"What?" said the count, the approbation of whose eye Villefort had frequently solicited during this speech. "What? Do you say that M. Noirtier disinherits Mademoiselle de Villefort because she is going to marry M. le Baron Franz d'Epinay?"
"Yes, sir, that is the reason," said Villefort, shrugging his shoulders.
"The apparent reason, at least," said Madame de Villefort.
"The real reason, madame, I can assure you; I know my father."
"But I want to know in what way M. d'Epinay can have displeased your father more than any other person?"
"I believe I know M. Franz d'Epinay," said the count; "is he not the son of General de Quesnel, who was created Baron d'Epinay by Charles X.?"
"The same," said Villefort.
"Well, but he is a charming young man, according to my ideas."
"He is, which makes me believe that it is only an excuse of M. Noirtier to prevent his granddaughter marrying; old men are always so selfish in their affection," said Madame de Villefort.
"But," said Monte Cristo "do you not know any cause for this hatred?"
"Ah, ma foi, who is to know?"
"Perhaps it is some political difference?"
"My father and the Baron d'Epinay lived in the stormy times of which I only saw the ending," said Villefort.
"Was not your father a Bonapartist?" asked Monte Cristo; "I think I remember that you told me something of that kind."
"My father has been a Jacobin more than anything else," said Villefort, carried by his emotion beyond the bounds of prudence; "and the senator's robe, which Napoleon cast on his shoulders, only served to disguise the old man without in any degree changing him. When my father conspired, it was not for the emperor, it was against the Bourbons; for M. Noirtier possessed this peculiarity, he never projected any Utopian schemes which could never be realized, but strove for possibilities, and he applied to the realization of these possibilities the terrible theories of The Mountain,—theories that never shrank from any means that were deemed necessary to bring about the desired result."
"Well," said Monte Cristo, "it is just as I thought; it was politics which brought Noirtier and M. d'Epinay into personal contact. Although General d'Epinay served under Napoleon, did he not still retain royalist sentiments? And was he not the person who was assassinated one evening on leaving a Bonapartist meeting to which he had been invited on the supposition that he favored the cause of the emperor?" Villefort looked at the count almost with terror. "Am I mistaken, then?" said Monte Cristo.
"No, sir, the facts were precisely what you have stated," said Madame de Villefort; "and it was to prevent the renewal of old feuds that M. de Villefort formed the idea of uniting in the bonds of affection the two children of these inveterate enemies."
"It was a sublime and charitable thought," said Monte Cristo, "and the whole world should applaud it. It would be noble to see Mademoiselle Noirtier de Villefort assuming the title of Madame Franz d'Epinay." Villefort shuddered and looked at Monte Cristo as if he wished to read in his countenance the real feelings which had dictated the words he had just uttered. But the count completely baffled the procureur, and prevented him from discovering anything beneath the never-varying smile he was so constantly in the habit of assuming. "Although," said Villefort, "it will be a serious thing for Valentine to lose her grandfather's fortune, I do not think that M. d'Epinay will be frightened at this pecuniary loss. He will, perhaps, hold me in greater esteem than the money itself, seeing that I sacrifice everything in order to keep my word with him. Besides, he knows that Valentine is rich in right of her mother, and that she will, in all probability, inherit the fortune of M. and Madame de Saint-Meran, her mother's parents, who both love her tenderly."
"And who are fully as well worth loving and tending as M. Noirtier," said Madame de Villefort; "besides, they are to come to Paris in about a month, and Valentine, after the affront she has received, need not consider it necessary to continue to bury herself alive by being shut up with M. Noirtier." The count listened with satisfaction to this tale of wounded self-love and defeated ambition. "But it seems to me," said Monte Cristo, "and I must begin by asking your pardon for what I am about to say, that if M. Noirtier disinherits Mademoiselle de Villefort because she is going to marry a man whose father he detested, he cannot have the same cause of complaint against this dear Edward."
"True," said Madame de Villefort, with an intonation of voice which it is impossible to describe; "is it not unjust—shamefully unjust? Poor Edward is as much M. Noirtier's grandchild as Valentine, and yet, if she had not been going to marry M. Franz, M. Noirtier would have left her all his money; and supposing Valentine to be disinherited by her grandfather, she will still be three times richer than he." The count listened and said no more. "Count," said Villefort, "we will not entertain you any longer with our family misfortunes. It is true that my patrimony will go to endow charitable institutions, and my father will have deprived me of my lawful inheritance without any reason for doing so, but I shall have the satisfaction of knowing that I have acted like a man of sense and feeling. M. d'Epinay, to whom I had promised the interest of this sum, shall receive it, even if I endure the most cruel privations."
"However," said Madame de Villefort, returning to the one idea which incessantly occupied her mind, "perhaps it would be better to explain this unlucky affair to M. d'Epinay, in order to give him the opportunity of himself renouncing his claim to the hand of Mademoiselle de Villefort."
"Ah, that would be a great pity," said Villefort.
"A great pity," said Monte Cristo.
"Undoubtedly," said Villefort, moderating the tones of his voice, "a marriage once concerted and then broken off, throws a sort of discredit on a young lady; then again, the old reports, which I was so anxious to put an end to, will instantly gain ground. No, it will all go well; M. d'Epinay, if he is an honorable man, will consider himself more than ever pledged to Mademoiselle de Villefort, unless he were actuated by a decided feeling of avarice, but that is impossible."
"I agree with M. de Villefort," said Monte Cristo, fixing his eyes on Madame de Villefort; "and if I were sufficiently intimate with him to allow of giving my advice, I would persuade him, since I have been told M. d'Epinay is coming back, to settle this affair at once beyond all possibility of revocation. I will answer for the success of a project which will reflect so much honor on M. de Villefort." The procureur arose, delighted with the proposition, but his wife slightly changed color. "Well, that is all that I wanted, and I will be guided by a counsellor such as you are," said he, extending his hand to Monte Cristo. "Therefore let every one here look upon what has passed to-day as if it had not happened, and as though we had never thought of such a thing as a change in our original plans."
"Sir," said the count, "the world, unjust as it is, will be pleased with your resolution; your friends will be proud of you, and M. d'Epinay, even if he took Mademoiselle de Villefort without any dowry, which he will not do, would be delighted with the idea of entering a family which could make such sacrifices in order to keep a promise and fulfil a duty." At the conclusion of these words, the count rose to depart. "Are you going to leave us, count?" said Madame de Villefort.
"I am sorry to say I must do so, madame, I only came to remind you of your promise for Saturday."
"Did you fear that we should forget it?"
"You are very good, madame, but M. de Villefort has so many important and urgent occupations."
"My husband has given me his word, sir," said Madame de Villefort; "you have just seen him resolve to keep it when he has everything to lose, and surely there is more reason for his doing so where he has everything to gain."
"And," said Villefort, "is it at your house in the Champs-Elysees that you receive your visitors?"
"No," said Monte Cristo, "which is precisely the reason which renders your kindness more meritorious,—it is in the country."
"In the country?"
"Where is it, then? Near Paris, is it not?"
"Very near, only half a league from the Barriers,—it is at Auteuil."
"At Auteuil?" said Villefort; "true, Madame de Villefort told me you lived at Auteuil, since it was to your house that she was taken. And in what part of Auteuil do you reside?"
"Rue de la Fontaine."
"Rue de la Fontaine!" exclaimed Villefort in an agitated tone; "at what number?"
"Then," cried Villefort, "was it you who bought M. de Saint-Meran's house!"
"Did it belong to M. de Saint-Meran?" demanded Monte Cristo.
"Yes," replied Madame de Villefort; "and, would you believe it, count"—
"You think this house pretty, do you not?"
"I think it charming."
"Well, my husband would never live in it."
"Indeed?" returned Monte Cristo, "that is a prejudice on your part, M. de Villefort, for which I am quite at a loss to account."
"I do not like Auteuil, sir," said the procureur, making an evident effort to appear calm.
"But I hope you will not carry your antipathy so far as to deprive me of the pleasure of your company, sir," said Monte Cristo.
"No, count,—I hope—I assure you I shall do my best," stammered Villefort.
"Oh," said Monte Cristo, "I allow of no excuse. On Saturday, at six o'clock. I shall be expecting you, and if you fail to come, I shall think—for how do I know to the contrary?—that this house, which his remained uninhabited for twenty years, must have some gloomy tradition or dreadful legend connected with it."
"I will come, count,—I will be sure to come," said Villefort eagerly.
"Thank you," said Monte Cristo; "now you must permit me to take my leave of you."
"You said before that you were obliged to leave us, monsieur," said Madame de Villefort, "and you were about to tell us why when your attention was called to some other subject."
"Indeed madame," said Monte Cristo: "I scarcely know if I dare tell you where I am going."
"Nonsense; say on."
"Well, then, it is to see a thing on which I have sometimes mused for hours together."
"What is it?"
