"But," exclaimed the abbe suddenly, "you were there yourself."
"I!" said Caderousse, astonished; "who told you I was there?"
The abbe saw he had overshot the mark, and he added quickly,—"No one; but in order to have known everything so well, you must have been an eye-witness."
"True, true!" said Caderousse in a choking voice, "I was there."
"And did you not remonstrate against such infamy?" asked the abbe; "if not, you were an accomplice."
"Sir," replied Caderousse, "they had made me drink to such an excess that I nearly lost all perception. I had only an indistinct understanding of what was passing around me. I said all that a man in such a state could say; but they both assured me that it was a jest they were carrying on, and perfectly harmless."
"Next day—next day, sir, you must have seen plain enough what they had been doing, yet you said nothing, though you were present when Dantes was arrested."
"Yes, sir, I was there, and very anxious to speak; but Danglars restrained me. 'If he should really be guilty,' said he, 'and did really put in to the Island of Elba; if he is really charged with a letter for the Bonapartist committee at Paris, and if they find this letter upon him, those who have supported him will pass for his accomplices.' I confess I had my fears, in the state in which politics then were, and I held my tongue. It was cowardly, I confess, but it was not criminal."
"I understand—you allowed matters to take their course, that was all."
"Yes, sir," answered Caderousse; "and remorse preys on me night and day. I often ask pardon of God, I swear to you, because this action, the only one with which I have seriously to reproach myself in all my life, is no doubt the cause of my abject condition. I am expiating a moment of selfishness, and so I always say to La Carconte, when she complains, 'Hold your tongue, woman; it is the will of God.'" And Caderousse bowed his head with every sign of real repentance.
"Well, sir," said the abbe, "you have spoken unreservedly; and thus to accuse yourself is to deserve pardon."
"Unfortunately, Edmond is dead, and has not pardoned me."
"He did not know," said the abbe.
"But he knows it all now," interrupted Caderousse; "they say the dead know everything." There was a brief silence; the abbe rose and paced up and down pensively, and then resumed his seat. "You have two or three times mentioned a M. Morrel," he said; "who was he?"
"The owner of the Pharaon and patron of Dantes."
"And what part did he play in this sad drama?" inquired the abbe.
"The part of an honest man, full of courage and real regard. Twenty times he interceded for Edmond. When the emperor returned, he wrote, implored, threatened, and so energetically, that on the second restoration he was persecuted as a Bonapartist. Ten times, as I told you, he came to see Dantes' father, and offered to receive him in his own house; and the night or two before his death, as I have already said, he left his purse on the mantelpiece, with which they paid the old man's debts, and buried him decently; and so Edmond's father died, as he had lived, without doing harm to any one. I have the purse still by me—a large one, made of red silk."
"And," asked the abbe, "is M. Morrel still alive?"
"Yes," replied Caderousse.
"In that case," replied the abbe, "he should be rich, happy."
Caderousse smiled bitterly. "Yes, happy as myself," said he.
"What! M. Morrel unhappy?" exclaimed the abbe.
"He is reduced almost to the last extremity—nay, he is almost at the point of dishonor."
"Yes," continued Caderousse, "so it is; after five and twenty years of labor, after having acquired a most honorable name in the trade of Marseilles, M. Morrel is utterly ruined; he has lost five ships in two years, has suffered by the bankruptcy of three large houses, and his only hope now is in that very Pharaon which poor Dantes commanded, and which is expected from the Indies with a cargo of cochineal and indigo. If this ship founders, like the others, he is a ruined man."
"And has the unfortunate man wife or children?" inquired the abbe.
"Yes, he has a wife, who through everything has behaved like an angel; he has a daughter, who was about to marry the man she loved, but whose family now will not allow him to wed the daughter of a ruined man; he has, besides, a son, a lieutenant in the army; and, as you may suppose, all this, instead of lessening, only augments his sorrows. If he were alone in the world he would blow out his brains, and there would be an end."
"Horrible!" ejaculated the priest.
"And it is thus heaven recompenses virtue, sir," added Caderousse. "You see, I, who never did a bad action but that I have told you of—am in destitution, with my poor wife dying of fever before my very eyes, and I unable to do anything in the world for her; I shall die of hunger, as old Dantes did, while Fernand and Danglars are rolling in wealth."
"How is that?"
"Because their deeds have brought them good fortune, while honest men have been reduced to misery."
"What has become of Danglars, the instigator, and therefore the most guilty?"
"What has become of him? Why, he left Marseilles, and was taken, on the recommendation of M. Morrel, who did not know his crime, as cashier into a Spanish bank. During the war with Spain he was employed in the commissariat of the French army, and made a fortune; then with that money he speculated in the funds, and trebled or quadrupled his capital; and, having first married his banker's daughter, who left him a widower, he has married a second time, a widow, a Madame de Nargonne, daughter of M. de Servieux, the king's chamberlain, who is in high favor at court. He is a millionaire, and they have made him a baron, and now he is the Baron Danglars, with a fine residence in the Rue de Mont-Blanc, with ten horses in his stables, six footmen in his ante-chamber, and I know not how many millions in his strongbox."
"Ah!" said the abbe, in a peculiar tone, "he is happy."
"Happy? Who can answer for that? Happiness or unhappiness is the secret known but to one's self and the walls—walls have ears but no tongue; but if a large fortune produces happiness, Danglars is happy."
"Fernand? Why, much the same story."
"But how could a poor Catalan fisher-boy, without education or resources, make a fortune? I confess this staggers me."
"And it has staggered everybody. There must have been in his life some strange secret that no one knows."
"But, then, by what visible steps has he attained this high fortune or high position?"
"Both, sir—he has both fortune and position—both."
"This must be impossible!"
"It would seem so; but listen, and you will understand. Some days before the return of the emperor, Fernand was drafted. The Bourbons left him quietly enough at the Catalans, but Napoleon returned, a special levy was made, and Fernand was compelled to join. I went too; but as I was older than Fernand, and had just married my poor wife, I was only sent to the coast. Fernand was enrolled in the active troop, went to the frontier with his regiment, and was at the battle of Ligny. The night after that battle he was sentry at the door of a general who carried on a secret correspondence with the enemy. That same night the general was to go over to the English. He proposed to Fernand to accompany him; Fernand agreed to do so, deserted his post, and followed the general. Fernand would have been court-martialed if Napoleon had remained on the throne, but his action was rewarded by the Bourbons. He returned to France with the epaulet of sub-lieutenant, and as the protection of the general, who is in the highest favor, was accorded to him, he was a captain in 1823, during the Spanish war—that is to say, at the time when Danglars made his early speculations. Fernand was a Spaniard, and being sent to Spain to ascertain the feeling of his fellow-countrymen, found Danglars there, got on very intimate terms with him, won over the support of the royalists at the capital and in the provinces, received promises and made pledges on his own part, guided his regiment by paths known to himself alone through the mountain gorges which were held by the royalists, and, in fact, rendered such services in this brief campaign that, after the taking of Trocadero, he was made colonel, and received the title of count and the cross of an officer of the Legion of Honor."
"Destiny! destiny!" murmured the abbe.
"Yes, but listen: this was not all. The war with Spain being ended, Fernand's career was checked by the long peace which seemed likely to endure throughout Europe. Greece only had risen against Turkey, and had begun her war of independence; all eyes were turned towards Athens—it was the fashion to pity and support the Greeks. The French government, without protecting them openly, as you know, gave countenance to volunteer assistance. Fernand sought and obtained leave to go and serve in Greece, still having his name kept on the army roll. Some time after, it was stated that the Comte de Morcerf (this was the name he bore) had entered the service of Ali Pasha with the rank of instructor-general. Ali Pasha was killed, as you know, but before he died he recompensed the services of Fernand by leaving him a considerable sum, with which he returned to France, when he was gazetted lieutenant-general."
"So that now?"—inquired the abbe.
"So that now," continued Caderousse, "he owns a magnificent house—No. 27, Rue du Helder, Paris." The abbe opened his mouth, hesitated for a moment, then, making an effort at self-control, he said, "And Mercedes—they tell me that she has disappeared?"
"Disappeared," said Caderousse, "yes, as the sun disappears, to rise the next day with still more splendor."
"Has she made a fortune also?" inquired the abbe, with an ironical smile.
"Mercedes is at this moment one of the greatest ladies in Paris," replied Caderousse.
"Go on," said the abbe; "it seems as if I were listening to the story of a dream. But I have seen things so extraordinary, that what you tell me seems less astonishing than it otherwise might."
"Mercedes was at first in the deepest despair at the blow which deprived her of Edmond. I have told you of her attempts to propitiate M. de Villefort, her devotion to the elder Dantes. In the midst of her despair, a new affliction overtook her. This was the departure of Fernand—of Fernand, whose crime she did not know, and whom she regarded as her brother. Fernand went, and Mercedes remained alone. Three months passed and still she wept—no news of Edmond, no news of Fernand, no companionship save that of an old man who was dying with despair. One evening, after a day of accustomed vigil at the angle of two roads leading to Marseilles from the Catalans, she returned to her home more depressed than ever. Suddenly she heard a step she knew, turned anxiously around, the door opened, and Fernand, dressed in the uniform of a sub-lieutenant, stood before her. It was not the one she wished for most, but it seemed as if a part of her past life had returned to her. Mercedes seized Fernand's hands with a transport which he took for love, but which was only joy at being no longer alone in the world, and seeing at last a friend, after long hours of solitary sorrow. And then, it must be confessed, Fernand had never been hated—he was only not precisely loved. Another possessed all Mercedes' heart; that other was absent, had disappeared, perhaps was dead. At this last thought Mercedes burst into a flood of tears, and wrung her hands in agony; but the thought, which she had always repelled before when it was suggested to her by another, came now in full force upon her mind; and then, too, old Dantes incessantly said to her, 'Our Edmond is dead; if he were not, he would return to us.' The old man died, as I have told you; had he lived, Mercedes, perchance, had not become the wife of another, for he would have been there to reproach her infidelity. Fernand saw this, and when he learned of the old man's death he returned. He was now a lieutenant. At his first coming he had not said a word of love to Mercedes; at the second he reminded her that he loved her. Mercedes begged for six months more in which to await and mourn for Edmond."
