List Of Contents | Contents of The Man in the Iron Mask, by Dumas, Pere
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Bretons made it run rapidly along the rollers.  They had descended into
the third compartment; they had arrived at the stone which walled the
outlet.  Porthos seized this gigantic stone at its base, applied his
robust shoulder, and gave a heave which made the wall crack.  A cloud of
dust fell from the vault, with the ashes of ten thousand generations of
sea birds, whose nests stuck like cement to the rock.  At the third shock
the stone gave way, and oscillated for a minute.  Porthos, placing his
back against the neighboring rock, made an arch with his foot, which
drove the block out of the calcareous masses which served for hinges and
cramps.  The stone fell, and daylight was visible, brilliant, radiant,
flooding the cavern through the opening, and the blue sea appeared to the
delighted Bretons.  They began to lift the bark over the barricade.
Twenty more _toises_, and it would glide into the ocean.  It was during
this time that the company arrived, was drawn up by the captain, and
disposed for either an escalade or an assault.  Aramis watched over
everything, to favor the labors of his friends.  He saw the
reinforcements, counted the men, and convinced himself at a single glance
of the insurmountable peril to which fresh combat would expose them.  To
escape by sea, at the moment the cavern was about to be invaded, was
impossible.  In fact, the daylight which had just been admitted to the
last compartments had exposed to the soldiers the bark being rolled
towards the sea, the two rebels within musket-shot; and one of their
discharges would riddle the boat if it did not kill the navigators.
Besides, allowing everything, - if the bark escaped with the men on board
of it, how could the alarm be suppressed - how could notice to the royal
lighters be prevented?  What could hinder the poor canoe, followed by sea
and watched from the shore, from succumbing before the end of the day?
Aramis, digging his hands into his gray hair with rage, invoked the
assistance of God and the assistance of the demons.  Calling to Porthos,
who was doing more work than all the rollers - whether of flesh or wood -
"My friend," said he, "our adversaries have just received a

"Ah, ah!" said Porthos, quietly, "what is to be done, then?"

"To recommence the combat," said Aramis, "is hazardous."

"Yes," said Porthos, "for it is difficult to suppose that out of two, one
should not be killed; and certainly, if one of us was killed, the other
would get himself killed also."  Porthos spoke these words with that
heroic nature which, with him, grew grander with necessity.

Aramis felt it like a spur to his heart.  "We shall neither of us be
killed if you do what I tell you, friend Porthos."

"Tell me what?"

"These people are coming down into the grotto."


"We could kill about fifteen of them, but no more."

"How many are there in all?" asked Porthos.

"They have received a reinforcement of seventy-five men."

"Seventy-five and five, eighty.  Ah!" sighed Porthos.

"If they fire all at once they will riddle us with balls."

"Certainly they will."

"Without reckoning," added Aramis, "that the detonation might occasion a
collapse of the cavern."

"Ay," said Porthos, "a piece of falling rock just now grazed my shoulder."

"You see, then?"

"Oh! it is nothing."

"We must determine upon something quickly.  Our Bretons are going to
continue to roll the canoe towards the sea."

"Very well."

"We two will keep the powder, the balls, and the muskets here."

"But only two, my dear Aramis - we shall never fire three shots
together," said Porthos, innocently, "the defense by musketry is a bad

"Find a better, then."

"I have found one," said the giant, eagerly; "I will place myself in
ambuscade behind the pillar with this iron bar, and invisible,
unattackable, if they come in floods, I can let my bar fall upon their
skulls, thirty times in a minute.  _Hein!_ what do you think of the
project?  You smile!"

"Excellent, dear friend, perfect!  I approve it greatly; only you will
frighten them, and half of them will remain outside to take us by
famine.  What we want, my good friend, is the entire destruction of the
troop.  A single survivor encompasses our ruin."

"You are right, my friend, but how can we attract them, pray?"

"By not stirring, my good Porthos."

"Well! we won't stir, then; but when they are all together - "

"Then leave it to me, I have an idea."

"If it is so, and your idea proves a good one - and your idea is most
likely to be good - I am satisfied."

"To your ambuscade, Porthos, and count how many enter."

"But you, what will you do?"

"Don't trouble yourself about me; I have a task to perform."

"I think I hear shouts."

"It is they!  To your post.  Keep within reach of my voice and hand."

