THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO- III
Pyramus and Thisbe
About two-thirds of the way along the Faubourg Saint-Honore, and in the rear of one of the most imposing mansions in this rich neighborhood, where the various houses vie with each other for elegance of design and magnificence of construction, extended a large garden, where the wide-spreading chestnut-trees raised their heads high above the walls in a solid rampart, and with the coming of every spring scattered a shower of delicate pink and white blossoms into the large stone vases that stood upon the two square pilasters of a curiously wrought iron gate, that dated from the time of Louis XII. This noble entrance, however, in spite of its striking appearance and the graceful effect of the geraniums planted in the two vases, as they waved their variegated leaves in the wind and charmed the eye with their scarlet bloom, had fallen into utter disuse. The proprietors of the mansion had many years before thought it best to confine themselves to the possession of the house itself, with its thickly planted court-yard, opening into the Faubourg Saint-Honore, and to the garden shut in by this gate, which formerly communicated with a fine kitchen-garden of about an acre. For the demon of speculation drew a line, or in other words projected a street, at the farther side of the kitchen-garden. The street was laid out, a name was chosen and posted up on an iron plate, but before construction was begun, it occurred to the possessor of the property that a handsome sum might be obtained for the ground then devoted to fruits and vegetables, by building along the line of the proposed street, and so making it a branch of communication with the Faubourg Saint-Honore itself, one of the most important thoroughfares in the city of Paris.
In matters of speculation, however, though “man proposes,” “money disposes.” From some such difficulty the newly named street died almost in birth, and the purchaser of the kitchen-garden, having paid a high price for it, and being quite unable to find any one willing to take his bargain off his hands without a considerable loss, yet still clinging to the belief that at some future day he should obtain a sum for it that would repay him, not only for his past outlay, but also the interest upon the capital locked up in his new acquisition, contented himself with letting the ground temporarily to some market-gardeners, at a yearly rental of 500 francs. And so, as we have said, the iron gate leading into the kitchen-garden had been closed up and left to the rust, which bade fair before long to eat off its hinges, while to prevent the ignoble glances of the diggers and delvers of the ground from presuming to sully the aristocratic enclosure belonging to the mansion, the gate had been boarded up to a height of six feet. True, the planks were not so closely adjusted but that a hasty peep might be obtained through their interstices; but the strict decorum and rigid propriety of the inhabitants of the house left no grounds for apprehending that advantage would be taken of that circumstance.
Horticulture seemed, however, to have been abandoned in the deserted kitchen-garden; and where cabbages, carrots, radishes, pease, and melons had once flourished, a scanty crop of lucerne alone bore evidence of its being deemed worthy of cultivation. A small, low door gave egress from the walled space we have been describing into the projected street, the ground having been abandoned as unproductive by its various renters, and had now fallen so completely in general estimation as to return not even the one-half per cent it had originally paid. Towards the house the chestnut-trees we have before mentioned rose high above the wall, without in any way affecting the growth of other luxuriant shrubs and flowers that eagerly dressed forward to fill up the vacant spaces, as though asserting their right to enjoy the boon of light and air. At one corner, where the foliage became so thick as almost to shut out day, a large stone bench and sundry rustic seats indicated that this sheltered spot was either in general favor or particular use by some inhabitant of the house, which was faintly discernible through the dense mass of verdure that partially concealed it, though situated but a hundred paces off.
Whoever had selected this retired portion of the grounds as the boundary of a walk, or as a place for meditation, was abundantly justified in the choice by the absence of all glare, the cool, refreshing shade, the screen it afforded from the scorching rays of the sun, that found no entrance there even during the burning days of hottest summer, the incessant and melodious warbling of birds, and the entire removal from either the noise of the street or the bustle of the mansion. On the evening of one of the warmest days spring had yet bestowed on the inhabitants of Paris, might be seen negligently thrown upon the stone bench, a book, a parasol, and a work-basket, from which hung a partly embroidered cambric handkerchief, while at a little distance from these articles was a young woman, standing close to the iron gate, endeavoring to discern something on the other side by means of the openings in the planks,?the earnestness of her attitude and the fixed gaze with which she seemed to seek the object of her wishes, proving how much her feelings were interested in the matter.
At that instant the little side-gate leading from the waste ground to the street was noiselessly opened, and a tall, powerful young man appeared. He was dressed in a common gray blouse and velvet cap, but his carefully arranged hair, beard and mustache, all of the richest and glossiest black, ill accorded with his plebeian attire. After casting a rapid glance around him, in order to assure himself that he was unobserved, he entered by the small gate, and, carefully closing and securing it after him, proceeded with a hurried step towards the barrier.
At the sight of him she expected, though probably not in such a costume, the young woman started in terror, and was about to make a hasty retreat. But the eye of love had already seen, even through the narrow chinks of the wooden palisades, the movement of the white robe, and observed the fluttering of the blue sash. Pressing his lips close to the planks, he exclaimed, “Don’t be alarmed, Valentine?it is I!” Again the timid girl found courage to return to the gate, saying, as she did so, “And why do you come so late to-day? It is almost dinner-time, and I had to use no little diplomacy to get rid of my watchful mother-in-law, my too-devoted maid, and my troublesome brother, who is always teasing me about coming to work at my embroidery, which I am in a fair way never to get done. So pray excuse yourself as well as you can for having made me wait, and, after that, tell me why I see you in a dress so singular that at first I did not recognize you.”
“Dearest Valentine,” said the young man, “the difference between our respective stations makes me fear to offend you by speaking of my love, but yet I cannot find myself in your presence without longing to pour forth my soul, and tell you how fondly I adore you. If it be but to carry away with me the recollection of such sweet moments, I could even thank you for chiding me, for it leaves me a gleam of hope, that if you did not expect me (and that indeed would be worse than vanity to suppose), at least I was in your thoughts. You asked me the cause of my being late, and why I come disguised. I will candidly explain the reason of both, and I trust to your goodness to pardon me. I have chosen a trade.”
“A trade? Oh, Maximilian, how can you jest at a time when we have such deep cause for uneasiness?”
“Heaven keep me from jesting with that which is far dearer to me than life itself! But listen to me, Valentine, and I will tell you all about it. I became weary of ranging fields and scaling walls, and seriously alarmed at the idea suggested by you, that if caught hovering about here your father would very likely have me sent to prison as a thief. That would compromise the honor of the French army, to say nothing of the fact that the continual presence of a captain of Spahis in a place where no warlike projects could be supposed to account for it might well create surprise; so I have become a gardener, and, consequently, adopted the costume of my calling.”
“What excessive nonsense you talk, Maximilian!”
“Nonsense? Pray do not call what I consider the wisest action of my life by such a name. Consider, by becoming a gardener I effectually screen our meetings from all suspicion or danger.”
“I beseech of you, Maximilian, to cease trifling, and tell me what you really mean.”
“Simply, that having ascertained that the piece of ground on which I stand was to let, I made application for it, was readily accepted by the proprietor, and am now master of this fine crop of lucerne. Think of that, Valentine! There is nothing now to prevent my building myself a little hut on my plantation, and residing not twenty yards from you. Only imagine what happiness that would afford me. I can scarcely contain myself at the bare idea. Such felicity seems above all price?as a thing impossible and unattainable. But would you believe that I purchase all this delight, joy, and happiness, for which I would cheerfully have surrendered ten years of my life, at the small cost of 500 francs per annum, paid quarterly? Henceforth we have nothing to fear. I am on my own ground, and have an undoubted right to place a ladder against the wall, and to look over when I please, without having any apprehensions of being taken off by the police as a suspicious character.
I may also enjoy the precious privilege of assuring you of my fond, faithful, and unalterable affection, whenever you visit your favorite bower, unless, indeed, it offends your pride to listen to professions of love from the lips of a poor workingman, clad in a blouse and cap.” A faint cry of mingled pleasure and surprise escaped from the lips of Valentine, who almost instantly said, in a saddened tone, as though some envious cloud darkened the joy which illumined her heart, “Alas, no, Maximilian, this must not be, for many reasons. We should presume too much on our own strength, and, like others, perhaps, be led astray by our blind confidence in each other’s prudence.”
“How can you for an instant entertain so unworthy a thought, dear Valentine? Have I not, from the first blessed hour of our acquaintance, schooled all my words and actions to your sentiments and ideas? And you have, I am sure, the fullest confidence in my honor. When you spoke to me of experiencing a vague and indefinite sense of coming danger, I placed myself blindly and devotedly at your service, asking no other reward than the pleasure of being useful to you; and have I ever since, by word or look, given you cause of regret for having selected me from the numbers that would willingly have sacrificed their lives for you? You told me, my dear Valentine, that you were engaged to M. d’Epinay, and that your father was resolved upon completing the match, and that from his will there was no appeal, as M. de Villefort was never known to change a determination once formed. I kept in the background, as you wished, and waited, not for the decision of your heart or my own, but hoping that providence would graciously interpose in our behalf, and order events in our favor. But what cared I for delays or difficulties, Valentine, as long as you confessed that you loved me, and took pity on me? If you will only repeat that avowal now and then, I can endure anything.”
“Ah, Maximilian, that is the very thing that makes you so bold, and which renders me at once so happy and unhappy, that I frequently ask myself whether it is better for me to endure the harshness of my mother-in-law, and her blind preference for her own child, or to be, as I now am, insensible to any pleasure save such as I find in these meetings, so fraught with danger to both.”
“I will not admit that word,” returned the young man; “it is at once cruel and unjust. Is it possible to find a more submissive slave than myself? You have permitted me to converse with you from time to time, Valentine, but forbidden my ever following you in your walks or elsewhere?have I not obeyed? And since I found means to enter this enclosure to exchange a few words with you through this gate?to be close to you without really seeing you?have I ever asked so much as to touch the hem of your gown or tried to pass this barrier which is but a trifle to one of my youth and strength? Never has a complaint or a murmur escaped me. I have been bound by my promises as rigidly as any knight of olden times. Come, come, dearest Valentine, confess that what I say is true, lest I be tempted to call you unjust.”
“It is true,” said Valentine, as she passed the end of her slender fingers through a small opening in the planks, and permitted Maximilian to press his lips to them, “and you are a true and faithful friend; but still you acted from motives of self-interest, my dear Maximilian, for you well knew that from the moment in which you had manifested an opposite spirit all would have been ended between us. You promised to bestow on me the friendly affection of a brother. For I have no friend but yourself upon earth, who am neglected and forgotten by my father, harassed and persecuted by my mother-in-law, and left to the sole companionship of a paralyzed and speechless old man, whose withered hand can no longer press mine, and who can speak to me with the eye alone, although there still lingers in his heart the warmest tenderness for his poor grandchild. Oh, how bitter a fate is mine, to serve either as a victim or an enemy to all who are stronger than myself, while my only friend and supporter is a living corpse! Indeed, indeed, Maximilian, I am very miserable, and if you love me it must be out of pity.”
“Valentine,” replied the young man, deeply affected, “I will not say you are all I love in the world, for I dearly prize my sister and brother-in-law; but my affection for them is calm and tranquil, in no manner resembling what I feel for you. When I think of you my heart beats fast, the blood burns in my veins, and I can hardly breathe; but I solemnly promise you to restrain all this ardor, this fervor and intensity of feeling, until you yourself shall require me to render them available in serving or assisting you. M. Franz is not expected to return home for a year to come, I am told; in that time many favorable and unforeseen chances may befriend us. Let us, then, hope for the best; hope is so sweet a comforter. Meanwhile, Valentine, while reproaching me with selfishness, think a little what you have been to me?the beautiful but cold resemblance of a marble Venus. What promise of future reward have you made me for all the submission and obedience I have evinced??none whatever. What granted me??scarcely more. You tell me of M. Franz d’Epinay, your betrothed lover, and you shrink from the idea of being his wife; but tell me, Valentine, is there no other sorrow in your heart? You see me devoted to you, body and soul, my life and each warm drop that circles round my heart are consecrated to your service; you know full well that my existence is bound up in yours?that were I to lose you I would not outlive the hour of such crushing misery; yet you speak with calmness of the prospect of your being the wife of another! Oh, Valentine, were I in your place, and did I feel conscious, as you do, of being worshipped, adored, with such a love as mine, a hundred times at least should I have passed my hand between these iron bars, and said, ‘Take this hand, dearest Maximilian, and believe that, living or dead, I am yours?yours only, and forever!'” The poor girl made no reply, but her lover could plainly hear her sobs and tears. A rapid change took place in the young man’s feelings. “Dearest, dearest Valentine,” exclaimed he, “forgive me if I have offended you, and forget the words I spoke if they have unwittingly caused you pain.”
“No, Maximilian, I am not offended,” answered she, “but do you not see what a poor, helpless being
I am, almost a stranger and an outcast in my father’s house, where even he is seldom seen; whose will has been thwarted, and spirits broken, from the age of ten years, beneath the iron rod so sternly held over me; oppressed, mortified, and persecuted, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, no person has cared for, even observed my sufferings, nor have I ever breathed one word on the subject save to yourself. Outwardly and in the eyes of the world, I am surrounded by kindness and affection; but the reverse is the case. The general remark is, ‘Oh, it cannot be expected that one of so stern a character as M. Villefort could lavish the tenderness some fathers do on their daughters. What though she has lost her own mother at a tender age, she has had the happiness to find a second mother in Madame de Villefort.’ The world, however, is mistaken; my father abandons me from utter indifference, while my mother-in-law detests me with a hatred so much the more terrible because it is veiled beneath a continual smile.”
“Hate you, sweet Valentine,” exclaimed the young man; “how is it possible for any one to do that?”
“Alas,” replied the weeping girl, “I am obliged to own that my mother-in-law’s aversion to me arises from a very natural source?her overweening love for her own child, my brother Edward.”
“But why should it?”
“I do not know; but, though unwilling to introduce money matters into our present conversation, I will just say this much?that her extreme dislike to me has its origin there; and I much fear she envies me the fortune I enjoy in right of my mother, and which will be more than doubled at the death of M. and Mme. de Saint-Meran, whose sole heiress I am. Madame de Villefort has nothing of her own, and hates me for being so richly endowed. Alas, how gladly would I exchange the half of this wealth for the happiness of at least sharing my father’s love. God knows, I would prefer sacrificing the whole, so that it would obtain me a happy and affectionate home.”
“I seem to myself as though living a life of bondage, yet at the same time am so conscious of my own weakness that I fear to break the restraint in which I am held, lest I fall utterly helpless. Then, too, my father is not a person whose orders may be infringed with impunity; protected as he is by his high position and firmly established reputation for talent and unswerving integrity, no one could oppose him; he is all-powerful even with the king; he would crush you at a word. Dear Maximilian, believe me when I assure you that if I do not attempt to resist my father’s commands it is more on your account than my own.”
“But why, Valentine, do you persist in anticipating the worst,?why picture so gloomy a future?”
“Because I judge it from the past.”
“Still, consider that although I may not be, strictly speaking, what is termed an illustrious match for you, I am, for many reasons, not altogether so much beneath your alliance. The days when such distinctions were so nicely weighed and considered no longer exist in France, and the first families of the monarchy have intermarried with those of the empire. The aristocracy of the lance has allied itself with the nobility of the cannon. Now I belong to this last-named class; and certainly my prospects of military preferment are most encouraging as well as certain. My fortune, though small, is free and unfettered, and the memory of my late father is respected in our country, Valentine, as that of the most upright and honorable merchant of the city; I say our country, because you were born not far from Marseilles.”
“Don’t speak of Marseilles, I beg of you, Maximilian; that one word brings back my mother to my recollection?my angel mother, who died too soon for myself and all who knew her; but who, after watching over her child during the brief period allotted to her in this world, now, I fondly hope, watches from her home in heaven. Oh, if my mother were still living, there would be nothing to fear, Maximilian, for I would tell her that I loved you, and she would protect us.”
“I fear, Valentine,” replied the lover, “that were she living I should never have had the happiness of knowing you; you would then have been too happy to have stooped from your grandeur to bestow a thought on me.”
“Now it is you who are unjust, Maximilian,” cried Valentine; “but there is one thing I wish to know.”
“And what is that?” inquired the young man, perceiving that Valentine hesitated.
“Tell me truly, Maximilian, whether in former days, when our fathers dwelt at Marseilles, there was ever any misunderstanding between them?”
“Not that I am aware of,” replied the young man, “unless, indeed, any ill-feeling might have arisen from their being of opposite parties?your father was, as you know, a zealous partisan of the Bourbons, while mine was wholly devoted to the emperor; there could not possibly be any other difference between them. But why do you ask?”
“I will tell you,” replied the young girl, “for it is but right you should know. Well, on the day when your appointment as an officer of the Legion of honor was announced in the papers, we were all sitting with my grandfather, M. Noirtier; M. Danglars was there also?you recollect M. Danglars, do you not, Maximilian, the banker, whose horses ran away with my mother-in-law and little brother, and very nearly killed them? While the rest of the company were discussing the approaching marriage of Mademoiselle Danglars, I was reading the paper to my grandfather; but when I came to the paragraph about you, although I had done nothing else but read it over to myself all the morning (you know you had told me all about it the previous evening), I felt so happy, and yet so nervous, at the idea of speaking your name aloud, and before so many people, that I really think I should have passed it over, but for the fear that my doing so might create suspicions as to the cause of my silence; so I summoned up all my courage, and read it as firmly and as steadily as I could.”
“Well, would you believe it? directly my father caught the sound of your name he turned round quite hastily, and, like a poor silly thing, I was so persuaded that every one must be as much affected as myself by the utterance of your name, that I was not surprised to see my father start, and almost tremble; but I even thought (though that surely must have been a mistake) that M. Danglars trembled too.”
“‘Morrel, Morrel,’ cried my father, ‘stop a bit;’ then knitting his brows into a deep frown, he added, ‘surely this cannot be one of the Morrel family who lived at Marseilles, and gave us so much trouble from their violent Bonapartism?I mean about the year 1815.’?’Yes,’ replied M. Danglars, ‘I believe he is the son of the old shipowner.'”
“Indeed,” answered Maximilian; “and what did your father say then, Valentine?”
“Oh, such a dreadful thing, that I don’t dare to tell you.”
“Always tell me everything,” said Maximilian with a smile.
“‘Ah,’ continued my father, still frowning, ‘their idolized emperor treated these madmen as they deserved; he called them ‘food for powder,’ which was precisely all they were good for; and I am delighted to see that the present government have adopted this salutary principle with all its pristine vigor; if Algiers were good for nothing but to furnish the means of carrying so admirable an idea into practice, it would be an acquisition well worthy of struggling to obtain. Though it certainly does cost France somewhat dear to assert her rights in that uncivilized country.'”
“Brutal politics, I must confess.” said Maximilian; “but don’t attach any serious importance, dear, to what your father said. My father was not a bit behind yours in that sort of talk. ‘Why,’ said he, ‘does not the emperor, who has devised so many clever and efficient modes of improving the art of war, organize a regiment of lawyers, judges and legal practitioners, sending them in the hottest fire the enemy could maintain, and using them to save better men?’ You see, my dear, that for picturesque expression and generosity of spirit there is not much to choose between the language of either party. But what did M. Danglars say to this outburst on the part of the procureur?”
“Oh, he laughed, and in that singular manner so peculiar to himself?half-malicious, half-ferocious; he almost immediately got up and took his leave; then, for the first time, I observed the agitation of my grandfather, and I must tell you, Maximilian, that I am the only person capable of discerning emotion in his paralyzed frame. And I suspected that the conversation that had been carried on in his presence (for they always say and do what they like before the dear old man, without the smallest regard for his feelings) had made a strong impression on his mind; for, naturally enough, it must have pained him to hear the emperor he so devotedly loved and served spoken of in that depreciating manner.”
“The name of M. Noirtier,” interposed Maximilian, “is celebrated throughout Europe; he was a statesman of high standing, and you may or may not know, Valentine, that he took a leading part in every Bonapartist conspiracy set on foot during the restoration of the Bourbons.”
“Oh, I have often heard whispers of things that seem to me most strange?the father a Bonapartist, the son a Royalist; what can have been the reason of so singular a difference in parties and politics? But to resume my story; I turned towards my grandfather, as though to question him as to the cause of his emotion; he looked expressively at the newspaper I had been reading. ‘What is the matter, dear grandfather?’ said I, ‘are you pleased?’ He gave me a sign in the affirmative. ‘With what my father said just now?’ He returned a sign in the negative. ‘Perhaps you liked what M. Danglars said?’ Another sign in the negative. ‘Oh, then, you were glad to hear that M. Morrel (I didn’t dare to say Maximilian) had been made an officer of the Legion of Honor?’ He signified assent; only think of the poor old man’s being so pleased to think that you, who were a perfect stranger to him, had been made an officer of the Legion of Honor! Perhaps it was a mere whim on his part, for he is falling, they say, into second childhood, but I love him for showing so much interest in you.”
“How singular,” murmured Maximilian; “your father hates me, while your grandfather, on the contrary?What strange feelings are aroused by politics.”
“Hush,” cried Valentine, suddenly; “some one is coming!” Maximilian leaped at one bound into his crop of lucerne, which he began to pull up in the most ruthless way, under the pretext of being occupied in weeding it.
“Mademoiselle, mademoiselle!” exclaimed a voice from behind the trees. “Madame is searching for you everywhere; there is a visitor in the drawing-room.”
“A visitor?” inquired Valentine, much agitated; “who is it?”
“Some grand personage?a prince I believe they said?the Count of Monte Cristo.”
“I will come directly,” cried Valentine aloud. The name of Monte Cristo sent an electric shock through the young man on the other side of the iron gate, to whom Valentine’s “I am coming” was the customary signal of farewell. “Now, then,” said Maximilian, leaning on the handle of his spade, “I would give a good deal to know how it comes about that the Count of Monte Cristo is acquainted with M. de Villefort.”
It was really the Count of Monte Cristo who had just arrived at Madame de Villefort’s for the purpose of returning the procureur’s visit, and at his name, as may be easily imagined, the whole house was in confusion. Madame de Villefort, who was alone in her drawing-room when the count was announced, desired that her son might be brought thither instantly to renew his thanks to the count; and Edward, who heard this great personage talked of for two whole days, made all possible haste to come to him, not from obedience to his mother, or out of any feeling of gratitude to the count, but from sheer curiosity, and that some chance remark might give him the opportunity for making one of the impertinent speeches which made his mother say,?”Oh, that naughty child! But I can’t be severe with him, he is really so bright.”
After the usual civilities, the count inquired after M. de Villefort. “My husband dines with the chancellor,” replied the young lady; “he has just gone, and I am sure he’ll be exceedingly sorry not to have had the pleasure of seeing you before he went.” Two visitors who were there when the count arrived, having gazed at him with all their eyes, retired after that reasonable delay which politeness admits and curiosity requires. “What is your sister Valentine doing?” inquired Madame de Villefort of Edward; “tell some one to bid her come here, that I may have the honor of introducing her to the count.”
“You have a daughter, then, madame?” inquired the count; “very young, I presume?”
“The daughter of M. de Villefort by his first marriage,” replied the young wife, “a fine well-grown girl.”
“But melancholy,” interrupted Master Edward, snatching the feathers out of the tail of a splendid parroquet that was screaming on its gilded perch, in order to make a plume for his hat. Madame de Villefort merely cried,?”Be still, Edward!” She then added,?”This young madcap is, however, very nearly right, and merely re-echoes what he has heard me say with pain a hundred times; for Mademoiselle de Villefort is, in spite of all we can do to rouse her, of a melancholy disposition and taciturn habit, which frequently injure the effect of her beauty. But what detains her? Go, Edward, and see.”
“Because they are looking for her where she is not to be found.”
“And where are they looking for her?”
“With grandpapa Noirtier.”
“And do you think she is not there?”
“No, no, no, no, no, she is not there,” replied Edward, singing his words.
“And where is she, then? If you know, why don’t you tell?”
“She is under the big chestnut-tree,” replied the spoiled brat, as he gave, in spite of his mother’s commands, live flies to the parrot, which seemed keenly to relish such fare. Madame de Villefort stretched out her hand to ring, intending to direct her waiting-maid to the spot where she would find Valentine, when the young lady herself entered the apartment. She appeared much dejected; and any person who considered her attentively might have observed the traces of recent tears in her eyes.
Valentine, whom we have in the rapid march of our narrative presented to our readers without formally introducing her, was a tall and graceful girl of nineteen, with bright chestnut hair, deep blue eyes, and that reposeful air of quiet distinction which characterized her mother. Her white and slender fingers, her pearly neck, her cheeks tinted with varying hues reminded one of the lovely Englishwomen who have been so poetically compared in their manner to the gracefulness of a swan. She entered the apartment, and seeing near her stepmother the stranger of whom she had already heard so much, saluted him without any girlish awkwardness, or even lowering her eyes, and with an elegance that redoubled the count’s attention. He rose to return the salutation. “Mademoiselle de Villefort, my daughter-in-law,” said Madame de Villefort to Monte Cristo, leaning back on her sofa and motioning towards Valentine with her hand. “And M. de Monte Cristo, King of China, Emperor of Cochin-China,” said the young imp, looking slyly towards his sister.
Madame de Villefort at this really did turn pale, and was very nearly angry with this household plague, who answered to the name of Edward; but the count, on the contrary, smiled, and appeared to look at the boy complacently, which caused the maternal heart to bound again with joy and enthusiasm.
“But, madame,” replied the count, continuing the conversation, and looking by turns at Madame de Villefort and Valentine, “have I not already had the honor of meeting yourself and mademoiselle before? I could not help thinking so just now; the idea came over my mind, and as mademoiselle entered the sight of her was an additional ray of light thrown on a confused remembrance; excuse the remark.”
“I do not think it likely, sir; Mademoiselle de Villefort is not very fond of society, and we very seldom go out,” said the young lady.
“Then it was not in society that I met with mademoiselle or yourself, madame, or this charming little merry boy. Besides, the Parisian world is entirely unknown to me, for, as I believe I told you, I have been in Paris but very few days. No,?but, perhaps, you will permit me to call to mind?stay!” The Count placed his hand on his brow as if to collect his thoughts. “No?it was somewhere?away from here?it was?I do not know?but it appears that this recollection is connected with a lovely sky and some religious fete; mademoiselle was holding flowers in her hand, the interesting boy was chasing a beautiful peacock in a garden, and you, madame, were under the trellis of some arbor. Pray come to my aid, madame; do not these circumstances appeal to your memory?”
“No, indeed,” replied Madame de Villefort; “and yet it appears to me, sir, that if I had met you anywhere, the recollection of you must have been imprinted on my memory.”
“Perhaps the count saw us in Italy,” said Valentine timidly.
“Yes, in Italy; it was in Italy most probably,” replied Monte Cristo; “you have travelled then in Italy, mademoiselle?”
“Yes; madame and I were there two years ago. The doctors, anxious for my lungs, had prescribed the air of Naples. We went by Bologna, Perugia, and Rome.”
“Ah, yes?true, mademoiselle,” exclaimed Monte Cristo as if this simple explanation was sufficient to revive the recollection he sought. “It was at Perugia on Corpus Christi Day, in the garden of the Hotel des Postes, when chance brought us together; you, Madame de Villefort, and her son; I now remember having had the honor of meeting you.”
“I perfectly well remember Perugia, sir, and the Hotel des Postes, and the festival of which you speak,” said Madame de Villefort, “but in vain do I tax my memory, of whose treachery I am ashamed, for I really do not recall to mind that I ever had the pleasure of seeing you before.”
“It is strange, but neither do I recollect meeting with you,” observed Valentine, raising her beautiful eyes to the count.
“But I remember it perfectly,” interposed the darling Edward.
“I will assist your memory, madame,” continued the count; “the day had been burning hot; you were waiting for horses, which were delayed in consequence of the festival. Mademoiselle was walking in the shade of the garden, and your son disappeared in pursuit of the peacock.”
“And I caught it, mamma, don’t you remember?” interposed Edward, “and I pulled three such beautiful feathers out of his tail.”
“You, madame, remained under the arbor; do you not remember, that while you were seated on a stone bench, and while, as I told you, Mademoiselle de Villefort and your young son were absent, you conversed for a considerable time with somebody?”
“Yes, in truth, yes,” answered the young lady, turning very red, “I do remember conversing with a person wrapped in a long woollen mantle; he was a medical man, I think.”
“Precisely so, madame; this man was myself; for a fortnight I had been at that hotel, during which period I had cured my valet de chambre of a fever, and my landlord of the jaundice, so that I really acquired a reputation as a skilful physician. We discoursed a long time, madame, on different subjects; of Perugino, of Raffaelle, of manners, customs, of the famous aquatofana, of which they had told you, I think you said, that certain individuals in Perugia had preserved the secret.”
“Yes, true,” replied Madame de Villefort, somewhat uneasily, “I remember now.”
“I do not recollect now all the various subjects of which we discoursed, madame,” continued the count with perfect calmness; “but I perfectly remember that, falling into the error which others had entertained respecting me, you consulted me as to the health of Mademoiselle de Villefort.”
“Yes, really, sir, you were in fact a medical man,” said Madame de Villefort, “since you had cured the sick.”
“Moliere or Beaumarchais would reply to you, madame, that it was precisely because I was not, that I had cured my patients; for myself, I am content to say to you that I have studied chemistry and the natural sciences somewhat deeply, but still only as an amateur, you understand.”?At this moment the clock struck six. “It is six o’clock,” said Madame de Villefort, evidently agitated. “Valentine, will you not go and see if your grandpapa will have his dinner?” Valentine rose, and saluting the count, left the apartment without speaking.
“Oh, madame,” said the count, when Valentine had left the room, “was it on my account that you sent Mademoiselle de Villefort away?”
“By no means,” replied the young lady quickly; “but this is the hour when we usually give M. Noirtier the unwelcome meal that sustains his pitiful existence. You are aware, sir, of the deplorable condition of my husband’s father?”
“Yes, madame, M. de Villefort spoke of it to me?a paralysis, I think.”
“Alas, yes; the poor old gentleman is entirely helpless; the mind alone is still active in this human machine, and that is faint and flickering, like the light of a lamp about to expire. But excuse me, sir, for talking of our domestic misfortunes; I interrupted you at the moment when you were telling me that you were a skilful chemist.”
“No, madame, I did not say as much as that,” replied the count with a smile; “quite the contrary. I have studied chemistry because, having determined to live in eastern climates I have been desirous of following the example of King Mithridates.”
“Mithridates rex Ponticus,” said the young scamp, as he tore some beautiful portraits out of a splendid album, “the individual who took cream in his cup of poison every morning at breakfast.”
“Edward, you naughty boy,” exclaimed Madame de Villefort, snatching the mutilated book from the urchin’s grasp, “you are positively past bearing; you really disturb the conversation; go, leave us, and join your sister Valentine in dear grandpapa Noirtier’s room.”
“The album,” said Edward sulkily.
“What do you mean??the album!”
“I want the album.”
“How dare you tear out the drawings?”
“Oh, it amuses me.”
“Go?go at once.”
“I won’t go unless you give me the album,” said the boy, seating himself doggedly in an arm-chair, according to his habit of never giving way.
“Take it, then, and pray disturb us no longer,” said Madame de Villefort, giving the album to Edward, who then went towards the door, led by his mother. The count followed her with his eyes.
“Let us see if she shuts the door after him,” he muttered. Madame de Villefort closed the door carefully after the child, the count appearing not to notice her; then casting a scrutinizing glance around the chamber, the young wife returned to her chair, in which she seated herself. “Allow me to observe, madame,” said the count, with that kind tone he could assume so well, “you are really very severe with that dear clever child.”
“Oh, sometimes severity is quite necessary,” replied Madame de Villefort, with all a mother’s real firmness.
“It was his Cornelius Nepos that Master Edward was repeating when he referred to King Mithridates,” continued the count, “and you interrupted him in a quotation which proves that his tutor has by no means neglected him, for your son is really advanced for his years.”
“The fact is, count,” answered the mother, agreeably flattered, “he has great aptitude, and learns all that is set before him. He has but one fault, he is somewhat wilful; but really, on referring for the moment to what he said, do you truly believe that Mithridates used these precautions, and that these precautions were efficacious?”
“I think so, madame, because I myself have made use of them, that I might not be poisoned at Naples, at Palermo, and at Smyrna?that is to say, on three several occasions when, but for these precautions, I must have lost my life.”
“And your precautions were successful?”
“Yes, I remember now your mentioning to me at Perugia something of this sort.”
“Indeed?” said the count with an air of surprise, remarkably well counterfeited; “I really did not remember.”
“I inquired of you if poisons acted equally, and with the same effect, on men of the North as on men of the South; and you answered me that the cold and sluggish habits of the North did not present the same aptitude as the rich and energetic temperaments of the natives of the South.”
“And that is the case,” observed Monte Cristo. “I have seen Russians devour, without being visibly inconvenienced, vegetable substances which would infallibly have killed a Neapolitan or an Arab.”
“And you really believe the result would be still more sure with us than in the East, and in the midst of our fogs and rains a man would habituate himself more easily than in a warm latitude to this progressive absorption of poison?”
“Certainly; it being at the same time perfectly understood that he should have been duly fortified against the poison to which he had not been accustomed.”
“Yes, I understand that; and how would you habituate yourself, for instance, or rather, how did you habituate yourself to it?”
“Oh, very easily. Suppose you knew beforehand the poison that would be made use of against you; suppose the poison was, for instance, brucine”?
“Brucine is extracted from the false angostura [*] is it not?” inquired Madame de Villefort.
“Precisely, madame,” replied Monte Cristo; “but I perceive I have not much to teach you. Allow me to compliment you on your knowledge; such learning is very rare among ladies.”
* Brucoea ferruginea.
“Oh, I am aware of that,” said Madame de Villefort; “but I have a passion for the occult sciences, which speak to the imagination like poetry, and are reducible to figures, like an algebraic equation; but go on, I beg of you; what you say interests me to the greatest degree.”
“Well,” replied Monte Cristo “suppose, then, that this poison was brucine, and you were to take a milligramme the first day, two milligrammes the second day, and so on. Well, at the end of ten days you would have taken a centigramme, at the end of twenty days, increasing another milligramme, you would have taken three hundred centigrammes; that is to say, a dose which you would support without inconvenience, and which would be very dangerous for any other person who had not taken the same precautions as yourself. Well, then, at the end of a month, when drinking water from the same carafe, you would kill the person who drank with you, without your perceiving, otherwise than from slight inconvenience, that there was any poisonous substance mingled with this water.”
“Do you know any other counter-poisons?”
“I do not.”
“I have often read, and read again, the history of Mithridates,” said Madame de Villefort in a tone of reflection, “and had always considered it a fable.”
“No, madame, contrary to most history, it is true; but what you tell me, madame, what you inquire of me, is not the result of a chance query, for two years ago you asked me the same questions, and said then, that for a very long time this history of Mithridates had occupied your mind.”
“True, sir. The two favorite studies of my youth were botany and mineralogy, and subsequently, when I learned that the use of simples frequently explained the whole history of a people, and the entire life of individuals in the East, as flowers betoken and symbolize a love affair, I have regretted that I was not a man, that I might have been a Flamel, a Fontana, or a Cabanis.”
“And the more, madame,” said Monte Cristo, “as the Orientals do not confine themselves, as did Mithridates, to make a cuirass of his poisons, but they also made them a dagger. Science becomes, in their hands, not only a defensive weapon, but still more frequently an offensive one; the one serves against all their physical sufferings, the other against all their enemies. With opium, belladonna, brucaea, snake-wood, and the cherry-laurel, they put to sleep all who stand in their way. There is not one of those women, Egyptian, Turkish, or Greek, whom here you call ‘good women,’ who do not know how, by means of chemistry, to stupefy a doctor, and in psychology to amaze a confessor.”
“Really,” said Madame de Villefort, whose eyes sparkled with strange fire at this conversation.
“Oh, yes, indeed, madame,” continued Monte Cristo, “the secret dramas of the East begin with a love philtre and end with a death potion?begin with paradise and end with?hell. There are as many elixirs of every kind as there are caprices and peculiarities in the physical and moral nature of humanity; and I will say further?the art of these chemists is capable with the utmost precision to accommodate and proportion the remedy and the bane to yearnings for love or desires for vengeance.”
“But, sir,” remarked the young woman, “these Eastern societies, in the midst of which you have passed a portion of your existence, are as fantastic as the tales that come from their strange land. A man can easily be put out of the way there, then; it is, indeed, the Bagdad and Bassora of the ‘Thousand and One Nights.’ The sultans and viziers who rule over society there, and who constitute what in France we call the government, are really Haroun-al-Raschids and Giaffars, who not only pardon a poisoner, but even make him a prime minister, if his crime has been an ingenious one, and who, under such circumstances, have the whole story written in letters of gold, to divert their hours of idleness and ennui.”
“By no means, madame; the fanciful exists no longer in the East. There, disguised under other names, and concealed under other costumes, are police agents, magistrates, attorneys-general, and bailiffs. They hang, behead, and impale their criminals in the most agreeable possible manner; but some of these, like clever rogues, have contrived to escape human justice, and succeed in their fraudulent enterprises by cunning stratagems. Amongst us a simpleton, possessed by the demon of hate or cupidity, who has an enemy to destroy, or some near relation to dispose of, goes straight to the grocer’s or druggist’s, gives a false name, which leads more easily to his detection than his real one, and under the pretext that the rats prevent him from sleeping, purchases five or six grammes of arsenic?if he is really a cunning fellow, he goes to five or six different druggists or grocers, and thereby becomes only five or six times more easily traced;?then, when he has acquired his specific, he administers duly to his enemy, or near kinsman, a dose of arsenic which would make a mammoth or mastodon burst, and which, without rhyme or reason, makes his victim utter groans which alarm the entire neighborhood. Then arrive a crowd of policemen and constables. They fetch a doctor, who opens the dead body, and collects from the entrails and stomach a quantity of arsenic in a spoon. Next day a hundred newspapers relate the fact, with the names of the victim and the murderer. The same evening the grocer or grocers, druggist or druggists, come and say, ‘It was I who sold the arsenic to the gentleman;’ and rather than not recognize the guilty purchaser, they will recognize twenty. Then the foolish criminal is taken, imprisoned, interrogated, confronted, confounded, condemned, and cut off by hemp or steel; or if she be a woman of any consideration, they lock her up for life. This is the way in which you Northerns understand chemistry, madame. Desrues was, however, I must confess, more skilful.”
“What would you have, sir?” said the lady, laughing; “we do what we can. All the world has not the secret of the Medicis or the Borgias.”
“Now,” replied the count, shrugging his shoulders, “shall I tell you the cause of all these stupidities? It is because, at your theatres, by what at least I could judge by reading the pieces they play, they see persons swallow the contents of a phial, or suck the button of a ring, and fall dead instantly. Five minutes afterwards the curtain falls, and the spectators depart. They are ignorant of the consequences of the murder; they see neither the police commissary with his badge of office, nor the corporal with his four men; and so the poor fools believe that the whole thing is as easy as lying. But go a little way from France?go either to Aleppo or Cairo, or only to Naples or Rome, and you will see people passing by you in the streets?people erect, smiling, and fresh-colored, of whom Asmodeus, if you were holding on by the skirt of his mantle, would say, ‘That man was poisoned three weeks ago; he will be a dead man in a month.'”
“Then,” remarked Madame de Villefort, “they have again discovered the secret of the famous aquatofana that they said was lost at Perugia.”
“Ah, but madame, does mankind ever lose anything? The arts change about and make a tour of the world; things take a different name, and the vulgar do not follow them?that is all; but there is always the same result. Poisons act particularly on some organ or another?one on the stomach, another on the brain, another on the intestines. Well, the poison brings on a cough, the cough an inflammation of the lungs, or some other complaint catalogued in the book of science, which, however, by no means precludes it from being decidedly mortal; and if it were not, would be sure to become so, thanks to the remedies applied by foolish doctors, who are generally bad chemists, and which will act in favor of or against the malady, as you please; and then there is a human being killed according to all the rules of art and skill, and of whom justice learns nothing, as was said by a terrible chemist of my acquaintance, the worthy Abbe Adelmonte of Taormina, in Sicily, who has studied these national phenomena very profoundly.”
“It is quite frightful, but deeply interesting,” said the young lady, motionless with attention. “I thought, I must confess, that these tales, were inventions of the Middle Ages.”
“Yes, no doubt, but improved upon by ours. What is the use of time, rewards of merit, medals, crosses, Monthyon prizes, if they do not lead society towards more complete perfection? Yet man will never be perfect until he learns to create and destroy; he does know how to destroy, and that is half the battle.”
“So,” added Madame de Villefort, constantly returning to her object, “the poisons of the Borgias, the Medicis, the Renes, the Ruggieris, and later, probably, that of Baron de Trenck, whose story has been so misused by modern drama and romance”?
“Were objects of art, madame, and nothing more,” replied the count. “Do you suppose that the real savant addresses himself stupidly to the mere individual? By no means. Science loves eccentricities, leaps and bounds, trials of strength, fancies, if I may be allowed so to term them. Thus, for instance, the excellent Abbe Adelmonte, of whom I spoke just now, made in this way some marvellous experiments.”
“Yes; I will mention one to you. He had a remarkably fine garden, full of vegetables, flowers, and fruit. From amongst these vegetables he selected the most simple?a cabbage, for instance. For three days he watered this cabbage with a distillation of arsenic; on the third, the cabbage began to droop and turn yellow. At that moment he cut it. In the eyes of everybody it seemed fit for table, and preserved its wholesome appearance. It was only poisoned to the Abbe Adelmonte. He then took the cabbage to the room where he had rabbits?for the Abbe Adelmonte had a collection of rabbits, cats, and guinea-pigs, fully as fine as his collection of vegetables, flowers, and fruit. Well, the Abbe Adelmonte took a rabbit, and made it eat a leaf of the cabbage. The rabbit died. What magistrate would find, or even venture to insinuate, anything against this? What procureur has ever ventured to draw up an accusation against M. Magendie or M. Flourens, in consequence of the rabbits, cats, and guinea-pigs they have killed??not one. So, then, the rabbit dies, and justice takes no notice. This rabbit dead, the Abbe Adelmonte has its entrails taken out by his cook and thrown on the dunghill; on this dunghill is a hen, who, pecking these intestines, is in her turn taken ill, and dies next day. At the moment when she is struggling in the convulsions of death, a vulture is flying by (there are a good many vultures in Adelmonte’s country); this bird darts on the dead fowl, and carries it away to a rock, where it dines off its prey. Three days afterwards, this poor vulture, which has been very much indisposed since that dinner, suddenly feels very giddy while flying aloft in the clouds, and falls heavily into a fish-pond. The pike, eels, and carp eat greedily always, as everybody knows?well, they feast on the vulture. Now suppose that next day, one of these eels, or pike, or carp, poisoned at the fourth remove, is served up at your table. Well, then, your guest will be poisoned at the fifth remove, and die, at the end of eight or ten days, of pains in the intestines, sickness, or abscess of the pylorus. The doctors open the body and say with an air of profound learning, ‘The subject has died of a tumor on the liver, or of typhoid fever!'”
“But,” remarked Madame de Villefort, “all these circumstances which you link thus to one another may be broken by the least accident; the vulture may not see the fowl, or may fall a hundred yards from the fish-pond.”
“Ah, that is where the art comes in. To be a great chemist in the East, one must direct chance; and this is to be achieved.”?Madame de Villefort was in deep thought, yet listened attentively. “But,” she exclaimed, suddenly, “arsenic is indelible, indestructible; in whatsoever way it is absorbed, it will be found again in the body of the victim from the moment when it has been taken in sufficient quantity to cause death.”
“Precisely so,” cried Monte Cristo?”precisely so; and this is what I said to my worthy Adelmonte. He reflected, smiled, and replied to me by a Sicilian proverb, which I believe is also a French proverb, ‘My son, the world was not made in a day?but in seven. Return on Sunday.’ On the Sunday following I did return to him. Instead of having watered his cabbage with arsenic, he had watered it this time with a solution of salts, having their basis in strychnine, strychnos colubrina, as the learned term it. Now, the cabbage had not the slightest appearance of disease in the world, and the rabbit had not the smallest distrust; yet, five minutes afterwards, the rabbit was dead. The fowl pecked at the rabbit, and the next day was a dead hen. This time we were the vultures; so we opened the bird, and this time all special symptoms had disappeared, there were only general symptoms. There was no peculiar indication in any organ?an excitement of the nervous system?that was it; a case of cerebral congestion?nothing more. The fowl had not been poisoned?she had died of apoplexy. Apoplexy is a rare disease among fowls, I believe, but very common among men.” Madame de Villefort appeared more and more thoughtful.
