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The Man in the Iron Mask

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Chapter XXXI. The Silver Dish.


The journey passed off pretty well. Athos and his son traversed France at the rate of fifteen leagues per day; sometimes more, sometimes less, according to the intensity of Raoul’s grief. It took them a fortnight to reach Toulon, and they lost all traces of D’Artagnan at Antibes. They were forced to believe that the captain of the musketeers was desirous of preserving an incognito on his route, for Athos derived from his inquiries an assurance that such a cavalier as he described had exchanged his horse for a well-closed carriage on quitting Avignon. Raoul was much affected at not meeting with D’Artagnan. His affectionate heart longed to take a farewell and received consolation from that heart of steel. Athos knew from experience that D’Artagnan became impenetrable when engaged in any serious affair, whether on his own account or on the service of the king. He even feared to offend his friend, or thwart him by too pressing inquiries. And yet when Raoul commenced his labor of classing the flotilla, and got together the chalands and lighters to send them to Toulon, one of the fishermen told the comte that his boat had been laid up to refit since a trip he had made on account of a gentleman who was in great haste to embark. Athos, believing that this man was telling a falsehood in order to be left at liberty to fish, and so gain more money when all his companions were gone, insisted upon having the details. The fisherman informed him that six days previously, a man had come in the night to hire his boat, for the purpose of visiting the island of St. Honnorat. The price was agreed upon, but the gentleman had arrived with an immense carriage case, which he insisted upon embarking, in spite of the many difficulties that opposed the operation. The fisherman wished to retract. He had even threatened, but his threats had procured him nothing but a shower of blows from the gentleman’s cane, which fell upon his shoulders sharp and long. Swearing and grumbling, he had recourse to the syndic of his brotherhood at Antibes, who administer justice among themselves and protect each other; but the gentleman had exhibited a certain paper, at sight of which the syndic, bowing to the very ground, enjoined obedience from the fisherman, and abused him for having been refractory. They then departed with the freight.

“But all this does not tell us,” said Athos, “how you injured your boat.”

“This is the way. I was steering towards St. Honnorat as the gentleman desired me; but he changed his mind, and pretended that I could not pass to the south of the abbey.”

“And why not?”

“Because, monsieur, there is in front of the square tower of the Benedictines, towards the southern point, the bank of the Moines.”

“A rock?” asked Athos.

“Level with the water, but below water; a dangerous passage, yet one I have cleared a thousand times; the gentleman required me to land him at Sainte-Marguerite’s.”

“Well?”

“Well, monsieur!” cried the fisherman, with his Provencal accent, “a man is a sailor, or he is not; he knows his course, or he is nothing but a fresh-water lubber. I was obstinate, and wished to try the channel. The gentleman took me by the collar, and told me quietly he would strangle me. My mate armed himself with a hatchet, and so did I. We had the affront of the night before to pay him out for. But the gentleman drew his sword, and used it in such an astonishingly rapid manner, that we neither of us could get near him. I was about to hurl my hatchet at his head, and I had a right to do so, hadn’t I, monsieur? for a sailor aboard is master, as a citizen is in his chamber; I was going, then, in self-defense, to cut the gentleman in two, when, all at once—believe me or not, monsieur—the great carriage case opened of itself, I don’t know how, and there came out of it a sort of a phantom, his head covered with a black helmet and a black mask, something terrible to look upon, which came towards me threatening with its fist.”

“And that was—” said Athos.

“That was the devil, monsieur; for the gentleman, with great glee, cried out, on seeing him: ‘Ah! thank you, monseigneur!’”

“A most strange story!” murmured the comte, looking at Raoul.

“And what did you do?” asked the latter of the fisherman.

“You must know, monsieur, that two poor men, such as we are, could be no match for two gentlemen; but when one of them turned out to be the devil, we had no earthly chance! My companion and I did not stop to consult one another; we made but one jump into the sea, for we were within seven or eight hundred feet of the shore.”

“Well, and then?”

“Why, and then, monseigneur, as there was a little wind from the southwest, the boat drifted into the sands of Sainte-Marguerite’s.”

“Oh!—but the travelers?”

“Bah! you need not be uneasy about them! It was pretty plain that one was the devil, and protected the other; for when we recovered the boat, after she got afloat again, instead of finding these two creatures injured by the shock, we found nothing, not even the carriage or the case.”

“Very strange! very strange!” repeated the comte. “But after that, what did you do, my friend?”

“I made my complaint to the governor of Sainte-Marguerite’s, who brought my finger under my nose by telling me if I plagued him with such silly stories he would have me flogged.”

“What! did the governor himself say so?”

“Yes, monsieur; and yet my boat was injured, seriously injured, for the prow is left upon the point of Sainte-Marguerite’s, and the carpenter asks a hundred and twenty livres to repair it.”

“Very well,” replied Raoul; “you will be exempted from the service. Go.”

“We will go to Sainte-Marguerite’s, shall we?” said the comte to Bragelonne, as the man walked away.

“Yes, monsieur, for there is something to be cleared up; that man does not seem to me to have told the truth.”

“Nor to me either, Raoul. The story of the masked man and the carriage having disappeared, may be told to conceal some violence these fellows have committed upon their passengers in the open sea, to punish him for his persistence in embarking.”

“I formed the same suspicion; the carriage was more likely to contain property than a man.”

“We shall see to that, Raoul. The gentleman very much resembles D’Artagnan; I recognize his methods of proceeding. Alas! we are no longer the young invincibles of former days. Who knows whether the hatchet or the iron bar of this miserable coaster has not succeeded in doing that which the best blades of Europe, balls, and bullets have not been able to do in forty years?”