"A telegraph. So now I have told my secret."
"A telegraph?" repeated Madame de Villefort.
"Yes, a telegraph. I had often seen one placed at the end of a road on a hillock, and in the light of the sun its black arms, bending in every direction, always reminded me of the claws of an immense beetle, and I assure you it was never without emotion that I gazed on it, for I could not help thinking how wonderful it was that these various signs should be made to cleave the air with such precision as to convey to the distance of three hundred leagues the ideas and wishes of a man sitting at a table at one end of the line to another man similarly placed at the opposite extremity, and all this effected by a simple act of volition on the part of the sender of the message. I began to think of genii, sylphs, gnomes, in short, of all the ministers of the occult sciences, until I laughed aloud at the freaks of my own imagination. Now, it never occurred to me to wish for a nearer inspection of these large insects, with their long black claws, for I always feared to find under their stone wings some little human genius fagged to death with cabals, factions, and government intrigues. But one fine day I learned that the mover of this telegraph was only a poor wretch, hired for twelve hundred francs a year, and employed all day, not in studying the heavens like an astronomer, or in gazing on the water like an angler, or even in enjoying the privilege of observing the country around him, but all his monotonous life was passed in watching his white-bellied, black-clawed fellow insect, four or five leagues distant from him. At length I felt a desire to study this living chrysalis more closely, and to endeavor to understand the secret part played by these insect-actors when they occupy themselves simply with pulling different pieces of string."
"And are you going there?"
"What telegraph do you intend visiting? that of the home department, or of the observatory?"
"Oh, no; I should find there people who would force me to understand things of which I would prefer to remain ignorant, and who would try to explain to me, in spite of myself, a mystery which even they do not understand. Ma foi, I should wish to keep my illusions concerning insects unimpaired; it is quite enough to have those dissipated which I had formed of my fellow-creatures. I shall, therefore, not visit either of these telegraphs, but one in the open country where I shall find a good-natured simpleton, who knows no more than the machine he is employed to work."
"You are a singular man," said Villefort.
"What line would you advise me to study?"
"The one that is most in use just at this time."
"The Spanish one, you mean, I suppose?"
"Yes; should you like a letter to the minister that they might explain to you"—
"No," said Monte Cristo; "since, as I told you before, I do not wish to comprehend it. The moment I understand it there will no longer exist a telegraph for me; it will be nothing more than a sign from M. Duchatel, or from M. Montalivet, transmitted to the prefect of Bayonne, mystified by two Greek words, tele, graphein. It is the insect with black claws, and the awful word which I wish to retain in my imagination in all its purity and all its importance."
"Go then; for in the course of two hours it will be dark, and you will not be able to see anything."
"Ma foi, you frighten me. Which is the nearest way? Bayonne?"
"Yes; the road to Bayonne."
"And afterwards the road to Chatillon?"
"By the tower of Montlhery, you mean?"
"Thank you. Good-by. On Saturday I will tell you my impressions concerning the telegraph." At the door the count was met by the two notaries, who had just completed the act which was to disinherit Valentine, and who were leaving under the conviction of having done a thing which could not fail of redounding considerably to their credit.
Chapter 61. How a Gardener May Get Rid of the Dormice that Eat His Peaches
Not on the same night, as he had intended, but the next morning, the Count of Monte Cristo went out by the Barrier d'Enfer, taking the road to Orleans. Leaving the village of Linas, without stopping at the telegraph, which flourished its great bony arms as he passed, the count reached the tower of Montlhery, situated, as every one knows, upon the highest point of the plain of that name. At the foot of the hill the count dismounted and began to ascend by a little winding path, about eighteen inches wide; when he reached the summit he found himself stopped by a hedge, upon which green fruit had succeeded to red and white flowers.
Monte Cristo looked for the entrance to the enclosure, and was not long in finding a little wooden gate, working on willow hinges, and fastened with a nail and string. The count soon mastered the mechanism, the gate opened, and he then found himself in a little garden, about twenty feet long by twelve wide, bounded on one side by part of the hedge, which contained the ingenious contrivance we have called a gate, and on the other by the old tower, covered with ivy and studded with wall-flowers. No one would have thought in looking at this old, weather-beaten, floral-decked tower (which might be likened to an elderly dame dressed up to receive her grandchildren at a birthday feast) that it would have been capable of telling strange things, if,—in addition to the menacing ears which the proverb says all walls are provided with,—it had also a voice. The garden was crossed by a path of red gravel, edged by a border of thick box, of many years' growth, and of a tone and color that would have delighted the heart of Delacroix, our modern Rubens. This path was formed in the shape of the figure of 8, thus, in its windings, making a walk of sixty feet in a garden of only twenty.
Never had Flora, the fresh and smiling goddess of gardeners, been honored with a purer or more scrupulous worship than that which was paid to her in this little enclosure. In fact, of the twenty rose-trees which formed the parterre, not one bore the mark of the slug, nor were there evidences anywhere of the clustering aphis which is so destructive to plants growing in a damp soil. And yet it was not because the damp had been excluded from the garden; the earth, black as soot, the thick foliage of the trees betrayed its presence; besides, had natural humidity been wanting, it could have been immediately supplied by artificial means, thanks to a tank of water, sunk in one of the corners of the garden, and upon which were stationed a frog and a toad, who, from antipathy, no doubt, always remained on the two opposite sides of the basin. There was not a blade of grass to be seen in the paths, or a weed in the flower-beds; no fine lady ever trained and watered her geraniums, her cacti, and her rhododendrons, with more pains than this hitherto unseen gardener bestowed upon his little enclosure. Monte Cristo stopped after having closed the gate and fastened the string to the nail, and cast a look around.
"The man at the telegraph," said he, "must either engage a gardener or devote himself passionately to agriculture." Suddenly he struck against something crouching behind a wheelbarrow filled with leaves; the something rose, uttering an exclamation of astonishment, and Monte Cristo found himself facing a man about fifty years old, who was plucking strawberries, which he was placing upon grape leaves. He had twelve leaves and about as many strawberries, which, on rising suddenly, he let fall from his hand. "You are gathering your crop, sir?" said Monte Cristo, smiling.
"Excuse me, sir," replied the man, raising his hand to his cap; "I am not up there, I know, but I have only just come down."
"Do not let me interfere with you in anything, my friend," said the count; "gather your strawberries, if, indeed, there are any left."
"I have ten left," said the man, "for here are eleven, and I had twenty-one, five more than last year. But I am not surprised; the spring has been warm this year, and strawberries require heat, sir. This is the reason that, instead of the sixteen I had last year, I have this year, you see, eleven, already plucked—twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen. Ah, I miss three, they were here last night, sir—I am sure they were here—I counted them. It must be the Mere Simon's son who has stolen them; I saw him strolling about here this morning. Ah, the young rascal—stealing in a garden—he does not know where that may lead him to."
"Certainly, it is wrong," said Monte Cristo, "but you should take into consideration the youth and greediness of the delinquent."
"Of course," said the gardener, "but that does not make it the less unpleasant. But, sir, once more I beg pardon; perhaps you are an officer that I am detaining here." And he glanced timidly at the count's blue coat.
"Calm yourself, my friend," said the count, with the smile which he made at will either terrible or benevolent, and which now expressed only the kindliest feeling; "I am not an inspector, but a traveller, brought here by a curiosity he half repents of, since he causes you to lose your time."
"Ah, my time is not valuable," replied the man with a melancholy smile. "Still it belongs to government, and I ought not to waste it; but, having received the signal that I might rest for an hour" (here he glanced at the sun-dial, for there was everything in the enclosure of Montlhery, even a sun-dial), "and having ten minutes before me, and my strawberries being ripe, when a day longer—by-the-by, sir, do you think dormice eat them?"
"Indeed, I should think not," replied Monte Cristo; "dormice are bad neighbors for us who do not eat them preserved, as the Romans did."
"What? Did the Romans eat them?" said the gardener—"ate dormice?"
"I have read so in Petronius," said the count.
"Really? They can't be nice, though they do say 'as fat as a dormouse.' It is not a wonder they are fat, sleeping all day, and only waking to eat all night. Listen. Last year I had four apricots—they stole one, I had one nectarine, only one—well, sir, they ate half of it on the wall; a splendid nectarine—I never ate a better."
"You ate it?"
"That is to say, the half that was left—you understand; it was exquisite, sir. Ah, those gentlemen never choose the worst morsels; like Mere Simon's son, who has not chosen the worst strawberries. But this year," continued the horticulturist, "I'll take care it shall not happen, even if I should be forced to sit by the whole night to watch when the strawberries are ripe." Monte Cristo had seen enough. Every man has a devouring passion in his heart, as every fruit has its worm; that of the telegraph man was horticulture. He began gathering the grape-leaves which screened the sun from the grapes, and won the heart of the gardener. "Did you come here, sir, to see the telegraph?" he said.
