"Oh, pray name it."
"I am wholly a stranger to Paris—it is a city I have never yet seen."
"Is it possible," exclaimed Albert, "that you have reached your present age without visiting the finest capital in the world? I can scarcely credit it."
"Nevertheless, it is quite true; still, I agree with you in thinking that my present ignorance of the first city in Europe is a reproach to me in every way, and calls for immediate correction; but, in all probability, I should have performed so important, so necessary a duty, as that of making myself acquainted with the wonders and beauties of your justly celebrated capital, had I known any person who would have introduced me into the fashionable world, but unfortunately I possessed no acquaintance there, and, of necessity, was compelled to abandon the idea."
"So distinguished an individual as yourself," cried Albert, "could scarcely have required an introduction."
"You are most kind; but as regards myself, I can find no merit I possess, save that, as a millionaire, I might have become a partner in the speculations of M. Aguado and M. Rothschild; but as my motive in travelling to your capital would not have been for the pleasure of dabbling in stocks, I stayed away till some favorable chance should present itself of carrying my wish into execution. Your offer, however, smooths all difficulties, and I have only to ask you, my dear M. de Morcerf" (these words were accompanied by a most peculiar smile), "whether you undertake, upon my arrival in France, to open to me the doors of that fashionable world of which I know no more than a Huron or a native of Cochin-China?"
"Oh, that I do, and with infinite pleasure," answered Albert; "and so much the more readily as a letter received this morning from my father summons me to Paris, in consequence of a treaty of marriage (my dear Franz, do not smile, I beg of you) with a family of high standing, and connected with the very cream of Parisian society."
"Connected by marriage, you mean," said Franz, laughingly.
"Well, never mind how it is," answered Albert, "it comes to the same thing in the end. Perhaps by the time you return to Paris, I shall be quite a sober, staid father of a family! A most edifying representative I shall make of all the domestic virtues—don't you think so? But as regards your wish to visit our fine city, my dear count, I can only say that you may command me and mine to any extent you please."
"Then it is settled," said the count, "and I give you my solemn assurance that I only waited an opportunity like the present to realize plans that I have long meditated." Franz did not doubt that these plans were the same concerning which the count had dropped a few words in the grotto of Monte Cristo, and while the Count was speaking the young man watched him closely, hoping to read something of his purpose in his face, but his countenance was inscrutable especially when, as in the present case, it was veiled in a sphinx-like smile. "But tell me now, count," exclaimed Albert, delighted at the idea of having to chaperon so distinguished a person as Monte Cristo; "tell me truly whether you are in earnest, or if this project of visiting Paris is merely one of the chimerical and uncertain air castles of which we make so many in the course of our lives, but which, like a house built on the sand, is liable to be blown over by the first puff of wind?"
"I pledge you my honor," returned the count, "that I mean to do as I have said; both inclination and positive necessity compel me to visit Paris."
"When do you propose going thither?"
"Have you made up your mind when you shall be there yourself?"
"Certainly I have; in a fortnight or three weeks' time, that is to say, as fast as I can get there!"
"Nay," said the Count; "I will give you three months ere I join you; you see I make an ample allowance for all delays and difficulties.
"And in three months' time," said Albert, "you will be at my house?"
"Shall we make a positive appointment for a particular day and hour?" inquired the count; "only let me warn you that I am proverbial for my punctilious exactitude in keeping my engagements."
"Day for day, hour for hour," said Albert; "that will suit me to a dot."
"So be it, then," replied the count, and extending his hand towards a calendar, suspended near the chimney-piece, he said, "to-day is the 21st of February;" and drawing out his watch, added, "it is exactly half-past ten o'clock. Now promise me to remember this, and expect me the 21st of May at the same hour in the forenoon."
"Capital," exclaimed Albert; "your breakfast shall be waiting."
"Where do you live?"
"No. 27, Rue du Helder."
"Have you bachelor's apartments there? I hope my coming will not put you to any inconvenience."
"I reside in my father's house, but occupy a pavilion at the farther side of the court-yard, entirely separated from the main building."
"Quite sufficient," replied the count, as, taking out his tablets, he wrote down "No. 27, Rue du Helder, 21st May, half-past ten in the morning."
"Now then," said the count, returning his tablets to his pocket, "make yourself perfectly easy; the hand of your time-piece will not be more accurate in marking the time than myself."
"Shall I see you again ere my departure?" asked Albert.
"That depends; when do you leave?"
"To-morrow evening, at five o'clock."
"In that case I must say adieu to you, as I am compelled to go to Naples, and shall not return hither before Saturday evening or Sunday morning. And you, baron," pursued the count, addressing Franz, "do you also depart to-morrow?"
"No, for Venice; I shall remain in Italy for another year or two."
"Then we shall not meet in Paris?"
"I fear I shall not have that honor."
"Well, since we must part," said the count, holding out a hand to each of the young men, "allow me to wish you both a safe and pleasant journey." It was the first time the hand of Franz had come in contact with that of the mysterious individual before him, and unconsciously he shuddered at its touch, for it felt cold and icy as that of a corpse. "Let us understand each other," said Albert; "it is agreed—is it not?—that you are to be at No. 27, in the Rue du Helder, on the 21st of May, at half-past ten in the morning, and your word of honor passed for your punctuality?"
"The 21st of May, at half-past ten in the morning, Rue du Helder, No. 27," replied the Count. The young men then rose, and bowing to the count, quitted the room. "What is the matter?" asked Albert of Franz, when they had returned to their own apartments; "you seem more than commonly thoughtful."
"I will confess to you, Albert," replied Franz, "the count is a very singular person, and the appointment you have made to meet him in Paris fills me with a thousand apprehensions."
"My dear fellow," exclaimed Albert, "what can there possibly be in that to excite uneasiness? Why, you must have lost your senses."
"Whether I am in my senses or not," answered Franz, "that is the way I feel."
"Listen to me, Franz," said Albert; "I am glad that the occasion has presented itself for saying this to you, for I have noticed how cold you are in your bearing towards the count, while he, on the other hand, has always been courtesy itself to us. Have you anything particular against him?"
"Did you ever meet him previously to coming hither?"
"Will you promise me not to repeat a single word of what I am about to tell you?"
"Upon your honor?"
"Upon my honor."
"Then listen to me." Franz then related to his friend the history of his excursion to the Island of Monte Cristo and of his finding a party of smugglers there, and the two Corsican bandits with them. He dwelt with considerable force and energy on the almost magical hospitality he had received from the count, and the magnificence of his entertainment in the grotto of the "Thousand and One Nights." He recounted, with circumstantial exactitude, all the particulars of the supper, the hashish, the statues, the dream, and how, at his awakening, there remained no proof or trace of all these events, save the small yacht, seen in the distant horizon driving under full sail toward Porto-Vecchio. Then he detailed the conversation overheard by him at the Colosseum, between the count and Vampa, in which the count had promised to obtain the release of the bandit Peppino,—an engagement which, as our readers are aware, he most faithfully fulfilled. At last he arrived at the adventure of the preceding night, and the embarrassment in which he found himself placed by not having sufficient cash by six or seven hundred piastres to make up the sum required, and finally of his application to the count and the picturesque and satisfactory result that followed. Albert listened with the most profound attention. "Well," said he, when Franz had concluded, "what do you find to object to in all you have related? The count is fond of travelling, and, being rich, possesses a vessel of his own. Go but to Portsmouth or Southampton, and you will find the harbors crowded with the yachts belonging to such of the English as can afford the expense, and have the same liking for this amusement. Now, by way of having a resting-place during his excursions, avoiding the wretched cookery—which has been trying its best to poison me during the last four months, while you have manfully resisted its effects for as many years,—and obtaining a bed on which it is possible to slumber, Monte Cristo has furnished for himself a temporary abode where you first found him; but, to prevent the possibility of the Tuscan government taking a fancy to his enchanted palace, and thereby depriving him of the advantages naturally expected from so large an outlay of capital, he has wisely enough purchased the island, and taken its name. Just ask yourself, my good fellow, whether there are not many persons of our acquaintance who assume the names of lands and properties they never in their lives were masters of?"
"But," said Franz, "the Corsican bandits that were among the crew of his vessel?"
"Why, really the thing seems to me simple enough. Nobody knows better than yourself that the bandits of Corsica are not rogues or thieves, but purely and simply fugitives, driven by some sinister motive from their native town or village, and that their fellowship involves no disgrace or stigma; for my own part, I protest that, should I ever go to Corsica, my first visit, ere even I presented myself to the mayor or prefect, should be to the bandits of Colomba, if I could only manage to find them; for, on my conscience, they are a race of men I admire greatly."
"Still," persisted Franz, "I suppose you will allow that such men as Vampa and his band are regular villains, who have no other motive than plunder when they seize your person. How do you explain the influence the count evidently possessed over those ruffians?"
"My good friend, as in all probability I own my present safety to that influence, it would ill become me to search too closely into its source; therefore, instead of condemning him for his intimacy with outlaws, you must give me leave to excuse any little irregularity there may be in such a connection; not altogether for preserving my life, for my own idea was that it never was in much danger, but certainly for saving me 4,000 piastres, which, being translated, means neither more nor less than 24,000 livres of our money—a sum at which, most assuredly, I should never have been estimated in France, proving most indisputably," added Albert with a laugh, "that no prophet is honored in his own country."
"Talking of countries," replied Franz, "of what country is the count, what is his native tongue, whence does he derive his immense fortune, and what were those events of his early life—a life as marvellous as unknown—that have tinctured his succeeding years with so dark and gloomy a misanthropy? Certainly these are questions that, in your place, I should like to have answered."
"My dear Franz," replied Albert, "when, upon receipt of my letter, you found the necessity of asking the count's assistance, you promptly went to him, saying, 'My friend Albert de Morcerf is in danger; help me to deliver him.' Was not that nearly what you said?"
"Well, then, did he ask you, 'Who is M. Albert de Morcerf? how does he come by his name—his fortune? what are his means of existence? what is his birthplace! of what country is he a native?' Tell me, did he put all these questions to you?"
"I confess he asked me none."