"So that," said the abbe, with a bitter smile, "that makes eighteen months in all. What more could the most devoted lover desire?" Then he murmured the words of the English poet, "'Frailty, thy name is woman.'"
"Six months afterwards," continued Caderousse, "the marriage took place in the church of Accoules."
"The very church in which she was to have married Edmond," murmured the priest; "there was only a change of bride-grooms."
"Well, Mercedes was married," proceeded Caderousse; "but although in the eyes of the world she appeared calm, she nearly fainted as she passed La Reserve, where, eighteen months before, the betrothal had been celebrated with him whom she might have known she still loved had she looked to the bottom of her heart. Fernand, more happy, but not more at his ease—for I saw at this time he was in constant dread of Edmond's return—Fernand was very anxious to get his wife away, and to depart himself. There were too many unpleasant possibilities associated with the Catalans, and eight days after the wedding they left Marseilles."
"Did you ever see Mercedes again?" inquired the priest.
"Yes, during the Spanish war, at Perpignan, where Fernand had left her; she was attending to the education of her son." The abbe started. "Her son?" said he.
"Yes," replied Caderousse, "little Albert."
"But, then, to be able to instruct her child," continued the abbe, "she must have received an education herself. I understood from Edmond that she was the daughter of a simple fisherman, beautiful but uneducated."
"Oh," replied Caderousse, "did he know so little of his lovely betrothed? Mercedes might have been a queen, sir, if the crown were to be placed on the heads of the loveliest and most intelligent. Fernand's fortune was already waxing great, and she developed with his growing fortune. She learned drawing, music—everything. Besides, I believe, between ourselves, she did this in order to distract her mind, that she might forget; and she only filled her head in order to alleviate the weight on her heart. But now her position in life is assured," continued Caderousse; "no doubt fortune and honors have comforted her; she is rich, a countess, and yet"—Caderousse paused.
"And yet what?" asked the abbe.
"Yet, I am sure, she is not happy," said Caderousse.
"What makes you believe this?"
"Why, when I found myself utterly destitute, I thought my old friends would, perhaps, assist me. So I went to Danglars, who would not even receive me. I called on Fernand, who sent me a hundred francs by his valet-de-chambre."
"Then you did not see either of them?"
"No, but Madame de Morcerf saw me."
"How was that?"
"As I went away a purse fell at my feet—it contained five and twenty louis; I raised my head quickly, and saw Mercedes, who at once shut the blind."
"And M. de Villefort?" asked the abbe.
"Oh, he never was a friend of mine, I did not know him, and I had nothing to ask of him."
"Do you not know what became of him, and the share he had in Edmond's misfortunes?"
"No; I only know that some time after Edmond's arrest, he married Mademoiselle de Saint-Meran, and soon after left Marseilles; no doubt he has been as lucky as the rest; no doubt he is as rich as Danglars, as high in station as Fernand. I only, as you see, have remained poor, wretched, and forgotten."
"You are mistaken, my friend," replied the abbe; "God may seem sometimes to forget for a time, while his justice reposes, but there always comes a moment when he remembers—and behold—a proof!" As he spoke, the abbe took the diamond from his pocket, and giving it to Caderousse, said,—"Here, my friend, take this diamond, it is yours."
"What, for me only?" cried Caderousse, "ah, sir, do not jest with me!"
"This diamond was to have been shared among his friends. Edmond had one friend only, and thus it cannot be divided. Take the diamond, then, and sell it; it is worth fifty thousand francs, and I repeat my wish that this sum may suffice to release you from your wretchedness."
"Oh, sir," said Caderousse, putting out one hand timidly, and with the other wiping away the perspiration which bedewed his brow,—"Oh, sir, do not make a jest of the happiness or despair of a man."
"I know what happiness and what despair are, and I never make a jest of such feelings. Take it, then, but in exchange—"
Caderousse, who touched the diamond, withdrew his hand. The abbe smiled. "In exchange," he continued, "give me the red silk purse that M. Morrel left on old Dantes' chimney-piece, and which you tell me is still in your hands." Caderousse, more and more astonished, went toward a large oaken cupboard, opened it, and gave the abbe a long purse of faded red silk, round which were two copper runners that had once been gilt. The abbe took it, and in return gave Caderousse the diamond.
"Oh, you are a man of God, sir," cried Caderousse; "for no one knew that Edmond had given you this diamond, and you might have kept it."
"Which," said the abbe to himself, "you would have done." The abbe rose, took his hat and gloves. "Well," he said, "all you have told me is perfectly true, then, and I may believe it in every particular."
"See, sir," replied Caderousse, "in this corner is a crucifix in holy wood—here on this shelf is my wife's testament; open this book, and I will swear upon it with my hand on the crucifix. I will swear to you by my soul's salvation, my faith as a Christian, I have told everything to you as it occurred, and as the recording angel will tell it to the ear of God at the day of the last judgment!"
"'Tis well," said the abbe, convinced by his manner and tone that Caderousse spoke the truth. "'Tis well, and may this money profit you! Adieu; I go far from men who thus so bitterly injure each other." The abbe with difficulty got away from the enthusiastic thanks of Caderousse, opened the door himself, got out and mounted his horse, once more saluted the innkeeper, who kept uttering his loud farewells, and then returned by the road he had travelled in coming. When Caderousse turned around, he saw behind him La Carconte, paler and trembling more than ever. "Is, then, all that I have heard really true?" she inquired.
"What? That he has given the diamond to us only?" inquired Caderousse, half bewildered with joy; "yes, nothing more true! See, here it is." The woman gazed at it a moment, and then said, in a gloomy voice, "Suppose it's false?" Caderousse started and turned pale. "False!" he muttered. "False! Why should that man give me a false diamond?"
"To get your secret without paying for it, you blockhead!"
Caderousse remained for a moment aghast under the weight of such an idea. "Oh!" he said, taking up his hat, which he placed on the red handkerchief tied round his head, "we will soon find out."
"In what way?"
"Why, the fair is on at Beaucaire, there are always jewellers from Paris there, and I will show it to them. Look after the house, wife, and I shall be back in two hours," and Caderousse left the house in haste, and ran rapidly in the direction opposite to that which the priest had taken. "Fifty thousand francs!" muttered La Carconte when left alone; "it is a large sum of money, but it is not a fortune."
Chapter 28. The Prison Register.
The day after that in which the scene we have just described had taken place on the road between Bellegarde and Beaucaire, a man of about thirty or two and thirty, dressed in a bright blue frock coat, nankeen trousers, and a white waistcoat, having the appearance and accent of an Englishman, presented himself before the mayor of Marseilles. "Sir," said he, "I am chief clerk of the house of Thomson & French, of Rome. We are, and have been these ten years, connected with the house of Morrel & Son, of Marseilles. We have a hundred thousand francs or thereabouts loaned on their securities, and we are a little uneasy at reports that have reached us that the firm is on the brink of ruin. I have come, therefore, express from Rome, to ask you for information."
"Sir," replied the mayor. "I know very well that during the last four or five years misfortune has seemed to pursue M. Morrel. He has lost four or five vessels, and suffered by three or four bankruptcies; but it is not for me, although I am a creditor myself to the amount of ten thousand francs, to give any information as to the state of his finances. Ask of me, as mayor, what is my opinion of M. Morrel, and I shall say that he is a man honorable to the last degree, and who has up to this time fulfilled every engagement with scrupulous punctuality. This is all I can say, sir; if you wish to learn more, address yourself to M. de Boville, the inspector of prisons, No. 15, Rue de Nouailles; he has, I believe, two hundred thousand francs in Morrel's hands, and if there be any grounds for apprehension, as this is a greater amount than mine, you will most probably find him better informed than myself."
The Englishman seemed to appreciate this extreme delicacy, made his bow and went away, proceeding with a characteristic British stride towards the street mentioned. M. de Boville was in his private room, and the Englishman, on perceiving him, made a gesture of surprise, which seemed to indicate that it was not the first time he had been in his presence. As to M. de Boville, he was in such a state of despair, that it was evident all the faculties of his mind, absorbed in the thought which occupied him at the moment, did not allow either his memory or his imagination to stray to the past. The Englishman, with the coolness of his nation, addressed him in terms nearly similar to those with which he had accosted the mayor of Marseilles. "Oh, sir," exclaimed M. de Boville, "your fears are unfortunately but too well founded, and you see before you a man in despair. I had two hundred thousand francs placed in the hands of Morrel & Son; these two hundred thousand francs were the dowry of my daughter, who was to be married in a fortnight, and these two hundred thousand francs were payable, half on the 15th of this month, and the other half on the 15th of next month. I had informed M. Morrel of my desire to have these payments punctually, and he has been here within the last half-hour to tell me that if his ship, the Pharaon, did not come into port on the 15th, he would be wholly unable to make this payment."
"But," said the Englishman, "this looks very much like a suspension of payment."
"It looks more like bankruptcy!" exclaimed M. de Boville despairingly.
The Englishman appeared to reflect a moment, and then said,—"From which it would appear, sir, that this credit inspires you with considerable apprehension?"
"To tell you the truth, I consider it lost."
"Well, then, I will buy it of you!"
"But at a tremendous discount, of course?"
"No, for two hundred thousand francs. Our house," added the Englishman with a laugh, "does not do things in that way."
"And you will pay"—
"Ready money." And the Englishman drew from his pocket a bundle of bank-notes, which might have been twice the sum M. de Boville feared to lose. A ray of joy passed across M. de Boville's countenance, yet he made an effort at self-control, and said,—"Sir, I ought to tell you that, in all probability, you will not realize six per cent of this sum."
