The Man in the Iron Mask, by Alexandre Dumas

Chapter viii.

The General of the Order.

There was now a brief silence, during which Aramis never removed his eyes from Baisemeaux for a moment. The latter seemed only half decided to disturb himself thus in the middle of supper, and it was clear he was trying to invent some pretext, whether good or bad, for delay, at any rate till after dessert. And it appeared also that he had hit upon an excuse at last.

“Eh! but it is impossible!” he cried.

“How impossible?” said Aramis. “Give me a glimpse of this impossibility.”

“’Tis impossible to set a prisoner at liberty at such an hour. Where can he go to, a man so unacquainted with Paris?”

“He will find a place wherever he can.”

“You see, now, one might as well set a blind man free!”

“I have a carriage, and will take him wherever he wishes.”

“You have an answer for everything. Francois, tell monsieur le major to go and open the cell of M. Seldon, No. 3, Bertaudiere.”

“Seldon!” exclaimed Aramis, very naturally. “You said Seldon, I think?”

“I said Seldon, of course. ’Tis the name of the man they set free.”

“Oh! you mean to say Marchiali?” said Aramis.

“Marchiali? oh! yes, indeed. No, no, Seldon.”

“I think you are making a mistake, Monsieur Baisemeaux.”

“I have read the order.”

“And I also.”

“And I saw ‘Seldon’ in letters as large as that,” and Baisemeaux held up his finger.

“And I read ‘Marchiali’ in characters as large as this,” said Aramis, also holding up two fingers.

“To the proof; let us throw a light on the matter,” said Baisemeaux, confident he was right. “There is the paper, you have only to read it.”

“I read ‘Marchiali,’” returned Aramis, spreading out the paper. “Look.”

Baisemeaux looked, and his arms dropped suddenly. “Yes, yes,” he said, quite overwhelmed; “yes, Marchiali. ’Tis plainly written Marchiali! Quite true!”

“Ah! —”

“How? the man of whom we have talked so much? The man whom they are every day telling me to take such care of?”

“There is ‘Marchiali,’” repeated the inflexible Aramis.

“I must own it, monseigneur. But I understand nothing about it.”

“You believe your eyes, at any rate.”

“To tell me very plainly there is ‘Marchiali.’”

“And in a good handwriting, too.”

“’Tis a wonder! I still see this order and the name of Seldon, Irishman. I see it. Ah! I even recollect that under this name there was a blot of ink.”

“No, there is no ink; no, there is no blot.”

“Oh! but there was, though; I know it, because I rubbed my finger — this very one — in the powder that was over the blot.”

“In a word, be it how it may, dear M. Baisemeaux,” said Aramis, “and whatever you may have seen, the order is signed to release Marchiali, blot or no blot.”

“The order is signed to release Marchiali,” replied Baisemeaux, mechanically, endeavoring to regain his courage.

“And you are going to release this prisoner. If your heart dictates you to deliver Seldon also, I declare to you I will not oppose it the least in the world.” Aramis accompanied this remark with a smile, the irony of which effectually dispelled Baisemeaux’s confusion of mind, and restored his courage.

“Monseigneur,” he said, “this Marchiali is the very same prisoner whom the other day a priest confessor of our order came to visit in so imperious and so secret a manner.”

“I don’t know that, monsieur,” replied the bishop.

“’Tis no such long time ago, dear Monsieur d’Herblay.”

“It is true. But with us, monsieur, it is good that the man of today should no longer know what the man of yesterday did.”

“In any case,” said Baisemeaux, “the visit of the Jesuit confessor must have given happiness to this man.”

Aramis made no reply, but recommenced eating and drinking. As for Baisemeaux, no longer touching anything that was on the table, he again took up the order and examined it every way. This investigation, under ordinary circumstances, would have made the ears of the impatient Aramis burn with anger; but the bishop of Vannes did not become incensed for so little, above all, when he had murmured to himself that to do so was dangerous. “Are you going to release Marchiali?” he said. “What mellow, fragrant and delicious sherry this is, my dear governor.”

“Monseigneur,” replied Baisemeaux, “I shall release the prisoner Marchiali when I have summoned the courier who brought the order, and above all, when, by interrogating him, I have satisfied myself.”

“The order is sealed, and the courier is ignorant of the contents. What do you want to satisfy yourself about?”

“Be it so, monseigneur; but I shall send to the ministry, and M. de Lyonne will either confirm or withdraw the order.”

“What is the good of all that?” asked Aramis, coldly.

“What good?”

“Yes; what is your object, I ask?”

“The object of never deceiving oneself, monseigneur; nor being wanting in the respect which a subaltern owes to his superior officers, nor infringing the duties of a service one has accepted of one’s own free will.”

“Very good; you have just spoken so eloquently, that I cannot but admire you. It is true that a subaltern owes respect to his superiors; he is guilty when he deceives himself, and he should be punished if he infringed either the duties or laws of his office.”

Baisemeaux looked at the bishop with astonishment.

“It follows,” pursued Aramis, “that you are going to ask advice, to put your conscience at ease in the matter?”