“It is very fortunate,” she observed, “that such substances could only be prepared by chemists; otherwise, all the world would be poisoning each other.”
“By chemists and persons who have a taste for chemistry,” said Monte Cristo carelessly.
“And then,” said Madame de Villefort, endeavoring by a struggle, and with effort, to get away from her thoughts, “however skilfully it is prepared, crime is always crime, and if it avoid human scrutiny, it does not escape the eye of God. The Orientals are stronger than we are in cases of conscience, and, very prudently, have no hell?that is the point.”
“Really, madame, this is a scruple which naturally must occur to a pure mind like yours, but which would easily yield before sound reasoning. The bad side of human thought will always be defined by the paradox of Jean Jacques Rousseau,?you remember,?the mandarin who is killed five hundred leagues off by raising the tip of the finger. Man’s whole life passes in doing these things, and his intellect is exhausted by reflecting on them. You will find very few persons who will go and brutally thrust a knife in the heart of a fellow-creature, or will administer to him, in order to remove him from the surface of the globe on which we move with life and animation, that quantity of arsenic of which we just now talked. Such a thing is really out of rule?eccentric or stupid. To attain such a point, the blood must be heated to thirty-six degrees, the pulse be, at least, at ninety, and the feelings excited beyond the ordinary limit. But suppose one pass, as is permissible in philology, from the word itself to its softened synonym, then, instead of committing an ignoble assassination you make an ‘elimination;’ you merely and simply remove from your path the individual who is in your way, and that without shock or violence, without the display of the sufferings which, in the case of becoming a punishment, make a martyr of the victim, and a butcher, in every sense of the word, of him who inflicts them. Then there will be no blood, no groans, no convulsions, and above all, no consciousness of that horrid and compromising moment of accomplishing the act,?then one escapes the clutch of the human law, which says, ‘Do not disturb society!’ This is the mode in which they manage these things, and succeed in Eastern climes, where there are grave and phlegmatic persons who care very little for the questions of time in conjunctures of importance.”
“Yet conscience remains,” remarked Madame de Villefort in an agitated voice, and with a stifled sigh.
“Yes,” answered Monte Cristo “happily, yes, conscience does remain; and if it did not, how wretched we should be! After every action requiring exertion, it is conscience that saves us, for it supplies us with a thousand good excuses, of which we alone are judges; and these reasons, howsoever excellent in producing sleep, would avail us but very little before a tribunal, when we were tried for our lives. Thus Richard III., for instance, was marvellously served by his conscience after the putting away of the two children of Edward IV.; in fact, he could say, ‘These two children of a cruel and persecuting king, who have inherited the vices of their father, which I alone could perceive in their juvenile propensities?these two children are impediments in my way of promoting the happiness of the English people, whose unhappiness they (the children) would infallibly have caused.’ Thus was Lady Macbeth served by her conscience, when she sought to give her son, and not her husband (whatever Shakespeare may say), a throne. Ah, maternal love is a great virtue, a powerful motive?so powerful that it excuses a multitude of things, even if, after Duncan’s death, Lady Macbeth had been at all pricked by her conscience.”
Madame de Villefort listened with avidity to these appalling maxims and horrible paradoxes, delivered by the count with that ironical simplicity which was peculiar to him. After a moment’s silence, the lady inquired, “Do you know, my dear count,” she said, “that you are a very terrible reasoner, and that you look at the world through a somewhat distempered medium? Have you really measured the world by scrutinies, or through alembics and crucibles? For you must indeed be a great chemist, and the elixir you administered to my son, which recalled him to life almost instantaneously”?
“Oh, do not place any reliance on that, madame; one drop of that elixir sufficed to recall life to a dying child, but three drops would have impelled the blood into his lungs in such a way as to have produced most violent palpitations; six would have suspended his respiration, and caused syncope more serious than that in which he was; ten would have destroyed him. You know, madame, how suddenly I snatched him from those phials which he so imprudently touched?”
“Is it then so terrible a poison?”
“Oh, no. In the first place, let us agree that the word poison does not exist, because in medicine use is made of the most violent poisons, which become, according as they are employed, most salutary remedies.”
“What, then, is it?”
“A skilful preparation of my friend’s the worthy Abbe Adelmonte, who taught me the use of it.”
“Oh,” observed Madame de Villefort, “it must be an admirable anti-spasmodic.”
“Perfect, madame, as you have seen,” replied the count; “and I frequently make use of it?with all possible prudence though, be it observed,” he added with a smile of intelligence.
“Most assuredly,” responded Madame de Villefort in the same tone. “As for me, so nervous, and so subject to fainting fits, I should require a Doctor Adelmonte to invent for me some means of breathing freely and tranquillizing my mind, in the fear I have of dying some fine day of suffocation. In the meanwhile, as the thing is difficult to find in France, and your abbe is not probably disposed to make a journey to Paris on my account, I must continue to use Monsieur Planche’s anti-spasmodics; and mint and Hoffman’s drops are among my favorite remedies. Here are some lozenges which I have made up on purpose; they are compounded doubly strong.” Monte Cristo opened the tortoise-shell box, which the lady presented to him, and inhaled the odor of the lozenges with the air of an amateur who thoroughly appreciated their composition. “They are indeed exquisite,” he said; “but as they are necessarily submitted to the process of deglutition?a function which it is frequently impossible for a fainting person to accomplish?I prefer my own specific.”
“Undoubtedly, and so should I prefer it, after the effects I have seen produced; but of course it is a secret, and I am not so indiscreet as to ask it of you.”
“But I,” said Monte Cristo, rising as he spoke?”I am gallant enough to offer it you.”
“How kind you are.”
“Only remember one thing?a small dose is a remedy, a large one is poison. One drop will restore life, as you have seen; five or six will inevitably kill, and in a way the more terrible inasmuch as, poured into a glass of wine, it would not in the slightest degree affect its flavor. But I say no more, madame; it is really as if I were prescribing for you.” The clock struck half-past six, and a lady was announced, a friend of Madame de Villefort, who came to dine with her.
“If I had had the honor of seeing you for the third or fourth time, count, instead of only for the second,” said Madame de Villefort; “if I had had the honor of being your friend, instead of only having the happiness of being under an obligation to you, I should insist on detaining you to dinner, and not allow myself to be daunted by a first refusal.”
“A thousand thanks, madame,” replied Monte Cristo “but I have an engagement which I cannot break. I have promised to escort to the Academie a Greek princess of my acquaintance who has never seen your grand opera, and who relies on me to conduct her thither.”
“Adieu, then, sir, and do not forget the prescription.”
“Ah, in truth, madame, to do that I must forget the hour’s conversation I have had with you, which is indeed impossible.” Monte Cristo bowed, and left the house. Madame de Villefort remained immersed in thought. “He is a very strange man,” she said, “and in my opinion is himself the Adelmonte he talks about.” As to Monte Cristo the result had surpassed his utmost expectations. “Good,” said he, as he went away; “this is a fruitful soil, and I feel certain that the seed sown will not be cast on barren ground.” Next morning, faithful to his promise, he sent the prescription requested.
Robert le Diable
The pretext of an opera engagement was so much the more feasible, as there chanced to be on that very night a more than ordinary attraction at the Academie Royale.
Levasseur, who had been suffering under severe illness, made his reappearance in the character of Bertrand, and, as usual, the announcement of the most admired production of the favorite composer of the day had attracted a brilliant and fashionable audience. Morcerf, like most other young men of rank and fortune, had his orchestra stall, with the certainty of always finding a seat in at least a dozen of the principal boxes occupied by persons of his acquaintance; he had, moreover, his right of entry into the omnibus box. Chateau-Renaud rented a stall beside his own, while Beauchamp, as a journalist, had unlimited range all over the theatre. It happened that on this particular night the minister’s box was placed at the disposal of Lucien Debray, who offered it to the Comte de Morcerf, who again, upon his mother’s rejection of it, sent it to Danglars, with an intimation that he should probably do himself the honor of joining the baroness and her daughter during the evening, in the event of their accepting the box in question. The ladies received the offer with too much pleasure to dream of a refusal. To no class of persons is the presentation of a gratuitous opera-box more acceptable than to the wealthy millionaire, who still hugs economy while boasting of carrying a king’s ransom in his waistcoat pocket.
Danglars had, however, protested against showing himself in a ministerial box, declaring that his political principles, and his parliamentary position as member of the opposition party would not permit him so to commit himself; the baroness had, therefore, despatched a note to Lucien Debray, bidding him call for them, it being wholly impossible for her to go alone with Eugenie to the opera. There is no gainsaying the fact that a very unfavorable construction would have been put upon the circumstance if the two women had gone without escort, while the addition of a third, in the person of her mother’s admitted lover, enabled Mademoiselle Danglars to defy malice and ill-nature. One must take the world as one finds it.
The curtain rose, as usual, to an almost empty house, it being one of the absurdities of Parisian fashion never to appear at the opera until after the beginning of the performance, so that the first act is generally played without the slightest attention being paid to it, that part of the audience already assembled being too much occupied in observing the fresh arrivals, while nothing is heard but the noise of opening and shutting doors, and the buzz of conversation. “Surely,” said Albert, as the door of a box on the first circle opened, “that must be the Countess G??.”
“And who is the Countess G???” inquired Chateau-Renaud.
“What a question! Now, do you know, baron, I have a great mind to pick a quarrel with you for asking it; as if all the world did not know who the Countess G?? was.”
“Ah, to be sure,” replied Chateau-Renaud; “the lovely Venetian, is it not?”
“Herself.” At this moment the countess perceived Albert, and returned his salutation with a smile. “You know her, it seems?” said Chateau-Renaud.
“Franz introduced me to her at Rome,” replied Albert.
“Well, then, will you do as much for me in Paris as Franz did for you in Rome?”
There was a cry of “Shut up!” from the audience. This manifestation on the part of the spectators of their wish to be allowed to hear the music, produced not the slightest effect on the two young men, who continued their conversation. “The countess was present at the races in the Champ-de-Mars,” said Chateau-Renaud.
“Bless me, I quite forgot the races. Did you bet?”
“Oh, merely a paltry fifty louis.”
“And who was the winner?”
“Nautilus. I staked on him.”
“But there were three races, were there not?”
“Yes; there was the prize given by the Jockey Club?a gold cup, you know?and a very singular circumstance occurred about that race.”
“What was it?”
“Oh, shut up!” again interposed some of the audience.
“Why, it was won by a horse and rider utterly unknown on the course.”
“Is that possible?”
“True as day. The fact was, nobody had observed a horse entered by the name of Vampa, or that of a jockey styled Job, when, at the last moment, a splendid roan, mounted by a jockey about as big as your fist, presented themselves at the starting-post. They were obliged to stuff at least twenty pounds weight of shot in the small rider’s pockets, to make him weight; but with all that he outstripped Ariel and Barbare, against whom he ran, by at least three whole lengths.”
“And was it not found out at last to whom the horse and jockey belonged?”
“You say that the horse was entered under the name of Vampa?”
“Exactly; that was the title.”
“Then,” answered Albert, “I am better informed than you are, and know who the owner of that horse was.”
“Shut up, there!” cried the pit in chorus. And this time the tone and manner in which the command was given, betokened such growing hostility that the two young men perceived, for the first time, that the mandate was addressed to them. Leisurely turning round, they calmly scrutinized the various countenances around them, as though demanding some one person who would take upon himself the responsibility of what they deemed excessive impertinence; but as no one responded to the challenge, the friends turned again to the front of the theatre, and affected to busy themselves with the stage. At this moment the door of the minister’s box opened, and Madame Danglars, accompanied by her daughter, entered, escorted by Lucien Debray, who assiduously conducted them to their seats.
“Ha, ha,” said Chateau-Renaud, “here comes some friends of yours, viscount! What are you looking at there? don’t you see they are trying to catch your eye?” Albert turned round, just in time to receive a gracious wave of the fan from the baroness; as for Mademoiselle Eugenie, she scarcely vouchsafed to waste the glances of her large black eyes even upon the business of the stage. “I tell you what, my dear fellow,” said Chateau-Renaud, “I cannot imagine what objection you can possibly have to Mademoiselle Danglars?that is, setting aside her want of ancestry and somewhat inferior rank, which by the way I don’t think you care very much about. Now, barring all that, I mean to say she is a deuced fine girl!”
“Handsome, certainly,” replied Albert, “but not to my taste, which I confess, inclines to something softer, gentler, and more feminine.”
“Ah, well,” exclaimed Chateau-Renaud, who because he had seen his thirtieth summer fancied himself duly warranted in assuming a sort of paternal air with his more youthful friend, “you young people are never satisfied; why, what would you have more? your parents have chosen you a bride built on the model of Diana, the huntress, and yet you are not content.”
“No, for that very resemblance affrights me; I should have liked something more in the manner of the Venus of Milo or Capua; but this chase-loving Diana continually surrounded by her nymphs gives me a sort of alarm lest she should some day bring on me the fate of Actaeon.”
And, indeed, it required but one glance at Mademoiselle Danglars to comprehend the justness of Morcerf’s remark?she was beautiful, but her beauty was of too marked and decided a character to please a fastidious taste; her hair was raven black, but its natural waves seemed somewhat rebellious; her eyes, of the same color as her hair, were surmounted by well-arched brows, whose great defect, however, consisted in an almost habitual frown, while her whole physiognomy wore that expression of firmness and decision so little in accordance with the gentler attributes of her sex?her nose was precisely what a sculptor would have chosen for a chiselled Juno. Her mouth, which might have been found fault with as too large, displayed teeth of pearly whiteness, rendered still more conspicuous by the brilliant carmine of her lips, contrasting vividly with her naturally pale complexion. But that which completed the almost masculine look Morcerf found so little to his taste, was a dark mole, of much larger dimensions than these freaks of nature generally are, placed just at the corner of her mouth; and the effect tended to increase the expression of self-dependence that characterized her countenance. The rest of Mademoiselle Eugenie’s person was in perfect keeping with the head just described; she, indeed, reminded one of Diana, as Chateau-Renaud observed, but her bearing was more haughty and resolute. As regarded her attainments, the only fault to be found with them was the same that a fastidious connoisseur might have found with her beauty, that they were somewhat too erudite and masculine for so young a person. She was a perfect linguist, a first-rate artist, wrote poetry, and composed music; to the study of the latter she professed to be entirely devoted, following it with an indefatigable perseverance, assisted by a schoolfellow,?a young woman without fortune whose talent promised to develop into remarkable powers as a singer. It was rumored that she was an object of almost paternal interest to one of the principal composers of the day, who excited her to spare no pains in the cultivation of her voice, which might hereafter prove a source of wealth and independence. But this counsel effectually decided Mademoiselle Danglars never to commit herself by being seen in public with one destined for a theatrical life; and acting upon this principle, the banker’s daughter, though perfectly willing to allow Mademoiselle Louise d’Armilly (that was the name of the young virtuosa) to practice with her through the day, took especial care not to be seen in her company. Still, though not actually received at the Hotel Danglars in the light of an acknowledged friend, Louise was treated with far more kindness and consideration than is usually bestowed on a governess.
The curtain fell almost immediately after the entrance of Madame Danglars into her box, the band quitted the orchestra for the accustomed half-hour’s interval allowed between the acts, and the audience were left at liberty to promenade the salon or lobbies, or to pay and receive visits in their respective boxes. Morcerf and Chateau-Renaud were amongst the first to avail themselves of this permission. For an instant the idea struck Madame Danglars that this eagerness on the part of the young viscount arose from his impatience to join her party, and she whispered her expectations to her daughter, that Albert was hurrying to pay his respects to them. Mademoiselle Eugenie, however, merely returned a dissenting movement of the head, while, with a cold smile, she directed the attention of her mother to an opposite box on the first circle, in which sat the Countess G??, and where Morcerf had just made his appearance. “So we meet again, my travelling friend, do we?” cried the countess, extending her hand to him with all the warmth and cordiality of an old acquaintance; “it was really very good of you to recognize me so quickly, and still more so to bestow your first visit on me.”
“Be assured,” replied Albert, “that if I had been aware of your arrival in Paris, and had known your address, I should have paid my respects to you before this. Allow me to introduce my friend, Baron de Chateau-Renaud, one of the few true gentlemen now to be found in France, and from whom I have just learned that you were a spectator of the races in the Champ-de-Mars, yesterday.” Chateau-Renaud bowed to the countess.
“So you were at the races, baron?” inquired the countess eagerly.
“Well, then,” pursued Madame G?? with considerable animation, “you can probably tell me who won the Jockey Club stakes?”
“I am sorry to say I cannot,” replied the baron; “and I was just asking the same question of Albert.”
“Are you very anxious to know, countess?” asked Albert.
“To know what?”
“The name of the owner of the winning horse?”
“Excessively; only imagine?but do tell me, viscount, whether you really are acquainted with it or no?”
“I beg your pardon, madame, but you were about to relate some story, were you not? You said, ‘only imagine,’?and then paused. Pray continue.”
“Well, then, listen. You must know I felt so interested in the splendid roan horse, with his elegant little rider, so tastefully dressed in a pink satin jacket and cap, that I could not help praying for their success with as much earnestness as though the half of my fortune were at stake; and when I saw them outstrip all the others, and come to the winning-post in such gallant style, I actually clapped my hands with joy. Imagine my surprise, when, upon returning home, the first object I met on the staircase was the identical jockey in the pink jacket! I concluded that, by some singular chance, the owner of the winning horse must live in the same hotel as myself; but, as I entered my apartments, I beheld the very gold cup awarded as a prize to the unknown horse and rider. Inside the cup was a small piece of paper, on which were written these words?’From Lord Ruthven to Countess G??.'”
“Precisely; I was sure of it,” said Morcerf.
“Sure of what?”
“That the owner of the horse was Lord Ruthven himself.”
“What Lord Ruthven do you mean?”
“Why, our Lord Ruthven?the Vampire of the Salle Argentino!”
“Is it possible?” exclaimed the countess; “is he here in Paris?”
“To be sure,?why not?”
“And you visit him??meet him at your own house and elsewhere?”
“I assure you he is my most intimate friend, and M. de Chateau-Renaud has also the honor of his acquaintance.”
“But why are you so sure of his being the winner of the Jockey Club prize?”
“Was not the winning horse entered by the name of Vampa?”
“What of that?”
“Why, do you not recollect the name of the celebrated bandit by whom I was made prisoner?”
“And from whose hands the count extricated me in so wonderful a manner?”
“To be sure, I remember it all now.”
“He called himself Vampa. You see, it’s evident where the count got the name.”
“But what could have been his motive for sending the cup to me?”
“In the first place, because I had spoken much of you to him, as you may believe; and in the second, because he delighted to see a countrywoman take so lively an interest in his success.”
“I trust and hope you never repeated to the count all the foolish remarks we used to make about him?”
“I should not like to affirm upon oath that I have not. Besides, his presenting you the cup under the name of Lord Ruthven”?
“Oh, but that is dreadful! Why, the man must owe me a fearful grudge.”
“Does his action appear like that of an enemy?”
“No; certainly not.”
“And so he is in Paris?”
“And what effect does he produce?”
“Why,” said Albert, “he was talked about for a week; then the coronation of the queen of England took place, followed by the theft of Mademoiselle Mars’s diamonds; and so people talked of something else.”
“My good fellow,” said Chateau-Renaud, “the count is your friend and you treat him accordingly. Do not believe what Albert is telling you, countess; so far from the sensation excited in the Parisian circles by the appearance of the Count of Monte Cristo having abated, I take upon myself to declare that it is as strong as ever. His first astounding act upon coming amongst us was to present a pair of horses, worth 32,000 francs, to Madame Danglars; his second, the almost miraculous preservation of Madame de Villefort’s life; now it seems that he has carried off the prize awarded by the Jockey Club. I therefore maintain, in spite of Morcerf, that not only is the count the object of interest at this present moment, but also that he will continue to be so for a month longer if he pleases to exhibit an eccentricity of conduct which, after all, may be his ordinary mode of existence.”
“Perhaps you are right,” said Morcerf; “meanwhile, who is in the Russian ambassador’s box?”
“Which box do you mean?” asked the countess.
“The one between the pillars on the first tier?it seems to have been fitted up entirely afresh.”
“Did you observe any one during the first act?” asked Chateau-Renaud.
“In that box.”
“No,” replied the countess, “it was certainly empty during the first act;” then, resuming the subject of their previous conversation, she said, “And so you really believe it was your mysterious Count of Monte Cristo that gained the prize?”
“I am sure of it.”
“And who afterwards sent the cup to me?”
“But I don’t know him,” said the countess; “I have a great mind to return it.”
“Do no such thing, I beg of you; he would only send you another, formed of a magnificent sapphire, or hollowed out of a gigantic ruby. It is his way, and you must take him as you find him.” At this moment the bell rang to announce the drawing up of the curtain for the second act. Albert rose to return to his place. “Shall I see you again?” asked the countess. “At the end of the next act, with your permission, I will come and inquire whether there is anything I can do for you in Paris?”
“Pray take notice,” said the countess, “that my present residence is 22 Rue de Rivoli, and that I am at home to my friends every Saturday evening. So now, you are both forewarned.” The young men bowed, and quitted the box. Upon reaching their stalls, they found the whole of the audience in the parterre standing up and directing their gaze towards the box formerly possessed by the Russian ambassador. A man of from thirty-five to forty years of age, dressed in deep black, had just entered, accompanied by a young woman dressed after the Eastern style. The lady was surpassingly beautiful, while the rich magnificence of her attire drew all eyes upon her. “Hullo,” said Albert; “it is Monte Cristo and his Greek!”
The strangers were, indeed, no other than the count and Haidee. In a few moments the young girl had attracted the attention of the whole house, and even the occupants of the boxes leaned forward to scrutinize her magnificent diamonds. The second act passed away during one continued buzz of voices?one deep whisper?intimating that some great and universally interesting event had occurred; all eyes, all thoughts, were occupied with the young and beautiful woman, whose gorgeous apparel and splendid jewels made a most extraordinary spectacle. Upon this occasion an unmistakable sign from Madame Danglars intimated her desire to see Albert in her box directly the curtain fell on the second act, and neither the politeness nor good taste of Morcerf would permit his neglecting an invitation so unequivocally given. At the close of the act he therefore went to the baroness. Having bowed to the two ladies, he extended his hand to Debray. By the baroness he was most graciously welcomed, while Eugenie received him with her accustomed coldness.
“My dear fellow,” said Debray, “you have come in the nick of time. There is madame overwhelming me with questions respecting the count; she insists upon it that I can tell her his birth, education, and parentage, where he came from, and whither he is going. Being no disciple of Cagliostro, I was wholly unable to do this; so, by way of getting out of the scrape, I said, ‘Ask Morcerf; he has got the whole history of his beloved Monte Cristo at his fingers’ ends;’ whereupon the baroness signified her desire to see you.”
“Is it not almost incredible,” said Madame Danglars, “that a person having at least half a million of secret-service money at his command, should possess so little information?”
“Let me assure you, madame,” said Lucien, “that had I really the sum you mention at my disposal, I would employ it more profitably than in troubling myself to obtain particulars respecting the Count of Monte Cristo, whose only merit in my eyes consists in his being twice as rich as a nabob. However, I have turned the business over to Morcerf, so pray settle it with him as may be most agreeable to you; for my own part, I care nothing about the count or his mysterious doings.”
“I am very sure no nabob would have sent me a pair of horses worth 32,000 francs, wearing on their heads four diamonds valued at 5,000 francs each.”
“He seems to have a mania for diamonds,” said Morcerf, smiling, “and I verily believe that, like Potemkin, he keeps his pockets filled, for the sake of strewing them along the road, as Tom Thumb did his flint stones.”
“Perhaps he has discovered some mine,” said Madame Danglars. “I suppose you know he has an order for unlimited credit on the baron’s banking establishment?”
“I was not aware of it,” replied Albert, “but I can readily believe it.”
“And, further, that he stated to M. Danglars his intention of only staying a year in Paris, during which time he proposed to spend six millions.
“He must be the Shah of Persia, travelling incog.”
“Have you noticed the remarkable beauty of the young woman, M. Lucien?” inquired Eugenie.
“I really never met with one woman so ready to do justice to the charms of another as yourself,” responded Lucien, raising his lorgnette to his eye. “A most lovely creature, upon my soul!” was his verdict.
“Who is this young person, M. de Morcerf?” inquired Eugenie; “does anybody know?”
“Mademoiselle,” said Albert, replying to this direct appeal, “I can give you very exact information on that subject, as well as on most points relative to the mysterious person of whom we are now conversing?the young woman is a Greek.”
“So I should suppose by her dress; if you know no more than that, every one here is as well-informed as yourself.”
“I am extremely sorry you find me so ignorant a cicerone,” replied Morcerf, “but I am reluctantly obliged to confess, I have nothing further to communicate?yes, stay, I do know one thing more, namely, that she is a musician, for one day when I chanced to be breakfasting with the count, I heard the sound of a guzla?it is impossible that it could have been touched by any other finger than her own.”
“Then your count entertains visitors, does he?” asked Madame Danglars.
“Indeed he does, and in a most lavish manner, I can assure you.”
“I must try and persuade M. Danglars to invite him to a ball or dinner, or something of the sort, that he may be compelled to ask us in return.”
“What,” said Debray, laughing; “do you really mean you would go to his house?”
“Why not? my husband could accompany me.”
“But do you know this mysterious count is a bachelor?”
“You have ample proof to the contrary, if you look opposite,” said the baroness, as she laughingly pointed to the beautiful Greek.
“No, no!” exclaimed Debray; “that girl is not his wife: he told us himself she was his slave. Do you not recollect, Morcerf, his telling us so at your breakfast?”
“Well, then,” said the baroness, “if slave she be, she has all the air and manner of a princess.”
“Of the ‘Arabian Nights’?”
“If you like; but tell me, my dear Lucien, what it is that constitutes a princess. Why, diamonds?and she is covered with them.”
“To me she seems overloaded,” observed Eugenie; “she would look far better if she wore fewer, and we should then be able to see her finely formed throat and wrists.”
“See how the artist peeps out!” exclaimed Madame Danglars. “My poor Eugenie, you must conceal your passion for the fine arts.”
“I admire all that is beautiful,” returned the young lady.
“What do you think of the count?” inquired Debray; “he is not much amiss, according to my ideas of good looks.”
“The count,” repeated Eugenie, as though it had not occurred to her to observe him sooner; “the count??oh, he is so dreadfully pale.”
“I quite agree with you,” said Morcerf; “and the secret of that very pallor is what we want to find out. The Countess G?? insists upon it that he is a vampire.”
“Then the Countess G?? has returned to Paris, has she?” inquired the baroness.
“Is that she, mamma?” asked Eugenie; “almost opposite to us, with that profusion of beautiful light hair?”
“Yes,” said Madame Danglars, “that is she. Shall I tell you what you ought to do, Morcerf?”
“Command me, madame.”
“Well, then, you should go and bring your Count of Monte Cristo to us.”
“What for?” asked Eugenie.
“What for? Why, to converse with him, of course. Have you really no desire to meet him?”
“None whatever,” replied Eugenie.
“Strange child,” murmured the baroness.
“He will very probably come of his own accord,” said Morcerf. “There; do you see, madame, he recognizes you, and bows.” The baroness returned the salute in the most smiling and graceful manner.
“Well,” said Morcerf, “I may as well be magnanimous, and tear myself away to forward your wishes. Adieu; I will go and try if there are any means of speaking to him.”
“Go straight to his box; that will be the simplest plan.”
“But I have never been presented.”
“Presented to whom?”
“To the beautiful Greek.”
“You say she is only a slave?”
“While you assert that she is a queen, or at least a princess. No; I hope that when he sees me leave you, he will come out.”
“That is possible?go.”
“I am going,” said Albert, as he made his parting bow. Just as he was passing the count’s box, the door opened, and Monte Cristo came forth. After giving some directions to Ali, who stood in the lobby, the count took Albert’s arm. Carefully closing the box door, Ali placed himself before it, while a crowd of spectators assembled round the Nubian.
“Upon my word,” said Monte Cristo, “Paris is a strange city, and the Parisians a very singular people. See that cluster of persons collected around poor Ali, who is as much astonished as themselves; really one might suppose he was the only Nubian they had ever beheld. Now I can promise you, that a Frenchman might show himself in public, either in Tunis, Constantinople, Bagdad, or Cairo, without being treated in that way.”
“That shows that the Eastern nations have too much good sense to waste their time and attention on objects undeserving of either. However, as far as Ali is concerned, I can assure you, the interest he excites is merely from the circumstance of his being your attendant?you, who are at this moment the most celebrated and fashionable person in Paris.”
“Really? and what has procured me so fluttering a distinction?”
“What? why, yourself, to be sure! You give away horses worth a thousand louis; you save the lives of ladies of high rank and beauty; under the name of Major Brack you run thoroughbreds ridden by tiny urchins not larger than marmots; then, when you have carried off the golden trophy of victory, instead of setting any value on it, you give it to the first handsome woman you think of!”
“And who has filled your head with all this nonsense?”
“Why, in the first place, I heard it from Madame Danglars, who, by the by, is dying to see you in her box, or to have you seen there by others; secondly, I learned it from Beauchamp’s journal; and thirdly, from my own imagination. Why, if you sought concealment, did you call your horse Vampa?”
“That was an oversight, certainly,” replied the count; “but tell me, does the Count of Morcerf never visit the Opera? I have been looking for him, but without success.”
“He will be here to-night.”
“In what part of the house?”
“In the baroness’s box, I believe.”
“That charming young woman with her is her daughter?”
“I congratulate you.” Morcerf smiled. “We will discuss that subject at length some future time,” said he. “But what do you think of the music?”
“Why, the music you have been listening to.”
“Oh, it is well enough as the production of a human composer, sung by featherless bipeds, to quote the late Diogenes.”
“From which it would seem, my dear count, that you can at pleasure enjoy the seraphic strains that proceed from the seven choirs of paradise?”
“You are right, in some degree; when I wish to listen to sounds more exquisitely attuned to melody than mortal ear ever yet listened to, I go to sleep.”
“Then sleep here, my dear count. The conditions are favorable; what else was opera invented for?”
“No, thank you. Your orchestra is too noisy. To sleep after the manner I speak of, absolute calm and silence are necessary, and then a certain preparation”?
“I know?the famous hashish!”
“Precisely. So, my dear viscount, whenever you wish to be regaled with music come and sup with me.”
“I have already enjoyed that treat when breakfasting with you,” said Morcerf.
“Do you mean at Rome?”
“Ah, then, I suppose you heard Haidee’s guzla; the poor exile frequently beguiles a weary hour in playing over to me the airs of her native land.” Morcerf did not pursue the subject, and Monte Cristo himself fell into a silent reverie. The bell rang at this moment for the rising of the curtain. “You will excuse my leaving you,” said the count, turning in the direction of his box.
“What? Are you going?”
“Pray, say everything that is kind to Countess G?? on the part of her friend the Vampire.”
“And what message shall I convey to the baroness!”
“That, with her permission, I shall do myself the honor of paying my respects in the course of the evening.”
The third act had begun; and during its progress the Count of Morcerf, according to his promise, made his appearance in the box of Madame Danglars. The Count of Morcerf was not a person to excite either interest or curiosity in a place of public amusement; his presence, therefore, was wholly unnoticed, save by the occupants of the box in which he had just seated himself. The quick eye of Monte Cristo however, marked his coming; and a slight though meaning smile passed over his lips. Haidee, whose soul seemed centred in the business of the stage, like all unsophisticated natures, delighted in whatever addressed itself to the eye or ear.
The third act passed off as usual. Mesdemoiselles Noblet, Julie, and Leroux executed the customary pirouettes; Robert duly challenged the Prince of Granada; and the royal father of the princess Isabella, taking his daughter by the hand, swept round the stage with majestic strides, the better to display the rich folds of his velvet robe and mantle. After which the curtain again fell, and the spectators poured forth from the theatre into the lobbies and salon. The count left his box, and a moment later was saluting the Baronne Danglars, who could not restrain a cry of mingled pleasure and surprise. “You are welcome, count!” she exclaimed, as he entered. “I have been most anxious to see you, that I might repeat orally the thanks writing can so ill express.”
“Surely so trifling a circumstance cannot deserve a place in your remembrance. Believe me, madame, I had entirely forgotten it.”
“But it is not so easy to forget, monsieur, that the very next day after your princely gift you saved the life of my dear friend, Madame de Villefort, which was endangered by the very animals your generosity restored to me.”
“This time, at least, I do not deserve your thanks. It was Ali, my Nubian slave, who rendered this service to Madame de Villefort.”
“Was it Ali,” asked the Count of Morcerf, “who rescued my son from the hands of bandits?”
“No, count,” replied Monte Cristo taking the hand held out to him by the general; “in this instance I may fairly and freely accept your thanks; but you have already tendered them, and fully discharged your debt?if indeed there existed one?and I feel almost mortified to find you still reverting to the subject. May I beg of you, baroness, to honor me with an introduction to your daughter?”
“Oh, you are no stranger?at least not by name,” replied Madame Danglars, “and the last two or three days we have really talked of nothing but you. Eugenie,” continued the baroness, turning towards her daughter, “this is the Count of Monte Cristo.” The Count bowed, while Mademoiselle Danglars bent her head slightly. “You have a charming young person with you to-night, count,” said Eugenie. “Is she your daughter?”
“No, mademoiselle,” said Monte Cristo, astonished at the coolness and freedom of the question. “She is a poor unfortunate Greek left under my care.”
“And what is her name?”
“Haidee,” replied Monte Cristo.
“A Greek?” murmured the Count of Morcerf.
“Yes, indeed, count,” said Madame Danglars; “and tell me, did you ever see at the court of Ali Tepelini, whom you so gloriously and valiantly served, a more exquisite beauty or richer costume?”
“Did I hear rightly, monsieur,” said Monte Cristo “that you served at Yanina?”
“I was inspector-general of the pasha’s troops,” replied Morcerf; “and it is no secret that I owe my fortune, such as it is, to the liberality of the illustrious Albanese chief.”
“But look!” exclaimed Madame Danglars.
“Where?” stammered Morcerf.
“There,” said Monte Cristo placing his arms around the count, and leaning with him over the front of the box, just as Haidee, whose eyes were occupied in examining the theatre in search of her guardian, perceived his pale features close to Morcerf’s face. It was as if the young girl beheld the head of Medusa. She bent forwards as though to assure herself of the reality of what she saw, then, uttering a faint cry, threw herself back in her seat. The sound was heard by the people about Ali, who instantly opened the box-door. “Why, count,” exclaimed Eugenie, “what has happened to your ward? she seems to have been taken suddenly ill.”
“Very probably,” answered the count. “But do not be alarmed on her account. Haidee’s nervous system is delicately organized, and she is peculiarly susceptible to the odors even of flowers?nay, there are some which cause her to faint if brought into her presence. However,” continued Monte Cristo, drawing a small phial from his pocket, “I have an infallible remedy.” So saying, he bowed to the baroness and her daughter, exchanged a parting shake of the hand with Debray and the count, and left Madame Danglars’ box. Upon his return to Haidee he found her still very pale. As soon as she saw him she seized his hand; her own hands were moist and icy cold. “Who was it you were talking with over there?” she asked.
“With the Count of Morcerf,” answered Monte Cristo. “He tells me he served your illustrious father, and that he owes his fortune to him.”
“Wretch!” exclaimed Haidee, her eyes flashing with rage; “he sold my father to the Turks, and the fortune he boasts of was the price of his treachery! Did not you know that, my dear lord?”
“Something of this I heard in Epirus,” said Monte Cristo; “but the particulars are still unknown to me. You shall relate them to me, my child. They are, no doubt, both curious and interesting.”
“Yes, yes; but let us go. I feel as though it would kill me to remain long near that dreadful man.” So saying, Haidee arose, and wrapping herself in her burnoose of white cashmire embroidered with pearls and coral, she hastily quitted the box at the moment when the curtain was rising upon the fourth act.
“Do you observe,” said the Countess G?? to Albert, who had returned to her side, “that man does nothing like other people; he listens most devoutly to the third act of ‘Robert le Diable,’ and when the fourth begins, takes his departure.”
A Flurry in Stocks
Some days after this meeting, Albert de Morcerf visited the Count of Monte Cristo at his house in the Champs Elysees, which had already assumed that palace-like appearance which the count’s princely fortune enabled him to give even to his most temporary residences. He came to renew the thanks of Madame Danglars which had been already conveyed to the count through the medium of a letter, signed “Baronne Danglars, nee Hermine de Servieux.” Albert was accompanied by Lucien Debray, who, joining in his friend’s conversation, added some passing compliments, the source of which the count’s talent for finesse easily enabled him to guess. He was convinced that Lucien’s visit was due to a double feeling of curiosity, the larger half of which sentiment emanated from the Rue de la Chaussee d’Antin. In short, Madame Danglars, not being able personally to examine in detail the domestic economy and household arrangements of a man who gave away horses worth 30,000 francs and who went to the opera with a Greek slave wearing diamonds to the amount of a million of money, had deputed those eyes, by which she was accustomed to see, to give her a faithful account of the mode of life of this incomprehensible person. But the count did not appear to suspect that there could be the slightest connection between Lucien’s visit and the curiosity of the baroness.
“You are in constant communication with the Baron Danglars?” the count inquired of Albert de Morcerf.
“Yes, count, you know what I told you?”
“All remains the same, then, in that quarter?”
“It is more than ever a settled thing,” said Lucien,?and, considering that this remark was all that he was at that time called upon to make, he adjusted the glass to his eye, and biting the top of his gold headed cane, began to make the tour of the apartment, examining the arms and the pictures.
“Ah,” said Monte Cristo “I did not expect that the affair would be so promptly concluded.”
“Oh, things take their course without our assistance. While we are forgetting them, they are falling into their appointed order; and when, again, our attention is directed to them, we are surprised at the progress they have made towards the proposed end. My father and M. Danglars served together in Spain, my father in the army and M. Danglars in the commissariat department. It was there that my father, ruined by the revolution, and M. Danglars, who never had possessed any patrimony, both laid the foundations of their different fortunes.”
“Yes,” said Monte Cristo “I think M. Danglars mentioned that in a visit which I paid him; and,” continued he, casting a side-glance at Lucien, who was turning over the leaves of an album, “Mademoiselle Eugenie is pretty?I think I remember that to be her name.”
“Very pretty, or rather, very beautiful,” replied Albert, “but of that style of beauty which I do not appreciate; I am an ungrateful fellow.”
“You speak as if you were already her husband.”
“Ah,” returned Albert, in his turn looking around to see what Lucien was doing.
“Really,” said Monte Cristo, lowering his voice, “you do not appear to me to be very enthusiastic on the subject of this marriage.”
“Mademoiselle Danglars is too rich for me,” replied Morcerf, “and that frightens me.”
“Bah,” exclaimed Monte Cristo, “that’s a fine reason to give. Are you not rich yourself?”
“My father’s income is about 50,000 francs per annum; and he will give me, perhaps, ten or twelve thousand when I marry.”
“That, perhaps, might not be considered a large sum, in Paris especially,” said the count; “but everything does not depend on wealth, and it is a fine thing to have a good name, and to occupy a high station in society. Your name is celebrated, your position magnificent; and then the Comte de Morcerf is a soldier, and it is pleasing to see the integrity of a Bayard united to the poverty of a Duguesclin; disinterestedness is the brightest ray in which a noble sword can shine. As for me, I consider the union with Mademoiselle Danglars a most suitable one; she will enrich you, and you will ennoble her.” Albert shook his head, and looked thoughtful. “There is still something else,” said he.
“I confess,” observed Monte Cristo, “that I have some difficulty in comprehending your objection to a young lady who is both rich and beautiful.”
“Oh,” said Morcerf, “this repugnance, if repugnance it may be called, is not all on my side.”
“Whence can it arise, then? for you told me your father desired the marriage.”
“It is my mother who dissents; she has a clear and penetrating judgment, and does not smile on the proposed union. I cannot account for it, but she seems to entertain some prejudice against the Danglars.”
“Ah,” said the count, in a somewhat forced tone, “that may be easily explained; the Comtesse de Morcerf, who is aristocracy and refinement itself, does not relish the idea of being allied by your marriage with one of ignoble birth; that is natural enough.”
“I do not know if that is her reason,” said Albert, “but one thing I do know, that if this marriage be consummated, it will render her quite miserable. There was to have been a meeting six weeks ago in order to talk over and settle the affair; but I had such a sudden attack of indisposition”?
“Real?” interrupted the count, smiling.
“Oh, real enough, from anxiety doubtless,?at any rate they postponed the matter for two months. There is no hurry, you know. I am not yet twenty-one, and Eugenie is only seventeen; but the two months expire next week. It must be done. My dear count, you cannot imagine how my mind is harassed. How happy you are in being exempt from all this!”
“Well, and why should not you be free, too? What prevents you from being so?”
“Oh, it will be too great a disappointment to my father if I do not marry Mademoiselle Danglars.”
“Marry her then,” said the count, with a significant shrug of the shoulders.
“Yes,” replied Morcerf, “but that will plunge my mother into positive grief.”
“Then do not marry her,” said the count.
“Well, I shall see. I will try and think over what is the best thing to be done; you will give me your advice, will you not, and if possible extricate me from my unpleasant position? I think, rather than give pain to my dear mother, I would run the risk of offending the count.” Monte Cristo turned away; he seemed moved by this last remark. “Ah,” said he to Debray, who had thrown himself into an easy-chair at the farthest extremity of the salon, and who held a pencil in his right hand and an account book in his left, “what are you doing there? Are you making a sketch after Poussin?”
“Oh, no,” was the tranquil response; “I am too fond of art to attempt anything of that sort. I am doing a little sum in arithmetic.”
“Yes; I am calculating?by the way, Morcerf, that indirectly concerns you?I am calculating what the house of Danglars must have gained by the last rise in Haiti bonds; from 206 they have risen to 409 in three days, and the prudent banker had purchased at 206; therefore he must have made 300,000 livres.”
“That is not his biggest scoop,” said Morcerf; “did he not make a million in Spaniards this last year?”
“My dear fellow,” said Lucien, “here is the Count of Monte Cristo, who will say to you, as the Italians do,?
“‘Danaro e santita, Meta della meta.’ [*]
* “Money and sanctity, Each in a moiety.
“When they tell me such things, I only shrug my shoulders and say nothing.”
“But you were speaking of Haitians?” said Monte Cristo.
“Ah, Haitians,?that is quite another thing! Haitians are the ecarte of French stock-jobbing. We may like bouillotte, delight in whist, be enraptured with boston, and yet grow tired of them all; but we always come back to ecarte?it is not only a game, it is a hors-d’oeuvre! M. Danglars sold yesterday at 405, and pockets 300,000 francs. Had he but waited till to-day, the price would have fallen to 205, and instead of gaining 300,000 francs, he would have lost 20 or 25,000.”
“And what has caused the sudden fall from 409 to 206?” asked Monte Cristo. “I am profoundly ignorant of all these stock-jobbing intrigues.”
“Because,” said Albert, laughing, “one piece of news follows another, and there is often great dissimilarity between them.”
“Ah,” said the count, “I see that M. Danglars is accustomed to play at gaining or losing 300,000 francs in a day; he must be enormously rich.”
“It is not he who plays!” exclaimed Lucien; “it is Madame Danglars: she is indeed daring.”
“But you who are a reasonable being, Lucien, and who knows how little dependence is to be placed on the news, since you are at the fountain-head, surely you ought to prevent it,” said Morcerf, with a smile.
“How can I, if her husband fails in controlling her?” asked Lucien; “you know the character of the baroness?no one has any influence with her, and she does precisely what she pleases.”
“Ah, if I were in your place”?said Albert.