"That's no affair of mine," replied the Englishman, "that is the affair of the house of Thomson & French, in whose name I act. They have, perhaps, some motive to serve in hastening the ruin of a rival firm. But all I know, sir, is, that I am ready to hand you over this sum in exchange for your assignment of the debt. I only ask a brokerage."
"Of course, that is perfectly just," cried M. de Boville. "The commission is usually one and a half; will you have two—three—five per cent, or even more? Whatever you say."
"Sir," replied the Englishman, laughing, "I am like my house, and do not do such things—no, the commission I ask is quite different."
"Name it, sir, I beg."
"You are the inspector of prisons?"
"I have been so these fourteen years."
"You keep the registers of entries and departures?"
"To these registers there are added notes relative to the prisoners?"
"There are special reports on every prisoner."
"Well, sir, I was educated at home by a poor devil of an abbe, who disappeared suddenly. I have since learned that he was confined in the Chateau d'If, and I should like to learn some particulars of his death."
"What was his name?"
"The Abbe Faria."
"Oh, I recollect him perfectly," cried M. de Boville; "he was crazy."
"So they said."
"Oh, he was, decidedly."
"Very possibly; but what sort of madness was it?"
"He pretended to know of an immense treasure, and offered vast sums to the government if they would liberate him."
"Poor devil!—and he is dead?"
"Yes, sir, five or six months ago—last February."
"You have a good memory, sir, to recollect dates so well."
"I recollect this, because the poor devil's death was accompanied by a singular incident."
"May I ask what that was?" said the Englishman with an expression of curiosity, which a close observer would have been astonished at discovering in his phlegmatic countenance.
"Oh dear, yes, sir; the abbe's dungeon was forty or fifty feet distant from that of one of Bonaparte's emissaries,—one of those who had contributed the most to the return of the usurper in 1815,—a very resolute and very dangerous man."
"Indeed!" said the Englishman.
"Yes," replied M. de Boville; "I myself had occasion to see this man in 1816 or 1817, and we could only go into his dungeon with a file of soldiers. That man made a deep impression on me; I shall never forget his countenance!" The Englishman smiled imperceptibly.
"And you say, sir," he interposed, "that the two dungeons"—
"Were separated by a distance of fifty feet; but it appears that this Edmond Dantes"—
"This dangerous man's name was"—
"Edmond Dantes. It appears, sir, that this Edmond Dantes had procured tools, or made them, for they found a tunnel through which the prisoners held communication with one another."
"This tunnel was dug, no doubt, with an intention of escape?"
"No doubt; but unfortunately for the prisoners, the Abbe Faria had an attack of catalepsy, and died."
"That must have cut short the projects of escape."
"For the dead man, yes," replied M. de Boville, "but not for the survivor; on the contrary, this Dantes saw a means of accelerating his escape. He, no doubt, thought that prisoners who died in the Chateau d'If were interred in an ordinary burial-ground, and he conveyed the dead man into his own cell, took his place in the sack in which they had sewed up the corpse, and awaited the moment of interment."
"It was a bold step, and one that showed some courage," remarked the Englishman.
"As I have already told you, sir, he was a very dangerous man; and, fortunately, by his own act disembarrassed the government of the fears it had on his account."
"How was that?"
"How? Do you not comprehend?"
"The Chateau d'If has no cemetery, and they simply throw the dead into the sea, after fastening a thirty-six pound cannon-ball to their feet."
"Well," observed the Englishman as if he were slow of comprehension.
"Well, they fastened a thirty-six pound ball to his feet, and threw him into the sea."
"Really!" exclaimed the Englishman.
"Yes, sir," continued the inspector of prisons. "You may imagine the amazement of the fugitive when he found himself flung headlong over the rocks! I should like to have seen his face at that moment."
"That would have been difficult."
"No matter," replied De Boville, in supreme good-humor at the certainty of recovering his two hundred thousand francs,—"no matter, I can fancy it." And he shouted with laughter.
"So can I," said the Englishman, and he laughed too; but he laughed as the English do, "at the end of his teeth."
"And so," continued the Englishman who first gained his composure, "he was drowned?"
"So that the governor got rid of the dangerous and the crazy prisoner at the same time?"
"But some official document was drawn up as to this affair, I suppose?" inquired the Englishman.
"Yes, yes, the mortuary deposition. You understand, Dantes' relations, if he had any, might have some interest in knowing if he were dead or alive."
"So that now, if there were anything to inherit from him, they may do so with easy conscience. He is dead, and no mistake about it."
"Oh, yes; and they may have the fact attested whenever they please."
"So be it," said the Englishman. "But to return to these registers."
"True, this story has diverted our attention from them. Excuse me."
"Excuse you for what? For the story? By no means; it really seems to me very curious."
"Yes, indeed. So, sir, you wish to see all relating to the poor abbe, who really was gentleness itself."
"Yes, you will much oblige me."
"Go into my study here, and I will show it to you." And they both entered M. de Boville's study. Everything was here arranged in perfect order; each register had its number, each file of papers its place. The inspector begged the Englishman to seat himself in an arm-chair, and placed before him the register and documents relative to the Chateau d'If, giving him all the time he desired for the examination, while De Boville seated himself in a corner, and began to read his newspaper. The Englishman easily found the entries relative to the Abbe Faria; but it seemed that the history which the inspector had related interested him greatly, for after having perused the first documents he turned over the leaves until he reached the deposition respecting Edmond Dantes. There he found everything arranged in due order,—the accusation, examination, Morrel's petition, M. de Villefort's marginal notes. He folded up the accusation quietly, and put it as quietly in his pocket; read the examination, and saw that the name of Noirtier was not mentioned in it; perused, too, the application dated 10th April, 1815, in which Morrel, by the deputy procureur's advice, exaggerated with the best intentions (for Napoleon was then on the throne) the services Dantes had rendered to the imperial cause—services which Villefort's certificates rendered indispensable. Then he saw through the whole thing. This petition to Napoleon, kept back by Villefort, had become, under the second restoration, a terrible weapon against him in the hands of the king's attorney. He was no longer astonished when he searched on to find in the register this note, placed in a bracket against his name:—
An inveterate Bonapartist; took an active part in the return from the Island of Elba.
To be kept in strict solitary confinement, and to be closely watched and guarded.
Beneath these lines was written in another hand: "See note above—nothing can be done." He compared the writing in the bracket with the writing of the certificate placed beneath Morrel's petition, and discovered that the note in the bracket was the same writing as the certificate—that is to say, was in Villefort's handwriting. As to the note which accompanied this, the Englishman understood that it might have been added by some inspector who had taken a momentary interest in Dantes' situation, but who had, from the remarks we have quoted, found it impossible to give any effect to the interest he had felt.
As we have said, the inspector, from discretion, and that he might not disturb the Abbe Faria's pupil in his researches, had seated himself in a corner, and was reading Le Drapeau Blanc. He did not see the Englishman fold up and place in his pocket the accusation written by Danglars under the arbor of La Reserve, and which had the postmark, "Marseilles, 27th Feb., delivery 6 o'clock, P.M." But it must be said that if he had seen it, he attached so little importance to this scrap of paper, and so much importance to his two hundred thousand francs, that he would not have opposed whatever the Englishman might do, however irregular it might be.
"Thanks," said the latter, closing the register with a slam, "I have all I want; now it is for me to perform my promise. Give me a simple assignment of your debt; acknowledge therein the receipt of the cash, and I will hand you over the money." He rose, gave his seat to M. de Boville, who took it without ceremony, and quickly drew up the required assignment, while the Englishman counted out the bank-notes on the other side of the desk.
Chapter 29. The House of Morrel & Son.
Any one who had quitted Marseilles a few years previously, well acquainted with the interior of Morrel's warehouse, and had returned at this date, would have found a great change. Instead of that air of life, of comfort, and of happiness that permeates a flourishing and prosperous business establishment—instead of merry faces at the windows, busy clerks hurrying to and fro in the long corridors—instead of the court filled with bales of goods, re-echoing with the cries and the jokes of porters, one would have immediately perceived all aspect of sadness and gloom. Out of all the numerous clerks that used to fill the deserted corridor and the empty office, but two remained. One was a young man of three or four and twenty, who was in love with M. Morrel's daughter, and had remained with him in spite of the efforts of his friends to induce him to withdraw; the other was an old one-eyed cashier, called "Cocles," or "Cock-eye," a nickname given him by the young men who used to throng this vast now almost deserted bee-hive, and which had so completely replaced his real name that he would not, in all probability, have replied to any one who addressed him by it.
Cocles remained in M. Morrel's service, and a most singular change had taken place in his position; he had at the same time risen to the rank of cashier, and sunk to the rank of a servant. He was, however, the same Cocles, good, patient, devoted, but inflexible on the subject of arithmetic, the only point on which he would have stood firm against the world, even against M. Morrel; and strong in the multiplication-table, which he had at his fingers' ends, no matter what scheme or what trap was laid to catch him. In the midst of the disasters that befell the house, Cocles was the only one unmoved. But this did not arise from a want of affection; on the contrary, from a firm conviction. Like the rats that one by one forsake the doomed ship even before the vessel weighs anchor, so all the numerous clerks had by degrees deserted the office and the warehouse. Cocles had seen them go without thinking of inquiring the cause of their departure. Everything was as we have said, a question of arithmetic to Cocles, and during twenty years he had always seen all payments made with such exactitude, that it seemed as impossible to him that the house should stop payment, as it would to a miller that the river that had so long turned his mill should cease to flow.
Nothing had as yet occurred to shake Cocles' belief; the last month's payment had been made with the most scrupulous exactitude; Cocles had detected an overbalance of fourteen sous in his cash, and the same evening he had brought them to M. Morrel, who, with a melancholy smile, threw them into an almost empty drawer, saying:—
"Thanks, Cocles; you are the pearl of cashiers."
