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The Man in the Iron Mask

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Chapter XLVI. The Son of Biscarrat.


The Bretons of the Isle were very proud of this victory; Aramis did not encourage them in the feeling.

“What will happen,” said he to Porthos, when everybody was gone home, “will be that the anger of the king will be roused by the account of the resistance; and that these brave people will be decimated or shot when they are taken, which cannot fail to take place.”

“From which it results, then,” said Porthos, “that what we have done is of not the slightest use.”

“For the moment it may be,” replied the bishop, “for we have a prisoner from whom we shall learn what our enemies are preparing to do.”

“Yes, let us interrogate the prisoner,” said Porthos, “and the means of making him speak are very simple. We are going to supper; we will invite him to join us; as he drinks he will talk.”

This was done. The officer was at first rather uneasy, but became reassured on seeing what sort of men he had to deal with. He gave, without having any fear of compromising himself, all the details imaginable of the resignation and departure of D’Artagnan. He explained how, after that departure, the new leader of the expedition had ordered a surprise upon Belle-Isle. There his explanations stopped. Aramis and Porthos exchanged a glance that evinced their despair. No more dependence to be placed now on D’Artagnan’s fertile imagination—no further resource in the event of defeat. Aramis, continuing his interrogations, asked the prisoner what the leaders of the expedition contemplated doing with the leaders of Belle-Isle.

“The orders are,” replied he, “to kill during combat, or hang afterwards.”

Porthos and Aramis looked at each other again, and the color mounted to their faces.

“I am too light for the gallows,” replied Aramis; “people like me are not hung.”

“And I am too heavy,” said Porthos; “people like me break the cord.”

“I am sure,” said the prisoner, gallantly, “that we could have guaranteed you the exact kind of death you preferred.”

“A thousand thanks!” said Aramis, seriously. Porthos bowed.

“One more cup of wine to your health,” said he, drinking himself. From one subject to another the chat with the officer was prolonged. He was an intelligent gentleman, and suffered himself to be led on by the charm of Aramis’s wit and Porthos’s cordial bonhomie.

“Pardon me,” said he, “if I address a question to you; but men who are in their sixth bottle have a clear right to forget themselves a little.”

“Address it!” cried Porthos; “address it!”

“Speak,” said Aramis.

“Were you not, gentlemen, both in the musketeers of the late king?”

“Yes, monsieur, and amongst the best of them, if you please,” said Porthos.

“That is true; I should say even the best of all soldiers, messieurs, if I did not fear to offend the memory of my father.”

“Of your father?” cried Aramis.

“Do you know what my name is?”

“Ma foi! no, monsieur; but you can tell us, and—”

“I am called Georges de Biscarrat.”

“Oh!” cried Porthos, in his turn. “Biscarrat! Do you remember that name, Aramis?”

“Biscarrat!” reflected the bishop. “It seems to me—”

“Try to recollect, monsieur,” said the officer.

“Pardieu! that won’t take me long,” said Porthos. “Biscarrat—called Cardinal—one of the four who interrupted us on the day on which we formed our friendship with D’Artagnan, sword in hand.”

“Precisely, gentlemen.”

“The only one,” cried Aramis, eagerly, “we could not scratch.”

“Consequently, a capital blade?” said the prisoner.

“That’s true! most true!” exclaimed both friends together. “Ma foi! Monsieur Biscarrat, we are delighted to make the acquaintance of such a brave man’s son.”

Biscarrat pressed the hands held out by the two musketeers. Aramis looked at Porthos as much as to say, “Here is a man who will help us,” and without delay,—“Confess, monsieur,” said he, “that it is good to have once been a good man.”

“My father always said so, monsieur.”

“Confess, likewise, that it is a sad circumstance in which you find yourself, of falling in with men destined to be shot or hung, and to learn that these men are old acquaintances, in fact, hereditary friends.”

“Oh! you are not reserved for such a frightful fate as that, messieurs and friends!” said the young man, warmly.

“Bah! you said so yourself.”

“I said so just now, when I did not know you; but now that I know you, I say—you will evade this dismal fate, if you wish!”

“How—if we wish?” echoed Aramis, whose eyes beamed with intelligence as he looked alternately at the prisoner and Porthos.

“Provided,” continued Porthos, looking, in his turn, with noble intrepidity, at M. Biscarrat and the bishop—“provided nothing disgraceful be required of us.”