“I would reform her; it would be rendering a service to her future son-in-law.”
“How would you set about it?”
“Ah, that would be easy enough?I would give her a lesson.”
“Yes. Your position as secretary to the minister renders your authority great on the subject of political news; you never open your mouth but the stockbrokers immediately stenograph your words. Cause her to lose a hundred thousand francs, and that would teach her prudence.”
“I do not understand,” stammered Lucien.
“It is very clear, notwithstanding,” replied the young man, with an artlessness wholly free from affectation; “tell her some fine morning an unheard-of piece of intelligence?some telegraphic despatch, of which you alone are in possession; for instance, that Henri IV. was seen yesterday at Gabrielle’s. That would boom the market; she will buy heavily, and she will certainly lose when Beauchamp announces the following day, in his gazette, ‘The report circulated by some usually well-informed persons that the king was seen yesterday at Gabrielle’s house, is totally without foundation. We can positively assert that his majesty did not quit the Pont-Neuf.'” Lucien half smiled. Monte Cristo, although apparently indifferent, had not lost one word of this conversation, and his penetrating eye had even read a hidden secret in the embarrassed manner of the secretary. This embarrassment had completely escaped Albert, but it caused Lucien to shorten his visit; he was evidently ill at ease. The count, in taking leave of him, said something in a low voice, to which he answered, “Willingly, count; I accept.” The count returned to young Morcerf.
“Do you not think, on reflection,” said he to him, “that you have done wrong in thus speaking of your mother-in-law in the presence of M. Debray?”
“My dear count,” said Morcerf, “I beg of you not to apply that title so prematurely.”
“Now, speaking without any exaggeration, is your mother really so very much averse to this marriage?”
“So much so that the baroness very rarely comes to the house, and my mother, has not, I think, visited Madame Danglars twice in her whole life.”
“Then,” said the count, “I am emboldened to speak openly to you. M. Danglars is my banker; M. de Villefort has overwhelmed me with politeness in return for a service which a casual piece of good fortune enabled me to render him. I predict from all this an avalanche of dinners and routs. Now, in order not to presume on this, and also to be beforehand with them, I have, if agreeable to you, thought of inviting M. and Madame Danglars, and M. and Madame de Villefort, to my country-house at Auteuil. If I were to invite you and the Count and Countess of Morcerf to this dinner, I should give it the appearance of being a matrimonial meeting, or at least Madame de Morcerf would look upon the affair in that light, especially if Baron Danglars did me the honor to bring his daughter. In that case your mother would hold me in aversion, and I do not at all wish that; on the contrary, I desire to stand high in her esteem.”
“Indeed, count,” said Morcerf, “I thank you sincerely for having used so much candor towards me, and I gratefully accept the exclusion which you propose. You say you desire my mother’s good opinion; I assure you it is already yours to a very unusual extent.”
“Do you think so?” said Monte Cristo, with interest.
“Oh, I am sure of it; we talked of you an hour after you left us the other day. But to return to what we were saying. If my mother could know of this attention on your part?and I will venture to tell her?I am sure that she will be most grateful to you; it is true that my father will be equally angry.” The count laughed. “Well,” said he to Morcerf, “but I think your father will not be the only angry one; M. and Madame Danglars will think me a very ill-mannered person. They know that I am intimate with you?that you are, in fact; one of the oldest of my Parisian acquaintances?and they will not find you at my house; they will certainly ask me why I did not invite you. Be sure to provide yourself with some previous engagement which shall have a semblance of probability, and communicate the fact to me by a line in writing. You know that with bankers nothing but a written document will be valid.”
“I will do better than that,” said Albert; “my mother is wishing to go to the sea-side?what day is fixed for your dinner?”
“This is Tuesday?well, to-morrow evening we leave, and the day after we shall be at Treport. Really, count, you have a delightful way of setting people at their ease.”
“Indeed, you give me more credit than I deserve; I only wish to do what will be agreeable to you, that is all.”
“When shall you send your invitations?”
“This very day.”
“Well, I will immediately call on M. Danglars, and tell him that my mother and myself must leave Paris to-morrow. I have not seen you, consequently I know nothing of your dinner.”
“How foolish you are! Have you forgotten that M. Debray has just seen you at my house?”
“Fix it this way. I have seen you, and invited you without any ceremony, when you instantly answered that it would be impossible for you to accept, as you were going to Treport.”
“Well, then, that is settled; but you will come and call on my mother before to-morrow?”
“Before to-morrow??that will be a difficult matter to arrange, besides, I shall just be in the way of all the preparations for departure.”
“Well, you can do better. You were only a charming man before, but, if you accede to my proposal, you will be adorable.”
“What must I do to attain such sublimity?”
“You are to-day free as air?come and dine with me; we shall be a small party?only yourself, my mother, and I. You have scarcely seen my mother; you shall have an opportunity of observing her more closely. She is a remarkable woman, and I only regret that there does not exist another like her, about twenty years younger; in that case, I assure you, there would very soon be a Countess and Viscountess of Morcerf. As to my father, you will not see him; he is officially engaged, and dines with the chief referendary. We will talk over our travels; and you, who have seen the whole world, will relate your adventures?you shall tell us the history of the beautiful Greek who was with you the other night at the Opera, and whom you call your slave, and yet treat like a princess. We will talk Italian and Spanish. Come, accept my invitation, and my mother will thank you.”
“A thousand thanks,” said the count, “your invitation is most gracious, and I regret exceedingly that it is not in my power to accept it. I am not so much at liberty as you suppose; on the contrary, I have a most important engagement.”
“Ah, take care, you were teaching me just now how, in case of an invitation to dinner, one might creditably make an excuse. I require the proof of a pre-engagement. I am not a banker, like M. Danglars, but I am quite as incredulous as he is.”
“I am going to give you a proof,” replied the count, and he rang the bell.
“Humph,” said Morcerf, “this is the second time you have refused to dine with my mother; it is evident that you wish to avoid her.” Monte Cristo started. “Oh, you do not mean that,” said he; “besides, here comes the confirmation of my assertion.” Baptistin entered, and remained standing at the door. “I had no previous knowledge of your visit, had I?”
“Indeed, you are such an extraordinary person, that I would not answer for it.”
“At all events, I could not guess that you would invite me to dinner.”
“Well, listen, Baptistin, what did I tell you this morning when I called you into my laboratory?”
“To close the door against visitors as soon as the clock struck five,” replied the valet.
“Ah, my dear count,” said Albert.
“No, no, I wish to do away with that mysterious reputation that you have given me, my dear viscount; it is tiresome to be always acting Manfred. I wish my life to be free and open. Go on, Baptistin.”
“Then to admit no one except Major Bartolomeo Cavalcanti and his son.”
“You hear?Major Bartolomeo Cavalcanti?a man who ranks amongst the most ancient nobility of Italy, whose name Dante has celebrated in the tenth canto of ‘The Inferno,’ you remember it, do you not? Then there is his son, Andrea, a charming young man, about your own age, viscount, bearing the same title as yourself, and who is making his entry into the Parisian world, aided by his father’s millions. The major will bring his son with him this evening, the contino, as we say in Italy; he confides him to my care. If he proves himself worthy of it, I will do what I can to advance his interests. You will assist me in the work, will you not?”
“Most undoubtedly. This Major Cavalcanti is an old friend of yours, then?”
“By no means. He is a perfect nobleman, very polite, modest, and agreeable, such as may be found constantly in Italy, descendants of very ancient families. I have met him several times at Florence, Bologna and Lucca, and he has now communicated to me the fact of his arrival in Paris. The acquaintances one makes in travelling have a sort of claim on one; they everywhere expect to receive the same attention which you once paid them by chance, as though the civilities of a passing hour were likely to awaken any lasting interest in favor of the man in whose society you may happen to be thrown in the course of your journey. This good Major Cavalcanti is come to take a second view of Paris, which he only saw in passing through in the time of the Empire, when he was on his way to Moscow. I shall give him a good dinner, he will confide his son to my care, I will promise to watch over him, I shall let him follow in whatever path his folly may lead him, and then I shall have done my part.”
“Certainly; I see you are a model Mentor,” said Albert “Good-by, we shall return on Sunday. By the way, I have received news of Franz.”
“Have you? Is he still amusing himself in Italy?”
“I believe so; however, he regrets your absence extremely. He says you were the sun of Rome, and that without you all appears dark and cloudy; I do not know if he does not even go so far as to say that it rains.”
“His opinion of me is altered for the better, then?”
“No, he still persists in looking upon you as the most incomprehensible and mysterious of beings.”
“He is a charming young man,” said Monte Cristo “and I felt a lively interest in him the very first evening of my introduction, when I met him in search of a supper, and prevailed upon him to accept a portion of mine. He is, I think, the son of General d’Epinay?”
“The same who was so shamefully assassinated in 1815?”
“By the Bonapartists.”
“Yes. Really I like him extremely; is there not also a matrimonial engagement contemplated for him?”
“Yes, he is to marry Mademoiselle de Villefort.”
“And you know I am to marry Mademoiselle Danglars,” said Albert, laughing.
“Why do you do so?”
“I smile because there appears to me to be about as much inclination for the consummation of the engagement in question as there is for my own. But really, my dear count, we are talking as much of women as they do of us; it is unpardonable.” Albert rose.
“Are you going?”
“Really, that is a good idea!?two hours have I been boring you to death with my company, and then you, with the greatest politeness, ask me if I am going. Indeed, count, you are the most polished man in the world. And your servants, too, how very well behaved they are; there is quite a style about them. Monsieur Baptistin especially; I could never get such a man as that. My servants seem to imitate those you sometimes see in a play, who, because they have only a word or two to say, aquit themselves in the most awkward manner possible. Therefore, if you part with M. Baptistin, give me the refusal of him.”
“By all means.”
“That is not all; give my compliments to your illustrious Luccanese, Cavalcante of the Cavalcanti; and if by any chance he should be wishing to establish his son, find him a wife very rich, very noble on her mother’s side at least, and a baroness in right of her father, I will help you in the search.”
“Ah, ha; you will do as much as that, will you?”
“Well, really, nothing is certain in this world.”
“Oh, count, what a service you might render me! I should like you a hundred times better if, by your intervention, I could manage to remain a bachelor, even were it only for ten years.”
“Nothing is impossible,” gravely replied Monte Cristo; and taking leave of Albert, he returned into the house, and struck the gong three times. Bertuccio appeared. “Monsieur Bertuccio, you understand that I intend entertaining company on Saturday at Auteuil.” Bertuccio slightly started. “I shall require your services to see that all be properly arranged. It is a beautiful house, or at all events may be made so.”
“There must be a good deal done before it can deserve that title, your excellency, for the tapestried hangings are very old.”
“Let them all be taken away and changed, then, with the exception of the sleeping-chamber which is hung with red damask; you will leave that exactly as it is.” Bertuccio bowed. “You will not touch the garden either; as to the yard, you may do what you please with it; I should prefer that being altered beyond all recognition.”
“I will do everything in my power to carry out your wishes, your excellency. I should be glad, however, to receive your excellency’s commands concerning the dinner.”
“Really, my dear M. Bertuccio,” said the count, “since you have been in Paris, you have become quite nervous, and apparently out of your element; you no longer seem to understand me.”
“But surely your excellency will be so good as to inform me whom you are expecting to receive?”
“I do not yet know myself, neither is it necessary that you should do so. ‘Lucullus dines with Lucullus,’ that is quite sufficient.” Bertuccio bowed, and left the room.
Chapter 55. Major Cavalcanti
Both the count and Baptistin had told the truth when they announced to Morcerf the proposed visit of the major, which had served Monte Cristo as a pretext for declining Albert’s invitation. Seven o’clock had just struck, and M. Bertuccio, according to the command which had been given him, had two hours before left for Auteuil, when a cab stopped at the door, and after depositing its occupant at the gate, immediately hurried away, as if ashamed of its employment. The visitor was about fifty-two years of age, dressed in one of the green surtouts, ornamented with black frogs, which have so long maintained their popularity all over Europe. He wore trousers of blue cloth, boots tolerably clean, but not of the brightest polish, and a little too thick in the soles, buckskin gloves, a hat somewhat resembling in shape those usually worn by the gendarmes, and a black cravat striped with white, which, if the proprietor had not worn it of his own free will, might have passed for a halter, so much did it resemble one. Such was the picturesque costume of the person who rang at the gate, and demanded if it was not at No. 30 in the Avenue des Champs-Elysees that the Count of Monte Cristo lived, and who, being answered by the porter in the affirmative, entered, closed the gate after him, and began to ascend the steps.
The small and angular head of this man, his white hair and thick gray mustaches, caused him to be easily recognized by Baptistin, who had received an exact description of the expected visitor, and who was awaiting him in the hall. Therefore, scarcely had the stranger time to pronounce his name before the count was apprised of his arrival. He was ushered into a simple and elegant drawing-room, and the count rose to meet him with a smiling air. “Ah, my dear sir, you are most welcome; I was expecting you.”
“Indeed,” said the Italian, “was your excellency then aware of my visit?”
“Yes; I had been told that I should see you to-day at seven o’clock.”
“Then you have received full information concerning my arrival?”
“Ah, so much the better, I feared this little precaution might have been forgotten.”
“That of informing you beforehand of my coming.”
“Oh, no, it has not.”
“But you are sure you are not mistaken.”
“It really was I whom your excellency expected at seven o’clock this evening?”
“I will prove it to you beyond a doubt.”
“Oh, no, never mind that,” said the Italian; “it is not worth the trouble.”
“Yes, yes,” said Monte Cristo. His visitor appeared slightly uneasy. “Let me see,” said the count; “are you not the Marquis Bartolomeo Cavalcanti?”
“Bartolomeo Cavalcanti,” joyfully replied the Italian; “yes, I am really he.”
“Ex-major in the Austrian service?”
“Was I a major?” timidly asked the old soldier.
“Yes,” said Monte Cristo “you were a major; that is the title the French give to the post which you filled in Italy.”
“Very good,” said the major, “I do not demand more, you understand”?
“Your visit here to-day is not of your own suggestion, is it?” said Monte Cristo.
“No, certainly not.”
“You were sent by some other person?”
“By the excellent Abbe Busoni?”
“Exactly so,” said the delighted major.
“And you have a letter?”
“Yes, there it is.”
“Give it me, then;” and Monte Cristo took the letter, which he opened and read. The major looked at the count with his large staring eyes, and then took a survey of the apartment, but his gaze almost immediately reverted to the proprietor of the room. “Yes, yes, I see. ‘Major Cavalcanti, a worthy patrician of Lucca, a descendant of the Cavalcanti of Florence,'” continued Monte Cristo, reading aloud, “‘possessing an income of half a million.'” Monte Cristo raised his eyes from the paper, and bowed. “Half a million,” said he, “magnificent!”
“Half a million, is it?” said the major.
“Yes, in so many words; and it must be so, for the abbe knows correctly the amount of all the largest fortunes in Europe.”
“Be it half a million, then; but on my word of honor, I had no idea that it was so much.”
“Because you are robbed by your steward. You must make some reformation in that quarter.”
“You have opened my eyes,” said the Italian gravely; “I will show the gentlemen the door.” Monte Cristo resumed the perusal of the letter:?
“‘And who only needs one thing more to make him happy.'”
“Yes, indeed but one!” said the major with a sigh.
“‘Which is to recover a lost and adored son.'”
“A lost and adored son!”
“‘Stolen away in his infancy, either by an enemy of his noble family or by the gypsies.'”
“At the age of five years!” said the major with a deep sigh, and raising his eye to heaven.
“Unhappy father,” said Monte Cristo. The count continued:?
“‘I have given him renewed life and hope, in the assurance that you have the power of restoring the son whom he has vainly sought for fifteen years.'” The major looked at the count with an indescribable expression of anxiety. “I have the power of so doing,” said Monte Cristo. The major recovered his self-possession. “So, then,” said he, “the letter was true to the end?”
“Did you doubt it, my dear Monsieur Bartolomeo?”
“No, indeed; certainly not; a good man, a man holding religious office, as does the Abbe Busoni, could not condescend to deceive or play off a joke; but your excellency has not read all.”
“Ah, true,” said Monte Cristo “there is a postscript.”
“Yes, yes,” repeated the major, “yes?there?is?a?postscript.”
“‘In order to save Major Cavalcanti the trouble of drawing on his banker, I send him a draft for 2,000 francs to defray his travelling expenses, and credit on you for the further sum of 48,000 francs, which you still owe me.'” The major awaited the conclusion of the postscript, apparently with great anxiety. “Very good,” said the count.
“He said ‘very good,'” muttered the major, “then?sir”?replied he.
“Then what?” asked Monte Cristo.
“Then the postscript”?
“Well; what of the postscript?”
“Then the postscript is as favorably received by you as the rest of the letter?”
“Certainly; the Abbe Busoni and myself have a small account open between us. I do not remember if it is exactly 48,000. francs, which I am still owing him, but I dare say we shall not dispute the difference. You attached great importance, then, to this postscript, my dear Monsieur Cavalcanti?”
“I must explain to you,” said the major, “that, fully confiding in the signature of the Abbe Busoni, I had not provided myself with any other funds; so that if this resource had failed me, I should have found myself very unpleasantly situated in Paris.”
“Is it possible that a man of your standing should be embarrassed anywhere?” said Monte Cristo.
“Why, really I know no one,” said the major.
“But then you yourself are known to others?”
“Yes, I am known, so that”?
“Proceed, my dear Monsieur Cavalcanti.”
“So that you will remit to me these 48,000 francs?”
“Certainly, at your first request.” The major’s eyes dilated with pleasing astonishment. “But sit down,” said Monte Cristo; “really I do not know what I have been thinking of?I have positively kept you standing for the last quarter of an hour.”
“Don’t mention it.” The major drew an arm-chair towards him, and proceeded to seat himself.
“Now,” said the count, “what will you take?a glass of port, sherry, or Alicante?”
“Alicante, if you please; it is my favorite wine.”
“I have some that is very good. You will take a biscuit with it, will you not?”
“Yes, I will take a biscuit, as you are so obliging.”
Monte Cristo rang; Baptistin appeared. The count advanced to meet him. “Well?” said he in a low voice. “The young man is here,” said the valet de chambre in the same tone.
“Into what room did you take him?”
“Into the blue drawing-room, according to your excellency’s orders.”
“That’s right; now bring the Alicante and some biscuits.”
Baptistin left the room. “Really,” said the major, “I am quite ashamed of the trouble I am giving you.”
“Pray don’t mention such a thing,” said the count. Baptistin re-entered with glasses, wine, and biscuits. The count filled one glass, but in the other he only poured a few drops of the ruby-colored liquid. The bottle was covered with spiders’ webs, and all the other signs which indicate the age of wine more truly than do wrinkles on a man’s face. The major made a wise choice; he took the full glass and a biscuit. The count told Baptistin to leave the plate within reach of his guest, who began by sipping the Alicante with an expression of great satisfaction, and then delicately steeped his biscuit in the wine.
“So, sir, you lived at Lucca, did you? You were rich, noble, held in great esteem?had all that could render a man happy?”
“All,” said the major, hastily swallowing his biscuit, “positively all.”
“And yet there was one thing wanting in order to complete your happiness?”
“Only one thing,” said the Italian.
“And that one thing, your lost child.”
“Ah,” said the major, taking a second biscuit, “that consummation of my happiness was indeed wanting.” The worthy major raised his eyes to heaven and sighed.
“Let me hear, then,” said the count, “who this deeply regretted son was; for I always understood you were a bachelor.”
“That was the general opinion, sir,” said the major, “and I”?
“Yes,” replied the count, “and you confirmed the report. A youthful indiscretion, I suppose, which you were anxious to conceal from the world at large?” The major recovered himself, and resumed his usual calm manner, at the same time casting his eyes down, either to give himself time to compose his countenance, or to assist his imagination, all the while giving an under-look at the count, the protracted smile on whose lips still announced the same polite curiosity. “Yes,” said the major, “I did wish this fault to be hidden from every eye.”
“Not on your own account, surely,” replied Monte Cristo; “for a man is above that sort of thing?”
“Oh, no, certainly not on my own account,” said the major with a smile and a shake of the head.
“But for the sake of the mother?” said the count.
“Yes, for the mother’s sake?his poor mother!” cried the major, taking a third biscuit.
“Take some more wine, my dear Cavalcanti,” said the count, pouring out for him a second glass of Alicante; “your emotion has quite overcome you.”
“His poor mother,” murmured the major, trying to get the lachrymal gland in operation, so as to moisten the corner of his eye with a false tear.
“She belonged to one of the first families in Italy, I think, did she not?”
“She was of a noble family of Fiesole, count.”
“And her name was”?
“Do you desire to know her name?”?
“Oh,” said Monte Cristo “it would be quite superfluous for you to tell me, for I already know it.”
“The count knows everything,” said the Italian, bowing.
“Oliva Corsinari, was it not?”
“And you married her at last, notwithstanding the opposition of her family?”
“Yes, that was the way it ended.”
“And you have doubtless brought all your papers with you?” said Monte Cristo.
“The certificate of your marriage with Oliva Corsinari, and the register of your child’s birth.”
“The register of my child’s birth?”
“The register of the birth of Andrea Cavalcanti?of your son; is not his name Andrea?”
“I believe so,” said the major.
“What? You believe so?”
“I dare not positively assert it, as he has been lost for so long a time.”
“Well, then,” said Monte Cristo “you have all the documents with you?”
“Your excellency, I regret to say that, not knowing it was necessary to come provided with these papers, I neglected to bring them.”
“That is unfortunate,” returned Monte Cristo.
“Were they, then, so necessary?”
“They were indispensable.”
The major passed his hand across his brow. “Ah, per Bacco, indispensable, were they?”
“Certainly they were; supposing there were to be doubts raised as to the validity of your marriage or the legitimacy of your child?”
“True,” said the major, “there might be doubts raised.”
“In that case your son would be very unpleasantly situated.”
“It would be fatal to his interests.”
“It might cause him to fail in some desirable matrimonial alliance.”
“You must know that in France they are very particular on these points; it is not sufficient, as in Italy, to go to the priest and say, ‘We love each other, and want you to marry us.’ Marriage is a civil affair in France, and in order to marry in an orthodox manner you must have papers which undeniably establish your identity.”
“That is the misfortune! You see I have not these necessary papers.”
“Fortunately, I have them, though,” said Monte Cristo.
“You have them?”
“I have them.”
“Ah, indeed?” said the major, who, seeing the object of his journey frustrated by the absence of the papers, feared also that his forgetfulness might give rise to some difficulty concerning the 48,000 francs?”ah, indeed, that is a fortunate circumstance; yes, that really is lucky, for it never occurred to me to bring them.”
“I do not at all wonder at it?one cannot think of everything; but, happily, the Abbe Busoni thought for you.”
“He is an excellent person.”
“He is extremely prudent and thoughtful.”
“He is an admirable man,” said the major; “and he sent them to you?”
“Here they are.”
The major clasped his hands in token of admiration. “You married Oliva Corsinari in the church of San Paolo del Monte-Cattini; here is the priest’s certificate.”
“Yes indeed, there it is truly,” said the Italian, looking on with astonishment.
“And here is Andrea Cavalcanti’s baptismal register, given by the curate of Saravezza.”
“All quite correct.”
“Take these documents, then; they do not concern me. You will give them to your son, who will, of course, take great care of them.”
“I should think so, indeed! If he were to lose them”?
“Well, and if he were to lose them?” said Monte Cristo.
“In that case,” replied the major, “it would be necessary to write to the curate for duplicates, and it would be some time before they could be obtained.”
“It would be a difficult matter to arrange,” said Monte Cristo.
“Almost an impossibility,” replied the major.
“I am very glad to see that you understand the value of these papers.”
“I regard them as invaluable.”
“Now,” said Monte Cristo “as to the mother of the young man”?
“As to the mother of the young man”?repeated the Italian, with anxiety.
“As regards the Marchesa Corsinari”?
“Really,” said the major, “difficulties seem to thicken upon us; will she be wanted in any way?”
“No, sir,” replied Monte Cristo; “besides, has she not”?
“Yes, sir,” said the major, “she has”?
“Paid the last debt of nature?”
“Alas, yes,” returned the Italian.
“I knew that,” said Monte Cristo; “she has been dead these ten years.”
“And I am still mourning her loss,” exclaimed the major, drawing from his pocket a checked handkerchief, and alternately wiping first the left and then the right eye.
“What would you have?” said Monte Cristo; “we are all mortal. Now, you understand, my dear Monsieur Cavalcanti, that it is useless for you to tell people in France that you have been separated from your son for fifteen years. Stories of gypsies, who steal children, are not at all in vogue in this part of the world, and would not be believed. You sent him for his education to a college in one of the provinces, and now you wish him to complete his education in the Parisian world. That is the reason which has induced you to leave Via Reggio, where you have lived since the death of your wife. That will be sufficient.”
“You think so?”
“Very well, then.”
“If they should hear of the separation”?
“Ah, yes; what could I say?”
“That an unfaithful tutor, bought over by the enemies of your family”?
“By the Corsinari?”
“Precisely. Had stolen away this child, in order that your name might become extinct.”
“That is reasonable, since he is an only son.”
“Well, now that all is arranged, do not let these newly awakened remembrances be forgotten. You have, doubtless, already guessed that I was preparing a surprise for you?”
“An agreeable one?” asked the Italian.
“Ah, I see the eye of a father is no more to be deceived than his heart.”
“Hum!” said the major.
“Some one has told you the secret; or, perhaps, you guessed that he was here.”
“That who was here?”
“Your child?your son?your Andrea!”
“I did guess it,” replied the major with the greatest possible coolness. “Then he is here?”
“He is,” said Monte Cristo; “when the valet de chambre came in just now, he told me of his arrival.”
“Ah, very well, very well,” said the major, clutching the buttons of his coat at each exclamation.
“My dear sir,” said Monte Cristo, “I understand your emotion; you must have time to recover yourself. I will, in the meantime, go and prepare the young man for this much-desired interview, for I presume that he is not less impatient for it than yourself.”
“I should quite imagine that to be the case,” said Cavalcanti.
“Well, in a quarter of an hour he shall be with you.”
“You will bring him, then? You carry your goodness so far as even to present him to me yourself?”
“No; I do not wish to come between a father and son. Your interview will be private. But do not be uneasy; even if the powerful voice of nature should be silent, you cannot well mistake him; he will enter by this door. He is a fine young man, of fair complexion?a little too fair, perhaps?pleasing in manners; but you will see and judge for yourself.”
“By the way,” said the major, “you know I have only the 2,000 francs which the Abbe Busoni sent me; this sum I have expended upon travelling expenses, and”?
“And you want money; that is a matter of course, my dear M. Cavalcanti. Well, here are 8,000 francs on account.”
The major’s eyes sparkled brilliantly.
“It is 40,000 francs which I now owe you,” said Monte Cristo.
“Does your excellency wish for a receipt?” said the major, at the same time slipping the money into the inner pocket of his coat.
“For what?” said the count.
“I thought you might want it to show the Abbe Busoni.”
“Well, when you receive the remaining 40,000, you shall give me a receipt in full. Between honest men such excessive precaution is, I think, quite unnecessary.”
“Yes, so it is, between perfectly upright people.”
“One word more,” said Monte Cristo.
“You will permit me to make one remark?”
“Certainly; pray do so.”
“Then I should advise you to leave off wearing that style of dress.”
“Indeed,” said the major, regarding himself with an air of complete satisfaction.
“Yes. It may be worn at Via Reggio; but that costume, however elegant in itself, has long been out of fashion in Paris.”
“Oh, if you really are attached to your old mode of dress; you can easily resume it when you leave Paris.”
“But what shall I wear?”
“What you find in your trunks.”
“In my trunks? I have but one portmanteau.”
“I dare say you have nothing else with you. What is the use of boring one’s self with so many things? Besides an old soldier always likes to march with as little baggage as possible.”
“That is just the case?precisely so.”
“But you are a man of foresight and prudence, therefore you sent your luggage on before you. It has arrived at the Hotel des Princes, Rue de Richelieu. It is there you are to take up your quarters.”
“Then, in these trunks”?
“I presume you have given orders to your valet de chambre to put in all you are likely to need,?your plain clothes and your uniform. On grand occasions you must wear your uniform; that will look very well. Do not forget your crosses. They still laugh at them in France, and yet always wear them, for all that.”
“Very well, very well,” said the major, who was in ecstasy at the attention paid him by the count.
“Now,” said Monte Cristo, “that you have fortified yourself against all painful excitement, prepare yourself, my dear M. Cavalcanti, to meet your lost Andrea.” Saying which Monte Cristo bowed, and disappeared behind the tapestry, leaving the major fascinated beyond expression with the delightful reception which he had received at the hands of the count.
.. Chapter 56 Andrea Cavalcanti
The Count of Monte Cristo entered the adjoining room, which Baptistin had designated as the drawing-room, and found there a young man, of graceful demeanor and elegant appearance, who had arrived in a cab about half an hour previously. Baptistin had not found any difficulty in recognizing the person who presented himself at the door for admittance. He was certainly the tall young man with light hair, red beard, black eyes, and brilliant complexion, whom his master had so particularly described to him. When the count entered the room the young man was carelessly stretched on a sofa, tapping his boot with the gold-headed cane which he held in his hand. On perceiving the count he rose quickly. “The Count of Monte Cristo, I believe?” said he.
“Yes, sir, and I think I have the honor of addressing Count Andrea Cavalcanti?”
“Count Andrea Cavalcanti,” repeated the young man, accompanying his words with a bow.
“You are charged with a letter of introduction addressed to me, are you not?” said the count.
“I did not mention that, because the signature seemed to me so strange.”
“The letter signed ‘Sinbad the Sailor,’ is it not?”
“Exactly so. Now, as I have never known any Sinbad, with the exception of the one celebrated in the ‘Thousand and One Nights'”?
“Well, it is one of his descendants, and a great friend of mine; he is a very rich Englishman, eccentric almost to insanity, and his real name is Lord Wilmore.”
“Ah, indeed? Then that explains everything that is extraordinary,” said Andrea. “He is, then, the same Englishman whom I met?at?ah?yes, indeed. Well, monsieur, I am at your service.”
“If what you say be true,” replied the count, smiling, “perhaps you will be kind enough to give me some account of yourself and your family?”
“Certainly, I will do so,” said the young man, with a quickness which gave proof of his ready invention. “I am (as you have said) the Count Andrea Cavalcanti, son of Major Bartolomeo Cavalcanti, a descendant of the Cavalcanti whose names are inscribed in the golden book at Florence. Our family, although still rich (for my father’s income amounts to half a million), has experienced many misfortunes, and I myself was, at the age of five years, taken away by the treachery of my tutor, so that for fifteen years I have not seen the author of my existence. Since I have arrived at years of discretion and become my own master, I have been constantly seeking him, but all in vain. At length I received this letter from your friend, which states that my father is in Paris, and authorizes me to address myself to you for information respecting him.”
“Really, all you have related to me is exceedingly interesting,” said Monte Cristo, observing the young man with a gloomy satisfaction; “and you have done well to conform in everything to the wishes of my friend Sinbad; for your father is indeed here, and is seeking you.”
The count from the moment of first entering the drawing-room, had not once lost sight of the expression of the young man’s countenance; he had admired the assurance of his look and the firmness of his voice; but at these words, so natural in themselves, “Your father is indeed here, and is seeking you,” young Andrea started, and exclaimed, “My father? Is my father here?”
“Most undoubtedly,” replied Monte Cristo; “your father, Major Bartolomeo Cavalcanti.” The expression of terror which, for the moment, had overspread the features of the young man, had now disappeared. “Ah, yes, that is the name, certainly. Major Bartolomeo Cavalcanti. And you really mean to say; monsieur, that my dear father is here?”
“Yes, sir; and I can even add that I have only just left his company. The history which he related to me of his lost son touched me to the quick; indeed, his griefs, hopes, and fears on that subject might furnish material for a most touching and pathetic poem. At length, he one day received a letter, stating that the abductors of his son now offered to restore him, or at least to give notice where he might be found, on condition of receiving a large sum of money, by way of ransom. Your father did not hesitate an instant, and the sum was sent to the frontier of Piedmont, with a passport signed for Italy. You were in the south of France, I think?”
“Yes,” replied Andrea, with an embarrassed air, “I was in the south of France.”
“A carriage was to await you at Nice?”
“Precisely so; and it conveyed me from Nice to Genoa, from Genoa to Turin, from Turin to Chambery, from Chambery to Pont-de-Beauvoisin, and from Pont-de-Beauvoisin to Paris.”
“Indeed? Then your father ought to have met with you on the road, for it is exactly the same route which he himself took, and that is how we have been able to trace your journey to this place.”
“But,” said Andrea, “if my father had met me, I doubt if he would have recognized me; I must be somewhat altered since he last saw me.”
“Oh, the voice of nature,” said Monte Cristo.
“True,” interrupted the young man, “I had not looked upon it in that light.”
“Now,” replied Monte Cristo “there is only one source of uneasiness left in your father’s mind, which is this?he is anxious to know how you have been employed during your long absence from him, how you have been treated by your persecutors, and if they have conducted themselves towards you with all the deference due to your rank. Finally, he is anxious to see if you have been fortunate enough to escape the bad moral influence to which you have been exposed, and which is infinitely more to be dreaded than any physical suffering; he wishes to discover if the fine abilities with which nature had endowed you have been weakened by want of culture; and, in short, whether you consider yourself capable of resuming and retaining in the world the high position to which your rank entitles you.”
“Sir!” exclaimed the young man, quite astounded, “I hope no false report”?
“As for myself, I first heard you spoken of by my friend Wilmore, the philanthropist. I believe he found you in some unpleasant position, but do not know of what nature, for I did not ask, not being inquisitive. Your misfortunes engaged his sympathies, so you see you must have been interesting. He told me that he was anxious to restore you to the position which you had lost, and that he would seek your father until he found him. He did seek, and has found him, apparently, since he is here now; and, finally, my friend apprised me of your coming, and gave me a few other instructions relative to your future fortune. I am quite aware that my friend Wilmore is peculiar, but he is sincere, and as rich as a gold-mine, consequently, he may indulge his eccentricities without any fear of their ruining him, and I have promised to adhere to his instructions. Now, sir, pray do not be offended at the question I am about to put to you, as it comes in the way of my duty as your patron. I would wish to know if the misfortunes which have happened to you?misfortunes entirely beyond your control, and which in no degree diminish my regard for you?I would wish to know if they have not, in some measure, contributed to render you a stranger to the world in which your fortune and your name entitle you to make a conspicuous figure?”
“Sir,” returned the young man, with a reassurance of manner, “make your mind easy on this score. Those who took me from my father, and who always intended, sooner or later, to sell me again to my original proprietor, as they have now done, calculated that, in order to make the most of their bargain, it would be politic to leave me in possession of all my personal and hereditary worth, and even to increase the value, if possible. I have, therefore, received a very good education, and have been treated by these kidnappers very much as the slaves were treated in Asia Minor, whose masters made them grammarians, doctors, and philosophers, in order that they might fetch a higher price in the Roman market.” Monte Cristo smiled with satisfaction; it appeared as if he had not expected so much from M. Andrea Cavalcanti. “Besides,” continued the young man, “if there did appear some defect in education, or offence against the established forms of etiquette, I suppose it would be excused, in consideration of the misfortunes which accompanied my birth, and followed me through my youth.”
“Well,” said Monte Cristo in an indifferent tone, “you will do as you please, count, for you are the master of your own actions, and are the person most concerned in the matter, but if I were you, I would not divulge a word of these adventures. Your history is quite a romance, and the world, which delights in romances in yellow covers, strangely mistrusts those which are bound in living parchment, even though they be gilded like yourself. This is the kind of difficulty which I wished to represent to you, my dear count. You would hardly have recited your touching history before it would go forth to the world, and be deemed unlikely and unnatural. You would be no longer a lost child found, but you would be looked upon as an upstart, who had sprung up like a mushroom in the night. You might excite a little curiosity, but it is not every one who likes to be made the centre of observation and the subject of unpleasant remark.”
“I agree with you, monsieur,” said the young man, turning pale, and, in spite of himself, trembling beneath the scrutinizing look of his companion, “such consequences would be extremely unpleasant.”
“Nevertheless, you must not exaggerate the evil,” said Monte Cristo, “for by endeavoring to avoid one fault you will fall into another. You must resolve upon one simple and single line of conduct, and for a man of your intelligence, this plan is as easy as it is necessary; you must form honorable friendships, and by that means counteract the prejudice which may attach to the obscurity of your former life.” Andrea visibly changed countenance. “I would offer myself as your surety and friendly adviser,” said Monte Cristo, “did I not possess a moral distrust of my best friends, and a sort of inclination to lead others to doubt them too; therefore, in departing from this rule, I should (as the actors say) be playing a part quite out of my line, and should, therefore, run the risk of being hissed, which would be an act of folly.”
“However, your excellency,” said Andrea, “in consideration of Lord Wilmore, by whom I was recommended to you?”
“Yes, certainly,” interrupted Monte Cristo; “but Lord Wilmore did not omit to inform me, my dear M. Andrea, that the season of your youth was rather a stormy one. Ah,” said the count, watching Andrea’s countenance, “I do not demand any confession from you; it is precisely to avoid that necessity that your father was sent for from Lucca. You shall soon see him. He is a little stiff and pompous in his manner, and he is disfigured by his uniform; but when it becomes known that he has been for eighteen years in the Austrian service, all that will be pardoned. We are not generally very severe with the Austrians. In short, you will find your father a very presentable person, I assure you.”
“Ah, sir, you have given me confidence; it is so long since we were separated, that I have not the least remembrance of him, and, besides, you know that in the eyes of the world a large fortune covers all defects.”
“He is a millionaire?his income is 500,000 francs.”
“Then,” said the young man, with anxiety, “I shall be sure to be placed in an agreeable position.”
“One of the most agreeable possible, my dear sir; he will allow you an income of 50,000 livres per annum during the whole time of your stay in Paris.”
“Then in that case I shall always choose to remain there.”
“You cannot control circumstances, my dear sir; ‘man proposes, and God disposes.'” Andrea sighed. “But,” said he, “so long as I do remain in Paris, and nothing forces me to quit it, do you mean to tell me that I may rely on receiving the sum you just now mentioned to me?”
“Shall I receive it from my father?” asked Andrea, with some uneasiness.
“Yes, you will receive it from your father personally, but Lord Wilmore will be the security for the money. He has, at the request of your father, opened an account of 6,000. francs a month at M. Danglars’, which is one of the safest banks in Paris.”
And does my father mean to remain long in Paris?” asked Andrea.
“Only a few days,” replied Monte Cristo. “His service does not allow him to absent himself more than two or three weeks together.”
“Ah, my dear father!” exclaimed Andrea, evidently charmed with the idea of his speedy departure.
“Therefore,” said Monte Cristo feigning to mistake his meaning?”therefore I will not, for another instant, retard the pleasure of your meeting. Are you prepared to embrace your worthy father?”
“I hope you do not doubt it.”
“Go, then, into the drawing-room, my young friend, where you will find your father awaiting you.” Andrea made a low bow to the count, and entered the adjoining room. Monte Cristo watched him till he disappeared, and then touched a spring in a panel made to look like a picture, which, in sliding partly from the frame, discovered to view a small opening, so cleverly contrived that it revealed all that was passing in the drawing-room now occupied by Cavalcanti and Andrea. The young man closed the door behind him, and advanced towards the major, who had risen when he heard steps approaching him. “Ah, my dear father!” said Andrea in a loud voice, in order that the count might hear him in the next room, “is it really you?”
“How do you do, my dear son?” said the major gravely.
“After so many years of painful separation,” said Andrea, in the same tone of voice, and glancing towards the door, “what a happiness it is to meet again!”
“Indeed it is, after so long a separation.”
“Will you not embrace me, sir?” said Andrea.
“If you wish it, my son,” said the major; and the two men embraced each other after the fashion of actors on the stage; that is to say, each rested his head on the other’s shoulder.
“Then we are once more reunited?” said Andrea.
“Once more,” replied the major.
“Never more to be separated?”
“Why, as to that?I think, my dear son, you must be by this time so accustomed to France as to look upon it almost as a second country.”
“The fact is,” said the young man, “that I should be exceedingly grieved to leave it.”
“As for me, you must know I cannot possibly live out of Lucca; therefore I shall return to Italy as soon as I can.”
“But before you leave France, my dear father, I hope you will put me in possession of the documents which will be necessary to prove my descent.”
“Certainly; I am come expressly on that account; it has cost me much trouble to find you, but I had resolved on giving them into your hands, and if I had to recommence my search, it would occupy all the few remaining years of my life.”
“Where are these papers, then?”
“Here they are.”
Andrea seized the certificate of his father’s marriage and his own baptismal register, and after having opened them with all the eagerness which might be expected under the circumstances, he read them with a facility which proved that he was accustomed to similar documents, and with an expression which plainly denoted an unusual interest in the contents. When he had perused the documents, an indefinable expression of pleasure lighted up his countenance, and looking at the major with a most peculiar smile, he said, in very excellent Tuscan,?”Then there is no longer any such thing, in Italy as being condemned to the galleys?” The major drew himself up to his full height.
“Why??what do you mean by that question?”
“I mean that if there were, it would be impossible to draw up with impunity two such deeds as these. In France, my dear sir, half such a piece of effrontery as that would cause you to be quickly despatched to Toulon for five years, for change of air.”
“Will you be good enough to explain your meaning?” said the major, endeavoring as much as possible to assume an air of the greatest majesty.
“My dear M. Cavalcanti,” said Andrea, taking the major by the arm in a confidential manner, “how much are you paid for being my father?” The major was about to speak, when Andrea continued, in a low voice.
“Nonsense, I am going to set you an example of confidence, they give me 50,000 francs a year to be your son; consequently, you can understand that it is not at all likely I shall ever deny my parent.” The major looked anxiously around him. “Make yourself easy, we are quite alone,” said Andrea; “besides, we are conversing in Italian.”
“Well, then,” replied the major, “they paid me 50,000 francs down.”
“Monsieur Cavalcanti,” said Andrea, “do you believe in fairy tales?”
“I used not to do so, but I really feel now almost obliged to have faith in them.”
“You have, then, been induced to alter your opinion; you have had some proofs of their truth?” The major drew from his pocket a handful of gold. “Most palpable proofs,” said he, “as you may perceive.”
“You think, then, that I may rely on the count’s promises?”
“Certainly I do.”
“You are sure he will keep his word with me?”
“To the letter, but at the same time, remember, we must continue to play our respective parts. I, as a tender father”?
“And I as a dutiful son, as they choose that I shall be descended from you.”
“Whom do you mean by they?”
“Ma foi, I can hardly tell, but I was alluding to those who wrote the letter; you received one, did you not?”
“From a certain Abbe Busoni.”
“Have you any knowledge of him?”
“No, I have never seen him.”
“What did he say in the letter?”
“You will promise not to betray me?”
“Rest assured of that; you well know that our interests are the same.”
“Then read for yourself;” and the major gave a letter into the young man’s hand. Andrea read in a low voice?
“You are poor; a miserable old age awaits you. Would you like to become rich, or at least independent? Set out immediately for Paris, and demand of the Count of Monte Cristo, Avenue des Champs Elysees, No. 30, the son whom you had by the Marchesa Corsinari, and who was taken from you at five years of age. This son is named Andrea Cavalcanti. In order that you may not doubt the kind intention of the writer of this letter, you will find enclosed an order for 2,400 francs, payable in Florence, at Signor Gozzi’s; also a letter of introduction to the Count of Monte Cristo, on whom I give you a draft of 48,000 francs. Remember to go to the count on the 26th May at seven o’clock in the evening.
“It is the same.”
“What do you mean?” said the major.
“I was going to say that I received a letter almost to the same effect.”
“From the Abbe Busoni?”
“From whom, then?”
“From an Englishman, called Lord Wilmore, who takes the name of Sinbad the Sailor.”
“And of whom you have no more knowledge than I of the Abbe Busoni?”
“You are mistaken; there I am ahead of you.”
“You have seen him, then?”