Cocles went away perfectly happy, for this eulogium of M. Morrel, himself the pearl of the honest men of Marseilles, flattered him more than a present of fifty crowns. But since the end of the month M. Morrel had passed many an anxious hour. In order to meet the payments then due; he had collected all his resources, and, fearing lest the report of his distress should get bruited abroad at Marseilles when he was known to be reduced to such an extremity, he went to the Beaucaire fair to sell his wife's and daughter's jewels and a portion of his plate. By this means the end of the month was passed, but his resources were now exhausted. Credit, owing to the reports afloat, was no longer to be had; and to meet the one hundred thousand francs due on the 10th of the present month, and the one hundred thousand francs due on the 15th of the next month to M. de Boville, M. Morrel had, in reality, no hope but the return of the Pharaon, of whose departure he had learnt from a vessel which had weighed anchor at the same time, and which had already arrived in harbor. But this vessel which, like the Pharaon, came from Calcutta, had been in for a fortnight, while no intelligence had been received of the Pharaon.
Such was the state of affairs when, the day after his interview with M. de Boville, the confidential clerk of the house of Thomson & French of Rome, presented himself at M. Morrel's. Emmanuel received him; this young man was alarmed by the appearance of every new face, for every new face might be that of a new creditor, come in anxiety to question the head of the house. The young man, wishing to spare his employer the pain of this interview, questioned the new-comer; but the stranger declared that he had nothing to say to M. Emmanuel, and that his business was with M. Morrel in person. Emmanuel sighed, and summoned Cocles. Cocles appeared, and the young man bade him conduct the stranger to M. Morrel's apartment. Cocles went first, and the stranger followed him. On the staircase they met a beautiful girl of sixteen or seventeen, who looked with anxiety at the stranger.
"M. Morrel is in his room, is he not, Mademoiselle Julie?" said the cashier.
"Yes; I think so, at least," said the young girl hesitatingly. "Go and see, Cocles, and if my father is there, announce this gentleman."
"It will be useless to announce me, mademoiselle," returned the Englishman. "M. Morrel does not know my name; this worthy gentleman has only to announce the confidential clerk of the house of Thomson & French of Rome, with whom your father does business."
The young girl turned pale and continued to descend, while the stranger and Cocles continued to mount the staircase. She entered the office where Emmanuel was, while Cocles, by the aid of a key he possessed, opened a door in the corner of a landing-place on the second staircase, conducted the stranger into an ante-chamber, opened a second door, which he closed behind him, and after having left the clerk of the house of Thomson & French alone, returned and signed to him that he could enter. The Englishman entered, and found Morrel seated at a table, turning over the formidable columns of his ledger, which contained the list of his liabilities. At the sight of the stranger, M. Morrel closed the ledger, arose, and offered a seat to the stranger; and when he had seen him seated, resumed his own chair. Fourteen years had changed the worthy merchant, who, in his thirty-sixth year at the opening of this history, was now in his fiftieth; his hair had turned white, time and sorrow had ploughed deep furrows on his brow, and his look, once so firm and penetrating, was now irresolute and wandering, as if he feared being forced to fix his attention on some particular thought or person. The Englishman looked at him with an air of curiosity, evidently mingled with interest. "Monsieur," said Morrel, whose uneasiness was increased by this examination, "you wish to speak to me?"
"Yes, monsieur; you are aware from whom I come?"
"The house of Thomson & French; at least, so my cashier tells me."
"He has told you rightly. The house of Thomson & French had 300,000 or 400,000 francs to pay this month in France; and, knowing your strict punctuality, have collected all the bills bearing your signature, and charged me as they became due to present them, and to employ the money otherwise." Morrel sighed deeply, and passed his hand over his forehead, which was covered with perspiration.
"So then, sir," said Morrel, "you hold bills of mine?"
"Yes, and for a considerable sum."
"What is the amount?" asked Morrel with a voice he strove to render firm.
"Here is," said the Englishman, taking a quantity of papers from his pocket, "an assignment of 200,000 francs to our house by M. de Boville, the inspector of prisons, to whom they are due. You acknowledge, of course, that you owe this sum to him?"
"Yes; he placed the money in my hands at four and a half per cent nearly five years ago."
"When are you to pay?"
"Half the 15th of this month, half the 15th of next."
"Just so; and now here are 32,500 francs payable shortly; they are all signed by you, and assigned to our house by the holders."
"I recognize them," said Morrel, whose face was suffused, as he thought that, for the first time in his life, he would be unable to honor his own signature. "Is this all?"
"No, I have for the end of the month these bills which have been assigned to us by the house of Pascal, and the house of Wild & Turner of Marseilles, amounting to nearly 55,000. francs; in all, 287,500 francs." It is impossible to describe what Morrel suffered during this enumeration. "Two hundred and eighty-seven thousand five hundred francs," repeated he.
"Yes, sir," replied the Englishman. "I will not," continued he, after a moment's silence, "conceal from you, that while your probity and exactitude up to this moment are universally acknowledged, yet the report is current in Marseilles that you are not able to meet your liabilities." At this almost brutal speech Morrel turned deathly pale. "Sir," said he, "up to this time—and it is now more than four-and-twenty years since I received the direction of this house from my father, who had himself conducted it for five and thirty years—never has anything bearing the signature of Morrel & Son been dishonored."
"I know that," replied the Englishman. "But as a man of honor should answer another, tell me fairly, shall you pay these with the same punctuality?" Morrel shuddered, and looked at the man, who spoke with more assurance than he had hitherto shown. "To questions frankly put," said he, "a straightforward answer should be given. Yes, I shall pay, if, as I hope, my vessel arrives safely; for its arrival will again procure me the credit which the numerous accidents, of which I have been the victim, have deprived me; but if the Pharaon should be lost, and this last resource be gone"—the poor man's eyes filled with tears.
"Well," said the other, "if this last resource fail you?"
"Well," returned Morrel, "it is a cruel thing to be forced to say, but, already used to misfortune, I must habituate myself to shame. I fear I shall be forced to suspend payment."
"Have you no friends who could assist you?" Morrel smiled mournfully. "In business, sir," said he, "one has no friends, only correspondents."
"It is true," murmured the Englishman; "then you have but one hope."
"So that if this fail"—
"I am ruined,—completely ruined!"
"As I was on my way here, a vessel was coming into port."
"I know it, sir; a young man, who still adheres to my fallen fortunes, passes a part of his time in a belvidere at the top of the house, in hopes of being the first to announce good news to me; he has informed me of the arrival of this ship."
"And it is not yours?"
"No, she is a Bordeaux vessel, La Gironde; she comes from India also; but she is not mine."
"Perhaps she has spoken to the Pharaon, and brings you some tidings of her?"
"Shall I tell you plainly one thing, sir? I dread almost as much to receive any tidings of my vessel as to remain in doubt. Uncertainty is still hope." Then in a low voice Morrel added,—"This delay is not natural. The Pharaon left Calcutta the 5th February; she ought to have been here a month ago."
"What is that?" said the Englishman. "What is the meaning of that noise?"
"Oh, oh!" cried Morrel, turning pale, "what is it?" A loud noise was heard on the stairs of people moving hastily, and half-stifled sobs. Morrel rose and advanced to the door; but his strength failed him and he sank into a chair. The two men remained opposite one another, Morrel trembling in every limb, the stranger gazing at him with an air of profound pity. The noise had ceased; but it seemed that Morrel expected something—something had occasioned the noise, and something must follow. The stranger fancied he heard footsteps on the stairs; and that the footsteps, which were those of several persons, stopped at the door. A key was inserted in the lock of the first door, and the creaking of hinges was audible.
"There are only two persons who have the key to that door," murmured Morrel, "Cocles and Julie." At this instant the second door opened, and the young girl, her eyes bathed with tears, appeared. Morrel rose tremblingly, supporting himself by the arm of the chair. He would have spoken, but his voice failed him. "Oh, father!" said she, clasping her hands, "forgive your child for being the bearer of evil tidings."
Morrel again changed color. Julie threw herself into his arms.
"Oh, father, father!" murmured she, "courage!"
"The Pharaon has gone down, then?" said Morrel in a hoarse voice. The young girl did not speak; but she made an affirmative sign with her head as she lay on her father's breast.
"And the crew?" asked Morrel.
"Saved," said the girl; "saved by the crew of the vessel that has just entered the harbor." Morrel raised his two hands to heaven with an expression of resignation and sublime gratitude. "Thanks, my God," said he, "at least thou strikest but me alone." A tear moistened the eye of the phlegmatic Englishman.
"Come in, come in," said Morrel, "for I presume you are all at the door."
Scarcely had he uttered those words than Madame Morrel entered weeping bitterly. Emmanuel followed her, and in the antechamber were visible the rough faces of seven or eight half-naked sailors. At the sight of these men the Englishman started and advanced a step; then restrained himself, and retired into the farthest and most obscure corner of the apartment. Madame Morrel sat down by her husband and took one of his hands in hers, Julie still lay with her head on his shoulder, Emmanuel stood in the centre of the chamber and seemed to form the link between Morrel's family and the sailors at the door.
"How did this happen?" said Morrel.
"Draw nearer, Penelon," said the young man, "and tell us all about it."
An old seaman, bronzed by the tropical sun, advanced, twirling the remains of a tarpaulin between his hands. "Good-day, M. Morrel," said he, as if he had just quitted Marseilles the previous evening, and had just returned from Aix or Toulon.
"Good-day, Penelon," returned Morrel, who could not refrain from smiling through his tears, "where is the captain?"
"The captain, M. Morrel,—he has stayed behind sick at Palma; but please God, it won't be much, and you will see him in a few days all alive and hearty."
"Well, now tell your story, Penelon."
