"No, no," replied Villefort, "I must speak to-day; to-morrow would be too late.
"Three months later, Renee de St. Meran became my wife, the battle of Waterloo followed, and Napoleon was deposed forever. On the 6th of May, 1816, my wife gave birth to a child—a daughter. It was very sickly, though, and my mother-in-law feared it would not live until the next day. On the night following the birth of the child I was sitting reading at my wife's bedside, when I heard my name being softly called from the direction of the garden. At first I thought I was mistaken, but the cry was repeated, and I quietly slipped out. Near the garden hedge lay a white form; the moon was shining brightly, and I saw a woman's face of extraordinary beauty. Giving vent to a low murmur of astonishment, I drew near to the figure; when I perceived the glistening eyes and the satiny dark curls, I no longer doubted but what the woman who lay before me was Naya, the sister of the Rajah Siwadji.
"'You are Monsieur de Villefort?' she said, in a gentle voice.
"'Yes, and you are Naya,' I said, to make sure.
"'I am. My husband, the Rajah Duttjah, is dead. Save my child!'
"At these words the woman opened the white mantle which covered her, and I saw a new-born babe, which was wrapped up in a silk cloth. The poor mother looked anxiously at me. I took the child in my arms and a happy smile passed over the pale face.
"'Now I can die peacefully,' she whispered; 'my husband died as we were about to leave England—I felt myself a mother—I had to live. Night and day I have wandered. Barely two hours ago my child was born; I dragged myself to the house, but my strength failed me—here—is—the—bracelet—'
"She paused suddenly—I bent over her—she was dead. From her cold hand I took the half of the gold bracelet, and ran into the house. My wife was fast asleep. I laid the child in the cradle near my little daughter, and just thinking whether I should call the nurse who slept in the next room, when I perceived that I had laid the living child next to a dead one. Our little daughter had breathed her last!
"I stood as if struck by lightning. All the proud hopes we had built on the child's birth were gone. Suddenly the strange child began to cry, and my plan was quickly made. With trembling hands I dressed the strange child—it was a girl, too—in the clothes of my own daughter, and gathering the silk cloth about the latter, I carried her to the garden and placed her in Naya's arms.
"One hour later my wife awoke, and when she asked for our child, I gave her Naya's daughter!"
"Did not Madame de Villefort ever hear of the change which had been made?" asked the district-attorney.
"Oh, yes; my wife had placed a small chain with a golden cross around our child's neck just after it was born; in my hurry I had forgotten to put this talisman on the strange child; I first denied, then confessed, everything. Instead of heaping reproaches on me, she acquiesced in the fraud. The next day my father-in-law came; Naya's daughter was baptized under the name of Valentine de Villefort, and on the bed of the child, my happy parents-in-law laid my appointment as district-attorney in Paris, and bonds to the value of three hundred thousand francs. Naya, with the dead child in her arms, was found the next day at our door. They were both buried in the potter's field. The papers Naya carried were written in the Indian language; they were given to me as a high official, and since then they, together with the wax impression and the half of the bracelet, have lain in my private portfolio which always stands near my bed."
Upon a wink from Villefort, Monsieur de Flambois opened the portfolio designated; everything was found there as he had said.
"Did you never hear again from Daola?" said d'Avigny after a pause.
"Yes; three years later the rajah wrote me from India. He had fought at Waterloo, was again a captive of the English, and only had an opportunity at the end of a year to escape. Together with the Rajah Scindia, who later on went over to England, he had again begun the struggle for independence; he is now living in the interior of Hindustan, waiting for a better opportunity. He asked me for news from Naya; I wrote him I knew nothing of her, and that ended our correspondence.
"This is my confession. Now use justice and erase from the headstone under which Naya's daughter rests the name of Valentine de Villefort."
"Suppose Valentine de Villefort is still alive?" asked D'Avigny solemnly.
Both Villefort and Monsieur de Flambois uttered a cry of astonishment, and while the latter stammered forth an "Impossible," the sick man whispered: "To-day miracles do not occur any more!"
"Gentlemen," said the physician quietly, "you know I am a sensible man; why should I try to tell you a fable?"
"But I was at the funeral," stammered Flambois.
"I also, and yet I tell you the dead woman lives," persisted D'Avigny, "or if we want to call it by its proper name, Valentine de Villefort is dead and the daughter of Naya and the Rajah Duttjah lives."
"Then Valentine must have been buried alive," muttered Villefort, fixing his eyes upon the physician.
"And if that were the case?" said D'Avigny solemnly.
"Then I would say God has done a miracle to save the innocent," said Villefort, the tears starting in his eyes.
"Monsieur de Villefort," said the physician, earnestly, "do you know how Valentine died?"
"Too well—she was poisoned by my wife."
"Madame de Villefort wished to have Valentine's fortune go to her son."
"That is dastardly," said the district-attorney.
"Do you remember, Monsieur de Villefort," continued D'Avigny, "to have seen a mysterious man in your house some time prior to Valentine's death, whose mission it appears is to reward the good and punish the guilty?"