That same day they set out for Sainte-Marguerite’s, on board a chasse-maree come from Toulon under orders. The impression they experienced on landing was a singularly pleasing one. The island seemed loaded with flowers and fruits. In its cultivated part it served as a garden for the governor. Orange, pomegranate, and fig trees bent beneath the weight of their golden or purple fruits. All round this garden, in the uncultivated parts, red partridges ran about in conveys among the brambles and tufts of junipers, and at every step of the comte and Raoul a terrified rabbit quitted his thyme and heath to scuttle away to the burrow. In fact, this fortunate isle was uninhabited. Flat, offering nothing but a tiny bay for the convenience of embarkation, and under the protection of the governor, who went shares with them, smugglers made use of it as a provisional entrepot, at the expense of not killing the game or devastating the garden. With this compromise, the governor was in a situation to be satisfied with a garrison of eight men to guard his fortress, in which twelve cannons accumulated coats of moldy green. The governor was a sort of happy farmer, harvesting wines, figs, oil, and oranges, preserving his citrons and cedrates in the sun of his casemates. The fortress, encircled by a deep ditch, its only guardian, arose like three heads upon turrets connected with each other by terraces covered with moss.

Athos and Raoul wandered for some time round the fences of the garden without finding any one to introduce them to the governor. They ended by making their own way into the garden. It was at the hottest time of the day. Each living thing sought its shelter under grass or stone. The heavens spread their fiery veils as if to stifle all noises, to envelop all existences; the rabbit under the broom, the fly under the leaf, slept as the wave did beneath the heavens. Athos saw nothing living but a soldier, upon the terrace beneath the second and third court, who was carrying a basket of provisions on his head. This man returned almost immediately without his basket, and disappeared in the shade of his sentry-box. Athos supposed he must have been carrying dinner to some one, and, after having done so, returned to dine himself. All at once they heard some one call out, and raising their heads, perceived in the frame of the bars of the window something of a white color, like a hand that was waved backwards and forwards—something shining, like a polished weapon struck by the rays of the sun. And before they were able to ascertain what it was, a luminous train, accompanied by a hissing sound in the air, called their attention from the donjon to the ground. A second dull noise was heard from the ditch, and Raoul ran to pick up a silver plate which was rolling along the dry sand. The hand that had thrown this plate made a sign to the two gentlemen, and then disappeared. Athos and Raoul, approaching each other, commenced an attentive examination of the dusty plate, and they discovered, in characters traced upon the bottom of it with the point of a knife, this inscription:

“I am the brother of the king of France—a prisoner to-day—a madman to-morrow. French gentlemen and Christians, pray to God for the soul and the reason of the son of your old rulers.”

The plate fell from the hands of Athos whilst Raoul was endeavoring to make out the meaning of these dismal words. At the same moment they heard a cry from the top of the donjon. Quick as lightning Raoul bent down his head, and forced down that of his father likewise. A musket-barrel glittered from the crest of the wall. A white smoke floated like a plume from the mouth of the musket, and a ball was flattened against a stone within six inches of the two gentlemen.

“Cordieu!” cried Athos. “What, are people assassinated here? Come down, cowards as you are!”

“Yes, come down!” cried Raoul, furiously shaking his fist at the castle.

One of the assailants—he who was about to fire—replied to these cries by an exclamation of surprise; and, as his companion, who wished to continue the attack, had re-seized his loaded musket, he who had cried out threw up the weapon, and the ball flew into the air. Athos and Raoul, seeing them disappear from the platform, expected they would come down to them, and waited with a firm demeanor. Five minutes had not elapsed, when a stroke upon a drum called the eight soldiers of the garrison to arms, and they showed themselves on the other side of the ditch with their muskets in hand. At the head of these men was an officer, whom Athos and Raoul recognized as the one who had fired the first musket. The man ordered the soldiers to “make ready.”

“We are going to be shot!” cried Raoul; “but, sword in hand, at least, let us leap the ditch! We shall kill at least two of these scoundrels, when their muskets are empty.” And, suiting the action to the word, Raoul was springing forward, followed by Athos, when a well-known voice resounded behind them, “Athos! Raoul!”

“D’Artagnan!” replied the two gentlemen.

“Recover arms! Mordioux!” cried the captain to the soldiers. “I was sure I could not be mistaken!”

“What is the meaning of this?” asked Athos. “What! were we to be shot without warning?”

“It was I who was going to shoot you, and if the governor missed you, I should not have missed you, my dear friends. How fortunate it is that I am accustomed to take a long aim, instead of firing at the instant I raise my weapon! I thought I recognized you. Ah! my dear friends, how fortunate!” And D’Artagnan wiped his brow, for he had run fast, and emotion with him was not feigned.

“How!” said Athos. “And is the gentleman who fired at us the governor of the fortress?”

“In person.”

“And why did he fire at us? What have we done to him?”

“Pardieu! You received what the prisoner threw to you?”

“That is true.”

“That plate—the prisoner has written something on it, has he not?”

“Yes.”

“Good heavens! I was afraid he had.”

And D’Artagnan, with all the marks of mortal disquietude, seized the plate, to read the inscription. When he had read it, a fearful pallor spread across his countenance. “Oh! good heavens!” repeated he. “Silence!—Here is the governor.”

“And what will he do to us? Is it our fault?”

“It is true, then?” said Athos, in a subdued voice. “It is true?”

“Silence! I tell you—silence! If he only believes you can read; if he only suspects you have understood; I love you, my dear friends, I would willingly be killed for you, but—”

“But—” said Athos and Raoul.

“But I could not save you from perpetual imprisonment if I saved you from death. Silence, then! Silence again!”

The governor came up, having crossed the ditch upon a plank bridge.

“Well!” said he to D’Artagnan, “what stops us?”

“You are Spaniards—you do not understand a word of French,” said the captain, eagerly, to his friends in a low voice.

“Well!” replied he, addressing the governor, “I was right; these gentlemen are two Spanish captains with whom I was acquainted at Ypres, last year; they don’t know a word of French.”

“Ah!” said the governor, sharply. “And yet they were trying to read the inscription on the plate.”

D’Artagnan took it out of his hands, effacing the characters with the point of his sword.

“How!” cried the governor, “what are you doing? I cannot read them now!”

“It is a state secret,” replied D’Artagnan, bluntly; “and as you know that, according to the king’s orders, it is under the penalty of death any one should penetrate it, I will, if you like, allow you to read it, and have you shot immediately afterwards.”

During this apostrophe—half serious, half ironical—Athos and Raoul preserved the coolest, most unconcerned silence.

“But, is it possible,” said the governor, “that these gentlemen do not comprehend at least some words?”