“Ah, that is just what I cannot tell you; if I did, I should make you as wise as myself, which it is not my intention to do.”
“And what did the letter contain?”
“‘You are poor, and your future prospects are dark and gloomy. Do you wish for a name? should you like to be rich, and your own master?'”
“Ma foi,” said the young man; “was it possible there could be two answers to such a question?”
“Take the post-chaise which you will find waiting at the Porte de Genes, as you enter Nice; pass through Turin, Chambery, and Pont-de-Beauvoisin. Go to the Count of Monte Cristo, Avenue des Champs Elysees, on the 26th of May, at seven o’clock in the evening, and demand of him your father. You are the son of the Marchese Cavalcanti and the Marchesa Oliva Corsinari. The marquis will give you some papers which will certify this fact, and authorize you to appear under that name in the Parisian world. As to your rank, an annual income of 50,000 livres will enable you to support it admirably. I enclose a draft for 5,000 livres, payable on M. Ferrea, banker at Nice, and also a letter of introduction to the Count of Monte Cristo, whom I have directed to supply all your wants.
“Sinbad the Sailor.”
“Humph,” said the major; “very good. You have seen the count, you say?”
“I have only just left him.”
“And has he conformed to all that the letter specified?”
“Do you understand it?”
“Not in the least.”
“There is a dupe somewhere.”
“At all events, it is neither you nor I.”
“Why, it does not much concern us, do you think it does?”
“No; I agree with you there. We must play the game to the end, and consent to be blindfolded.”
“Ah, you shall see; I promise you I will sustain my part to admiration.”
“I never once doubted your doing so.” Monte Cristo chose this moment for re-entering the drawing-room. On hearing the sound of his footsteps, the two men threw themselves in each other’s arms, and while they were in the midst of this embrace, the count entered. “Well, marquis,” said Monte Cristo, “you appear to be in no way disappointed in the son whom your good fortune has restored to you.”
“Ah, your excellency, I am overwhelmed with delight.”
“And what are your feelings?” said Monte Cristo, turning to the young man.
“As for me, my heart is overflowing with happiness.”
“Happy father, happy son!” said the count.
“There is only one thing which grieves me,” observed the major, “and that is the necessity for my leaving Paris so soon.”
“Ah, my dear M. Cavalcanti, I trust you will not leave before I have had the honor of presenting you to some of my friends.”
“I am at your service, sir,” replied the major.
“Now, sir,” said Monte Cristo, addressing Andrea, “make your confession.”
“Tell M. Cavalcanti something of the state of your finances.”
“Ma foi, monsieur, you have touched upon a tender chord.”
“Do you hear what he says, major?”
“Certainly I do.”
“But do you understand?”
“Your son says he requires money.”
“Well, what would you have me do?” said the major.
“You should furnish him with some of course,” replied Monte Cristo.
“Yes, you,” said the count, at the same time advancing towards Andrea, and slipping a packet of bank-notes into the young man’s hand.
“What is this?”
“It is from your father.”
“From my father?”
“Yes; did you not tell him just now that you wanted money? Well, then, he deputes me to give you this.”
“Am I to consider this as part of my income on account?”
“No, it is for the first expenses of your settling in Paris.”
“Ah, how good my dear father is!”
“Silence,” said Monte Cristo; “he does not wish you to know that it comes from him.”
“I fully appreciate his delicacy,” said Andrea, cramming the notes hastily into his pocket.
“And now, gentlemen, I wish you good-morning,” said Monte Cristo.
“And when shall we have the honor of seeing you again, your excellency?” asked Cavalcanti.
“Ah,” said Andrea, “when may we hope for that pleasure?”
“On Saturday, if you will?Yes.?Let me see?Saturday?I am to dine at my country house, at Auteuil, on that day, Rue de la Fontaine, No. 28. Several persons are invited, and among others, M. Danglars, your banker. I will introduce you to him, for it will be necessary he should know you, as he is to pay your money.”
“Full dress?” said the major, half aloud.
“Oh, yes, certainly,” said the count; “uniform, cross, knee-breeches.”
“And how shall I be dressed?” demanded Andrea.
“Oh, very simply; black trousers, patent leather boots, white waistcoat, either a black or blue coat, and a long cravat. Go to Blin or Veronique for your clothes. Baptistin will tell you where, if you do not know their address. The less pretension there is in your attire, the better will be the effect, as you are a rich man. If you mean to buy any horses, get them of Devedeux, and if you purchase a phaeton, go to Baptiste for it.”
“At what hour shall we come?” asked the young man.
“About half-past six.”
“We will be with you at that time,” said the major. The two Cavalcanti bowed to the count, and left the house. Monte Cristo went to the window, and saw them crossing the street, arm in arm. “There go two miscreants;” said he, “it is a pity they are not really related!”?then, after an instant of gloomy reflection, “Come, I will go to see the Morrels,” said he; “I think that disgust is even more sickening than hatred.”
Chapter 57. In the Lucerne Patch
Our readers must now allow us to transport them again to the enclosure surrounding M. de Villefort’s house, and, behind the gate, half screened from view by the large chestnut-trees, which on all sides spread their luxuriant branches, we shall find some people of our acquaintance.
This time Maximilian was the first to arrive. He was intently watching for a shadow to appear among the trees, and awaiting with anxiety the sound of a light step on the gravel walk. At length, the long-desired sound was heard, and instead of one figure, as he had expected, he perceived that two were approaching him. The delay had been occasioned by a visit from Madame Danglars and Eugenie, which had been prolonged beyond the time at which Valentine was expected. That she might not appear to fail in her promise to Maximilian, she proposed to Mademoiselle Danglars that they should take a walk in the garden, being anxious to show that the delay, which was doubtless a cause of vexation to him, was not occasioned by any neglect on her part. The young man, with the intuitive perception of a lover, quickly understood the circumstances in which she was involuntarily placed, and he was comforted. Besides, although she avoided coming within speaking distance, Valentine arranged so that Maximilian could see her pass and repass, and each time she went by, she managed, unperceived by her companion, to cast an expressive look at the young man, which seemed to say, “Have patience! You see it is not my fault.” And Maximilian was patient, and employed himself in mentally contrasting the two girls,?one fair, with soft languishing eyes, a figure gracefully bending like a weeping willow; the other a brunette, with a fierce and haughty expression, and as straight as a poplar. It is unnecessary to state that, in the eyes of the young man, Valentine did not suffer by the contrast. In about half an hour the girls went away, and Maximilian understood that Mademoiselle Danglars’ visit had at last come to an end. In a few minutes Valentine re-entered the garden alone. For fear that any one should be observing her return, she walked slowly; and instead of immediately directing her steps towards the gate, she seated herself on a bench, and, carefully casting her eyes around, to convince herself that she was not watched, she presently arose, and proceeded quickly to join Maximilian.
“Good-evening, Valentine,” said a well-known voice.
“Good-evening, Maximilian; I know I have kept you waiting, but you saw the cause of my delay.”
“Yes, I recognized Mademoiselle Danglars. I was not aware that you were so intimate with her.”
“Who told you we were intimate, Maximilian?”
“No one, but you appeared to be so. From the manner in which you walked and talked together, one would have thought you were two school-girls telling your secrets to each other.”
“We were having a confidential conversation,” returned Valentine; “she was owning to me her repugnance to the marriage with M. de Morcerf; and I, on the other hand, was confessing to her how wretched it made me to think of marrying M. d’Epinay.”
“That will account to you for the unreserved manner which you observed between me and Eugenie, as in speaking of the man whom I could not love, my thoughts involuntarily reverted to him on whom my affections were fixed.”
“Ah, how good you are to say so, Valentine! You possess a quality which can never belong to Mademoiselle Danglars. It is that indefinable charm which is to a woman what perfume is to the flower and flavor to the fruit, for the beauty of either is not the only quality we seek.”
“It is your love which makes you look upon everything in that light.”
“No, Valentine, I assure you such is not the case. I was observing you both when you were walking in the garden, and, on my honor, without at all wishing to depreciate the beauty of Mademoiselle Danglars, I cannot understand how any man can really love her.”
“The fact is, Maximilian, that I was there, and my presence had the effect of rendering you unjust in your comparison.”
“No; but tell me?it is a question of simple curiosity, and which was suggested by certain ideas passing in my mind relative to Mademoiselle Danglars”?
“I dare say it is something disparaging which you are going to say. It only proves how little indulgence we may expect from your sex,” interrupted Valentine.
“You cannot, at least, deny that you are very harsh judges of each other.”
“If we are so, it is because we generally judge under the influence of excitement. But return to your question.”
“Does Mademoiselle Danglars object to this marriage with M. de Morcerf on account of loving another?”
“I told you I was not on terms of strict intimacy with Eugenie.”
“Yes, but girls tell each other secrets without being particularly intimate; own, now, that you did question her on the subject. Ah, I see you are smiling.”
“If you are already aware of the conversation that passed, the wooden partition which interposed between us and you has proved but a slight security.”
“Come, what did she say?”
“She told me that she loved no one,” said Valentine; “that she disliked the idea of being married; that she would infinitely prefer leading an independent and unfettered life; and that she almost wished her father might lose his fortune, that she might become an artist, like her friend, Mademoiselle Louise d’Armilly.”
“Ah, you see”?
“Well, what does that prove?” asked Valentine.
“Nothing,” replied Maximilian.
“Then why did you smile?”
“Why, you know very well that you are reflecting on yourself, Valentine.”
“Do you want me to go away?”
“Ah, no, no. But do not let us lose time; you are the subject on which I wish to speak.”
“True, we must be quick, for we have scarcely ten minutes more to pass together.”
“Ma foi,” said Maximilian, in consternation.
“Yes, you are right; I am but a poor friend to you. What a life I cause you to lead, poor Maximilian, you who are formed for happiness! I bitterly reproach myself, I assure you.”
“Well, what does it signify, Valentine, so long as I am satisfied, and feel that even this long and painful suspense is amply repaid by five minutes of your society, or two words from your lips? And I have also a deep conviction that heaven would not have created two hearts, harmonizing as ours do, and almost miraculously brought us together, to separate us at last.”
“Those are kind and cheering words. You must hope for us both, Maximilian; that will make me at least partly happy.”
“But why must you leave me so soon?”
“I do not know particulars. I can only tell you that Madame de Villefort sent to request my presence, as she had a communication to make on which a part of my fortune depended. Let them take my fortune, I am already too rich; and, perhaps, when they have taken it, they will leave me in peace and quietness. You would love me as much if I were poor, would you not, Maximilian?”
“Oh, I shall always love you. What should I care for either riches or poverty, if my Valentine was near me, and I felt certain that no one could deprive me of her? But do you not fear that this communication may relate to your marriage?”
“I do not think that is the case.”
“However it may be, Valentine, you must not be alarmed. I assure you that, as long as I live, I shall never love any one else!”
“You think to reassure me when you say that, Maximilian.”
“Pardon me, you are right. I am a brute. But I was going to tell you that I met M. de Morcerf the other day.”
“Monsieur Franz is his friend, you know.”
“Monsieur de Morcerf has received a letter from Franz, announcing his immediate return.” Valentine turned pale, and leaned her hand against the gate. “Ah heavens, if it were that! But no, the communication would not come through Madame de Villefort.”
“Because?I scarcely know why?but it has appeared as if Madame de Villefort secretly objected to the marriage, although she did not choose openly to oppose it.”
“Is it so? Then I feel as if I could adore Madame de Villefort.”
“Do not be in such a hurry to do that,” said Valentine, with a sad smile.
“If she objects to your marrying M. d’Epinay, she would be all the more likely to listen to any other proposition.”
“No, Maximilian, it is not suitors to which Madame de Villefort objects, it is marriage itself.”
“Marriage? If she dislikes that so much, why did she ever marry herself?”
“You do not understand me, Maximilian. About a year ago, I talked of retiring to a convent. Madame de Villefort, in spite of all the remarks which she considered it her duty to make, secretly approved of the proposition, my father consented to it at her instigation, and it was only on account of my poor grandfather that I finally abandoned the project. You can form no idea of the expression of that old man’s eye when he looks at me, the only person in the world whom he loves, and, I had almost said, by whom he is beloved in return. When he learned my resolution, I shall never forget the reproachful look which he cast on me, and the tears of utter despair which chased each other down his lifeless cheeks. Ah, Maximilian, I experienced, at that moment, such remorse for my intention, that, throwing myself at his feet, I exclaimed,?’Forgive me, pray forgive me, my dear grandfather; they may do what they will with me, I will never leave you.’ When I had ceased speaking, he thankfully raised his eyes to heaven, but without uttering a word. Ah, Maximilian, I may have much to suffer, but I feel as if my grandfather’s look at that moment would more than compensate for all.”
“Dear Valentine, you are a perfect angel, and I am sure I do not know what I?sabring right and left among the Bedouins?can have done to merit your being revealed to me, unless, indeed, heaven took into consideration the fact that the victims of my sword were infidels. But tell me what interest Madame de Villefort can have in your remaining unmarried?”
“Did I not tell you just now that I was rich, Maximilian?too rich? I possess nearly 50,000 livres in right of my mother; my grandfather and my grandmother, the Marquis and Marquise de Saint-Meran, will leave me as much, and M. Noirtier evidently intends making me his heir. My brother Edward, who inherits nothing from his mother, will, therefore, be poor in comparison with me. Now, if I had taken the veil, all this fortune would have descended to my father, and, in reversion, to his son.”
“Ah, how strange it seems that such a young and beautiful woman should be so avaricious.”
“It is not for herself that she is so, but for her son, and what you regard as a vice becomes almost a virtue when looked at in the light of maternal love.”
“But could you not compromise matters, and give up a portion of your fortune to her son?”
“How could I make such a proposition, especially to a woman who always professes to be so entirely disinterested?”
“Valentine, I have always regarded our love in the light of something sacred; consequently, I have covered it with the veil of respect, and hid it in the innermost recesses of my soul. No human being, not even my sister, is aware of its existence. Valentine, will you permit me to make a confidant of a friend and reveal to him the love I bear you?”
Valentine started. “A friend, Maximilian; and who is this friend? I tremble to give my permission.”
“Listen, Valentine. Have you never experienced for any one that sudden and irresistible sympathy which made you feel as if the object of it had been your old and familiar friend, though, in reality, it was the first time you had ever met? Nay, further, have you never endeavored to recall the time, place, and circumstances of your former intercourse, and failing in this attempt, have almost believed that your spirits must have held converse with each other in some state of being anterior to the present, and that you are only now occupied in a reminiscence of the past?”
“Well, that is precisely the feeling which I experienced when I first saw that extraordinary man.”
“Extraordinary, did you say?”
“You have known him for some time, then?”
“Scarcely longer than eight or ten days.”
“And do you call a man your friend whom you have only known for eight or ten days? Ah, Maximilian, I had hoped you set a higher value on the title of friend.”
“Your logic is most powerful, Valentine, but say what you will, I can never renounce the sentiment which has instinctively taken possession of my mind. I feel as if it were ordained that this man should be associated with all the good which the future may have in store for me, and sometimes it really seems as if his eye was able to see what was to come, and his hand endowed with the power of directing events according to his own will.”
“He must be a prophet, then,” said Valentine, smiling.
“Indeed,” said Maximilian, “I have often been almost tempted to attribute to him the gift of prophecy; at all events, he has a wonderful power of foretelling any future good.”
“Ah,” said Valentine in a mournful tone, “do let me see this man, Maximilian; he may tell me whether I shall ever be loved sufficiently to make amends for all I have suffered.”
“My poor girl, you know him already.”
“I know him?”
“Yes; it was he who saved the life of your step-mother and her son.”
“The Count of Monte Cristo?”
“Ah,” cried Valentine, “he is too much the friend of Madame de Villefort ever to be mine.”
“The friend of Madame de Villefort! It cannot be; surely, Valentine, you are mistaken?”
“No, indeed, I am not; for I assure you, his power over our household is almost unlimited. Courted by my step-mother, who regards him as the epitome of human wisdom; admired by my father, who says he has never before heard such sublime ideas so eloquently expressed; idolized by Edward, who, notwithstanding his fear of the count’s large black eyes, runs to meet him the moment he arrives, and opens his hand, in which he is sure to find some delightful present,?M. de Monte Cristo appears to exert a mysterious and almost uncontrollable influence over all the members of our family.”
“If such be the case, my dear Valentine, you must yourself have felt, or at all events will soon feel, the effects of his presence. He meets Albert de Morcerf in Italy?it is to rescue him from the hands of the banditti; he introduces himself to Madame Danglars?it is that he may give her a royal present; your step-mother and her son pass before his door?it is that his Nubian may save them from destruction. This man evidently possesses the power of influencing events, both as regards men and things. I never saw more simple tastes united to greater magnificence. His smile is so sweet when he addresses me, that I forget it ever can be bitter to others. Ah, Valentine, tell me, if he ever looked on you with one of those sweet smiles? if so, depend on it, you will be happy.”
“Me?” said the young girl, “he never even glances at me; on the contrary, if I accidentally cross his path, he appears rather to avoid me. Ah, he is not generous, neither does he possess that supernatural penetration which you attribute to him, for if he did, he would have perceived that I was unhappy; and if he had been generous, seeing me sad and solitary, he would have used his influence to my advantage, and since, as you say, he resembles the sun, he would have warmed my heart with one of his life-giving rays. You say he loves you, Maximilian; how do you know that he does? All would pay deference to an officer like you, with a fierce mustache and a long sabre, but they think they may crush a poor weeping girl with impunity.”
“Ah, Valentine, I assure you you are mistaken.”
“If it were otherwise?if he treated me diplomatically?that is to say, like a man who wishes, by some means or other, to obtain a footing in the house, so that he may ultimately gain the power of dictating to its occupants?he would, if it had been but once, have honored me with the smile which you extol so loudly; but no, he saw that I was unhappy, he understood that I could be of no use to him, and therefore paid no attention to me whatever. Who knows but that, in order to please Madame de Villefort and my father, he may not persecute me by every means in his power? It is not just that he should despise me so, without any reason. Ah, forgive me,” said Valentine, perceiving the effect which her words were producing on Maximilian: “I have done wrong, for I have given utterance to thoughts concerning that man which I did not even know existed in my heart. I do not deny the influence of which you speak, or that I have not myself experienced it, but with me it has been productive of evil rather than good.”
“Well, Valentine,” said Morrel with a sigh, “we will not discuss the matter further. I will not make a confidant of him.”
“Alas,” said Valentine, “I see that I have given you pain. I can only say how sincerely I ask pardon for having griefed you. But, indeed, I am not prejudiced beyond the power of conviction. Tell me what this Count of Monte Cristo has done for you.”
“I own that your question embarrasses me, Valentine, for I cannot say that the count has rendered me any ostensible service. Still, as I have already told you I have an instinctive affection for him, the source of which I cannot explain to you. Has the sun done anything for me? No; he warms me with his rays, and it is by his light that I see you?nothing more. Has such and such a perfume done anything for me? No; its odor charms one of my senses?that is all I can say when I am asked why I praise it. My friendship for him is as strange and unaccountable as his for me. A secret voice seems to whisper to me that there must be something more than chance in this unexpected reciprocity of friendship. In his most simple actions, as well as in his most secret thoughts, I find a relation to my own. You will perhaps smile at me when I tell you that, ever since I have known this man, I have involuntarily entertained the idea that all the good fortune which has befallen me originated from him. However, I have managed to live thirty years without this protection, you will say; but I will endeavor a little to illustrate my meaning. He invited me to dine with him on Saturday, which was a very natural thing for him to do. Well, what have I learned since? That your mother and M. de Villefort are both coming to this dinner. I shall meet them there, and who knows what future advantages may result from the interview? This may appear to you to be no unusual combination of circumstances; nevertheless, I perceive some hidden plot in the arrangement?something, in fact, more than is apparent on a casual view of the subject. I believe that this singular man, who appears to fathom the motives of every one, has purposely arranged for me to meet M. and Madame de Villefort, and sometimes, I confess, I have gone so far as to try to read in his eyes whether he was in possession of the secret of our love.”
“My good friend,” said Valentine, “I should take you for a visionary, and should tremble for your reason, if I were always to hear you talk in a strain similar to this. Is it possible that you can see anything more than the merest chance in this meeting? Pray reflect a little. My father, who never goes out, has several times been on the point of refusing this invitation; Madame de Villefort, on the contrary, is burning with the desire of seeing this extraordinary nabob in his own house, therefore, she has with great difficulty prevailed on my father to accompany her. No, no; it is as I have said, Maximilian,?there is no one in the world of whom I can ask help but yourself and my grandfather, who is little better than a corpse.”
“I see that you are right, logically speaking,” said Maximilian; “but the gentle voice which usually has such power over me fails to convince me to-day.”
“I feel the same as regards yourself.” said Valentine; “and I own that, if you have no stronger proof to give me”?
“I have another,” replied Maximilian; “but I fear you will deem it even more absurd than the first.”
“So much the worse,” said Valentine, smiling.
“It is, nevertheless, conclusive to my mind. My ten years of service have also confirmed my ideas on the subject of sudden inspirations, for I have several times owed my life to a mysterious impulse which directed me to move at once either to the right or to the left, in order to escape the ball which killed the comrade fighting by my side, while it left me unharmed.”
“Dear Maximilian, why not attribute your escape to my constant prayers for your safety? When you are away, I no longer pray for myself, but for you.”
“Yes, since you have known me,” said Morrel, smiling; “but that cannot apply to the time previous to our acquaintance, Valentine.”
“You are very provoking, and will not give me credit for anything; but let me hear this second proof, which you yourself own to be absurd.”
“Well, look through this opening, and you will see the beautiful new horse which I rode here.”
“Ah, what a beautiful creature!” cried Valentine; “why did you not bring him close to the gate, so that I could talk to him and pat him?”
“He is, as you see, a very valuable animal,” said Maximilian. “You know that my means are limited, and that I am what would be designated a man of moderate pretensions. Well, I went to a horse dealer’s, where I saw this magnificent horse, which I have named Medeah. I asked the price; they told me it was 4,500 francs. I was, therefore, obliged to give it up, as you may imagine, but I own I went away with rather a heavy heart, for the horse had looked at me affectionately, had rubbed his head against me and, when I mounted him, had pranced in the most delightful way imaginable, so that I was altogether fascinated with him. The same evening some friends of mine visited me,?M. de Chateau-Renaud, M. Debray, and five or six other choice spirits, whom you do not know, even by name. They proposed a game of bouillotte. I never play, for I am not rich enough to afford to lose, or sufficiently poor to desire to gain. But I was at my own house, you understand, so there was nothing to be done but to send for the cards, which I did.
“Just as they were sitting down to table, M. de Monte Cristo arrived. He took his seat amongst them; they played, and I won. I am almost ashamed to say that my gains amounted to 5,000 francs. We separated at midnight. I could not defer my pleasure, so I took a cabriolet and drove to the horse dealer’s. Feverish and excited, I rang at the door. The person who opened it must have taken me for a madman, for I rushed at once to the stable. Medeah was standing at the rack, eating his hay. I immediately put on the saddle and bridle, to which operation he lent himself with the best grace possible; then, putting the 4,500 francs into the hands of the astonished dealer, I proceeded to fulfil my intention of passing the night in riding in the Champs Elysees. As I rode by the count’s house I perceived a light in one of the windows, and fancied I saw the shadow of his figure moving behind the curtain. Now, Valentine, I firmly believe that he knew of my wish to possess this horse, and that he lost expressly to give me the means of procuring him.”
“My dear Maximilian, you are really too fanciful; you will not love even me long. A man who accustoms himself to live in such a world of poetry and imagination must find far too little excitement in a common, every-day sort of attachment such as ours. But they are calling me. Do you hear?”
“Ah, Valentine,” said Maximilian, “give me but one finger through this opening in the grating, one finger, the littlest finger of all, that I may have the happiness of kissing it.”
“Maximilian, we said we would be to each other as two voices, two shadows.”
“As you will, Valentine.”
“Shall you be happy if I do what you wish?”
“Oh, yes!” Valentine mounted on a bench, and passed not only her finger but her whole hand through the opening. Maximilian uttered a cry of delight, and, springing forwards, seized the hand extended towards him, and imprinted on it a fervent and impassioned kiss. The little hand was then immediately withdrawn, and the young man saw Valentine hurrying towards the house, as though she were almost terrified at her own sensations.
Chapter 58. M. Noirtier de Villefort
We will now relate what was passing in the house of the king’s attorney after the departure of Madame Danglars and her daughter, and during the time of the conversation between Maximilian and Valentine, which we have just detailed. M. de Villefort entered his father’s room, followed by Madame de Villefort. Both of the visitors, after saluting the old man and speaking to Barrois, a faithful servant, who had been twenty-five years in his service, took their places on either side of the paralytic.
M. Noirtier was sitting in an arm-chair, which moved upon casters, in which he was wheeled into the room in the morning, and in the same way drawn out again at night. He was placed before a large glass, which reflected the whole apartment, and so, without any attempt to move, which would have been impossible, he could see all who entered the room and everything which was going on around him. M. Noirtier, although almost as immovable as a corpse, looked at the new-comers with a quick and intelligent expression, perceiving at once, by their ceremonious courtesy, that they were come on business of an unexpected and official character. Sight and hearing were the only senses remaining, and they, like two solitary sparks, remained to animate the miserable body which seemed fit for nothing but the grave; it was only, however, by means of one of these senses that he could reveal the thoughts and feelings that still occupied his mind, and the look by which he gave expression to his inner life was like the distant gleam of a candle which a traveller sees by night across some desert place, and knows that a living being dwells beyond the silence and obscurity.
Noirtier’s hair was long and white, and flowed over his shoulders; while in his eyes, shaded by thick black lashes, was concentrated, as it often happens with an organ which is used to the exclusion of the others, all the activity, address, force, and intelligence which were formerly diffused over his whole body; and so although the movement of the arm, the sound of the voice, and the agility of the body, were wanting, the speaking eye sufficed for all. He commanded with it; it was the medium through which his thanks were conveyed. In short, his whole appearance produced on the mind the impression of a corpse with living eyes, and nothing could be more startling than to observe the expression of anger or joy suddenly lighting up these organs, while the rest of the rigid and marble-like features were utterly deprived of the power of participation. Three persons only could understand this language of the poor paralytic; these were Villefort, Valentine, and the old servant of whom we have already spoken. But as Villefort saw his father but seldom, and then only when absolutely obliged, and as he never took any pains to please or gratify him when he was there, all the old man’s happiness was centred in his granddaughter. Valentine, by means of her love, her patience, and her devotion, had learned to read in Noirtier’s look all the varied feelings which were passing in his mind. To this dumb language, which was so unintelligible to others, she answered by throwing her whole soul into the expression of her countenance, and in this manner were the conversations sustained between the blooming girl and the helpless invalid, whose body could scarcely be called a living one, but who, nevertheless, possessed a fund of knowledge and penetration, united with a will as powerful as ever although clogged by a body rendered utterly incapable of obeying its impulses. Valentine had solved the problem, and was able easily to understand his thoughts, and to convey her own in return, and, through her untiring and devoted assiduity, it was seldom that, in the ordinary transactions of every-day life, she failed to anticipate the wishes of the living, thinking mind, or the wants of the almost inanimate body. As to the servant, he had, as we have said, been with his master for five and twenty years, therefore he knew all his habits, and it was seldom that Noirtier found it necessary to ask for anything, so prompt was he in administering to all the necessities of the invalid. Villefort did not need the help of either Valentine or the domestic in order to carry on with his father the strange conversation which he was about to begin. As we have said, he perfectly understood the old man’s vocabulary, and if he did not use it more often, it was only indifference and ennui which prevented him from so doing. He therefore allowed Valentine to go into the garden, sent away Barrois, and after having seated himself at his father’s right hand, while Madame de Villefort placed herself on the left, he addressed him thus:?
“I trust you will not be displeased, sir, that Valentine has not come with us, or that I dismissed Barrois, for our conference will be one which could not with propriety be carried on in the presence of either. Madame de Villefort and I have a communication to make to you.”
Noirtier’s face remained perfectly passive during this long preamble, while, on the contrary, Villefort’s eye was endeavoring to penetrate into the inmost recesses of the old man’s heart.
“This communication,” continued the procureur, in that cold and decisive tone which seemed at once to preclude all discussion, “will, we are sure, meet with your approbation.” The eye of the invalid still retained that vacancy of expression which prevented his son from obtaining any knowledge of the feelings which were passing in his mind; he listened, nothing more. “Sir,” resumed Villefort, “we are thinking of marrying Valentine.” Had the old man’s face been moulded in wax it could not have shown less emotion at this news than was now to be traced there. “The marriage will take place in less than three months,” said Villefort. Noirtier’s eye still retained its inanimate expression.
Madame de Villefort now took her part in the conversation and added,?”We thought this news would possess an interest for you, sir, who have always entertained a great affection for Valentine; it therefore only now remains for us to tell you the name of the young man for whom she is destined. It is one of the most desirable connections which could possibly be formed; he possesses fortune, a high rank in society, and every personal qualification likely to render Valentine supremely happy,?his name, moreover, cannot be wholly unknown to you. It is M. Franz de Quesnel, Baron d’Epinay.”
While his wife was speaking, Villefort had narrowly watched the old man’s countenance. When Madame de Villefort pronounced the name of Franz, the pupil of M. Noirtier’s eye began to dilate, and his eyelids trembled with the same movement that may be perceived on the lips of an individual about to speak, and he darted a lightning glance at Madame de Villefort and his son. The procureur, who knew the political hatred which had formerly existed between M. Noirtier and the elder d’Epinay, well understood the agitation and anger which the announcement had produced; but, feigning not to perceive either, he immediately resumed the narrative begun by his wife. “Sir,” said he, “you are aware that Valentine is about to enter her nineteenth year, which renders it important that she should lose no time in forming a suitable alliance. Nevertheless, you have not been forgotten in our plans, and we have fully ascertained beforehand that Valentine’s future husband will consent, not to live in this house, for that might not be pleasant for the young people, but that you should live with them; so that you and Valentine, who are so attached to each other, would not be separated, and you would be able to pursue exactly the same course of life which you have hitherto done, and thus, instead of losing, you will be a gainer by the change, as it will secure to you two children instead of one, to watch over and comfort you.”
Noirtier’s look was furious; it was very evident that something desperate was passing in the old man’s mind, for a cry of anger and grief rose in his throat, and not being able to find vent in utterance, appeared almost to choke him, for his face and lips turned quite purple with the struggle. Villefort quietly opened a window, saying, “It is very warm, and the heat affects M. Noirtier.” He then returned to his place, but did not sit down. “This marriage,” added Madame de Villefort, “is quite agreeable to the wishes of M. d’Epinay and his family; besides, he had no relations nearer than an uncle and aunt, his mother having died at his birth, and his father having been assassinated in 1815, that is to say, when he was but two years old; it naturally followed that the child was permitted to choose his own pursuits, and he has, therefore, seldom acknowledged any other authority but that of his own will.”
“That assassination was a mysterious affair,” said Villefort, “and the perpetrators have hitherto escaped detection, although suspicion has fallen on the head of more than one person.” Noirtier made such an effort that his lips expanded into a smile.
“Now,” continued Villefort, “those to whom the guilt really belongs, by whom the crime was committed, on whose heads the justice of man may probably descend here, and the certain judgment of God hereafter, would rejoice in the opportunity thus afforded of bestowing such a peace-offering as Valentine on the son of him whose life they so ruthlessly destroyed.” Noirtier had succeeded in mastering his emotion more than could have been deemed possible with such an enfeebled and shattered frame. “Yes, I understand,” was the reply contained in his look; and this look expressed a feeling of strong indignation, mixed with profound contempt. Villefort fully understood his father’s meaning, and answered by a slight shrug of his shoulders. He then motioned to his wife to take leave. “Now sir,” said Madame de Villefort, “I must bid you farewell. Would you like me to send Edward to you for a short time?”
It had been agreed that the old man should express his approbation by closing his eyes, his refusal by winking them several times, and if he had some desire or feeling to express, he raised them to heaven. If he wanted Valentine, he closed his right eye only, and if Barrois, the left. At Madame de Villefort’s proposition he instantly winked his eyes. Provoked by a complete refusal, she bit her lip and said, “Then shall I send Valentine to you?” The old man closed his eyes eagerly, thereby intimating that such was his wish. M. and Madame de Villefort bowed and left the room, giving orders that Valentine should be summoned to her grandfather’s presence, and feeling sure that she would have much to do to restore calmness to the perturbed spirit of the invalid. Valentine, with a color still heightened by emotion, entered the room just after her parents had quitted it. One look was sufficient to tell her that her grandfather was suffering, and that there was much on his mind which he was wishing to communicate to her. “Dear grandpapa,” cried she, “what has happened? They have vexed you, and you are angry?” The paralytic closed his eyes in token of assent. “Who has displeased you? Is it my father?”
“Madame de Villefort?”
“Me?” The former sign was repeated. “Are you displeased with me?” cried Valentine in astonishment. M. Noirtier again closed his eyes. “And what have I done, dear grandpapa, that you should be angry with me?” cried Valentine.
There was no answer, and she continued. “I have not seen you all day. Has any one been speaking to you against me?”
“Yes,” said the old man’s look, with eagerness.
“Let me think a moment. I do assure you, grandpapa?Ah?M. and Madame de Villefort have just left this room, have they not?”
“And it was they who told you something which made you angry? What was it then? May I go and ask them, that I may have the opportunity of making my peace with you?”
“No, no,” said Noirtier’s look.
“Ah, you frighten me. What can they have said?” and she again tried to think what it could be.
“Ah, I know,” said she, lowering her voice and going close to the old man. “They have been speaking of my marriage,?have they not?”
“Yes,” replied the angry look.
“I understand; you are displeased at the silence I have preserved on the subject. The reason of it was, that they had insisted on my keeping the matter a secret, and begged me not to tell you anything of it. They did not even acquaint me with their intentions, and I only discovered them by chance, that is why I have been so reserved with you, dear grandpapa. Pray forgive me.” But there was no look calculated to reassure her; all it seemed to say was, “It is not only your reserve which afflicts me.”
“What is it, then?” asked the young girl. “Perhaps you think I shall abandon you, dear grandpapa, and that I shall forget you when I am married?”
“They told you, then, that M. d’Epinay consented to our all living together?”
“Then why are you still vexed and grieved?” The old man’s eyes beamed with an expression of gentle affection. “Yes, I understand,” said Valentine; “it is because you love me.” The old man assented. “And you are afraid I shall be unhappy?”
“You do not like M. Franz?” The eyes repeated several times, “No, no, no.”
“Then you are vexed with the engagement?”
“Well, listen,” said Valentine, throwing herself on her knees, and putting her arm round her grandfather’s neck, “I am vexed, too, for I do not love M. Franz d’Epinay.” An expression of intense joy illumined the old man’s eyes. “When I wished to retire into a convent, you remember how angry you were with me?” A tear trembled in the eye of the invalid. “Well,” continued Valentine, “the reason of my proposing it was that I might escape this hateful marriage, which drives me to despair.” Noirtier’s breathing came thick and short. “Then the idea of this marriage really grieves you too? Ah, if you could but help me?if we could both together defeat their plan! But you are unable to oppose them,?you, whose mind is so quick, and whose will is so firm are nevertheless, as weak and unequal to the contest as I am myself. Alas, you, who would have been such a powerful protector to me in the days of your health and strength, can now only sympathize in my joys and sorrows, without being able to take any active part in them. However, this is much, and calls for gratitude and heaven has not taken away all my blessings when it leaves me your sympathy and kindness.”
At these words there appeared in Noirtier’s eye an expression of such deep meaning that the young girl thought she could read these words there: “You are mistaken; I can still do much for you.”
“Do you think you can help me, dear grandpapa?” said Valentine.
“Yes.” Noirtier raised his eyes, it was the sign agreed on between him and Valentine when he wanted anything.
“What is it you want, dear grandpapa?” said Valentine, and she endeavored to recall to mind all the things which he would be likely to need; and as the ideas presented themselves to her mind, she repeated them aloud, then,?finding that all her efforts elicited nothing but a constant “No,”?she said, “Come, since this plan does not answer, I will have recourse to another.” She then recited all the letters of the alphabet from A down to N. When she arrived at that letter the paralytic made her understand that she had spoken the initial letter of the thing he wanted. “Ah,” said Valentine, “the thing you desire begins with the letter N; it is with N that we have to do, then. Well, let me see, what can you want that begins with N? Na?Ne?Ni?No”?
“Yes, yes, yes,” said the old man’s eye.
“Ah, it is No, then?”
“Yes.” Valentine fetched a dictionary, which she placed on a desk before Noirtier; she opened it, and, seeing that the odd man’s eye was thoroughly fixed on its pages, she ran her finger quickly up and down the columns. During the six years which had passed since Noirtier first fell into this sad state, Valentine’s powers of invention had been too often put to the test not to render her expert in devising expedients for gaining a knowledge of his wishes, and the constant practice had so perfected her in the art that she guessed the old man’s meaning as quickly as if he himself had been able to seek for what he wanted. At the word “Notary,” Noirtier made a sign to her to stop. “Notary,” said she, “do you want a notary, dear grandpapa?” The old man again signified that it was a notary he desired.
“You would wish a notary to be sent for then?” said Valentine.
“Shall my father be informed of your wish?”
“Do you wish the notary to be sent for immediately?”
“Then they shall go for him directly, dear grandpapa. Is that all you want?”
“Yes.” Valentine rang the bell, and ordered the servant to tell Monsieur or Madame de Villefort that they were requested to come to M. Noirtier’s room. “Are you satisfied now?” inquired Valentine.
“I am sure you are; it is not very difficult to discover that,”?and the young girl smiled on her grandfather, as if he had been a child. M. de Villefort entered, followed by Barrois. “What do you want me for, sir?” demanded he of the paralytic.
“Sir,” said Valentine, “my grandfather wishes for a notary.” At this strange and unexpected demand M. de Villefort and his father exchanged looks. “Yes,” motioned the latter, with a firmness which seemed to declare that with the help of Valentine and his old servant, who both knew what his wishes were, he was quite prepared to maintain the contest. “Do you wish for a notary?” asked Villefort.
“What to do?”
Noirtier made no answer. “What do you want with a notary?” again repeated Villefort. The invalid’s eye remained fixed, by which expression he intended to intimate that his resolution was unalterable. “Is it to do us some ill turn? Do you think it is worth while?” said Villefort.
“Still,” said Barrois, with the freedom and fidelity of an old servant, “if M. Noirtier asks for a notary, I suppose he really wishes for a notary; therefore I shall go at once and fetch one.” Barrois acknowledged no master but Noirtier, and never allowed his desires in any way to be contradicted.
“Yes, I do want a notary,” motioned the old man, shutting his eyes with a look of defiance, which seemed to say, “and I should like to see the person who dares to refuse my request.”
“You shall have a notary, as you absolutely wish for one, sir,” said Villefort; “but I shall explain to him your state of health, and make excuses for you, for the scene cannot fail of being a most ridiculous one.”
“Never mind that,” said Barrois; “I shall go and fetch a notary, nevertheless,”?and the old servant departed triumphantly on his mission.
Chapter 59. The Will
As soon as Barrois had left the room, Noirtier looked at Valentine with a malicious expression that said many things. The young girl perfectly understood the look, and so did Villefort, for his countenance became clouded, and he knitted his eyebrows angrily. He took a seat, and quietly awaited the arrival of the notary. Noirtier saw him seat himself with an appearance of perfect indifference, at the same time giving a side look at Valentine, which made her understand that she also was to remain in the room. Three-quarters of an hour after, Barrois returned, bringing the notary with him. “Sir,” said Villefort, after the first salutations were over, “you were sent for by M. Noirtier, whom you see here. All his limbs have become completely paralysed, he has lost his voice also, and we ourselves find much trouble in endeavoring to catch some fragments of his meaning.”
Noirtier cast an appealing look on Valentine, which look was at once so earnest and imperative, that she answered immediately. “Sir,” said she, “I perfectly understand my grandfather’s meaning at all times.”
“That is quite true,” said Barrois; “and that is what I told the gentleman as we walked along.”
“Permit me,” said the notary, turning first to Villefort and then to Valentine?”permit me to state that the case in question is just one of those in which a public officer like myself cannot proceed to act without thereby incurring a dangerous responsibility. The first thing necessary to render an act valid is, that the notary should be thoroughly convinced that he has faithfully interpreted the will and wishes of the person dictating the act. Now I cannot be sure of the approbation or disapprobation of a client who cannot speak, and as the object of his desire or his repugnance cannot be clearly proved to me, on account of his want of speech, my services here would be quite useless, and cannot be legally exercised.” The notary then prepared to retire. An imperceptible smile of triumph was expressed on the lips of the procureur. Noirtier looked at Valentine with an expression so full of grief, that she arrested the departure of the notary. “Sir,” said she, “the language which I speak with my grandfather may be easily learnt, and I can teach you in a few minutes, to understand it almost as well as I can myself. Will you tell me what you require, in order to set your conscience quite at ease on the subject?”
“In order to render an act valid, I must be certain of the approbation or disapprobation of my client. Illness of body would not affect the validity of the deed, but sanity of mind is absolutely requisite.”
“Well, sir, by the help of two signs, with which I will acquaint you presently, you may ascertain with perfect certainty that my grandfather is still in the full possession of all his mental faculties. M. Noirtier, being deprived of voice and motion, is accustomed to convey his meaning by closing his eyes when he wishes to signify ‘yes,’ and to wink when he means ‘no.’ You now know quite enough to enable you to converse with M. Noirtier;?try.” Noirtier gave Valentine such a look of tenderness and gratitude that it was comprehended even by the notary himself. “You have heard and understood what your granddaughter has been saying, sir, have you?” asked the notary. Noirtier closed his eyes. “And you approve of what she said?that is to say, you declare that the signs which she mentioned are really those by means of which you are accustomed to convey your thoughts?”
“It was you who sent for me?”
“To make your will?”
“And you do not wish me to go away without fulfilling your original intentions?” The old man winked violently. “Well, sir,” said the young girl, “do you understand now, and is your conscience perfectly at rest on the subject?” But before the notary could answer, Villefort had drawn him aside. “Sir,” said he, “do you suppose for a moment that a man can sustain a physical shock, such as M. Noirtier has received, without any detriment to his mental faculties?”
“It is not exactly that, sir,” said the notary, “which makes me uneasy, but the difficulty will be in wording his thoughts and intentions, so as to be able to get his answers.”
“You must see that to be an utter impossibility,” said Villefort. Valentine and the old man heard this conversation, and Noirtier fixed his eye so earnestly on Valentine that she felt bound to answer to the look.
“Sir,” said she, “that need not make you uneasy, however difficult it may at first sight appear to be. I can discover and explain to you my grandfather’s thoughts, so as to put an end to all your doubts and fears on the subject. I have now been six years with M. Noirtier, and let him tell you if ever once, during that time, he has entertained a thought which he was unable to make me understand.”
“No,” signed the old man.
“Let us try what we can do, then,” said the notary. “You accept this young lady as your interpreter, M. Noirtier?”
“Well, sir, what do you require of me, and what document is it that you wish to be drawn up?” Valentine named all the letters of the alphabet until she came to W. At this letter the eloquent eye of Noirtier gave her notice that she was to stop. “It is very evident that it is the letter W which M. Noirtier wants,” said the notary. “Wait,” said Valentine; and, turning to her grandfather, she repeated, “Wa?We?Wi”?The old man stopped her at the last syllable. Valentine then took the dictionary, and the notary watched her while she turned over the pages. She passed her finger slowly down the columns, and when she came to the word “Will,” M. Noirtier’s eye bade her stop. “Will,” said the notary; “it is very evident that M. Noirtier is desirous of making his will.”
“Yes, yes, yes,” motioned the invalid.
“Really, sir, you must allow that this is most extraordinary,” said the astonished notary, turning to M. de Villefort. “Yes,” said the procureur, “and I think the will promises to be yet more extraordinary, for I cannot see how it is to be drawn up without the intervention of Valentine, and she may, perhaps, be considered as too much interested in its contents to allow of her being a suitable interpreter of the obscure and ill-defined wishes of her grandfather.”