“Yes, monseigneur.”

“And if a superior officer gives you orders, you will obey?”

“Never doubt it, monseigneur.”

“You know the king’s signature well, M. de Baisemeaux?”

“Yes, monseigneur.”

“Is it not on this order of release?”

“It is true, but it may —”

“Be forged, you mean?”

“That is evident, monseigneur.”

“You are right. And that of M. de Lyonne?”

“I see it plain enough on the order; but for the same reason that the king’s signature may have been forged, so also, and with even greater probability, may M. de Lyonne’s.”

“Your logic has the stride of a giant, M. de Baisemeaux,” said Aramis; “and your reasoning is irresistible. But on what special grounds do you base your idea that these signatures are false?”

“On this: the absence of counter-signatures. Nothing checks his majesty’s signature; and M. de Lyonne is not there to tell me he has signed.”

“Well, Monsieur de Baisemeaux,” said Aramis, bending an eagle glance on the governor, “I adopt so frankly your doubts, and your mode of clearing them up, that I will take a pen, if you will give me one.”

Baisemeaux gave him a pen.

“And a sheet of white paper,” added Aramis.

Baisemeaux handed him some paper.

“Now, I— I, also — I, here present — incontestably, I— am going to write an order to which I am certain you will give credence, incredulous as you are!”

Baisemeaux turned pale at this icy assurance of manner. It seemed to him that the voice of the bishop’s, but just now so playful and gay, had become funereal and sad; that the wax lights changed into the tapers of a mortuary chapel, the very glasses of wine into chalices of blood.

Aramis took a pen and wrote. Baisemeaux, in terror, read over his shoulder.

“A. M. D. G.,” wrote the bishop; and he drew a cross under these four letters, which signify ad majorem Dei gloriam, “to the greater glory of God;” and thus he continued: “It is our pleasure that the order brought to M. de Baisemeaux de Montlezun, governor, for the king, of the castle of the Bastile, be held by him good and effectual, and be immediately carried into operation.”

(Signed) D’HERBLAY

“General of the Order, by the grace of God.”

Baisemeaux was so profoundly astonished, that his features remained contracted, his lips parted, and his eyes fixed. He did not move an inch, nor articulate a sound. Nothing could be heard in that large chamber but the wing-whisper of a little moth, which was fluttering to its death about the candles. Aramis, without even deigning to look at the man whom he had reduced to so miserable a condition, drew from his pocket a small case of black wax; he sealed the letter, and stamped it with a seal suspended at his breast, beneath his doublet, and when the operation was concluded, presented — still in silence — the missive to M. de Baisemeaux. The latter, whose hands trembled in a manner to excite pity, turned a dull and meaningless gaze upon the letter. A last gleam of feeling played over his features, and he fell, as if thunder-struck, on a chair.

“Come, come,” said Aramis, after a long silence, during which the governor of the Bastile had slowly recovered his senses, “do not lead me to believe, dear Baisemeaux, that the presence of the general of the order is as terrible as His, and that men die merely from having seen Him. Take courage, rouse yourself; give me your hand — obey.”

Baisemeaux, reassured, if not satisfied, obeyed, kissed Aramis’s hand, and rose. “Immediately?” he murmured.

“Oh, there is no pressing haste, my host; take your place again, and do the honors over this beautiful dessert.”

“Monseigneur, I shall never recover such a shock as this; I who have laughed, who have jested with you! I who have dared to treat you on a footing of equality!”

“Say nothing about it, old comrade,” replied the bishop, who perceived how strained the cord was and how dangerous it would have been to break it; “say nothing about it. Let us each live in our own way; to you, my protection and my friendship; to me, your obedience. Having exactly fulfilled these two requirements, let us live happily.”

Baisemeaux reflected; he perceived, at a glance, the consequence of this withdrawal of a prisoner by means of a forged order; and, putting in the scale the guarantee offered him by the official order of the general, did not consider it of any value.

Aramis divined this. “My dear Baisemeaux,” said he, “you are a simpleton. Lose this habit of reflection when I give myself the trouble to think for you.”

And at another gesture he made, Baisemeaux bowed again. “How shall I set about it?” he said.

“What is the process for releasing a prisoner?”

“I have the regulations.”

“Well, then, follow the regulations, my friend.”

“I go with my major to the prisoner’s room, and conduct him, if he is a personage of importance.”

“But this Marchiali is not an important personage,” said Aramis carelessly.

“I don’t know,” answered the governor, as if he would have said, “It is for you to instruct me.”

“Then if you don’t know it, I am right; so act towards Marchiali as you act towards one of obscure station.”

“Good; the regulations so provide. They are to the effect that the turnkey, or one of the lower officials, shall bring the prisoner before the governor, in the office.”

“Well, ’tis very wise, that; and then?”

“Then we return to the prisoner the valuables he wore at the time of his imprisonment, his clothes and papers, if the minister’s orders have not otherwise dictated.”

“What was the minister’s order as to this Marchiali?”