“Nothing at all will be required of you, gentlemen,” replied the officer—“what should they ask of you? If they find you they will kill you, that is a predetermined thing; try, then, gentlemen, to prevent their finding you.”

“I don’t think I am mistaken,” said Porthos, with dignity; “but it appears evident to me that if they want to find us, they must come and seek us here.”

“In that you are perfectly right, my worthy friend,” replied Aramis, constantly consulting with his looks the countenance of Biscarrat, who had grown silent and constrained. “You wish, Monsieur de Biscarrat, to say something to us, to make us some overture, and you dare not—is that true?”

“Ah! gentlemen and friends! it is because by speaking I betray the watchword. But, hark! I hear a voice that frees mine by dominating it.”

“Cannon!” said Porthos.

“Cannon and musketry, too!” cried the bishop.

On hearing at a distance, among the rocks, these sinister reports of a combat which they thought had ceased:

“What can that be?” asked Porthos.

“Eh! Pardieu!” cried Aramis; “that is just what I expected.”

“What is that?”

“That the attack made by you was nothing but a feint; is not that true, monsieur? And whilst your companions allowed themselves to be repulsed, you were certain of effecting a landing on the other side of the island.”

“Oh! several, monsieur.”

“We are lost, then,” said the bishop of Vannes, quietly.

“Lost! that is possible,” replied the Seigneur de Pierrefonds, “but we are not taken or hung.” And so saying, he rose from the table, went to the wall, and coolly took down his sword and pistols, which he examined with the care of an old soldier who is preparing for battle, and who feels that life, in a great measure, depends upon the excellence and right conditions of his arms.

At the report of the cannon, at the news of the surprise which might deliver up the island to the royal troops, the terrified crowd rushed precipitately to the fort to demand assistance and advice from their leaders. Aramis, pale and downcast, between two flambeaux, showed himself at the window which looked into the principal court, full of soldiers waiting for orders and bewildered inhabitants imploring succor.

“My friends,” said D’Herblay, in a grave and sonorous voice, “M. Fouquet, your protector, your friend, you father, has been arrested by an order of the king, and thrown into the Bastile.” A sustained yell of vengeful fury came floating up to the window at which the bishop stood, and enveloped him in a magnetic field.

“Avenge Monsieur Fouquet!” cried the most excited of his hearers, “death to the royalists!”

“No, my friends,” replied Aramis, solemnly; “no, my friends; no resistance. The king is master in his kingdom. The king is the mandatory of God. The king and God have struck M. Fouquet. Humble yourselves before the hand of God. Love God and the king, who have struck M. Fouquet. But do not avenge your seigneur, do not think of avenging him. You would sacrifice yourselves in vain—you, your wives and children, your property, your liberty. Lay down your arms, my friends—lay down your arms! since the king commands you so to do—and retire peaceably to your dwellings. It is I who ask you to do so; it is I who beg you to do so; it is I who now, in the hour of need, command you to do so, in the name of M. Fouquet.”

The crowd collected under the window uttered a prolonged roar of anger and terror. “The soldiers of Louis XIV. have reached the island,” continued Aramis. “From this time it would no longer be a fight betwixt them and you—it would be a massacre. Begone, then, begone, and forget; this time I command you, in the name of the Lord of Hosts!”

The mutineers retired slowly, submissive, silent.

“Ah! what have you just been saying, my friend?” said Porthos.

“Monsieur,” said Biscarrat to the bishop, “you may save all these inhabitants, but thus you will neither save yourself nor your friend.”

“Monsieur de Biscarrat,” said the bishop of Vannes, with a singular accent of nobility and courtesy, “Monsieur de Biscarrat, be kind enough to resume your liberty.”

“I am very willing to do so, monsieur; but—”

“That would render us a service, for when announcing to the king’s lieutenant the submission of the islanders, you will perhaps obtain some grace for us on informing him of the manner in which that submission has been effected.”

“Grace!” replied Porthos with flashing eyes, “what is the meaning of that word?”

Aramis touched the elbow of his friend roughly, as he had been accustomed to do in the days of their youth, when he wanted to warn Porthos that he had committed, or was about to commit, a blunder. Porthos understood him, and was silent immediately.

“I will go, messieurs,” replied Biscarrat, a little surprised likewise at the word “grace” pronounced by the haughty musketeer, of and to whom, but a few minutes before, he had related with so much enthusiasm the heroic exploits with which his father had delighted him.