“No, no, no,” replied the eye of the paralytic.
“What?” said Villefort, “do you mean to say that Valentine is not interested in your will?”
“Sir,” said the notary, whose interest had been greatly excited, and who had resolved on publishing far and wide the account of this extraordinary and picturesque scene, “what appeared so impossible to me an hour ago, has now become quite easy and practicable, and this may be a perfectly valid will, provided it be read in the presence of seven witnesses, approved by the testator, and sealed by the notary in the presence of the witnesses. As to the time, it will not require very much more than the generality of wills. There are certain forms necessary to be gone through, and which are always the same. As to the details, the greater part will be furnished afterwards by the state in which we find the affairs of the testator, and by yourself, who, having had the management of them, can doubtless give full information on the subject. But besides all this, in order that the instrument may not be contested, I am anxious to give it the greatest possible authenticity, therefore, one of my colleagues will help me, and, contrary to custom, will assist in the dictation of the testament. Are you satisfied, sir?” continued the notary, addressing the old man.
“Yes,” looked the invalid, his eye beaming with delight at the ready interpretation of his meaning.
“What is he going to do?” thought Villefort, whose position demanded much reserve, but who was longing to know what his father’s intentions were. He left the room to give orders for another notary to be sent, but Barrois, who had heard all that passed, had guessed his master’s wishes, and had already gone to fetch one. The procureur then told his wife to come up. In the course of a quarter of an hour every one had assembled in the chamber of the paralytic; the second notary had also arrived. A few words sufficed for a mutual understanding between the two officers of the law. They read to Noirtier the formal copy of a will, in order to give him an idea of the terms in which such documents are generally couched; then, in order to test the capacity of the testator, the first notary said, turning towards him,?”When an individual makes his will, it is generally in favor or in prejudice of some person.”
“Have you an exact idea of the amount of your fortune?”
“I will name to you several sums which will increase by gradation; you will stop me when I reach the one representing the amount of your own possessions?”
“Yes.” There was a kind of solemnity in this interrogation. Never had the struggle between mind and matter been more apparent than now, and if it was not a sublime, it was, at least, a curious spectacle. They had formed a circle round the invalid; the second notary was sitting at a table, prepared for writing, and his colleague was standing before the testator in the act of interrogating him on the subject to which we have alluded. “Your fortune exceeds 300,000. francs, does it not?” asked he. Noirtier made a sign that it did. “Do you possess 400,000 francs?” inquired the notary. Noirtier’s eye remained immovable. “Five hundred thousand?” The same expression continued. “Six hundred thousand?700,000?800,000?900,000?” Noirtier stopped him at the last-named sum. “You are then in possession of 900,000. francs?” asked the notary. “Yes.”
“In landed property?”
“The stock is in your own hands?” The look which M. Noirtier cast on Barrois showed that there was something wanting which he knew where to find. The old servant left the room, and presently returned, bringing with him a small casket. “Do you permit us to open this casket?” asked the notary. Noirtier gave his assent. They opened it, and found 900,000. francs in bank scrip. The first notary handed over each note, as he examined it, to his colleague.
The total amount was found to be as M. Noirtier had stated. “It is all as he has said; it is very evident that the mind still retains its full force and vigor.” Then, turning towards the paralytic, he said, “You possess, then, 900,000. francs of capital, which, according to the manner in which you have invested it, ought to bring in an income of about 40,000 livres?”
“To whom do you desire to leave this fortune?”
“Oh,” said Madame de Villefort, “there is not much doubt on that subject. M. Noirtier tenderly loves his granddaughter, Mademoiselle de Villefort; it is she who has nursed and tended him for six years, and has, by her devoted attention, fully secured the affection, I had almost said the gratitude, of her grandfather, and it is but just that she should reap the fruit of her devotion.” The eye of Noirtier clearly showed by its expression that he was not deceived by the false assent given by Madame de Villefort’s words and manner to the motives which she supposed him to entertain. “Is it, then, to Mademoiselle Valentine de Villefort that you leave these 900,000 francs?” demanded the notary, thinking he had only to insert this clause, but waiting first for the assent of Noirtier, which it was necessary should be given before all the witnesses of this singular scene. Valentine, when her name was made the subject of discussion, had stepped back, to escape unpleasant observation; her eyes were cast down, and she was crying. The old man looked at her for an instant with an expression of the deepest tenderness, then, turning towards the notary, he significantly winked his eye in token of dissent.
“What,” said the notary, “do you not intend making Mademoiselle Valentine de Villefort your residuary legatee?”
“You are not making any mistake, are you?” said the notary; “you really mean to declare that such is not your intention?”
“No,” repeated Noirtier; “No.” Valentine raised her head, struck dumb with astonishment. It was not so much the conviction that she was disinherited that caused her grief, but her total inability to account for the feelings which had provoked her grandfather to such an act. But Noirtier looked at her with so much affectionate tenderness that she exclaimed, “Oh, grandpapa, I see now that it is only your fortune of which you deprive me; you still leave me the love which I have always enjoyed.”
“Ah, yes, most assuredly,” said the eyes of the paralytic, for he closed them with an expression which Valentine could not mistake. “Thank you, thank you,” murmured she. The old man’s declaration that Valentine was not the destined inheritor of his fortune had excited the hopes of Madame de Villefort; she gradually approached the invalid, and said: “Then, doubtless, dear M. Noirtier, you intend leaving your fortune to your grandson, Edward de Villefort?” The winking of the eyes which answered this speech was most decided and terrible, and expressed a feeling almost amounting to hatred.
“No?” said the notary; “then, perhaps, it is to your son, M. de Villefort?”
“No.” The two notaries looked at each other in mute astonishment and inquiry as to what were the real intentions of the testator. Villefort and his wife both grew red, one from shame, the other from anger.
“What have we all done, then, dear grandpapa?” said Valentine; “you no longer seem to love any of us?” The old man’s eyes passed rapidly from Villefort and his wife, and rested on Valentine with a look of unutterable fondness. “Well,” said she; “if you love me, grandpapa, try and bring that love to bear upon your actions at this present moment. You know me well enough to be quite sure that I have never thought of your fortune; besides, they say I am already rich in right of my mother?too rich, even. Explain yourself, then.” Noirtier fixed his intelligent eyes on Valentine’s hand. “My hand?” said she.
“Her hand!” exclaimed every one.
“Oh, gentlemen, you see it is all useless, and that my father’s mind is really impaired,” said Villefort.
“Ah,” cried Valentine suddenly, “I understand. It is my marriage you mean, is it not, dear grandpapa?”
“Yes, yes, yes,” signed the paralytic, casting on Valentine a look of joyful gratitude for having guessed his meaning.
“You are angry with us all on account of this marriage, are you not?”
“Really, this is too absurd,” said Villefort.
“Excuse me, sir,” replied the notary; “on the contrary, the meaning of M. Noirtier is quite evident to me, and I can quite easily connect the train of ideas passing in his mind.”
“You do not wish me to marry M. Franz d’Epinay?” observed Valentine.
“I do not wish it,” said the eye of her grandfather. “And you disinherit your granddaughter,” continued the notary, “because she has contracted an engagement contrary to your wishes?”
“So that, but for this marriage, she would have been your heir?”
“Yes.” There was a profound silence. The two notaries were holding a consultation as to the best means of proceeding with the affair. Valentine was looking at her grandfather with a smile of intense gratitude, and Villefort was biting his lips with vexation, while Madame de Villefort could not succeed in repressing an inward feeling of joy, which, in spite of herself, appeared in her whole countenance. “But,” said Villefort, who was the first to break the silence, “I consider that I am the best judge of the propriety of the marriage in question. I am the only person possessing the right to dispose of my daughter’s hand. It is my wish that she should marry M. Franz d’Epinay?and she shall marry him.” Valentine sank weeping into a chair.
“Sir,” said the notary, “how do you intend disposing of your fortune in case Mademoiselle de Villefort still determines on marrying M. Franz?” The old man gave no answer. “You will, of course, dispose of it in some way or other?”
“In favor of some member of your family?”
“Do you intend devoting it to charitable purposes, then?” pursued the notary.
“But,” said the notary, “you are aware that the law does not allow a son to be entirely deprived of his patrimony?”
“You only intend, then, to dispose of that part of your fortune which the law allows you to subtract from the inheritance of your son?” Noirtier made no answer. “Do you still wish to dispose of all?”
“But they will contest the will after your death?”
“My father knows me,” replied Villefort; “he is quite sure that his wishes will be held sacred by me; besides, he understands that in my position I cannot plead against the poor.” The eye of Noirtier beamed with triumph. “What do you decide on, sir?” asked the notary of Villefort.
“Nothing, sir; it is a resolution which my father has taken and I know he never alters his mind. I am quite resigned. These 900,000 francs will go out of the family in order to enrich some hospital; but it is ridiculous thus to yield to the caprices of an old man, and I shall, therefore, act according to my conscience.” Having said this, Villefort quitted the room with his wife, leaving his father at liberty to do as he pleased. The same day the will was made, the witnesses were brought, it was approved by the old man, sealed in the presence of all and given in charge to M. Deschamps, the family notary.
Chapter 60. The Telegraph
M. and Madame de Villefort found on their return that the Count of Monte Cristo, who had come to visit them in their absence, had been ushered into the drawing-room, and was still awaiting them there. Madame de Villefort, who had not yet sufficiently recovered from her late emotion to allow of her entertaining visitors so immediately, retired to her bedroom, while the procureur, who could better depend upon himself, proceeded at once to the salon. Although M. de Villefort flattered himself that, to all outward view, he had completely masked the feelings which were passing in his mind, he did not know that the cloud was still lowering on his brow, so much so that the count, whose smile was radiant, immediately noticed his sombre and thoughtful air. “Ma foi,” said Monte Cristo, after the first compliments were over, “what is the matter with you, M. de Villefort? Have I arrived at the moment when you were drawing up an indictment for a capital crime?”
Villefort tried to smile. “No, count,” he replied, “I am the only victim in this case. It is I who lose my cause, and it is ill-luck, obstinacy, and folly which have caused it to be decided against me.”
“To what do you refer?” said Monte Cristo with well-feigned interest. “Have you really met with some great misfortune?”
“Oh, no, monsieur,” said Villefort with a bitter smile; “it is only a loss of money which I have sustained?nothing worth mentioning, I assure you.”
“True,” said Monte Cristo, “the loss of a sum of money becomes almost immaterial with a fortune such as you possess, and to one of your philosophic spirit.”
“It is not so much the loss of the money that vexes me,” said Villefort, “though, after all, 900,000 francs are worth regretting; but I am the more annoyed with this fate, chance, or whatever you please to call the power which has destroyed my hopes and my fortune, and may blast the prospects of my child also, as it is all occasioned by an old man relapsed into second childhood.”
“What do you say?” said the count; “900,000 francs? It is indeed a sum which might be regretted even by a philosopher. And who is the cause of all this annoyance?”
“My father, as I told you.”
“M. Noirtier? But I thought you told me he had become entirely paralyzed, and that all his faculties were completely destroyed?”
“Yes, his bodily faculties, for he can neither move nor speak, nevertheless he thinks, acts, and wills in the manner I have described. I left him about five minutes ago, and he is now occupied in dictating his will to two notaries.”
“But to do this he must have spoken?”
“He has done better than that?he has made himself understood.”
“How was such a thing possible?”
“By the help of his eyes, which are still full of life, and, as you perceive, possess the power of inflicting mortal injury.”
“My dear,” said Madame de Villefort, who had just entered the room, “perhaps you exaggerate the evil.”
“Good-morning, madame,” said the count, bowing. Madame de Villefort acknowledged the salutation with one of her most gracious smiles. “What is this that M. de Villefort has been telling me?” demanded Monte Cristo “and what incomprehensible misfortune”?
“Incomprehensible is not the word,” interrupted the procureur, shrugging his shoulders. “It is an old man’s caprice.”
And is there no means of making him revoke his decision?”
“Yes,” said Madame de Villefort; “and it is still entirely in the power of my husband to cause the will, which is now in prejudice of Valentine, to be altered in her favor.” The count, who perceived that M. and Madame de Villefort were beginning to speak in parables, appeared to pay no attention to the conversation, and feigned to be busily engaged in watching Edward, who was mischievously pouring some ink into the bird’s water-glass. “My dear,” said Villefort, in answer to his wife, “you know I have never been accustomed to play the patriarch in my family, nor have I ever considered that the fate of a universe was to be decided by my nod. Nevertheless, it is necessary that my will should be respected in my family, and that the folly of an old man and the caprice of a child should not be allowed to overturn a project which I have entertained for so many years. The Baron d’Epinay was my friend, as you know, and an alliance with his son is the most suitable thing that could possibly be arranged.”
“Do you think,” said Madame de Villefort, “that Valentine is in league with him? She has always been opposed to this marriage, and I should not be at all surprised if what we have just seen and heard is nothing but the execution of a plan concerted between them.”
“Madame,” said Villefort, “believe me, a fortune of 900,000. francs is not so easily renounced.”
“She could, nevertheless, make up her mind to renounce the world, sir, since it is only about a year ago that she herself proposed entering a convent.”
“Never mind,” replied Villefort; “I say that this marriage shall be consummated.”
“Notwithstanding your father’s wishes to the contrary?” said Madame de Villefort, selecting a new point of attack. “That is a serious thing.” Monte Cristo, who pretended not to be listening, heard however, every word that was said. “Madame,” replied Villefort “I can truly say that I have always entertained a high respect for my father, because, to the natural feeling of relationship was added the consciousness of his moral superiority. The name of father is sacred in two senses; he should be reverenced as the author of our being and as a master whom we ought to obey. But, under the present circumstances, I am justified in doubting the wisdom of an old man who, because he hated the father, vents his anger on the son. It would be ridiculous in me to regulate my conduct by such caprices. I shall still continue to preserve the same respect toward M. Noirtier; I will suffer, without complaint, the pecuniary deprivation to which he has subjected me; but I shall remain firm in my determination, and the world shall see which party has reason on his side. Consequently I shall marry my daughter to the Baron Franz d’Epinay, because I consider it would be a proper and eligible match for her to make, and, in short, because I choose to bestow my daughter’s hand on whomever I please.”
“What?” said the count, the approbation of whose eye Villefort had frequently solicited during this speech. “What? Do you say that M. Noirtier disinherits Mademoiselle de Villefort because she is going to marry M. le Baron Franz d’Epinay?”
“Yes, sir, that is the reason,” said Villefort, shrugging his shoulders.
“The apparent reason, at least,” said Madame de Villefort.
“The real reason, madame, I can assure you; I know my father.”
“But I want to know in what way M. d’Epinay can have displeased your father more than any other person?”
“I believe I know M. Franz d’Epinay,” said the count; “is he not the son of General de Quesnel, who was created Baron d’Epinay by Charles X.?”
“The same,” said Villefort.
“Well, but he is a charming young man, according to my ideas.”
“He is, which makes me believe that it is only an excuse of M. Noirtier to prevent his granddaughter marrying; old men are always so selfish in their affection,” said Madame de Villefort.
“But,” said Monte Cristo “do you not know any cause for this hatred?”
“Ah, ma foi, who is to know?”
“Perhaps it is some political difference?”
“My father and the Baron d’Epinay lived in the stormy times of which I only saw the ending,” said Villefort.
“Was not your father a Bonapartist?” asked Monte Cristo; “I think I remember that you told me something of that kind.”
“My father has been a Jacobin more than anything else,” said Villefort, carried by his emotion beyond the bounds of prudence; “and the senator’s robe, which Napoleon cast on his shoulders, only served to disguise the old man without in any degree changing him. When my father conspired, it was not for the emperor, it was against the Bourbons; for M. Noirtier possessed this peculiarity, he never projected any Utopian schemes which could never be realized, but strove for possibilities, and he applied to the realization of these possibilities the terrible theories of The Mountain,?theories that never shrank from any means that were deemed necessary to bring about the desired result.”
“Well,” said Monte Cristo, “it is just as I thought; it was politics which brought Noirtier and M. d’Epinay into personal contact.
Although General d’Epinay served under Napoleon, did he not still retain royalist sentiments? And was he not the person who was assassinated one evening on leaving a Bonapartist meeting to which he had been invited on the supposition that he favored the cause of the emperor?” Villefort looked at the count almost with terror. “Am I mistaken, then?” said Monte Cristo.
“No, sir, the facts were precisely what you have stated,” said Madame de Villefort; “and it was to prevent the renewal of old feuds that M. de Villefort formed the idea of uniting in the bonds of affection the two children of these inveterate enemies.”
“It was a sublime and charitable thought,” said Monte Cristo, “and the whole world should applaud it. It would be noble to see Mademoiselle Noirtier de Villefort assuming the title of Madame Franz d’Epinay.” Villefort shuddered and looked at Monte Cristo as if he wished to read in his countenance the real feelings which had dictated the words he had just uttered. But the count completely baffled the procureur, and prevented him from discovering anything beneath the never-varying smile he was so constantly in the habit of assuming. “Although,” said Villefort, “it will be a serious thing for Valentine to lose her grandfather’s fortune, I do not think that M. d’Epinay will be frightened at this pecuniary loss. He will, perhaps, hold me in greater esteem than the money itself, seeing that I sacrifice everything in order to keep my word with him. Besides, he knows that Valentine is rich in right of her mother, and that she will, in all probability, inherit the fortune of M. and Madame de Saint-Meran, her mother’s parents, who both love her tenderly.”
“And who are fully as well worth loving and tending as M. Noirtier,” said Madame de Villefort; “besides, they are to come to Paris in about a month, and Valentine, after the affront she has received, need not consider it necessary to continue to bury herself alive by being shut up with M. Noirtier.” The count listened with satisfaction to this tale of wounded self-love and defeated ambition. “But it seems to me,” said Monte Cristo, “and I must begin by asking your pardon for what I am about to say, that if M. Noirtier disinherits Mademoiselle de Villefort because she is going to marry a man whose father he detested, he cannot have the same cause of complaint against this dear Edward.”
“True,” said Madame de Villefort, with an intonation of voice which it is impossible to describe; “is it not unjust?shamefully unjust? Poor Edward is as much M. Noirtier’s grandchild as Valentine, and yet, if she had not been going to marry M. Franz, M. Noirtier would have left her all his money; and supposing Valentine to be disinherited by her grandfather, she will still be three times richer than he.” The count listened and said no more. “Count,” said Villefort, “we will not entertain you any longer with our family misfortunes. It is true that my patrimony will go to endow charitable institutions, and my father will have deprived me of my lawful inheritance without any reason for doing so, but I shall have the satisfaction of knowing that I have acted like a man of sense and feeling. M. d’Epinay, to whom I had promised the interest of this sum, shall receive it, even if I endure the most cruel privations.”
“However,” said Madame de Villefort, returning to the one idea which incessantly occupied her mind, “perhaps it would be better to explain this unlucky affair to M. d’Epinay, in order to give him the opportunity of himself renouncing his claim to the hand of Mademoiselle de Villefort.”
“Ah, that would be a great pity,” said Villefort.
“A great pity,” said Monte Cristo.
“Undoubtedly,” said Villefort, moderating the tones of his voice, “a marriage once concerted and then broken off, throws a sort of discredit on a young lady; then again, the old reports, which I was so anxious to put an end to, will instantly gain ground. No, it will all go well; M. d’Epinay, if he is an honorable man, will consider himself more than ever pledged to Mademoiselle de Villefort, unless he were actuated by a decided feeling of avarice, but that is impossible.”
“I agree with M. de Villefort,” said Monte Cristo, fixing his eyes on Madame de Villefort; “and if I were sufficiently intimate with him to allow of giving my advice, I would persuade him, since I have been told M. d’Epinay is coming back, to settle this affair at once beyond all possibility of revocation. I will answer for the success of a project which will reflect so much honor on M. de Villefort.” The procureur arose, delighted with the proposition, but his wife slightly changed color. “Well, that is all that I wanted, and I will be guided by a counsellor such as you are,” said he, extending his hand to Monte Cristo. “Therefore let every one here look upon what has passed to-day as if it had not happened, and as though we had never thought of such a thing as a change in our original plans.”
“Sir,” said the count, “the world, unjust as it is, will be pleased with your resolution; your friends will be proud of you, and M. d’Epinay, even if he took Mademoiselle de Villefort without any dowry, which he will not do, would be delighted with the idea of entering a family which could make such sacrifices in order to keep a promise and fulfil a duty.” At the conclusion of these words, the count rose to depart. “Are you going to leave us, count?” said Madame de Villefort.
“I am sorry to say I must do so, madame, I only came to remind you of your promise for Saturday.”
“Did you fear that we should forget it?”
“You are very good, madame, but M. de Villefort has so many important and urgent occupations.”
“My husband has given me his word, sir,” said Madame de Villefort; “you have just seen him resolve to keep it when he has everything to lose, and surely there is more reason for his doing so where he has everything to gain.”
“And,” said Villefort, “is it at your house in the Champs-Elysees that you receive your visitors?”
“No,” said Monte Cristo, “which is precisely the reason which renders your kindness more meritorious,?it is in the country.”
“In the country?”
“Where is it, then? Near Paris, is it not?”
“Very near, only half a league from the Barriers,?it is at Auteuil.”
“At Auteuil?” said Villefort; “true, Madame de Villefort told me you lived at Auteuil, since it was to your house that she was taken. And in what part of Auteuil do you reside?”
“Rue de la Fontaine.”
“Rue de la Fontaine!” exclaimed Villefort in an agitated tone; “at what number?”
“Then,” cried Villefort, “was it you who bought M. de Saint-Meran’s house!”
“Did it belong to M. de Saint-Meran?” demanded Monte Cristo.
“Yes,” replied Madame de Villefort; “and, would you believe it, count”?
“You think this house pretty, do you not?”
“I think it charming.”
“Well, my husband would never live in it.”
“Indeed?” returned Monte Cristo, “that is a prejudice on your part, M. de Villefort, for which I am quite at a loss to account.”
“I do not like Auteuil, sir,” said the procureur, making an evident effort to appear calm.
“But I hope you will not carry your antipathy so far as to deprive me of the pleasure of your company, sir,” said Monte Cristo.
“No, count,?I hope?I assure you I shall do my best,” stammered Villefort.
“Oh,” said Monte Cristo, “I allow of no excuse. On Saturday, at six o’clock. I shall be expecting you, and if you fail to come, I shall think?for how do I know to the contrary??that this house, which his remained uninhabited for twenty years, must have some gloomy tradition or dreadful legend connected with it.”
“I will come, count,?I will be sure to come,” said Villefort eagerly.
“Thank you,” said Monte Cristo; “now you must permit me to take my leave of you.”
“You said before that you were obliged to leave us, monsieur,” said Madame de Villefort, “and you were about to tell us why when your attention was called to some other subject.”
“Indeed madame,” said Monte Cristo: “I scarcely know if I dare tell you where I am going.”
“Nonsense; say on.”
“Well, then, it is to see a thing on which I have sometimes mused for hours together.”
“What is it?”
“A telegraph. So now I have told my secret.”
“A telegraph?” repeated Madame de Villefort.
“Yes, a telegraph. I had often seen one placed at the end of a road on a hillock, and in the light of the sun its black arms, bending in every direction, always reminded me of the claws of an immense beetle, and I assure you it was never without emotion that I gazed on it, for I could not help thinking how wonderful it was that these various signs should be made to cleave the air with such precision as to convey to the distance of three hundred leagues the ideas and wishes of a man sitting at a table at one end of the line to another man similarly placed at the opposite extremity, and all this effected by a simple act of volition on the part of the sender of the message. I began to think of genii, sylphs, gnomes, in short, of all the ministers of the occult sciences, until I laughed aloud at the freaks of my own imagination. Now, it never occurred to me to wish for a nearer inspection of these large insects, with their long black claws, for I always feared to find under their stone wings some little human genius fagged to death with cabals, factions, and government intrigues. But one fine day I learned that the mover of this telegraph was only a poor wretch, hired for twelve hundred francs a year, and employed all day, not in studying the heavens like an astronomer, or in gazing on the water like an angler, or even in enjoying the privilege of observing the country around him, but all his monotonous life was passed in watching his white-bellied, black-clawed fellow insect, four or five leagues distant from him. At length I felt a desire to study this living chrysalis more closely, and to endeavor to understand the secret part played by these insect-actors when they occupy themselves simply with pulling different pieces of string.”
“And are you going there?”
“What telegraph do you intend visiting? that of the home department, or of the observatory?”
“Oh, no; I should find there people who would force me to understand things of which I would prefer to remain ignorant, and who would try to explain to me, in spite of myself, a mystery which even they do not understand. Ma foi, I should wish to keep my illusions concerning insects unimpaired; it is quite enough to have those dissipated which I had formed of my fellow-creatures. I shall, therefore, not visit either of these telegraphs, but one in the open country where I shall find a good-natured simpleton, who knows no more than the machine he is employed to work.”
“You are a singular man,” said Villefort.
“What line would you advise me to study?”
“The one that is most in use just at this time.”
“The Spanish one, you mean, I suppose?”
“Yes; should you like a letter to the minister that they might explain to you”?
“No,” said Monte Cristo; “since, as I told you before, I do not wish to comprehend it. The moment I understand it there will no longer exist a telegraph for me; it will be nothing more than a sign from M. Duchatel, or from M. Montalivet, transmitted to the prefect of Bayonne, mystified by two Greek words, tele, graphein. It is the insect with black claws, and the awful word which I wish to retain in my imagination in all its purity and all its importance.”
“Go then; for in the course of two hours it will be dark, and you will not be able to see anything.”
“Ma foi, you frighten me. Which is the nearest way? Bayonne?”
“Yes; the road to Bayonne.”
“And afterwards the road to Chatillon?”
“By the tower of Montlhery, you mean?”
“Thank you. Good-by. On Saturday I will tell you my impressions concerning the telegraph.” At the door the count was met by the two notaries, who had just completed the act which was to disinherit Valentine, and who were leaving under the conviction of having done a thing which could not fail of redounding considerably to their credit.
Chapter 61. How a Gardener May Get Rid of the Dormice that Eat His Peaches
Not on the same night, as he had intended, but the next morning, the Count of Monte Cristo went out by the Barrier d’Enfer, taking the road to Orleans. Leaving the village of Linas, without stopping at the telegraph, which flourished its great bony arms as he passed, the count reached the tower of Montlhery, situated, as every one knows, upon the highest point of the plain of that name. At the foot of the hill the count dismounted and began to ascend by a little winding path, about eighteen inches wide; when he reached the summit he found himself stopped by a hedge, upon which green fruit had succeeded to red and white flowers.
Monte Cristo looked for the entrance to the enclosure, and was not long in finding a little wooden gate, working on willow hinges, and fastened with a nail and string. The count soon mastered the mechanism, the gate opened, and he then found himself in a little garden, about twenty feet long by twelve wide, bounded on one side by part of the hedge, which contained the ingenious contrivance we have called a gate, and on the other by the old tower, covered with ivy and studded with wall-flowers. No one would have thought in looking at this old, weather-beaten, floral-decked tower (which might be likened to an elderly dame dressed up to receive her grandchildren at a birthday feast) that it would have been capable of telling strange things, if,?in addition to the menacing ears which the proverb says all walls are provided with,?it had also a voice. The garden was crossed by a path of red gravel, edged by a border of thick box, of many years’ growth, and of a tone and color that would have delighted the heart of Delacroix, our modern Rubens. This path was formed in the shape of the figure of 8, thus, in its windings, making a walk of sixty feet in a garden of only twenty.
Never had Flora, the fresh and smiling goddess of gardeners, been honored with a purer or more scrupulous worship than that which was paid to her in this little enclosure. In fact, of the twenty rose-trees which formed the parterre, not one bore the mark of the slug, nor were there evidences anywhere of the clustering aphis which is so destructive to plants growing in a damp soil. And yet it was not because the damp had been excluded from the garden; the earth, black as soot, the thick foliage of the trees betrayed its presence; besides, had natural humidity been wanting, it could have been immediately supplied by artificial means, thanks to a tank of water, sunk in one of the corners of the garden, and upon which were stationed a frog and a toad, who, from antipathy, no doubt, always remained on the two opposite sides of the basin. There was not a blade of grass to be seen in the paths, or a weed in the flower-beds; no fine lady ever trained and watered her geraniums, her cacti, and her rhododendrons, with more pains than this hitherto unseen gardener bestowed upon his little enclosure. Monte Cristo stopped after having closed the gate and fastened the string to the nail, and cast a look around.
“The man at the telegraph,” said he, “must either engage a gardener or devote himself passionately to agriculture.” Suddenly he struck against something crouching behind a wheelbarrow filled with leaves; the something rose, uttering an exclamation of astonishment, and Monte Cristo found himself facing a man about fifty years old, who was plucking strawberries, which he was placing upon grape leaves. He had twelve leaves and about as many strawberries, which, on rising suddenly, he let fall from his hand. “You are gathering your crop, sir?” said Monte Cristo, smiling.
“Excuse me, sir,” replied the man, raising his hand to his cap; “I am not up there, I know, but I have only just come down.”
“Do not let me interfere with you in anything, my friend,” said the count; “gather your strawberries, if, indeed, there are any left.”
“I have ten left,” said the man, “for here are eleven, and I had twenty-one, five more than last year. But I am not surprised; the spring has been warm this year, and strawberries require heat, sir. This is the reason that, instead of the sixteen I had last year, I have this year, you see, eleven, already plucked?twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen. Ah, I miss three, they were here last night, sir?I am sure they were here?I counted them. It must be the Mere Simon’s son who has stolen them; I saw him strolling about here this morning. Ah, the young rascal?stealing in a garden?he does not know where that may lead him to.”
“Certainly, it is wrong,” said Monte Cristo, “but you should take into consideration the youth and greediness of the delinquent.”
“Of course,” said the gardener, “but that does not make it the less unpleasant. But, sir, once more I beg pardon; perhaps you are an officer that I am detaining here.” And he glanced timidly at the count’s blue coat.
“Calm yourself, my friend,” said the count, with the smile which he made at will either terrible or benevolent, and which now expressed only the kindliest feeling; “I am not an inspector, but a traveller, brought here by a curiosity he half repents of, since he causes you to lose your time.”
“Ah, my time is not valuable,” replied the man with a melancholy smile. “Still it belongs to government, and I ought not to waste it; but, having received the signal that I might rest for an hour” (here he glanced at the sun-dial, for there was everything in the enclosure of Montlhery, even a sun-dial), “and having ten minutes before me, and my strawberries being ripe, when a day longer?by-the-by, sir, do you think dormice eat them?”
“Indeed, I should think not,” replied Monte Cristo; “dormice are bad neighbors for us who do not eat them preserved, as the Romans did.”
“What? Did the Romans eat them?” said the gardener?”ate dormice?”
“I have read so in Petronius,” said the count.
“Really? They can’t be nice, though they do say ‘as fat as a dormouse.’ It is not a wonder they are fat, sleeping all day, and only waking to eat all night. Listen. Last year I had four apricots?they stole one, I had one nectarine, only one?well, sir, they ate half of it on the wall; a splendid nectarine?I never ate a better.”
“You ate it?”
“That is to say, the half that was left?you understand; it was exquisite, sir. Ah, those gentlemen never choose the worst morsels; like Mere Simon’s son, who has not chosen the worst strawberries. But this year,” continued the horticulturist, “I’ll take care it shall not happen, even if I should be forced to sit by the whole night to watch when the strawberries are ripe.” Monte Cristo had seen enough. Every man has a devouring passion in his heart, as every fruit has its worm; that of the telegraph man was horticulture. He began gathering the grape-leaves which screened the sun from the grapes, and won the heart of the gardener. “Did you come here, sir, to see the telegraph?” he said.
“Yes, if it isn’t contrary to the rules.”
“Oh, no,” said the gardener; “not in the least, since there is no danger that anyone can possibly understand what we are saying.”
“I have been told,” said the count, “that you do not always yourselves understand the signals you repeat.”
“That is true, sir, and that is what I like best,” said the man, smiling.
“Why do you like that best?”
“Because then I have no responsibility. I am a machine then, and nothing else, and so long as I work, nothing more is required of me.”
“Is it possible,” said Monte Cristo to himself, “that I can have met with a man that has no ambition? That would spoil my plans.”
“Sir,” said the gardener, glancing at the sun-dial, “the ten minutes are almost up; I must return to my post. Will you go up with me?”
“I follow you.” Monte Cristo entered the tower, which was divided into three stories. The tower contained implements, such as spades, rakes, watering-pots, hung against the wall; this was all the furniture. The second was the man’s conventional abode, or rather sleeping-place; it contained a few poor articles of household furniture?a bed, a table, two chairs, a stone pitcher?and some dry herbs, hung up to the ceiling, which the count recognized as sweet pease, and of which the good man was preserving the seeds; he had labelled them with as much care as if he had been master botanist in the Jardin des Plantes.
“Does it require much study to learn the art of telegraphing?” asked Monte Cristo.
“The study does not take long; it was acting as a supernumerary that was so tedious.”
“And what is the pay?”
“A thousand francs, sir.”
“It is nothing.”
“No; but then we are lodged, as you perceive.”
Monte Cristo looked at the room. They passed to the third story; it was the telegraph room. Monte Cristo looked in turn at the two iron handles by which the machine was worked. “It is very interesting,” he said, “but it must be very tedious for a lifetime.”
“Yes. At first my neck was cramped with looking at it, but at the end of a year I became used to it; and then we have our hours of recreation, and our holidays.”
“When we have a fog.”
“Ah, to be sure.”
“Those are indeed holidays to me; I go into the garden, I plant, I prune, I trim, I kill the insects all day long.”
“How long have you been here?”
“Ten years, and five as a supernumerary make fifteen.”
“Fifty-five years old.”
“How long must you have served to claim the pension?”
“Oh, sir, twenty-five years.”
“And how much is the pension?”
“A hundred crowns.”
“Poor humanity!” murmured Monte Cristo.
“What did you say, sir?” asked the man.
“I was saying it was very interesting.”
“All you were showing me. And you really understand none of these signals?”
“None at all.”
“And have you never tried to understand them?”
“Never. Why should I?”
“But still there are some signals only addressed to you.”
“And do you understand them?”
“They are always the same.”
“And they mean?”
“Nothing new; You have an hour; or To-morrow.”
“This is simple enough,” said the count; “but look, is not your correspondent putting itself in motion?”
“Ah, yes; thank you, sir.”
“And what is it saying?anything you understand?”
“Yes; it asks if I am ready.”
“And you reply?”
“By the same sign, which, at the same time, tells my right-hand correspondent that I am ready, while it gives notice to my left-hand correspondent to prepare in his turn.”
“It is very ingenious,” said the count.
“You will see,” said the man proudly; “in five minutes he will speak.”
“I have, then, five minutes,” said Monte Cristo to himself; “it is more time than I require. My dear sir, will you allow me to ask you a question?”
“What is it, sir?”
“You are fond of gardening?”
“And you would be pleased to have, instead of this terrace of twenty feet, an enclosure of two acres?”
“Sir, I should make a terrestrial paradise of it.”
“You live badly on your thousand francs?”
“Badly enough; but yet I do live.”
“Yes; but you have a wretchedly small garden.”
“True, the garden is not large.”
“And, then, such as it is, it is filled with dormice, who eat everything.”
“Ah, they are my scourges.”
“Tell me, should you have the misfortune to turn your head while your right-hand correspondent was telegraphing”?
“I should not see him.”
“Then what would happen?”
“I could not repeat the signals.”
“Not having repeated them, through negligence, I should be fined.”
“A hundred francs.”
“The tenth of your income?that would be fine work.”
“Ah,” said the man.
“Has it ever happened to you?” said Monte Cristo.
“Once, sir, when I was grafting a rose-tree.”
“Well, suppose you were to alter a signal, and substitute another?”
“Ah, that is another case; I should be turned off, and lose my pension.”
“Three hundred francs?”
“A hundred crowns, yes, sir; so you see that I am not likely to do any of these things.”
“Not even for fifteen years’ wages? Come, it is worth thinking about?”
“For fifteen thousand francs?”
“Sir, you alarm me.”
“Sir, you are tempting me?”
“Just so; fifteen thousand francs, do you understand?”
“Sir, let me see my right-hand correspondent.”
“On the contrary, do not look at him, but at this.”
“What is it?”
“What? Do you not know these bits of paper?”
“Exactly; there are fifteen of them.”
“And whose are they?”
“Yours, if you like.”
“Mine?” exclaimed the man, half-suffocated.
“Yes; yours?your own property.”
“Sir, my right-hand correspondent is signalling.”
“Let him signal.”
“Sir, you have distracted me; I shall be fined.”
“That will cost you a hundred francs; you see it is your interest to take my bank-notes.”
“Sir, my right-hand correspondent redoubles his signals; he is impatient.”
“Never mind?take these;” and the count placed the packet in the man’s hands. “Now this is not all,” he said; “you cannot live upon your fifteen thousand francs.”
“I shall still have my place.”
“No, you will lose it, for you are going to alter your correspondent’s message.”
“Oh, sir, what are you proposing?”
“Sir, unless you force me”?
“I think I can effectually force you;” and Monte Cristo drew another packet from his pocket. “Here are ten thousand more francs,” he said, “with the fifteen thousand already in your pocket, they will make twenty-five thousand. With five thousand you can buy a pretty little house with two acres of land; the remaining twenty thousand will bring you in a thousand francs a year.”
“A garden with two acres of land!”
“And a thousand francs a year.”
“Come, take them,” and Monte Cristo forced the bank-notes into his hand.
“What am I to do?”
“Nothing very difficult.”
“But what is it?”
“To repeat these signs.” Monte Cristo took a paper from his pocket, upon which were drawn three signs, with numbers to indicate the order in which they were to be worked.
“There, you see it will not take long.”
“Do this, and you will have nectarines and all the rest.” The shot told; red with fever, while the large drops fell from his brow, the man executed, one after the other, the three signs given by the count, in spite of the frightful contortions of the right-hand correspondent, who, not understanding the change, began to think the gardener had gone mad. As to the left-hand one, he conscientiously repeated the same signals, which were finally transmitted to the Minister of the Interior. “Now you are rich,” said Monte Cristo.
“Yes,” replied the man, “but at what a price!”
“Listen, friend,” said Monte Cristo. “I do not wish to cause you any remorse; believe me, then, when I swear to you that you have wronged no man, but on the contrary have benefited mankind.” The man looked at the bank-notes, felt them, counted them, turned pale, then red, then rushed into his room to drink a glass of water, but he had no time to reach the water-jug, and fainted in the midst of his dried herbs. Five minutes after the new telegram reached the minister, Debray had the horses put to his carriage, and drove to Danglars’ house.
“Has your husband any Spanish bonds?” he asked of the baroness.
“I think so, indeed! He has six millions’ worth.”
“He must sell them at whatever price.”
“Because Don Carlos has fled from Bourges, and has returned to Spain.”
“How do you know?” Debray shrugged his shoulders. “The idea of asking how I hear the news,” he said. The baroness did not wait for a repetition; she ran to her husband, who immediately hastened to his agent, and ordered him to sell at any price. When it was seen that Danglars sold, the Spanish funds fell directly. Danglars lost five hundred thousand francs; but he rid himself of all his Spanish shares. The same evening the following was read in Le Messager:
“[By telegraph.] The king, Don Carlos, has escaped the vigilance of his guardians at Bourges, and has returned to Spain by the Catalonian frontier. Barcelona has risen in his favor.”
All that evening nothing was spoken of but the foresight of Danglars, who had sold his shares, and of the luck of the stock-jobber, who only lost five hundred thousand francs by such a blow. Those who had kept their shares, or bought those of Danglars, looked upon themselves as ruined, and passed a very bad night. Next morning Le Moniteur contained the following:
“It was without any foundation that Le Messager yesterday announced the flight of Don Carlos and the revolt of Barcelona. The king (Don Carlos) has not left Bourges, and the peninsula is in the enjoyment of profound peace. A telegraphic signal, improperly interpreted, owing to the fog, was the cause of this error.”
The funds rose one per cent higher than before they had fallen. This, reckoning his loss, and what he had missed gaining, made the difference of a million to Danglars. “Good,” said Monte Cristo to Morrel, who was at his house when the news arrived of the strange reverse of fortune of which Danglars had been the victim, “I have just made a discovery for twenty-five thousand francs, for which I would have paid a hundred thousand.”
“What have you discovered?” asked Morrel.
“I have just discovered how a gardener may get rid of the dormice that eat his peaches.”
Chapter 62. Ghosts
At first sight, the exterior of the house at Auteuil gave no indications of splendor, nothing one would expect from the destined residence of the magnificent Count of Monte Cristo; but this simplicity was according to the will of its master, who positively ordered nothing to be altered outside.
The splendor was within. Indeed, almost before the door opened, the scene changed. M. Bertuccio had outdone himself in the taste displayed in furnishing, and in the rapidity with which it was executed. It is told that the Duc d’Antin removed in a single night a whole avenue of trees that annoyed Louis XIV.; in three days M. Bertuccio planted an entirely bare court with poplars, large spreading sycamores to shade the different parts of the house, and in the foreground, instead of the usual paving-stones, half hidden by the grass, there extended a lawn but that morning laid down, and upon which the water was yet glistening. For the rest, the orders had been issued by the count; he himself had given a plan to Bertuccio, marking the spot where each tree was to be planted, and the shape and extent of the lawn which was to take the place of the paving-stones. Thus the house had become unrecognizable, and Bertuccio himself declared that he scarcely knew it, encircled as it was by a framework of trees. The overseer would not have objected, while he was about it, to have made some improvements in the garden, but the count had positively forbidden it to be touched. Bertuccio made amends, however, by loading the ante-chambers, staircases, and mantle-pieces with flowers.
What, above all, manifested the shrewdness of the steward, and the profound science of the master, the one in carrying out the ideas of the other, was that this house which appeared only the night before so sad and gloomy, impregnated with that sickly smell one can almost fancy to be the smell of time, had in a single day acquired the aspect of life, was scented with its master’s favorite perfumes, and had the very light regulated according to his wish. When the count arrived, he had under his touch his books and arms, his eyes rested upon his favorite pictures; his dogs, whose caresses he loved, welcomed him in the ante-chamber; the birds, whose songs delighted him, cheered him with their music; and the house, awakened from its long sleep, like the sleeping beauty in the wood, lived, sang, and bloomed like the houses we have long cherished, and in which, when we are forced to leave them, we leave a part of our souls. The servants passed gayly along the fine court-yard; some, belonging to the kitchens, gliding down the stairs, restored but the previous day, as if they had always inhabited the house; others filling the coach-houses, where the equipages, encased and numbered, appeared to have been installed for the last fifty years; and in the stables the horses replied with neighs to the grooms, who spoke to them with much more respect than many servants pay their masters.
The library was divided into two parts on either side of the wall, and contained upwards of two thousand volumes; one division was entirely devoted to novels, and even the volume which had been published but the day before was to be seen in its place in all the dignity of its red and gold binding. On the other side of the house, to match with the library, was the conservatory, ornamented with rare flowers, that bloomed in china jars; and in the midst of the greenhouse, marvellous alike to sight and smell, was a billiard-table which looked as if it had been abandoned during the past hour by players who had left the balls on the cloth. One chamber alone had been respected by the magnificent Bertuccio. Before this room, to which you could ascend by the grand, and go out by the back staircase, the servants passed with curiosity, and Bertuccio with terror. At five o’clock precisely, the count arrived before the house at Auteuil, followed by Ali. Bertuccio was awaiting this arrival with impatience, mingled with uneasiness; he hoped for some compliments, while, at the same time, he feared to have frowns. Monte Cristo descended into the courtyard, walked all over the house, without giving any sign of approbation or pleasure, until he entered his bedroom, situated on the opposite side to the closed room; then he approached a little piece of furniture, made of rosewood, which he had noticed at a previous visit. “That can only be to hold gloves,” he said.
“Will your excellency deign to open it?” said the delighted Bertuccio, “and you will find gloves in it.” Elsewhere the count found everything he required?smelling-bottles, cigars, knick-knacks.
