this second son, relying on
party interests and caprices, might one day sow discord and engender
civil war throughout the kingdom; by these means destroying the very
dynasty he should have strengthened."

"Oh, I understand! - I understand!" murmured the young man.

"Well," continued Aramis; "this is what they relate, what they declare;
this is why one of the queen's two sons, shamefully parted from his
brother, shamefully sequestered, is buried in profound obscurity; this is
why that second son has disappeared, and so completely, that not a soul
in France, save his mother, is aware of his existence."

"Yes! his mother, who has cast him off," cried the prisoner in a tone of

"Except, also," Aramis went on, "the lady in the black dress; and,
finally, excepting - "

"Excepting yourself - is it not?  You who come and relate all this; you,
who rouse in my soul curiosity, hatred, ambition, and, perhaps, even the
thirst of vengeance; except you, monsieur, who, if you are the man to
whom I expect, whom the note I have received applies to, whom, in short,
Heaven ought to send me, must possess about you - "

"What?" asked Aramis.

"A portrait of the king, Louis XIV., who at this moment reigns upon the
throne of France."

"Here is the portrait," replied the bishop, handing the prisoner a
miniature in enamel, on which Louis was depicted life-like, with a
handsome, lofty mien.  The prisoner eagerly seized the portrait, and
gazed at it with devouring eyes.

"And now, monseigneur," said Aramis, "here is a mirror."  Aramis left the
prisoner time to recover his ideas.

"So high! - so high!" murmured the young man, eagerly comparing the
likeness of Louis with his own countenance reflected in the glass.

"What do you think of it?" at length said Aramis.

"I think that I am lost," replied the captive; "the king will never set
me free."

"And I - I demand to know," added the bishop, fixing his piercing eyes
significantly upon the prisoner, "I demand to know which of these two is
king; the one this miniature portrays, or whom the glass reflects?"

"The king, monsieur," sadly replied the young man, "is he who is on the
throne, who is not in prison; and who, on the other hand, can cause
others to be entombed there.  Royalty means power; and you behold how
powerless I am."

"Monseigneur," answered Aramis, with a respect he had not yet manifested,
"the king, mark me, will, if you desire it, be the one that, quitting his
dungeon, shall maintain himself upon the throne, on which his friends
will place him."

"Tempt me not, monsieur," broke in the prisoner bitterly.

"Be not weak, monseigneur," persisted Aramis; "I have brought you all the
proofs of your birth; consult them; satisfy yourself that you are a
king's son; it is for _us_ to act."

"No, no; it is impossible."

"Unless, indeed," resumed the bishop ironically, "it be the destiny of
your race, that the brothers excluded from the throne should be always
princes void of courage and honesty, as was your uncle, M. Gaston
d'Orleans, who ten times conspired against his brother Louis XIII."

"What!" cried the prince, astonished; "my uncle Gaston 'conspired against
his brother'; conspired to dethrone him?"

"Exactly, monseigneur; for no other reason.  I tell you the truth."

"And he had friends - devoted friends?"

"As much so as I am to you."

"And, after all, what did he do? - Failed!"

"He failed, I admit; but always through his own fault; and, for the sake
of purchasing - not his life - for the life of the king's brother is
sacred and inviolable - but his liberty, he sacrificed the lives of all
his friends, one after another.  And so, at this day, he is a very blot
on history, the detestation of a hundred noble families in this kingdom."

"I understand, monsieur; either by weakness or treachery, my uncle slew
his friends."

"By weakness; which, in princes, is always treachery."

"And cannot a man fail, then, from incapacity and ignorance?  Do you
really believe it possible that a poor captive such as I, brought up, not
only at a distance from the court, but even from the world - do you
believe it possible that such a one could assist those of his friends who
should attempt to serve him?"  And as Aramis was about to reply, the

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