"No; he merely came and freed me from the hands of Signor Vampa, where, I can assure you, in spite of all my outward appearance of ease and unconcern, I did not very particularly care to remain. Now, then, Franz, when, for services so promptly and unhesitatingly rendered, he but asks me in return to do for him what is done daily for any Russian prince or Italian nobleman who may pass through Paris—merely to introduce him into society—would you have me refuse? My good fellow, you must have lost your senses to think it possible I could act with such cold-blooded policy." And this time it must be confessed that, contrary to the usual state of affairs in discussions between the young men, the effective arguments were all on Albert's side.
"Well," said Franz with a sigh, "do as you please my dear viscount, for your arguments are beyond my powers of refutation. Still, in spite of all, you must admit that this Count of Monte Cristo is a most singular personage."
"He is a philanthropist," answered the other; "and no doubt his motive in visiting Paris is to compete for the Monthyon prize, given, as you are aware, to whoever shall be proved to have most materially advanced the interests of virtue and humanity. If my vote and interest can obtain it for him, I will readily give him the one and promise the other. And now, my dear Franz, let us talk of something else. Come, shall we take our luncheon, and then pay a last visit to St. Peter's?" Franz silently assented; and the following afternoon, at half-past five o'clock, the young men parted. Albert de Morcerf to return to Paris, and Franz d'Epinay to pass a fortnight at Venice. But, ere he entered his travelling carriage, Albert, fearing that his expected guest might forget the engagement he had entered into, placed in the care of a waiter at the hotel a card to be delivered to the Count of Monte Cristo, on which, beneath the name of Vicomte Albert de Morcerf, he had written in pencil—"27, Rue du Helder, on the 21st May, half-past ten A.M."
Chapter 39. The Guests.
In the house in the Rue du Helder, where Albert had invited the Count of Monte Cristo, everything was being prepared on the morning of the 21st of May to do honor to the occasion. Albert de Morcerf inhabited a pavilion situated at the corner of a large court, and directly opposite another building, in which were the servants' apartments. Two windows only of the pavilion faced the street; three other windows looked into the court, and two at the back into the garden. Between the court and the garden, built in the heavy style of the imperial architecture, was the large and fashionable dwelling of the Count and Countess of Morcerf. A high wall surrounded the whole of the hotel, surmounted at intervals by vases filled with flowers, and broken in the centre by a large gate of gilded iron, which served as the carriage entrance. A small door, close to the lodge of the concierge, gave ingress and egress to the servants and masters when they were on foot.
It was easy to discover that the delicate care of a mother, unwilling to part from her son, and yet aware that a young man of the viscount's age required the full exercise of his liberty, had chosen this habitation for Albert. There were not lacking, however, evidences of what we may call the intelligent egoism of a youth who is charmed with the indolent, careless life of an only son, and who lives as it were in a gilded cage. By means of the two windows looking into the street, Albert could see all that passed; the sight of what is going on is necessary to young men, who always want to see the world traverse their horizon, even if that horizon is only a public thoroughfare. Then, should anything appear to merit a more minute examination, Albert de Morcerf could follow up his researches by means of a small gate, similar to that close to the concierge's door, and which merits a particular description. It was a little entrance that seemed never to have been opened since the house was built, so entirely was it covered with dust and dirt; but the well-oiled hinges and locks told quite another story. This door was a mockery to the concierge, from whose vigilance and jurisdiction it was free, and, like that famous portal in the "Arabian Nights," opening at the "Sesame" of Ali Baba, it was wont to swing backward at a cabalistic word or a concerted tap from without from the sweetest voices or whitest fingers in the world. At the end of a long corridor, with which the door communicated, and which formed the ante-chamber, was, on the right, Albert's breakfast-room, looking into the court, and on the left the salon, looking into the garden. Shrubs and creeping plants covered the windows, and hid from the garden and court these two apartments, the only rooms into which, as they were on the ground-floor, the prying eyes of the curious could penetrate. On the floor above were similar rooms, with the addition of a third, formed out of the ante-chamber; these three rooms were a salon, a boudoir, and a bedroom. The salon down-stairs was only an Algerian divan, for the use of smokers. The boudoir up-stairs communicated with the bed-chamber by an invisible door on the staircase; it was evident that every precaution had been taken. Above this floor was a large atelier, which had been increased in size by pulling down the partitions—a pandemonium, in which the artist and the dandy strove for preeminence. There were collected and piled up all Albert's successive caprices, hunting-horns, bass-viols, flutes—a whole orchestra, for Albert had had not a taste but a fancy for music; easels, palettes, brushes, pencils—for music had been succeeded by painting; foils, boxing-gloves, broadswords, and single-sticks—for, following the example of the fashionable young men of the time, Albert de Morcerf cultivated, with far more perseverance than music and drawing, the three arts that complete a dandy's education, i.e., fencing, boxing, and single-stick; and it was here that he received Grisier, Cook, and Charles Leboucher. The rest of the furniture of this privileged apartment consisted of old cabinets, filled with Chinese porcelain and Japanese vases, Lucca della Robbia faience, and Palissy platters; of old arm-chairs, in which perhaps had sat Henry IV. or Sully, Louis XIII. or Richelieu—for two of these arm-chairs, adorned with a carved shield, on which were engraved the fleur-de-lis of France on an azure field evidently came from the Louvre, or, at least, some royal residence. Over these dark and sombre chairs were thrown splendid stuffs, dyed beneath Persia's sun, or woven by the fingers of the women of Calcutta or of Chandernagor. What these stuffs did there, it was impossible to say; they awaited, while gratifying the eyes, a destination unknown to their owner himself; in the meantime they filled the place with their golden and silky reflections. In the centre of the room was a Roller and Blanchet "baby grand" piano in rosewood, but holding the potentialities of an orchestra in its narrow and sonorous cavity, and groaning beneath the weight of the chefs-d'oeuvre of Beethoven, Weber, Mozart, Haydn, Gretry, and Porpora. On the walls, over the doors, on the ceiling, were swords, daggers, Malay creeses, maces, battle-axes; gilded, damasked, and inlaid suits of armor; dried plants, minerals, and stuffed birds, their flame-colored wings outspread in motionless flight, and their beaks forever open. This was Albert's favorite lounging place.
However, the morning of the appointment, the young man had established himself in the small salon down-stairs. There, on a table, surrounded at some distance by a large and luxurious divan, every species of tobacco known,—from the yellow tobacco of Petersburg to the black of Sinai, and so on along the scale from Maryland and Porto-Rico, to Latakia,—was exposed in pots of crackled earthenware of which the Dutch are so fond; beside them, in boxes of fragrant wood, were ranged, according to their size and quality, pueros, regalias, havanas, and manillas; and, in an open cabinet, a collection of German pipes, of chibouques, with their amber mouth-pieces ornamented with coral, and of narghiles, with their long tubes of morocco, awaiting the caprice or the sympathy of the smokers. Albert had himself presided at the arrangement, or, rather, the symmetrical derangement, which, after coffee, the guests at a breakfast of modern days love to contemplate through the vapor that escapes from their mouths, and ascends in long and fanciful wreaths to the ceiling. At a quarter to ten, a valet entered; he composed, with a little groom named John, and who only spoke English, all Albert's establishment, although the cook of the hotel was always at his service, and on great occasions the count's chasseur also. This valet, whose name was Germain, and who enjoyed the entire confidence of his young master, held in one hand a number of papers, and in the other a packet of letters, which he gave to Albert. Albert glanced carelessly at the different missives, selected two written in a small and delicate hand, and enclosed in scented envelopes, opened them and perused their contents with some attention. "How did these letters come?" said he.
"One by the post, Madame Danglars' footman left the other."
"Let Madame Danglars know that I accept the place she offers me in her box. Wait; then, during the day, tell Rosa that when I leave the Opera I will sup with her as she wishes. Take her six bottles of different wine—Cyprus, sherry, and Malaga, and a barrel of Ostend oysters; get them at Borel's, and be sure you say they are for me."
"At what o'clock, sir, do you breakfast?"
"What time is it now?"
"A quarter to ten."
"Very well, at half past ten. Debray will, perhaps, be obliged to go to the minister—and besides" (Albert looked at his tablets), "it is the hour I told the count, 21st May, at half past ten; and though I do not much rely upon his promise, I wish to be punctual. Is the countess up yet?"
"If you wish, I will inquire."
"Yes, ask her for one of her liqueur cellarets, mine is incomplete; and tell her I shall have the honor of seeing her about three o'clock, and that I request permission to introduce some one to her." The valet left the room. Albert threw himself on the divan, tore off the cover of two or three of the papers, looked at the theatre announcements, made a face seeing they gave an opera, and not a ballet; hunted vainly amongst the advertisements for a new tooth-powder of which he had heard, and threw down, one after the other, the three leading papers of Paris, muttering, "These papers become more and more stupid every day." A moment after, a carriage stopped before the door, and the servant announced M. Lucien Debray. A tall young man, with light hair, clear gray eyes, and thin and compressed lips, dressed in a blue coat with beautifully carved gold buttons, a white neckcloth, and a tortoiseshell eye-glass suspended by a silken thread, and which, by an effort of the superciliary and zygomatic muscles, he fixed in his eye, entered, with a half-official air, without smiling or speaking. "Good-morning, Lucien, good-morning," said Albert; "your punctuality really alarms me. What do I say? punctuality! You, whom I expected last, you arrive at five minutes to ten, when the time fixed was half-past! Has the ministry resigned?"
"No, my dear fellow," returned the young man, seating himself on the divan; "reassure yourself; we are tottering always, but we never fall, and I begin to believe that we shall pass into a state of immobility, and then the affairs of the Peninsula will completely consolidate us."
"Ah, true; you drive Don Carlos out of Spain."
"No, no, my dear fellow, do not confound our plans. We take him to the other side of the French frontier, and offer him hospitality at Bourges."
"Yes, he has not much to complain of; Bourges is the capital of Charles VII. Do you not know that all Paris knew it yesterday, and the day before it had already transpired on the Bourse, and M. Danglars (I do not know by what means that man contrives to obtain intelligence as soon as we do) made a million!"
"And you another order, for I see you have a blue ribbon at your button-hole."