“Go, then, Monsieur Biscarrat,” said Aramis, bowing to him, “and at parting receive the expression of our entire gratitude.”

“But you, messieurs, you whom I think it an honor to call my friends, since you have been willing to accept that title, what will become of you in the meantime?” replied the officer, very much agitated at taking leave of the two ancient adversaries of his father.

“We will wait here.”

“But, mon Dieu!—the order is precise and formal.”

“I am bishop of Vannes, Monsieur de Biscarrat; and they no more shoot a bishop than they hang a gentleman.”

“Ah! yes, monsieur—yes, monseigneur,” replied Biscarrat; “it is true, you are right, there is still that chance for you. Then, I will depart, I will repair to the commander of the expedition, the king’s lieutenant. Adieu! then, messieurs, or rather, to meet again, I hope.”

The worthy officer, jumping upon a horse given him by Aramis, departed in the direction of the sound of cannon, which, by surging the crowd into the fort, had interrupted the conversation of the two friends with their prisoner. Aramis watched the departure, and when left alone with Porthos:

“Well, do you comprehend?” said he.

“Ma foi! no.”

“Did not Biscarrat inconvenience you here?”

“No; he is a brave fellow.”

“Yes; but the grotto of Locmaria—is it necessary all the world should know it?”

“Ah! that is true, that is true; I comprehend. We are going to escape by the cavern.”

“If you please,” cried Aramis, gayly. “Forward, friend Porthos; our boat awaits us. King Louis has not caught us—yet.”






Chapter XLVII. The Grotto of Locmaria.


The cavern of Locmaria was sufficiently distant from the mole to render it necessary for our friends to husband their strength in order to reach it. Besides, night was advancing; midnight had struck at the fort. Porthos and Aramis were loaded with money and arms. They walked, then, across the heath, which stretched between the mole and the cavern, listening to every noise, in order better to avoid an ambush. From time to time, on the road which they had carefully left on their left, passed fugitives coming from the interior, at the news of the landing of the royal troops. Aramis and Porthos, concealed behind some projecting mass of rock, collected the words that escaped from the poor people, who fled, trembling, carrying with them their most valuable effects, and tried, whilst listening to their complaints, to gather something from them for their own interest. At length, after a rapid race, frequently interrupted by prudent stoppages, they reached the deep grottoes, in which the prophetic bishop of Vannes had taken care to have secreted a bark capable of keeping the sea at this fine season.

“My good friend,” said Porthos, panting vigorously, “we have arrived, it seems. But I thought you spoke of three men, three servants, who were to accompany us. I don’t see them—where are they?”

“Why should you see them, Porthos?” replied Aramis. “They are certainly waiting for us in the cavern, and, no doubt, are resting, having accomplished their rough and difficult task.”

Aramis stopped Porthos, who was preparing to enter the cavern. “Will you allow me, my friend,” said he to the giant, “to pass in first? I know the signal I have given to these men; who, not hearing it, would be very likely to fire upon you or slash away with their knives in the dark.”

“Go on, then, Aramis; go on—go first; you impersonate wisdom and foresight; go. Ah! there is that fatigue again, of which I spoke to you. It has just seized me afresh.”

Aramis left Porthos sitting at the entrance of the grotto, and bowing his head, he penetrated into the interior of the cavern, imitating the cry of the owl. A little plaintive cooing, a scarcely distinct echo, replied from the depths of the cave. Aramis pursued his way cautiously, and soon was stopped by the same kind of cry as he had first uttered, within ten paces of him.

“Are you there, Yves?” said the bishop.

“Yes, monseigneur; Goenne is here likewise. His son accompanies us.”

“That is well. Are all things ready?”

“Yes, monseigneur.”

“Go to the entrance of the grottoes, my good Yves, and you will there find the Seigneur de Pierrefonds, who is resting after the fatigue of our journey. And if he should happen not to be able to walk, lift him up, and bring him hither to me.”

The three men obeyed. But the recommendation given to his servants was superfluous. Porthos, refreshed, had already commenced the descent, and his heavy step resounded amongst the cavities, formed and supported by columns of porphyry and granite. As soon as the Seigneur de Bracieux had rejoined the bishop, the Bretons lighted a lantern with which they were furnished, and Porthos assured his friend that he felt as strong again as ever.

“Let us inspect the boat,” said Aramis, “and satisfy ourselves at once what it will hold.”

