List Of Contents | Contents of The Man in the Iron Mask, by Dumas, Pere
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The comte walked feebly as far as the middle trees, seated himself upon a
mossy bank that sloped towards a sidewalk, and there waited the return of
his strength, or rather the return of night.  Very shortly a hundred
steps exhausted him.  At length Athos refused to rise at all; he declined
all nourishment, and his terrified people, although he did not complain,
although he wore a smile upon his lips, although he continued to speak
with his sweet voice - his people went to Blois in search of the ancient
physician of the late Monsieur, and brought him to the Comte de la Fere
in such a fashion that he could see the comte without being himself
seen.  For this purpose, they placed him in a closet adjoining the
chamber of the patient, and implored him not to show himself, for fear of
displeasing their master, who had not asked for a physician.  The doctor
obeyed.  Athos was a sort of model for the gentlemen of the country; the
Blaisois boasted of possessing this sacred relic of French glory.  Athos
was a great seigneur compared with such nobles as the king improvised by
touching with his artificial scepter the parched-up trunks of the
heraldic trees of the province.

People respected Athos, we say, and they loved him.  The physician could
not bear to see his people weep, to see flock round him the poor of the
canton, to whom Athos had so often given life and consolation by his kind
words and his charities.  He examined, therefore, from the depths of his
hiding-place, the nature of that mysterious malady which bent and aged
more mortally every day a man but lately so full of life and a desire to
live.  He remarked upon the cheeks of Athos the hectic hue of fever,
which feeds upon itself; slow fever, pitiless, born in a fold of the
heart, sheltering itself behind that rampart, growing from the suffering
it engenders, at once cause and effect of a perilous situation.  The
comte spoke to nobody; he did not even talk to himself.  His thought
feared noise; it approached to that degree of over-excitement which
borders upon ecstasy.  Man thus absorbed, though he does not yet belong
to God, already appertains no longer to the earth.  The doctor remained
for several hours studying this painful struggle of the will against
superior power; he was terrified at seeing those eyes always fixed, ever
directed on some invisible object; was terrified at the monotonous
beating of that heart from which never a sigh arose to vary the
melancholy state; for often pain becomes the hope of the physician.  Half
a day passed away thus.  The doctor formed his resolution like a brave
man; he issued suddenly from his place of retreat, and went straight up
to Athos, who beheld him without evincing more surprise than if he had
understood nothing of the apparition.

"Monsieur le comte, I crave your pardon," said the doctor, coming up to
the patient with open arms; "but I have a reproach to make you - you
shall hear me."  And he seated himself by the pillow of Athos, who had
great trouble in rousing himself from his preoccupation.

"What is the matter, doctor?" asked the comte, after a silence.

"The matter is, you are ill, monsieur, and have had no advice."

"I! ill!" said Athos, smiling.

"Fever, consumption, weakness, decay, monsieur le comte!"

"Weakness!" replied Athos; "is it possible?  I do not get up."

"Come, come! monsieur le comte, no subterfuges; you are a good Christian?"

"I hope so," said Athos.

"Is it your wish to kill yourself?"

"Never, doctor."

"Well! monsieur, you are in a fair way of doing so.  Thus to remain is
suicide.  Get well! monsieur le comte, get well!"

"Of what?  Find the disease first.  For my part, I never knew myself
better; never did the sky appear more blue to me; never did I take more
care of my flowers."

"You have a hidden grief."

"Concealed! - not at all; the absence of my son, doctor; that is my
malady, and I do not conceal it."

"Monsieur le comte, your son lives, he is strong, he has all the future
before him - the future of men of merit, of his race; live for him - "

"But I do live, doctor; oh! be satisfied of that," added he, with a
melancholy smile; "for as long as Raoul lives, it will be plainly known,
for as long as he lives, I shall live."

"What do you say?"

"A very simple thing.  At this moment, doctor, I leave life suspended
within me.  A forgetful, dissipated, indifferent life would be beyond my
strength, now I have no longer Raoul with me.  You do not ask the lamp to
burn when the match has not illumed the flame; do not ask me to live
amidst noise and merriment.  I vegetate, I prepare myself, I wait.  Look,
doctor; remember those soldiers we have so often seen together at the
ports, where they were waiting to embark; lying down, indifferent, half
on one element, half on the other; they were neither at the place where
the sea was going to carry them, nor at the place the earth was going to
lose them; baggage prepared, minds on the stretch, arms stacked - they
waited.  I repeat it, the word is the one which paints my present life.
Lying down like the soldiers, my ear on the stretch for the report that
may reach me, I wish to be ready to set out at the first summons.  Who
will make me that summons? life or death?  God or Raoul?  My baggage is
packed, my soul is prepared, I await the signal - I wait, doctor, I wait!"

