List Of Contents | Contents of The Man in the Iron Mask, by Dumas, Pere
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departure, not to perceive the disorder in the usually regular proceeding
of the comte, the valet called his comrades by gestures and voice, and
all hastened to his assistance.  Athos had gone but a few steps on his
return, when he felt himself better again.  His strength seemed to revive
and with it the desire to go to Blois.  He made his horse turn round:
but, at the animal's first steps, he sunk again into a state of torpor
and anguish.

"Well! decidedly," said he, "it is _willed_ that I should stay at home."
His people flocked around him; they lifted him from his horse, and
carried him as quickly as possible into the house.  Everything was
prepared in his chamber, and they put him to bed.

"You will be sure to remember," said he, disposing himself to sleep,
"that I expect letters from Africa this very day."

"Monsieur will no doubt hear with pleasure that Blaisois's son is gone on
horseback, to gain an hour over the courier of Blois," replied his _valet
de chambre_.

"Thank you," replied Athos, with his placid smile.

The comte fell asleep, but his disturbed slumber resembled torture rather
than repose.  The servant who watched him saw several times the
expression of internal suffering shadowed on his features.  Perhaps Athos
was dreaming.

The day passed away.  Blaisois's son returned; the courier had brought no
news.  The comte reckoned the minutes with despair; he shuddered when
those minutes made an hour.  The idea that he was forgotten seized him
once, and brought on a fearful pang of the heart.  Everybody in the house
had given up all hopes of the courier - his hour had long passed.  Four
times the express sent to Blois had repeated his journey, and there was
nothing to the address of the comte.  Athos knew that the courier only
arrived once a week.  Here, then, was a delay of eight mortal days to be
endured.  He commenced the night in this painful persuasion.  All that a
sick man, irritated by suffering, can add of melancholy suppositions to
probabilities already gloomy, Athos heaped up during the early hours of
this dismal night.  The fever rose: it invaded the chest, where the fire
soon caught, according to the expression of the physician, who had been
brought back from Blois by Blaisois at his last journey.  Soon it gained
the head.  The physician made two successive bleedings, which dislodged
it for the time, but left the patient very weak, and without power of
action in anything but his brain.  And yet this redoubtable fever had
ceased.  It besieged with its last palpitations the tense extremities; it
ended by yielding as midnight struck.

The physician, seeing the incontestable improvement, returned to Blois,
after having ordered some prescriptions, and declared that the comte was
saved.  Then commenced for Athos a strange, indefinable state.  Free to
think, his mind turned towards Raoul, that beloved son.  His imagination
penetrated the fields of Africa in the environs of Gigelli, where M. de
Beaufort must have landed with his army.  A waste of gray rocks, rendered
green in certain parts by the waters of the sea, when it lashed the shore
in storms and tempest.  Beyond, the shore, strewed over with these rocks
like gravestones, ascended, in form of an amphitheater among mastic-trees
and cactus, a sort of small town, full of smoke, confused noises, and
terrified movements.  All of a sudden, from the bosom of this smoke arose
a flame, which succeeded, creeping along the houses, in covering the
entire surface of the town, and increased by degrees, uniting in its red
and angry vortices tears, screams, and supplicating arms outstretched to

There was, for a moment, a frightful _pele-mele_ of timbers falling to
pieces, of swords broken, of stones calcined, trees burnt and
disappearing.  It was a strange thing that in this chaos, in which Athos
distinguished raised arms, in which he heard cries, sobs, and groans, he
did not see one human figure.  The cannon thundered at a distance,
musketry madly barked, the sea moaned, flocks made their escape, bounding
over the verdant slope.  But not a soldier to apply the match to the
batteries of cannon, not a sailor to assist in maneuvering the fleet, not
a shepherd in charge of the flocks.  After the ruin of the village, the
destruction of the forts which dominated it, a ruin and destruction
magically wrought without the co-operation of a single human being, the
flames were extinguished, the smoke began to subside, then diminished in
intensity, paled and disappeared entirely.  Night then came over the
scene; night dark upon the earth, brilliant in the firmament.  The large
blazing stars which spangled the African sky glittered and gleamed
without illuminating anything.