"Yes, if it isn't contrary to the rules."
"Oh, no," said the gardener; "not in the least, since there is no danger that anyone can possibly understand what we are saying."
"I have been told," said the count, "that you do not always yourselves understand the signals you repeat."
"That is true, sir, and that is what I like best," said the man, smiling.
"Why do you like that best?"
"Because then I have no responsibility. I am a machine then, and nothing else, and so long as I work, nothing more is required of me."
"Is it possible," said Monte Cristo to himself, "that I can have met with a man that has no ambition? That would spoil my plans."
"Sir," said the gardener, glancing at the sun-dial, "the ten minutes are almost up; I must return to my post. Will you go up with me?"
"I follow you." Monte Cristo entered the tower, which was divided into three stories. The tower contained implements, such as spades, rakes, watering-pots, hung against the wall; this was all the furniture. The second was the man's conventional abode, or rather sleeping-place; it contained a few poor articles of household furniture—a bed, a table, two chairs, a stone pitcher—and some dry herbs, hung up to the ceiling, which the count recognized as sweet pease, and of which the good man was preserving the seeds; he had labelled them with as much care as if he had been master botanist in the Jardin des Plantes.
"Does it require much study to learn the art of telegraphing?" asked Monte Cristo.
"The study does not take long; it was acting as a supernumerary that was so tedious."
"And what is the pay?"
"A thousand francs, sir."
"It is nothing."
"No; but then we are lodged, as you perceive."
Monte Cristo looked at the room. They passed to the third story; it was the telegraph room. Monte Cristo looked in turn at the two iron handles by which the machine was worked. "It is very interesting," he said, "but it must be very tedious for a lifetime."
"Yes. At first my neck was cramped with looking at it, but at the end of a year I became used to it; and then we have our hours of recreation, and our holidays."
"When we have a fog."
"Ah, to be sure."
"Those are indeed holidays to me; I go into the garden, I plant, I prune, I trim, I kill the insects all day long."
"How long have you been here?"
"Ten years, and five as a supernumerary make fifteen."
"Fifty-five years old."
"How long must you have served to claim the pension?"
"Oh, sir, twenty-five years."
"And how much is the pension?"
"A hundred crowns."
"Poor humanity!" murmured Monte Cristo.
"What did you say, sir?" asked the man.
"I was saying it was very interesting."
"All you were showing me. And you really understand none of these signals?"
"None at all."
"And have you never tried to understand them?"
"Never. Why should I?"
"But still there are some signals only addressed to you."
"And do you understand them?"
"They are always the same."
"And they mean—"
"Nothing new; You have an hour; or To-morrow."
"This is simple enough," said the count; "but look, is not your correspondent putting itself in motion?"
"Ah, yes; thank you, sir."
"And what is it saying—anything you understand?"
"Yes; it asks if I am ready."
"And you reply?"
"By the same sign, which, at the same time, tells my right-hand correspondent that I am ready, while it gives notice to my left-hand correspondent to prepare in his turn."
"It is very ingenious," said the count.
"You will see," said the man proudly; "in five minutes he will speak."
"I have, then, five minutes," said Monte Cristo to himself; "it is more time than I require. My dear sir, will you allow me to ask you a question?"
"What is it, sir?"
"You are fond of gardening?"
"And you would be pleased to have, instead of this terrace of twenty feet, an enclosure of two acres?"
"Sir, I should make a terrestrial paradise of it."
"You live badly on your thousand francs?"
"Badly enough; but yet I do live."
"Yes; but you have a wretchedly small garden."
"True, the garden is not large."
"And, then, such as it is, it is filled with dormice, who eat everything."
"Ah, they are my scourges."
"Tell me, should you have the misfortune to turn your head while your right-hand correspondent was telegraphing"—
"I should not see him."
"Then what would happen?"
"I could not repeat the signals."
"Not having repeated them, through negligence, I should be fined."
"A hundred francs."
"The tenth of your income—that would be fine work."
"Ah," said the man.
"Has it ever happened to you?" said Monte Cristo.
"Once, sir, when I was grafting a rose-tree."
"Well, suppose you were to alter a signal, and substitute another?"
"Ah, that is another case; I should be turned off, and lose my pension."
"Three hundred francs?"
"A hundred crowns, yes, sir; so you see that I am not likely to do any of these things."
"Not even for fifteen years' wages? Come, it is worth thinking about?"
"For fifteen thousand francs?"
"Sir, you alarm me."
"Sir, you are tempting me?"
"Just so; fifteen thousand francs, do you understand?"
"Sir, let me see my right-hand correspondent."
"On the contrary, do not look at him, but at this."
"What is it?"
"What? Do you not know these bits of paper?"
"Exactly; there are fifteen of them."
"And whose are they?"
"Yours, if you like."
"Mine?" exclaimed the man, half-suffocated.
"Yes; yours—your own property."
"Sir, my right-hand correspondent is signalling."
"Let him signal."
"Sir, you have distracted me; I shall be fined."
"That will cost you a hundred francs; you see it is your interest to take my bank-notes."
"Sir, my right-hand correspondent redoubles his signals; he is impatient."
"Never mind—take these;" and the count placed the packet in the man's hands. "Now this is not all," he said; "you cannot live upon your fifteen thousand francs."
"I shall still have my place."
"No, you will lose it, for you are going to alter your correspondent's message."
"Oh, sir, what are you proposing?"
"Sir, unless you force me"—
"I think I can effectually force you;" and Monte Cristo drew another packet from his pocket. "Here are ten thousand more francs," he said, "with the fifteen thousand already in your pocket, they will make twenty-five thousand. With five thousand you can buy a pretty little house with two acres of land; the remaining twenty thousand will bring you in a thousand francs a year."
"A garden with two acres of land!"
"And a thousand francs a year."
"Come, take them," and Monte Cristo forced the bank-notes into his hand.
"What am I to do?"
"Nothing very difficult."
"But what is it?"
"To repeat these signs." Monte Cristo took a paper from his pocket, upon which were drawn three signs, with numbers to indicate the order in which they were to be worked.
"There, you see it will not take long."
"Do this, and you will have nectarines and all the rest." The shot told; red with fever, while the large drops fell from his brow, the man executed, one after the other, the three signs given by the count, in spite of the frightful contortions of the right-hand correspondent, who, not understanding the change, began to think the gardener had gone mad. As to the left-hand one, he conscientiously repeated the same signals, which were finally transmitted to the Minister of the Interior. "Now you are rich," said Monte Cristo.
"Yes," replied the man, "but at what a price!"
"Listen, friend," said Monte Cristo. "I do not wish to cause you any remorse; believe me, then, when I swear to you that you have wronged no man, but on the contrary have benefited mankind." The man looked at the bank-notes, felt them, counted them, turned pale, then red, then rushed into his room to drink a glass of water, but he had no time to reach the water-jug, and fainted in the midst of his dried herbs. Five minutes after the new telegram reached the minister, Debray had the horses put to his carriage, and drove to Danglars' house.
"Has your husband any Spanish bonds?" he asked of the baroness.
"I think so, indeed! He has six millions' worth."
"He must sell them at whatever price."
"Because Don Carlos has fled from Bourges, and has returned to Spain."
"How do you know?" Debray shrugged his shoulders. "The idea of asking how I hear the news," he said. The baroness did not wait for a repetition; she ran to her husband, who immediately hastened to his agent, and ordered him to sell at any price. When it was seen that Danglars sold, the Spanish funds fell directly. Danglars lost five hundred thousand francs; but he rid himself of all his Spanish shares. The same evening the following was read in Le Messager:
"[By telegraph.] The king, Don Carlos, has escaped the vigilance of his guardians at Bourges, and has returned to Spain by the Catalonian frontier. Barcelona has risen in his favor."
All that evening nothing was spoken of but the foresight of Danglars, who had sold his shares, and of the luck of the stock-jobber, who only lost five hundred thousand francs by such a blow. Those who had kept their shares, or bought those of Danglars, looked upon themselves as ruined, and passed a very bad night. Next morning Le Moniteur contained the following:
"It was without any foundation that Le Messager yesterday announced the flight of Don Carlos and the revolt of Barcelona. The king (Don Carlos) has not left Bourges, and the peninsula is in the enjoyment of profound peace. A telegraphic signal, improperly interpreted, owing to the fog, was the cause of this error."
The funds rose one per cent higher than before they had fallen. This, reckoning his loss, and what he had missed gaining, made the difference of a million to Danglars. "Good," said Monte Cristo to Morrel, who was at his house when the news arrived of the strange reverse of fortune of which Danglars had been the victim, "I have just made a discovery for twenty-five thousand francs, for which I would have paid a hundred thousand."
"What have you discovered?" asked Morrel.
"I have just discovered how a gardener may get rid of the dormice that eat his peaches."
Chapter 62. Ghosts.