"Yes; they sent me the order of Charles III.," returned Debray, carelessly.
"Come, do not affect indifference, but confess you were pleased to have it."
"Oh, it is very well as a finish to the toilet. It looks very neat on a black coat buttoned up."
"And makes you resemble the Prince of Wales or the Duke of Reichstadt."
"It is for that reason you see me so early."
"Because you have the order of Charles III., and you wish to announce the good news to me?"
"No, because I passed the night writing letters,—five and twenty despatches. I returned home at daybreak, and strove to sleep; but my head ached and I got up to have a ride for an hour. At the Bois de Boulogne, ennui and hunger attacked me at once,—two enemies who rarely accompany each other, and who are yet leagued against me, a sort of Carlo-republican alliance. I then recollected you gave a breakfast this morning, and here I am. I am hungry, feed me; I am bored, amuse me."
"It is my duty as your host," returned Albert, ringing the bell, while Lucien turned over, with his gold-mounted cane, the papers that lay on the table. "Germain, a glass of sherry and a biscuit. In the meantime, my dear Lucien, here are cigars—contraband, of course—try them, and persuade the minister to sell us such instead of poisoning us with cabbage leaves."
"Peste, I will do nothing of the kind; the moment they come from government you would find them execrable. Besides, that does not concern the home but the financial department. Address yourself to M. Humann, section of the indirect contributions, corridor A., No. 26."
"On my word," said Albert, "you astonish me by the extent of your knowledge. Take a cigar."
"Really, my dear Albert," replied Lucien, lighting a manilla at a rose-colored taper that burnt in a beautifully enamelled stand—"how happy you are to have nothing to do. You do not know your own good fortune!"
"And what would you do, my dear diplomatist," replied Morcerf, with a slight degree of irony in his voice, "if you did nothing? What? private secretary to a minister, plunged at once into European cabals and Parisian intrigues; having kings, and, better still, queens, to protect, parties to unite, elections to direct; making more use of your cabinet with your pen and your telegraph than Napoleon did of his battle-fields with his sword and his victories; possessing five and twenty thousand francs a year, besides your place; a horse, for which Chateau-Renaud offered you four hundred louis, and which you would not part with; a tailor who never disappoints you; with the opera, the jockey-club, and other diversions, can you not amuse yourself? Well, I will amuse you."
"By introducing to you a new acquaintance."
"A man or a woman?"
"I know so many men already."
"But you do not know this man."
"Where does he come from—the end of the world?"
"Farther still, perhaps."
"The deuce! I hope he does not bring our breakfast with him."
"Oh, no; our breakfast comes from my father's kitchen. Are you hungry?"
"Humiliating as such a confession is, I am. But I dined at M. de Villefort's, and lawyers always give you very bad dinners. You would think they felt some remorse; did you ever remark that?"
"Ah, depreciate other persons' dinners; you ministers give such splendid ones."
"Yes; but we do not invite people of fashion. If we were not forced to entertain a parcel of country boobies because they think and vote with us, we should never dream of dining at home, I assure you."
"Well, take another glass of sherry and another biscuit."
"Willingly. Your Spanish wine is excellent. You see we were quite right to pacify that country."
"Yes; but Don Carlos?"
"Well, Don Carlos will drink Bordeaux, and in ten years we will marry his son to the little queen."
"You will then obtain the Golden Fleece, if you are still in the ministry."
"I think, Albert, you have adopted the system of feeding me on smoke this morning."
"Well, you must allow it is the best thing for the stomach; but I hear Beauchamp in the next room; you can dispute together, and that will pass away the time."
"About the papers."
"My dear friend," said Lucien with an air of sovereign contempt, "do I ever read the papers?"
"Then you will dispute the more."
"M. Beauchamp," announced the servant. "Come in, come in," said Albert, rising and advancing to meet the young man. "Here is Debray, who detests you without reading you, so he says."
"He is quite right," returned Beauchamp; "for I criticise him without knowing what he does. Good-day, commander!"
"Ah, you know that already," said the private secretary, smiling and shaking hands with him.
"And what do they say of it in the world?"
"In which world? we have so many worlds in the year of grace 1838."
"In the entire political world, of which you are one of the leaders."
"They say that it is quite fair, and that sowing so much red, you ought to reap a little blue."
"Come, come, that is not bad!" said Lucien. "Why do you not join our party, my dear Beauchamp? With your talents you would make your fortune in three or four years."
"I only await one thing before following your advice; that is, a minister who will hold office for six months. My dear Albert, one word, for I must give poor Lucien a respite. Do we breakfast or dine? I must go to the Chamber, for our life is not an idle one."
"You only breakfast; I await two persons, and the instant they arrive we shall sit down to table."
Chapter 40. The Breakfast.
"And what sort of persons do you expect to breakfast?" said Beauchamp.
"A gentleman, and a diplomatist."
"Then we shall have to wait two hours for the gentleman, and three for the diplomatist. I shall come back to dessert; keep me some strawberries, coffee, and cigars. I shall take a cutlet on my way to the Chamber."
"Do not do anything of the sort; for were the gentleman a Montmorency, and the diplomatist a Metternich, we will breakfast at eleven; in the meantime, follow Debray's example, and take a glass of sherry and a biscuit."
"Be it so; I will stay; I must do something to distract my thoughts."
"You are like Debray, and yet it seems to me that when the minister is out of spirits, the opposition ought to be joyous."
"Ah, you do not know with what I am threatened. I shall hear this morning that M. Danglars make a speech at the Chamber of Deputies, and at his wife's this evening I shall hear the tragedy of a peer of France. The devil take the constitutional government, and since we had our choice, as they say, at least, how could we choose that?"
"I understand; you must lay in a stock of hilarity."
"Do not run down M. Danglars' speeches," said Debray; "he votes for you, for he belongs to the opposition."
"Pardieu, that is exactly the worst of all. I am waiting until you send him to speak at the Luxembourg, to laugh at my ease."
"My dear friend," said Albert to Beauchamp, "it is plain that the affairs of Spain are settled, for you are most desperately out of humor this morning. Recollect that Parisian gossip has spoken of a marriage between myself and Mlle. Eugenie Danglars; I cannot in conscience, therefore, let you run down the speeches of a man who will one day say to me, 'Vicomte, you know I give my daughter two millions.'"
"Ah, this marriage will never take place," said Beauchamp. "The king has made him a baron, and can make him a peer, but he cannot make him a gentleman, and the Count of Morcerf is too aristocratic to consent, for the paltry sum of two million francs, to a mesalliance. The Viscount of Morcerf can only wed a marchioness."
"But two million francs make a nice little sum," replied Morcerf.
"It is the social capital of a theatre on the boulevard, or a railroad from the Jardin des Plantes to La Rapee."
"Never mind what he says, Morcerf," said Debray, "do you marry her. You marry a money-bag label, it is true; well, but what does that matter? It is better to have a blazon less and a figure more on it. You have seven martlets on your arms; give three to your wife, and you will still have four; that is one more than M. de Guise had, who so nearly became King of France, and whose cousin was Emperor of Germany."
"On my word, I think you are right, Lucien," said Albert absently.
"To be sure; besides, every millionaire is as noble as a bastard—that is, he can be."
"Do not say that, Debray," returned Beauchamp, laughing, "for here is Chateau-Renaud, who, to cure you of your mania for paradoxes, will pass the sword of Renaud de Montauban, his ancestor, through your body."
"He will sully it then," returned Lucien; "for I am low—very low."
"Oh, heavens," cried Beauchamp, "the minister quotes Beranger, what shall we come to next?"
"M. de Chateau-Renaud—M. Maximilian Morrel," said the servant, announcing two fresh guests.
"Now, then, to breakfast," said Beauchamp; "for, if I remember, you told me you only expected two persons, Albert."
"Morrel," muttered Albert—"Morrel—who is he?" But before he had finished, M. de Chateau-Renaud, a handsome young man of thirty, gentleman all over,—that is, with the figure of a Guiche and the wit of a Mortemart,—took Albert's hand. "My dear Albert," said he, "let me introduce to you M. Maximilian Morrel, captain of Spahis, my friend; and what is more—however the man speaks for himself—my preserver. Salute my hero, viscount." And he stepped on one side to give place to a young man of refined and dignified bearing, with large and open brow, piercing eyes, and black mustache, whom our readers have already seen at Marseilles, under circumstances sufficiently dramatic not to be forgotten. A rich uniform, half French, half Oriental, set off his graceful and stalwart figure, and his broad chest was decorated with the order of the Legion of Honor. The young officer bowed with easy and elegant politeness. "Monsieur," said Albert with affectionate courtesy, "the count of Chateau-Renaud knew how much pleasure this introduction would give me; you are his friend, be ours also."
"Well said," interrupted Chateau-Renaud; "and pray that, if you should ever be in a similar predicament, he may do as much for you as he did for me."
"What has he done?" asked Albert.
"Oh, nothing worth speaking of," said Morrel; "M. de Chateau-Renaud exaggerates."
"Not worth speaking of?" cried Chateau-Renaud; "life is not worth speaking of!—that is rather too philosophical, on my word, Morrel. It is very well for you, who risk your life every day, but for me, who only did so once"—
"We gather from all this, baron, that Captain Morrel saved your life."
"On what occasion?" asked Beauchamp.
"Beauchamp, my good fellow, you know I am starving," said Debray: "do not set him off on some long story."
"Well, I do not prevent your sitting down to table," replied Beauchamp, "Chateau-Renaud can tell us while we eat our breakfast."
"Gentlemen," said Morcerf, "it is only a quarter past ten, and I expect some one else."
"Ah, true, a diplomatist!" observed Debray.
"Diplomat or not, I don't know; I only know that he charged himself on my account with a mission, which he terminated so entirely to my satisfaction, that had I been king, I should have instantly created him knight of all my orders, even had I been able to offer him the Golden Fleece and the Garter."
"Well, since we are not to sit down to table," said Debray, "take a glass of sherry, and tell us all about it."
"You all know that I had the fancy of going to Africa."
"It is a road your ancestors have traced for you," said Albert gallantly.
"Yes? but I doubt that your object was like theirs—to rescue the Holy Sepulchre."