A long silence ensued, which gave, for a moment, repose to the troubled
imagination of Athos; and as he felt that that which he saw was not
terminated, he applied more attentively the eyes of his understanding on
the strange spectacle which his imagination had presented.  This
spectacle was soon continued for him.  A mild pale moon rose behind the
declivities of the coast, streaking at first the undulating ripples of
the sea, which appeared to have calmed after the roaring it had sent
forth during the vision of Athos - the moon, we say, shed its diamonds
and opals upon the briers and bushes of the hills.  The gray rocks, so
many silent and attentive phantoms, appeared to raise their heads to
examine likewise the field of battle by the light of the moon, and Athos
perceived that the field, empty during the combat, was now strewn with
fallen bodies.

An inexpressible shudder of fear and horror seized his soul as he
recognized the white and blue uniforms of the soldiers of Picardy, with
their long pikes and blue handles, and muskets marked with the _fleur-de-
lis_ on the butts.  When he saw all the gaping wounds, looking up to the
bright heavens as if to demand back of them the souls to which they had
opened a passage, - when he saw the slaughtered horses, stiff, their
tongues hanging out at one side of their mouths, sleeping in the shiny
blood congealed around them, staining their furniture and their manes, -
when he saw the white horse of M. de Beaufort, with his head beaten to
pieces, in the first ranks of the dead, Athos passed a cold hand over his
brow, which he was astonished not to find burning.  He was convinced by
this touch that he was present, as a spectator, without delirium's
dreadful aid, the day after the battle fought upon the shores of Gigelli
by the army of the expedition, which he had seen leave the coast of
France and disappear upon the dim horizon, and of which he had saluted
with thought and gesture the last cannon-shot fired by the duke as a
signal of farewell to his country.

Who can paint the mortal agony with which his soul followed, like a
vigilant eye, these effigies of clay-cold soldiers, and examined them,
one after the other, to see if Raoul slept among them?  Who can express
the intoxication of joy with which Athos bowed before God, and thanked
Him for not having seen him he sought with so much fear among the dead?
In fact, fallen in their ranks, stiff, icy, the dead, still recognizable
with ease, seemed to turn with complacency towards the Comte de la Fere,
to be the better seen by him, during his sad review.  But yet, he was
astonished, while viewing all these bodies, not to perceive the
survivors.  To such a point did the illusion extend, that this vision was
for him a real voyage made by the father into Africa, to obtain more
exact information respecting his son.

Fatigued, therefore, with having traversed seas and continents, he sought
repose under one of the tents sheltered behind a rock, on the top of
which floated the white _fleur-de-lised_ pennon.  He looked for a soldier
to conduct him to the tent of M. de Beaufort.  Then, while his eye was
wandering over the plain, turning on all sides, he saw a white form
appear behind the scented myrtles.  This figure was clothed in the
costume of an officer; it held in its hand a broken sword; it advanced
slowly towards Athos, who, stopping short and fixing his eyes upon it,
neither spoke nor moved, but wished to open his arms, because in this
silent officer he had already recognized Raoul.  The comte attempted to
utter a cry, but it was stifled in his throat.  Raoul, with a gesture,
directed him to be silent, placing his finger on his lips and drawing
back by degrees, without Athos being able to see his legs move.  The
comte, still paler than Raoul, followed his son, painfully traversing
briers and bushes, stones and ditches, Raoul not appearing to touch the
earth, no obstacle seeming to impede the lightness of his march.  The
comte, whom the inequalities of the path fatigued, soon stopped,
exhausted.  Raoul still continued to beckon him to follow him.  The
tender father, to whom love restored strength, made a last effort, and
climbed the mountain after the young man, who attracted him by gesture
and by smile.

At length he gained the crest of the hill, and saw, thrown out in black,
upon the horizon whitened by the moon, the aerial form of Raoul.  Athos
reached forth his hand to get closer to his beloved son upon the plateau,
and the latter also stretched out his; but suddenly, as if the young man
had been drawn away in his own despite, still retreating, he left the
earth, and Athos saw the clear blue sky shine between the feet of his
child and the ground of the hill.  Raoul rose insensibly into the void,
smiling, still calling with gesture: - he departed towards heaven.  Athos
uttered a cry of tenderness and terror.  He looked below again.  He saw a
camp destroyed, and all those white bodies of the royal army, like so
many motionless atoms.  And, then, raising his head, he saw the figure of
his son still beckoning him to climb the mystic void.

Chapter LVIII:
The Angel of Death.

Athos was at this part of his marvelous vision, when the charm was
suddenly broken by a great noise rising from the outer gates.  A horse
was heard galloping over the hard gravel of the great alley, and the

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