Penelon rolled his quid in his cheek, placed his hand before his mouth, turned his head, and sent a long jet of tobacco-juice into the antechamber, advanced his foot, balanced himself, and began,—"You see, M. Morrel," said he, "we were somewhere between Cape Blanc and Cape Boyador, sailing with a fair breeze, south-south-west after a week's calm, when Captain Gaumard comes up to me—I was at the helm I should tell you—and says, 'Penelon, what do you think of those clouds coming up over there?' I was just then looking at them myself. 'What do I think, captain? Why I think that they are rising faster than they have any business to do, and that they would not be so black if they didn't mean mischief.'—'That's my opinion too,' said the captain, 'and I'll take precautions accordingly. We are carrying too much canvas. Avast, there, all hands! Take in the studding-sl's and stow the flying jib.' It was time; the squall was on us, and the vessel began to heel. 'Ah,' said the captain, 'we have still too much canvas set; all hands lower the mains'l!' Five minutes after, it was down; and we sailed under mizzen-tops'ls and to'gall'nt sails. 'Well, Penelon,' said the captain, 'what makes you shake your head?' 'Why,' I says, 'I still think you've got too much on.' 'I think you're right,' answered he, 'we shall have a gale.' 'A gale? More than that, we shall have a tempest, or I don't know what's what.' You could see the wind coming like the dust at Montredon; luckily the captain understood his business. 'Take in two reefs in the tops'ls,' cried the captain; 'let go the bowlin's, haul the brace, lower the to'gall'nt sails, haul out the reef-tackles on the yards.'"
"That was not enough for those latitudes," said the Englishman; "I should have taken four reefs in the topsails and furled the spanker."
His firm, sonorous, and unexpected voice made every one start. Penelon put his hand over his eyes, and then stared at the man who thus criticized the manoeuvres of his captain. "We did better than that, sir," said the old sailor respectfully; "we put the helm up to run before the tempest; ten minutes after we struck our tops'ls and scudded under bare poles."
"The vessel was very old to risk that," said the Englishman.
"Eh, it was that that did the business; after pitching heavily for twelve hours we sprung a leak. 'Penelon,' said the captain, 'I think we are sinking, give me the helm, and go down into the hold.' I gave him the helm, and descended; there was already three feet of water. 'All hands to the pumps!' I shouted; but it was too late, and it seemed the more we pumped the more came in. 'Ah,' said I, after four hours' work, 'since we are sinking, let us sink; we can die but once.' 'That's the example you set, Penelon,' cries the captain; 'very well, wait a minute.' He went into his cabin and came back with a brace of pistols. 'I will blow the brains out of the first man who leaves the pump,' said he."
"Well done!" said the Englishman.
"There's nothing gives you so much courage as good reasons," continued the sailor; "and during that time the wind had abated, and the sea gone down, but the water kept rising; not much, only two inches an hour, but still it rose. Two inches an hour does not seem much, but in twelve hours that makes two feet, and three we had before, that makes five. 'Come,' said the captain, 'we have done all in our power, and M. Morrel will have nothing to reproach us with, we have tried to save the ship, let us now save ourselves. To the boats, my lads, as quick as you can.' Now," continued Penelon, "you see, M. Morrel, a sailor is attached to his ship, but still more to his life, so we did not wait to be told twice; the more so, that the ship was sinking under us, and seemed to say, 'Get along—save yourselves.' We soon launched the boat, and all eight of us got into it. The captain descended last, or rather, he did not descend, he would not quit the vessel; so I took him round the waist, and threw him into the boat, and then I jumped after him. It was time, for just as I jumped the deck burst with a noise like the broadside of a man-of-war. Ten minutes after she pitched forward, then the other way, spun round and round, and then good-by to the Pharaon. As for us, we were three days without anything to eat or drink, so that we began to think of drawing lots who should feed the rest, when we saw La Gironde; we made signals of distress, she perceived us, made for us, and took us all on board. There now, M. Morrel, that's the whole truth, on the honor of a sailor; is not it true, you fellows there?" A general murmur of approbation showed that the narrator had faithfully detailed their misfortunes and sufferings.
"Well, well," said M. Morrel, "I know there was no one in fault but destiny. It was the will of God that this should happen, blessed be his name. What wages are due to you?"
"Oh, don't let us talk of that, M. Morrel."
"Yes, but we will talk of it."
"Well, then, three months," said Penelon.
"Cocles, pay two hundred francs to each of these good fellows," said Morrel. "At another time," added he, "I should have said, Give them, besides, two hundred francs over as a present; but times are changed, and the little money that remains to me is not my own."
Penelon turned to his companions, and exchanged a few words with them.
"As for that, M. Morrel," said he, again turning his quid, "as for that"—
"As for what?"
"Well, we all say that fifty francs will be enough for us at present, and that we will wait for the rest."
"Thanks, my friends, thanks!" cried Morrel gratefully; "take it—take it; and if you can find another employer, enter his service; you are free to do so." These last words produced a prodigious effect on the seaman. Penelon nearly swallowed his quid; fortunately he recovered. "What, M. Morrel!" said he in a low voice, "you send us away; you are then angry with us!"
"No, no," said M. Morrel, "I am not angry, quite the contrary, and I do not send you away; but I have no more ships, and therefore I do not want any sailors."
"No more ships!" returned Penelon; "well, then, you'll build some; we'll wait for you."
"I have no money to build ships with, Penelon," said the poor owner mournfully, "so I cannot accept your kind offer."
"No more money? Then you must not pay us; we can scud, like the Pharaon, under bare poles."
"Enough, enough!" cried Morrel, almost overpowered; "leave me, I pray you; we shall meet again in a happier time. Emmanuel, go with them, and see that my orders are executed."
"At least, we shall see each other again, M. Morrel?" asked Penelon.
"Yes; I hope so, at least. Now go." He made a sign to Cocles, who went first; the seamen followed him and Emmanuel brought up the rear. "Now," said the owner to his wife and daughter, "leave me; I wish to speak with this gentleman." And he glanced towards the clerk of Thomson & French, who had remained motionless in the corner during this scene, in which he had taken no part, except the few words we have mentioned. The two women looked at this person whose presence they had entirely forgotten, and retired; but, as she left the apartment, Julie gave the stranger a supplicating glance, to which he replied by a smile that an indifferent spectator would have been surprised to see on his stern features. The two men were left alone. "Well, sir," said Morrel, sinking into a chair, "you have heard all, and I have nothing further to tell you."
"I see," returned the Englishman, "that a fresh and unmerited misfortune his overwhelmed you, and this only increases my desire to serve you."
"Oh, sir!" cried Morrel.
"Let me see," continued the stranger, "I am one of your largest creditors."
"Your bills, at least, are the first that will fall due."
"Do you wish for time to pay?"
"A delay would save my honor, and consequently my life."
"How long a delay do you wish for?"—Morrel reflected. "Two months," said he.
"I will give you three," replied the stranger.
"But," asked Morrel, "will the house of Thomson & French consent?"
"Oh, I take everything on myself. To-day is the 5th of June."
"Well, renew these bills up to the 5th of September; and on the 5th of September at eleven o'clock (the hand of the clock pointed to eleven), I shall come to receive the money."
"I shall expect you," returned Morrel; "and I will pay you—or I shall be dead." These last words were uttered in so low a tone that the stranger could not hear them. The bills were renewed, the old ones destroyed, and the poor ship-owner found himself with three months before him to collect his resources. The Englishman received his thanks with the phlegm peculiar to his nation; and Morrel, overwhelming him with grateful blessings, conducted him to the staircase. The stranger met Julie on the stairs; she pretended to be descending, but in reality she was waiting for him. "Oh, sir"—said she, clasping her hands.
"Mademoiselle," said the stranger, "one day you will receive a letter signed 'Sinbad the Sailor.' Do exactly what the letter bids you, however strange it may appear."
"Yes, sir," returned Julie.
"Do you promise?"
"I swear to you I will."
"It is well. Adieu, mademoiselle. Continue to be the good, sweet girl you are at present, and I have great hopes that heaven will reward you by giving you Emmanuel for a husband."
Julie uttered a faint cry, blushed like a rose, and leaned against the baluster. The stranger waved his hand, and continued to descend. In the court he found Penelon, who, with a rouleau of a hundred francs in either hand, seemed unable to make up his mind to retain them. "Come with me, my friend," said the Englishman; "I wish to speak to you."
Chapter 30. The Fifth of September.
The extension provided for by the agent of Thomson & French, at the moment when Morrel expected it least, was to the poor shipowner so decided a stroke of good fortune that he almost dared to believe that fate was at length grown weary of wasting her spite upon him. The same day he told his wife, Emmanuel, and his daughter all that had occurred; and a ray of hope, if not of tranquillity, returned to the family. Unfortunately, however, Morrel had not only engagements with the house of Thomson & French, who had shown themselves so considerate towards him; and, as he had said, in business he had correspondents, and not friends. When he thought the matter over, he could by no means account for this generous conduct on the part of Thomson & French towards him; and could only attribute it to some such selfish argument as this:—"We had better help a man who owes us nearly 300,000 francs, and have those 300,000 francs at the end of three months than hasten his ruin, and get only six or eight per cent of our money back again." Unfortunately, whether through envy or stupidity, all Morrel's correspondents did not take this view; and some even came to a contrary decision. The bills signed by Morrel were presented at his office with scrupulous exactitude, and, thanks to the delay granted by the Englishman, were paid by Cocles with equal punctuality. Cocles thus remained in his accustomed tranquillity. It was Morrel alone who remembered with alarm, that if he had to repay on the 15th the 50,000 francs of M. de Boville, and on the 30th the 32,500 francs of bills, for which, as well as the debt due to the inspector of prisons, he had time granted, he must be a ruined man.
The opinion of all the commercial men was that, under the reverses which had successively weighed down Morrel, it was impossible for him to remain solvent. Great, therefore, was the astonishment when at the end of the month, he cancelled all his obligations with his usual punctuality. Still confidence was not restored to all minds, and the general opinion was that the complete ruin of the unfortunate shipowner had been postponed only until the end of the month. The month passed, and Morrel made extraordinary efforts to get in all his resources. Formerly his paper, at any date, was taken with confidence, and was even in request. Morrel now tried to negotiate bills at ninety days only, and none of the banks would give him credit. Fortunately, Morrel had some funds coming in on which he could rely; and, as they reached him, he found himself in a condition to meet his engagements when the end of July came. The agent of Thomson & French had not been again seen at Marseilles; the day after, or two days after his visit to Morrel, he had disappeared; and as in that city he had had no intercourse but with the mayor, the inspector of prisons, and M. Morrel, his departure left no trace except in the memories of these three persons. As to the sailors of the Pharaon, they must have found snug berths elsewhere, for they also had disappeared.