Porthos took refuge in the second compartment, which was in darkness,
absolutely black.  Aramis glided into the third; the giant held in his
hand an iron bar of about fifty pounds weight.  Porthos handled this
lever, which had been used in rolling the bark, with marvelous facility.
During this time, the Bretons had pushed the bark to the beach.  In the
further and lighter compartment, Aramis, stooping and concealed, was busy
with some mysterious maneuver.  A command was given in a loud voice.  It
was the last order of the captain commandant.  Twenty-five men jumped
from the upper rocks into the first compartment of the grotto, and having
taken their ground, began to fire.  The echoes shrieked and barked, the
hissing balls seemed actually to rarefy the air, and then opaque smoke
filled the vault.

"To the left! to the left!" cried Biscarrat, who, in his first assault,
had seen the passage to the second chamber, and who, animated by the
smell of powder, wished to guide his soldiers in that direction.  The
troop, accordingly, precipitated themselves to the left - the passage
gradually growing narrower.  Biscarrat, with his hands stretched forward,
devoted to death, marched in advance of the muskets.  "Come on! come on!"
exclaimed he, "I see daylight!"

"Strike, Porthos!" cried the sepulchral voice of Aramis.

Porthos breathed a heavy sigh - but he obeyed.  The iron bar fell full
and direct upon the head of Biscarrat, who was dead before he had ended
his cry.  Then the formidable lever rose ten times in ten seconds, and
made ten corpses.  The soldiers could see nothing; they heard sighs and
groans; they stumbled over dead bodies, but as they had no conception of
the cause of all this, they came forward jostling each other.  The
implacable bar, still falling, annihilated the first platoon, without a
single sound to warn the second, which was quietly advancing; only,
commanded by the captain, the men had stripped a fir, growing on the
shore, and, with its resinous branches twisted together, the captain had
made a flambeau.  On arriving at the compartment where Porthos, like the
exterminating angel, had destroyed all he touched, the first rank drew
back in terror.  No firing had replied to that of the guards, and yet
their way was stopped by a heap of dead bodies - they literally walked in
blood.  Porthos was still behind his pillar.  The captain, illumining
with trembling pine-torch this frightful carnage, of which he in vain
sought the cause, drew back towards the pillar behind which Porthos was
concealed.  Then a gigantic hand issued from the shade, and fastened on
the throat of the captain, who uttered a stifle rattle; his stretched-out
arms beating the air, the torch fell and was extinguished in blood.  A
second after, the corpse of the captain dropped close to the extinguished
torch, and added another body to the heap of dead which blocked up the
passage.  All this was effected as mysteriously as though by magic.  At
hearing the rattling in the throat of the captain, the soldiers who
accompanied him had turned round, caught a glimpse of his extended arms,
his eyes starting from their sockets, and then the torch fell and they
were left in darkness.  From an unreflective, instinctive, mechanical
feeling, the lieutenant cried:


Immediately a volley of musketry flamed, thundered, roared in the cavern,
bringing down enormous fragments from the vaults.  The cavern was lighted
for an instant by this discharge, and then immediately returned to pitchy
darkness rendered thicker by the smoke.  To this succeeded a profound
silence, broken only by the steps of the third brigade, now entering the

Chapter L:
The Death of a Titan.

At the moment when Porthos, more accustomed to the darkness than these
men, coming from open daylight, was looking round him to see if through
this artificial midnight Aramis were not making him some signal, he felt
his arm gently touched, and a voice low as a breath murmured in his ear,

"Oh!" said Porthos.

"Hush!" said Aramis, if possible, yet more softly.

And amidst the noise of the third brigade, which continued to advance,
the imprecations of the guards still left alive, the muffled groans of
the dying, Aramis and Porthos glided unseen along the granite walls of
the cavern.  Aramis led Porthos into the last but one compartment, and
showed him, in a hollow of the rocky wall, a barrel of powder weighing
from seventy to eighty pounds, to which he had just attached a fuse.  "My
friend," said he to Porthos, "you will take this barrel, the match of
which I am going to set fire to, and throw it amidst our enemies; can you
do so?"

"_Parbleu!_" replied Porthos; and he lifted the barrel with one hand.
"Light it!"

"Stop," said Aramis, "till they are all massed together, and then, my
Jupiter, hurl your thunderbolt among them."

"Light it," repeated Porthos.

"On my part," continued Aramis, "I will join our Bretons, and help them
to get the canoe to the sea.  I will wait for you on the shore; launch it
strongly, and hasten to us."

"Light it," said Porthos, a third time.

"But do you understand me?"

"_Parbleu!_" said Porthos again, with laughter that he did not even
attempt to restrain, "when a thing is explained to me I understand it;

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