“Suppose they do! If they do understand a few spoken words, it does not follow that they should understand what is written. They cannot even read Spanish. A noble Spaniard, remember, ought never to know how to read.”

The governor was obliged to be satisfied with these explanations, but he was still tenacious. “Invite these gentlemen to come to the fortress,” said he.

“That I will willingly do. I was about to propose it to you.” The fact is, the captain had quite another idea, and would have wished his friends a hundred leagues off. But he was obliged to make the best of it. He addressed the two gentlemen in Spanish, giving them a polite invitation, which they accepted. They all turned towards the entrance of the fort, and, the incident being at an end, the eight soldiers returned to their delightful leisure, for a moment disturbed by this unexpected adventure.






Chapter XXXII. Captive and Jailers.


When they had entered the fort, and whilst the governor was making some preparations for the reception of his guests, “Come,” said Athos, “let us have a word of explanation whilst we are alone.”

“It is simply this,” replied the musketeer. “I have conducted hither a prisoner, who the king commands shall not be seen. You came here, he has thrown something to you through the lattice of his window; I was at dinner with the governor, I saw the object thrown, and I saw Raoul pick it up. It does not take long to understand this. I understood it, and I thought you in intelligence with my prisoner. And then—”

“And then—you commanded us to be shot.”

“Ma foi! I admit it; but, if I was the first to seize a musket, fortunately, I was the last to take aim at you.”

“If you had killed me, D’Artagnan, I should have had the good fortune to die for the royal house of France, and it would be an honor to die by your hand—you, its noblest and most loyal defender.”

“What the devil, Athos, do you mean by the royal house?” stammered D’Artagnan. “You don’t mean that you, a well-informed and sensible man, can place any faith in the nonsense written by an idiot?”

“I do believe in it.”

“With so much the more reason, my dear chevalier, from your having orders to kill all those who do believe in it,” said Raoul.

“That is because,” replied the captain of the musketeers—“because every calumny, however absurd it may be, has the almost certain chance of becoming popular.”

“No, D’Artagnan,” replied Athos, promptly; “but because the king is not willing that the secret of his family should transpire among the people, and cover with shame the executioners of the son of Louis XIII.”

“Do not talk in such a childish manner, Athos, or I shall begin to think you have lost your senses. Besides, explain to me how it is possible Louis XIII. should have a son in the Isle of Sainte-Marguerite.”

“A son whom you have brought hither masked, in a fishing-boat,” said Athos. “Why not?”

D’Artagnan was brought to a pause.

“Oh!” said he; “whence do you know that a fishing-boat—?”

“Brought you to Sainte-Marguerite’s with the carriage containing the prisoner—with a prisoner whom you styled monseigneur. Oh! I am acquainted with all that,” resumed the comte. D’Artagnan bit his mustache.

“If it were true,” said he, “that I had brought hither in a boat and with a carriage a masked prisoner, nothing proves that this prisoner must be a prince—a prince of the house of France.”

“Ask Aramis such riddles,” replied Athos, coolly.

“Aramis,” cried the musketeer, quite at a stand. “Have you seen Aramis?”

“After his discomfiture at Vaux, yes; I have seen Aramis, a fugitive, pursued, bewildered, ruined; and Aramis has told me enough to make me believe in the complaints this unfortunate young prince cut upon the bottom of the plate.”

D’Artagnan’s head sunk on his breast in some confusion. “This is the way,” said he, “in which God turns to nothing that which men call wisdom! A fine secret must that be of which twelve or fifteen persons hold the tattered fragments! Athos, cursed be the chance which has brought you face to face with me in this affair! for now—”

“Well,” said Athos, with his customary mild severity, “is your secret lost because I know it? Consult your memory, my friend. Have I not borne secrets heavier than this?”

“You have never borne one so dangerous,” replied D’Artagnan, in a tone of sadness. “I have something like a sinister idea that all who are concerned with this secret will die, and die unhappily.”

“The will of God be done!” said Athos, “but here is your governor.”

D’Artagnan and his friends immediately resumed their parts. The governor, suspicious and hard, behaved towards D’Artagnan with a politeness almost amounting to obsequiousness. With respect to the travelers, he contented himself with offering good cheer, and never taking his eye from them. Athos and Raoul observed that he often tried to embarrass them by sudden attacks, or to catch them off their guard; but neither the one nor the other gave him the least advantage. What D’Artagnan had said was probable, if the governor did not believe it to be quite true. They rose from the table to repose awhile.

“What is this man’s name? I don’t like the looks of him,” said Athos to D’Artagnan in Spanish.

“De Saint-Mars,” replied the captain.

“He is, then, I suppose, the prince’s jailer?”

“Eh! how can I tell? I may be kept at Sainte-Marguerite forever.”

“Oh! no, not you!”

“My friend, I am in the situation of a man who finds a treasure in the midst of a desert. He would like to carry it away, but he cannot; he would like to leave it, but he dares not. The king will not dare to recall me, for no one else would serve him as faithfully as I do; he regrets not having me near him, from being aware that no one would be of so much service near his person as myself. But it will happen as it may please God.”

“But,” observed Raoul, “your not being certain proves that your situation here is provisional, and you will return to Paris?”

“Ask these gentlemen,” interrupted the governor, “what was their purpose in coming to Saint-Marguerite?”

“They came from learning there was a convent of Benedictines at Sainte-Honnorat which is considered curious; and from being told there was excellent shooting in the island.”

“That is quite at their service, as well as yours,” replied Saint-Mars.

D’Artagnan politely thanked him.

“When will they depart?” added the governor.

“To-morrow,” replied D’Artagnan.

M. de Saint-Mars went to make his rounds, and left D’Artagnan alone with the pretended Spaniards.

“Oh!” exclaimed the musketeer, “here is a life and a society that suits me very little. I command this man, and he bores me, mordioux! Come, let us have a shot or two at the rabbits; the walk will be beautiful, and not fatiguing. The whole island is but a league and a half in length, with the breadth of a league; a real park. Let us try to amuse ourselves.”

“As you please, D’Artagnan; not for the sake of amusing ourselves, but to gain an opportunity for talking freely.”

D’Artagnan made a sign to a soldier, who brought the gentlemen some guns, and then returned to the fort.

