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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Man in the Iron Mask
By Alexandre Dumas (1802–1870)
 
        
From ‘The Viscount of Bragelonne’
  
  [Dumas adopts the theory that the Man in the Iron Mask was the suppressed twin brother of Louis XIV.]

“WHAT is all this noise?” asked Philippe, turning towards the door of the concealed staircase. And as he spoke a voice was heard saying, “This way, this way. Still a few steps, sire.”  1
  “It is M. Fouquet’s voice,” said D’Artagnan, who was standing near the Queen Mother.  2
  “Then M. D’Herblay will not be far off,” added Philippe; but little did he expect to see the person who actually entered.  3
  All eyes were riveted on the door, from which the voice of M. Fouquet proceeded; but it was not he who came through.  4
  A cry of anguish rang through the room, breaking forth simultaneously from the King and the spectators, and surely never had been seen a stranger sight.  5
  The shutters were half closed, and only a feeble light struggled through the velvet curtains, with their thick silk linings, and the eyes of the courtiers had to get accustomed to the darkness before they could distinguish between the surrounding objects. But once discerned, they stood out as clear as day.  6
  So, looking up, they saw Louis XIV. in the doorway of the private stair, his face pale and his brows bent; and behind him stood Fouquet.  7
  The Queen Mother, whose hand held that of Philippe, uttered a shriek at the sight, thinking that she beheld a ghost.  8
  Monsieur staggered for a moment and turned away his head, looking from the King who was facing him to the King who was by his side.  9
  Madame on the contrary stepped forward, thinking it must be her brother-in-law reflected in a mirror. And indeed, this seemed the only rational explanation of the double image.  10
  Both young men, agitated and trembling, clenching their hands, darting flames of fury from their eyes, dumb, breathless, ready to spring at each other’s throats, resembled each other so exactly in feature, figure, and even, by pure accident, in dress, that Anne of Austria herself stood confounded. For as yet the truth had not dawned on her. There are some torments that we all instinctively reject. It is easier far to accept the supernatural, the impossible.  11
  That he should encounter such obstacles had never for one moment occurred to Louis. He imagined he had only to show himself, for the world to fall at his feet. The Sun-king could have no rival; and where his rays did not fall, there must be darkness—  12
  As to Fouquet, who could describe his bewilderment at the sight of the living portrait of his master? Then he thought that Aramis was right, and that the new-comer was every whit as much a king as his double, and that after all, perhaps he had made a mistake when he had declined to share in the coup d’état so cleverly plotted by the General of the Jesuits.  13
  And then, it was equally the blood royal of Louis XIII. that Fouquet had determined to sacrifice to blood in all respects identical; a noble ambition, to one that was selfish. And it was the mere aspect of the pretender which showed him all these things.  14
  D’Artagnan, leaning against the wall and facing Fouquet, was debating in his own mind the key to this wonderful riddle. He felt instinctively, though he could not have told why, that in the meeting of the two Louis XIV.s lay the explanation of all that had seemed suspicious in the conduct of Aramis during the last few days.  15
  Suddenly Louis XIV., by nature the most impatient of the two young men, and with the habit of command that was the result of training, strode across the room and flung open one of the shutters. The flood of light that streamed through the window caused Philippe involuntarily to recoil, and to step back into the shelter of an alcove.  16
  The movement struck Louis, and turning to the Queen he said:  17
  “Mother, do you not know your own son, although every one else has denied his King?”  18
  Anne trembled at his voice and raised her arms to heaven, but could not utter a single word.  19
  “Mother,” retorted Philippe in his quietest tones, “do you not know your own son?”  20
  And this time it was Louis who stepped back.  21
  As for Anne, pierced to the heart with grief and remorse, she could bear it no longer. She staggered where she stood, and unaided by her attendants, who seemed turned into stone, she sank down on a sofa with a sigh.  22
  This spectacle was too much for Louis. He rushed to D’Artagnan, whose brain was going round with bewilderment, and who clung to the door as his last hope.  23
  “To me, musketeer! Look us both in the face, and see which is the paler, he or I.”  24
  The cry awoke D’Artagnan from his stupor, and struck the chord of obedience strong in the bosom of every soldier. He lifted his head, and striding straight up to Philippe laid his hand on his shoulder, saying quietly:—  25
  “Monsieur, you are my prisoner.”  26
  Philippe remained absolutely still, as if nailed to the floor, his eyes fixed despairingly on the King who was his brother. His silence reproached him as no words could have done, with the bitterness of the past and the tortures of the future.  27
  And the King understood, and his soul sank within him. His eyes fell, and drawing his brother and sister-in-law with him, he hastily quitted the room; forgetting in his agitation even his mother, lying motionless on the couch beside him, not three paces from the son whom for the second time she was allowing to be condemned to a death in life.  28
  Philippe drew near to her, and said softly:—  29
  “If you had not been my mother, madame, I must have cursed you for the misery you have caused me.”  30
  D’Artagnan overheard, and a shiver of pity passed through him. He bowed respectfully to the young prince, and said:—  31
  “Forgive me, monseigneur; I am only a soldier, and my faith is due to him who has left us.”  32
  “Thank you, M. D’Artagnan. But what has become of M. D’Herblay?”  33
  “M. D’Herblay is safe, monseigneur,” answered a voice behind them; “and while I am alive and free, not a hair of his head shall be hurt.”  34
  “M. Fouquet!” said the prince, smiling sadly.  35
  “Forgive me, monseigneur,” cried Fouquet, falling on his knees; “but he who has left the room was my guest.”  36
  “Ah!” murmured Philippe to himself with a sigh, “you are loyal friends and true hearts. You make me regret the world I am leaving. M. D’Artagnan, I will follow you.”  37
  As he spoke, Colbert entered and handed to the captain of the musketeers an order from the King; then bowed, and went out.  38
  D’Artagnan glanced at the paper, and in a sudden burst of wrath crumpled it in his hand.  39
  “What is the matter?” asked the prince.  40
  “Read it, monseigneur,” answered the musketeer.  41
  And Philippe read these words, written hastily by the King himself:—  42
  “M. D’Artagnan will conduct the prisoner to the Îles Sainte-Marguerite. He will see that his face is covered with an iron mask, which must never be lifted on pain of death.”  43
  “It is just,” said Philippe; “I am ready.”  44
  “Aramis was right,” whispered Fouquet to D’Artagnan, “this is as good a king as the other.”  45
  “Better,” replied D’Artagnan; “he only needed you and me.”  46
 
 
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