“Good,” he said; and M. Bertuccio left enraptured, so great, so powerful, and real was the influence exercised by this man over all who surrounded him. At precisely six o’clock the clatter of horses’ hoofs was heard at the entrance door; it was our captain of Spahis, who had arrived on Medeah. “I am sure I am the first,” cried Morrel; “I did it on purpose to have you a minute to myself, before every one came. Julie and Emmanuel have a thousand things to tell you. Ah, really this is magnificent! But tell me, count, will your people take care of my horse?”
“Do not alarm yourself, my dear Maximilian?they understand.”
“I mean, because he wants petting. If you had seen at what a pace he came?like the wind!”
“I should think so,?a horse that cost 5,000 francs!” said Monte Cristo, in the tone which a father would use towards a son.
“Do you regret them?” asked Morrel, with his open laugh.
“I? Certainly not,” replied the count. “No; I should only regret if the horse had not proved good.”
“It is so good, that I have distanced M. de Chateau-Renaud, one of the best riders in France, and M. Debray, who both mount the minister’s Arabians; and close on their heels are the horses of Madame Danglars, who always go at six leagues an hour.”
“Then they follow you?” asked Monte Cristo.
“See, they are here.” And at the same minute a carriage with smoking horses, accompanied by two mounted gentlemen, arrived at the gate, which opened before them. The carriage drove round, and stopped at the steps, followed by the horsemen. The instant Debray had touched the ground, he was at the carriage-door. He offered his hand to the baroness, who, descending, took it with a peculiarity of manner imperceptible to every one but Monte Cristo. But nothing escaped the count’s notice, and he observed a little note, passed with the facility that indicates frequent practice, from the hand of Madame Danglars to that of the minister’s secretary. After his wife the banker descended, as pale as though he had issued from his tomb instead of his carriage. Madame Danglars threw a rapid and inquiring glance which could only be interpreted by Monte Cristo, around the court-yard, over the peristyle, and across the front of the house, then, repressing a slight emotion, which must have been seen on her countenance if she had not kept her color, she ascended the steps, saying to Morrel, “Sir, if you were a friend of mine, I should ask you if you would sell your horse.”
Morrel smiled with an expression very like a grimace, and then turned round to Monte Cristo, as if to ask him to extricate him from his embarrassment. The count understood him. “Ah, madame,” he said, “why did you not make that request of me?”
“With you, sir,” replied the baroness, “one can wish for nothing, one is so sure to obtain it. If it were so with M. Morrel”?
“Unfortunately,” replied the count, “I am witness that M. Morrel cannot give up his horse, his honor being engaged in keeping it.”
“He laid a wager he would tame Medeah in the space of six months. You understand now that if he were to get rid of the animal before the time named, he would not only lose his bet, but people would say he was afraid; and a brave captain of Spahis cannot risk this, even to gratify a pretty woman, which is, in my opinion, one of the most sacred obligations in the world.”
“You see my position, madame,” said Morrel, bestowing a grateful smile on Monte Cristo.
“It seems to me,” said Danglars, in his coarse tone, ill-concealed by a forced smile, “that you have already got horses enough.” Madame Danglars seldom allowed remarks of this kind to pass unnoticed, but, to the surprise of the young people, she pretended not to hear it, and said nothing. Monte Cristo smiled at her unusual humility, and showed her two immense porcelain jars, over which wound marine plants, of a size and delicacy that nature alone could produce. The baroness was astonished. “Why,” said she, “you could plant one of the chestnut-trees in the Tuileries inside! How can such enormous jars have been manufactured?”
“Ah, madame,” replied Monte Cristo, “you must not ask of us, the manufacturers of fine porcelain, such a question. It is the work of another age, constructed by the genii of earth and water.”
“How so??at what period can that have been?”
“I do not know; I have only heard that an emperor of China had an oven built expressly, and that in this oven twelve jars like this were successively baked. Two broke, from the heat of the fire; the other ten were sunk three hundred fathoms deep into the sea. The sea, knowing what was required of her, threw over them her weeds, encircled them with coral, and encrusted them with shells; the whole was cemented by two hundred years beneath these almost impervious depths, for a revolution carried away the emperor who wished to make the trial, and only left the documents proving the manufacture of the jars and their descent into the sea. At the end of two hundred years the documents were found, and they thought of bringing up the jars. Divers descended in machines, made expressly on the discovery, into the bay where they were thrown; but of ten three only remained, the rest having been broken by the waves. I am fond of these jars, upon which, perhaps, misshapen, frightful monsters have fixed their cold, dull eyes, and in which myriads of small fish have slept, seeking a refuge from the pursuit of their enemies.” Meanwhile, Danglars, who had cared little for curiosities, was mechanically tearing off the blossoms of a splendid orange-tree, one after another. When he had finished with the orange-tree, he began at the cactus; but this, not being so easily plucked as the orange-tree, pricked him dreadfully. He shuddered, and rubbed his eyes as though awaking from a dream.
“Sir,” said Monte Cristo to him, “I do not recommend my pictures to you, who possess such splendid paintings; but, nevertheless, here are two by Hobbema, a Paul Potter, a Mieris, two by Gerard Douw, a Raphael, a Vandyke, a Zurbaran, and two or three by Murillo, worth looking at.”
“Stay,” said Debray; “I recognize this Hobbema.”
“Yes; it was proposed for the Museum.”
“Which, I believe, does not contain one?” said Monte Cristo.
“No; and yet they refused to buy it.”
“Why?” said Chateau-Renaud.
“You pretend not to know,?because government was not rich enough.”
“Ah, pardon me,” said Chateau-Renaud; “I have heard of these things every day during the last eight years, and I cannot understand them yet.”
“You will, by and by,” said Debray.
“I think not,” replied Chateau-Renaud.
“Major Bartolomeo Cavalcanti and Count Andrea Cavalcanti,” announced Baptistin. A black satin stock, fresh from the maker’s hands, gray moustaches, a bold eye, a major’s uniform, ornamented with three medals and five crosses?in fact, the thorough bearing of an old soldier?such was the appearance of Major Bartolomeo Cavalcanti, that tender father with whom we are already acquainted. Close to him, dressed in entirely new clothes, advanced smilingly Count Andrea Cavalcanti, the dutiful son, whom we also know. The three young people were talking together. On the entrance of the new-comers, their eyes glanced from father to son, and then, naturally enough, rested on the latter, whom they began criticising. “Cavalcanti!” said Debray. “A fine name,” said Morrel.
“Yes,” said Chateau-Renaud, “these Italians are well named and badly dressed.”
“You are fastidious, Chateau-Renaud,” replied Debray; “those clothes are well cut and quite new.”
“That is just what I find fault with. That gentleman appears to be well dressed for the first time in his life.”
“Who are those gentlemen?” asked Danglars of Monte Cristo.
“That tells me their name, and nothing else.”
“Ah, true. You do not know the Italian nobility; the Cavalcanti are all descended from princes.”
“Have they any fortune?”
“An enormous one.”
“What do they do?”
“Try to spend it all. They have some business with you, I think, from what they told me the day before yesterday. I, indeed, invited them here to-day on your account. I will introduce you to them.”
“But they appear to speak French with a very pure accent,” said Danglars.
“The son has been educated in a college in the south; I believe near Marseilles. You will find him quite enthusiastic.”
“Upon what subject?” asked Madame Danglars.
“The French ladies, madame. He has made up his mind to take a wife from Paris.”
“A fine idea that of his,” said Danglars, shrugging his shoulders. Madame Danglars looked at her husband with an expression which, at any other time, would have indicated a storm, but for the second time she controlled herself. “The baron appears thoughtful to-day,” said Monte Cristo to her; “are they going to put him in the ministry?”
“Not yet, I think. More likely he has been speculating on the Bourse, and has lost money.”
“M. and Madame de Villefort,” cried Baptistin. They entered. M. de Villefort, notwithstanding his self-control, was visibly affected, and when Monte Cristo touched his hand, he felt it tremble. “Certainly, women alone know how to dissimulate,” said Monte Cristo to himself, glancing at Madame Danglars, who was smiling on the procureur, and embracing his wife. After a short time, the count saw Bertuccio, who, until then, had been occupied on the other side of the house, glide into an adjoining room. He went to him. “What do you want, M. Bertuccio?” said he.
“Your excellency has not stated the number of guests.”
“How many covers?”
“Count for yourself.”
“Is every one here, your excellency?”
Bertuccio glanced through the door, which was ajar. The count watched him. “Good heavens!” he exclaimed.
“What is the matter?” said the count.
“That woman?that woman!”
“The one with a white dress and so many diamonds?the fair one.”
“I do not know her name; but it is she, sir, it is she!”
“Whom do you mean?”
“The woman of the garden!?she that was enciente?she who was walking while she waited for”?Bertuccio stood at the open door, with his eyes starting and his hair on end.
“Waiting for whom?” Bertuccio, without answering, pointed to Villefort with something of the gesture Macbeth uses to point out Banquo. “Oh, oh,” he at length muttered, “do you see?”
“Him!?M. de Villefort, the king’s attorney? Certainly I see him.”
“Then I did not kill him?”
“Really, I think you are going mad, good Bertuccio,” said the count.
“Then he is not dead?”
“No; you see plainly he is not dead. Instead of striking between the sixth and seventh left ribs, as your countrymen do, you must have struck higher or lower, and life is very tenacious in these lawyers, or rather there is no truth in anything you have told me?it was a fright of the imagination, a dream of your fancy. You went to sleep full of thoughts of vengeance; they weighed heavily upon your stomach; you had the nightmare?that’s all. Come, calm yourself, and reckon them up?M. and Madame de Villefort, two; M. and Madame Danglars, four; M. de Chateau-Renaud, M. Debray, M. Morrel, seven; Major Bartolomeo Cavalcanti, eight.”
“Eight!” repeated Bertuccio.
“Stop! You are in a shocking hurry to be off?you forget one of my guests. Lean a little to the left. Stay! look at M. Andrea Cavalcanti, the young man in a black coat, looking at Murillo’s Madonna; now he is turning.” This time Bertuccio would have uttered an exclamation, had not a look from Monte Cristo silenced him. “Benedetto?” he muttered; “fatality!”
“Half-past six o’clock has just struck, M. Bertuccio,” said the count severely; “I ordered dinner at that hour, and I do not like to wait;” and he returned to his guests, while Bertuccio, leaning against the wall, succeeded in reaching the dining-room. Five minutes afterwards the doors of the drawing-room were thrown open, and Bertuccio appearing said, with a violent effort, “The dinner waits.”
The Count of Monte Cristo offered his arm to Madame de Villefort. “M. de Villefort,” he said, “will you conduct the Baroness Danglars?”
Villefort complied, and they passed on to the dining-room.
Chapter 63. The Dinner
It was evident that one sentiment affected all the guests on entering the dining-room. Each one asked what strange influence had brought them to this house, and yet astonished, even uneasy though they were, they still felt that they would not like to be absent. The recent events, the solitary and eccentric position of the count, his enormous, nay, almost incredible fortune, should have made men cautious, and have altogether prevented ladies visiting a house where there was no one of their own sex to receive them; and yet curiosity had been enough to lead them to overleap the bounds of prudence and decorum. And all present, even including Cavalcanti and his son, notwithstanding the stiffness of the one and the carelessness of the other, were thoughtful, on finding themselves assembled at the house of this incomprehensible man. Madame Danglars had started when Villefort, on the count’s invitation, offered his arm; and Villefort felt that his glance was uneasy beneath his gold spectacles, when he felt the arm of the baroness press upon his own. None of this had escaped the count, and even by this mere contact of individuals the scene had already acquired considerable interest for an observer. M. de Villefort had on the right hand Madame Danglars, on his left Morrel. The count was seated between Madame de Villefort and Danglars; the other seats were filled by Debray, who was placed between the two Cavalcanti, and by Chateau-Renaud, seated between Madame de Villefort and Morrel.
The repast was magnificent; Monte Cristo had endeavored completely to overturn the Parisian ideas, and to feed the curiosity as much as the appetite of his guests. It was an Oriental feast that he offered to them, but of such a kind as the Arabian fairies might be supposed to prepare. Every delicious fruit that the four quarters of the globe could provide was heaped in vases from China and jars from Japan. Rare birds, retaining their most brilliant plumage, enormous fish, spread upon massive silver dishes, together with every wine produced in the Archipelago, Asia Minor, or the Cape, sparkling in bottles, whose grotesque shape seemed to give an additional flavor to the draught,?all these, like one of the displays with which Apicius of old gratified his guests, passed in review before the eyes of the astonished Parisians, who understood that it was possible to expend a thousand louis upon a dinner for ten persons, but only on the condition of eating pearls, like Cleopatra, or drinking refined gold, like Lorenzo de’ Medici.
Monte Cristo noticed the general astonishment, and began laughing and joking about it. “Gentlemen,” he said, “you will admit that, when arrived at a certain degree of fortune, the superfluities of life are all that can be desired; and the ladies will allow that, after having risen to a certain eminence of position, the ideal alone can be more exalted. Now, to follow out this reasoning, what is the marvellous??that which we do not understand. What is it that we really desire??that which we cannot obtain. Now, to see things which I cannot understand, to procure impossibilities, these are the study of my life. I gratify my wishes by two means?my will and my money. I take as much interest in the pursuit of some whim as you do, M. Danglars, in promoting a new railway line; you, M. de Villefort, in condemning a culprit to death; you, M. Debray, in pacifying a kingdom; you, M. de Chateau-Renaud, in pleasing a woman; and you, Morrel, in breaking a horse that no one can ride. For example, you see these two fish; one brought from fifty leagues beyond St. Petersburg, the other five leagues from Naples. Is it not amusing to see them both on the same table?”
“What are the two fish?” asked Danglars.
“M. Chateau-Renaud, who has lived in Russia, will tell you the name of one, and Major Cavalcanti, who is an Italian, will tell you the name of the other.”
“This one is, I think, a sterlet,” said Chateau-Renaud.
“And that one, if I mistake not, a lamprey.”
“Just so. Now, M. Danglars, ask these gentlemen where they are caught.”
“Sterlets,” said Chateau-Renaud, “are only found in the Volga.”
“And,” said Cavalcanti, “I know that Lake Fusaro alone supplies lampreys of that size.”
“Exactly; one comes from the Volga, and the other from Lake Fusaro.”
“Impossible!” cried all the guests simultaneously.
“Well, this is just what amuses me,” said Monte Cristo. “I am like Nero?cupitor impossibilium; and that is what is amusing you at this moment. This fish, which seems so exquisite to you, is very likely no better than perch or salmon; but it seemed impossible to procure it, and here it is.”
“But how could you have these fish brought to France?”
“Oh, nothing more easy. Each fish was brought over in a cask?one filled with river herbs and weeds, the other with rushes and lake plants; they were placed in a wagon built on purpose, and thus the sterlet lived twelve days, the lamprey eight, and both were alive when my cook seized them, killing one with milk and the other with wine. You do not believe me, M. Danglars!”
“I cannot help doubting,” answered Danglars with his stupid smile.
“Baptistin,” said the count, “have the other fish brought in?the sterlet and the lamprey which came in the other casks, and which are yet alive.” Danglars opened his bewildered eyes; the company clapped their hands. Four servants carried in two casks covered with aquatic plants, and in each of which was breathing a fish similar to those on the table.
“But why have two of each sort?” asked Danglars.
“Merely because one might have died,” carelessly answered Monte Cristo.
“You are certainly an extraordinary man,” said Danglars; “and philosophers may well say it is a fine thing to be rich.”
“And to have ideas,” added Madame Danglars.
“Oh, do not give me credit for this, madame; it was done by the Romans, who much esteemed them, and Pliny relates that they sent slaves from Ostia to Rome, who carried on their heads fish which he calls the mulus, and which, from the description, must probably be the goldfish. It was also considered a luxury to have them alive, it being an amusing sight to see them die, for, when dying, they change color three or four times, and like the rainbow when it disappears, pass through all the prismatic shades, after which they were sent to the kitchen. Their agony formed part of their merit?if they were not seen alive, they were despised when dead.”
“Yes,” said Debray, “but then Ostia is only a few leagues from Rome.”
“True,” said Monte Cristo; “but what would be the use of living eighteen hundred years after Lucullus, if we can do no better than he could?” The two Cavalcanti opened their enormous eyes, but had the good sense not to say anything. “All this is very extraordinary,” said Chateau-Renaud; “still, what I admire the most, I confess, is the marvellous promptitude with which your orders are executed. Is it not true that you only bought this house five or six days ago?”
“Certainly not longer.”
“Well, I am sure it is quite transformed since last week. If I remember rightly, it had another entrance, and the court-yard was paved and empty; while to-day we have a splendid lawn, bordered by trees which appear to be a hundred years old.”
“Why not? I am fond of grass and shade,” said Monte Cristo.
“Yes,” said Madame de Villefort, “the door was towards the road before, and on the day of my miraculous escape you brought me into the house from the road, I remember.”
“Yes, madame,” said Monte Cristo; “but I preferred having an entrance which would allow me to see the Bois de Boulogne over my gate.”
“In four days,” said Morrel; “it is extraordinary!”
“Indeed,” said Chateau-Renaud, “it seems quite miraculous to make a new house out of an old one; for it was very old, and dull too. I recollect coming for my mother to look at it when M. de Saint-Meran advertised it for sale two or three years ago.”
“M. de Saint-Meran?” said Madame de Villefort; “then this house belonged to M. de Saint-Meran before you bought it?”
“It appears so,” replied Monte Cristo.
“Is it possible that you do not know of whom you purchased it?”
“Quite so; my steward transacts all this business for me.”
“It is certainly ten years since the house had been occupied,” said Chateau-Renaud, “and it was quite melancholy to look at it, with the blinds closed, the doors locked, and the weeds in the court. Really, if the house had not belonged to the father-in-law of the procureur, one might have thought it some accursed place where a horrible crime had been committed.” Villefort, who had hitherto not tasted the three or four glasses of rare wine which were placed before him, here took one, and drank it off. Monte Cristo allowed a short time to elapse, and then said, “It is singular, baron, but the same idea came across me the first time I came here; it looked so gloomy I should never have bought it if my steward had not taken the matter into his own hands. Perhaps the fellow had been bribed by the notary.”
“It is probable,” stammered out Villefort, trying to smile; “but I can assure you that I had nothing to do with any such proceeding. This house is part of Valentine’s marriage-portion, and M. de Saint-Meran wished to sell it; for if it had remained another year or two uninhabited it would have fallen to ruin.” It was Morrel’s turn to become pale.
“There was, above all, one room,” continued Monte Cristo, “very plain in appearance, hung with red damask, which, I know not why, appeared to me quite dramatic.”
“Why so?” said Danglars; “why dramatic?”
“Can we account for instinct?” said Monte Cristo. “Are there not some places where we seem to breathe sadness??why, we cannot tell. It is a chain of recollections?an idea which carries you back to other times, to other places?which, very likely, have no connection with the present time and place. And there is something in this room which reminds me forcibly of the chamber of the Marquise de Ganges [*] or Desdemona. Stay, since we have finished dinner, I will show it to you, and then we will take coffee in the garden. After dinner, the play.” Monte Cristo looked inquiringly at his guests. Madame de Villefort rose, Monte Cristo did the same, and the rest followed their example. Villefort and Madame Danglars remained for a moment, as if rooted to their seats; they questioned each other with vague and stupid glances. “Did you hear?” said Madame Danglars.
* Elisabeth de Rossan, Marquise de Ganges, was one of the
famous women of the court of Louis XIV. where she was known
as “La Belle Provencale.” She was the widow of the Marquise
de Castellane when she married de Ganges, and having the
misfortune to excite the enmity of her new brothers-in-law,
was forced by them to take poison; and they finished her off
with pistol and dagger.?Ed.
“We must go,” replied Villefort, offering his arm. The others, attracted by curiosity, were already scattered in different parts of the house; for they thought the visit would not be limited to the one room, and that, at the same time, they would obtain a view of the rest of the building, of which Monte Cristo had created a palace. Each one went out by the open doors. Monte Cristo waited for the two who remained; then, when they had passed, he brought up the rear, and on his face was a smile, which, if they could have understood it, would have alarmed them much more than a visit to the room they were about to enter. They began by walking through the apartments, many of which were fitted up in the Eastern style, with cushions and divans instead of beds, and pipes instead of furniture. The drawing-rooms were decorated with the rarest pictures by the old masters, the boudoirs hung with draperies from China, of fanciful colors, fantastic design, and wonderful texture. At length they arrived at the famous room. There was nothing particular about it, excepting that, although daylight had disappeared, it was not lighted, and everything in it was old-fashioned, while the rest of the rooms had been redecorated. These two causes were enough to give it a gloomy aspect. “Oh.” cried Madame de Villefort, “it is really frightful.” Madame Danglars tried to utter a few words, but was not heard. Many observations were made, the import of which was a unanimous opinion that there was something sinister about the room. “Is it not so?” asked Monte Cristo. “Look at that large clumsy bed, hung with such gloomy, blood-colored drapery! And those two crayon portraits, that have faded from the dampness; do they not seem to say, with their pale lips and staring eyes, ‘We have seen’?” Villefort became livid; Madame Danglars fell into a long seat placed near the chimney. “Oh,” said Madame de Villefort, smiling, “are you courageous enough to sit down upon the very seat perhaps upon which the crime was committed?” Madame Danglars rose suddenly.
“And then,” said Monte Cristo, “this is not all.”
“What is there more?” said Debray, who had not failed to notice the agitation of Madame Danglars.
“Ah, what else is there?” said Danglars; “for, at present, I cannot say that I have seen anything extraordinary. What do you say, M. Cavalcanti?”
“Ah,” said he, “we have at Pisa, Ugolino’s tower; at Ferrara, Tasso’s prison; at Rimini, the room of Francesca and Paolo.”
“Yes, but you have not this little staircase,” said Monte Cristo, opening a door concealed by the drapery. “Look at it, and tell me what you think of it.”
“What a wicked-looking, crooked staircase,” said Chateau-Renaud with a smile.
“I do not know whether the wine of Chios produces melancholy, but certainly everything appears to me black in this house,” said Debray.
Ever since Valentine’s dowry had been mentioned, Morrel had been silent and sad. “Can you imagine,” said Monte Cristo, “some Othello or Abbe de Ganges, one stormy, dark night, descending these stairs step by step, carrying a load, which he wishes to hide from the sight of man, if not from God?” Madame Danglars half fainted on the arm of Villefort, who was obliged to support himself against the wall. “Ah, madame,” cried Debray, “what is the matter with you? how pale you look!”
“It is very evident what is the matter with her,” said Madame de Villefort; “M. de Monte Cristo is relating horrible stories to us, doubtless intending to frighten us to death.”
“Yes,” said Villefort, “really, count, you frighten the ladies.”
“What is the matter?” asked Debray, in a whisper, of Madame Danglars.
“Nothing,” she replied with a violent effort. “I want air, that is all.”
“Will you come into the garden?” said Debray, advancing towards the back staircase.
“No, no,” she answered, “I would rather remain here.”
“Are you really frightened, madame?” said Monte Cristo.
“Oh, no, sir,” said Madame Danglars; “but you suppose scenes in a manner which gives them the appearance of reality.”
“Ah, yes,” said Monte Cristo smiling; “it is all a matter of imagination. Why should we not imagine this the apartment of an honest mother? And this bed with red hangings, a bed visited by the goddess Lucina? And that mysterious staircase, the passage through which, not to disturb their sleep, the doctor and nurse pass, or even the father carrying the sleeping child?” Here Madame Danglars, instead of being calmed by the soft picture, uttered a groan and fainted. “Madame Danglars is ill,” said Villefort; “it would be better to take her to her carriage.”
“Oh, mon Dieu,” said Monte Cristo, “and I have forgotten my smelling-bottle!”
“I have mine,” said Madame de Villefort; and she passed over to Monte Cristo a bottle full of the same kind of red liquid whose good properties the count had tested on Edward.
“Ah,” said Monte Cristo, taking it from her hand.
“Yes,” she said, “at your advice I have made the trial.”
“And have you succeeded?”
“I think so.”
Madame Danglars was carried into the adjoining room; Monte Cristo dropped a very small portion of the red liquid upon her lips; she returned to consciousness. “Ah,” she cried, “what a frightful dream!”
Villefort pressed her hand to let her know it was not a dream. They looked for M. Danglars, but, as he was not especially interested in poetical ideas, he had gone into the garden, and was talking with Major Cavalcanti on the projected railway from Leghorn to Florence. Monte Cristo seemed in despair. He took the arm of Madame Danglars, and conducted her into the garden, where they found Danglars taking coffee between the Cavalcanti. “Really, madame,” he said, “did I alarm you much?”
“Oh, no, sir,” she answered; “but you know, things impress us differently, according to the mood of our minds.” Villefort forced a laugh. “And then, you know,” he said, “an idea, a supposition, is sufficient.”
“Well,” said Monte Cristo, “you may believe me if you like, but it is my opinion that a crime has been committed in this house.”
“Take care,” said Madame de Villefort, “the king’s attorney is here.”
“Ah,” replied Monte Cristo, “since that is the case, I will take advantage of his presence to make my declaration.”
“Your declaration?” said Villefort.
“Yes, before witnesses.”
“Oh, this is very interesting,” said Debray; “if there really has been a crime, we will investigate it.”
“There has been a crime,” said Monte Cristo. “Come this way, gentlemen; come, M. Villefort, for a declaration to be available, should be made before the competent authorities.” He then took Villefort’s arm, and, at the same time, holding that of Madame Danglars under his own, he dragged the procureur to the plantain-tree, where the shade was thickest. All the other guests followed.
“Stay,” said Monte Cristo, “here, in this very spot” (and he stamped upon the ground), “I had the earth dug up and fresh mould put in, to refresh these old trees; well, my man, digging, found a box, or rather, the iron-work of a box, in the midst of which was the skeleton of a newly born infant.” Monte Cristo felt the arm of Madame Danglars stiffen, while that of Villefort trembled. “A newly born infant,” repeated Debray; “this affair becomes serious!”
“Well,” said Chateau-Renaud, “I was not wrong just now then, when I said that houses had souls and faces like men, and that their exteriors carried the impress of their characters. This house was gloomy because it was remorseful: it was remorseful because it concealed a crime.”
“Who said it was a crime?” asked Villefort, with a last effort.
“How? is it not a crime to bury a living child in a garden?” cried Monte Cristo. “And pray what do you call such an action?”
“But who said it was buried alive?”
“Why bury it there if it were dead? This garden has never been a cemetery.”
“What is done to infanticides in this country?” asked Major Cavalcanti innocently.
“Oh, their heads are soon cut off,” said Danglars.
“Ah, indeed?” said Cavalcanti.
“I think so; am I not right, M. de Villefort?” asked Monte Cristo.
“Yes, count,” replied Villefort, in a voice now scarcely human.
Monte Cristo, seeing that the two persons for whom he had prepared this scene could scarcely endure it, and not wishing to carry it too far, said, “Come, gentlemen,?some coffee, we seem to have forgotten it,” and he conducted the guests back to the table on the lawn.
“Indeed, count,” said Madame Danglars, “I am ashamed to own it, but all your frightful stories have so upset me, that I must beg you to let me sit down;” and she fell into a chair. Monte Cristo bowed, and went to Madame de Villefort. “I think Madame Danglars again requires your bottle,” he said. But before Madame de Villefort could reach her friend the procureur had found time to whisper to Madame Danglars, “I must speak to you.”
“In my office, or in the court, if you like,?that is the surest place.”
“I will be there.”?At this moment Madame de Villefort approached. “Thanks, my dear friend,” said Madame Danglars, trying to smile; “it is over now, and I am much better.”
Chapter 64. The Beggar
The evening passed on; Madame de Villefort expressed a desire to return to Paris, which Madame Danglars had not dared to do, notwithstanding the uneasiness she experienced. On his wife’s request, M. de Villefort was the first to give the signal of departure. He offered a seat in his landau to Madame Danglars, that she might be under the care of his wife. As for M. Danglars, absorbed in an interesting conversation with M. Cavalcanti, he paid no attention to anything that was passing. While Monte Cristo had begged the smelling-bottle of Madame de Villefort, he had noticed the approach of Villefort to Madame Danglars, and he soon guessed all that had passed between them, though the words had been uttered in so low a voice as hardly to be heard by Madame Danglars. Without opposing their arrangements, he allowed Morrel, Chateau-Renaud, and Debray to leave on horseback, and the ladies in M. de Villefort’s carriage. Danglars, more and more delighted with Major Cavalcanti, had offered him a seat in his carriage. Andrea Cavalcanti found his tilbury waiting at the door; the groom, in every respect a caricature of the English fashion, was standing on tiptoe to hold a large iron-gray horse.
Andrea had spoken very little during dinner; he was an intelligent lad, and he feared to utter some absurdity before so many grand people, amongst whom, with dilating eyes, he saw the king’s attorney. Then he had been seized upon by Danglars, who, with a rapid glance at the stiff-necked old major and his modest son, and taking into consideration the hospitality of the count, made up his mind that he was in the society of some nabob come to Paris to finish the worldly education of his heir. He contemplated with unspeakable delight the large diamond which shone on the major’s little finger; for the major, like a prudent man, in case of any accident happening to his bank-notes, had immediately converted them into an available asset. Then, after dinner, on the pretext of business, he questioned the father and son upon their mode of living; and the father and son, previously informed that it was through Danglars the one was to receive his 48,000 francs and the other 50,000 livres annually, were so full of affability that they would have shaken hands even with the banker’s servants, so much did their gratitude need an object to expend itself upon. One thing above all the rest heightened the respect, nay almost the veneration, of Danglars for Cavalcanti. The latter, faithful to the principle of Horace, nil admirari, had contented himself with showing his knowledge by declaring in what lake the best lampreys were caught. Then he had eaten some without saying a word more; Danglars, therefore, concluded that such luxuries were common at the table of the illustrious descendant of the Cavalcanti, who most likely in Lucca fed upon trout brought from Switzerland, and lobsters sent from England, by the same means used by the count to bring the lampreys from Lake Fusaro, and the sterlet from the Volga. Thus it was with much politeness of manner that he heard Cavalcanti pronounce these words, “To-morrow, sir, I shall have the honor of waiting upon you on business.”
“And I, sir,” said Danglars, “shall be most happy to receive you.” Upon which he offered to take Cavalcanti in his carriage to the Hotel des Princes, if it would not be depriving him of the company of his son. To this Cavalcanti replied by saying that for some time past his son had lived independently of him, that he had his own horses and carriages, and that not having come together, it would not be difficult for them to leave separately. The major seated himself, therefore, by the side of Danglars, who was more and more charmed with the ideas of order and economy which ruled this man, and yet who, being able to allow his son 60,000 francs a year, might be supposed to possess a fortune of 500,000 or 600,000 livres.
As for Andrea, he began, by way of showing off, to scold his groom, who, instead of bringing the tilbury to the steps of the house, had taken it to the outer door, thus giving him the trouble of walking thirty steps to reach it. The groom heard him with humility, took the bit of the impatient animal with his left hand, and with the right held out the reins to Andrea, who, taking them from him, rested his polished boot lightly on the step. At that moment a hand touched his shoulder. The young man turned round, thinking that Danglars or Monte Cristo had forgotten something they wished to tell him, and had returned just as they were starting. But instead of either of these, he saw nothing but a strange face, sunburnt, and encircled by a beard, with eyes brilliant as carbuncles, and a smile upon the mouth which displayed a perfect set of white teeth, pointed and sharp as the wolf’s or jackal’s. A red handkerchief encircled his gray head; torn and filthy garments covered his large bony limbs, which seemed as though, like those of a skeleton, they would rattle as he walked; and the hand with which he leaned upon the young man’s shoulder, and which was the first thing Andrea saw, seemed of gigantic size. Did the young man recognize that face by the light of the lantern in his tilbury, or was he merely struck with the horrible appearance of his interrogator? We cannot say; but only relate the fact that he shuddered and stepped back suddenly. “What do you want of me?” he asked.
“Pardon me, my friend, if I disturb you,” said the man with the red handkerchief, “but I want to speak to you.”
“You have no right to beg at night,” said the groom, endeavoring to rid his master of the troublesome intruder.
“I am not begging, my fine fellow,” said the unknown to the servant, with so ironical an expression of the eye, and so frightful a smile, that he withdrew; “I only wish to say two or three words to your master, who gave me a commission to execute about a fortnight ago.”
“Come,” said Andrea, with sufficient nerve for his servant not to perceive his agitation, “what do you want? Speak quickly, friend.”
The man said, in a low voice: “I wish?I wish you to spare me the walk back to Paris. I am very tired, and as I have not eaten so good a dinner as you, I can scarcely stand.” The young man shuddered at this strange familiarity. “Tell me,” he said?”tell me what you want?”
“Well, then, I want you to take me up in your fine carriage, and carry me back.” Andrea turned pale, but said nothing.
“Yes,” said the man, thrusting his hands into his pockets, and looking impudently at the youth; “I have taken the whim into my head; do you understand, Master Benedetto?”
At this name, no doubt, the young man reflected a little, for he went towards his groom, saying, “This man is right; I did indeed charge him with a commission, the result of which he must tell me; walk to the barrier, there take a cab, that you may not be too late.” The surprised groom retired. “Let me at least reach a shady spot,” said Andrea.
“Oh, as for that, I’ll take you to a splendid place,” said the man with the handkerchief; and taking the horse’s bit he led the tilbury where it was certainly impossible for any one to witness the honor that Andrea conferred upon him.
“Don’t think I want the glory of riding in your fine carriage,” said he; “oh, no, it’s only because I am tired, and also because I have a little business to talk over with you.”
“Come, step in,” said the young man. It was a pity this scene had not occurred in daylight, for it was curious to see this rascal throwing himself heavily down on the cushion beside the young and elegant driver of the tilbury. Andrea drove past the last house in the village without saying a word to his companion, who smiled complacently, as though well-pleased to find himself travelling in so comfortable a vehicle. Once out of Auteuil, Andrea looked around, in order to assure himself that he could neither be seen nor heard, and then, stopping the horse and crossing his arms before the man, he asked,?”Now, tell me why you come to disturb my tranquillity?”
“Let me ask you why you deceived me?”
“How have I deceived you?”
“‘How,’ do you ask? When we parted at the Pont du Var, you told me you were going to travel through Piedmont and Tuscany; but instead of that, you come to Paris.”
“How does that annoy you?”
“It does not; on the contrary, I think it will answer my purpose.”
“So,” said Andrea, “you are speculating upon me?”
“What fine words he uses!”
“I warn you, Master Caderousse, that you are mistaken.”
“Well, well, don’t be angry, my boy; you know well enough what it is to be unfortunate; and misfortunes make us jealous. I thought you were earning a living in Tuscany or Piedmont by acting as facchino or cicerone, and I pitied you sincerely, as I would a child of my own. You know I always did call you my child.”
“Come, come, what then?”
“I am patient, but go on.”
“All at once I see you pass through the barrier with a groom, a tilbury, and fine new clothes. You must have discovered a mine, or else become a stockbroker.”
“So that, as you confess, you are jealous?”
“No, I am pleased?so pleased that I wished to congratulate you; but as I am not quite properly dressed, I chose my opportunity, that I might not compromise you.”
“Yes, and a fine opportunity you have chosen!” exclaimed Andrea; “you speak to me before my servant.”
“How can I help that, my boy? I speak to you when I can catch you. You have a quick horse, a light tilbury, you are naturally as slippery as an eel; if I had missed you to-night, I might not have had another chance.”
“You see, I do not conceal myself.”
“You are lucky; I wish I could say as much, for I do conceal myself; and then I was afraid you would not recognize me, but you did,” added Caderousse with his unpleasant smile. “It was very polite of you.”
“Come,” said Andrea, “what do you want?”
“You do not speak affectionately to me, Benedetto, my old friend, that is not right?take care, or I may become troublesome.” This menace smothered the young man’s passion. He urged the horse again into a trot. “You should not speak so to an old friend like me, Caderousse, as you said just now; you are a native of Marseilles, I am”?
“Do you know then now what you are?”
“No, but I was brought up in Corsica; you are old and obstinate, I am young and wilful. Between people like us threats are out of place, everything should be amicably arranged. Is it my fault if fortune, which has frowned on you, has been kind to me?”
“Fortune has been kind to you, then? Your tilbury, your groom, your clothes, are not then hired? Good, so much the better,” said Caderousse, his eyes sparkling with avarice.
“Oh, you knew that well enough before speaking to me,” said Andrea, becoming more and more excited. “If I had been wearing a handkerchief like yours on my head, rags on my back, and worn-out shoes on my feet, you would not have known me.”
“You wrong me, my boy; now I have found you, nothing prevents my being as well-dressed as any one, knowing, as I do, the goodness of your heart. If you have two coats you will give me one of them. I used to divide my soup and beans with you when you were hungry.”
“True,” said Andrea.
“What an appetite you used to have! Is it as good now?”
“Oh, yes,” replied Andrea, laughing.
“How did you come to be dining with that prince whose house you have just left?”
“He is not a prince; simply a count.”
“A count, and a rich one too, eh?”
“Yes; but you had better not have anything to say to him, for he is not a very good-tempered gentleman.”
“Oh, be easy! I have no design upon your count, and you shall have him all to yourself. But,” said Caderousse, again smiling with the disagreeable expression he had before assumed, “you must pay for it?you understand?”
“Well, what do you want?”
“I think that with a hundred francs a month”?
“I could live”?
“Upon a hundred francs!”
“Come?you understand me; but that with”?
“With a hundred and fifty francs I should be quite happy.”
“Here are two hundred,” said Andrea; and he placed ten gold louis in the hand of Caderousse.
“Good!” said Caderousse.
“Apply to the steward on the first day of every month, and you will receive the same sum.”
“There now, again you degrade me.”
“By making me apply to the servants, when I want to transact business with you alone.”
“Well, be it so, then. Take it from me then, and so long at least as I receive my income, you shall be paid yours.”
“Come, come; I always said you were a fine fellow, and it is a blessing when good fortune happens to such as you. But tell me all about it?”
“Why do you wish to know?” asked Cavalcanti.
“What? do you again defy me?”
“No; the fact is, I have found my father.”
“What? a real father?”
“Yes, so long as he pays me”?
“You’ll honor and believe him?that’s right. What is his name?”
“Is he pleased with you?”
“So far I have appeared to answer his purpose.”
“And who found this father for you?”
“The Count of Monte Cristo.”
“The man whose house you have just left?”
“I wish you would try and find me a situation with him as grandfather, since he holds the money-chest!”
“Well, I will mention you to him. Meanwhile, what are you going to do?”
“It is very kind of you to trouble yourself about me.”
“Since you interest yourself in my affairs, I think it is now my turn to ask you some questions.”
“Ah, true. Well; I shall rent a room in some respectable house, wear a decent coat, shave every day, and go and read the papers in a cafe. Then, in the evening, I shall go to the theatre; I shall look like some retired baker. That is what I want.”
“Come, if you will only put this scheme into execution, and be steady, nothing could be better.”
“Do you think so, M. Bossuet? And you?what will you become? A peer of France?”
“Ah,” said Andrea, “who knows?”
“Major Cavalcanti is already one, perhaps; but then, hereditary rank is abolished.”
“No politics, Caderousse. And now that you have all you want, and that we understand each other, jump down from the tilbury and disappear.”
“Not at all, my good friend.”
“How? Not at all?”
“Why, just think for a moment; with this red handkerchief on my head, with scarcely any shoes, no papers, and ten gold napoleons in my pocket, without reckoning what was there before?making in all about two hundred francs,?why, I should certainly be arrested at the barriers. Then, to justify myself, I should say that you gave me the money; this would cause inquiries, it would be found that I left Toulon without giving due notice, and I should then be escorted back to the shores of the Mediterranean. Then I should become simply No. 106, and good-by to my dream of resembling the retired baker! No, no, my boy; I prefer remaining honorably in the capital.” Andrea scowled. Certainly, as he had himself owned, the reputed son of Major Cavalcanti was a wilful fellow. He drew up for a minute, threw a rapid glance around him, and then his hand fell instantly into his pocket, where it began playing with a pistol. But, meanwhile, Caderousse, who had never taken his eyes off his companion, passed his hand behind his back, and opened a long Spanish knife, which he always carried with him, to be ready in case of need. The two friends, as we see, were worthy of and understood one another. Andrea’s hand left his pocket inoffensively, and was carried up to the red mustache, which it played with for some time. “Good Caderousse,” he said, “how happy you will be.”
“I will do my best,” said the inn-keeper of the Pont du Gard, shutting up his knife.
“Well, then, we will go into Paris. But how will you pass through the barrier without exciting suspicion? It seems to me that you are in more danger riding than on foot.”
“Wait,” said Caderousse, “we shall see.” He then took the great-coat with the large collar, which the groom had left behind in the tilbury, and put it on his back; then he took off Cavalcanti’s hat, which he placed upon his own head, and finally he assumed the careless attitude of a servant whose master drives himself.
“But, tell me,” said Andrea, “am I to remain bareheaded?”
“Pooh,” said Caderousse; “it is so windy that your hat can easily appear to have blown off.”
“Come, come; enough of this,” said Cavalcanti.
“What are you waiting for?” said Caderousse. “I hope I am not the cause.”
“Hush,” said Andrea. They passed the barrier without accident. At the first cross street Andrea stopped his horse, and Caderousse leaped out.
“Well!” said Andrea,?”my servant’s coat and my hat?”
“Ah,” said Caderousse, “you would not like me to risk taking cold?”
“But what am I to do?”
“You? Oh, you are young while I am beginning to get old. Au revoir, Benedetto;” and running into a court, he disappeared. “Alas,” said Andrea, sighing, “one cannot be completely happy in this world!”
Chapter 65. A Conjugal Scene
At the Place Louis XV. the three young people separated?that is to say, Morrel went to the Boulevards, Chateau-Renaud to the Pont de la Revolution, and Debray to the Quai. Most probably Morrel and Chateau-Renaud returned to their “domestic hearths,” as they say in the gallery of the Chamber in well-turned speeches, and in the theatre of the Rue Richelieu in well-written pieces; but it was not the case with Debray. When he reached the wicket of the Louvre, he turned to the left, galloped across the Carrousel, passed through the Rue Saint-Roch, and, issuing from the Rue de la Michodiere, he arrived at M. Danglars’ door just at the same time that Villefort’s landau, after having deposited him and his wife at the Faubourg St. Honore, stopped to leave the baroness at her own house. Debray, with the air of a man familiar with the house, entered first into the court, threw his bridle into the hands of a footman, and returned to the door to receive Madame Danglars, to whom he offered his arm, to conduct her to her apartments. The gate once closed, and Debray and the baroness alone in the court, he asked,?”What was the matter with you, Hermine? and why were you so affected at that story, or rather fable, which the count related?”
“Because I have been in such shocking spirits all the evening, my friend,” said the baroness.
“No, Hermine,” replied Debray; “you cannot make me believe that; on the contrary, you were in excellent spirits when you arrived at the count’s. M. Danglars was disagreeable, certainly, but I know how much you care for his ill-humor. Some one has vexed you; I will allow no one to annoy you.”
“You are deceived, Lucien, I assure you,” replied Madame Danglars; “and what I have told you is really the case, added to the ill-humor you remarked, but which I did not think it worth while to allude to.” It was evident that Madame Danglars was suffering from that nervous irritability which women frequently cannot account for even to themselves; or that, as Debray had guessed, she had experienced some secret agitation that she would not acknowledge to any one. Being a man who knew that the former of these symptoms was one of the inherent penalties of womanhood, he did not then press his inquiries, but waited for a more appropriate opportunity when he should again interrogate her, or receive an avowal proprio motu. At the door of her apartment the baroness met Mademoiselle Cornelie, her confidential maid. “What is my daughter doing?” asked Madame Danglars.
“She practiced all the evening, and then went to bed,” replied Mademoiselle Cornelie.
“Yet I think I hear her piano.”
“It is Mademoiselle Louise d’Armilly, who is playing while Mademoiselle Danglars is in bed.”
“Well,” said Madame Danglars, “come and undress me.” They entered the bedroom. Debray stretched himself upon a large couch, and Madame Danglars passed into her dressing-room with Mademoiselle Cornelie. “My dear M. Lucien,” said Madame Danglars through the door, “you are always complaining that Eugenie will not address a word to you.”
