List Of Contents | Contents of The Man in the Iron Mask, by Dumas, Pere
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royal troops.  Aramis and Porthos, concealed behind some projecting mass
of rock, collected the words that escaped from the poor people, who fled,
trembling, carrying with them their most valuable effects, and tried,
whilst listening to their complaints, to gather something from them for
their own interest.  At length, after a rapid race, frequently
interrupted by prudent stoppages, they reached the deep grottoes, in
which the prophetic bishop of Vannes had taken care to have secreted a
bark capable of keeping the sea at this fine season.

"My good friend," said Porthos, panting vigorously, "we have arrived, it
seems.  But I thought you spoke of three men, three servants, who were to
accompany us.  I don't see them - where are they?"

"Why should you see them, Porthos?" replied Aramis.  "They are certainly
waiting for us in the cavern, and, no doubt, are resting, having
accomplished their rough and difficult task."

Aramis stopped Porthos, who was preparing to enter the cavern.  "Will you
allow me, my friend," said he to the giant, "to pass in first?  I know
the signal I have given to these men; who, not hearing it, would be very
likely to fire upon you or slash away with their knives in the dark."

"Go on, then, Aramis; go on - go first; you impersonate wisdom and
foresight; go.  Ah! there is that fatigue again, of which I spoke to
you.  It has just seized me afresh."

Aramis left Porthos sitting at the entrance of the grotto, and bowing his
head, he penetrated into the interior of the cavern, imitating the cry of
the owl.  A little plaintive cooing, a scarcely distinct echo, replied
from the depths of the cave.  Aramis pursued his way cautiously, and soon
was stopped by the same kind of cry as he had first uttered, within ten
paces of him.

"Are you there, Yves?" said the bishop.

"Yes, monseigneur; Goenne is here likewise.  His son accompanies us."

"That is well.  Are all things ready?"

"Yes, monseigneur."

"Go to the entrance of the grottoes, my good Yves, and you will there
find the Seigneur de Pierrefonds, who is resting after the fatigue of our
journey.  And if he should happen not to be able to walk, lift him up,
and bring him hither to me."

The three men obeyed.  But the recommendation given to his servants was
superfluous.  Porthos, refreshed, had already commenced the descent, and
his heavy step resounded amongst the cavities, formed and supported by
columns of porphyry and granite.  As soon as the Seigneur de Bracieux had
rejoined the bishop, the Bretons lighted a lantern with which they were
furnished, and Porthos assured his friend that he felt as strong again as

"Let us inspect the boat," said Aramis, "and satisfy ourselves at once
what it will hold."

"Do not go too near with the light," said the patron Yves; "for as you
desired me, monseigneur, I have placed under the bench of the poop, in
the coffer you know of, the barrel of powder, and the musket-charges that
you sent me from the fort."

"Very well," said Aramis; and, taking the lantern himself, he examined
minutely all parts of the canoe, with the precautions of a man who is
neither timid nor ignorant in the face of danger.  The canoe was long,
light, drawing little water, thin of keel; in short, one of those that
have always been so aptly built at Belle-Isle; a little high in its
sides, solid upon the water, very manageable, furnished with planks
which, in uncertain weather, formed a sort of deck over which the waves
might glide, so as to protect the rowers.  In two well-closed coffers,
placed beneath the benches of the prow and the poop, Aramis found bread,
biscuit, dried fruits, a quarter of bacon, a good provision of water in
leathern bottles; the whole forming rations sufficient for people who did
not mean to quit the coast, and would be able to revictual, if necessity
commanded.  The arms, eight muskets, and as many horse-pistols, were in
good condition, and all loaded.  There were additional oars, in case of
accident, and that little sail called _trinquet_, which assists the speed
of the canoe at the same time the boatmen row, and is so useful when the
breeze is slack.  When Aramis had seen to all these things, and appeared
satisfied with the result of his inspection, "Let us consult Porthos,"
said he, "to know if we must endeavor to get the boat out by the unknown
extremity of the grotto, following the descent and the shade of the
cavern, or whether it be better, in the open air, to make it slide upon
its rollers through the bushes, leveling the road of the little beach,
which is but twenty feet high, and gives, at high tide, three or four
fathoms of good water upon a sound bottom."

"It must be as you please, monseigneur," replied the skipper Yves,
respectfully; "but I don't believe that by the slope of the cavern, and
in the dark in which we shall be obliged to maneuver our boat, the road
will be so convenient as the open air.  I know the beach well, and can
certify that it is as smooth as a grass-plot in a garden; the interior
of the grotto, on the contrary, is rough; without reckoning, monseigneur,
that at its extremity we shall come to the trench which leads into the
sea, and perhaps the canoe will not pass down it."