“Nothing; for the unhappy man arrived here without jewels, without papers, and almost without clothes.”

“See how simple, then, all is. Indeed, Baisemeaux, you make a mountain of everything. Remain here, and make them bring the prisoner to the governor’s house.”

Baisemeaux obeyed. He summoned his lieutenant, and gave him an order, which the latter passed on, without disturbing himself about it, to the next whom it concerned.

Half an hour afterwards they heard a gate shut in the court; it was the door to the dungeon, which had just rendered up its prey to the free air. Aramis blew out all the candles which lighted the room but one, which he left burning behind the door. This flickering glare prevented the sight from resting steadily on any object. It multiplied tenfold the changing forms and shadows of the place, by its wavering uncertainty. Steps drew near.

“Go and meet your men,” said Aramis to Baisemeaux.

The governor obeyed. The sergeant and turnkeys disappeared. Baisemeaux reentered, followed by a prisoner. Aramis had placed himself in the shade; he saw without being seen. Baisemeaux, in an agitated tone of voice, made the young man acquainted with the order which set him at liberty. The prisoner listened, without making a single gesture or saying a word.

“You will swear (’tis the regulation that requires it),” added the governor, “never to reveal anything that you have seen or heard in the Bastile.”

The prisoner perceived a crucifix; he stretched out his hands and swore with his lips. “And now, monsieur, you are free. Whither do you intend going?”

The prisoner turned his head, as if looking behind him for some protection, on which he ought to rely. Then was it that Aramis came out of the shade: “I am here,” he said, “to render the gentleman whatever service he may please to ask.”

The prisoner slightly reddened, and, without hesitation, passed his arm through that of Aramis. “God have you in his holy keeping,” he said, in a voice the firmness of which made the governor tremble as much as the form of the blessing astonished him.

Aramis, on shaking hands with Baisemeaux, said to him; “Does my order trouble you? Do you fear their finding it here, should they come to search?”

“I desire to keep it, monseigneur,” said Baisemeaux. “If they found it here, it would be a certain indication I should be lost, and in that case you would be a powerful and a last auxiliary for me.”

“Being your accomplice, you mean?” answered Aramis, shrugging his shoulders. “Adieu, Baisemeaux,” said he.

The horses were in waiting, making each rusty spring reverberate the carriage again with their impatience. Baisemeaux accompanied the bishop to the bottom of the steps. Aramis caused his companion to mount before him, then followed, and without giving the driver any further order, “Go on,” said he. The carriage rattled over the pavement of the courtyard. An officer with a torch went before the horses, and gave orders at every post to let them pass. During the time taken in opening all the barriers, Aramis barely breathed, and you might have heard his “sealed heart knock against his ribs.” The prisoner, buried in a corner of the carriage, made no more sign of life than his companion. At length, a jolt more sever than the others announced to them that they had cleared the last watercourse. Behind the carriage closed the last gate, that in the Rue St. Antoine. No more walls either on the right or the left; heaven everywhere, liberty everywhere, and life everywhere. The horses, kept in check by a vigorous hand, went quietly as far as the middle of the faubourg. There they began to trot. Little by little, whether they were warming to their work, or whether they were urged, they gained in swiftness, and once past Bercy, the carriage seemed to fly, so great was the ardor of the coursers. The horses galloped thus as far as Villeneuve St. George’s, where relays were waiting. Then four instead of two whirled the carriage away in the direction of Melun, and pulled up for a moment in the middle of the forest of Senart. No doubt the order had been given the postilion beforehand, for Aramis had no occasion even to make a sign.

“What is the matter?” asked the prisoner, as if waking from a long dream.

“The matter is, monseigneur,” said Aramis, “that before going further, it is necessary your royal highness and I should converse.”

“I will await an opportunity, monsieur,” answered the young prince.

“We could not have a better, monseigneur. We are in the middle of a forest, and no one can hear us.”

“The postilion?”

“The postilion of this relay is deaf and dumb, monseigneur.”

“I am at your service, M. d’Herblay.”

“Is it your pleasure to remain in the carriage?”

“Yes; we are comfortably seated, and I like this carriage, for it has restored me to liberty.”

“Wait, monseigneur; there is yet a precaution to be taken.”

“What?”

“We are here on the highway; cavaliers or carriages traveling like ourselves might pass, and seeing us stopping, deem us in some difficulty. Let us avoid offers of assistance, which would embarrass us.”

“Give the postilion orders to conceal the carriage in one of the side avenues.”

“’Tis exactly what I wished to do, monseigneur.”

Aramis made a sign to the deaf and dumb driver of the carriage, whom he touched on the arm. The latter dismounted, took the leaders by the bridle, and led them over the velvet sward and the mossy grass of a winding alley, at the bottom of which, on this moonless night, the deep shades formed a curtain blacker than ink. This done, the man lay down on a slope near his horses, who, on either side, kept nibbling the young oak shoots.

“I am listening,” said the young prince to Aramis; “but what are you doing there?”

“I am disarming myself of my pistols, of which we have no further need, monseigneur.”

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37