“Do not go too near with the light,” said the patron Yves; “for as you desired me, monseigneur, I have placed under the bench of the poop, in the coffer you know of, the barrel of powder, and the musket-charges that you sent me from the fort.”

“Very well,” said Aramis; and, taking the lantern himself, he examined minutely all parts of the canoe, with the precautions of a man who is neither timid nor ignorant in the face of danger. The canoe was long, light, drawing little water, thin of keel; in short, one of those that have always been so aptly built at Belle-Isle; a little high in its sides, solid upon the water, very manageable, furnished with planks which, in uncertain weather, formed a sort of deck over which the waves might glide, so as to protect the rowers. In two well-closed coffers, placed beneath the benches of the prow and the poop, Aramis found bread, biscuit, dried fruits, a quarter of bacon, a good provision of water in leathern bottles; the whole forming rations sufficient for people who did not mean to quit the coast, and would be able to revictual, if necessity commanded. The arms, eight muskets, and as many horse-pistols, were in good condition, and all loaded. There were additional oars, in case of accident, and that little sail called trinquet, which assists the speed of the canoe at the same time the boatmen row, and is so useful when the breeze is slack. When Aramis had seen to all these things, and appeared satisfied with the result of his inspection, “Let us consult Porthos,” said he, “to know if we must endeavor to get the boat out by the unknown extremity of the grotto, following the descent and the shade of the cavern, or whether it be better, in the open air, to make it slide upon its rollers through the bushes, leveling the road of the little beach, which is but twenty feet high, and gives, at high tide, three or four fathoms of good water upon a sound bottom.”

“It must be as you please, monseigneur,” replied the skipper Yves, respectfully; “but I don’t believe that by the slope of the cavern, and in the dark in which we shall be obliged to maneuver our boat, the road will be so convenient as the open air. I know the beach well, and can certify that it is as smooth as a grass-plot in a garden; the interior of the grotto, on the contrary, is rough; without reckoning, monseigneur, that at its extremity we shall come to the trench which leads into the sea, and perhaps the canoe will not pass down it.”

“I have made my calculation,” said the bishop, “and I am certain it will pass.”

“So be it; I wish it may, monseigneur,” continued Yves; “but your highness knows very well that to make it reach the extremity of the trench, there is an enormous stone to be lifted—that under which the fox always passes, and which closes the trench like a door.”

“It can be raised,” said Porthos; “that is nothing.”

“Oh! I know that monseigneur has the strength of ten men,” replied Yves; “but that is giving him a great deal of trouble.”

“I think the skipper may be right,” said Aramis; “let us try the open-air passage.”

“The more so, monseigneur,” continued the fisherman, “that we should not be able to embark before day, it will require so much labor, and that as soon as daylight appears, a good vedette placed outside the grotto would be necessary, indispensable even, to watch the maneuvers of the lighters or cruisers that are on the look-out for us.”

“Yes, yes, Yves, your reasons are good; we will go by the beach.”

And the three robust Bretons went to the boat, and were beginning to place their rollers underneath it to put it in motion, when the distant barking of dogs was heard, proceeding from the interior of the island.

Aramis darted out of the grotto, followed by Porthos. Dawn just tinted with purple and white the waves and plain; through the dim light, melancholy fir-trees waved their tender branches over the pebbles, and long flights of crows were skimming with their black wings the shimmering fields of buckwheat. In a quarter of an hour it would be clear daylight; the wakened birds announced it to all nature. The barkings which had been heard, which had stopped the three fishermen engaged in moving the boat, and had brought Aramis and Porthos out of the cavern, now seemed to come from a deep gorge within about a league of the grotto.

“It is a pack of hounds,” said Porthos; “the dogs are on a scent.”

“Who can be hunting at such a moment as this?” said Aramis.

“And this way, particularly,” continued Porthos, “where they might expect the army of the royalists.”

“The noise comes nearer. Yes, you are right, Porthos, the dogs are on a scent. But, Yves!” cried Aramis, “come here! come here!”

Yves ran towards him, letting fall the cylinder which he was about to place under the boat when the bishop’s call interrupted him.

“What is the meaning of this hunt, skipper?” said Porthos.

“Eh! monseigneur, I cannot understand it,” replied the Breton. “It is not at such a moment that the Seigneur de Locmaria would hunt. No, and yet the dogs—”

“Unless they have escaped from the kennel.”

“No,” said Goenne, “they are not the Seigneur de Locmaria’s hounds.”