“And now,” said the musketeer, “answer me the question put to you by that black-looking Saint-Mars: what did you come to do at the Lerin Isles?”

“To bid you farewell.”

“Bid me farewell! What do you mean by that? Is Raoul going anywhere?”

“Yes.”

“Then I will lay a wager it is with M. de Beaufort.”

“With M. de Beaufort it is, my dear friend. You always guess correctly.”

“From habit.”

Whilst the two friends were commencing their conversation, Raoul, with his head hanging down and his heart oppressed, seated himself on a mossy rock, his gun across his knees, looking at the sea—looking at the heavens, and listening to the voice of his soul; he allowed the sportsmen to attain a considerable distance from him. D’Artagnan remarked his absence.

“He has not recovered the blow?” said he to Athos.

“He is struck to death.”

“Oh! your fears exaggerate, I hope. Raoul is of a tempered nature. Around all hearts as noble as his, there is a second envelope that forms a cuirass. The first bleeds, the second resists.”

“No,” replied Athos, “Raoul will die of it.”

“Mordioux!” said D’Artagnan, in a melancholy tone. And he did not add a word to this exclamation. Then, a minute after, “Why do you let him go?”

“Because he insists on going.”

“And why do you not go with him?”

“Because I could not bear to see him die.”

D’Artagnan looked his friend earnestly in the face. “You know one thing,” continued the comte, leaning upon the arm of the captain; “you know that in the course of my life I have been afraid of but few things. Well! I have an incessant gnawing, insurmountable fear that an hour will come in which I shall hold the dead body of that boy in my arms.”

“Oh!” murmured D’Artagnan; “oh!”

“He will die, I know, I have a perfect conviction of that; but I would not see him die.”

“How is this, Athos? you come and place yourself in the presence of the bravest man, you say you have ever seen, of your own D’Artagnan, of that man without an equal, as you formerly called him, and you come and tell him, with your arms folded, that you are afraid of witnessing the death of your son, you who have seen all that can be seen in this world! Why have you this fear, Athos? Man upon this earth must expect everything, and ought to face everything.”

“Listen to me, my friend. After having worn myself out upon this earth of which you speak, I have preserved but two religions: that of life, friendship, my duty as a father—that of eternity, love, and respect for God. Now, I have within me the revelation that if God should decree that my friend or my son should render up his last sigh in my presence—oh! no, I cannot even tell you, D’Artagnan!”

“Speak, speak, tell me!”

“I am strong against everything, except against the death of those I love. For that only there is no remedy. He who dies, gains; he who sees others die, loses. No, this is it—to know that I should no more meet on earth him whom I now behold with joy; to know that there would nowhere be a D’Artagnan any more, nowhere again be a Raoul, oh! I am old, look you, I have no longer courage; I pray God to spare me in my weakness; but if he struck me so plainly and in that fashion, I should curse him. A Christian gentleman ought not to curse his God, D’Artagnan; it is enough to once have cursed a king!”

“Humph!” sighed D’Artagnan, a little confused by this violent tempest of grief.

“Let me speak to him, Athos. Who knows?”

“Try, if you please, but I am convinced you will not succeed.”

“I will not attempt to console him. I will serve him.”

“You will?”

“Doubtless, I will. Do you think this would be the first time a woman had repented of an infidelity? I will go to him, I tell you.”

Athos shook his head, and continued his walk alone, D’Artagnan, cutting across the brambles, rejoined Raoul and held out his hand to him. “Well, Raoul! You have something to say to me?”

“I have a kindness to ask of you,” replied Bragelonne.

“Ask it, then.”

“You will some day return to France?”

“I hope so.”

“Ought I to write to Mademoiselle de la Valliere?”

“No, you must not.”

“But I have many things to say to her.”

“Go and say them to her, then.”

“Never!”

“Pray, what virtue do you attribute to a letter, which your speech might not possess?”

“Perhaps you are right.”

“She loves the king,” said D’Artagnan, bluntly; “and she is an honest girl.” Raoul started. “And you, you whom she abandons, she, perhaps, loves better than she does the king, but after another fashion.”

“D’Artagnan, do you believe she loves the king?”

“To idolatry. Her heart is inaccessible to any other feeling. You might continue to live near her, and would be her best friend.”

“Ah!” exclaimed Raoul, with a passionate burst of repugnance at such a hideous hope.

“Will you do so?”

“It would be base.”

“That is a very absurd word, which would lead me to think slightly of your understanding. Please to understand, Raoul, that it is never base to do that which is imposed upon us by a superior force. If your heart says to you, ‘Go there, or die,’ why go, Raoul. Was she base or brave, she whom you loved, in preferring the king to you, the king whom her heart commanded her imperiously to prefer to you? No, she was the bravest of women. Do, then, as she has done. Oblige yourself. Do you know one thing of which I am sure, Raoul?”

“What is that?”

“Why, that by seeing her closely with the eyes of a jealous man—”

“Well?”

“Well! you would cease to love her.”

“Then I am decided, my dear D’Artagnan.”

“To set off to see her again?”

“No; to set off that I may never see her again. I wish to love her forever.”

“Ha! I must confess,” replied the musketeer, “that is a conclusion which I was far from expecting.”

“This is what I wish, my friend. You will see her again, and you will give her a letter which, if you think proper, will explain to her, as to yourself, what is passing in my heart. Read it; I drew it up last night. Something told me I should see you to-day.” He held the letter out, and D’Artagnan read:

“MADEMOISELLE,—You are not wrong in my eyes in not loving me. You have only been guilty of one fault towards me, that of having left me to believe you loved me. This error will cost me my life. I pardon you, but I cannot pardon myself. It is said that happy lovers are deaf to the sorrows of rejected lovers. It will not be so with you, who did not love me, save with anxiety. I am sure that if I had persisted in endeavoring to change that friendship into love, you would have yielded out of a fear of bringing about my death, or lessening the esteem I had for you. It is much more delightful to me to die, knowing that you are free and satisfied. How much, then, will you love me, when you will no longer fear either my presence or reproaches? You will love me, because, however charming a new love may appear to you, God has not made me in anything inferior to him you have chosen, and because my devotedness, my sacrifice, and my painful end will assure me, in your eyes, a certain superiority over him. I have allowed to escape, in the candid credulity of my heart, the treasure I possessed. Many people tell me that you loved me enough to lead me to hope you would have loved me much. That idea takes from my mind all bitterness, and leads me only to blame myself. You will accept this last farewell, and you will bless me for having taken refuge in the inviolable asylum where hatred is extinguished, and where all love endures forever. Adieu, mademoiselle. If your happiness could be purchased by the last drop of my blood, I would shed that drop. I willingly make the sacrifice of it to my misery!