At first sight, the exterior of the house at Auteuil gave no indications of splendor, nothing one would expect from the destined residence of the magnificent Count of Monte Cristo; but this simplicity was according to the will of its master, who positively ordered nothing to be altered outside. The splendor was within. Indeed, almost before the door opened, the scene changed. M. Bertuccio had outdone himself in the taste displayed in furnishing, and in the rapidity with which it was executed. It is told that the Duc d'Antin removed in a single night a whole avenue of trees that annoyed Louis XIV.; in three days M. Bertuccio planted an entirely bare court with poplars, large spreading sycamores to shade the different parts of the house, and in the foreground, instead of the usual paving-stones, half hidden by the grass, there extended a lawn but that morning laid down, and upon which the water was yet glistening. For the rest, the orders had been issued by the count; he himself had given a plan to Bertuccio, marking the spot where each tree was to be planted, and the shape and extent of the lawn which was to take the place of the paving-stones. Thus the house had become unrecognizable, and Bertuccio himself declared that he scarcely knew it, encircled as it was by a framework of trees. The overseer would not have objected, while he was about it, to have made some improvements in the garden, but the count had positively forbidden it to be touched. Bertuccio made amends, however, by loading the ante-chambers, staircases, and mantle-pieces with flowers.
What, above all, manifested the shrewdness of the steward, and the profound science of the master, the one in carrying out the ideas of the other, was that this house which appeared only the night before so sad and gloomy, impregnated with that sickly smell one can almost fancy to be the smell of time, had in a single day acquired the aspect of life, was scented with its master's favorite perfumes, and had the very light regulated according to his wish. When the count arrived, he had under his touch his books and arms, his eyes rested upon his favorite pictures; his dogs, whose caresses he loved, welcomed him in the ante-chamber; the birds, whose songs delighted him, cheered him with their music; and the house, awakened from its long sleep, like the sleeping beauty in the wood, lived, sang, and bloomed like the houses we have long cherished, and in which, when we are forced to leave them, we leave a part of our souls. The servants passed gayly along the fine court-yard; some, belonging to the kitchens, gliding down the stairs, restored but the previous day, as if they had always inhabited the house; others filling the coach-houses, where the equipages, encased and numbered, appeared to have been installed for the last fifty years; and in the stables the horses replied with neighs to the grooms, who spoke to them with much more respect than many servants pay their masters.
The library was divided into two parts on either side of the wall, and contained upwards of two thousand volumes; one division was entirely devoted to novels, and even the volume which had been published but the day before was to be seen in its place in all the dignity of its red and gold binding. On the other side of the house, to match with the library, was the conservatory, ornamented with rare flowers, that bloomed in china jars; and in the midst of the greenhouse, marvellous alike to sight and smell, was a billiard-table which looked as if it had been abandoned during the past hour by players who had left the balls on the cloth. One chamber alone had been respected by the magnificent Bertuccio. Before this room, to which you could ascend by the grand, and go out by the back staircase, the servants passed with curiosity, and Bertuccio with terror. At five o'clock precisely, the count arrived before the house at Auteuil, followed by Ali. Bertuccio was awaiting this arrival with impatience, mingled with uneasiness; he hoped for some compliments, while, at the same time, he feared to have frowns. Monte Cristo descended into the courtyard, walked all over the house, without giving any sign of approbation or pleasure, until he entered his bedroom, situated on the opposite side to the closed room; then he approached a little piece of furniture, made of rosewood, which he had noticed at a previous visit. "That can only be to hold gloves," he said.
"Will your excellency deign to open it?" said the delighted Bertuccio, "and you will find gloves in it." Elsewhere the count found everything he required—smelling-bottles, cigars, knick-knacks.
"Good," he said; and M. Bertuccio left enraptured, so great, so powerful, and real was the influence exercised by this man over all who surrounded him. At precisely six o'clock the clatter of horses' hoofs was heard at the entrance door; it was our captain of Spahis, who had arrived on Medeah. "I am sure I am the first," cried Morrel; "I did it on purpose to have you a minute to myself, before every one came. Julie and Emmanuel have a thousand things to tell you. Ah, really this is magnificent! But tell me, count, will your people take care of my horse?"
"Do not alarm yourself, my dear Maximilian—they understand."
"I mean, because he wants petting. If you had seen at what a pace he came—like the wind!"
"I should think so,—a horse that cost 5,000 francs!" said Monte Cristo, in the tone which a father would use towards a son.
"Do you regret them?" asked Morrel, with his open laugh.
"I? Certainly not," replied the count. "No; I should only regret if the horse had not proved good."
"It is so good, that I have distanced M. de Chateau-Renaud, one of the best riders in France, and M. Debray, who both mount the minister's Arabians; and close on their heels are the horses of Madame Danglars, who always go at six leagues an hour."
"Then they follow you?" asked Monte Cristo.
"See, they are here." And at the same minute a carriage with smoking horses, accompanied by two mounted gentlemen, arrived at the gate, which opened before them. The carriage drove round, and stopped at the steps, followed by the horsemen. The instant Debray had touched the ground, he was at the carriage-door. He offered his hand to the baroness, who, descending, took it with a peculiarity of manner imperceptible to every one but Monte Cristo. But nothing escaped the count's notice, and he observed a little note, passed with the facility that indicates frequent practice, from the hand of Madame Danglars to that of the minister's secretary. After his wife the banker descended, as pale as though he had issued from his tomb instead of his carriage. Madame Danglars threw a rapid and inquiring glance which could only be interpreted by Monte Cristo, around the court-yard, over the peristyle, and across the front of the house, then, repressing a slight emotion, which must have been seen on her countenance if she had not kept her color, she ascended the steps, saying to Morrel, "Sir, if you were a friend of mine, I should ask you if you would sell your horse."
Morrel smiled with an expression very like a grimace, and then turned round to Monte Cristo, as if to ask him to extricate him from his embarrassment. The count understood him. "Ah, madame," he said, "why did you not make that request of me?"
"With you, sir," replied the baroness, "one can wish for nothing, one is so sure to obtain it. If it were so with M. Morrel"—
"Unfortunately," replied the count, "I am witness that M. Morrel cannot give up his horse, his honor being engaged in keeping it."
"He laid a wager he would tame Medeah in the space of six months. You understand now that if he were to get rid of the animal before the time named, he would not only lose his bet, but people would say he was afraid; and a brave captain of Spahis cannot risk this, even to gratify a pretty woman, which is, in my opinion, one of the most sacred obligations in the world."
"You see my position, madame," said Morrel, bestowing a grateful smile on Monte Cristo.
"It seems to me," said Danglars, in his coarse tone, ill-concealed by a forced smile, "that you have already got horses enough." Madame Danglars seldom allowed remarks of this kind to pass unnoticed, but, to the surprise of the young people, she pretended not to hear it, and said nothing. Monte Cristo smiled at her unusual humility, and showed her two immense porcelain jars, over which wound marine plants, of a size and delicacy that nature alone could produce. The baroness was astonished. "Why," said she, "you could plant one of the chestnut-trees in the Tuileries inside! How can such enormous jars have been manufactured?"
"Ah, madame," replied Monte Cristo, "you must not ask of us, the manufacturers of fine porcelain, such a question. It is the work of another age, constructed by the genii of earth and water."
"How so?—at what period can that have been?"
"I do not know; I have only heard that an emperor of China had an oven built expressly, and that in this oven twelve jars like this were successively baked. Two broke, from the heat of the fire; the other ten were sunk three hundred fathoms deep into the sea. The sea, knowing what was required of her, threw over them her weeds, encircled them with coral, and encrusted them with shells; the whole was cemented by two hundred years beneath these almost impervious depths, for a revolution carried away the emperor who wished to make the trial, and only left the documents proving the manufacture of the jars and their descent into the sea. At the end of two hundred years the documents were found, and they thought of bringing up the jars. Divers descended in machines, made expressly on the discovery, into the bay where they were thrown; but of ten three only remained, the rest having been broken by the waves. I am fond of these jars, upon which, perhaps, misshapen, frightful monsters have fixed their cold, dull eyes, and in which myriads of small fish have slept, seeking a refuge from the pursuit of their enemies." Meanwhile, Danglars, who had cared little for curiosities, was mechanically tearing off the blossoms of a splendid orange-tree, one after another. When he had finished with the orange-tree, he began at the cactus; but this, not being so easily plucked as the orange-tree, pricked him dreadfully. He shuddered, and rubbed his eyes as though awaking from a dream.
"Sir," said Monte Cristo to him, "I do not recommend my pictures to you, who possess such splendid paintings; but, nevertheless, here are two by Hobbema, a Paul Potter, a Mieris, two by Gerard Douw, a Raphael, a Vandyke, a Zurbaran, and two or three by Murillo, worth looking at."
"Stay," said Debray; "I recognize this Hobbema."
"Yes; it was proposed for the Museum."
"Which, I believe, does not contain one?" said Monte Cristo.