Captain Gaumard, recovered from his illness, had returned from Palma. He delayed presenting himself at Morrel's, but the owner, hearing of his arrival, went to see him. The worthy shipowner knew, from Penelon's recital, of the captain's brave conduct during the storm, and tried to console him. He brought him also the amount of his wages, which Captain Gaumard had not dared to apply for. As he descended the staircase, Morrel met Penelon, who was going up. Penelon had, it would seem, made good use of his money, for he was newly clad. When he saw his employer, the worthy tar seemed much embarrassed, drew on one side into the corner of the landing-place, passed his quid from one cheek to the other, stared stupidly with his great eyes, and only acknowledged the squeeze of the hand which Morrel as usual gave him by a slight pressure in return. Morrel attributed Penelon's embarrassment to the elegance of his attire; it was evident the good fellow had not gone to such an expense on his own account; he was, no doubt, engaged on board some other vessel, and thus his bashfulness arose from the fact of his not having, if we may so express ourselves, worn mourning for the Pharaon longer. Perhaps he had come to tell Captain Gaumard of his good luck, and to offer him employment from his new master. "Worthy fellows!" said Morrel, as he went away, "may your new master love you as I loved you, and be more fortunate than I have been!"
August rolled by in unceasing efforts on the part of Morrel to renew his credit or revive the old. On the 20th of August it was known at Marseilles that he had left town in the mailcoach, and then it was said that the bills would go to protest at the end of the month, and that Morrel had gone away and left his chief clerk Emmanuel, and his cashier Cocles, to meet the creditors. But, contrary to all expectation, when the 31st of August came, the house opened as usual, and Cocles appeared behind the grating of the counter, examined all bills presented with the usual scrutiny, and, from first to last, paid all with the usual precision. There came in, moreover, two drafts which M. Morrel had fully anticipated, and which Cocles paid as punctually as the bills which the shipowner had accepted. All this was incomprehensible, and then, with the tenacity peculiar to prophets of bad news, the failure was put off until the end of September. On the 1st, Morrel returned; he was awaited by his family with extreme anxiety, for from this journey to Paris they hoped great things. Morrel had thought of Danglars, who was now immensely rich, and had lain under great obligations to Morrel in former days, since to him it was owing that Danglars entered the service of the Spanish banker, with whom he had laid the foundations of his vast wealth. It was said at this moment that Danglars was worth from six to eight millions of francs, and had unlimited credit. Danglars, then, without taking a crown from his pocket, could save Morrel; he had but to pass his word for a loan, and Morrel was saved. Morrel had long thought of Danglars, but had kept away from some instinctive motive, and had delayed as long as possible availing himself of this last resource. And Morrel was right, for he returned home crushed by the humiliation of a refusal. Yet, on his arrival, Morrel did not utter a complaint, or say one harsh word. He embraced his weeping wife and daughter, pressed Emmanuel's hand with friendly warmth, and then going to his private room on the second floor had sent for Cocles. "Then," said the two women to Emmanuel, "we are indeed ruined."
It was agreed in a brief council held among them, that Julie should write to her brother, who was in garrison at Nimes, to come to them as speedily as possible. The poor women felt instinctively that they required all their strength to support the blow that impended. Besides, Maximilian Morrel, though hardly two and twenty, had great influence over his father. He was a strong-minded, upright young man. At the time when he decided on his profession his father had no desire to choose for him, but had consulted young Maximilian's taste. He had at once declared for a military life, and had in consequence studied hard, passed brilliantly through the Polytechnic School, and left it as sub-lieutenant of the 53d of the line. For a year he had held this rank, and expected promotion on the first vacancy. In his regiment Maximilian Morrel was noted for his rigid observance, not only of the obligations imposed on a soldier, but also of the duties of a man; and he thus gained the name of "the stoic." We need hardly say that many of those who gave him this epithet repeated it because they had heard it, and did not even know what it meant. This was the young man whom his mother and sister called to their aid to sustain them under the serious trial which they felt they would soon have to endure. They had not mistaken the gravity of this event, for the moment after Morrel had entered his private office with Cocles, Julie saw the latter leave it pale, trembling, and his features betraying the utmost consternation. She would have questioned him as he passed by her, but the worthy creature hastened down the staircase with unusual precipitation, and only raised his hands to heaven and exclaimed, "Oh, mademoiselle, mademoiselle, what a dreadful misfortune! Who could ever have believed it!" A moment afterwards Julie saw him go up-stairs carrying two or three heavy ledgers, a portfolio, and a bag of money.
Morrel examined the ledgers, opened the portfolio, and counted the money. All his funds amounted to 6,000, or 8,000. francs, his bills receivable up to the 5th to 4,000 or 5,000, which, making the best of everything, gave him 14,000. francs to meet debts amounting to 287,500 francs. He had not even the means for making a possible settlement on account. However, when Morrel went down to his dinner, he appeared very calm. This calmness was more alarming to the two women than the deepest dejection would have been. After dinner Morrel usually went out and used to take his coffee at the Phocaean club, and read the Semaphore; this day he did not leave the house, but returned to his office.
As to Cocles, he seemed completely bewildered. For part of the day he went into the court-yard, seated himself on a stone with his head bare and exposed to the blazing sun. Emmanuel tried to comfort the women, but his eloquence faltered. The young man was too well acquainted with the business of the house, not to feel that a great catastrophe hung over the Morrel family. Night came, the two women had watched, hoping that when he left his room Morrel would come to them, but they heard him pass before their door, and trying to conceal the noise of his footsteps. They listened; he went into his sleeping-room, and fastened the door inside. Madame Morrel sent her daughter to bed, and half an hour after Julie had retired, she rose, took off her shoes, and went stealthily along the passage, to see through the keyhole what her husband was doing. In the passage she saw a retreating shadow; it was Julie, who, uneasy herself, had anticipated her mother. The young lady went towards Madame Morrel.
"He is writing," she said. They had understood each other without speaking. Madame Morrel looked again through the keyhole, Morrel was writing; but Madame Morrel remarked, what her daughter had not observed, that her husband was writing on stamped paper. The terrible idea that he was writing his will flashed across her; she shuddered, and yet had not strength to utter a word. Next day M. Morrel seemed as calm as ever, went into his office as usual, came to his breakfast punctually, and then, after dinner, he placed his daughter beside him, took her head in his arms, and held her for a long time against his bosom. In the evening, Julie told her mother, that although he was apparently so calm, she had noticed that her father's heart beat violently. The next two days passed in much the same way. On the evening of the 4th of September, M. Morrel asked his daughter for the key of his study. Julie trembled at this request, which seemed to her of bad omen. Why did her father ask for this key which she always kept, and which was only taken from her in childhood as a punishment? The young girl looked at Morrel.
"What have I done wrong, father," she said, "that you should take this key from me?"
"Nothing, my dear," replied the unhappy man, the tears starting to his eyes at this simple question,—"nothing, only I want it." Julie made a pretence to feel for the key. "I must have left it in my room," she said. And she went out, but instead of going to her apartment she hastened to consult Emmanuel. "Do not give this key to your father," said he, "and to-morrow morning, if possible, do not quit him for a moment." She questioned Emmanuel, but he knew nothing, or would not say what he knew. During the night, between the 4th and 5th of September, Madame Morrel remained listening for every sound, and, until three o'clock in the morning, she heard her husband pacing the room in great agitation. It was three o'clock when he threw himself on the bed. The mother and daughter passed the night together. They had expected Maximilian since the previous evening. At eight o'clock in the morning Morrel entered their chamber. He was calm; but the agitation of the night was legible in his pale and careworn visage. They did not dare to ask him how he had slept. Morrel was kinder to his wife, more affectionate to his daughter, than he had ever been. He could not cease gazing at and kissing the sweet girl. Julie, mindful of Emmanuel's request, was following her father when he quitted the room, but he said to her quickly,—"Remain with your mother, dearest." Julie wished to accompany him. "I wish you to do so," said he.
This was the first time Morrel had ever so spoken, but he said it in a tone of paternal kindness, and Julie did not dare to disobey. She remained at the same spot standing mute and motionless. An instant afterwards the door opened, she felt two arms encircle her, and a mouth pressed her forehead. She looked up and uttered an exclamation of joy.
"Maximilian, my dearest brother!" she cried. At these words Madame Morrel rose, and threw herself into her son's arms. "Mother," said the young man, looking alternately at Madame Morrel and her daughter, "what has occurred—what has happened? Your letter has frightened me, and I have come hither with all speed."
"Julie," said Madame Morrel, making a sign to the young man, "go and tell your father that Maximilian has just arrived." The young lady rushed out of the apartment, but on the first step of the staircase she found a man holding a letter in his hand.
"Are you not Mademoiselle Julie Morrel?" inquired the man, with a strong Italian accent.
"Yes, sir," replied Julie with hesitation; "what is your pleasure? I do not know you."
"Read this letter," he said, handing it to her. Julie hesitated. "It concerns the best interests of your father," said the messenger.
The young girl hastily took the letter from him. She opened it quickly and read:—
"Go this moment to the Allees de Meillan, enter the house No. 15, ask the porter for the key of the room on the fifth floor, enter the apartment, take from the corner of the mantelpiece a purse netted in red silk, and give it to your father. It is important that he should receive it before eleven o'clock. You promised to obey me implicitly. Remember your oath.
"Sinbad the Sailor."