“RAOUL, VICOTME DE BRAGELONNE.”

“The letter reads very well,” said the captain. “I have only one fault to find with it.”

“Tell me what that is!” said Raoul.

“Why, it is that it tells everything, except the thing which exhales, like a mortal poison from your eyes and from your heart; except the senseless love which still consumes you.” Raoul grew paler, but remained silent.

“Why did you not write simply these words:

“‘MADEMOISELLE,—Instead of cursing you, I love you and I die.’”

“That is true,” exclaimed Raoul, with a sinister kind of joy.

And tearing the letter he had just taken back, he wrote the following words upon a leaf of his tablets:

“To procure the happiness of once more telling you I love you, I commit the baseness of writing to you; and to punish myself for that baseness, I die.” And he signed it.

“You will give her these tablets, captain, will you not?”

“When?” asked the latter.

“On the day,” said Bragelonne, pointing to the last sentence, “on the day when you can place a date under these words.” And he sprang away quickly to join Athos, who was returning with slow steps.

As they re-entered the fort, the sea rose with that rapid, gusty vehemence which characterizes the Mediterranean; the ill-humor of the element became a tempest. Something shapeless, and tossed about violently by the waves, appeared just off the coast.

“What is that?” said Athos,—“a wrecked boat?”

“No, it is not a boat,” said D’Artagnan.

“Pardon me,” said Raoul, “there is a bark gaining the port rapidly.”

“Yes, there is a bark in the creek, which is prudently seeking shelter here; but that which Athos points to in the sand is not a boat at all—it has run aground.”

“Yes, yes, I see it.”

“It is the carriage, which I threw into the sea after landing the prisoner.”

“Well!” said Athos, “if you take my advice, D’Artagnan, you will burn that carriage, in order that no vestige of it may remain, without which the fishermen of Antibes, who have believed they had to do with the devil, will endeavor to prove that your prisoner was but a man.”

“Your advice is good, Athos, and I will this night have it carried out, or rather, I will carry it out myself; but let us go in, for the rain falls heavily, and the lightning is terrific.”

As they were passing over the ramparts to a gallery of which D’Artagnan had the key, they saw M. de Saint-Mars directing his steps towards the chamber inhabited by the prisoner. Upon a sign from D’Artagnan, they concealed themselves in an angle of the staircase.

“What is it?” said Athos.

“You will see. Look. The prisoner is returning from chapel.”

And they saw, by the red flashes of lightning against the violet fog which the wind stamped upon the bank-ward sky, they saw pass gravely, at six paces behind the governor, a man clothed in black and masked by a vizor of polished steel, soldered to a helmet of the same nature, which altogether enveloped the whole of his head. The fire of the heavens cast red reflections on the polished surface, and these reflections, flying off capriciously, seemed to be angry looks launched by the unfortunate, instead of imprecations. In the middle of the gallery, the prisoner stopped for a moment, to contemplate the infinite horizon, to respire the sulphurous perfumes of the tempest, to drink in thirstily the hot rain, and to breathe a sigh resembling a smothered groan.

“Come on, monsieur,” said Saint-Mars, sharply, to the prisoner, for he already became uneasy at seeing him look so long beyond the walls. “Monsieur, come on!”

“Say monseigneur!” cried Athos, from his corner, with a voice so solemn and terrible, that the governor trembled from head to foot. Athos insisted upon respect being paid to fallen majesty. The prisoner turned round.

“Who spoke?” asked Saint-Mars.

“It was I,” replied D’Artagnan, showing himself promptly. “You know that is the order.”

“Call me neither monsieur nor monseigneur,” said the prisoner in his turn, in a voice that penetrated to the very soul of Raoul; “call me ACCURSED!” He passed on, and the iron door croaked after him.

“There goes a truly unfortunate man!” murmured the musketeer in a hollow whisper, pointing out to Raoul the chamber inhabited by the prince.






Chapter XXXIII. Promises.


Scarcely had D’Artagnan re-entered his apartment with his two friends, when one of the soldiers of the fort came to inform him that the governor was seeking him. The bark which Raoul had perceived at sea, and which appeared so eager to gain the port, came to Sainte-Marguerite with an important dispatch for the captain of the musketeers. On opening it, D’Artagnan recognized the writing of the king: “I should think,” said Louis XIV., “you will have completed the execution of my orders, Monsieur d’Artagnan; return, then, immediately to Paris, and join me at the Louvre.”

“There is the end of my exile!” cried the musketeer with joy; “God be praised, I am no longer a jailer!” And he showed the letter to Athos.

“So, then, you must leave us?” replied the latter, in a melancholy tone.

“Yes, but to meet again, dear friend, seeing that Raoul is old enough now to go alone with M. de Beaufort, and will prefer his father going back in company with M. d’Artagnan, to forcing him to travel two hundred leagues solitarily to reach home at La Fere; will you not, Raoul?”

“Certainly,” stammered the latter, with an expression of tender regret.

“No, no, my friend,” interrupted Athos, “I will never quit Raoul till the day his vessel disappears on the horizon. As long as he remains in France he shall not be separated from me.”

“As you please, dear friend; but we will, at least, leave Sainte-Marguerite together; take advantage of the bark that will convey me back to Antibes.”

“With all my heart; we cannot too soon be at a distance from this fort, and from the spectacle that shocked us so just now.”

