List Of Contents | Contents of The Man in the Iron Mask, by Dumas, Pere
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begone, and give me the light."

Aramis gave the burning match to Porthos, who held out his arm to him,
his hands being engaged.  Aramis pressed the arm of Porthos with both his
hands, and fell back to the outlet of the cavern where the three rowers
awaited him.

Porthos, left alone, applied the spark bravely to the match.  The spark -
a feeble spark, first principle of conflagration - shone in the darkness
like a glow-worm, then was deadened against the match which it set fire
to, Porthos enlivening the flame with his breath.  The smoke was a little
dispersed, and by the light of the sparkling match objects might, for two
seconds, be distinguished.  It was a brief but splendid spectacle, that
of this giant, pale, bloody, his countenance lighted by the fire of the
match burning in surrounding darkness!  The soldiers saw him, they saw
the barrel he held in his hand - they at once understood what was going
to happen.  Then, these men, already choked with horror at the sight of
what had been accomplished, filled with terror at thought of what was
about to be accomplished, gave out a simultaneous shriek of agony.  Some
endeavored to fly, but they encountered the third brigade, which barred
their passage; others mechanically took aim and attempted to fire their
discharged muskets; others fell instinctively upon their knees.  Two or
three officers cried out to Porthos to promise him his liberty if he
would spare their lives.  The lieutenant of the third brigade commanded
his men to fire; but the guards had before them their terrified
companions, who served as a living rampart for Porthos.  We have said
that the light produced by the spark and the match did not last more than
two seconds; but during these two seconds this is what it illumined: in
the first place, the giant, enlarged in the darkness; then, at ten paces
off, a heap of bleeding bodies, crushed, mutilated, in the midst of which
some still heaved in the last agony, lifting the mass as a last
respiration inflating the sides of some old monster dying in the night.
Every breath of Porthos, thus vivifying the match, sent towards this heap
of bodies a phosphorescent aura, mingled with streaks of purple.  In
addition to this principal group scattered about the grotto, as the
chances of death or surprise had stretched them, isolated bodies seemed
to be making ghastly exhibitions of their gaping wounds.  Above ground,
bedded in pools of blood, rose, heavy and sparkling, the short, thick
pillars of the cavern, of which the strongly marked shades threw out the
luminous particles.  And all this was seen by the tremulous light of a
match attached to a barrel of powder, that is to say, a torch which,
whilst throwing a light on the dead past, showed death to come.

As I have said, this spectacle did not last above two seconds.  During
this short space of time an officer of the third brigade got together
eight men armed with muskets, and, through an opening, ordered them to
fire upon Porthos.  But they who received the order to fire trembled so
that three guards fell by the discharge, and the five remaining balls
hissed on to splinter the vault, plow the ground, or indent the pillars
of the cavern.

A burst of laughter replied to this volley; then the arm of the giant
swung round; then was seen whirling through the air, like a falling star,
the train of fire.  The barrel, hurled a distance of thirty feet, cleared
the barricade of dead bodies, and fell amidst a group of shrieking
soldiers, who threw themselves on their faces.  The officer had followed
the brilliant train in the air; he endeavored to precipitate himself upon
the barrel and tear out the match before it reached the powder it
contained.  Useless!  The air had made the flame attached to the
conductor more active; the match, which at rest might have burnt five
minutes, was consumed in thirty seconds, and the infernal work exploded.
Furious vortices of sulphur and nitre, devouring shoals of fire which
caught every object, the terrible thunder of the explosion, this is what
the second which followed disclosed in that cavern of horrors.  The
rocks split like planks of deal beneath the axe.  A jet of fire, smoke,
and _debris_ sprang from the middle of the grotto, enlarging as it
mounted.  The large walls of silex tottered and fell upon the sand, and
the sand itself, an instrument of pain when launched from its hard bed,
riddled the faces with its myriad cutting atoms.  Shrieks, imprecations,
human life, dead bodies - all were engulfed in one terrific crash.