"No; and yet they refused to buy it."
"Why?" said Chateau-Renaud.
"You pretend not to know,—because government was not rich enough."
"Ah, pardon me," said Chateau-Renaud; "I have heard of these things every day during the last eight years, and I cannot understand them yet."
"You will, by and by," said Debray.
"I think not," replied Chateau-Renaud.
"Major Bartolomeo Cavalcanti and Count Andrea Cavalcanti," announced Baptistin. A black satin stock, fresh from the maker's hands, gray moustaches, a bold eye, a major's uniform, ornamented with three medals and five crosses—in fact, the thorough bearing of an old soldier—such was the appearance of Major Bartolomeo Cavalcanti, that tender father with whom we are already acquainted. Close to him, dressed in entirely new clothes, advanced smilingly Count Andrea Cavalcanti, the dutiful son, whom we also know. The three young people were talking together. On the entrance of the new-comers, their eyes glanced from father to son, and then, naturally enough, rested on the latter, whom they began criticising. "Cavalcanti!" said Debray. "A fine name," said Morrel.
"Yes," said Chateau-Renaud, "these Italians are well named and badly dressed."
"You are fastidious, Chateau-Renaud," replied Debray; "those clothes are well cut and quite new."
"That is just what I find fault with. That gentleman appears to be well dressed for the first time in his life."
"Who are those gentlemen?" asked Danglars of Monte Cristo.
"That tells me their name, and nothing else."
"Ah, true. You do not know the Italian nobility; the Cavalcanti are all descended from princes."
"Have they any fortune?"
"An enormous one."
"What do they do?"
"Try to spend it all. They have some business with you, I think, from what they told me the day before yesterday. I, indeed, invited them here to-day on your account. I will introduce you to them."
"But they appear to speak French with a very pure accent," said Danglars.
"The son has been educated in a college in the south; I believe near Marseilles. You will find him quite enthusiastic."
"Upon what subject?" asked Madame Danglars.
"The French ladies, madame. He has made up his mind to take a wife from Paris."
"A fine idea that of his," said Danglars, shrugging his shoulders. Madame Danglars looked at her husband with an expression which, at any other time, would have indicated a storm, but for the second time she controlled herself. "The baron appears thoughtful to-day," said Monte Cristo to her; "are they going to put him in the ministry?"
"Not yet, I think. More likely he has been speculating on the Bourse, and has lost money."
"M. and Madame de Villefort," cried Baptistin. They entered. M. de Villefort, notwithstanding his self-control, was visibly affected, and when Monte Cristo touched his hand, he felt it tremble. "Certainly, women alone know how to dissimulate," said Monte Cristo to himself, glancing at Madame Danglars, who was smiling on the procureur, and embracing his wife. After a short time, the count saw Bertuccio, who, until then, had been occupied on the other side of the house, glide into an adjoining room. He went to him. "What do you want, M. Bertuccio?" said he.
"Your excellency has not stated the number of guests."
"How many covers?"
"Count for yourself."
"Is every one here, your excellency?"
Bertuccio glanced through the door, which was ajar. The count watched him. "Good heavens!" he exclaimed.
"What is the matter?" said the count.
"That woman—that woman!"
"The one with a white dress and so many diamonds—the fair one."
"I do not know her name; but it is she, sir, it is she!"
"Whom do you mean?"
"The woman of the garden!—she that was enciente—she who was walking while she waited for"—Bertuccio stood at the open door, with his eyes starting and his hair on end.
"Waiting for whom?" Bertuccio, without answering, pointed to Villefort with something of the gesture Macbeth uses to point out Banquo. "Oh, oh," he at length muttered, "do you see?"
"Him!—M. de Villefort, the king's attorney? Certainly I see him."
"Then I did not kill him?"
"Really, I think you are going mad, good Bertuccio," said the count.
"Then he is not dead?"
"No; you see plainly he is not dead. Instead of striking between the sixth and seventh left ribs, as your countrymen do, you must have struck higher or lower, and life is very tenacious in these lawyers, or rather there is no truth in anything you have told me—it was a fright of the imagination, a dream of your fancy. You went to sleep full of thoughts of vengeance; they weighed heavily upon your stomach; you had the nightmare—that's all. Come, calm yourself, and reckon them up—M. and Madame de Villefort, two; M. and Madame Danglars, four; M. de Chateau-Renaud, M. Debray, M. Morrel, seven; Major Bartolomeo Cavalcanti, eight."
"Eight!" repeated Bertuccio.
"Stop! You are in a shocking hurry to be off—you forget one of my guests. Lean a little to the left. Stay! look at M. Andrea Cavalcanti, the young man in a black coat, looking at Murillo's Madonna; now he is turning." This time Bertuccio would have uttered an exclamation, had not a look from Monte Cristo silenced him. "Benedetto?" he muttered; "fatality!"
"Half-past six o'clock has just struck, M. Bertuccio," said the count severely; "I ordered dinner at that hour, and I do not like to wait;" and he returned to his guests, while Bertuccio, leaning against the wall, succeeded in reaching the dining-room. Five minutes afterwards the doors of the drawing-room were thrown open, and Bertuccio appearing said, with a violent effort, "The dinner waits."
The Count of Monte Cristo offered his arm to Madame de Villefort. "M. de Villefort," he said, "will you conduct the Baroness Danglars?"
Villefort complied, and they passed on to the dining-room.
Chapter 63. The Dinner.
It was evident that one sentiment affected all the guests on entering the dining-room. Each one asked what strange influence had brought them to this house, and yet astonished, even uneasy though they were, they still felt that they would not like to be absent. The recent events, the solitary and eccentric position of the count, his enormous, nay, almost incredible fortune, should have made men cautious, and have altogether prevented ladies visiting a house where there was no one of their own sex to receive them; and yet curiosity had been enough to lead them to overleap the bounds of prudence and decorum. And all present, even including Cavalcanti and his son, notwithstanding the stiffness of the one and the carelessness of the other, were thoughtful, on finding themselves assembled at the house of this incomprehensible man. Madame Danglars had started when Villefort, on the count's invitation, offered his arm; and Villefort felt that his glance was uneasy beneath his gold spectacles, when he felt the arm of the baroness press upon his own. None of this had escaped the count, and even by this mere contact of individuals the scene had already acquired considerable interest for an observer. M. de Villefort had on the right hand Madame Danglars, on his left Morrel. The count was seated between Madame de Villefort and Danglars; the other seats were filled by Debray, who was placed between the two Cavalcanti, and by Chateau-Renaud, seated between Madame de Villefort and Morrel.
The repast was magnificent; Monte Cristo had endeavored completely to overturn the Parisian ideas, and to feed the curiosity as much as the appetite of his guests. It was an Oriental feast that he offered to them, but of such a kind as the Arabian fairies might be supposed to prepare. Every delicious fruit that the four quarters of the globe could provide was heaped in vases from China and jars from Japan. Rare birds, retaining their most brilliant plumage, enormous fish, spread upon massive silver dishes, together with every wine produced in the Archipelago, Asia Minor, or the Cape, sparkling in bottles, whose grotesque shape seemed to give an additional flavor to the draught,—all these, like one of the displays with which Apicius of old gratified his guests, passed in review before the eyes of the astonished Parisians, who understood that it was possible to expend a thousand louis upon a dinner for ten persons, but only on the condition of eating pearls, like Cleopatra, or drinking refined gold, like Lorenzo de' Medici.
Monte Cristo noticed the general astonishment, and began laughing and joking about it. "Gentlemen," he said, "you will admit that, when arrived at a certain degree of fortune, the superfluities of life are all that can be desired; and the ladies will allow that, after having risen to a certain eminence of position, the ideal alone can be more exalted. Now, to follow out this reasoning, what is the marvellous?—that which we do not understand. What is it that we really desire?—that which we cannot obtain. Now, to see things which I cannot understand, to procure impossibilities, these are the study of my life. I gratify my wishes by two means—my will and my money. I take as much interest in the pursuit of some whim as you do, M. Danglars, in promoting a new railway line; you, M. de Villefort, in condemning a culprit to death; you, M. Debray, in pacifying a kingdom; you, M. de Chateau-Renaud, in pleasing a woman; and you, Morrel, in breaking a horse that no one can ride. For example, you see these two fish; one brought from fifty leagues beyond St. Petersburg, the other five leagues from Naples. Is it not amusing to see them both on the same table?"
"What are the two fish?" asked Danglars.
"M. Chateau-Renaud, who has lived in Russia, will tell you the name of one, and Major Cavalcanti, who is an Italian, will tell you the name of the other."
"This one is, I think, a sterlet," said Chateau-Renaud.
"And that one, if I mistake not, a lamprey."
"Just so. Now, M. Danglars, ask these gentlemen where they are caught."
"Sterlets," said Chateau-Renaud, "are only found in the Volga."