"You are quite right, Beauchamp," observed the young aristocrat. "It was only to fight as an amateur. I cannot bear duelling since two seconds, whom I had chosen to arrange an affair, forced me to break the arm of one of my best friends, one whom you all know—poor Franz d'Epinay."
"Ah, true," said Debray, "you did fight some time ago; about what?"
"The devil take me, if I remember," returned Chateau-Renaud. "But I recollect perfectly one thing, that, being unwilling to let such talents as mine sleep, I wished to try upon the Arabs the new pistols that had been given to me. In consequence I embarked for Oran, and went from thence to Constantine, where I arrived just in time to witness the raising of the siege. I retreated with the rest, for eight and forty hours. I endured the rain during the day, and the cold during the night tolerably well, but the third morning my horse died of cold. Poor brute—accustomed to be covered up and to have a stove in the stable, the Arabian finds himself unable to bear ten degrees of cold in Arabia."
"That's why you want to purchase my English horse," said Debray, "you think he will bear the cold better."
"You are mistaken, for I have made a vow never to return to Africa."
"You were very much frightened, then?" asked Beauchamp.
"Well, yes, and I had good reason to be so," replied Chateau-Renaud. "I was retreating on foot, for my horse was dead. Six Arabs came up, full gallop, to cut off my head. I shot two with my double-barrelled gun, and two more with my pistols, but I was then disarmed, and two were still left; one seized me by the hair (that is why I now wear it so short, for no one knows what may happen), the other swung a yataghan, and I already felt the cold steel on my neck, when this gentleman whom you see here charged them, shot the one who held me by the hair, and cleft the skull of the other with his sabre. He had assigned himself the task of saving a man's life that day; chance caused that man to be myself. When I am rich I will order a statue of Chance from Klagmann or Marochetti."
"Yes," said Morrel, smiling, "it was the 5th of September, the anniversary of the day on which my father was miraculously preserved; therefore, as far as it lies in my power, I endeavor to celebrate it by some"—
"Heroic action," interrupted Chateau-Renaud. "I was chosen. But that is not all—after rescuing me from the sword, he rescued me from the cold, not by sharing his cloak with me, like St. Martin, but by giving me the whole; then from hunger by sharing with me—guess what?"
"A Strasbourg pie?" asked Beauchamp.
"No, his horse; of which we each of us ate a slice with a hearty appetite. It was very hard."
"The horse?" said Morcerf, laughing.
"No, the sacrifice," returned Chateau-Renaud; "ask Debray if he would sacrifice his English steed for a stranger?"
"Not for a stranger," said Debray, "but for a friend I might, perhaps."
"I divined that you would become mine, count," replied Morrel; "besides, as I had the honor to tell you, heroism or not, sacrifice or not, that day I owed an offering to bad fortune in recompense for the favors good fortune had on other days granted to us."
"The history to which M. Morrel alludes," continued Chateau-Renaud, "is an admirable one, which he will tell you some day when you are better acquainted with him; to-day let us fill our stomachs, and not our memories. What time do you breakfast, Albert?"
"At half-past ten."
"Precisely?" asked Debray, taking out his watch.
"Oh, you will give me five minutes' grace," replied Morcerf, "for I also expect a preserver."
"Of myself," cried Morcerf; "parbleu, do you think I cannot be saved as well as any one else, and that there are only Arabs who cut off heads? Our breakfast is a philanthropic one, and we shall have at table—at least, I hope so—two benefactors of humanity."
"What shall we do?" said Debray; "we have only one Monthyon prize."
"Well, it will be given to some one who has done nothing to deserve it," said Beauchamp; "that is the way the Academy mostly escapes from the dilemma."
"And where does he come from?" asked Debray. "You have already answered the question once, but so vaguely that I venture to put it a second time."
"Really," said Albert, "I do not know; when I invited him three months ago, he was then at Rome, but since that time who knows where he may have gone?"
"And you think him capable of being exact?" demanded Debray.
"I think him capable of everything."
"Well, with the five minutes' grace, we have only ten left."
"I will profit by them to tell you something about my guest."
"I beg pardon," interrupted Beauchamp; "are there any materials for an article in what you are going to tell us?"
"Yes, and for a most curious one."
"Go on, then, for I see I shall not get to the Chamber this morning, and I must make up for it."
"I was at Rome during the last Carnival."
"We know that," said Beauchamp.
"Yes, but what you do not know is that I was carried off by bandits."
"There are no bandits," cried Debray.
"Yes there are, and most hideous, or rather most admirable ones, for I found them ugly enough to frighten me."
"Come, my dear Albert," said Debray, "confess that your cook is behindhand, that the oysters have not arrived from Ostend or Marennes, and that, like Madame de Maintenon, you are going to replace the dish by a story. Say so at once; we are sufficiently well-bred to excuse you, and to listen to your history, fabulous as it promises to be."
"And I say to you, fabulous as it may seem, I tell it as a true one from beginning to end. The brigands had carried me off, and conducted me to a gloomy spot, called the Catacombs of Saint Sebastian."
"I know it," said Chateau-Renaud; "I narrowly escaped catching a fever there."
"And I did more than that," replied Morcerf, "for I caught one. I was informed that I was prisoner until I paid the sum of 4,000 Roman crowns—about 24,000 francs. Unfortunately, I had not above 1,500. I was at the end of my journey and of my credit. I wrote to Franz—and were he here he would confirm every word—I wrote then to Franz that if he did not come with the four thousand crowns before six, at ten minutes past I should have gone to join the blessed saints and glorious martyrs in whose company I had the honor of being; and Signor Luigi Vampa, such was the name of the chief of these bandits, would have scrupulously kept his word."
"But Franz did come with the four thousand crowns," said Chateau-Renaud. "A man whose name is Franz d'Epinay or Albert de Morcerf has not much difficulty in procuring them."
"No, he arrived accompanied simply by the guest I am going to present to you."
"Ah, this gentleman is a Hercules killing Cacus, a Perseus freeing Andromeda."
"No, he is a man about my own size."
"Armed to the teeth?"
"He had not even a knitting-needle."
"But he paid your ransom?"
"He said two words to the chief and I was free."
"And they apologized to him for having carried you off?" said Beauchamp.
"Why, he is a second Ariosto."
"No, his name is the Count of Monte Cristo."
"There is no Count of Monte Cristo" said Debray.
"I do not think so," added Chateau-Renaud, with the air of a man who knows the whole of the European nobility perfectly.
"Does any one know anything of a Count of Monte Cristo?"
"He comes possibly from the Holy Land, and one of his ancestors possessed Calvary, as the Mortemarts did the Dead Sea."
"I think I can assist your researches," said Maximilian. "Monte Cristo is a little island I have often heard spoken of by the old sailors my father employed—a grain of sand in the centre of the Mediterranean, an atom in the infinite."
"Precisely!" cried Albert. "Well, he of whom I speak is the lord and master of this grain of sand, of this atom; he has purchased the title of count somewhere in Tuscany."
"He is rich, then?"
"I believe so."
"But that ought to be visible."
"That is what deceives you, Debray."
"I do not understand you."
"Have you read the 'Arabian Nights'?"
"What a question!"
"Well, do you know if the persons you see there are rich or poor, if their sacks of wheat are not rubies or diamonds? They seem like poor fishermen, and suddenly they open some mysterious cavern filled with the wealth of the Indies."
"Which means that my Count of Monte Cristo is one of those fishermen. He has even a name taken from the book, since he calls himself Sinbad the Sailor, and has a cave filled with gold."
"And you have seen this cavern, Morcerf?" asked Beauchamp.
"No, but Franz has; for heaven's sake, not a word of this before him. Franz went in with his eyes blindfolded, and was waited on by mutes and by women to whom Cleopatra was a painted strumpet. Only he is not quite sure about the women, for they did not come in until after he had taken hashish, so that what he took for women might have been simply a row of statues."
The two young men looked at Morcerf as if to say,—"Are you mad, or are you laughing at us?"
"And I also," said Morrel thoughtfully, "have heard something like this from an old sailor named Penelon."
"Ah," cried Albert, "it is very lucky that M. Morrel comes to aid me; you are vexed, are you not, that he thus gives a clew to the labyrinth?"
"My dear Albert," said Debray, "what you tell us is so extraordinary."
"Ah, because your ambassadors and your consuls do not tell you of them—they have no time. They are too much taken up with interfering in the affairs of their countrymen who travel."
"Now you get angry, and attack our poor agents. How will you have them protect you? The Chamber cuts down their salaries every day, so that now they have scarcely any. Will you be ambassador, Albert? I will send you to Constantinople."
"No, lest on the first demonstration I make in favor of Mehemet Ali, the Sultan send me the bowstring, and make my secretaries strangle me."
"You say very true," responded Debray.
"Yes," said Albert, "but this has nothing to do with the existence of the Count of Monte Cristo."
"Pardieu, every one exists."
"Doubtless, but not in the same way; every one has not black slaves, a princely retinue, an arsenal of weapons that would do credit to an Arabian fortress, horses that cost six thousand francs apiece, and Greek mistresses."
"Have you seen the Greek mistress?"
"I have both seen and heard her. I saw her at the theatre, and heard her one morning when I breakfasted with the count."
"He eats, then?"
"Yes; but so little, it can hardly be called eating."
"He must be a vampire."
"Laugh, if you will; the Countess G——, who knew Lord Ruthven, declared that the count was a vampire."
"Ah, capital," said Beauchamp. "For a man not connected with newspapers, here is the pendant to the famous sea-serpent of the Constitutionnel."
"Wild eyes, the iris of which contracts or dilates at pleasure," said Debray; "facial angle strongly developed, magnificent forehead, livid complexion, black beard, sharp and white teeth, politeness unexceptionable."
"Just so, Lucien," returned Morcerf; "you have described him feature for feature. Yes, keen and cutting politeness. This man has often made me shudder; and one day that we were viewing an execution, I thought I should faint, more from hearing the cold and calm manner in which he spoke of every description of torture, than from the sight of the executioner and the culprit."
"Did he not conduct you to the ruins of the Colosseum and suck your blood?" asked Beauchamp.