The three friends quitted the little isle, after paying their respects to the governor, and by the last flashes of the departing tempest they took their farewell of the white walls of the fort. D’Artagnan parted from his friend that same night, after having seen fire set to the carriage upon the shore by the orders of Saint-Mars, according to the advice the captain had given him. Before getting on horseback, and after leaving the arms of Athos: “My friends,” said he, “you bear too much resemblance to two soldiers who are abandoning their post. Something warns me that Raoul will require being supported by you in his rank. Will you allow me to ask permission to go over into Africa with a hundred good muskets? The king will not refuse me, and I will take you with me.”

“Monsieur d’Artagnan,” replied Raoul, pressing his hand with emotion, “thanks for that offer, which would give us more than we wish, either monsieur le comte or I. I, who am young, stand in need of labor of mind and fatigue of body; monsieur le comte wants the profoundest repose. You are his best friend. I recommend him to your care. In watching over him, you are holding both our souls in your hands.”

“I must go; my horse is all in a fret,” said D’Artagnan, with whom the most manifest sign of a lively emotion was the change of ideas in conversation. “Come, comte, how many days longer has Raoul to stay here?”

“Three days at most.”

“And how long will it take you to reach home?”

“Oh! a considerable time,” replied Athos. “I shall not like the idea of being separated too quickly from Raoul. Time will travel too fast of itself to require me to aid it by distance. I shall only make half-stages.”

“And why so, my friend? Nothing is more dull than traveling slowly; and hostelry life does not become a man like you.”

“My friend, I came hither on post-horses; but I wish to purchase two animals of a superior kind. Now, to take them home fresh, it would not be prudent to make them travel more than seven or eight leagues a day.”

“Where is Grimaud?”

“He arrived yesterday morning with Raoul’s appointments; and I have left him to sleep.”

“That is, never to come back again,” D’Artagnan suffered to escape him. “Till we meet again, then, dear Athos—and if you are diligent, I shall embrace you the sooner.” So saying, he put his foot in the stirrup, which Raoul held.

“Farewell!” said the young man, embracing him.

“Farewell!” said D’Artagnan, as he got into his saddle.

His horse made a movement which divided the cavalier from his friends. This scene had taken place in front of the house chosen by Athos, near the gates of Antibes, whither D’Artagnan, after his supper, had ordered his horses to be brought. The road began to branch off there, white and undulating in the vapors of the night. The horse eagerly respired the salt, sharp perfume of the marshes. D’Artagnan put him to a trot; and Athos and Raoul sadly turned towards the house. All at once they heard the rapid approach of a horse’s steps, and first believed it to be one of those singular repercussions which deceive the ear at every turn in a road. But it was really the return of the horseman. They uttered a cry of joyous surprise; and the captain, springing to the ground like a young man, seized within his arms the two beloved heads of Athos and Raoul. He held them long embraced thus, without speaking a word, or suffering the sigh which was bursting his breast to escape him. Then, as rapidly as he had come back, he set off again, with a sharp application of his spurs to the sides of his fiery horse.

“Alas!” said the comte, in a low voice, “alas! alas!”

“An evil omen!” on his side, said D’Artagnan to himself, making up for lost time. “I could not smile upon them. An evil omen!”

The next day Grimaud was on foot again. The service commanded by M. de Beaufort was happily accomplished. The flotilla, sent to Toulon by the exertions of Raoul, had set out, dragging after it in little nutshells, almost invisible, the wives and friends of the fishermen and smugglers put in requisition for the service of the fleet. The time, so short, which remained for father and son to live together, appeared to go by with double rapidity, like some swift stream that flows towards eternity. Athos and Raoul returned to Toulon, which began to be filled with the noise of carriages, with the noise of arms, the noise of neighing horses. The trumpeters sounded their spirited marches; the drummers signalized their strength; the streets were overflowing with soldiers, servants, and tradespeople. The Duc de Beaufort was everywhere, superintending the embarkation with the zeal and interest of a good captain. He encouraged the humblest of his companions; he scolded his lieutenants, even those of the highest rank. Artillery, provisions, baggage, he insisted upon seeing all himself. He examined the equipment of every soldier; assured himself of the health and soundness of every horse. It was plain that, light, boastful, egotistical, in his hotel, the gentleman became the soldier again—the high noble, a captain—in face of the responsibility he had accepted. And yet, it must be admitted that, whatever was the care with which he presided over the preparations for departure, it was easy to perceive careless precipitation, and the absence of all the precaution that make the French soldier the first soldier in the world, because, in that world, he is the one most abandoned to his own physical and moral resources. All things having satisfied, or appearing to have satisfied, the admiral, he paid his compliments to Raoul, and gave the last orders for sailing, which was ordered the next morning at daybreak. He invited the comte had his son to dine with him; but they, under a pretext of service, kept themselves apart. Gaining their hostelry, situated under the trees of the great Place, they took their repast in haste, and Athos led Raoul to the rocks which dominate the city, vast gray mountains, whence the view is infinite and embraces a liquid horizon which appears, so remote is it, on a level with the rocks themselves. The night was fine, as it always is in these happy climes. The moon, rising behind the rocks, unrolled a silver sheet on the cerulean carpet of the sea. In the roadsteads maneuvered silently the vessels which had just taken their rank to facilitate the embarkation. The sea, loaded with phosphoric light, opened beneath the hulls of the barks that transported the baggage and munitions; every dip of the prow plowed up this gulf of white flames; from every oar dropped liquid diamonds. The sailors, rejoicing in the largesses of the admiral, were heard murmuring their slow and artless songs. Sometimes the grinding of the chains was mixed with the dull noise of shot falling into the holds. Such harmonies, such a spectacle, oppress the heart like fear, and dilate it like hope. All this life speaks of death. Athos had seated himself with his son, upon the moss, among the brambles of the promontory. Around their heads passed and repassed large bats, carried along by the fearful whirl of their blind chase. The feet of Raoul were over the edge of the cliff, bathed in that void which is peopled by vertigo, and provokes to self-annihilation. When the moon had risen to its fullest height, caressing with light the neighboring peaks, when the watery mirror was illumined in its full extent, and the little red fires had made their openings in the black masses of every ship, Athos, collecting all his ideas and all his courage, said:

“God has made all these things that we see, Raoul; He has made us also,—poor atoms mixed up with this monstrous universe. We shine like those fires and those stars; we sigh like those waves; we suffer like those great ships, which are worn out in plowing the waves, in obeying the wind that urges them towards an end, as the breath of God blows us towards a port. Everything likes to live, Raoul; and everything seems beautiful to living things.”