"And," said Cavalcanti, "I know that Lake Fusaro alone supplies lampreys of that size."
"Exactly; one comes from the Volga, and the other from Lake Fusaro."
"Impossible!" cried all the guests simultaneously.
"Well, this is just what amuses me," said Monte Cristo. "I am like Nero—cupitor impossibilium; and that is what is amusing you at this moment. This fish, which seems so exquisite to you, is very likely no better than perch or salmon; but it seemed impossible to procure it, and here it is."
"But how could you have these fish brought to France?"
"Oh, nothing more easy. Each fish was brought over in a cask—one filled with river herbs and weeds, the other with rushes and lake plants; they were placed in a wagon built on purpose, and thus the sterlet lived twelve days, the lamprey eight, and both were alive when my cook seized them, killing one with milk and the other with wine. You do not believe me, M. Danglars!"
"I cannot help doubting," answered Danglars with his stupid smile.
"Baptistin," said the count, "have the other fish brought in—the sterlet and the lamprey which came in the other casks, and which are yet alive." Danglars opened his bewildered eyes; the company clapped their hands. Four servants carried in two casks covered with aquatic plants, and in each of which was breathing a fish similar to those on the table.
"But why have two of each sort?" asked Danglars.
"Merely because one might have died," carelessly answered Monte Cristo.
"You are certainly an extraordinary man," said Danglars; "and philosophers may well say it is a fine thing to be rich."
"And to have ideas," added Madame Danglars.
"Oh, do not give me credit for this, madame; it was done by the Romans, who much esteemed them, and Pliny relates that they sent slaves from Ostia to Rome, who carried on their heads fish which he calls the mulus, and which, from the description, must probably be the goldfish. It was also considered a luxury to have them alive, it being an amusing sight to see them die, for, when dying, they change color three or four times, and like the rainbow when it disappears, pass through all the prismatic shades, after which they were sent to the kitchen. Their agony formed part of their merit—if they were not seen alive, they were despised when dead."
"Yes," said Debray, "but then Ostia is only a few leagues from Rome."
"True," said Monte Cristo; "but what would be the use of living eighteen hundred years after Lucullus, if we can do no better than he could?" The two Cavalcanti opened their enormous eyes, but had the good sense not to say anything. "All this is very extraordinary," said Chateau-Renaud; "still, what I admire the most, I confess, is the marvellous promptitude with which your orders are executed. Is it not true that you only bought this house five or six days ago?"
"Certainly not longer."
"Well, I am sure it is quite transformed since last week. If I remember rightly, it had another entrance, and the court-yard was paved and empty; while to-day we have a splendid lawn, bordered by trees which appear to be a hundred years old."
"Why not? I am fond of grass and shade," said Monte Cristo.
"Yes," said Madame de Villefort, "the door was towards the road before, and on the day of my miraculous escape you brought me into the house from the road, I remember."
"Yes, madame," said Monte Cristo; "but I preferred having an entrance which would allow me to see the Bois de Boulogne over my gate."
"In four days," said Morrel; "it is extraordinary!"
"Indeed," said Chateau-Renaud, "it seems quite miraculous to make a new house out of an old one; for it was very old, and dull too. I recollect coming for my mother to look at it when M. de Saint-Meran advertised it for sale two or three years ago."
"M. de Saint-Meran?" said Madame de Villefort; "then this house belonged to M. de Saint-Meran before you bought it?"
"It appears so," replied Monte Cristo.
"Is it possible that you do not know of whom you purchased it?"
"Quite so; my steward transacts all this business for me."
"It is certainly ten years since the house had been occupied," said Chateau-Renaud, "and it was quite melancholy to look at it, with the blinds closed, the doors locked, and the weeds in the court. Really, if the house had not belonged to the father-in-law of the procureur, one might have thought it some accursed place where a horrible crime had been committed." Villefort, who had hitherto not tasted the three or four glasses of rare wine which were placed before him, here took one, and drank it off. Monte Cristo allowed a short time to elapse, and then said, "It is singular, baron, but the same idea came across me the first time I came here; it looked so gloomy I should never have bought it if my steward had not taken the matter into his own hands. Perhaps the fellow had been bribed by the notary."
"It is probable," stammered out Villefort, trying to smile; "but I can assure you that I had nothing to do with any such proceeding. This house is part of Valentine's marriage-portion, and M. de Saint-Meran wished to sell it; for if it had remained another year or two uninhabited it would have fallen to ruin." It was Morrel's turn to become pale.
"There was, above all, one room," continued Monte Cristo, "very plain in appearance, hung with red damask, which, I know not why, appeared to me quite dramatic."
"Why so?" said Danglars; "why dramatic?"
"Can we account for instinct?" said Monte Cristo. "Are there not some places where we seem to breathe sadness?—why, we cannot tell. It is a chain of recollections—an idea which carries you back to other times, to other places—which, very likely, have no connection with the present time and place. And there is something in this room which reminds me forcibly of the chamber of the Marquise de Ganges [*] or Desdemona. Stay, since we have finished dinner, I will show it to you, and then we will take coffee in the garden. After dinner, the play." Monte Cristo looked inquiringly at his guests. Madame de Villefort rose, Monte Cristo did the same, and the rest followed their example. Villefort and Madame Danglars remained for a moment, as if rooted to their seats; they questioned each other with vague and stupid glances. "Did you hear?" said Madame Danglars.
* Elisabeth de Rossan, Marquise de Ganges, was one of the famous women of the court of Louis XIV. where she was known as "La Belle Provencale." She was the widow of the Marquise de Castellane when she married de Ganges, and having the misfortune to excite the enmity of her new brothers-in-law, was forced by them to take poison; and they finished her off with pistol and dagger.—Ed.
"We must go," replied Villefort, offering his arm. The others, attracted by curiosity, were already scattered in different parts of the house; for they thought the visit would not be limited to the one room, and that, at the same time, they would obtain a view of the rest of the building, of which Monte Cristo had created a palace. Each one went out by the open doors. Monte Cristo waited for the two who remained; then, when they had passed, he brought up the rear, and on his face was a smile, which, if they could have understood it, would have alarmed them much more than a visit to the room they were about to enter. They began by walking through the apartments, many of which were fitted up in the Eastern style, with cushions and divans instead of beds, and pipes instead of furniture. The drawing-rooms were decorated with the rarest pictures by the old masters, the boudoirs hung with draperies from China, of fanciful colors, fantastic design, and wonderful texture. At length they arrived at the famous room. There was nothing particular about it, excepting that, although daylight had disappeared, it was not lighted, and everything in it was old-fashioned, while the rest of the rooms had been redecorated. These two causes were enough to give it a gloomy aspect. "Oh." cried Madame de Villefort, "it is really frightful." Madame Danglars tried to utter a few words, but was not heard. Many observations were made, the import of which was a unanimous opinion that there was something sinister about the room. "Is it not so?" asked Monte Cristo. "Look at that large clumsy bed, hung with such gloomy, blood-colored drapery! And those two crayon portraits, that have faded from the dampness; do they not seem to say, with their pale lips and staring eyes, 'We have seen'?" Villefort became livid; Madame Danglars fell into a long seat placed near the chimney. "Oh," said Madame de Villefort, smiling, "are you courageous enough to sit down upon the very seat perhaps upon which the crime was committed?" Madame Danglars rose suddenly.
"And then," said Monte Cristo, "this is not all."
"What is there more?" said Debray, who had not failed to notice the agitation of Madame Danglars.
"Ah, what else is there?" said Danglars; "for, at present, I cannot say that I have seen anything extraordinary. What do you say, M. Cavalcanti?"
"Ah," said he, "we have at Pisa, Ugolino's tower; at Ferrara, Tasso's prison; at Rimini, the room of Francesca and Paolo."
"Yes, but you have not this little staircase," said Monte Cristo, opening a door concealed by the drapery. "Look at it, and tell me what you think of it."
"What a wicked-looking, crooked staircase," said Chateau-Renaud with a smile.
"I do not know whether the wine of Chios produces melancholy, but certainly everything appears to me black in this house," said Debray.
Ever since Valentine's dowry had been mentioned, Morrel had been silent and sad. "Can you imagine," said Monte Cristo, "some Othello or Abbe de Ganges, one stormy, dark night, descending these stairs step by step, carrying a load, which he wishes to hide from the sight of man, if not from God?" Madame Danglars half fainted on the arm of Villefort, who was obliged to support himself against the wall. "Ah, madame," cried Debray, "what is the matter with you? how pale you look!"
"It is very evident what is the matter with her," said Madame de Villefort; "M. de Monte Cristo is relating horrible stories to us, doubtless intending to frighten us to death."
"Yes," said Villefort, "really, count, you frighten the ladies."
"What is the matter?" asked Debray, in a whisper, of Madame Danglars.
"Nothing," she replied with a violent effort. "I want air, that is all."