"Or, having delivered you, make you sign a flaming parchment, surrendering your soul to him as Esau did his birth-right?"
"Rail on, rail on at your ease, gentlemen," said Morcerf, somewhat piqued. "When I look at you Parisians, idlers on the Boulevard de Gand or the Bois de Boulogne, and think of this man, it seems to me we are not of the same race."
"I am highly flattered," returned Beauchamp. "At the same time," added Chateau-Renaud, "your Count of Monte Cristo is a very fine fellow, always excepting his little arrangements with the Italian banditti."
"There are no Italian banditti," said Debray.
"No vampire," cried Beauchamp. "No Count of Monte Cristo" added Debray. "There is half-past ten striking, Albert."
"Confess you have dreamed this, and let us sit down to breakfast," continued Beauchamp. But the sound of the clock had not died away when Germain announced, "His excellency the Count of Monte Cristo." The involuntary start every one gave proved how much Morcerf's narrative had impressed them, and Albert himself could not wholly refrain from manifesting sudden emotion. He had not heard a carriage stop in the street, or steps in the ante-chamber; the door had itself opened noiselessly. The count appeared, dressed with the greatest simplicity, but the most fastidious dandy could have found nothing to cavil at in his toilet. Every article of dress—hat, coat, gloves, and boots—was from the first makers. He seemed scarcely five and thirty. But what struck everybody was his extreme resemblance to the portrait Debray had drawn. The count advanced, smiling, into the centre of the room, and approached Albert, who hastened towards him holding out his hand in a ceremonial manner. "Punctuality," said Monte Cristo, "is the politeness of kings, according to one of your sovereigns, I think; but it is not the same with travellers. However, I hope you will excuse the two or three seconds I am behindhand; five hundred leagues are not to be accomplished without some trouble, and especially in France, where, it seems, it is forbidden to beat the postilions."
"My dear count," replied Albert, "I was announcing your visit to some of my friends, whom I had invited in consequence of the promise you did me the honor to make, and whom I now present to you. They are the Count of Chateau-Renaud, whose nobility goes back to the twelve peers, and whose ancestors had a place at the Round Table; M. Lucien Debray, private secretary to the minister of the interior; M. Beauchamp, an editor of a paper, and the terror of the French government, but of whom, in spite of his national celebrity, you perhaps have not heard in Italy, since his paper is prohibited there; and M. Maximilian Morrel, captain of Spahis."
At this name the count, who had hitherto saluted every one with courtesy, but at the same time with coldness and formality, stepped a pace forward, and a slight tinge of red colored his pale cheeks. "You wear the uniform of the new French conquerors, monsieur," said he; "it is a handsome uniform." No one could have said what caused the count's voice to vibrate so deeply, and what made his eye flash, which was in general so clear, lustrous, and limpid when he pleased. "You have never seen our Africans, count?" said Albert. "Never," replied the count, who was by this time perfectly master of himself again.
"Well, beneath this uniform beats one of the bravest and noblest hearts in the whole army."
"Oh, M. de Morcerf," interrupted Morrel.
"Let me go on, captain. And we have just heard," continued Albert, "of a new deed of his, and so heroic a one, that, although I have seen him to-day for the first time, I request you to allow me to introduce him as my friend." At these words it was still possible to observe in Monte Cristo the concentrated look, changing color, and slight trembling of the eyelid that show emotion. "Ah, you have a noble heart," said the count; "so much the better." This exclamation, which corresponded to the count's own thought rather than to what Albert was saying, surprised everybody, and especially Morrel, who looked at Monte Cristo with wonder. But, at the same time, the intonation was so soft that, however strange the speech might seem, it was impossible to be offended at it. "Why should he doubt it?" said Beauchamp to Chateau-Renaud.
"In reality," replied the latter, who, with his aristocratic glance and his knowledge of the world, had penetrated at once all that was penetrable in Monte Cristo, "Albert has not deceived us, for the count is a most singular being. What say you, Morrel!"
"Ma foi, he has an open look about him that pleases me, in spite of the singular remark he has made about me."
"Gentlemen," said Albert, "Germain informs me that breakfast is ready. My dear count, allow me to show you the way." They passed silently into the breakfast-room, and every one took his place. "Gentlemen," said the count, seating himself, "permit me to make a confession which must form my excuse for any improprieties I may commit. I am a stranger, and a stranger to such a degree, that this is the first time I have ever been at Paris. The French way of living is utterly unknown to me, and up to the present time I have followed the Eastern customs, which are entirely in contrast to the Parisian. I beg you, therefore, to excuse if you find anything in me too Turkish, too Italian, or too Arabian. Now, then, let us breakfast."
"With what an air he says all this," muttered Beauchamp; "decidedly he is a great man."
"A great man in his own country," added Debray.
"A great man in every country, M. Debray," said Chateau-Renaud. The count was, it may be remembered, a most temperate guest. Albert remarked this, expressing his fears lest, at the outset, the Parisian mode of life should displease the traveller in the most essential point. "My dear count," said he, "I fear one thing, and that is, that the fare of the Rue du Helder is not so much to your taste as that of the Piazza di Spagni. I ought to have consulted you on the point, and have had some dishes prepared expressly."
"Did you know me better," returned the count, smiling, "you would not give one thought of such a thing for a traveller like myself, who has successively lived on maccaroni at Naples, polenta at Milan, olla podrida at Valencia, pilau at Constantinople, karrick in India, and swallows' nests in China. I eat everywhere, and of everything, only I eat but little; and to-day, that you reproach me with my want of appetite, is my day of appetite, for I have not eaten since yesterday morning."
"What," cried all the guests, "you have not eaten for four and twenty hours?"
"No," replied the count; "I was forced to go out of my road to obtain some information near Nimes, so that I was somewhat late, and therefore I did not choose to stop."
"And you ate in your carriage?" asked Morcerf.
"No, I slept, as I generally do when I am weary without having the courage to amuse myself, or when I am hungry without feeling inclined to eat."
"But you can sleep when you please, monsieur?" said Morrel.
"You have a recipe for it?"
"An infallible one."
"That would be invaluable to us in Africa, who have not always any food to eat, and rarely anything to drink."
"Yes," said Monte Cristo; "but, unfortunately, a recipe excellent for a man like myself would be very dangerous applied to an army, which might not awake when it was needed."
"May we inquire what is this recipe?" asked Debray.
"Oh, yes," returned Monte Cristo; "I make no secret of it. It is a mixture of excellent opium, which I fetched myself from Canton in order to have it pure, and the best hashish which grows in the East—that is, between the Tigris and the Euphrates. These two ingredients are mixed in equal proportions, and formed into pills. Ten minutes after one is taken, the effect is produced. Ask Baron Franz d'Epinay; I think he tasted them one day."
"Yes," replied Morcerf, "he said something about it to me."
"But," said Beauchamp, who, as became a journalist, was very incredulous, "you always carry this drug about you?"
"Would it be an indiscretion to ask to see those precious pills?" continued Beauchamp, hoping to take him at a disadvantage.
"No, monsieur," returned the count; and he drew from his pocket a marvellous casket, formed out of a single emerald and closed by a golden lid which unscrewed and gave passage to a small greenish colored pellet about the size of a pea. This ball had an acrid and penetrating odor. There were four or five more in the emerald, which would contain about a dozen. The casket passed around the table, but it was more to examine the admirable emerald than to see the pills that it passed from hand to hand. "And is it your cook who prepares these pills?" asked Beauchamp.
"Oh, no, monsieur," replied Monte Cristo; "I do not thus betray my enjoyments to the vulgar. I am a tolerable chemist, and prepare my pills myself."
"This is a magnificent emerald, and the largest I have ever seen," said Chateau-Renaud, "although my mother has some remarkable family jewels."
"I had three similar ones," returned Monte Cristo. "I gave one to the Sultan, who mounted it in his sabre; another to our holy father the Pope, who had it set in his tiara, opposite to one nearly as large, though not so fine, given by the Emperor Napoleon to his predecessor, Pius VII. I kept the third for myself, and I had it hollowed out, which reduced its value, but rendered it more commodious for the purpose I intended." Every one looked at Monte Cristo with astonishment; he spoke with so much simplicity that it was evident he spoke the truth, or that he was mad. However, the sight of the emerald made them naturally incline to the former belief. "And what did these two sovereigns give you in exchange for these magnificent presents?" asked Debray.
"The Sultan, the liberty of a woman," replied the Count; "the Pope, the life of a man; so that once in my life I have been as powerful as if heaven had brought me into the world on the steps of a throne."
"And it was Peppino you saved, was it not?" cried Morcerf; "it was for him that you obtained pardon?"
"Perhaps," returned the count, smiling.
"My dear count, you have no idea what pleasure it gives me to hear you speak thus," said Morcerf. "I had announced you beforehand to my friends as an enchanter of the 'Arabian Nights,' a wizard of the Middle Ages; but the Parisians are so subtle in paradoxes that they mistake for caprices of the imagination the most incontestable truths, when these truths do not form a part of their daily existence. For example, here is Debray who reads, and Beauchamp who prints, every day, 'A member of the Jockey Club has been stopped and robbed on the Boulevard;' 'four persons have been assassinated in the Rue St. Denis' or 'the Faubourg St. Germain;' 'ten, fifteen, or twenty thieves, have been arrested in a cafe on the Boulevard du Temple, or in the Thermes de Julien,'—and yet these same men deny the existence of the bandits in the Maremma, the Campagna di Romana, or the Pontine Marshes. Tell them yourself that I was taken by bandits, and that without your generous intercession I should now have been sleeping in the Catacombs of St. Sebastian, instead of receiving them in my humble abode in the Rue du Helder."
"Ah," said Monte Cristo "you promised me never to mention that circumstance."
"It was not I who made that promise," cried Morcerf; "it must have been some one else whom you have rescued in the same manner, and whom you have forgotten. Pray speak of it, for I shall not only, I trust, relate the little I do know, but also a great deal I do not know."
"It seems to me," returned the count, smiling, "that you played a sufficiently important part to know as well as myself what happened."
"Well, you promise me, if I tell all I know, to relate, in your turn, all that I do not know?"