“Monsieur,” said Raoul, “we have before us a beautiful spectacle!”

“How good D’Artagnan is!” interrupted Athos, suddenly, “and what a rare good fortune it is to be supported during a whole life by such a friend as he is! That is what you have missed, Raoul.”

“A friend!” cried Raoul, “I have wanted a friend!”

“M. de Guiche is an agreeable companion,” resumed the comte, coldly, “but I believe, in the times in which you live, men are more engaged in their own interests and their own pleasures than they were in ours. You have sought a secluded life; that is a great happiness, but you have lost your strength thereby. We four, more weaned from those delicate abstractions that constitute your joy, furnished much more resistance when misfortune presented itself.”

“I have not interrupted you, monsieur, to tell you that I had a friend, and that that friend is M. de Guiche. Certes, he is good and generous, and moreover he loves me. But I have lived under the guardianship of another friendship, monsieur, as precious and as strong as that of which you speak, since it is yours.”

“I have not been a friend for you, Raoul,” said Athos.

“Eh! monsieur, and in what respect not?”

“Because I have given you reason to think that life has but one face, because, sad and severe, alas! I have always cut off for you, without, God knows, wishing to do so, the joyous buds that spring incessantly from the fair tree of youth; so that at this moment I repent of not having made of you a more expansive, dissipated, animated man.”

“I know why you say that, monsieur. No, it is not you who have made me what I am; it was love, which took me at the time when children only have inclinations; it is the constancy natural to my character, which with other creatures is but habit. I believed that I should always be as I was; I thought God had cast me in a path quite clear, quite straight, bordered with fruits and flowers. I had ever watching over me your vigilance and strength. I believed myself to be vigilant and strong. Nothing prepared me; I fell once, and that once deprived me of courage for the whole of my life. It is quite true that I wrecked myself. Oh, no, monsieur! you are nothing in my past but happiness—in my future but hope! No, I have no reproach to make against life such as you made it for me; I bless you, and I love you ardently.”

“My dear Raoul, your words do me good. They prove to me that you will act a little for me in the time to come.”

“I shall only act for you, monsieur.”

“Raoul, what I have never hitherto done with respect to you, I will henceforward do. I will be your friend, not your father. We will live in expanding ourselves, instead of living and holding ourselves prisoners, when you come back. And that will be soon, will it not?”

“Certainly, monsieur, for such an expedition cannot last long.”

“Soon, then, Raoul, soon, instead of living moderately on my income, I will give you the capital of my estates. It will suffice for launching you into the world till my death; and you will give me, I hope, before that time, the consolation of not seeing my race extinct.”

“I will do all you may command,” said Raoul, much agitated.

“It is not necessary, Raoul, that your duty as aide-de-camp should lead you into too hazardous enterprises. You have gone through your ordeal; you are known to be a true man under fire. Remember that war with Arabs is a war of snares, ambuscades, and assassinations.”

“So it is said, monsieur.”

“There is never much glory in falling in an ambuscade. It is a death which always implies a little rashness or want of foresight. Often, indeed, he who falls in one meets with but little pity. Those who are not pitied, Raoul, have died to little purpose. Still further, the conqueror laughs, and we Frenchmen ought not to allow stupid infidels to triumph over our faults. Do you clearly understand what I am saying to you, Raoul? God forbid I should encourage you to avoid encounters.”

“I am naturally prudent, monsieur, and I have very good fortune,” said Raoul, with a smile which chilled the heart of his poor father; “for,” the young man hastened to add, “in twenty combats through which I have been, I have only received one scratch.”

“There is in addition,” said Athos, “the climate to be dreaded: that is an ugly end, to die of fever! King Saint-Louis prayed God to send him an arrow or the plague, rather than the fever.”

“Oh, monsieur! with sobriety, with reasonable exercise—”

“I have already obtained from M. de Beaufort a promise that his dispatches shall be sent off every fortnight to France. You, as his aide-de-camp, will be charged with expediting them, and will be sure not to forget me.”

“No, monsieur,” said Raoul, almost choked with emotion.

“Besides, Raoul, as you are a good Christian, and I am one also, we ought to reckon upon a more special protection of God and His guardian angels. Promise me that if anything evil should happen to you, on any occasion, you will think of me at once.”

“First and at once! Oh! yes, monsieur.”

“And will call upon me?”

“Instantly.”

“You dream of me sometimes, do you not, Raoul?”

“Every night, monsieur. During my early youth I saw you in my dreams, calm and mild, with one hand stretched out over my head, and that it was which made me sleep so soundly—formerly.”

“We love each other too dearly,” said the comte, “that from this moment, in which we separate, a portion of both our souls should not travel with one and the other of us, and should not dwell wherever we may dwell. Whenever you may be sad, Raoul, I feel that my heart will be dissolved in sadness; and when you smile on thinking of me, be assured you will send me, from however remote a distance, a vital scintillation of your joy.”

“I will not promise you to be joyous,” replied the young man; “but you may be certain that I will never pass an hour without thinking of you, not one hour, I swear, unless I shall be dead.”

Athos could contain himself no longer; he threw his arm round the neck of his son, and held him embraced with all the power of his heart. The moon began to be now eclipsed by twilight; a golden band surrounded the horizon, announcing the approach of the day. Athos threw his cloak over the shoulders of Raoul, and led him back to the city, where burdens and porters were already in motion, like a vast ant-hill. At the extremity of the plateau which Athos and Bragelonne were quitting, they saw a dark shadow moving uneasily backwards and forwards, as if in indecision or ashamed to be seen. It was Grimaud, who in his anxiety had tracked his master, and was there awaiting him.

“Oh! my good Grimaud,” cried Raoul, “what do you want? You are come to tell us it is time to be gone, have you not?”

“Alone?” said Grimaud, addressing Athos and pointing to Raoul in a tone of reproach, which showed to what an extent the old man was troubled.

“Oh! you are right!” cried the comte. “No, Raoul shall not go alone; no, he shall not be left alone in a strange land without some friendly hand to support him, some friendly heart to recall to him all he loved!”