“In common prudence,” said Aramis, “let us go back into the grotto; the voices evidently draw nearer, we shall soon know what we have to trust to.”

They re-entered, but had scarcely proceeded a hundred steps in the darkness, when a noise like the hoarse sigh of a creature in distress resounded through the cavern, and breathless, rapid, terrified, a fox passed like a flash of lightning before the fugitives, leaped over the boat and disappeared, leaving behind its sour scent, which was perceptible for several seconds under the low vaults of the cave.

“The fox!” cried the Bretons, with the glad surprise of born hunters.

“Accursed mischance!” cried the bishop, “our retreat is discovered.”

“How so?” said Porthos; “are you afraid of a fox?”

“Eh! my friend, what do you mean by that? why do you specify the fox? It is not the fox alone. Pardieu! But don’t you know, Porthos, that after the foxes come hounds, and after hounds men?”

Porthos hung his head. As though to confirm the words of Aramis, they heard the yelping pack approach with frightful swiftness upon the trail. Six foxhounds burst at once upon the little heath, with mingling yelps of triumph.

“There are the dogs, plain enough!” said Aramis, posted on the look-out behind a chink in the rocks; “now, who are the huntsmen?”

“If it is the Seigneur de Locmaria’s,” replied the sailor, “he will leave the dogs to hunt the grotto, for he knows them, and will not enter in himself, being quite sure that the fox will come out the other side; it is there he will wait for him.”

“It is not the Seigneur de Locmaria who is hunting,” replied Aramis, turning pale in spite of his efforts to maintain a placid countenance.

“Who is it, then?” said Porthos.

“Look!”

Porthos applied his eye to the slit, and saw at the summit of a hillock a dozen horsemen urging on their horses in the track of the dogs, shouting, “Taiaut! taiaut!”

“The guards!” said he.

“Yes, my friend, the king’s guards.”

“The king’s guards! do you say, monseigneur?” cried the Bretons, growing pale in turn.

“With Biscarrat at their head, mounted upon my gray horse,” continued Aramis.

The hounds at the same moment rushed into the grotto like an avalanche, and the depths of the cavern were filled with their deafening cries.

“Ah! the devil!” said Aramis, resuming all his coolness at the sight of this certain, inevitable danger. “I am perfectly satisfied we are lost, but we have, at least, one chance left. If the guards who follow their hounds happen to discover there is an issue to the grotto, there is no help for us, for on entering they must see both ourselves and our boat. The dogs must not go out of the cavern. Their masters must not enter.”

“That is clear,” said Porthos.

“You understand,” added Aramis, with the rapid precision of command; “there are six dogs that will be forced to stop at the great stone under which the fox has glided—but at the too narrow opening of which they must be themselves stopped and killed.”

The Bretons sprang forward, knife in hand. In a few minutes there was a lamentable concert of angry barks and mortal howls—and then, silence.

“That’s well!” said Aramis, coolly, “now for the masters!”

“What is to be done with them?” said Porthos.

“Wait their arrival, conceal ourselves, and kill them.”

“Kill them!” replied Porthos.

“There are sixteen,” said Aramis, “at least, at present.”

“And well armed,” added Porthos, with a smile of consolation.

“It will last about ten minutes,” said Aramis. “To work!”

And with a resolute air he took up a musket, and placed a hunting-knife between his teeth.

“Yves, Goenne, and his son,” continued Aramis, “will pass the muskets to us. You, Porthos, will fire when they are close. We shall have brought down, at the lowest computation, eight, before the others are aware of anything—that is certain; then all, there are five of us, will dispatch the other eight, knife in hand.”

“And poor Biscarrat?” said Porthos.

Aramis reflected a moment—“Biscarrat first,” replied he, coolly. “He knows us.”






Chapter XLVIII. The Grotto.


In spite of the sort of divination which was the remarkable side of the character of Aramis, the event, subject to the risks of things over which uncertainty presides, did not fall out exactly as the bishop of Vannes had foreseen. Biscarrat, better mounted than his companions, arrived first at the opening of the grotto, and comprehended that fox and hounds were one and all engulfed in it. Only, struck by that superstitious terror which every dark and subterraneous way naturally impresses upon the mind of man, he stopped at the outside of the grotto, and waited till his companions should have assembled round him.

“Well!” asked the young men, coming up, out of breath, and unable to understand the meaning of this inaction.

“Well! I cannot hear the dogs; they and the fox must all be lost in this infernal cavern.”