"Will you come into the garden?" said Debray, advancing towards the back staircase.
"No, no," she answered, "I would rather remain here."
"Are you really frightened, madame?" said Monte Cristo.
"Oh, no, sir," said Madame Danglars; "but you suppose scenes in a manner which gives them the appearance of reality."
"Ah, yes," said Monte Cristo smiling; "it is all a matter of imagination. Why should we not imagine this the apartment of an honest mother? And this bed with red hangings, a bed visited by the goddess Lucina? And that mysterious staircase, the passage through which, not to disturb their sleep, the doctor and nurse pass, or even the father carrying the sleeping child?" Here Madame Danglars, instead of being calmed by the soft picture, uttered a groan and fainted. "Madame Danglars is ill," said Villefort; "it would be better to take her to her carriage."
"Oh, mon Dieu," said Monte Cristo, "and I have forgotten my smelling-bottle!"
"I have mine," said Madame de Villefort; and she passed over to Monte Cristo a bottle full of the same kind of red liquid whose good properties the count had tested on Edward.
"Ah," said Monte Cristo, taking it from her hand.
"Yes," she said, "at your advice I have made the trial."
"And have you succeeded?"
"I think so."
Madame Danglars was carried into the adjoining room; Monte Cristo dropped a very small portion of the red liquid upon her lips; she returned to consciousness. "Ah," she cried, "what a frightful dream!"
Villefort pressed her hand to let her know it was not a dream. They looked for M. Danglars, but, as he was not especially interested in poetical ideas, he had gone into the garden, and was talking with Major Cavalcanti on the projected railway from Leghorn to Florence. Monte Cristo seemed in despair. He took the arm of Madame Danglars, and conducted her into the garden, where they found Danglars taking coffee between the Cavalcanti. "Really, madame," he said, "did I alarm you much?"
"Oh, no, sir," she answered; "but you know, things impress us differently, according to the mood of our minds." Villefort forced a laugh. "And then, you know," he said, "an idea, a supposition, is sufficient."
"Well," said Monte Cristo, "you may believe me if you like, but it is my opinion that a crime has been committed in this house."
"Take care," said Madame de Villefort, "the king's attorney is here."
"Ah," replied Monte Cristo, "since that is the case, I will take advantage of his presence to make my declaration."
"Your declaration?" said Villefort.
"Yes, before witnesses."
"Oh, this is very interesting," said Debray; "if there really has been a crime, we will investigate it."
"There has been a crime," said Monte Cristo. "Come this way, gentlemen; come, M. Villefort, for a declaration to be available, should be made before the competent authorities." He then took Villefort's arm, and, at the same time, holding that of Madame Danglars under his own, he dragged the procureur to the plantain-tree, where the shade was thickest. All the other guests followed. "Stay," said Monte Cristo, "here, in this very spot" (and he stamped upon the ground), "I had the earth dug up and fresh mould put in, to refresh these old trees; well, my man, digging, found a box, or rather, the iron-work of a box, in the midst of which was the skeleton of a newly born infant." Monte Cristo felt the arm of Madame Danglars stiffen, while that of Villefort trembled. "A newly born infant," repeated Debray; "this affair becomes serious!"
"Well," said Chateau-Renaud, "I was not wrong just now then, when I said that houses had souls and faces like men, and that their exteriors carried the impress of their characters. This house was gloomy because it was remorseful: it was remorseful because it concealed a crime."
"Who said it was a crime?" asked Villefort, with a last effort.
"How? is it not a crime to bury a living child in a garden?" cried Monte Cristo. "And pray what do you call such an action?"
"But who said it was buried alive?"
"Why bury it there if it were dead? This garden has never been a cemetery."
"What is done to infanticides in this country?" asked Major Cavalcanti innocently.
"Oh, their heads are soon cut off," said Danglars.
"Ah, indeed?" said Cavalcanti.
"I think so; am I not right, M. de Villefort?" asked Monte Cristo.
"Yes, count," replied Villefort, in a voice now scarcely human.
Monte Cristo, seeing that the two persons for whom he had prepared this scene could scarcely endure it, and not wishing to carry it too far, said, "Come, gentlemen,—some coffee, we seem to have forgotten it," and he conducted the guests back to the table on the lawn.
"Indeed, count," said Madame Danglars, "I am ashamed to own it, but all your frightful stories have so upset me, that I must beg you to let me sit down;" and she fell into a chair. Monte Cristo bowed, and went to Madame de Villefort. "I think Madame Danglars again requires your bottle," he said. But before Madame de Villefort could reach her friend the procureur had found time to whisper to Madame Danglars, "I must speak to you."
"In my office, or in the court, if you like,—that is the surest place."
"I will be there."—At this moment Madame de Villefort approached. "Thanks, my dear friend," said Madame Danglars, trying to smile; "it is over now, and I am much better."
Chapter 64. The Beggar.
The evening passed on; Madame de Villefort expressed a desire to return to Paris, which Madame Danglars had not dared to do, notwithstanding the uneasiness she experienced. On his wife's request, M. de Villefort was the first to give the signal of departure. He offered a seat in his landau to Madame Danglars, that she might be under the care of his wife. As for M. Danglars, absorbed in an interesting conversation with M. Cavalcanti, he paid no attention to anything that was passing. While Monte Cristo had begged the smelling-bottle of Madame de Villefort, he had noticed the approach of Villefort to Madame Danglars, and he soon guessed all that had passed between them, though the words had been uttered in so low a voice as hardly to be heard by Madame Danglars. Without opposing their arrangements, he allowed Morrel, Chateau-Renaud, and Debray to leave on horseback, and the ladies in M. de Villefort's carriage. Danglars, more and more delighted with Major Cavalcanti, had offered him a seat in his carriage. Andrea Cavalcanti found his tilbury waiting at the door; the groom, in every respect a caricature of the English fashion, was standing on tiptoe to hold a large iron-gray horse.
Andrea had spoken very little during dinner; he was an intelligent lad, and he feared to utter some absurdity before so many grand people, amongst whom, with dilating eyes, he saw the king's attorney. Then he had been seized upon by Danglars, who, with a rapid glance at the stiff-necked old major and his modest son, and taking into consideration the hospitality of the count, made up his mind that he was in the society of some nabob come to Paris to finish the worldly education of his heir. He contemplated with unspeakable delight the large diamond which shone on the major's little finger; for the major, like a prudent man, in case of any accident happening to his bank-notes, had immediately converted them into an available asset. Then, after dinner, on the pretext of business, he questioned the father and son upon their mode of living; and the father and son, previously informed that it was through Danglars the one was to receive his 48,000 francs and the other 50,000 livres annually, were so full of affability that they would have shaken hands even with the banker's servants, so much did their gratitude need an object to expend itself upon. One thing above all the rest heightened the respect, nay almost the veneration, of Danglars for Cavalcanti. The latter, faithful to the principle of Horace, nil admirari, had contented himself with showing his knowledge by declaring in what lake the best lampreys were caught. Then he had eaten some without saying a word more; Danglars, therefore, concluded that such luxuries were common at the table of the illustrious descendant of the Cavalcanti, who most likely in Lucca fed upon trout brought from Switzerland, and lobsters sent from England, by the same means used by the count to bring the lampreys from Lake Fusaro, and the sterlet from the Volga. Thus it was with much politeness of manner that he heard Cavalcanti pronounce these words, "To-morrow, sir, I shall have the honor of waiting upon you on business."
"And I, sir," said Danglars, "shall be most happy to receive you." Upon which he offered to take Cavalcanti in his carriage to the Hotel des Princes, if it would not be depriving him of the company of his son. To this Cavalcanti replied by saying that for some time past his son had lived independently of him, that he had his own horses and carriages, and that not having come together, it would not be difficult for them to leave separately. The major seated himself, therefore, by the side of Danglars, who was more and more charmed with the ideas of order and economy which ruled this man, and yet who, being able to allow his son 60,000 francs a year, might be supposed to possess a fortune of 500,000 or 600,000 livres.
As for Andrea, he began, by way of showing off, to scold his groom, who, instead of bringing the tilbury to the steps of the house, had taken it to the outer door, thus giving him the trouble of walking thirty steps to reach it. The groom heard him with humility, took the bit of the impatient animal with his left hand, and with the right held out the reins to Andrea, who, taking them from him, rested his polished boot lightly on the step. At that moment a hand touched his shoulder. The young man turned round, thinking that Danglars or Monte Cristo had forgotten something they wished to tell him, and had returned just as they were starting. But instead of either of these, he saw nothing but a strange face, sunburnt, and encircled by a beard, with eyes brilliant as carbuncles, and a smile upon the mouth which displayed a perfect set of white teeth, pointed and sharp as the wolf's or jackal's. A red handkerchief encircled his gray head; torn and filthy garments covered his large bony limbs, which seemed as though, like those of a skeleton, they would rattle as he walked; and the hand with which he leaned upon the young man's shoulder, and which was the first thing Andrea saw, seemed of gigantic size. Did the young man recognize that face by the light of the lantern in his tilbury, or was he merely struck with the horrible appearance of his interrogator? We cannot say; but only relate the fact that he shuddered and stepped back suddenly. "What do you want of me?" he asked.