“I?” said Grimaud.

“You, yes, you!” cried Raoul, touched to the inmost heart.

“Alas!” said Athos, “you are very old, my good Grimaud.”

“So much the better,” replied the latter, with an inexpressible depth of feeling and intelligence.

“But the embarkation is begun,” said Raoul, “and you are not prepared.”

“Yes,” said Grimaud, showing the keys of his trunks, mixed with those of his young master.

“But,” again objected Raoul, “you cannot leave monsieur le comte thus alone; monsieur le comte, whom you have never quitted?”

Grimaud turned his diamond eyes upon Athos and Raoul, as if to measure the strength of both. The comte uttered not a word.

“Monsieur le comte prefers my going,” said Grimaud.

“I do,” said Athos, by an inclination of the head.

At that moment the drums suddenly rolled, and the clarions filled the air with their inspiring notes. The regiments destined for the expedition began to debouch from the city. They advanced to the number of five, each composed of forty companies. Royals marched first, distinguished by their white uniform, faced with blue. The ordonnance colors, quartered cross-wise, violet and dead leaf, with a sprinkling of golden fleurs-de-lis, left the white-colored flag, with its fleur-de-lised cross, to dominate the whole. Musketeers at the wings, with their forked sticks and their muskets on their shoulders; pikemen in the center, with their lances, fourteen feet in length, marched gayly towards the transports, which carried them in detail to the ships. The regiments of Picardy, Navarre, Normandy, and Royal Vaisseau, followed after. M. de Beaufort had known well how to select his troops. He himself was seen closing the march with his staff—it would take a full hour before he could reach the sea. Raoul with Athos turned his steps slowly towards the beach, in order to take his place when the prince embarked. Grimaud, boiling with the ardor of a young man, superintended the embarkation of Raoul’s baggage in the admiral’s vessel. Athos, with his arm passed through that of the son he was about to lose, absorbed in melancholy meditation, was deaf to every noise around him. An officer came quickly towards them to inform Raoul that M. de Beaufort was anxious to have him by his side.

“Have the kindness to tell the prince,” said Raoul, “that I request he will allow me this hour to enjoy the company of my father.”

“No, no,” said Athos, “an aide-de-camp ought not thus to quit his general. Please to tell the prince, monsieur, that the vicomte will join him immediately.” The officer set off at a gallop.

“Whether we part here or part there,” added the comte, “it is no less a separation.” He carefully brushed the dust from his son’s coat, and passed his hand over his hair as they walked along. “But, Raoul,” said he, “you want money. M. de Beaufort’s train will be splendid, and I am certain it will be agreeable to you to purchase horses and arms, which are very dear things in Africa. Now, as you are not actually in the service of the king or M. de Beaufort, and are simply a volunteer, you must not reckon upon either pay or largesse. But I should not like you to want for anything at Gigelli. Here are two hundred pistoles; if you would please me, Raoul, spend them.”

Raoul pressed the hand of his father, and, at the turning of a street, they saw M. de Beaufort, mounted on a magnificent white genet, which responded by graceful curvets to the applause of the women of the city. The duke called Raoul, and held out his hand to the comte. He spoke to him for some time, with such a kindly expression that the heart of the poor father even felt a little comforted. It was, however, evident to both father and son that their walk amounted to nothing less than a punishment. There was a terrible moment—that at which, on quitting the sands of the shore, the soldiers and sailors exchanged the last kisses with their families and friends; a supreme moment, in which, notwithstanding the clearness of the heavens, the warmth of the sun, of the perfumes of the air, and the rich life that was circulating in their veins, everything appeared black, everything bitter, everything created doubts of Providence, nay, at the most, of God. It was customary for the admiral and his suite to embark last; the cannon waited to announce, with its formidable voice, that the leader had placed his foot on board his vessel. Athos, forgetful of both the admiral and the fleet, and of his own dignity as a strong man, opened his arms to his son, and pressed him convulsively to his heart.

“Accompany us on board,” said the duke, very much affected; “you will gain a good half-hour.”

“No,” said Athos, “my farewell has been spoken, I do not wish to voice a second.”

“Then, vicomte, embark—embark quickly!” added the prince, wishing to spare the tears of these two men, whose hearts were bursting. And paternally, tenderly, very much as Porthos might have done, he took Raoul in his arms and placed him in the boat, the oars of which, at a signal, immediately were dipped in the waves. He himself, forgetful of ceremony, jumped into his boat, and pushed it off with a vigorous foot. “Adieu!” cried Raoul.

Athos replied only by a sign, but he felt something burning on his hand: it was the respectful kiss of Grimaud—the last farewell of the faithful dog. This kiss given, Grimaud jumped from the step of the mole upon the stem of a two-oared yawl, which had just been taken in tow by a chaland served by twelve galley-oars. Athos seated himself on the mole, stunned, deaf, abandoned. Every instant took from him one of the features, one of the shades of the pale face of his son. With his arms hanging down, his eyes fixed, his mouth open, he remained confounded with Raoul—in one same look, in one same thought, in one same stupor. The sea, by degrees, carried away boats and faces to that distance at which men become nothing but points,—loves, nothing but remembrances. Athos saw his son ascend the ladder of the admiral’s ship, he saw him lean upon the rail of the deck, and place himself in such a manner as to be always an object in the eye of his father. In vain the cannon thundered, in vain from the ship sounded the long and lordly tumult, responded to by immense acclamations from the shore; in vain did the noise deafen the ear of the father, the smoke obscured the cherished object of his aspirations. Raoul appeared to him to the last moment; and the imperceptible atom, passing from black to pale, from pale to white, from white to nothing, disappeared for Athos—disappeared very long after, to all the eyes of the spectators, had disappeared both gallant ships and swelling sails. Towards midday, when the sun devoured space, and scarcely the tops of the masts dominated the incandescent limit of the sea, Athos perceived a soft aerial shadow rise, and vanish as soon as seen. This was the smoke of a cannon, which M. de Beaufort ordered to be fired as a last salute to the coast of France. The point was buried in its turn beneath the sky, and Athos returned with slow and painful step to his deserted hostelry.