The young girl uttered a joyful cry, raised her eyes, looked round to question the messenger, but he had disappeared. She cast her eyes again over the note to peruse it a second time, and saw there was a postscript. She read:—
"It is important that you should fulfil this mission in person and alone. If you go accompanied by any other person, or should any one else go in your place, the porter will reply that he does not know anything about it."
This postscript decreased greatly the young girl's happiness. Was there nothing to fear? was there not some snare laid for her? Her innocence had kept her in ignorance of the dangers that might assail a young girl of her age. But there is no need to know danger in order to fear it; indeed, it may be observed, that it is usually unknown perils that inspire the greatest terror.
Julie hesitated, and resolved to take counsel. Yet, through a singular impulse, it was neither to her mother nor her brother that she applied, but to Emmanuel. She hastened down and told him what had occurred on the day when the agent of Thomson & French had come to her father's, related the scene on the staircase, repeated the promise she had made, and showed him the letter. "You must go, then, mademoiselle," said Emmanuel.
"Go there?" murmured Julie.
"Yes; I will accompany you."
"But did you not read that I must be alone?" said Julie.
"And you shall be alone," replied the young man. "I will await you at the corner of the Rue de Musee, and if you are so long absent as to make me uneasy, I will hasten to rejoin you, and woe to him of whom you shall have cause to complain to me!"
"Then, Emmanuel?" said the young girl with hesitation, "it is your opinion that I should obey this invitation?"
"Yes. Did not the messenger say your father's safety depended upon it?"
"But what danger threatens him, then, Emmanuel?" she asked.
Emmanuel hesitated a moment, but his desire to make Julie decide immediately made him reply.
"Listen," he said; "to-day is the 5th of September, is it not?"
"To-day, then, at eleven o'clock, your father has nearly three hundred thousand francs to pay?"
"Yes, we know that."
"Well, then," continued Emmanuel, "we have not fifteen thousand francs in the house."
"What will happen then?"
"Why, if to-day before eleven o'clock your father has not found someone who will come to his aid, he will be compelled at twelve o'clock to declare himself a bankrupt."
"Oh, come, then, come!" cried she, hastening away with the young man. During this time, Madame Morrel had told her son everything. The young man knew quite well that, after the succession of misfortunes which had befallen his father, great changes had taken place in the style of living and housekeeping; but he did not know that matters had reached such a point. He was thunderstruck. Then, rushing hastily out of the apartment, he ran up-stairs, expecting to find his father in his study, but he rapped there in vain.
While he was yet at the door of the study he heard the bedroom door open, turned, and saw his father. Instead of going direct to his study, M. Morrel had returned to his bed-chamber, which he was only this moment quitting. Morrel uttered a cry of surprise at the sight of his son, of whose arrival he was ignorant. He remained motionless on the spot, pressing with his left hand something he had concealed under his coat. Maximilian sprang down the staircase, and threw his arms round his father's neck; but suddenly he recoiled, and placed his right hand on Morrel's breast. "Father," he exclaimed, turning pale as death, "what are you going to do with that brace of pistols under your coat?"
"Oh, this is what I feared!" said Morrel.
"Father, father, in heaven's name," exclaimed the young man, "what are these weapons for?"
"Maximilian," replied Morrel, looking fixedly at his son, "you are a man, and a man of honor. Come, and I will explain to you."
And with a firm step Morrel went up to his study, while Maximilian followed him, trembling as he went. Morrel opened the door, and closed it behind his son; then, crossing the anteroom, went to his desk on which he placed the pistols, and pointed with his finger to an open ledger. In this ledger was made out an exact balance-sheet of his affair's. Morrel had to pay, within half an hour, 287,500 francs. All he possessed was 15,257 francs. "Read!" said Morrel.
The young man was overwhelmed as he read. Morrel said not a word. What could he say? What need he add to such a desperate proof in figures?" And have you done all that is possible, father, to meet this disastrous result?" asked the young man, after a moment's pause. "I have," replied Morrel.
"You have no money coming in on which you can rely?"
"You have exhausted every resource?"
"And in half an hour," said Maximilian in a gloomy voice, "our name is dishonored!"
"Blood washes out dishonor," said Morrel.
"You are right, father; I understand you." Then extending his hand towards one of the pistols, he said, "There is one for you and one for me—thanks!" Morrel caught his hand. "Your mother—your sister! Who will support them?" A shudder ran through the young man's frame. "Father," he said, "do you reflect that you are bidding me to live?"
"Yes, I do so bid you," answered Morrel, "it is your duty. You have a calm, strong mind, Maximilian. Maximilian, you are no ordinary man. I make no requests or commands; I only ask you to examine my position as if it were your own, and then judge for yourself."
The young man reflected for a moment, then an expression of sublime resignation appeared in his eyes, and with a slow and sad gesture he took off his two epaulets, the insignia of his rank. "Be it so, then, my father," he said, extending his hand to Morrel, "die in peace, my father; I will live." Morrel was about to cast himself on his knees before his son, but Maximilian caught him in his arms, and those two noble hearts were pressed against each other for a moment. "You know it is not my fault," said Morrel. Maximilian smiled. "I know, father, you are the most honorable man I have ever known."
"Good, my son. And now there is no more to be said; go and rejoin your mother and sister."
"My father," said the young man, bending his knee, "bless me!" Morrel took the head of his son between his two hands, drew him forward, and kissing his forehead several times said, "Oh, yes, yes, I bless you in my own name, and in the name of three generations of irreproachable men, who say through me, 'The edifice which misfortune has destroyed, providence may build up again.' On seeing me die such a death, the most inexorable will have pity on you. To you, perhaps, they will accord the time they have refused to me. Then do your best to keep our name free from dishonor. Go to work, labor, young man, struggle ardently and courageously; live, yourself, your mother and sister, with the most rigid economy, so that from day to day the property of those whom I leave in your hands may augment and fructify. Reflect how glorious a day it will be, how grand, how solemn, that day of complete restoration, on which you will say in this very office, 'My father died because he could not do what I have this day done; but he died calmly and peaceably, because in dying he knew what I should do.'"
"My father, my father!" cried the young man, "why should you not live?"
"If I live, all would be changed; if I live, interest would be converted into doubt, pity into hostility; if I live I am only a man who his broken his word, failed in his engagements—in fact, only a bankrupt. If, on the contrary, I die, remember, Maximilian, my corpse is that of an honest but unfortunate man. Living, my best friends would avoid my house; dead, all Marseilles will follow me in tears to my last home. Living, you would feel shame at my name; dead, you may raise your head and say, 'I am the son of him you killed, because, for the first time, he has been compelled to break his word.'"
The young man uttered a groan, but appeared resigned.
"And now," said Morrel, "leave me alone, and endeavor to keep your mother and sister away."
"Will you not see my sister once more?" asked Maximilian. A last but final hope was concealed by the young man in the effect of this interview, and therefore he had suggested it. Morrel shook his head. "I saw her this morning, and bade her adieu."
"Have you no particular commands to leave with me, my father?" inquired Maximilian in a faltering voice.
"Yes; my son, and a sacred command."
"Say it, my father."
"The house of Thomson & French is the only one who, from humanity, or, it may be, selfishness—it is not for me to read men's hearts—has had any pity for me. Its agent, who will in ten minutes present himself to receive the amount of a bill of 287,500 francs, I will not say granted, but offered me three months. Let this house be the first repaid, my son, and respect this man."
"Father, I will," said Maximilian.
"And now, once more, adieu," said Morrel. "Go, leave me; I would be alone. You will find my will in the secretary in my bedroom."
The young man remained standing and motionless, having but the force of will and not the power of execution.
"Hear me, Maximilian," said his father. "Suppose I was a soldier like you, and ordered to carry a certain redoubt, and you knew I must be killed in the assault, would you not say to me, as you said just now, 'Go, father; for you are dishonored by delay, and death is preferable to shame!'"
"Yes, yes," said the young man, "yes;" and once again embracing his father with convulsive pressure, he said, "Be it so, my father."
And he rushed out of the study. When his son had left him, Morrel remained an instant standing with his eyes fixed on the door; then putting forth his arm, he pulled the bell. After a moment's interval, Cocles appeared.
It was no longer the same man—the fearful revelations of the three last days had crushed him. This thought—the house of Morrel is about to stop payment—bent him to the earth more than twenty years would otherwise have done.
"My worthy Cocles," said Morrel in a tone impossible to describe, "do you remain in the ante-chamber. When the gentleman who came three months ago—the agent of Thomson & French—arrives, announce his arrival to me." Cocles made no reply; he made a sign with his head, went into the anteroom, and seated himself. Morrel fell back in his chair, his eyes fixed on the clock; there were seven minutes left, that was all. The hand moved on with incredible rapidity, he seemed to see its motion.
What passed in the mind of this man at the supreme moment of his agony cannot be told in words. He was still comparatively young, he was surrounded by the loving care of a devoted family, but he had convinced himself by a course of reasoning, illogical perhaps, yet certainly plausible, that he must separate himself from all he held dear in the world, even life itself. To form the slightest idea of his feelings, one must have seen his face with its expression of enforced resignation and its tear-moistened eyes raised to heaven. The minute hand moved on. The pistols were loaded; he stretched forth his hand, took one up, and murmured his daughter's name. Then he laid it down seized his pen, and wrote a few words. It seemed to him as if he had not taken a sufficient farewell of his beloved daughter. Then he turned again to the clock, counting time now not by minutes, but by seconds. He took up the deadly weapon again, his lips parted and his eyes fixed on the clock, and then shuddered at the click of the trigger as he cocked the pistol. At this moment of mortal anguish the cold sweat came forth upon his brow, a pang stronger than death clutched at his heart-strings. He heard the door of the staircase creak on its hinges—the clock gave its warning to strike eleven—the door of his study opened; Morrel did not turn round—he expected these words of Cocles, "The agent of Thomson & French."
He placed the muzzle of the pistol between his teeth. Suddenly he heard a cry—it was his daughter's voice. He turned and saw Julie. The pistol fell from his hands. "My father!" cried the young girl, out of breath, and half dead with joy—"saved, you are saved!" And she threw herself into his arms, holding in her extended hand a red, netted silk purse.