"Pardon me, my friend, if I disturb you," said the man with the red handkerchief, "but I want to speak to you."
"You have no right to beg at night," said the groom, endeavoring to rid his master of the troublesome intruder.
"I am not begging, my fine fellow," said the unknown to the servant, with so ironical an expression of the eye, and so frightful a smile, that he withdrew; "I only wish to say two or three words to your master, who gave me a commission to execute about a fortnight ago."
"Come," said Andrea, with sufficient nerve for his servant not to perceive his agitation, "what do you want? Speak quickly, friend."
The man said, in a low voice: "I wish—I wish you to spare me the walk back to Paris. I am very tired, and as I have not eaten so good a dinner as you, I can scarcely stand." The young man shuddered at this strange familiarity. "Tell me," he said—"tell me what you want?"
"Well, then, I want you to take me up in your fine carriage, and carry me back." Andrea turned pale, but said nothing.
"Yes," said the man, thrusting his hands into his pockets, and looking impudently at the youth; "I have taken the whim into my head; do you understand, Master Benedetto?"
At this name, no doubt, the young man reflected a little, for he went towards his groom, saying, "This man is right; I did indeed charge him with a commission, the result of which he must tell me; walk to the barrier, there take a cab, that you may not be too late." The surprised groom retired. "Let me at least reach a shady spot," said Andrea.
"Oh, as for that, I'll take you to a splendid place," said the man with the handkerchief; and taking the horse's bit he led the tilbury where it was certainly impossible for any one to witness the honor that Andrea conferred upon him.
"Don't think I want the glory of riding in your fine carriage," said he; "oh, no, it's only because I am tired, and also because I have a little business to talk over with you."
"Come, step in," said the young man. It was a pity this scene had not occurred in daylight, for it was curious to see this rascal throwing himself heavily down on the cushion beside the young and elegant driver of the tilbury. Andrea drove past the last house in the village without saying a word to his companion, who smiled complacently, as though well-pleased to find himself travelling in so comfortable a vehicle. Once out of Auteuil, Andrea looked around, in order to assure himself that he could neither be seen nor heard, and then, stopping the horse and crossing his arms before the man, he asked,—"Now, tell me why you come to disturb my tranquillity?"
"Let me ask you why you deceived me?"
"How have I deceived you?"
"'How,' do you ask? When we parted at the Pont du Var, you told me you were going to travel through Piedmont and Tuscany; but instead of that, you come to Paris."
"How does that annoy you?"
"It does not; on the contrary, I think it will answer my purpose."
"So," said Andrea, "you are speculating upon me?"
"What fine words he uses!"
"I warn you, Master Caderousse, that you are mistaken."
"Well, well, don't be angry, my boy; you know well enough what it is to be unfortunate; and misfortunes make us jealous. I thought you were earning a living in Tuscany or Piedmont by acting as facchino or cicerone, and I pitied you sincerely, as I would a child of my own. You know I always did call you my child."
"Come, come, what then?"
"I am patient, but go on."
"All at once I see you pass through the barrier with a groom, a tilbury, and fine new clothes. You must have discovered a mine, or else become a stockbroker."
"So that, as you confess, you are jealous?"
"No, I am pleased—so pleased that I wished to congratulate you; but as I am not quite properly dressed, I chose my opportunity, that I might not compromise you."
"Yes, and a fine opportunity you have chosen!" exclaimed Andrea; "you speak to me before my servant."
"How can I help that, my boy? I speak to you when I can catch you. You have a quick horse, a light tilbury, you are naturally as slippery as an eel; if I had missed you to-night, I might not have had another chance."
"You see, I do not conceal myself."
"You are lucky; I wish I could say as much, for I do conceal myself; and then I was afraid you would not recognize me, but you did," added Caderousse with his unpleasant smile. "It was very polite of you."
"Come," said Andrea, "what do you want?"
"You do not speak affectionately to me, Benedetto, my old friend, that is not right—take care, or I may become troublesome." This menace smothered the young man's passion. He urged the horse again into a trot. "You should not speak so to an old friend like me, Caderousse, as you said just now; you are a native of Marseilles, I am"—
"Do you know then now what you are?"
"No, but I was brought up in Corsica; you are old and obstinate, I am young and wilful. Between people like us threats are out of place, everything should be amicably arranged. Is it my fault if fortune, which has frowned on you, has been kind to me?"
"Fortune has been kind to you, then? Your tilbury, your groom, your clothes, are not then hired? Good, so much the better," said Caderousse, his eyes sparkling with avarice.
"Oh, you knew that well enough before speaking to me," said Andrea, becoming more and more excited. "If I had been wearing a handkerchief like yours on my head, rags on my back, and worn-out shoes on my feet, you would not have known me."
"You wrong me, my boy; now I have found you, nothing prevents my being as well-dressed as any one, knowing, as I do, the goodness of your heart. If you have two coats you will give me one of them. I used to divide my soup and beans with you when you were hungry."
"True," said Andrea.
"What an appetite you used to have! Is it as good now?"
"Oh, yes," replied Andrea, laughing.
"How did you come to be dining with that prince whose house you have just left?"
"He is not a prince; simply a count."
"A count, and a rich one too, eh?"
"Yes; but you had better not have anything to say to him, for he is not a very good-tempered gentleman."
"Oh, be easy! I have no design upon your count, and you shall have him all to yourself. But," said Caderousse, again smiling with the disagreeable expression he had before assumed, "you must pay for it—you understand?"
"Well, what do you want?"
"I think that with a hundred francs a month"—
"I could live"—
"Upon a hundred francs!"
"Come—you understand me; but that with"—
"With a hundred and fifty francs I should be quite happy."
"Here are two hundred," said Andrea; and he placed ten gold louis in the hand of Caderousse.
"Good!" said Caderousse.
"Apply to the steward on the first day of every month, and you will receive the same sum."
"There now, again you degrade me."
"By making me apply to the servants, when I want to transact business with you alone."
"Well, be it so, then. Take it from me then, and so long at least as I receive my income, you shall be paid yours."
"Come, come; I always said you were a fine fellow, and it is a blessing when good fortune happens to such as you. But tell me all about it?"
"Why do you wish to know?" asked Cavalcanti.
"What? do you again defy me?"
"No; the fact is, I have found my father."
"What? a real father?"
"Yes, so long as he pays me"—
"You'll honor and believe him—that's right. What is his name?"
"Is he pleased with you?"
"So far I have appeared to answer his purpose."
"And who found this father for you?"
"The Count of Monte Cristo."
"The man whose house you have just left?"
"I wish you would try and find me a situation with him as grandfather, since he holds the money-chest!"
"Well, I will mention you to him. Meanwhile, what are you going to do?"
"It is very kind of you to trouble yourself about me."
"Since you interest yourself in my affairs, I think it is now my turn to ask you some questions."
"Ah, true. Well; I shall rent a room in some respectable house, wear a decent coat, shave every day, and go and read the papers in a cafe. Then, in the evening, I shall go to the theatre; I shall look like some retired baker. That is what I want."
"Come, if you will only put this scheme into execution, and be steady, nothing could be better."
"Do you think so, M. Bossuet? And you—what will you become? A peer of France?"
"Ah," said Andrea, "who knows?"
"Major Cavalcanti is already one, perhaps; but then, hereditary rank is abolished."
"No politics, Caderousse. And now that you have all you want, and that we understand each other, jump down from the tilbury and disappear."
"Not at all, my good friend."
"How? Not at all?"
"Why, just think for a moment; with this red handkerchief on my head, with scarcely any shoes, no papers, and ten gold napoleons in my pocket, without reckoning what was there before—making in all about two hundred francs,—why, I should certainly be arrested at the barriers. Then, to justify myself, I should say that you gave me the money; this would cause inquiries, it would be found that I left Toulon without giving due notice, and I should then be escorted back to the shores of the Mediterranean. Then I should become simply No. 106, and good-by to my dream of resembling the retired baker! No, no, my boy; I prefer remaining honorably in the capital." Andrea scowled. Certainly, as he had himself owned, the reputed son of Major Cavalcanti was a wilful fellow. He drew up for a minute, threw a rapid glance around him, and then his hand fell instantly into his pocket, where it began playing with a pistol. But, meanwhile, Caderousse, who had never taken his eyes off his companion, passed his hand behind his back, and opened a long Spanish knife, which he always carried with him, to be ready in case of need. The two friends, as we see, were worthy of and understood one another. Andrea's hand left his pocket inoffensively, and was carried up to the red mustache, which it played with for some time. "Good Caderousse," he said, "how happy you will be."