“Madame,” said Lucien, playing with a little dog, who, recognizing him as a friend of the house, expected to be caressed, “I am not the only one who makes similar complaints, I think I heard Morcerf say that he could not extract a word from his betrothed.”
“True,” said Madame Danglars; “yet I think this will all pass off, and that you will one day see her enter your study.”
“At least that of the minister.”
“To ask for an engagement at the Opera. Really, I never saw such an infatuation for music; it is quite ridiculous for a young lady of fashion.” Debray smiled. “Well,” said he, “let her come, with your consent and that of the baron, and we will try and give her an engagement, though we are very poor to pay such talent as hers.”
“Go, Cornelie,” said Madame Danglars, “I do not require you any longer.”
Cornelie obeyed, and the next minute Madame Danglars left her room in a charming loose dress, and came and sat down close to Debray. Then she began thoughtfully to caress the little spaniel. Lucien looked at her for a moment in silence. “Come, Hermine,” he said, after a short time, “answer candidly,?something vexes you?is it not so?”
“Nothing,” answered the baroness.
And yet, as she could scarcely breathe, she rose and went towards a looking-glass. “I am frightful to-night,” she said. Debray rose, smiling, and was about to contradict the baroness upon this latter point, when the door opened suddenly. M. Danglars appeared; Debray reseated himself. At the noise of the door Madame Danglars turned round, and looked upon her husband with an astonishment she took no trouble to conceal. “Good-evening, madame,” said the banker; “good-evening, M. Debray.”
Probably the baroness thought this unexpected visit signified a desire to make up for the sharp words he had uttered during the day. Assuming a dignified air, she turned round to Debray, without answering her husband. “Read me something, M. Debray,” she said. Debray, who was slightly disturbed at this visit, recovered himself when he saw the calmness of the baroness, and took up a book marked by a mother-of-pearl knife inlaid with gold. “Excuse me,” said the banker, “but you will tire yourself, baroness, by such late hours, and M. Debray lives some distance from here.”
Debray was petrified, not only to hear Danglars speak so calmly and politely, but because it was apparent that beneath outward politeness there really lurked a determined spirit of opposition to anything his wife might wish to do. The baroness was also surprised, and showed her astonishment by a look which would doubtless have had some effect upon her husband if he had not been intently occupied with the paper, where he was looking to see the closing stock quotations. The result was, that the proud look entirely failed of its purpose.
“M. Lucien,” said the baroness, “I assure you I have no desire to sleep, and that I have a thousand things to tell you this evening, which you must listen to, even though you slept while hearing me.”
“I am at your service, madame,” replied Lucien coldly.
“My dear M. Debray,” said the banker, “do not kill yourself to-night listening to the follies of Madame Danglars, for you can hear them as well to-morrow; but I claim to-night and will devote it, if you will allow me, to talk over some serious matters with my wife.” This time the blow was so well aimed, and hit so directly, that Lucien and the baroness were staggered, and they interrogated each other with their eyes, as if to seek help against this aggression, but the irresistible will of the master of the house prevailed, and the husband was victorious.
“Do not think I wish to turn you out, my dear Debray,” continued Danglars; “oh, no, not at all. An unexpected occurrence forces me to ask my wife to have a little conversation with me; it is so rarely I make such a request, I am sure you cannot grudge it to me.” Debray muttered something, bowed and went out, knocking himself against the edge of the door, like Nathan in “Athalie.”
“It is extraordinary,” he said, when the door was closed behind him, “how easily these husbands, whom we ridicule, gain an advantage over us.”
Lucien having left, Danglars took his place on the sofa, closed the open book, and placing himself in a dreadfully dictatorial attitude, he began playing with the dog; but the animal, not liking him as well as Debray, and attempting to bite him, Danglars seized him by the skin of his neck and threw him upon a couch on the other side of the room. The animal uttered a cry during the transit, but, arrived at its destination, it crouched behind the cushions, and stupefied at such unusual treatment remained silent and motionless. “Do you know, sir,” asked the baroness, “that you are improving? Generally you are only rude, but to-night you are brutal.”
“It is because I am in a worse humor than usual,” replied Danglars. Hermine looked at the banker with supreme disdain. These glances frequently exasperated the pride of Danglars, but this evening he took no notice of them.
“And what have I to do with your ill-humor?” said the baroness, irritated at the impassibility of her husband; “do these things concern me? Keep your ill-humor at home in your money boxes, or, since you have clerks whom you pay, vent it upon them.”
“Not so,” replied Danglars; “your advice is wrong, so I shall not follow it. My money boxes are my Pactolus, as, I think, M. Demoustier says, and I will not retard its course, or disturb its calm. My clerks are honest men, who earn my fortune, whom I pay much below their deserts, if I may value them according to what they bring in; therefore I shall not get into a passion with them; those with whom I will be in a passion are those who eat my dinners, mount my horses, and exhaust my fortune.”
“And pray who are the persons who exhaust your fortune? Explain yourself more clearly, I beg, sir.”
“Oh, make yourself easy!?I am not speaking riddles, and you will soon know what I mean. The people who exhaust my fortune are those who draw out 700,000 francs in the course of an hour.”
“I do not understand you, sir,” said the baroness, trying to disguise the agitation of her voice and the flush of her face. “You understand me perfectly, on the contrary,” said Danglars: “but, if you will persist, I will tell you that I have just lost 700,000 francs upon the Spanish loan.”
“And pray,” asked the baroness, “am I responsible for this loss?”
“Is it my fault you have lost 700,000 francs?”
“Certainly it is not mine.”
“Once for all, sir,” replied the baroness sharply, “I tell you I will not hear cash named; it is a style of language I never heard in the house of my parents or in that of my first husband.”
“Oh, I can well believe that, for neither of them was worth a penny.”
“The better reason for my not being conversant with the slang of the bank, which is here dinning in my ears from morning to night; that noise of jingling crowns, which are constantly being counted and re-counted, is odious to me. I only know one thing I dislike more, which is the sound of your voice.”
“Really?” said Danglars. “Well, this surprises me, for I thought you took the liveliest interest in all my affairs!”
“I? What could put such an idea into your head?”
“I should like to know upon what occasion?”
“Oh, mon Dieu, that is very easily done. Last February you were the first who told me of the Haitian funds. You had dreamed that a ship had entered the harbor at Havre, that this ship brought news that a payment we had looked upon as lost was going to be made. I know how clear-sighted your dreams are; I therefore purchased immediately as many shares as I could of the Haitian debt, and I gained 400,000 francs by it, of which 100,000 have been honestly paid to you. You spent it as you pleased; that was your business. In March there was a question about a grant to a railway. Three companies presented themselves, each offering equal securities. You told me that your instinct,?and although you pretend to know nothing about speculations, I think on the contrary, that your comprehension is very clear upon certain affairs,?well, you told me that your instinct led you to believe the grant would be given to the company called the Southern. I bought two thirds of the shares of that company; as you had foreseen, the shares trebled in value, and I picked up a million, from which 250,000 francs were paid to you for pin-money. How have you spent this 250,000 francs??it is no business of mine.”
“When are you coming to the point?” cried the baroness, shivering with anger and impatience.
“Patience, madame, I am coming to it.”
“In April you went to dine at the minister’s. You heard a private conversation respecting Spanish affairs?on the expulsion of Don Carlos. I bought some Spanish shares. The expulsion took place and I pocketed 600,000 francs the day Charles V. repassed the Bidassoa. Of these 600,000 francs you took 50,000 crowns. They were yours, you disposed of them according to your fancy, and I asked no questions; but it is not the less true that you have this year received 500,000 livres.”
“Well, sir, and what then?”
“Ah, yes, it was just after this that you spoiled everything.”
“Really, your manner of speaking”?
“It expresses my meaning, and that is all I want. Well, three days after that you talked politics with M. Debray, and you fancied from his words that Don Carlos had returned to Spain. Well, I sold my shares, the news got out, and I no longer sold?I gave them away, next day I find the news was false, and by this false report I have lost 700,000. francs.”
“Well, since I gave you a fourth of my gains, I think you owe me a fourth of my losses; the fourth of 700,000 francs is 175,000 francs.”
“What you say is absurd, and I cannot see why M. Debray’s name is mixed up in this affair.”
“Because if you do not possess the 175,000 francs I reclaim, you must have lent them to your friends, and M. Debray is one of your friends.”
“For shame!” exclaimed the baroness.
“Oh, let us have no gestures, no screams, no modern drama, or you will oblige me to tell you that I see Debray leave here, pocketing the whole of the 500,000 livres you have handed over to him this year, while he smiles to himself, saying that he has found what the most skilful players have never discovered?that is, a roulette where he wins without playing, and is no loser when he loses.” The baroness became enraged. “Wretch!” she cried, “will you dare to tell me you did not know what you now reproach me with?”
“I do not say that I did know it, and I do not say that I did not know it. I merely tell you to look into my conduct during the last four years that we have ceased to be husband and wife, and see whether it has not always been consistent. Some time after our rupture, you wished to study music, under the celebrated baritone who made such a successful appearance at the Theatre Italien; at the same time I felt inclined to learn dancing of the danseuse who acquired such a reputation in London. This cost me, on your account and mine, 100,000 francs. I said nothing, for we must have peace in the house; and 100,000 francs for a lady and gentleman to be properly instructed in music and dancing are not too much. Well, you soon become tired of singing, and you take a fancy to study diplomacy with the minister’s secretary. You understand, it signifies nothing to me so long as you pay for your lessons out of your own cashbox. But to-day I find you are drawing on mine, and that your apprenticeship may cost me 700,000 francs per month. Stop there, madame, for this cannot last. Either the diplomatist must give his lessons gratis, and I will tolerate him, or he must never set his foot again in my house;?do you understand, madame?”
“Oh, this is too much,” cried Hermine, choking, “you are worse than despicable.”
“But,” continued Danglars, “I find you did not even pause there”?
“You are right; let us leave these facts alone, and reason coolly. I have never interfered in your affairs excepting for your good; treat me in the same way. You say you have nothing to do with my cash-box. Be it so. Do as you like with your own, but do not fill or empty mine. Besides, how do I know that this was not a political trick, that the minister enraged at seeing me in the opposition, and jealous of the popular sympathy I excite, has not concerted with M. Debray to ruin me?”
“A probable thing!”
“Why not? Who ever heard of such an occurrence as this??a false telegraphic despatch?it is almost impossible for wrong signals to be made as they were in the last two telegrams. It was done on purpose for me?I am sure of it.”
“Sir,” said the baroness humbly, “are you not aware that the man employed there was dismissed, that they talked of going to law with him, that orders were issued to arrest him and that this order would have been put into execution if he had not escaped by flight, which proves that he was either mad or guilty? It was a mistake.”
“Yes, which made fools laugh, which caused the minister to have a sleepless night, which has caused the minister’s secretaries to blacken several sheets of paper, but which has cost me 700,000 francs.”
“But, sir,” said Hermine suddenly, “if all this is, as you say, caused by M. Debray, why, instead of going direct to him, do you come and tell me of it? Why, to accuse the man, do you address the woman?”
“Do I know M. Debray??do I wish to know him??do I wish to know that he gives advice??do I wish to follow it??do I speculate? No; you do all this, not I.”
“Still it seems to me, that as you profit by it?”
Danglars shrugged his shoulders. “Foolish creature,” he exclaimed. “Women fancy they have talent because they have managed two or three intrigues without being the talk of Paris! But know that if you had even hidden your irregularities from your husband, who has but the commencement of the art?for generally husbands will not see?you would then have been but a faint imitation of most of your friends among the women of the world. But it has not been so with me,?I see, and always have seen, during the last sixteen years. You may, perhaps, have hidden a thought; but not a step, not an action, not a fault, has escaped me, while you flattered yourself upon your address, and firmly believed you had deceived me. What has been the result??that, thanks to my pretended ignorance, there is none of your friends, from M. de Villefort to M. Debray, who has not trembled before me. There is not one who has not treated me as the master of the house,?the only title I desire with respect to you; there is not one, in fact, who would have dared to speak of me as I have spoken of them this day. I will allow you to make me hateful, but I will prevent your rendering me ridiculous, and, above all, I forbid you to ruin me.”
The baroness had been tolerably composed until the name of Villefort had been pronounced; but then she became pale, and, rising, as if touched by a spring, she stretched out her hands as though conjuring an apparition; she then took two or three steps towards her husband, as though to tear the secret from him, of which he was ignorant, or which he withheld from some odious calculation,?odious, as all his calculations were. “M. de Villefort!?What do you mean?”
“I mean that M. de Nargonne, your first husband, being neither a philosopher nor a banker, or perhaps being both, and seeing there was nothing to be got out of a king’s attorney, died of grief or anger at finding, after an absence of nine months, that you had been enceinte six. I am brutal,?I not only allow it, but boast of it; it is one of the reasons of my success in commercial business. Why did he kill himself instead of you? Because he had no cash to save. My life belongs to my cash. M. Debray has made me lose 700,000 francs; let him bear his share of the loss, and we will go on as before; if not, let him become bankrupt for the 250,000 livres, and do as all bankrupts do?disappear. He is a charming fellow, I allow, when his news is correct; but when it is not, there are fifty others in the world who would do better than he.”
Madame Danglars was rooted to the spot; she made a violent effort to reply to this last attack, but she fell upon a chair thinking of Villefort, of the dinner scene, of the strange series of misfortunes which had taken place in her house during the last few days, and changed the usual calm of her establishment to a scene of scandalous debate. Danglars did not even look at her, though she did her best to faint. He shut the bedroom door after him, without adding another word, and returned to his apartments; and when Madame Danglars recovered from her half-fainting condition, she could almost believe that she had had a disagreeable dream.
Chapter 66. Matrimonial Projects
The day following this scene, at the hour the banker usually chose to pay a visit to Madame Danglars on his way to his office, his coupe did not appear. At this time, that is, about half-past twelve, Madame Danglars ordered her carriage, and went out. Danglars, hidden behind a curtain, watched the departure he had been waiting for. He gave orders that he should be informed as soon as Madame Danglars appeared; but at two o’clock she had not returned. He then called for his horses, drove to the Chamber, and inscribed his name to speak against the budget. From twelve to two o’clock Danglars had remained in his study, unsealing his dispatches, and becoming more and more sad every minute, heaping figure upon figure, and receiving, among other visits, one from Major Cavalcanti, who, as stiff and exact as ever, presented himself precisely at the hour named the night before, to terminate his business with the banker. On leaving the Chamber, Danglars, who had shown violent marks of agitation during the sitting, and been more bitter than ever against the ministry, re-entered his carriage, and told the coachman to drive to the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, No. 30.
Monte Cristo was at home; only he was engaged with some one and begged Danglars to wait for a moment in the drawing-room. While the banker was waiting in the anteroom, the door opened, and a man dressed as an abbe and doubtless more familiar with the house than he was, came in and instead of waiting, merely bowed, passed on to the farther apartments, and disappeared. A minute after the door by which the priest had entered reopened, and Monte Cristo appeared. “Pardon me,” said he, “my dear baron, but one of my friends, the Abbe Busoni, whom you perhaps saw pass by, has just arrived in Paris; not having seen him for a long time, I could not make up my mind to leave him sooner, so I hope this will be sufficient reason for my having made you wait.”
“Nay,” said Danglars, “it is my fault; I have chosen my visit at a wrong time, and will retire.”
“Not at all; on the contrary, be seated; but what is the matter with you? You look careworn; really, you alarm me. Melancholy in a capitalist, like the appearance of a comet, presages some misfortune to the world.”
“I have been in ill-luck for several days,” said Danglars, “and I have heard nothing but bad news.”
“Ah, indeed?” said Monte Cristo. “Have you had another fall at the Bourse?”
“No; I am safe for a few days at least. I am only annoyed about a bankrupt of Trieste.”
“Really? Does it happen to be Jacopo Manfredi?”
“Exactly so. Imagine a man who has transacted business with me for I don’t know how long, to the amount of 800,000 or 900,000 francs during the year. Never a mistake or delay?a fellow who paid like a prince. Well, I was a million in advance with him, and now my fine Jacopo Manfredi suspends payment!”
“It is an unheard-of fatality. I draw upon him for 600,000. francs, my bills are returned unpaid, and, more than that, I hold bills of exchange signed by him to the value of 400,000. francs, payable at his correspondent’s in Paris at the end of this month. To-day is the 30th. I present them; but my correspondent has disappeared. This, with my Spanish affairs, made a pretty end to the month.”
“Then you really lost by that affair in Spain?”
“Yes; only 700,000 francs out of my cash-box?nothing more!”
“Why, how could you make such a mistake?such an old stager?”
“Oh, it is all my wife’s fault. She dreamed Don Carlos had returned to Spain; she believes in dreams. It is magnetism, she says, and when she dreams a thing it is sure to happen, she assures me. On this conviction I allow her to speculate, she having her bank and her stockbroker; she speculated and lost. It is true she speculates with her own money, not mine; nevertheless, you can understand that when 700,000. francs leave the wife’s pocket, the husband always finds it out. But do you mean to say you have not heard of this? Why, the thing has made a tremendous noise.”
“Yes, I heard it spoken of, but I did not know the details, and then no one can be more ignorant than I am of the affairs in the Bourse.”
“Then you do not speculate?”
“I??How could I speculate when I already have so much trouble in regulating my income? I should be obliged, besides my steward, to keep a clerk and a boy. But touching these Spanish affairs, I think that the baroness did not dream the whole of the Don Carlos matter. The papers said something about it, did they not?”
“Then you believe the papers?”
“I??not the least in the world; only I fancied that the honest Messager was an exception to the rule, and that it only announced telegraphic despatches.”
“Well, that’s what puzzles me,” replied Danglars; “the news of the return of Don Carlos was brought by telegraph.”
“So that,” said Monte Cristo, “you have lost nearly 1,700,000 francs this month.”
“Not nearly, indeed; that is exactly my loss.”
“Diable,” said Monte Cristo compassionately, “it is a hard blow for a third-rate fortune.”
“Third-rate,” said Danglars, rather humble, “what do you mean by that?”
“Certainly,” continued Monte Cristo, “I make three assortments in fortune?first-rate, second-rate, and third-rate fortunes. I call those first-rate which are composed of treasures one possesses under one’s hand, such as mines, lands, and funded property, in such states as France, Austria, and England, provided these treasures and property form a total of about a hundred millions; I call those second-rate fortunes, that are gained by manufacturing enterprises, joint-stock companies, viceroyalties, and principalities, not drawing more than 1,500,000 francs, the whole forming a capital of about fifty millions; finally, I call those third-rate fortunes, which are composed of a fluctuating capital, dependent upon the will of others, or upon chances which a bankruptcy involves or a false telegram shakes, such as banks, speculations of the day?in fact, all operations under the influence of greater or less mischances, the whole bringing in a real or fictitious capital of about fifteen millions. I think this is about your position, is it not?”
“Confound it, yes!” replied Danglars.
“The result, then, of six more such months as this would be to reduce the third-rate house to despair.”
“Oh,” said Danglars, becoming very pale, how you are running on!”
“Let us imagine seven such months,” continued Monte Cristo, in the same tone. “Tell me, have you ever thought that seven times 1,700,000 francs make nearly twelve millions? No, you have not;?well, you are right, for if you indulged in such reflections, you would never risk your principal, which is to the speculator what the skin is to civilized man. We have our clothes, some more splendid than others,?this is our credit; but when a man dies he has only his skin; in the same way, on retiring from business, you have nothing but your real principal of about five or six millions, at the most; for third-rate fortunes are never more than a fourth of what they appear to be, like the locomotive on a railway, the size of which is magnified by the smoke and steam surrounding it. Well, out of the five or six millions which form your real capital, you have just lost nearly two millions, which must, of course, in the same degree diminish your credit and fictitious fortune; to follow out my simile, your skin has been opened by bleeding, and this if repeated three or four times will cause death?so pay attention to it, my dear Monsieur Danglars. Do you want money? Do you wish me to lend you some?”
“What a bad calculator you are!” exclaimed Danglars, calling to his assistance all his philosophy and dissimulation. “I have made money at the same time by speculations which have succeeded. I have made up the loss of blood by nutrition. I lost a battle in Spain, I have been defeated in Trieste, but my naval army in India will have taken some galleons, and my Mexican pioneers will have discovered some mine.”
“Very good, very good! But the wound remains and will reopen at the first loss.”
“No, for I am only embarked in certainties,” replied Danglars, with the air of a mountebank sounding his own praises; “to involve me, three governments must crumble to dust.”
“Well, such things have been.”
“That there should be a famine!”
“Recollect the seven fat and the seven lean kine.”
“Or, that the sea should become dry, as in the days of Pharaoh, and even then my vessels would become caravans.”
“So much the better. I congratulate you, my dear M. Danglars,” said Monte Cristo; “I see I was deceived, and that you belong to the class of second-rate fortunes.”
“I think I may aspire to that honor,” said Danglars with a smile, which reminded Monte Cristo of the sickly moons which bad artists are so fond of daubing into their pictures of ruins. “But, while we are speaking of business,” Danglars added, pleased to find an opportunity of changing the subject, “tell me what I am to do for M. Cavalcanti.”
“Give him money, if he is recommended to you, and the recommendation seems good.”
“Excellent; he presented himself this morning with a bond of 40,000 francs, payable at sight, on you, signed by Busoni, and returned by you to me, with your indorsement?of course, I immediately counted him over the forty bank-notes.”
Monte Cristo nodded his head in token of assent. “But that is not all,” continued Danglars; “he has opened an account with my house for his son.”
“May I ask how much he allows the young man?”
“Five thousand francs per month.”
“Sixty thousand francs per year. I thought I was right in believing that Cavalcanti to be a stingy fellow. How can a young man live upon 5,000 francs a month?”
“But you understand that if the young man should want a few thousands more”?
“Do not advance it; the father will never repay it. You do not know these ultramontane millionaires; they are regular misers. And by whom were they recommended to you?”
“Oh, by the house of Fenzi, one of the best in Florence.”
“I do not mean to say you will lose, but, nevertheless, mind you hold to the terms of the agreement.”
“Would you not trust the Cavalcanti?”
“I? oh, I would advance six millions on his signature. I was only speaking in reference to the second-rate fortunes we were mentioning just now.”
“And with all this, how unassuming he is! I should never have taken him for anything more than a mere major.”
“And you would have flattered him, for certainly, as you say, he has no manner. The first time I saw him he appeared to me like an old lieutenant who had grown mouldy under his epaulets. But all the Italians are the same; they are like old Jews when they are not glittering in Oriental splendor.”
“The young man is better,” said Danglars.
“Yes; a little nervous, perhaps, but, upon the whole, he appeared tolerable. I was uneasy about him.”
“Because you met him at my house, just after his introduction into the world, as they told me. He has been travelling with a very severe tutor, and had never been to Paris before.”
“Ah, I believe noblemen marry amongst themselves, do they not?” asked Danglars carelessly; “they like to unite their fortunes.”
“It is usual, certainly; but Cavalcanti is an original who does nothing like other people. I cannot help thinking that he has brought his son to France to choose a wife.”
“Do you think so?”
“I am sure of it.”
“And you have heard his fortune mentioned?”
“Nothing else was talked of; only some said he was worth millions, and others that he did not possess a farthing.”
“And what is your opinion?”
“I ought not to influence you, because it is only my own personal impression.”
“Well, and it is that”?
“My opinion is, that all these old podestas, these ancient condottieri,?for the Cavalcanti have commanded armies and governed provinces,?my opinion, I say, is, that they have buried their millions in corners, the secret of which they have transmitted only to their eldest sons, who have done the same from generation to generation; and the proof of this is seen in their yellow and dry appearance, like the florins of the republic, which, from being constantly gazed upon, have become reflected in them.”
“Certainly,” said Danglars, “and this is further supported by the fact of their not possessing an inch of land.”
“Very little, at least; I know of none which Cavalcanti possesses, excepting his palace in Lucca.”
“Ah, he has a palace?” said Danglars, laughing; “come, that is something.”
“Yes; and more than that, he lets it to the Minister of Finance while he lives in a simple house. Oh, as I told you before, I think the old fellow is very close.”
“Come, you do not flatter him.”
“I scarcely know him; I think I have seen him three times in my life; all I know relating to him is through Busoni and himself. He was telling me this morning that, tired of letting his property lie dormant in Italy, which is a dead nation, he wished to find a method, either in France or England, of multiplying his millions, but remember, that though I place great confidence in Busoni, I am not responsible for this.”
“Never mind; accept my thanks for the client you have sent me. It is a fine name to inscribe on my ledgers, and my cashier was quite proud of it when I explained to him who the Cavalcanti were. By the way, this is merely a simple question, when this sort of people marry their sons, do they give them any fortune?”
“Oh, that depends upon circumstances. I know an Italian prince, rich as a gold mine, one of the noblest families in Tuscany, who, when his sons married according to his wish, gave them millions; and when they married against his consent, merely allowed them thirty crowns a month. Should Andrea marry according to his father’s views, he will, perhaps, give him one, two, or three millions. For example, supposing it were the daughter of a banker, he might take an interest in the house of the father-in-law of his son; then again, if he disliked his choice, the major takes the key, double-locks his coffer, and Master Andrea would be obliged to live like the sons of a Parisian family, by shuffling cards or rattling the dice.”
“Ah, that boy will find out some Bavarian or Peruvian princess; he will want a crown and an immense fortune.”
“No; these grand lords on the other side of the Alps frequently marry into plain families; like Jupiter, they like to cross the race. But do you wish to marry Andrea, my dear M. Danglars, that you are asking so many questions?”
“Ma foi,” said Danglars, “it would not be a bad speculation, I fancy, and you know I am a speculator.”
“You are not thinking of Mademoiselle Danglars, I hope; you would not like poor Andrea to have his throat cut by Albert?”
“Albert,” repeated Danglars, shrugging his shoulders; “ah, well; he would care very little about it, I think.”
“But he is betrothed to your daughter, I believe?”
“Well, M. de Morcerf and I have talked about this marriage, but Madame de Morcerf and Albert”?
“You do not mean to say that it would not be a good match?”
“Indeed, I imagine that Mademoiselle Danglars is as good as M. de Morcerf.”
“Mademoiselle Danglars’ fortune will be great, no doubt, especially if the telegraph should not make any more mistakes.”
“Oh, I do not mean her fortune only; but tell me”?
“Why did you not invite M. and Madame de Morcerf to your dinner?”
“I did so, but he excused himself on account of Madame de Morcerf being obliged to go to Dieppe for the benefit of sea air.”
“Yes, yes,” said Danglars, laughing, “it would do her a great deal of good.”
“Because it is the air she always breathed in her youth.” Monte Cristo took no notice of this ill-natured remark.
“But still, if Albert be not so rich as Mademoiselle Danglars,” said the count, “you must allow that he has a fine name?”
“So he has; but I like mine as well.”
“Certainly; your name is popular, and does honor to the title they have adorned it with; but you are too intelligent not to know that according to a prejudice, too firmly rooted to be exterminated, a nobility which dates back five centuries is worth more than one that can only reckon twenty years.”
“And for this very reason,” said Danglars with a smile, which he tried to make sardonic, “I prefer M. Andrea Cavalcanti to M. Albert de Morcerf.”
“Still, I should not think the Morcerfs would yield to the Cavalcanti?”
“The Morcerfs!?Stay, my dear count,” said Danglars; “you are a man of the world, are you not?”
“I think so.”
“And you understand heraldry?”
“Well, look at my coat-of-arms, it is worth more than Morcerf’s.”
“Because, though I am not a baron by birth, my real name is, at least, Danglars.”
“Well, what then?”
“While his name is not Morcerf.”
“Not the least in the world.”
“I have been made a baron, so that I actually am one; he made himself a count, so that he is not one at all.”
“Listen my dear count; M. de Morcerf has been my friend, or rather my acquaintance, during the last thirty years. You know I have made the most of my arms, though I never forgot my origin.”
“A proof of great humility or great pride,” said Monte Cristo.
“Well, when I was a clerk, Morcerf was a mere fisherman.”
“And then he was called”?
“You are sure?”
“Pardieu, I have bought enough fish of him to know his name.”
“Then, why did you think of giving your daughter to him?”
“Because Fernand and Danglars, being both parvenus, both having become noble, both rich, are about equal in worth, excepting that there have been certain things mentioned of him that were never said of me.”
“Ah, yes; what you tell me recalls to mind something about the name of Fernand Mondego. I have heard that name in Greece.”
“In conjunction with the affairs of Ali Pasha?”
“This is the mystery,” said Danglars. “I acknowledge I would have given anything to find it out.”
“It would be very easy if you much wished it?”
“Probably you have some correspondent in Greece?”
“I should think so.”
“Well, write to your correspondent in Yanina, and ask him what part was played by a Frenchman named Fernand Mondego in the catastrophe of Ali Tepelini.”
“You are right,” exclaimed Danglars, rising quickly, “I will write to-day.”
“And if you should hear of anything very scandalous”?
“I will communicate it to you.”
“You will oblige me.” Danglars rushed out of the room, and made but one leap into his coupe.
Chapter 67. At the Office of the King’s Attorney
Let us leave the banker driving his horses at their fullest speed, and follow Madame Danglars in her morning excursion. We have said that at half-past twelve o’clock Madame Danglars had ordered her horses, and had left home in the carriage. She directed her course towards the Faubourg Saint Germain, went down the Rue Mazarine, and stopped at the Passage du Pont-Neuf. She descended, and went through the passage. She was very plainly dressed, as would be the case with a woman of taste walking in the morning. At the Rue Guenegaud she called a cab, and directed the driver to go to the Rue de Harlay. As soon as she was seated in the vehicle, she drew from her pocket a very thick black veil, which she tied on to her straw bonnet. She then replaced the bonnet, and saw with pleasure, in a little pocket-mirror, that her white complexion and brilliant eyes were alone visible. The cab crossed the Pont-Neuf and entered the Rue de Harlay by the Place Dauphine; the driver was paid as the door opened, and stepping lightly up the stairs Madame Danglars soon reached the Salle des Pas-Perdus.
There was a great deal going on that morning, and many business-like persons at the Palais; business-like persons pay very little attention to women, and Madame Danglars crossed the hall without exciting any more attention than any other woman calling upon her lawyer. There was a great press of people in M. de Villefort’s ante-chamber, but Madame Danglars had no occasion even to pronounce her name. The instant she appeared the door-keeper rose, came to her, and asked her whether she was not the person with whom the procureur had made an appointment; and on her affirmative answer being given, he conducted her by a private passage to M. de Villefort’s office. The magistrate was seated in an arm-chair, writing, with his back towards the door; he did not move as he heard it open, and the door-keeper pronounce the words, “Walk in, madame,” and then reclose it; but no sooner had the man’s footsteps ceased, than he started up, drew the bolts, closed the curtains, and examined every corner of the room. Then, when he had assured himself that he could neither be seen nor heard, and was consequently relieved of doubts, he said,?”Thanks, madame,?thanks for your punctuality;” and he offered a chair to Madame Danglars, which she accepted, for her heart beat so violently that she felt nearly suffocated.
“It is a long time, madame,” said the procureur, describing a half-circle with his chair, so as to place himself exactly opposite to Madame Danglars,?”it is a long time since I had the pleasure of speaking alone with you, and I regret that we have only now met to enter upon a painful conversation.”
“Nevertheless, sir, you see I have answered your first appeal, although certainly the conversation must be much more painful for me than for you.” Villefort smiled bitterly.
“It is true, then,” he said, rather uttering his thoughts aloud than addressing his companion,?”it is true, then, that all our actions leave their traces?some sad, others bright?on our paths; it is true that every step in our lives is like the course of an insect on the sands;?it leaves its track! Alas, to many the path is traced by tears.”
“Sir,” said Madame Danglars, “you can feel for my emotion, can you not? Spare me, then, I beseech you. When I look at this room,?whence so many guilty creatures have departed, trembling and ashamed, when I look at that chair before which I now sit trembling and ashamed,?oh, it requires all my reason to convince me that I am not a very guilty woman and you a menacing judge.” Villefort dropped his head and sighed. “And I,” he said, “I feel that my place is not in the judge’s seat, but on the prisoner’s stool.”
“You?” said Madame Danglars.
“I think, sir, you exaggerate your situation,” said Madame Danglars, whose beautiful eyes sparkled for a moment. “The paths of which you were just speaking have been traced by all young men of ardent imaginations. Besides the pleasure, there is always remorse from the indulgence of our passions, and, after all, what have you men to fear from all this? the world excuses, and notoriety ennobles you.”
“Madame,” replied Villefort, “you know that I am no hypocrite, or, at least, that I never deceive without a reason. If my brow be severe, it is because many misfortunes have clouded it; if my heart be petrified, it is that it might sustain the blows it has received. I was not so in my youth, I was not so on the night of the betrothal, when we were all seated around a table in the Rue du Cours at Marseilles. But since then everything has changed in and about me; I am accustomed to brave difficulties, and, in the conflict to crush those who, by their own free will, or by chance, voluntarily or involuntarily, interfere with me in my career. It is generally the case that what we most ardently desire is as ardently withheld from us by those who wish to obtain it, or from whom we attempt to snatch it. Thus, the greater number of a man’s errors come before him disguised under the specious form of necessity; then, after error has been committed in a moment of excitement, of delirium, or of fear, we see that we might have avoided and escaped it. The means we might have used, which we in our blindness could not see, then seem simple and easy, and we say, ‘Why did I not do this, instead of that?’ Women, on the contrary, are rarely tormented with remorse; for the decision does not come from you,?your misfortunes are generally imposed upon you, and your faults the results of others’ crimes.”
“In any case, sir, you will allow,” replied Madame Danglars, “that, even if the fault were alone mine, I last night received a severe punishment for it.”
“Poor thing,” said Villefort, pressing her hand, “it was too severe for your strength, for you were twice overwhelmed, and yet”?
“Well, I must tell you. Collect all your courage, for you have not yet heard all.”
“Ah,” exclaimed Madame Danglars, alarmed, “what is there more to hear?”
“You only look back to the past, and it is, indeed, bad enough. Well, picture to yourself a future more gloomy still?certainly frightful, perhaps sanguinary.” The baroness knew how calm Villefort naturally was, and his present excitement frightened her so much that she opened her mouth to scream, but the sound died in her throat. “How has this terrible past been recalled?” cried Villefort; “how is it that it has escaped from the depths of the tomb and the recesses of our hearts, where it was buried, to visit us now, like a phantom, whitening our cheeks and flushing our brows with shame?”
“Alas,” said Hermine, “doubtless it is chance.”
“Chance?” replied Villefort; “No, no, madame, there is no such thing as chance.”
“Oh, yes; has not a fatal chance revealed all this? Was it not by chance the Count of Monte Cristo bought that house? Was it not by chance he caused the earth to be dug up? Is it not by chance that the unfortunate child was disinterred under the trees??that poor innocent offspring of mine, which I never even kissed, but for whom I wept many, many tears. Ah, my heart clung to the count when he mentioned the dear spoil found beneath the flowers.”
“Well, no, madame,?this is the terrible news I have to tell you,” said Villefort in a hollow voice?”no, nothing was found beneath the flowers; there was no child disinterred?no. You must not weep, no, you must not groan, you must tremble!”
“What can you mean?” asked Madame Danglars, shuddering.
“I mean that M. de Monte Cristo, digging underneath these trees, found neither skeleton nor chest, because neither of them was there!”
“Neither of them there?” repeated Madame Danglars, her staring, wide-open eyes expressing her alarm.
“Neither of them there!” she again said, as though striving to impress herself with the meaning of the words which escaped her.
“No,” said Villefort, burying his face in his hands, “no, a hundred times no!”
“Then you did not bury the poor child there, sir? Why did you deceive me? Where did you place it? tell me?where?”
“There! But listen to me?listen?and you will pity me who has for twenty years alone borne the heavy burden of grief I am about to reveal, without casting the least portion upon you.”
“Oh, you frighten me! But speak; I will listen.”
“You recollect that sad night, when you were half-expiring on that bed in the red damask room, while I, scarcely less agitated than you, awaited your delivery. The child was born, was given to me?motionless, breathless, voiceless; we thought it dead.” Madame Danglars moved rapidly, as though she would spring from her chair, but Villefort stopped, and clasped his hands as if to implore her attention. “We thought it dead,” he repeated; “I placed it in the chest, which was to take the place of a coffin; I descended to the garden, I dug a hole, and then flung it down in haste. Scarcely had I covered it with earth, when the arm of the Corsican was stretched towards me; I saw a shadow rise, and, at the same time, a flash of light. I felt pain; I wished to cry out, but an icy shiver ran through my veins and stifled my voice; I fell lifeless, and fancied myself killed. Never shall I forget your sublime courage, when, having returned to consciousness, I dragged myself to the foot of the stairs, and you, almost dying yourself, came to meet me. We were obliged to keep silent upon the dreadful catastrophe. You had the fortitude to regain the house, assisted by your nurse. A duel was the pretext for my wound. Though we scarcely expected it, our secret remained in our own keeping alone. I was taken to Versailles; for three months I struggled with death; at last, as I seemed to cling to life, I was ordered to the South. Four men carried me from Paris to Chalons, walking six leagues a day; Madame de Villefort followed the litter in her carriage. At Chalons I was put upon the Saone, thence I passed on to the Rhone, whence I descended, merely with the current, to Arles; at Arles I was again placed on my litter, and continued my journey to Marseilles. My recovery lasted six months. I never heard you mentioned, and I did not dare inquire for you. When I returned to Paris, I learned that you, the widow of M. de Nargonne, had married M. Danglars.
“What was the subject of my thoughts from the time consciousness returned to me? Always the same?always the child’s corpse, coming every night in my dreams, rising from the earth, and hovering over the grave with menacing look and gesture. I inquired immediately on my return to Paris; the house had not been inhabited since we left it, but it had just been let for nine years. I found the tenant. I pretended that I disliked the idea that a house belonging to my wife’s father and mother should pass into the hands of strangers. I offered to pay them for cancelling the lease; they demanded 6,000 francs. I would have given 10,000?I would have given 20,000. I had the money with me; I made the tenant sign the deed of resilition, and when I had obtained what I so much wanted, I galloped to Auteuil.
“No one had entered the house since I had left it. It was five o’clock in the afternoon; I ascended into the red room, and waited for night. There all the thoughts which had disturbed me during my year of constant agony came back with double force. The Corsican, who had declared the vendetta against me, who had followed me from Nimes to Paris, who had hid himself in the garden, who had struck me, had seen me dig the grave, had seen me inter the child,?he might become acquainted with your person,?nay, he might even then have known it. Would he not one day make you pay for keeping this terrible secret? Would it not be a sweet revenge for him when he found that I had not died from the blow of his dagger? It was therefore necessary, before everything else, and at all risks, that I should cause all traces of the past to disappear?that I should destroy every material vestige; too much reality would always remain in my recollection. It was for this I had annulled the lease?it was for this I had come?it was for this I was waiting. Night arrived; I allowed it to become quite dark. I was without a light in that room; when the wind shook all the doors, behind which I continually expected to see some spy concealed, I trembled. I seemed everywhere to hear your moans behind me in the bed, and I dared not turn around. My heart beat so violently that I feared my wound would open. At length, one by one, all the noises in the neighborhood ceased. I understood that I had nothing to fear, that I should neither be seen nor heard, so I decided upon descending to the garden.
“Listen, Hermine; I consider myself as brave as most men, but when I drew from my breast the little key of the staircase, which I had found in my coat?that little key we both used to cherish so much, which you wished to have fastened to a golden ring?when I opened the door, and saw the pale moon shedding a long stream of white light on the spiral staircase like a spectre, I leaned against the wall, and nearly shrieked. I seemed to be going mad. At last I mastered my agitation. I descended the staircase step by step; the only thing I could not conquer was a strange trembling in my knees. I grasped the railings; if I had relaxed my hold for a moment, I should have fallen. I reached the lower door. Outside this door a spade was placed against the wall; I took it, and advanced towards the thicket. I had provided myself with a dark lantern. In the middle of the lawn I stopped to light it, then I continued my path.
“It was the end of November, all the verdure of the garden had disappeared, the trees were nothing more than skeletons with their long bony arms, and the dead leaves sounded on the gravel under my feet. My terror overcame me to such a degree as I approached the thicket, that I took a pistol from my pocket and armed myself. I fancied continually that I saw the figure of the Corsican between the branches. I examined the thicket with my dark lantern; it was empty. I looked carefully around; I was indeed alone,?no noise disturbed the silence but the owl, whose piercing cry seemed to be calling up the phantoms of the night. I tied my lantern to a forked branch I had noticed a year before at the precise spot where I stopped to dig the hole.
“The grass had grown very thickly there during the summer, and when autumn arrived no one had been there to mow it. Still one place where the grass was thin attracted my attention; it evidently was there I had turned up the ground. I went to work. The hour, then, for which I had been waiting during the last year had at length arrived. How I worked, how I hoped, how I struck every piece of turf, thinking to find some resistance to my spade! But no, I found nothing, though I had made a hole twice as large as the first. I thought I had been deceived?had mistaken the spot. I turned around, I looked at the trees, I tried to recall the details which had struck me at the time. A cold, sharp wind whistled through the leafless branches, and yet the drops fell from my forehead. I recollected that I was stabbed just as I was trampling the ground to fill up the hole; while doing so I had leaned against a laburnum; behind me was an artificial rockery, intended to serve as a resting-place for persons walking in the garden; in falling, my hand, relaxing its hold of the laburnum, felt the coldness of the stone. On my right I saw the tree, behind me the rock. I stood in the same attitude, and threw myself down. I rose, and again began digging and enlarging the hole; still I found nothing, nothing?the chest was no longer there!”
“The chest no longer there?” murmured Madame Danglars, choking with fear.
“Think not I contented myself with this one effort,” continued Villefort. “No; I searched the whole thicket. I thought the assassin, having discovered the chest, and supposing it to be a treasure, had intended carrying it off, but, perceiving his error, had dug another hole, and deposited it there; but I could find nothing. Then the idea struck me that he had not taken these precautions, and had simply thrown it in a corner. In the last case I must wait for daylight to renew my search. I remained in the room and waited.”
When daylight dawned I went down again. My first visit was to the thicket. I hoped to find some traces which had escaped me in the darkness. I had turned up the earth over a surface of more than twenty feet square, and a depth of two feet. A laborer would not have done in a day what occupied me an hour. But I could find nothing?absolutely nothing. Then I renewed the search. Supposing it had been thrown aside, it would probably be on the path which led to the little gate; but this examination was as useless as the first, and with a bursting heart I returned to the thicket, which now contained no hope for me.”
“Oh,” cried Madame Danglars, “it was enough to drive you mad!”
“I hoped for a moment that it might,” said Villefort; “but that happiness was denied me. However, recovering my strength and my ideas, ‘Why,’ said I, ‘should that man have carried away the corpse?'”
“But you said,” replied Madame Danglars, “he would require it as a proof.”
“Ah, no, madame, that could not be. Dead bodies are not kept a year; they are shown to a magistrate, and the evidence is taken. Now, nothing of the kind has happened.”
“What then?” asked Hermine, trembling violently.
“Something more terrible, more fatal, more alarming for us?the child was, perhaps, alive, and the assassin may have saved it!”
Madame Danglars uttered a piercing cry, and, seizing Villefort’s hands, exclaimed, “My child was alive?” said she; “you buried my child alive? You were not certain my child was dead, and you buried it? Ah”?
Madame Danglars had risen, and stood before the procureur, whose hands she wrung in her feeble grasp. “I know not; I merely suppose so, as I might suppose anything else,” replied Villefort with a look so fixed, it indicated that his powerful mind was on the verge of despair and madness. “Ah, my child, my poor child!” cried the baroness, falling on her chair, and stifling her sobs in her handkerchief. Villefort, becoming somewhat reassured, perceived that to avert the maternal storm gathering over his head, he must inspire Madame Danglars with the terror he felt. “You understand, then, that if it were so,” said he, rising in his turn, and approaching the baroness, to speak to her in a lower tone, “we are lost. This child lives, and some one knows it lives?some one is in possession of our secret; and since Monte Cristo speaks before us of a child disinterred, when that child could not be found, it is he who is in possession of our secret.”
