List Of Contents | Contents of The Man in the Iron Mask, by Dumas, Pere
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The hounds at the same moment rushed into the grotto like an avalanche,
and the depths of the cavern were filled with their deafening cries.

"Ah! the devil!" said Aramis, resuming all his coolness at the sight of
this certain, inevitable danger.  "I am perfectly satisfied we are lost,
but we have, at least, one chance left.  If the guards who follow their
hounds happen to discover there is an issue to the grotto, there is no
help for us, for on entering they must see both ourselves and our boat.
The dogs must not go out of the cavern.  Their masters must not enter."

"That is clear," said Porthos.

"You understand," added Aramis, with the rapid precision of command;
"there are six dogs that will be forced to stop at the great stone under
which the fox has glided - but at the too narrow opening of which they
must be themselves stopped and killed."

The Bretons sprang forward, knife in hand.  In a few minutes there was a
lamentable concert of angry barks and mortal howls - and then, silence.

"That's well!" said Aramis, coolly, "now for the masters!"

"What is to be done with them?" said Porthos.

"Wait their arrival, conceal ourselves, and kill them."

"_Kill them!_" replied Porthos.

"There are sixteen," said Aramis, "at least, at present."

"And well armed," added Porthos, with a smile of consolation.

"It will last about ten minutes," said Aramis.  "To work!"

And with a resolute air he took up a musket, and placed a hunting-knife
between his teeth.

"Yves, Goenne, and his son," continued Aramis, will pass the muskets to
us.  You, Porthos, will fire when they are close.  We shall have brought
down, at the lowest computation, eight, before the others are aware of
anything - that is certain; then all, there are five of us, will dispatch
the other eight, knife in hand."

"And poor Biscarrat?" said Porthos.

Aramis reflected a moment - "Biscarrat first," replied he, coolly.  "He
knows us."

Chapter XLVIII:
The Grotto.

In spite of the sort of divination which was the remarkable side of the
character of Aramis, the event, subject to the risks of things over which
uncertainty presides, did not fall out exactly as the bishop of Vannes
had foreseen.  Biscarrat, better mounted than his companions, arrived
first at the opening of the grotto, and comprehended that fox and hounds
were one and all engulfed in it.  Only, struck by that superstitious
terror which every dark and subterraneous way naturally impresses upon
the mind of man, he stopped at the outside of the grotto, and waited till
his companions should have assembled round him.

"Well!" asked the young men, coming up, out of breath, and unable to
understand the meaning of this inaction.

"Well!  I cannot hear the dogs; they and the fox must all be lost in this
infernal cavern."

"They were too close up," said one of the guards, "to have lost scent all
at once.  Besides, we should hear them from one side or another.  They
must, as Biscarrat says, be in this grotto."

"But then," said one of the young men, "why don't they give tongue?"

"It is strange!" muttered another.

"Well, but," said a fourth, "let us go into this grotto.  Does it happen
to be forbidden we should enter it?"

"No," replied Biscarrat.  "Only, as it looks as dark as a wolf's mouth,
we might break our necks in it."

"Witness the dogs," said a guard, "who seem to have broken theirs."

"What the devil can have become of them?" asked the young men in chorus.
And every master called his dog by his name, whistled to him in his
favorite mode, without a single one replying to either call or whistle.

"It is perhaps an enchanted grotto," said Biscarrat; "let us see."  And,
jumping from his horse, he made a step into the grotto.

"Stop! stop!  I will accompany you," said one of the guards, on seeing
Biscarrat disappear in the shades of the cavern's mouth.

"No," replied Biscarrat, "there must be something extraordinary in the
place - don't let us risk ourselves all at once.  If in ten minutes you
do not hear of me, you can come in, but not all at once."

"Be it so," said the young man, who, besides, did not imagine that
Biscarrat ran much risk in the enterprise, "we will wait for you."  And
without dismounting from their horses, they formed a circle round the

Biscarrat entered then alone, and advanced through the darkness till he
came in contact with the muzzle of Porthos's musket.  The resistance
which his chest met with astonished him; he naturally raised his hand and
laid hold of the icy barrel.  At the same instant, Yves lifted a knife
against the young man, which was about to fall upon him with all force of
a Breton's arm, when the iron wrist of Porthos stopped it half-way.
Then, like low muttering thunder, his voice growled in the darkness, "I
will not have him killed!"