"That is but fair," replied Monte Cristo.
"Well," said Morcerf, "for three days I believed myself the object of the attentions of a masque, whom I took for a descendant of Tullia or Poppoea, while I was simply the object of the attentions of a contadina, and I say contadina to avoid saying peasant girl. What I know is, that, like a fool, a greater fool than he of whom I spoke just now, I mistook for this peasant girl a young bandit of fifteen or sixteen, with a beardless chin and slim waist, and who, just as I was about to imprint a chaste salute on his lips, placed a pistol to my head, and, aided by seven or eight others, led, or rather dragged me, to the Catacombs of St. Sebastian, where I found a highly educated brigand chief perusing Caesar's 'Commentaries,' and who deigned to leave off reading to inform me, that unless the next morning, before six o'clock, four thousand piastres were paid into his account at his banker's, at a quarter past six I should have ceased to exist. The letter is still to be seen, for it is in Franz d'Epinay's possession, signed by me, and with a postscript of M. Luigi Vampa. This is all I know, but I know not, count, how you contrived to inspire so much respect in the bandits of Rome who ordinarily have so little respect for anything. I assure you, Franz and I were lost in admiration."
"Nothing more simple," returned the count. "I had known the famous Vampa for more than ten years. When he was quite a child, and only a shepherd, I gave him a few gold pieces for showing me my way, and he, in order to repay me, gave me a poniard, the hilt of which he had carved with his own hand, and which you may have seen in my collection of arms. In after years, whether he had forgotten this interchange of presents, which ought to have cemented our friendship, or whether he did not recollect me, he sought to take me, but, on the contrary, it was I who captured him and a dozen of his band. I might have handed him over to Roman justice, which is somewhat expeditious, and which would have been particularly so with him; but I did nothing of the sort—I suffered him and his band to depart."
"With the condition that they should sin no more," said Beauchamp, laughing. "I see they kept their promise."
"No, monsieur," returned Monte Cristo "upon the simple condition that they should respect myself and my friends. Perhaps what I am about to say may seem strange to you, who are socialists, and vaunt humanity and your duty to your neighbor, but I never seek to protect a society which does not protect me, and which I will even say, generally occupies itself about me only to injure me; and thus by giving them a low place in my esteem, and preserving a neutrality towards them, it is society and my neighbor who are indebted to me."
"Bravo," cried Chateau-Renaud; "you are the first man I ever met sufficiently courageous to preach egotism. Bravo, count, bravo!"
"It is frank, at least," said Morrel. "But I am sure that the count does not regret having once deviated from the principles he has so boldly avowed."
"How have I deviated from those principles, monsieur?" asked Monte Cristo, who could not help looking at Morrel with so much intensity, that two or three times the young man had been unable to sustain that clear and piercing glance.
"Why, it seems to me," replied Morrel, "that in delivering M. de Morcerf, whom you did not know, you did good to your neighbor and to society."
"Of which he is the brightest ornament," said Beauchamp, drinking off a glass of champagne.
"My dear count," cried Morcerf, "you are at fault—you, one of the most formidable logicians I know—and you must see it clearly proved that instead of being an egotist, you are a philanthropist. Ah, you call yourself Oriental, a Levantine, Maltese, Indian, Chinese; your family name is Monte Cristo; Sinbad the Sailor is your baptismal appellation, and yet the first day you set foot in Paris you instinctively display the greatest virtue, or rather the chief defect, of us eccentric Parisians,—that is, you assume the vices you have not, and conceal the virtues you possess."
"My dear vicomte," returned Monte Cristo, "I do not see, in all I have done, anything that merits, either from you or these gentlemen, the pretended eulogies I have received. You were no stranger to me, for I knew you from the time I gave up two rooms to you, invited you to breakfast with me, lent you one of my carriages, witnessed the Carnival in your company, and saw with you from a window in the Piazza del Popolo the execution that affected you so much that you nearly fainted. I will appeal to any of these gentlemen, could I leave my guest in the hands of a hideous bandit, as you term him? Besides, you know, I had the idea that you could introduce me into some of the Paris salons when I came to France. You might some time ago have looked upon this resolution as a vague project, but to-day you see it was a reality, and you must submit to it under penalty of breaking your word."
"I will keep it," returned Morcerf; "but I fear that you will be much disappointed, accustomed as you are to picturesque events and fantastic horizons. Amongst us you will not meet with any of those episodes with which your adventurous existence has so familiarized you; our Chimborazo is Mortmartre, our Himalaya is Mount Valerien, our Great Desert is the plain of Grenelle, where they are now boring an artesian well to water the caravans. We have plenty of thieves, though not so many as is said; but these thieves stand in far more dread of a policeman than a lord. France is so prosaic, and Paris so civilized a city, that you will not find in its eighty-five departments—I say eighty-five, because I do not include Corsica—you will not find, then, in these eighty-five departments a single hill on which there is not a telegraph, or a grotto in which the commissary of police has not put up a gaslamp. There is but one service I can render you, and for that I place myself entirely at your orders, that is, to present, or make my friends present, you everywhere; besides, you have no need of any one to introduce you—with your name, and your fortune, and your talent" (Monte Cristo bowed with a somewhat ironical smile) "you can present yourself everywhere, and be well received. I can be useful in one way only—if knowledge of Parisian habits, of the means of rendering yourself comfortable, or of the bazaars, can assist, you may depend upon me to find you a fitting dwelling here. I do not dare offer to share my apartments with you, as I shared yours at Rome—I, who do not profess egotism, but am yet egotist par excellence; for, except myself, these rooms would not hold a shadow more, unless that shadow were feminine."
"Ah," said the count, "that is a most conjugal reservation; I recollect that at Rome you said something of a projected marriage. May I congratulate you?"
"The affair is still in projection."
"And he who says in 'projection,' means already decided," said Debray.
"No," replied Morcerf, "my father is most anxious about it; and I hope, ere long, to introduce you, if not to my wife, at least to my betrothed—Mademoiselle Eugenie Danglars."
"Eugenie Danglars," said Monte Cristo; "tell me, is not her father Baron Danglars?"
"Yes," returned Morcerf, "a baron of a new creation."
"What matter," said Monte Cristo "if he has rendered the State services which merit this distinction?"
"Enormous ones," answered Beauchamp. "Although in reality a Liberal, he negotiated a loan of six millions for Charles X., in 1829, who made him a baron and chevalier of the Legion of Honor; so that he wears the ribbon, not, as you would think, in his waistcoat-pocket, but at his button-hole."
"Ah," interrupted Morcerf, laughing, "Beauchamp, Beauchamp, keep that for the Corsaire or the Charivari, but spare my future father-in-law before me." Then, turning to Monte Cristo, "You just now spoke his name as if you knew the baron?"
"I do not know him," returned Monte Cristo; "but I shall probably soon make his acquaintance, for I have a credit opened with him by the house of Richard & Blount, of London, Arstein & Eskeles of Vienna, and Thomson & French at Rome." As he pronounced the two last names, the count glanced at Maximilian Morrel. If the stranger expected to produce an effect on Morrel, he was not mistaken—Maximilian started as if he had been electrified. "Thomson & French," said he; "do you know this house, monsieur?"
"They are my bankers in the capital of the Christian world," returned the count quietly. "Can my influence with them be of any service to you?"
"Oh, count, you could assist me perhaps in researches which have been, up to the present, fruitless. This house, in past years, did ours a great service, and has, I know not for what reason, always denied having rendered us this service."
"I shall be at your orders," said Monte Cristo bowing.
"But," continued Morcerf, "a propos of Danglars,—we have strangely wandered from the subject. We were speaking of a suitable habitation for the Count of Monte Cristo. Come, gentlemen, let us all propose some place. Where shall we lodge this new guest in our great capital?"
"Faubourg Saint-Germain," said Chateau-Renaud. "The count will find there a charming hotel, with a court and garden."
"Bah, Chateau-Renaud," returned Debray, "you only know your dull and gloomy Faubourg Saint-Germain; do not pay any attention to him, count—live in the Chaussee d'Antin, that's the real centre of Paris."
"Boulevard de l'Opera," said Beauchamp; "the second floor—a house with a balcony. The count will have his cushions of silver cloth brought there, and as he smokes his chibouque, see all Paris pass before him."
"You have no idea, then, Morrel?" asked Chateau-Renaud; "you do not propose anything."
"Oh, yes," returned the young man, smiling; "on the contrary, I have one, but I expected the count would be tempted by one of the brilliant proposals made him, yet as he has not replied to any of them, I will venture to offer him a suite of apartments in a charming hotel, in the Pompadour style, that my sister has inhabited for a year, in the Rue Meslay."
"You have a sister?" asked the count.
"Yes, monsieur, a most excellent sister."
"Nearly nine years."
"Happy?" asked the count again.
"As happy as it is permitted to a human creature to be," replied Maximilian. "She married the man she loved, who remained faithful to us in our fallen fortunes—Emmanuel Herbaut." Monte Cristo smiled imperceptibly. "I live there during my leave of absence," continued Maximilian; "and I shall be, together with my brother-in-law Emmanuel, at the disposition of the Count, whenever he thinks fit to honor us."
"One minute," cried Albert, without giving Monte Cristo the time to reply. "Take care, you are going to immure a traveller, Sinbad the Sailor, a man who comes to see Paris; you are going to make a patriarch of him."
"Oh, no," said Morrel; "my sister is five and twenty, my brother-in-law is thirty, they are gay, young, and happy. Besides, the count will be in his own house, and only see them when he thinks fit to do so."
"Thanks, monsieur," said Monte Cristo; "I shall content myself with being presented to your sister and her husband, if you will do me the honor to introduce me; but I cannot accept the offer of any one of these gentlemen, since my habitation is already prepared."
"What," cried Morcerf; "you are, then, going to an hotel—that will be very dull for you."
"Was I so badly lodged at Rome?" said Monte Cristo smiling.
"Parbleu, at Rome you spent fifty thousand piastres in furnishing your apartments, but I presume that you are not disposed to spend a similar sum every day."
"It is not that which deterred me," replied Monte Cristo; "but as I determined to have a house to myself, I sent on my valet de chambre, and he ought by this time to have bought the house and furnished it."