“Just God, avenging God!” murmured Madame Danglars.
Villefort’s only answer was a stifled groan.
“But the child?the child, sir?” repeated the agitated mother.
“How I have searched for him,” replied Villefort, wringing his hands; “how I have called him in my long sleepless nights; how I have longed for royal wealth to purchase a million of secrets from a million of men, and to find mine among them! At last, one day, when for the hundredth time I took up my spade, I asked myself again and again what the Corsican could have done with the child. A child encumbers a fugitive; perhaps, on perceiving it was still alive, he had thrown it into the river.”
“Impossible!” cried Madame Danglars: “a man may murder another out of revenge, but he would not deliberately drown a child.”
“Perhaps,” continued Villefort, “he had put it in the foundling hospital.”
“Oh, yes, yes,” cried the baroness; “my child is there!”
“I ran to the hospital, and learned that the same night?the night of the 20th of September?a child had been brought there, wrapped in part of a fine linen napkin, purposely torn in half. This portion of the napkin was marked with half a baron’s crown, and the letter H.”
“Truly, truly,” said Madame Danglars, “all my linen is marked thus; Monsieur de Nargonne was a baronet, and my name is Hermine. Thank God, my child was not then dead!”
“No, it was not dead.”
“And you can tell me so without fearing to make me die of joy? Where is the child?” Villefort shrugged his shoulders. “Do I know?” said he; “and do you believe that if I knew I would relate to you all its trials and all its adventures as would a dramatist or a novel writer? Alas, no, I know not. A woman, about six months after, came to claim it with the other half of the napkin. This woman gave all the requisite particulars, and it was intrusted to her.”
“But you should have inquired for the woman; you should have traced her.”
“And what do you think I did? I feigned a criminal process, and employed all the most acute bloodhounds and skilful agents in search of her. They traced her to Chalons, and there they lost her.”
“They lost her?”
“Yes, forever.” Madame Danglars had listened to this recital with a sigh, a tear, or a shriek for every detail. “And this is all?” said she; “and you stopped there?”
“Oh, no,” said Villefort; “I never ceased to search and to inquire. However, the last two or three years I had allowed myself some respite. But now I will begin with more perseverance and fury than ever, since fear urges me, not my conscience.”
“But,” replied Madame Danglars, “the Count of Monte Cristo can know nothing, or he would not seek our society as he does.”
“Oh, the wickedness of man is very great,” said Villefort, “since it surpasses the goodness of God. Did you observe that man’s eyes while he was speaking to us?”
“But have you ever watched him carefully?”
“Doubtless he is capricious, but that is all; one thing alone struck me,?of all the exquisite things he placed before us, he touched nothing. I might have suspected he was poisoning us.”
“And you see you would have been deceived.”
“But believe me, that man has other projects. For that reason I wished to see you, to speak to you, to warn you against every one, but especially against him. Tell me,” cried Villefort, fixing his eyes more steadfastly on her than he had ever done before, “did you ever reveal to any one our connection?”
“Never, to any one.”
“You understand me,” replied Villefort, affectionately; “when I say any one,?pardon my urgency,?to any one living I mean?”
“Yes, yes, I understand very well,” ejaculated the baroness; “never, I swear to you.”
“Were you ever in the habit of writing in the evening what had transpired in the morning? Do you keep a journal?”
“No, my life has been passed in frivolity; I wish to forget it myself.”
“Do you talk in your sleep?”
“I sleep soundly, like a child; do you not remember?” The color mounted to the baroness’s face, and Villefort turned awfully pale.
“It is true,” said he, in so low a tone that he could hardly be heard.
“Well?” said the baroness.
“Well, I understand what I now have to do,” replied Villefort. “In less than one week from this time I will ascertain who this M. de Monte Cristo is, whence he comes, where he goes, and why he speaks in our presence of children that have been disinterred in a garden.” Villefort pronounced these words with an accent which would have made the count shudder had he heard him. Then he pressed the hand the baroness reluctantly gave him, and led her respectfully back to the door. Madame Danglars returned in another cab to the passage, on the other side of which she found her carriage, and her coachman sleeping peacefully on his box while waiting for her.
Chapter 68. A Summer Ball
The same day during the interview between Madame Danglars and the procureur, a travelling-carriage entered the Rue du Helder, passed through the gateway of No. 27, and stopped in the yard. In a moment the door was opened, and Madame de Morcerf alighted, leaning on her son’s arm. Albert soon left her, ordered his horses, and having arranged his toilet, drove to the Champs Elysees, to the house of Monte Cristo. The count received him with his habitual smile. It was a strange thing that no one ever appeared to advance a step in that man’s favor. Those who would, as it were, force a passage to his heart, found an impassable barrier. Morcerf, who ran towards him with open arms, was chilled as he drew near, in spite of the friendly smile, and simply held out his hand. Monte Cristo shook it coldly, according to his invariable practice. “Here I am, dear count.”
“Welcome home again.”
“I arrived an hour since.”
“No, from Treport.”
“And I have come at once to see you.”
“That is extremely kind of you,” said Monte Cristo with a tone of perfect indifference.
“And what is the news?”
“You should not ask a stranger, a foreigner, for news.”
“I know it, but in asking for news, I mean, have you done anything for me?”
“Had you commissioned me?” said Monte Cristo, feigning uneasiness.
“Come, come,” said Albert, “do not assume so much indifference. It is said, sympathy travels rapidly, and when at Treport, I felt the electric shock; you have either been working for me or thinking of me.”
“Possibly,” said Monte Cristo, “I have indeed thought of you, but the magnetic wire I was guiding acted, indeed, without my knowledge.”
“Indeed? Pray tell me how it happened?”
“Willingly. M. Danglars dined with me.”
“I know it; to avoid meeting him, my mother and I left town.”
“But he met here M. Andrea Cavalcanti.”
“Your Italian prince?”
“Not so fast; M. Andrea only calls himself count.”
“Calls himself, do you say?”
“Yes, calls himself.”
“Is he not a count?”
“What can I know of him? He calls himself so. I, of course, give him the same title, and every one else does likewise.”
“What a strange man you are! What next? You say M. Danglars dined here?”
“Yes, with Count Cavalcanti, the marquis his father, Madame Danglars, M. and Madame de Villefort,?charming people,?M. Debray, Maximilian Morrel, and M. de Chateau-Renaud.”
“Did they speak of me?”
“Not a word.”
“So much the worse.”
“Why so? I thought you wished them to forget you?”
“If they did not speak of me, I am sure they thought about me, and I am in despair.”
“How will that affect you, since Mademoiselle Danglars was not among the number here who thought of you? Truly, she might have thought of you at home.”
“I have no fear of that; or, if she did, it was only in the same way in which I think of her.”
“Touching sympathy! So you hate each other?” said the count.
“Listen,” said Morcerf?”if Mademoiselle Danglars were disposed to take pity on my supposed martyrdom on her account, and would dispense with all matrimonial formalities between our two families, I am ready to agree to the arrangement. In a word, Mademoiselle Danglars would make a charming mistress?but a wife?diable!”
“And this,” said Monte Cristo, “is your opinion of your intended spouse?”
“Yes; it is rather unkind, I acknowledge, but it is true. But as this dream cannot be realized, since Mademoiselle Danglars must become my lawful wife, live perpetually with me, sing to me, compose verses and music within ten paces of me, and that for my whole life, it frightens me. One may forsake a mistress, but a wife,?good heavens! There she must always be; and to marry Mademoiselle Danglars would be awful.”
“You are difficult to please, viscount.”
“Yes, for I often wish for what is impossible.”
“What is that?”
“To find such a wife as my father found.” Monte Cristo turned pale, and looked at Albert, while playing with some magnificent pistols.
“Your father was fortunate, then?” said he.
“You know my opinion of my mother, count; look at her,?still beautiful, witty, more charming than ever. For any other son to have stayed with his mother for four days at Treport, it would have been a condescension or a martyrdom, while I return, more contented, more peaceful?shall I say more poetic!?than if I had taken Queen Mab or Titania as my companion.”
“That is an overwhelming demonstration, and you would make every one vow to live a single life.”
“Such are my reasons for not liking to marry Mademoiselle Danglars. Have you ever noticed how much a thing is heightened in value when we obtain possession of it? The diamond which glittered in the window at Marle’s or Fossin’s shines with more splendor when it is our own; but if we are compelled to acknowledge the superiority of another, and still must retain the one that is inferior, do you not know what we have to endure?”
“Worldling,” murmured the count.
“Thus I shall rejoice when Mademoiselle Eugenie perceives I am but a pitiful atom, with scarcely as many hundred thousand francs as she has millions.” Monte Cristo smiled. “One plan occurred to me,” continued Albert; “Franz likes all that is eccentric; I tried to make him fall in love with Mademoiselle Danglars; but in spite of four letters, written in the most alluring style, he invariably answered: ‘My eccentricity may be great, but it will not make me break my promise.'”
“That is what I call devoted friendship, to recommend to another one whom you would not marry yourself.” Albert smiled.?”Apropos,” continued he, “Franz is coming soon, but it will not interest you; you dislike him, I think?”
“I?” said Monte Cristo; “my dear Viscount, how have you discovered that I did not like M. Franz! I like every one.”
“And you include me in the expression every one?many thanks!”
“Let us not mistake,” said Monte Cristo; “I love every one as God commands us to love our neighbor, as Christians; but I thoroughly hate but a few. Let us return to M. Franz d’Epinay. Did you say he was coming?”
“Yes; summoned by M. de Villefort, who is apparently as anxious to get Mademoiselle Valentine married as M. Danglars is to see Mademoiselle Eugenie settled. It must be a very irksome office to be the father of a grown-up daughter; it seems to make one feverish, and to raise one’s pulse to ninety beats a minute until the deed is done.”
“But M. d’Epinay, unlike you, bears his misfortune patiently.”
“Still more, he talks seriously about the matter, puts on a white tie, and speaks of his family. He entertains a very high opinion of M. and Madame de Villefort.”
“Which they deserve, do they not?”
“I believe they do. M. de Villefort has always passed for a severe but a just man.”
“There is, then, one,” said Monte Cristo, “whom you do not condemn like poor Danglars?”
“Because I am not compelled to marry his daughter perhaps,” replied Albert, laughing.
“Indeed, my dear sir,” said Monte Cristo, “you are revoltingly foppish.”
“I foppish? how do you mean?”
“Yes; pray take a cigar, and cease to defend yourself, and to struggle to escape marrying Mademoiselle Danglars. Let things take their course; perhaps you may not have to retract.”
“Bah,” said Albert, staring.
“Doubtless, my dear viscount, you will not be taken by force; and seriously, do you wish to break off your engagement?”
“I would give a hundred thousand francs to be able to do so.”
“Then make yourself quite easy. M. Danglars would give double that sum to attain the same end.”
“Am I, indeed, so happy?” said Albert, who still could not prevent an almost imperceptible cloud passing across his brow. “But, my dear count, has M. Danglars any reason?”
“Ah, there is your proud and selfish nature. You would expose the self-love of another with a hatchet, but you shrink if your own is attacked with a needle.”
“But yet M. Danglars appeared”?
“Delighted with you, was he not? Well, he is a man of bad taste, and is still more enchanted with another. I know not whom; look and judge for yourself.”
“Thank you, I understand. But my mother?no, not my mother; I mistake?my father intends giving a ball.”
“A ball at this season?”
“Summer balls are fashionable.”
“If they were not, the countess has only to wish it, and they would become so.”
“You are right; You know they are select affairs; those who remain in Paris in July must be true Parisians. Will you take charge of our invitation to Messieurs Cavalcanti?”
“When will it take place?”
“M. Cavalcanti’s father will be gone.”
“But the son will be here; will you invite young M. Cavalcanti?”
“I do not know him, viscount.”
“You do not know him?”
“No, I never saw him until a few days since, and am not responsible for him.”
“But you receive him at your house?”
“That is another thing: he was recommended to me by a good abbe, who may be deceived. Give him a direct invitation, but do not ask me to present him. If he were afterwards to marry Mademoiselle Danglars, you would accuse me of intrigue, and would be challenging me,?besides, I may not be there myself.”
“At your ball.”
“Why should you not be there?”
“Because you have not yet invited me.”
“But I come expressly for that purpose.”
“You are very kind, but I may be prevented.”
“If I tell you one thing, you will be so amiable as to set aside all impediments.”
“Tell me what it is.”
“My mother begs you to come.”
“The Comtesse de Morcerf?” said Monte Cristo, starting.
“Ah, count,” said Albert, “I assure you Madame de Morcerf speaks freely to me, and if you have not felt those sympathetic fibres of which I spoke just now thrill within you, you must be entirely devoid of them, for during the last four days we have spoken of no one else.”
“You have talked of me?”
“Yes, that is the penalty of being a living puzzle!”
“Then I am also a puzzle to your mother? I should have thought her too reasonable to be led by imagination.”
“A problem, my dear count, for every one?for my mother as well as others; much studied, but not solved, you still remain an enigma, do not fear. My mother is only astonished that you remain so long unsolved. I believe, while the Countess G?? takes you for Lord Ruthven, my mother imagines you to be Cagliostro or the Count Saint-Germain. The first opportunity you have, confirm her in her opinion; it will be easy for you, as you have the philosophy of the one and the wit of the other.”
“I thank you for the warning,” said the count; “I shall endeavor to be prepared for all suppositions.”
“You will, then, come on Saturday?”
“Yes, since Madame de Morcerf invites me.”
“You are very kind.”
“Will M. Danglars be there?”
“He has already been invited by my father. We shall try to persuade the great d’Aguesseau, [*] M. de Villefort, to come, but have not much hope of seeing him.”
“‘Never despair of anything,’ says the proverb.”
* Magistrate and orator of great eloquence?chancellor of
France under Louis XV.
“Do you dance, count?”
“Yes, you; it would not be astonishing.”
“That is very well before one is over forty. No, I do not dance, but I like to see others do so. Does Madame de Morcerf dance?”
“Never; you can talk to her, she so delights in your conversation.”
“Yes, truly; and I assure you. You are the only man of whom I have heard her speak with interest.” Albert rose and took his hat; the count conducted him to the door. “I have one thing to reproach myself with,” said he, stopping Albert on the steps. “What is it?”
“I have spoken to you indiscreetly about Danglars.”
“On the contrary, speak to me always in the same strain about him.”
“I am glad to be reassured on that point. Apropos, when do you aspect M. d’Epinay?”
“Five or six days hence at the latest.”
“And when is he to be married?”
“Immediately on the arrival of M. and Madame de Saint-Meran.”
“Bring him to see me. Although you say I do not like him, I assure you I shall be happy to see him.”
“I will obey your orders, my lord.”
“Until Saturday, when I may expect you, may I not?”
“Yes, I promised you.” The Count watched Albert, waving his hand to him. When he had mounted his phaeton, Monte Cristo turned, and seeing Bertuccio, “What news?” said he. “She went to the Palais,” replied the steward.
“Did she stay long there?”
“An hour and a half.”
“Did she return home?”
“Well, my dear Bertuccio,” said the count, “I now advise you to go in quest of the little estate I spoke to you of in Normandy.” Bertuccio bowed, and as his wishes were in perfect harmony with the order he had received, he started the same evening.
M. de Villefort kept the promise he had made to Madame Danglars, to endeavor to find out how the Count of Monte Cristo had discovered the history of the house at Auteuil. He wrote the same day for the required information to M. de Boville, who, from having been an inspector of prisons, was promoted to a high office in the police; and the latter begged for two days time to ascertain exactly who would be most likely to give him full particulars. At the end of the second day M. de Villefort received the following note:?
“The person called the Count of Monte Cristo is an intimate acquaintance of Lord Wilmore, a rich foreigner, who is sometimes seen in Paris and who is there at this moment; he is also known to the Abbe Busoni, a Sicilian priest, of high repute in the East, where he has done much good.”
M. de Villefort replied by ordering the strictest inquiries to be made respecting these two persons; his orders were executed, and the following evening he received these details:?
“The abbe, who was in Paris only for a month, inhabited a small two-storied house behind Saint-Sulpice; there were two rooms on each floor and he was the only tenant. The two lower rooms consisted of a dining-room, with a table, chairs, and side-board of walnut,?and a wainscoted parlor, without ornaments, carpet, or timepiece. It was evident that the abbe limited himself to objects of strict necessity. He preferred to use the sitting-room upstairs, which was more library than parlor, and was furnished with theological books and parchments, in which he delighted to bury himself for months at a time, according to his valet de chambre. His valet looked at the visitors through a sort of wicket; and if their faces were unknown to him or displeased him, he replied that the abbe was not in Paris, an answer which satisfied most persons, because the abbe was known to be a great traveller. Besides, whether at home or not, whether in Paris or Cairo, the abbe always left something to give away, which the valet distributed through this wicket in his master’s name. The other room near the library was a bedroom. A bed without curtains, four arm-chairs, and a couch, covered with yellow Utrecht velvet, composed, with a prie-Dieu, all its furniture. Lord Wilmore resided in Rue Fontaine-Saint-George. He was one of those English tourists who consume a large fortune in travelling. He hired the apartment in which he lived furnished, passed only a few hours in the day there, and rarely slept there. One of his peculiarities was never to speak a word of French, which he however wrote with great facility.”
The day after this important information had been given to the king’s attorney, a man alighted from a carriage at the corner of the Rue Ferou, and rapping at an olive-green door, asked if the Abbe Busoni were within. “No, he went out early this morning,” replied the valet.
“I might not always be content with that answer,” replied the visitor, “for I come from one to whom everyone must be at home. But have the kindness to give the Abbe Busoni”?
“I told you he was not at home,” repeated the valet. “Then on his return give him that card and this sealed paper. Will he be at home at eight o’clock this evening?”
“Doubtless, unless he is at work, which is the same as if he were out.”
“I will come again at that time,” replied the visitor, who then retired.
At the appointed hour the same man returned in the same carriage, which, instead of stopping this time at the end of the Rue Ferou, drove up to the green door. He knocked, and it opened immediately to admit him. From the signs of respect the valet paid him, he saw that his note had produced a good effect. “Is the abbe at home?” asked he.
“Yes; he is at work in his library, but he expects you, sir,” replied the valet. The stranger ascended a rough staircase, and before a table, illumined by a lamp whose light was concentrated by a large shade while the rest of the apartment was in partial darkness, he perceived the abbe in a monk’s dress, with a cowl on his head such as was used by learned men of the Middle Ages. “Have I the honor of addressing the Abbe Busoni?” asked the visitor.
“Yes, sir,” replied the abbe; “and you are the person whom M. de Boville, formerly an inspector of prisons, sends to me from the prefect of police?”
“One of the agents appointed to secure the safety of Paris?”
“Yes, sir” replied the stranger with a slight hesitation, and blushing.
The abbe replaced the large spectacles, which covered not only his eyes but his temples, and sitting down motioned to his visitor to do the same. “I am at your service, sir,” said the abbe, with a marked Italian accent.
“The mission with which I am charged, sir,” replied the visitor, speaking with hesitation, “is a confidential one on the part of him who fulfils it, and him by whom he is employed.” The abbe bowed. “Your probity,” replied the stranger, “is so well known to the prefect that he wishes as a magistrate to ascertain from you some particulars connected with the public safety, to ascertain which I am deputed to see you. It is hoped that no ties of friendship or humane consideration will induce you to conceal the truth.”
“Provided, sir, the particulars you wish for do not interfere with my scruples or my conscience. I am a priest, sir, and the secrets of confession, for instance, must remain between me and God, and not between me and human justice.”
“Do not alarm yourself, monsieur, we will duly respect your conscience.”
At this moment the abbe pressed down his side of the shade and so raised it on the other, throwing a bright light on the stranger’s face, while his own remained obscured. “Excuse me, abbe,” said the envoy of the prefect of the police, “but the light tries my eyes very much.” The abbe lowered the shade. “Now, sir, I am listening?go on.”
“I will come at once to the point. Do you know the Count of Monte Cristo?”
“You mean Monsieur Zaccone, I presume?”
“Zaccone??is not his name Monte Cristo?”
“Monte Cristo is the name of an estate, or, rather, of a rock, and not a family name.”
“Well, be it so?let us not dispute about words; and since M. de Monte Cristo and M. Zaccone are the same”?
“Absolutely the same.”
“Let us speak of M. Zaccone.”
“I asked you if you knew him?”
“Who is he?”
“The son of a rich shipbuilder in Malta.”
“I know that is the report; but, as you are aware, the police does not content itself with vague reports.”
“However,” replied the abbe, with an affable smile, “when that report is in accordance with the truth, everybody must believe it, the police as well as all the rest.”
“Are you sure of what you assert?”
“What do you mean by that question?”
“Understand, sir, I do not in the least suspect your veracity; I ask if you are certain of it?”
“I knew his father, M. Zaccone.”
“And when a child I often played with the son in the timber-yards.”
“But whence does he derive the title of count?”
“You are aware that may be bought.”
“And his immense riches, whence does he procure them?”
“They may not be so very great.”
“How much do you suppose he possesses?”
“From one hundred and fifty to two hundred thousand livres per annum.”
“That is reasonable,” said the visitor; “I have heard he had three or four millions.”
“Two hundred thousand per annum would make four millions of capital.”
“But I was told he had four millions per annum.”
“That is not probable.”
“Do you know this Island of Monte Cristo?”
“Certainly, every one who has come from Palermo, Naples, or Rome to France by sea must know it, since he has passed close to it and must have seen it.”
“I am told it is a delightful place?”
“It is a rock.”
“And why has the count bought a rock?”
“For the sake of being a count. In Italy one must have territorial possessions to be a count.”
“You have, doubtless, heard the adventures of M. Zaccone’s youth?”
“No, the son’s.”
“I know nothing certain; at that period of his life, I lost sight of my young comrade.”
“Was he in the wars?”
“I think he entered the service.”
“In what branch?”
“In the navy.”
“Are you not his confessor?”
“No, sir; I believe he is a Lutheran.”
“I say, I believe such is the case, I do not affirm it; besides, liberty of conscience is established in France.”
“Doubtless, and we are not now inquiring into his creed, but his actions; in the name of the prefect of police, I ask you what you know of him.
“He passes for a very charitable man. Our holy father, the pope, has made him a knight of Jesus Christ for the services he rendered to the Christians in the East; he has five or six rings as testimonials from Eastern monarchs of his services.”
“Does he wear them?”
“No, but he is proud of them; he is better pleased with rewards given to the benefactors of man than to his destroyers.”
“He is a Quaker then?”
“Exactly, he is a Quaker, with the exception of the peculiar dress.”
“Has he any friends?”
“Yes, every one who knows him is his friend.”
“But has he any enemies?”
“What is his name?”
“Where is he?”
“He is in Paris just now.”
“Can he give me any particulars?”
“Important ones; he was in India with Zaccone.”
“Do you know his abode?”
“It’s somewhere in the Chaussee d’Antin; but I know neither the street nor the number.”
“Are you at variance with the Englishman?”
“I love Zaccone, and he hates him; we are consequently not friends.”
“Do you think the Count of Monte Cristo had ever been in France before he made this visit to Paris?”
“To that question I can answer positively; no, sir, he had not, because he applied to me six months ago for the particulars he required, and as I did not know when I might again come to Paris, I recommended M. Cavalcanti to him.”
“No, Bartolomeo, his father.”
“Now, sir, I have but one question more to ask, and I charge you, in the name of honor, of humanity, and of religion, to answer me candidly.”
“What is it, sir?”
“Do you know with what design M. de Monte Cristo purchased a house at Auteuil?”
“Certainly, for he told me.”
“What is it, sir?”
“To make a lunatic asylum of it, similar to that founded by the Count of Pisani at Palermo. Do you know about that institution?”
“I have heard of it.”
“It is a magnificent charity.” Having said this, the abbe bowed to imply he wished to pursue his studies. The visitor either understood the abbe’s meaning, or had no more questions to ask; he arose, and the abbe accompanied him to the door. “You are a great almsgiver,” said the visitor, “and although you are said to be rich, I will venture to offer you something for your poor people; will you accept my offering?”
“I thank you, sir; I am only jealous in one thing, and that is that the relief I give should be entirely from my own resources.”
“My resolution, sir, is unchangeable, but you have only to search for yourself and you will find, alas, but too many objects upon whom to exercise your benevolence.” The abbe once more bowed as he opened the door, the stranger bowed and took his leave, and the carriage conveyed him straight to the house of M. de Villefort. An hour afterwards the carriage was again ordered, and this time it went to the Rue Fontaine-Saint-George, and stopped at No. 5, where Lord Wilmore lived. The stranger had written to Lord Wilmore, requesting an interview, which the latter had fixed for ten o’clock. As the envoy of the prefect of police arrived ten minutes before ten, he was told that Lord Wilmore, who was precision and punctuality personified, was not yet come in, but that he would be sure to return as the clock struck.
The visitor was introduced into the drawing-room, which was like all other furnished drawing-rooms. A mantle-piece, with two modern Sevres vases, a timepiece representing Cupid with his bent bow, a mirror with an engraving on each side?one representing Homer carrying his guide, the other, Belisarius begging?a grayish paper; red and black tapestry?such was the appearance of Lord Wilmore’s drawing-room. It was illuminated by lamps with ground-glass shades which gave only a feeble light, as if out of consideration for the envoy’s weak sight. After ten minutes’ expectation the clock struck ten; at the fifth stroke the door opened and Lord Wilmore appeared. He was rather above the middle height, with thin reddish whiskers, light complexion and light hair, turning rather gray. He was dressed with all the English peculiarity, namely, in a blue coat, with gilt buttons and high collar, in the fashion of 1811, a white kerseymere waistcoat, and nankeen pantaloons, three inches too short, but which were prevented by straps from slipping up to the knee. His first remark on entering was,?”You know, sir, I do not speak French?”
“I know you do not like to converse in our language,” replied the envoy. “But you may use it,” replied Lord Wilmore; “I understand it.”
“And I,” replied the visitor, changing his idiom, “know enough of English to keep up the conversation. Do not put yourself to the slightest inconvenience.”
“Aw?” said Lord Wilmore, with that tone which is only known to natives of Great Britain.
The envoy presented his letter of introduction, which the latter read with English coolness, and having finished,?”I understand,” said he, “perfectly.”
Then began the questions, which were similar to those which had been addressed to the Abbe Busoni. But as Lord Wilmore, in the character of the count’s enemy, was less restrained in his answers, they were more numerous; he described the youth of Monte Cristo, who he said, at ten years of age, entered the service of one of the petty sovereigns of India who make war on the English. It was there Wilmore had first met him and fought against him; and in that war Zaccone had been taken prisoner, sent to England, and consigned to the hulks, whence he had escaped by swimming. Then began his travels, his duels, his caprices; then the insurrection in Greece broke out, and he had served in the Grecian ranks. While in that service he had discovered a silver mine in the mountains of Thessaly, but he had been careful to conceal it from every one. After the battle of Navarino, when the Greek government was consolidated, he asked of King Otho a mining grant for that district, which was given him. Hence that immense fortune, which, in Lord Wilmore’s opinion, possibly amounted to one or two millions per annum,?a precarious fortune, which might be momentarily lost by the failure of the mine.
“But,” asked the visitor, “do you know why he came to France?”
“He is speculating in railways,” said Lord Wilmore, “and as he is an expert chemist and physicist, he has invented a new system of telegraphy, which he is seeking to bring to perfection.”
“How much does he spend yearly?” asked the prefect.
“Not more than five or six hundred thousand francs,” said Lord Wilmore; “he is a miser.” Hatred evidently inspired the Englishman, who, knowing no other reproach to bring on the count, accused him of avarice. “Do you know his house at Auteuil?”
“What do you know respecting it?”
“Do you wish to know why he bought it?”
“The count is a speculator, who will certainly ruin himself in experiments. He supposes there is in the neighborhood of the house he has bought a mineral spring equal to those at Bagneres, Luchon, and Cauterets. He is going to turn his house into a Badhaus, as the Germans term it. He has already dug up all the garden two or three times to find the famous spring, and, being unsuccessful, he will soon purchase all the contiguous houses. Now, as I dislike him, and hope his railway, his electric telegraph, or his search for baths, will ruin him, I am watching for his discomfiture, which must soon take place.”
“What was the cause of your quarrel?”
“When he was in England he seduced the wife of one of my friends.”
“Why do you not seek revenge?”
“I have already fought three duels with him,” said the Englishman, “the first with the pistol, the second with the sword, and the third with the sabre.”
“And what was the result of those duels?”
“The first time, he broke my arm; the second, he wounded me in the breast; and the third time, made this large wound.” The Englishman turned down his shirt-collar, and showed a scar, whose redness proved it to be a recent one. “So that, you see, there is a deadly feud between us.”
“But,” said the envoy, “you do not go about it in the right way to kill him, if I understand you correctly.”
“Aw?” said the Englishman, “I practice shooting every day, and every other day Grisier comes to my house.”
This was all the visitor wished to ascertain, or, rather, all the Englishman appeared to know. The agent arose, and having bowed to Lord Wilmore, who returned his salutation with the stiff politeness of the English, he retired. Lord Wilmore, having heard the door close after him, returned to his bedroom, where with one hand he pulled off his light hair, his red whiskers, his false jaw, and his wound, to resume the black hair, dark complexion, and pearly teeth of the Count of Monte Cristo. It was M. de Villefort, and not the prefect, who returned to the house of M. de Villefort. The procureur felt more at ease, although he had learned nothing really satisfactory, and, for the first time since the dinner-party at Auteuil, he slept soundly.
Chapter 70. The Ball
It was in the warmest days of July, when in due course of time the Saturday arrived upon which the ball was to take place at M. de Morcerf’s. It was ten o’clock at night; the branches of the great trees in the garden of the count’s house stood out boldly against the azure canopy of heaven, which was studded with golden stars, but where the last fleeting clouds of a vanishing storm yet lingered. From the apartments on the ground-floor might be heard the sound of music, with the whirl of the waltz and galop, while brilliant streams of light shone through the openings of the Venetian blinds. At this moment the garden was only occupied by about ten servants, who had just received orders from their mistress to prepare the supper, the serenity of the weather continuing to increase. Until now, it had been undecided whether the supper should take place in the dining-room, or under a long tent erected on the lawn, but the beautiful blue sky, studded with stars, had settled the question in favor of the lawn. The gardens were illuminated with colored lanterns, according to the Italian custom, and, as is usual in countries where the luxuries of the table?the rarest of all luxuries in their complete form?are well understood, the supper-table was loaded with wax-lights and flowers.
At the time the Countess of Morcerf returned to the rooms, after giving her orders, many guests were arriving, more attracted by the charming hospitality of the countess than by the distinguished position of the count; for, owing to the good taste of Mercedes, one was sure of finding some devices at her entertainment worthy of describing, or even copying in case of need. Madame Danglars, in whom the events we have related had caused deep anxiety, had hesitated about going to Madame de Morcerf’s, when during the morning her carriage happened to meet that of Villefort.
The latter made a sign, and when the carriages had drawn close together, said,?”You are going to Madame de Morcerf’s, are you not?”
“No,” replied Madame Danglars, “I am too ill.”
“You are wrong,” replied Villefort, significantly; “it is important that you should be seen there.”
“Do you think so?” asked the baroness.
“In that case I will go.” And the two carriages passed on towards their different destinations. Madame Danglars therefore came, not only beautiful in person, but radiant with splendor; she entered by one door at the time when Mercedes appeared at the door. The countess took Albert to meet Madame Danglars. He approached, paid her some well merited compliments on her toilet, and offered his arm to conduct her to a seat. Albert looked around him. “You are looking for my daughter?” said the baroness, smiling.
“I confess it,” replied Albert. “Could you have been so cruel as not to bring her?”
“Calm yourself. She has met Mademoiselle de Villefort, and has taken her arm; see, they are following us, both in white dresses, one with a bouquet of camellias, the other with one of myosotis. But tell me”?
“Well, what do you wish to know?”
“Will not the Count of Monte Cristo be here to-night?”
“Seventeen!” replied Albert.
“What do you mean?”
“I only mean that the count seems the rage,” replied the viscount, smiling, “and that you are the seventeenth person that has asked me the same question. The count is in fashion; I congratulate him upon it.”
“And have you replied to every one as you have to me?”
“Ah, to be sure, I have not answered you; be satisfied, we shall have this ‘lion;’ we are among the privileged ones.”
“Were you at the opera yesterday?”
“He was there.”
“Ah, indeed? And did the eccentric person commit any new originality?”
“Can he be seen without doing so? Elssler was dancing in the ‘Diable Boiteux;’ the Greek princess was in ecstasies. After the cachucha he placed a magnificent ring on the stem of a bouquet, and threw it to the charming danseuse, who, in the third act, to do honor to the gift, reappeared with it on her finger. And the Greek princess,?will she be here?”
“No, you will be deprived of that pleasure; her position in the count’s establishment is not sufficiently understood.”
“Wait; leave me here, and go and speak to Madame de Villefort, who is trying to attract your attention.”
Albert bowed to Madame Danglars, and advanced towards Madame de Villefort, whose lips opened as he approached. “I wager anything,” said Albert, interrupting her, “that I know what you were about to say.”
“Well, what is it?”
“If I guess rightly, will you confess it?”
“On your honor?”
“On my honor.”
“You were going to ask me if the Count of Monte Cristo had arrived, or was expected.”
“Not at all. It is not of him that I am now thinking. I was going to ask you if you had received any news of Monsieur Franz.”
“What did he tell you?”
“That he was leaving at the same time as his letter.”
“Well, now then, the count?”
“The count will come, of that you may be satisfied.”
“You know that he has another name besides Monte Cristo?”
“No, I did not know it.”
“Monte Cristo is the name of an island, and he has a family name.”
“I never heard it.”
“Well, then, I am better informed than you; his name is Zaccone.”
“It is possible.”
“He is a Maltese.”
“That is also possible.
“The son of a shipowner.”
“Really, you should relate all this aloud, you would have the greatest success.”
“He served in India, discovered a mine in Thessaly, and comes to Paris to establish a mineral water-cure at Auteuil.”
“Well, I’m sure,” said Morcerf, “this is indeed news! Am I allowed to repeat it?”
“Yes, but cautiously, tell one thing at a time, and do not say I told you.”
“Because it is a secret just discovered.”
“Then the news originated”?
“At the prefect’s last night. Paris, you can understand, is astonished at the sight of such unusual splendor, and the police have made inquiries.”
“Well, well! Nothing more is wanting than to arrest the count as a vagabond, on the pretext of his being too rich.”
“Indeed, that doubtless would have happened if his credentials had not been so favorable.”
“Poor count! And is he aware of the danger he has been in?”
“I think not.”
“Then it will be but charitable to inform him. When he arrives, I will not fail to do so.”
Just then, a handsome young man, with bright eyes, black hair, and glossy mustache, respectfully bowed to Madame de Villefort. Albert extended his hand. “Madame,” said Albert, “allow me to present to you M. Maximilian Morrel, captain of Spahis, one of our best, and, above all, of our bravest officers.”
“I have already had the pleasure of meeting this gentleman at Auteuil, at the house of the Count of Monte Cristo,” replied Madame de Villefort, turning away with marked coldness of manner. This answer, and especially the tone in which it was uttered, chilled the heart of poor Morrel. But a recompense was in store for him; turning around, he saw near the door a beautiful fair face, whose large blue eyes were, without any marked expression, fixed upon him, while the bouquet of myosotis was gently raised to her lips.
The salutation was so well understood that Morrel, with the same expression in his eyes, placed his handkerchief to his mouth; and these two living statues, whose hearts beat so violently under their marble aspect, separated from each other by the whole length of the room, forgot themselves for a moment, or rather forgot the world in their mutual contemplation. They might have remained much longer lost in one another, without any one noticing their abstraction. The Count of Monte Cristo had just entered.
We have already said that there was something in the count which attracted universal attention wherever he appeared. It was not the coat, unexceptional in its cut, though simple and unornamented; it was not the plain white waistcoat; it was not the trousers, that displayed the foot so perfectly formed?it was none of these things that attracted the attention,?it was his pale complexion, his waving black hair, his calm and serene expression, his dark and melancholy eye, his mouth, chiselled with such marvellous delicacy, which so easily expressed such high disdain,?these were what fixed the attention of all upon him. Many men might have been handsomer, but certainly there could be none whose appearance was more significant, if the expression may be used. Everything about the count seemed to have its meaning, for the constant habit of thought which he had acquired had given an ease and vigor to the expression of his face, and even to the most trifling gesture, scarcely to be understood. Yet the Parisian world is so strange, that even all this might not have won attention had there not been connected with it a mysterious story gilded by an immense fortune.
Meanwhile he advanced through the assemblage of guests under a battery of curious glances towards Madame de Morcerf, who, standing before a mantle-piece ornamented with flowers, had seen his entrance in a looking-glass placed opposite the door, and was prepared to receive him. She turned towards him with a serene smile just at the moment he was bowing to her. No doubt she fancied the count would speak to her, while on his side the count thought she was about to address him; but both remained silent, and after a mere bow, Monte Cristo directed his steps to Albert, who received him cordially. “Have you seen my mother?” asked Albert.
“I have just had the pleasure,” replied the count; “but I have not seen your father.”
“See, he is down there, talking politics with that little group of great geniuses.”
“Indeed?” said Monte Cristo; “and so those gentlemen down there are men of great talent. I should not have guessed it. And for what kind of talent are they celebrated? You know there are different sorts.”
“That tall, harsh-looking man is very learned, he discovered, in the neighborhood of Rome, a kind of lizard with a vertebra more than lizards usually have, and he immediately laid his discovery before the Institute. The thing was discussed for a long time, but finally decided in his favor. I can assure you the vertebra made a great noise in the learned world, and the gentleman, who was only a knight of the Legion of Honor, was made an officer.”
“Come,” said Monte Cristo, “this cross seems to me to be wisely awarded. I suppose, had he found another additional vertebra, they would have made him a commander.”
“Very likely,” said Albert.
“And who can that person be who has taken it into his head to wrap himself up in a blue coat embroidered with green?”
“Oh, that coat is not his own idea; it is the Republic’s, which deputed David [*] to devise a uniform for the Academicians.”
* Louis David, a famous French painter.
“Indeed?” said Monte Cristo; “so this gentleman is an Academician?”
“Within the last week he has been made one of the learned assembly.”
“And what is his especial talent?”
“His talent? I believe he thrusts pins through the heads of rabbits, he makes fowls eat madder, and punches the spinal marrow out of dogs with whalebone.”
“And he is made a member of the Academy of Sciences for this?”
“No; of the French Academy.”
“But what has the French Academy to do with all this?”
“I was going to tell you. It seems”?
“That his experiments have very considerably advanced the cause of science, doubtless?”
“No; that his style of writing is very good.”
“This must be very flattering to the feelings of the rabbits into whose heads he has thrust pins, to the fowls whose bones he has dyed red, and to the dogs whose spinal marrow he has punched out?”
“And the other one?” demanded the count.
“Yes, the third.”
“The one in the dark blue coat?”
“He is a colleague of the count, and one of the most active opponents to the idea of providing the Chamber of Peers with a uniform. He was very successful upon that question. He stood badly with the Liberal papers, but his noble opposition to the wishes of the court is now getting him into favor with the journalists. They talk of making him an ambassador.”
“And what are his claims to the peerage?”
“He has composed two or three comic operas, written four or five articles in the Siecle, and voted five or six years on the ministerial side.”
“Bravo, Viscount,” said Monte Cristo, smiling; “you are a delightful cicerone. And now you will do me a favor, will you not?”
“What is it?”
“Do not introduce me to any of these gentlemen; and should they wish it, you will warn me.” Just then the count felt his arm pressed. He turned round; it was Danglars.
“Ah, is it you, baron?” said he.
“Why do you call me baron?” said Danglars; “you know that I care nothing for my title. I am not like you, viscount; you like your title, do you not?”
“Certainly,” replied Albert, “seeing that without my title I should be nothing; while you, sacrificing the baron, would still remain the millionaire.”
“Which seems to me the finest title under the royalty of July,” replied Danglars.
“Unfortunately,” said Monte Cristo, “one’s title to a millionaire does not last for life, like that of baron, peer of France, or Academician; for example, the millionaires Franck & Poulmann, of Frankfort, who have just become bankrupts.”
“Indeed?” said Danglars, becoming pale.
“Yes; I received the news this evening by a courier. I had about a million in their hands, but, warned in time, I withdrew it a month ago.”
“Ah, mon Dieu,” exclaimed Danglars, “they have drawn on me for 200,000 francs!”
“Well, you can throw out the draft; their signature is worth five per cent.”
“Yes, but it is too late,” said Danglars, “I have honored their bills.”
“Then,” said Monte Cristo, “here are 200,000 francs gone after”?
“Hush, do not mention these things,” said Danglars; then, approaching Monte Cristo, he added, “especially before young M. Cavalcanti;” after which he smiled, and turned towards the young man in question. Albert had left the count to speak to his mother, Danglars to converse with young Cavalcanti; Monte Cristo was for an instant alone. Meanwhile the heat became excessive. The footmen were hastening through the rooms with waiters loaded with ices. Monte Cristo wiped the perspiration from his forehead, but drew back when the waiter was presented to him; he took no refreshment. Madame de Morcerf did not lose sight of Monte Cristo; she saw that he took nothing, and even noticed his gesture of refusal.
“Albert,” she asked, “did you notice that?”
“That the count has never been willing to partake of food under the roof of M. de Morcerf.”
“Yes; but then he breakfasted with me?indeed, he made his first appearance in the world on that occasion.”
“But your house is not M. de Morcerf’s,” murmured Mercedes; “and since he has been here I have watched him.”
“Well, he has taken nothing yet.”
“The count is very temperate.” Mercedes smiled sadly. “Approach him,” said she, “and when the next waiter passes, insist upon his taking something.”
“But why, mother?”
“Just to please me, Albert,” said Mercedes. Albert kissed his mother’s hand, and drew near the count. Another salver passed, loaded like the preceding ones; she saw Albert attempt to persuade the count, but he obstinately refused. Albert rejoined his mother; she was very pale.
“Well,” said she, “you see he refuses?”
“Yes; but why need this annoy you?”
“You know, Albert, women are singular creatures. I should like to have seen the count take something in my house, if only an ice. Perhaps he cannot reconcile himself to the French style of living, and might prefer something else.”
“Oh, no; I have seen him eat of everything in Italy; no doubt he does not feel inclined this evening.”
“And besides,” said the countess, “accustomed as he is to burning climates, possibly he does not feel the heat as we do.”
“I do not think that, for he has complained of feeling almost suffocated, and asked why the Venetian blinds were not opened as well as the windows.”
“In a word,” said Mercedes, “it was a way of assuring me that his abstinence was intended.” And she left the room. A minute afterwards the blinds were thrown open, and through the jessamine and clematis that overhung the window one could see the garden ornamented with lanterns, and the supper laid under the tent. Dancers, players, talkers, all uttered an exclamation of joy?every one inhaled with delight the breeze that floated in. At the same time Mercedes reappeared, paler than before, but with that imperturbable expression of countenance which she sometimes wore. She went straight to the group of which her husband formed the centre. “Do not detain those gentlemen here, count,” she said; “they would prefer, I should think, to breathe in the garden rather than suffocate here, since they are not playing.”
“Ah,” said a gallant old general, who, in 1809, had sung “Partant pour la Syrie,”?”we will not go alone to the garden.”
“Then,” said Mercedes, “I will lead the way.” Turning towards Monte Cristo, she added, “count, will you oblige me with your arm?” The count almost staggered at these simple words; then he fixed his eyes on Mercedes. It was only a momentary glance, but it seemed to the countess to have lasted for a century, so much was expressed in that one look. He offered his arm to the countess; she took it, or rather just touched it with her little hand, and they together descended the steps, lined with rhododendrons and camellias. Behind them, by another outlet, a group of about twenty persons rushed into the garden with loud exclamations of delight.
To be continued..
Link to entire episode:
- THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO- I
- THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO- II
- THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO- III
- THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO- IV
- THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO- V
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