“They were too close up,” said one of the guards, “to have lost scent all at once. Besides, we should hear them from one side or another. They must, as Biscarrat says, be in this grotto.”

“But then,” said one of the young men, “why don’t they give tongue?”

“It is strange!” muttered another.

“Well, but,” said a fourth, “let us go into this grotto. Does it happen to be forbidden we should enter it?”

“No,” replied Biscarrat. “Only, as it looks as dark as a wolf’s mouth, we might break our necks in it.”

“Witness the dogs,” said a guard, “who seem to have broken theirs.”

“What the devil can have become of them?” asked the young men in chorus. And every master called his dog by his name, whistled to him in his favorite mode, without a single one replying to either call or whistle.

“It is perhaps an enchanted grotto,” said Biscarrat; “let us see.” And, jumping from his horse, he made a step into the grotto.

“Stop! stop! I will accompany you,” said one of the guards, on seeing Biscarrat disappear in the shades of the cavern’s mouth.

“No,” replied Biscarrat, “there must be something extraordinary in the place—don’t let us risk ourselves all at once. If in ten minutes you do not hear of me, you can come in, but not all at once.”

“Be it so,” said the young man, who, besides, did not imagine that Biscarrat ran much risk in the enterprise, “we will wait for you.” And without dismounting from their horses, they formed a circle round the grotto.

Biscarrat entered then alone, and advanced through the darkness till he came in contact with the muzzle of Porthos’s musket. The resistance which his chest met with astonished him; he naturally raised his hand and laid hold of the icy barrel. At the same instant, Yves lifted a knife against the young man, which was about to fall upon him with all force of a Breton’s arm, when the iron wrist of Porthos stopped it half-way. Then, like low muttering thunder, his voice growled in the darkness, “I will not have him killed!”

Biscarrat found himself between a protection and a threat, the one almost as terrible as the other. However brave the young man might be, he could not prevent a cry escaping him, which Aramis immediately suppressed by placing a handkerchief over his mouth. “Monsieur de Biscarrat,” said he, in a low voice, “we mean you no harm, and you must know that if you have recognized us; but, at the first word, the first groan, the first whisper, we shall be forced to kill you as we have killed your dogs.”

“Yes, I recognize you, gentlemen,” said the officer, in a low voice. “But why are you here—what are you doing, here? Unfortunate men! I thought you were in the fort.”

“And you, monsieur, you were to obtain conditions for us, I think?”

“I did all I was able, messieurs, but—”

“But what?”

“But there are positive orders.”

“To kill us?”

Biscarrat made no reply. It would have cost him too much to speak of the cord to gentlemen. Aramis understood the silence of the prisoner.

“Monsieur Biscarrat,” said he, “you would be already dead if we had not regard for your youth and our ancient association with your father; but you may yet escape from the place by swearing that you will not tell your companions what you have seen.”

“I will not only swear that I will not speak of it,” said Biscarrat, “but I still further swear that I will do everything in the world to prevent my companions from setting foot in the grotto.”

“Biscarrat! Biscarrat!” cried several voices from the outside, coming like a whirlwind into the cave.

“Reply,” said Aramis.

“Here I am!” cried Biscarrat.

“Now, begone; we depend on your loyalty.” And he left his hold of the young man, who hastily returned towards the light.

“Biscarrat! Biscarrat!” cried the voices, still nearer. And the shadows of several human forms projected into the interior of the grotto. Biscarrat rushed to meet his friends in order to stop them, and met them just as they were adventuring into the cave. Aramis and Porthos listened with the intense attention of men whose life depends upon a breath of air.

“Oh! oh!” exclaimed one of the guards, as he came to the light, “how pale you are!”

“Pale!” cried another; “you ought to say corpse-color.”

“I!” said the young man, endeavoring to collect his faculties.

“In the name of Heaven! what has happened?” exclaimed all the voices.

“You have not a drop of blood in your veins, my poor friend,” said one of them, laughing.

“Messieurs, it is serious,” said another, “he is going to faint; does any one of you happen to have any salts?” And they all laughed.

This hail of jests fell round Biscarrat’s ears like musket-balls in a melee. He recovered himself amidst a deluge of interrogations.

“What do you suppose I have seen?” asked he. “I was too hot when I entered the grotto, and I have been struck with a chill. That is all.”

“But the dogs, the dogs; have you seen them again—did you see anything of them—do you know anything about them?”

“I suppose they have got out some other way.”