The doctor knew the temper of that mind; he appreciated the strength of
that body; he reflected for the moment, told himself that words were
useless, remedies absurd, and left the chateau, exhorting Athos's
servants not to quit him for a moment.

The doctor being gone, Athos evinced neither anger nor vexation at having
been disturbed.  He did not even desire that all letters that came should
be brought to him directly.  He knew very well that every distraction
which should arise would be a joy, a hope, which his servants would have
paid with their blood to procure him.  Sleep had become rare.  By intense
thinking, Athos forgot himself, for a few hours at most, in a reverie
most profound, more obscure than other people would have called a dream.
The momentary repose which this forgetfulness thus gave the body, still
further fatigued the soul, for Athos lived a double life during these
wanderings of his understanding.  One night, he dreamt that Raoul was
dressing himself in a tent, to go upon an expedition commanded by M. de
Beaufort in person.  The young man was sad; he clasped his cuirass
slowly, and slowly he girded on his sword.

"What is the matter?" asked his father, tenderly.

"What afflicts me is the death of Porthos, ever so dear a friend,"
replied Raoul.  "I suffer here the grief you soon will feel at home."

And the vision disappeared with the slumber of Athos.  At daybreak one of
his servants entered his master's apartment, and gave him a letter which
came from Spain.

"The writing of Aramis," thought the comte; and he read.

"Porthos is dead!" cried he, after the first lines.  "Oh!  Raoul, Raoul!
thanks! thou keepest thy promise, thou warnest me!"

And Athos, seized with a mortal sweat, fainted in his bed, without any
other cause than weakness.

Chapter LVII:
Athos's Vision.

When this fainting of Athos had ceased, the comte, almost ashamed of
having given way before this superior natural event, dressed himself and
ordered his horse, determined to ride to Blois, to open more certain
correspondences with either Africa, D'Artagnan, or Aramis.  In fact, this
letter from Aramis informed the Comte de la Fere of the bad success of
the expedition of Belle-Isle.  It gave him sufficient details of the
death of Porthos to move the tender and devoted heart of Athos to its
innermost fibers.  Athos wished to go and pay his friend Porthos a last
visit.  To render this honor to his companion in arms, he meant to send
to D'Artagnan, to prevail upon him to recommence the painful voyage to
Belle-Isle, to accomplish in his company that sad pilgrimage to the tomb
of the giant he had so much loved, then to return to his dwelling to obey
that secret influence which was conducting him to eternity by a
mysterious road.  But scarcely had his joyous servants dressed their
master, whom they saw with pleasure preparing for a journey which might
dissipate his melancholy; scarcely had the comte's gentlest horse been
saddled and brought to the door, when the father of Raoul felt his head
become confused, his legs give way, and he clearly perceived the
impossibility of going one step further.  He ordered himself to be
carried into the sun; they laid him upon his bed of moss where he passed
a full hour before he could recover his spirits.  Nothing could be more
natural than this weakness after then inert repose of the latter days.
Athos took a _bouillon_, to give him strength, and bathed his dried lips
in a glassful of the wine he loved the best - that old Anjou wine
mentioned by Porthos in his admirable will.  Then, refreshed, free in
mind, he had his horse brought again; but only with the aid of his
servants was he able painfully to climb into the saddle.  He did not go a
hundred paces; a shivering seized him again at the turning of the road.

"This is very strange!" said he to his _valet de chambre_, who
accompanied him.

"Let us stop, monsieur - I conjure you!" replied the faithful servant;
"how pale you are getting!"

"That will not prevent my pursuing my route, now I have once started,"
replied the comte.  And he gave his horse his head again.  But suddenly,
the animal, instead of obeying the thought of his master, stopped.  A
movement, of which Athos was unconscious, had checked the bit.

"Something," said Athos, "wills that I should go no further.  Support
me," added he, stretching out his arms; "quick! come closer!  I feel my
muscles relax - I shall fall from my horse."

The valet had seen the movement made by his master at the moment he
received the order.  He went up to him quickly, received the comte in his
arms, and as they were not yet sufficiently distant from the house for
the servants, who had remained at the door to watch their master's

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