"But you have, then, a valet de chambre who knows Paris?" said Beauchamp.
"It is the first time he has ever been in Paris. He is black, and cannot speak," returned Monte Cristo.
"It is Ali!" cried Albert, in the midst of the general surprise.
"Yes, Ali himself, my Nubian mute, whom you saw, I think, at Rome."
"Certainly," said Morcerf; "I recollect him perfectly. But how could you charge a Nubian to purchase a house, and a mute to furnish it?—he will do everything wrong."
"Undeceive yourself, monsieur," replied Monte Cristo; "I am quite sure, that, on the contrary, he will choose everything as I wish. He knows my tastes, my caprices, my wants. He has been here a week, with the instinct of a hound, hunting by himself. He will arrange everything for me. He knew, that I should arrive to-day at ten o'clock; he was waiting for me at nine at the Barriere de Fontainebleau. He gave me this paper; it contains the number of my new abode; read it yourself," and Monte Cristo passed a paper to Albert. "Ah, that is really original," said Beauchamp.
"And very princely," added Chateau-Renaud.
"What, do you not know your house?" asked Debray.
"No," said Monte Cristo; "I told you I did not wish to be behind my time; I dressed myself in the carriage, and descended at the viscount's door." The young men looked at each other; they did not know if it was a comedy Monte Cristo was playing, but every word he uttered had such an air of simplicity, that it was impossible to suppose what he said was false—besides, why should he tell a falsehood? "We must content ourselves, then," said Beauchamp, "with rendering the count all the little services in our power. I, in my quality of journalist, open all the theatres to him."
"Thanks, monsieur," returned Monte Cristo, "my steward has orders to take a box at each theatre."
"Is your steward also a Nubian?" asked Debray.
"No, he is a countryman of yours, if a Corsican is a countryman of any one's. But you know him, M. de Morcerf."
"Is it that excellent M. Bertuccio, who understands hiring windows so well?"
"Yes, you saw him the day I had the honor of receiving you; he has been a soldier, a smuggler—in fact, everything. I would not be quite sure that he has not been mixed up with the police for some trifle—a stab with a knife, for instance."
"And you have chosen this honest citizen for your steward," said Debray. "Of how much does he rob you every year?"
"On my word," replied the count, "not more than another. I am sure he answers my purpose, knows no impossibility, and so I keep him."
"Then," continued Chateau-Renaud, "since you have an establishment, a steward, and a hotel in the Champs Elysees, you only want a mistress." Albert smiled. He thought of the fair Greek he had seen in the count's box at the Argentina and Valle theatres. "I have something better than that," said Monte Cristo; "I have a slave. You procure your mistresses from the opera, the Vaudeville, or the Varietes; I purchased mine at Constantinople; it cost me more, but I have nothing to fear."
"But you forget," replied Debray, laughing, "that we are Franks by name and franks by nature, as King Charles said, and that the moment she puts her foot in France your slave becomes free."
"Who will tell her?"
"The first person who sees her."
"She only speaks Romaic."
"That is different."
"But at least we shall see her," said Beauchamp, "or do you keep eunuchs as well as mutes?"
"Oh, no," replied Monte Cristo; "I do not carry brutalism so far. Every one who surrounds me is free to quit me, and when they leave me will no longer have any need of me or any one else; it is for that reason, perhaps, that they do not quit me." They had long since passed to dessert and cigars.
"My dear Albert," said Debray, rising, "it is half-past two. Your guest is charming, but you leave the best company to go into the worst sometimes. I must return to the minister's. I will tell him of the count, and we shall soon know who he is."
"Take care," returned Albert; "no one has been able to accomplish that."
"Oh, we have three millions for our police; it is true they are almost always spent beforehand, but, no matter, we shall still have fifty thousand francs to spend for this purpose."
"And when you know, will you tell me?"
"I promise you. Au revoir, Albert. Gentlemen, good morning."
As he left the room, Debray called out loudly, "My carriage."
"Bravo," said Beauchamp to Albert; "I shall not go to the Chamber, but I have something better to offer my readers than a speech of M. Danglars."
"For heaven's sake, Beauchamp," returned Morcerf, "do not deprive me of the merit of introducing him everywhere. Is he not peculiar?"
"He is more than that," replied Chateau-Renaud; "he is one of the most extraordinary men I ever saw in my life. Are you coming, Morrel?"
"Directly I have given my card to the count, who has promised to pay us a visit at Rue Meslay, No. 14."
"Be sure I shall not fail to do so," returned the count, bowing. And Maximilian Morrel left the room with the Baron de Chateau-Renaud, leaving Monte Cristo alone with Morcerf.
Chapter 41. The Presentation.
When Albert found himself alone with Monte Cristo, "My dear count," said he, "allow me to commence my services as cicerone by showing you a specimen of a bachelor's apartment. You, who are accustomed to the palaces of Italy, can amuse yourself by calculating in how many square feet a young man who is not the worst lodged in Paris can live. As we pass from one room to another, I will open the windows to let you breathe." Monte Cristo had already seen the breakfast-room and the salon on the ground-floor. Albert led him first to his atelier, which was, as we have said, his favorite apartment. Monte Cristo quickly appreciated all that Albert had collected here—old cabinets, Japanese porcelain, Oriental stuffs, Venetian glass, arms from all parts of the world—everything was familiar to him; and at the first glance he recognized their date, their country, and their origin. Morcerf had expected he should be the guide; on the contrary, it was he who, under the count's guidance, followed a course of archaeology, mineralogy, and natural history. They descended to the first floor; Albert led his guest into the salon. The salon was filled with the works of modern artists; there were landscapes by Dupre, with their long reeds and tall trees, their lowing oxen and marvellous skies; Delacroix's Arabian cavaliers, with their long white burnouses, their shining belts, their damasked arms, their horses, who tore each other with their teeth while their riders contended fiercely with their maces; aquarelles of Boulanger, representing Notre Dame de Paris with that vigor that makes the artist the rival of the poet; there were paintings by Diaz, who makes his flowers more beautiful than flowers, his suns more brilliant than the sun; designs by Decamp, as vividly colored as those of Salvator Rosa, but more poetic; pastels by Giraud and Muller, representing children like angels and women with the features of a virgin; sketches torn from the album of Dauzats' "Travels in the East," that had been made in a few seconds on the saddle of a camel, or beneath the dome of a mosque—in a word, all that modern art can give in exchange and as recompense for the art lost and gone with ages long since past.
Albert expected to have something new this time to show to the traveller, but, to his great surprise, the latter, without seeking for the signatures, many of which, indeed, were only initials, named instantly the author of every picture in such a manner that it was easy to see that each name was not only known to him, but that each style associated with it had been appreciated and studied by him. From the salon they passed into the bed-chamber; it was a model of taste and simple elegance. A single portrait, signed by Leopold Robert, shone in its carved and gilded frame. This portrait attracted the Count of Monte Cristo's attention, for he made three rapid steps in the chamber, and stopped suddenly before it. It was the portrait of a young woman of five or six and twenty, with a dark complexion, and light and lustrous eyes, veiled beneath long lashes. She wore the picturesque costume of the Catalan fisherwomen, a red and black bodice, and golden pins in her hair. She was looking at the sea, and her form was outlined on the blue ocean and sky. The light was so faint in the room that Albert did not perceive the pallor that spread itself over the count's visage, or the nervous heaving of his chest and shoulders. Silence prevailed for an instant, during which Monte Cristo gazed intently on the picture.
"You have there a most charming mistress, viscount," said the count in a perfectly calm tone; "and this costume—a ball costume, doubtless—becomes her admirably."
"Ah, monsieur," returned Albert, "I would never forgive you this mistake if you had seen another picture beside this. You do not know my mother; she it is whom you see here. She had her portrait painted thus six or eight years ago. This costume is a fancy one, it appears, and the resemblance is so great that I think I still see my mother the same as she was in 1830. The countess had this portrait painted during the count's absence. She doubtless intended giving him an agreeable surprise; but, strange to say, this portrait seemed to displease my father, and the value of the picture, which is, as you see, one of the best works of Leopold Robert, could not overcome his dislike to it. It is true, between ourselves, that M. de Morcerf is one of the most assiduous peers at the Luxembourg, a general renowned for theory, but a most mediocre amateur of art. It is different with my mother, who paints exceedingly well, and who, unwilling to part with so valuable a picture, gave it to me to put here, where it would be less likely to displease M. de Morcerf, whose portrait, by Gros, I will also show you. Excuse my talking of family matters, but as I shall have the honor of introducing you to the count, I tell you this to prevent you making any allusions to this picture. The picture seems to have a malign influence, for my mother rarely comes here without looking at it, and still more rarely does she look at it without weeping. This disagreement is the only one that has ever taken place between the count and countess, who are still as much united, although married more than twenty years, as on the first day of their wedding."
Monte Cristo glanced rapidly at Albert, as if to seek a hidden meaning in his words, but it was evident the young man uttered them in the simplicity of his heart. "Now," said Albert, "that you have seen all my treasures, allow me to offer them to you, unworthy as they are. Consider yourself as in your own house, and to put yourself still more at your ease, pray accompany me to the apartments of M. de Morcerf, he whom I wrote from Rome an account of the services you rendered me, and to whom I announced your promised visit, and I may say that both the count and countess anxiously desire to thank you in person. You are somewhat blase I know, and family scenes have not much effect on Sinbad the Sailor, who has seen so many others. However, accept what I propose to you as an initiation into Parisian life—a life of politeness, visiting, and introductions." Monte Cristo bowed without making any answer; he accepted the offer without enthusiasm and without regret, as one of those conventions of society which every gentleman looks upon as a duty. Albert summoned his servant, and ordered him to acquaint M. and Madame de Morcerf of the arrival of the Count of Monte Cristo. Albert followed him with the count. When they arrived at the ante-chamber, above the door was visible a shield, which, by its rich ornaments and its harmony with the rest of the furniture, indicated the importance the owner attached to this blazon. Monte Cristo stopped and examined it attentively.
