THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK
 There was once a king of France so splendid and
powerful that he has ever since been called the Grand
Monarch. His name was Louis, and as there had been
thirteen kings of that name before him, he is known in
history as Louis the Fourteenth.
Now this grand King Louis had many fine palaces and
strong castles. In his palaces was everything that
could make life joyous and gay. In some of his castles
there were gloomy prisons where men whom he did not
like were shut up. One of these prison castles was on a
small island called Sainte Marguerite. A dark and
lonely place it was, built close by the shore of the
sea. The prisoners gazing out of the narrow windows saw
only the water and the sky; and the only sound they
heard was that of the waves lapping on the cold stones.
The king was only a boy with long curls brushing his
cheeks, when a strange man was put in this prison. Who
he was, or why he was there, nobody could tell. The
secret was known only to the king
 and perhaps two or three others. No one was allowed to
talk with him. No one ever saw his face; for this
mysterious prisoner always wore a black mask which men
said was made of iron. There were holes in the mask
through which he could see, and the part over his mouth
could be lifted up when he ate or drank; but never, by
day or by night, was he allowed to take it off.
Men sailing in boats near the castle sometimes saw the
strange prisoner at his iron-barred window. Often he
would stand there for hours, gazing out upon the sea.
Sometimes he was seen sitting by the window and playing
sad tunes on a guitar. But never for a moment was his
"Who is this man in the iron mask?" people asked.
Nobody could tell. Some guessed that he was the king's
cousin who had done some rash things and offended the
grand Louis. Some said that he was the king's own twin
brother. Others said that perhaps he was a certain
English prince whom his people wished to keep out of
the way. But the secret was well kept, and nobody to
this day knows who the mysterious prisoner was.
Perhaps the prisoner tried to escape. Perhaps he tried
to remove the iron mask. But, if so, he was guarded so
closely that no one outside of the castle ever heard
 One day as a fisherman was rowing underneath the prison
window, something round and bright fell into his boat.
He picked it up. It was a beautiful silver plate, with
words written all over the under side of it. The
writing seemed to have been scratched there with the
point of a knife. It was bright, as though it had just
The fisherman could not read. Poor people did not read
in those days. But he knew that the plate came from the
man in the iron mask. The jailer often served the
prisoner's dinner in silver dishes. The prisoner had
hidden one of the plates, and when he was alone had
written his history on it. Then he had thrown it out of
the window, hoping that some pitying friend might find
The fisherman was frightened almost out of his wits as
he looked at the plate. What if the king should hear
about it! Would he not think that the fisherman was
plotting with the prisoner? Many a poor fellow had been
shut up in a dungeon for less than that. He rowed to
the shore as quickly as possible. He ran to the castle
and called for the governor. The governor was
astonished when he saw the plate.
"Where did you get this?" he asked.
The fisherman told him how it had fallen into his boat.
 "Did you read what is written here?"
"No, sir. Such men as I do not know how to read;" and
the fisherman trembled as he said it.
"Has any one else seen the plate?" asked the governor.
"No one, sir. I held it under my coat and came to the
castle as quickly as possible."
When the governor had made sure that the man was
telling the truth, he sent him away. "You are lucky,"
he said, "not to know how to read. For if you had
learned the secrets written on this plate, you would
never have gone out of this castle."
After that, the man in the iron mask was seen less
often at the window. The tunes which he played on the
guitar were sadder than before. He became quieter day
by day, and at length fell sick.
A doctor was brought to the prison to see what could be
done for him, and it was this doctor who afterwards
wrote an account of the man in the mask. But he never
learned the secret of the prisoner's name, and he
never saw his face.
"He was a fine-looking man, with a dark skin and a very
pleasant voice," said the doctor. "He never spoke of
himself and never complained."
At last, after having been kept in prison twenty-five
years, the man in the iron mask died. His name and the
story of his life will forever remain a mystery.