"I have made my calculation," said the bishop, "and I am certain it will

"So be it; I wish it may, monseigneur," continued Yves; "but your
highness knows very well that to make it reach the extremity of the
trench, there is an enormous stone to be lifted - that under which the
fox always passes, and which closes the trench like a door."

"It can be raised," said Porthos; "that is nothing."

"Oh!  I know that monseigneur has the strength of ten men," replied Yves;
"but that is giving him a great deal of trouble."

"I think the skipper may be right," said Aramis; "let us try the open-air

"The more so, monseigneur," continued the fisherman, "that we should not
be able to embark before day, it will require so much labor, and that as
soon as daylight appears, a good _vedette_ placed outside the grotto
would be necessary, indispensable even, to watch the maneuvers of the
lighters or cruisers that are on the look-out for us."

"Yes, yes, Yves, your reasons are good; we will go by the beach."

And the three robust Bretons went to the boat, and were beginning to
place their rollers underneath it to put it in motion, when the distant
barking of dogs was heard, proceeding from the interior of the island.

Aramis darted out of the grotto, followed by Porthos.  Dawn just tinted
with purple and white the waves and plain; through the dim light,
melancholy fir-trees waved their tender branches over the pebbles, and
long flights of crows were skimming with their black wings the shimmering
fields of buckwheat.  In a quarter of an hour it would be clear daylight;
the wakened birds announced it to all nature.  The barkings which had
been heard, which had stopped the three fishermen engaged in moving the
boat, and had brought Aramis and Porthos out of the cavern, now seemed to
come from a deep gorge within about a league of the grotto.

"It is a pack of hounds," said Porthos; "the dogs are on a scent."

"Who can be hunting at such a moment as this?" said Aramis.

"And this way, particularly," continued Porthos, "where they might expect
the army of the royalists."

"The noise comes nearer.  Yes, you are right, Porthos, the dogs are on a
scent.  But, Yves!" cried Aramis, "come here! come here!"

Yves ran towards him, letting fall the cylinder which he was about to
place under the boat when the bishop's call interrupted him.

"What is the meaning of this hunt, skipper?" said Porthos.

"Eh! monseigneur, I cannot understand it," replied the Breton.  "It is
not at such a moment that the Seigneur de Locmaria would hunt.  No, and
yet the dogs - "

"Unless they have escaped from the kennel."

"No," said Goenne, "they are not the Seigneur de Locmaria's hounds."

"In common prudence," said Aramis, "let us go back into the grotto; the
voices evidently draw nearer, we shall soon know what we have to trust

They re-entered, but had scarcely proceeded a hundred steps in the
darkness, when a noise like the hoarse sigh of a creature in distress
resounded through the cavern, and breathless, rapid, terrified, a fox
passed like a flash of lightning before the fugitives, leaped over the
boat and disappeared, leaving behind its sour scent, which was
perceptible for several seconds under the low vaults of the cave.

"The fox!" cried the Bretons, with the glad surprise of born hunters.

"Accursed mischance!" cried the bishop, "our retreat is discovered."

"How so?" said Porthos; "are you afraid of a fox?"

"Eh! my friend, what do you mean by that? why do you specify the fox?  It
is not the fox alone.  _Pardieu!_  But don't you know, Porthos, that
after the foxes come hounds, and after hounds men?"

Porthos hung his head.  As though to confirm the words of Aramis, they
heard the yelping pack approach with frightful swiftness upon the trail.
Six foxhounds burst at once upon the little heath, with mingling yelps of

"There are the dogs, plain enough!" said Aramis, posted on the look-out
behind a chink in the rocks; "now, who are the huntsmen?"

"If it is the Seigneur de Locmaria's," replied the sailor, "he will leave
the dogs to hunt the grotto, for he knows them, and will not enter in
himself, being quite sure that the fox will come out the other side; it
is there he will wait for him."

"It is not the Seigneur de Locmaria who is hunting," replied Aramis,
turning pale in spite of his efforts to maintain a placid countenance.

"Who is it, then?" said Porthos.


Porthos applied his eye to the slit, and saw at the summit of a hillock a
dozen horsemen urging on their horses in the track of the dogs, shouting,
"_Taiaut! taiaut!_"

"The guards!" said he.

"Yes, my friend, the king's guards."

"The king's guards! do you say, monseigneur?" cried the Bretons, growing
pale in turn.

"With Biscarrat at their head, mounted upon my gray horse," continued

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