"Azure seven merlets, or, placed bender," said he. "These are, doubtless, your family arms? Except the knowledge of blazons, that enables me to decipher them, I am very ignorant of heraldry—I, a count of a fresh creation, fabricated in Tuscany by the aid of a commandery of St. Stephen, and who would not have taken the trouble had I not been told that when you travel much it is necessary. Besides, you must have something on the panels of your carriage, to escape being searched by the custom-house officers. Excuse my putting such a question to you."
"It is not indiscreet," returned Morcerf, with the simplicity of conviction. "You have guessed rightly. These are our arms, that is, those of my father, but they are, as you see, joined to another shield, which has gules, a silver tower, which are my mother's. By her side I am Spanish, but the family of Morcerf is French, and, I have heard, one of the oldest of the south of France."
"Yes," replied Monte Cristo "these blazons prove that. Almost all the armed pilgrims that went to the Holy Land took for their arms either a cross, in honor of their mission, or birds of passage, in sign of the long voyage they were about to undertake, and which they hoped to accomplish on the wings of faith. One of your ancestors had joined the Crusades, and supposing it to be only that of St. Louis, that makes you mount to the thirteenth century, which is tolerably ancient."
"It is possible," said Morcerf; "my father has in his study a genealogical tree which will tell you all that, and on which I made commentaries that would have greatly edified Hozier and Jaucourt. At present I no longer think of it, and yet I must tell you that we are beginning to occupy ourselves greatly with these things under our popular government."
"Well, then, your government would do well to choose from the past something better than the things that I have noticed on your monuments, and which have no heraldic meaning whatever. As for you, viscount," continued Monte Cristo to Morcerf, "you are more fortunate than the government, for your arms are really beautiful, and speak to the imagination. Yes, you are at once from Provence and Spain; that explains, if the portrait you showed me be like, the dark hue I so much admired on the visage of the noble Catalan." It would have required the penetration of Oedipus or the Sphinx to have divined the irony the count concealed beneath these words, apparently uttered with the greatest politeness. Morcerf thanked him with a smile, and pushed open the door above which were his arms, and which, as we have said, opened into the salon. In the most conspicuous part of the salon was another portrait. It was that of a man, from five to eight and thirty, in the uniform of a general officer, wearing the double epaulet of heavy bullion, that indicates superior rank, the ribbon of the Legion of Honor around his neck, which showed he was a commander, and on the right breast, the star of a grand officer of the order of the Saviour, and on the left that of the grand cross of Charles III., which proved that the person represented by the picture had served in the wars of Greece and Spain, or, what was just the same thing as regarded decorations, had fulfilled some diplomatic mission in the two countries.
Monte Cristo was engaged in examining this portrait with no less care than he had bestowed upon the other, when another door opened, and he found himself opposite to the Count of Morcerf in person. He was a man of forty to forty-five years, but he seemed at least fifty, and his black mustache and eyebrows contrasted strangely with his almost white hair, which was cut short, in the military fashion. He was dressed in plain clothes, and wore at his button-hole the ribbons of the different orders to which he belonged. He entered with a tolerably dignified step, and some little haste. Monte Cristo saw him advance towards him without making a single step. It seemed as if his feet were rooted to the ground, and his eyes on the Count of Morcerf. "Father," said the young man, "I have the honor of presenting to you the Count of Monte Cristo, the generous friend whom I had the good fortune to meet in the critical situation of which I have told you."
"You are most welcome, monsieur," said the Count of Morcerf, saluting Monte Cristo with a smile, "and monsieur has rendered our house, in preserving its only heir, a service which insures him our eternal gratitude." As he said these words, the count of Morcerf pointed to a chair, while he seated himself in another opposite the window.
Monte Cristo, in taking the seat Morcerf offered him, placed himself in such a manner as to remain concealed in the shadow of the large velvet curtains, and read on the careworn and livid features of the count a whole history of secret griefs written in each wrinkle time had planted there. "The countess," said Morcerf, "was at her toilet when she was informed of the visit she was about to receive. She will, however, be in the salon in ten minutes."
"It is a great honor to me," returned Monte Cristo, "to be thus, on the first day of my arrival in Paris, brought in contact with a man whose merit equals his reputation, and to whom fortune has for once been equitable, but has she not still on the plains of Metidja, or in the mountains of Atlas, a marshal's staff to offer you?"
"Oh," replied Morcerf, reddening slightly, "I have left the service, monsieur. Made a peer at the Restoration, I served through the first campaign under the orders of Marshal Bourmont. I could, therefore, expect a higher rank, and who knows what might have happened had the elder branch remained on the throne? But the Revolution of July was, it seems, sufficiently glorious to allow itself to be ungrateful, and it was so for all services that did not date from the imperial period. I tendered my resignation, for when you have gained your epaulets on the battle-field, you do not know how to manoeuvre on the slippery grounds of the salons. I have hung up my sword, and cast myself into politics. I have devoted myself to industry; I study the useful arts. During the twenty years I served, I often wished to do so, but I had not the time."
"These are the ideas that render your nation superior to any other," returned Monte Cristo. "A gentleman of high birth, possessor of an ample fortune, you have consented to gain your promotion as an obscure soldier, step by step—this is uncommon; then become general, peer of France, commander of the Legion of Honor, you consent to again commence a second apprenticeship, without any other hope or any other desire than that of one day becoming useful to your fellow-creatures; this, indeed, is praiseworthy,—nay, more, it is sublime." Albert looked on and listened with astonishment; he was not used to see Monte Cristo give vent to such bursts of enthusiasm. "Alas," continued the stranger, doubtless to dispel the slight cloud that covered Morcerf's brow, "we do not act thus in Italy; we grow according to our race and our species, and we pursue the same lines, and often the same uselessness, all our lives."
"But, monsieur," said the Count of Morcerf, "for a man of your merit, Italy is not a country, and France opens her arms to receive you; respond to her call. France will not, perhaps, be always ungrateful. She treats her children ill, but she always welcomes strangers."
"Ah, father," said Albert with a smile, "it is evident you do not know the Count of Monte Cristo; he despises all honors, and contents himself with those written on his passport."
"That is the most just remark," replied the stranger, "I ever heard made concerning myself."
"You have been free to choose your career," observed the Count of Morcerf, with a sigh; "and you have chosen the path strewed with flowers."
"Precisely, monsieur," replied Monte Cristo with one of those smiles that a painter could never represent or a physiologist analyze.
"If I did not fear to fatigue you," said the general, evidently charmed with the count's manners, "I would have taken you to the Chamber; there is a debate very curious to those who are strangers to our modern senators."
"I shall be most grateful, monsieur, if you will, at some future time, renew your offer, but I have been flattered with the hope of being introduced to the countess, and I will therefore wait."
"Ah, here is my mother," cried the viscount. Monte Cristo, turned round hastily, and saw Madame de Morcerf at the entrance of the salon, at the door opposite to that by which her husband had entered, pale and motionless; when Monte Cristo turned round, she let fall her arm, which for some unknown reason had been resting on the gilded door-post. She had been there some moments, and had heard the last words of the visitor. The latter rose and bowed to the countess, who inclined herself without speaking. "Ah, good heavens, madame," said the count, "are you ill, or is it the heat of the room that affects you?"
"Are you ill, mother?" cried the viscount, springing towards her.
She thanked them both with a smile. "No," returned she, "but I feel some emotion on seeing, for the first time, the man without whose intervention we should have been in tears and desolation. Monsieur," continued the countess, advancing with the majesty of a queen, "I owe to you the life of my son, and for this I bless you. Now, I thank you for the pleasure you give me in thus affording me the opportunity of thanking you as I have blessed you, from the bottom of my heart." The count bowed again, but lower than before; He was even paler than Mercedes. "Madame," said he, "the count and yourself recompense too generously a simple action. To save a man, to spare a father's feelings, or a mother's sensibility, is not to do a good action, but a simple deed of humanity." At these words, uttered with the most exquisite sweetness and politeness, Madame de Morcerf replied. "It is very fortunate for my son, monsieur, that he found such a friend, and I thank God that things are thus." And Mercedes raised her fine eyes to heaven with so fervent an expression of gratitude, that the count fancied he saw tears in them. M. de Morcerf approached her. "Madame," said he. "I have already made my excuses to the count for quitting him, and I pray you to do so also. The sitting commences at two; it is now three, and I am to speak."
"Go, then, and monsieur and I will strive our best to forget your absence," replied the countess, with the same tone of deep feeling. "Monsieur," continued she, turning to Monte Cristo, "will you do us the honor of passing the rest of the day with us?"
"Believe me, madame, I feel most grateful for your kindness, but I got out of my travelling carriage at your door this morning, and I am ignorant how I am installed in Paris, which I scarcely know; this is but a trifling inquietude, I know, but one that may be appreciated."
"We shall have the pleasure another time," said the countess; "you promise that?" Monte Cristo inclined himself without answering, but the gesture might pass for assent. "I will not detain you, monsieur," continued the countess; "I would not have our gratitude become indiscreet or importunate."
"My dear Count," said Albert, "I will endeavor to return your politeness at Rome, and place my coupe at your disposal until your own be ready."
"A thousand thanks for your kindness, viscount," returned the Count of Monte Cristo "but I suppose that M. Bertuccio has suitably employed the four hours and a half I have given him, and that I shall find a carriage of some sort ready at the door." Albert was used to the count's manner of proceeding; he knew that, like Nero, he was in search of the impossible, and nothing astonished him, but wishing to judge with his own eyes how far the count's orders had been executed, he accompanied him to the door of the house. Monte Cristo was not deceived. As soon as he appeared in the Count of Morcerf's ante-chamber, a footman, the same who at Rome had brought the count's card to the two young men, and announced his visit, sprang into the vestibule, and when he arrived at the door the illustrious traveller found his carriage awaiting him. It was a coupe of Koller's building, and with horses and harness for which Drake had, to the knowledge of all the lions of Paris, refused on the previous day seven hundred guineas. "Monsieur," said the count to Albert, "I do not ask you to accompany me to my house, as I can only show you a habitation fitted up in a hurry, and I have, as you know, a reputation to keep up as regards not being taken by surprise. Give me, therefore, one more day before I invite you; I shall then be certain not to fail in my hospitality."