“Messieurs,” said one of the young men, “there is in that which is going on, in the paleness and silence of our friend, a mystery which Biscarrat will not, or cannot reveal. Only, and this is certain, Biscarrat has seen something in the grotto. Well, for my part, I am very curious to see what it is, even if it is the devil! To the grotto! messieurs, to the grotto!”

“To the grotto!” repeated all the voices. And the echo of the cavern carried like a menace to Porthos and Aramis, “To the grotto! to the grotto!”

Biscarrat threw himself before his companions. “Messieurs! messieurs!” cried he, “in the name of Heaven! do not go in!”

“Why, what is there so terrific in the cavern?” asked several at once. “Come, speak, Biscarrat.”

“Decidedly, it is the devil he has seen,” repeated he who had before advanced that hypothesis.

“Well,” said another, “if he has seen him, he need not be selfish; he may as well let us have a look at him in turn.”

“Messieurs! messieurs! I beseech you,” urged Biscarrat.

“Nonsense! Let us pass!”

“Messieurs, I implore you not to enter!”

“Why, you went in yourself.”

Then one of the officers, who—of a riper age than the others—had till this time remained behind, and had said nothing, advanced. “Messieurs,” said he, with a calmness which contrasted with the animation of the young men, “there is in there some person, or something, that is not the devil; but which, whatever it may be, has had sufficient power to silence our dogs. We must discover who this some one is, or what this something is.”

Biscarrat made a last effort to stop his friends, but it was useless. In vain he threw himself before the rashest; in vain he clung to the rocks to bar the passage; the crowd of young men rushed into the cave, in the steps of the officer who had spoken last, but who had sprung in first, sword in hand, to face the unknown danger. Biscarrat, repulsed by his friends, unable to accompany them, without passing in the eyes of Porthos and Aramis for a traitor and a perjurer, with painfully attentive ear and unconsciously supplicating hands leaned against the rough side of a rock which he thought must be exposed to the fire of the musketeers. As to the guards, they penetrated further and further, with exclamations that grew fainter as they advanced. All at once, a discharge of musketry, growling like thunder, exploded in the entrails of the vault. Two or three balls were flattened against the rock on which Biscarrat was leaning. At the same instant, cries, shrieks, imprecations burst forth, and the little troop of gentlemen reappeared—some pale, some bleeding—all enveloped in a cloud of smoke, which the outer air seemed to suck from the depths of the cavern. “Biscarrat! Biscarrat!” cried the fugitives, “you knew there was an ambuscade in that cavern, and you did not warn us! Biscarrat, you are the cause that four of us are murdered men! Woe be to you, Biscarrat!”

“You are the cause of my being wounded unto death,” said one of the young men, letting a gush of scarlet life-blood vomit in his palm, and spattering it into Biscarrat’s livid face. “My blood be on your head!” And he rolled in agony at the feet of the young man.

“But, at least, tell us who is there?” cried several furious voices.

Biscarrat remained silent. “Tell us, or die!” cried the wounded man, raising himself upon one knee, and lifting towards his companion an arm bearing a useless sword. Biscarrat rushed towards him, opening his breast for the blow, but the wounded man fell back not to rise again, uttering a groan which was his last. Biscarrat, with hair on end, haggard eyes, and bewildered head, advanced towards the interior of the cavern, saying, “You are right. Death to me, who have allowed my comrades to be assassinated. I am a worthless wretch!” And throwing away his sword, for he wished to die without defending himself, he rushed head foremost into the cavern. The others followed him. The eleven who remained out of sixteen imitated his example; but they did not go further than the first. A second discharge laid five upon the icy sand; and as it was impossible to see whence this murderous thunder issued, the others fell back with a terror that can be better imagined than described. But, far from flying, as the others had done, Biscarrat remained safe and sound, seated on a fragment of rock, and waited. There were only six gentlemen left.

“Seriously,” said one of the survivors, “is it the devil?”

“Ma foi! it is much worse,” said another.

“Ask Biscarrat, he knows.”

“Where is Biscarrat?” The young men looked round them, and saw that Biscarrat did not answer.

“He is dead!” said two or three voices.

“Oh! no!” replied another, “I saw him through the smoke, sitting quietly on a rock. He is in the cavern; he is waiting for us.”

“He must know who are there.”

“And how should he know them?”

“He was taken prisoner by the rebels.”