The three first compartments became one sepulchral sink into which fell
grimly back, in the order of their weight, every vegetable, mineral, or
human fragment.  Then the lighter sand and ash came down in turn,
stretching like a winding sheet and smoking over the dismal scene.  And
now, in this burning tomb, this subterranean volcano, seek the king's
guards with their blue coats laced with silver.  Seek the officers,
brilliant in gold, seek for the arms upon which they depended for their
defense.  One single man has made of all of those things a chaos more
confused, more shapeless, more terrible than the chaos which existed
before the creation of the world.  There remained nothing of the three
compartments - nothing by which God could have recognized His handiwork.
As for Porthos, after having hurled the barrel of powder amidst his
enemies, he had fled, as Aramis had directed him to do, and had gained
the last compartment, into which air, light, and sunshine penetrated
through the opening.  Scarcely had he turned the angle which separated
the third compartment from the fourth when he perceived at a hundred
paces from him the bark dancing on the waves.  There were his friends,
there liberty, there life and victory.  Six more of his formidable
strides, and he would be out of the vault; out of the vault! a dozen of
his vigorous leaps and he would reach the canoe.  Suddenly he felt his
knees give way; his knees seemed powerless, his legs to yield beneath him.

"Oh! oh!" murmured he, "there is my weakness seizing me again!  I can
walk no further!  What is this?"

Aramis perceived him through the opening, and unable to conceive what
could induce him to stop thus - "Come on, Porthos! come on," he cried;
"come quickly!"

"Oh!" replied the giant, making an effort that contorted every muscle of
his body - "oh! but I cannot."  While saying these words, he fell upon
his knees, but with his mighty hands he clung to the rocks, and raised
himself up again.

"Quick! quick!" repeated Aramis, bending forward towards the shore, as if
to draw Porthos towards him with his arms.

"Here I am," stammered Porthos, collecting all his strength to make one
step more.

"In the name of Heaven!  Porthos, make haste! the barrel will blow up!"

"Make haste, monseigneur!" shouted the Bretons to Porthos, who was
floundering as in a dream.

But there was no time; the explosion thundered, earth gaped, the smoke
which hurled through the clefts obscured the sky; the sea flowed back as
though driven by the blast of flame which darted from the grotto as if
from the jaws of some gigantic fiery chimera; the reflux took the bark
out twenty _toises_; the solid rocks cracked to their base, and separated
like blocks beneath the operation of the wedge; a portion of the vault
was carried up towards heaven, as if it had been built of cardboard; the
green and blue and topaz conflagration and black lava of liquefactions
clashed and combated an instant beneath a majestic dome of smoke; then
oscillated, declined, and fell successively the mighty monoliths of rock
which the violence of the explosion had not been able to uproot from the
bed of ages; they bowed to each other like grave and stiff old men, then
prostrating themselves, lay down forever in their dusty tomb.

This frightful shock seemed to restore Porthos the strength that he had
lost; he arose, a giant among granite giants.  But at the moment he was
flying between the double hedge of granite phantoms, these latter, which
were no longer supported by the corresponding links, began to roll and
totter round our Titan, who looked as if precipitated from heaven amidst
rocks which he had just been launching.  Porthos felt the very earth
beneath his feet becoming jelly-tremulous.  He stretched both hands to
repulse the falling rocks.  A gigantic block was held back by each of his
extended arms.  He bent his head, and a third granite mass sank between
his shoulders.  For an instant the power of Porthos seemed about to fail
him, but this new Hercules united all his force, and the two walls of the
prison in which he was buried fell back slowly and gave him place.  For
an instant he appeared, in this frame of granite, like the angel of
chaos, but in pushing back the lateral rocks, he lost his point of
support, for the monolith which weighed upon his shoulders, and the
boulder, pressing upon him with all its weight, brought the giant down
upon his knees.  The lateral rocks, for an instant pushed back, drew
together again, and added their weight to the ponderous mass which would
have been sufficient to crush ten men.  The hero fell without a groan -
he fell while answering Aramis with words of encouragement and hope, for,
thanks to the powerful arch of his hands, for an instant he believed
that, like Enceladus, he would succeed in shaking off the triple load.
But by degrees Aramis beheld the block sink; the hands, strung for an
instant, the arms stiffened for a last effort, gave way, the extended
shoulders sank, wounded and torn, and the rocks continued to gradually

"Porthos!  Porthos!" cried Aramis, tearing his hair.  "Porthos! where are
you?  Speak!"

"Here, here," murmured Porthos, with a voice growing evidently weaker,
"patience! patience!"

Scarcely had he pronounced these words, when the impulse of the fall
augmented the weight; the enormous rock sank down, pressed by those
others which sank in from the sides, and, as it were, swallowed up
Porthos in a sepulcher of badly jointed stones.  On hearing the dying
voice of his friend, Aramis had sprung to land.  Two of the Bretons

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