Biscarrat found himself between a protection and a threat, the one almost
as terrible as the other.  However brave the young man might be, he could
not prevent a cry escaping him, which Aramis immediately suppressed by
placing a handkerchief over his mouth.  "Monsieur de Biscarrat," said he,
in a low voice, "we mean you no harm, and you must know that if you have
recognized us; but, at the first word, the first groan, the first
whisper, we shall be forced to kill you as we have killed your dogs."

"Yes, I recognize you, gentlemen," said the officer, in a low voice.
"But why are you here - what are you doing, here?  Unfortunate men!  I
thought you were in the fort."

"And you, monsieur, you were to obtain conditions for us, I think?"

"I did all I was able, messieurs, but - "

"But what?"

"But there are positive orders."

"To kill us?"

Biscarrat made no reply.  It would have cost him too much to speak of the
cord to gentlemen.  Aramis understood the silence of the prisoner.

"Monsieur Biscarrat," said he, "you would be already dead if we had not
regard for your youth and our ancient association with your father; but
you may yet escape from the place by swearing that you will not tell your
companions what you have seen."

"I will not only swear that I will not speak of it," said Biscarrat, "but
I still further swear that I will do everything in the world to prevent
my companions from setting foot in the grotto."

"Biscarrat!  Biscarrat!" cried several voices from the outside, coming
like a whirlwind into the cave.

"Reply," said Aramis.

"Here I am!" cried Biscarrat.

"Now, begone; we depend on your loyalty."  And he left his hold of the
young man, who hastily returned towards the light.

"Biscarrat!  Biscarrat!" cried the voices, still nearer.  And the shadows
of several human forms projected into the interior of the grotto.
Biscarrat rushed to meet his friends in order to stop them, and met them
just as they were adventuring into the cave.  Aramis and Porthos listened
with the intense attention of men whose life depends upon a breath of air.

"Oh! oh!" exclaimed one of the guards, as he came to the light, "how
pale you are!"

"Pale!" cried another; "you ought to say corpse-color."

"I!" said the young man, endeavoring to collect his faculties.

"In the name of Heaven! what has happened?" exclaimed all the voices.

"You have not a drop of blood in your veins, my poor friend," said one of
them, laughing.

"Messieurs, it is serious," said another, "he is going to faint; does any
one of you happen to have any salts?"  And they all laughed.

This hail of jests fell round Biscarrat's ears like musket-balls in a
_melee_.  He recovered himself amidst a deluge of interrogations.

"What do you suppose I have seen?' asked he.  "I was too hot when I
entered the grotto, and I have been struck with a chill.  That is all."

"But the dogs, the dogs; have you seen them again - did you see anything
of them - do you know anything about them?"

"I suppose they have got out some other way."

"Messieurs," said one of the young men, "there is in that which is going
on, in the paleness and silence of our friend, a mystery which Biscarrat
will not, or cannot reveal.  Only, and this is certain, Biscarrat has
seen something in the grotto.  Well, for my part, I am very curious to
see what it is, even if it is the devil!  To the grotto! messieurs, to
the grotto!"

"To the grotto!" repeated all the voices.  And the echo of the cavern
carried like a menace to Porthos and Aramis, "To the grotto! to the

Biscarrat threw himself before his companions.  "Messieurs! messieurs!"
cried he, "in the name of Heaven! do not go in!"

"Why, what is there so terrific in the cavern?" asked several at once.
"Come, speak, Biscarrat."

"Decidedly, it is the devil he has seen," repeated he who had before
advanced that hypothesis.

"Well," said another, "if he has seen him, he need not be selfish; he may
as well let us have a look at him in turn."

"Messieurs! messieurs!  I beseech you," urged Biscarrat.

"Nonsense!  Let us pass!"

"Messieurs, I implore you not to enter!"

"Why, you went in yourself."

Then one of the officers, who - of a riper age than the others - had till
this time remained behind, and had said nothing, advanced.  "Messieurs,"
said he, with a calmness which contrasted with the animation of the young
men, "there is in there some person, or something, that is not the devil;
but which, whatever it may be, has had sufficient power to silence our
dogs.  We must discover who this some one is, or what this something is."

Biscarrat made a last effort to stop his friends, but it was useless.  In
vain he threw himself before the rashest; in vain he clung to the rocks
to bar the passage; the crowd of young men rushed into the cave, in the
steps of the officer who had spoken last, but who had sprung in first,
sword in hand, to face the unknown danger.  Biscarrat, repulsed by his
friends, unable to accompany them, without passing in the eyes of Porthos
and Aramis for a traitor and a perjurer, with painfully attentive ear and
unconsciously supplicating hands leaned against the rough side of a rock
which he thought must be exposed to the fire of the musketeers.  As to

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