“That is true. Well! let us call him, and learn from him whom we have to deal with.” And all voices shouted, “Biscarrat! Biscarrat!” But Biscarrat did not answer.

“Good!” said the officer who had shown so much coolness in the affair. “We have no longer any need of him; here are reinforcements coming.”

In fact, a company of guards, left in the rear by their officers, whom the ardor of the chase had carried away—from seventy-five to eighty men—arrived in good order, led by their captain and the first lieutenant. The five officers hastened to meet their soldiers; and, in language the eloquence of which may be easily imagined, they related the adventure, and asked for aid. The captain interrupted them. “Where are your companions?” demanded he.

“Dead!”

“But there were sixteen of you!”

“Ten are dead. Biscarrat is in the cavern, and we are five.”

“Biscarrat is a prisoner?”

“Probably.”

“No, for here he is—look.” In fact, Biscarrat appeared at the opening of the grotto.

“He is making a sign to come on,” said the officer. “Come on!”

“Come on!” cried all the troop. And they advanced to meet Biscarrat.

“Monsieur,” said the captain, addressing Biscarrat, “I am assured that you know who the men are in that grotto, and who make such a desperate defense. In the king’s name I command you to declare what you know.”

“Captain,” said Biscarrat, “you have no need to command me. My word has been restored to me this very instant; and I came in the name of these men.”

“To tell me who they are?”

“To tell you they are determined to defend themselves to the death, unless you grant them satisfactory terms.”

“How many are there of them, then?”

“There are two,” said Biscarrat.

“There are two—and want to impose conditions upon us?”

“There are two, and they have already killed ten of our men.”

“What sort of people are they—giants?”

“Worse than that. Do you remember the history of the Bastion Saint-Gervais, captain?”

“Yes; where four musketeers held out against an army.”

“Well, these are two of those same musketeers.”

“And their names?”

“At that period they were called Porthos and Aramis. Now they are styled M. d’Herblay and M. du Vallon.”

“And what interest have they in all this?”

“It is they who were holding Bell-Isle for M. Fouquet.”

A murmur ran through the ranks of the soldiers on hearing the two words “Porthos and Aramis.” “The musketeers! the musketeers!” repeated they. And among all these brave men, the idea that they were going to have a struggle against two of the oldest glories of the French army, made a shiver, half enthusiasm, two-thirds terror, run through them. In fact, those four names—D’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis—were venerated among all who wore a sword; as, in antiquity, the names of Hercules, Theseus, Castor, and Pollux were venerated.

“Two men—and they have killed ten in two discharges! It is impossible, Monsieur Biscarrat!”

“Eh! captain,” replied the latter, “I do not tell you that they have not with them two or three men, as the musketeers of the Bastion Saint-Gervais had two or three lackeys; but, believe me, captain, I have seen these men, I have been taken prisoner by them—I know they themselves alone are all-sufficient to destroy an army.”

“That we shall see,” said the captain, “and that in a moment, too. Gentlemen, attention!”

At this reply, no one stirred, and all prepared to obey. Biscarrat alone risked a last attempt.

“Monsieur,” said he, in a low voice, “be persuaded by me; let us pass on our way. Those two men, those two lions you are going to attack, will defend themselves to the death. They have already killed ten of our men; they will kill double the number, and end by killing themselves rather than surrender. What shall we gain by fighting them?”

“We shall gain the consciousness, monsieur, of not having allowed eighty of the king’s guards to retire before two rebels. If I listened to your advice, monsieur, I should be a dishonored man; and by dishonoring myself I should dishonor the army. Forward, my men!”

And he marched first as far as the opening of the grotto. There he halted. The object of this halt was to give Biscarrat and his companions time to describe to him the interior of the grotto. Then, when he believed he had a sufficient acquaintance with the place, he divided his company into three bodies, which were to enter successively, keeping up a sustained fire in all directions. No doubt, in this attack they would lose five more, perhaps ten; but, certainly, they must end by taking the rebels, since there was no issue; and, at any rate, two men could not kill eighty.

“Captain,” said Biscarrat, “I beg to be allowed to march at the head of the first platoon.”

“So be it,” replied the captain; “you have all the honor. I make you a present of it.”

“Thanks!” replied the young man, with all the firmness of his race.

“Take your sword, then.”

“I shall go as I am, captain,” said Biscarrat, “for I do not go to kill, I go to be killed.”

And placing himself at the head of the first platoon, with head uncovered and arms crossed,—“March, gentlemen,” said he.