"Saved, my child!" said Morrel; "what do you mean?"
"Yes, saved—saved! See, see!" said the young girl.
Morrel took the purse, and started as he did so, for a vague remembrance reminded him that it once belonged to himself. At one end was the receipted bill for the 287,000 francs, and at the other was a diamond as large as a hazel-nut, with these words on a small slip of parchment:—Julie's Dowry.
Morrel passed his hand over his brow; it seemed to him a dream. At this moment the clock struck eleven. He felt as if each stroke of the hammer fell upon his heart. "Explain, my child," he said, "Explain, my child," he said, "explain—where did you find this purse?"
"In a house in the Allees de Meillan, No. 15, on the corner of a mantelpiece in a small room on the fifth floor."
"But," cried Morrel, "this purse is not yours!" Julie handed to her father the letter she had received in the morning.
"And did you go alone?" asked Morrel, after he had read it.
"Emmanuel accompanied me, father. He was to have waited for me at the corner of the Rue de Musee, but, strange to say, he was not there when I returned."
"Monsieur Morrel!" exclaimed a voice on the stairs.—"Monsieur Morrel!"
"It is his voice!" said Julie. At this moment Emmanuel entered, his countenance full of animation and joy. "The Pharaon!" he cried; "the Pharaon!"
"What—what—the Pharaon! Are you mad, Emmanuel? You know the vessel is lost."
"The Pharaon, sir—they signal the Pharaon! The Pharaon is entering the harbor!" Morrel fell back in his chair, his strength was failing him; his understanding weakened by such events, refused to comprehend such incredible, unheard-of, fabulous facts. But his son came in. "Father," cried Maximilian, "how could you say the Pharaon was lost? The lookout has signalled her, and they say she is now coming into port."
"My dear friends," said Morrel, "if this be so, it must be a miracle of heaven! Impossible, impossible!"
But what was real and not less incredible was the purse he held in his hand, the acceptance receipted—the splendid diamond.
"Ah, sir," exclaimed Cocles, "what can it mean?—the Pharaon?"
"Come, dear ones," said Morrel, rising from his seat, "let us go and see, and heaven have pity upon us if it be false intelligence!" They all went out, and on the stairs met Madame Morrel, who had been afraid to go up into the study. In a moment they were at the Cannebiere. There was a crowd on the pier. All the crowd gave way before Morrel. "The Pharaon, the Pharaon!" said every voice.
And, wonderful to see, in front of the tower of Saint-Jean, was a ship bearing on her stern these words, printed in white letters, "The Pharaon, Morrel & Son, of Marseilles." She was the exact duplicate of the other Pharaon, and loaded, as that had been, with cochineal and indigo. She cast anchor, clued up sails, and on the deck was Captain Gaumard giving orders, and good old Penelon making signals to M. Morrel. To doubt any longer was impossible; there was the evidence of the senses, and ten thousand persons who came to corroborate the testimony. As Morrel and his son embraced on the pier-head, in the presence and amid the applause of the whole city witnessing this event, a man, with his face half-covered by a black beard, and who, concealed behind the sentry-box, watched the scene with delight, uttered these words in a low tone: "Be happy, noble heart, be blessed for all the good thou hast done and wilt do hereafter, and let my gratitude remain in obscurity like your good deeds."
And with a smile expressive of supreme content, he left his hiding-place, and without being observed, descended one of the flights of steps provided for debarkation, and hailing three times, shouted "Jacopo, Jacopo, Jacopo!" Then a launch came to shore, took him on board, and conveyed him to a yacht splendidly fitted up, on whose deck he sprung with the activity of a sailor; thence he once again looked towards Morrel, who, weeping with joy, was shaking hands most cordially with all the crowd around him, and thanking with a look the unknown benefactor whom he seemed to be seeking in the skies. "And now," said the unknown, "farewell kindness, humanity, and gratitude! Farewell to all the feelings that expand the heart! I have been heaven's substitute to recompense the good—now the god of vengeance yields to me his power to punish the wicked!" At these words he gave a signal, and, as if only awaiting this signal, the yacht instantly put out to sea.
Chapter 31. Italy: Sinbad the Sailor.
Towards the beginning of the year 1838, two young men belonging to the first society of Paris, the Vicomte Albert de Morcerf and the Baron Franz d'Epinay, were at Florence. They had agreed to see the Carnival at Rome that year, and that Franz, who for the last three or four years had inhabited Italy, should act as cicerone to Albert. As it is no inconsiderable affair to spend the Carnival at Rome, especially when you have no great desire to sleep on the Piazza del Popolo, or the Campo Vaccino, they wrote to Signor Pastrini, the proprietor of the Hotel de Londres, Piazza di Spagna, to reserve comfortable apartments for them. Signor Pastrini replied that he had only two rooms and a parlor on the third floor, which he offered at the low charge of a louis per diem. They accepted his offer; but wishing to make the best use of the time that was left, Albert started for Naples. As for Franz, he remained at Florence, and after having passed a few days in exploring the paradise of the Cascine, and spending two or three evenings at the houses of the Florentine nobility, he took a fancy into his head (having already visited Corsica, the cradle of Bonaparte) to visit Elba, the waiting-place of Napoleon.
One evening he cast off the painter of a sailboat from the iron ring that secured it to the dock at Leghorn, wrapped himself in his coat and lay down, and said to the crew,—"To the Island of Elba!" The boat shot out of the harbor like a bird and the next morning Franz disembarked at Porto-Ferrajo. He traversed the island, after having followed the traces which the footsteps of the giant have left, and re-embarked for Marciana. Two hours after he again landed at Pianosa, where he was assured that red partridges abounded. The sport was bad; Franz only succeeded in killing a few partridges, and, like every unsuccessful sportsman, he returned to the boat very much out of temper. "Ah, if your excellency chose," said the captain, "you might have capital sport."
"Do you see that island?" continued the captain, pointing to a conical pile rising from the indigo sea.
"Well, what is this island?"
"The Island of Monte Cristo."
"But I have no permission to shoot over this island."
"Your excellency does not require a permit, for the island is uninhabited."
"Ah, indeed!" said the young man. "A desert island in the midst of the Mediterranean must be a curiosity."
"It is very natural; this island is a mass of rocks, and does not contain an acre of land capable of cultivation."
"To whom does this island belong?"
"What game shall I find there!"
"Thousands of wild goats."
"Who live upon the stones, I suppose," said Franz with an incredulous smile.
"No, but by browsing the shrubs and trees that grow out of the crevices of the rocks."
"Where can I sleep?"
"On shore in the grottos, or on board in your cloak; besides, if your excellency pleases, we can leave as soon as you like—we can sail as well by night as by day, and if the wind drops we can use our oars."
As Franz had sufficient time, and his apartments at Rome were not yet available, he accepted the proposition. Upon his answer in the affirmative, the sailors exchanged a few words together in a low tone. "Well," asked he, "what now? Is there any difficulty in the way?"
"No." replied the captain, "but we must warn your excellency that the island is an infected port."
"What do you mean?"
"Monte Cristo although uninhabited, yet serves occasionally as a refuge for the smugglers and pirates who come from Corsica, Sardinia, and Africa, and if it becomes known that we have been there, we shall have to perform quarantine for six days on our return to Leghorn."
"The deuce! That puts a different face on the matter. Six days! Why, that's as long as the Almighty took to make the world! Too long a wait—too long."
"But who will say your excellency has been to Monte Cristo?"
"Oh, I shall not," cried Franz.
"Nor I, nor I," chorused the sailors.
"Then steer for Monte Cristo."
The captain gave his orders, the helm was put up, and the boat was soon sailing in the direction of the island. Franz waited until all was in order, and when the sail was filled, and the four sailors had taken their places—three forward, and one at the helm—he resumed the conversation. "Gaetano," said he to the captain, "you tell me Monte Cristo serves as a refuge for pirates, who are, it seems to me, a very different kind of game from the goats."
"Yes, your excellency, and it is true."
"I knew there were smugglers, but I thought that since the capture of Algiers, and the destruction of the regency, pirates existed only in the romances of Cooper and Captain Marryat."
"Your excellency is mistaken; there are pirates, like the bandits who were believed to have been exterminated by Pope Leo XII., and who yet, every day, rob travellers at the gates of Rome. Has not your excellency heard that the French charge d'affaires was robbed six months ago within five hundred paces of Velletri?"
"Oh, yes, I heard that."
"Well, then, if, like us, your excellency lived at Leghorn, you would hear, from time to time, that a little merchant vessel, or an English yacht that was expected at Bastia, at Porto-Ferrajo, or at Civita Vecchia, has not arrived; no one knows what has become of it, but, doubtless, it has struck on a rock and foundered. Now this rock it has met has been a long and narrow boat, manned by six or eight men, who have surprised and plundered it, some dark and stormy night, near some desert and gloomy island, as bandits plunder a carriage in the recesses of a forest."
"But," asked Franz, who lay wrapped in his cloak at the bottom of the boat, "why do not those who have been plundered complain to the French, Sardinian, or Tuscan governments?"
"Why?" said Gaetano with a smile.
"Because, in the first place, they transfer from the vessel to their own boat whatever they think worth taking, then they bind the crew hand and foot, they attach to every one's neck a four and twenty pound ball, a large hole is chopped in the vessel's bottom, and then they leave her. At the end of ten minutes the vessel begins to roll heavily and settle down. First one gun'l goes under, then the other. Then they lift and sink again, and both go under at once. All at once there's a noise like a cannon—that's the air blowing up the deck. Soon the water rushes out of the scupper-holes like a whale spouting, the vessel gives a last groan, spins round and round, and disappears, forming a vast whirlpool in the ocean, and then all is over, so that in five minutes nothing but the eye of God can see the vessel where she lies at the bottom of the sea. Do you understand now," said the captain, "why no complaints are made to the government, and why the vessel never reaches port?"