"Yes, I remember; you mean the Count of Monte-Cristo," said Villefort, with emotion.
"The Count of Monte-Cristo," repeated the district-attorney, contemptuously, "the adventurer?"
"Sir, do not blaspheme!" exclaimed Villefort, passionately; "if Valentine is saved she owes it to that God in the form of man—the Count of Monte-Cristo! He alone has the power to change the dead into the living. If Valentine lives, I will believe God has pardoned a portion of my sins."
"Gentlemen," said the district-attorney, doubtingly, "I only believe what I see; if Valentine de Villefort lives, let her show herself."
"Maximilian," called D'Avigny, opening the door, "tell Valentine to come in."
"Whom did you just call?" asked Villefort, when D'Avigny had closed the door again.
"Maximilian Morrel, Valentine's betrothed, the son of the shipping merchant Morrel, of Marseilles."
"Morrel—Marseilles—Edmond Dantes," murmured Villefort. "Ah, there is justice in Heaven!"
The door was now opened, and Valentine entered. She strode to Villefort's bed and sank on her knees beside it.
"Oh, father," she sobbed, embracing him tenderly. "Thank God, I see you again!"
Villefort gazed at Valentine as if she were a spectre; but tears fell on the young girl's cheeks, and his lean hands were crossed as if in prayer.
"Father, dearly beloved father!" stammered Valentine, weepingly, "why do you not speak? Have you no word of welcome for your Valentine?"
"Monsieur de Flambois, do you still doubt?" asked d'Avigny, softly.
"Yes, not your statement, but my reason," said the district-attorney, wiping the tears from his eyes.
"Valentine," whispered Villefort, in a broken voice, "kiss me. Now I can die easy."
"Oh, father, father, you must not die!" she weepingly cried.
"I must, darling, but I die happy, since I know you will be well taken care of. Monsieur Morrel," he said, turning to the young man, "you know what unhappiness I once caused your father?"
"No, Monsieur de Villefort, I have forgotten everything, and only know that you are Valentine's father," said Maximilian, cordially. "Give us your blessing."
"No, no!" said Villefort, anxiously; "I dare not—I am not worthy of it! But one thing I can do; I can tell Valentine who she is, and Monsieur de Flambois and Monsieur d'Avigny will corroborate my words. Valentine, you, whom I have so often called daughter, look at me and listen to my words. You are the daughter of the Rajah Duttjah and his wife Naya. The marriage of your parents was celebrated at Epping Forest, in England, by a Brahmin, who was also a prisoner there; in the portfolio there you will find the paper relating to the marriage. Do not look at me so fearfully, my poor darling, I am speaking the truth, and these gentlemen will tell you later on all the details. Your parents are both dead. There is a letter in the portfolio from your mother's brother, the Rajah Siwadji Daola. It was written in 1818. If Daola still lives, he will find out that I deceived him; that I saw his sister die, and that Naya's child still lives."
"But, father," said Valentine, passionately, "if my parents are both dead, and you brought me up, I am nevertheless your daughter."
"Thanks, Valentine. But before my strength gives way, I must perform another duty. Doctor, a glass of wine; I have one more favor to ask of Valentine."
D'Avigny poured out a glass of red wine for Monsieur de Villefort, and Valentine put her arm around the dying man's neck, and rested his head against her bosom.
"I want you to look after my son, Valentine," whispered Villefort. "Oh, what would I not give if I could wear the chains instead of him—what is death to the life led by a galley-slave? If it is in your power to do anything for Benedetto, do not fail to do it. He is a scoundrel, but I was the cause of his downfall. Have mercy on him, and I die peacefully!"
"Father," said Valentine, solemnly, "your wish shall be sacred to me. I shall go in search of Benedetto, and bring him your last wishes."
"You are—an—angel," stammered Villefort. "Farewell. Ah—this—is—death!"
A shiver ran through Villefort's frame—a deep groan—a long breath—he was dead.
As soon as Valentine's first grief subsided, the physician persuaded her to stay in her room for the rest of the night, while the gentlemen conferred about the wonderful confession they had heard.
"If I only knew," said Flambois, thoughtfully, "what the papers written in the Indian language contain—I—"
"Monsieur de Flambois," interrupted young D'Avigny, modestly, "if you give me the documents I will translate them for you."
"Really? How can you do it?" asked the district-attorney, doubtingly.
"Very easily. Besides my profession as a doctor, I am an enthusiastic Orientalist. I am always in hopes of being able to go to India: the home of the lotus flower has always had attractions for me. Give me the papers and I will give you the translation to-morrow."
"Here are the papers," said Flambois, thoughtfully.
They then separated.
The next day, as D'Avigny was sitting with his daughter, Julie, Valentine and Maximilian at table, a light knock was heard at the door, and in obedience to the summons to come in, Ali, Monte-Cristo's black servant, appeared on the threshold.
Valentine and Maximilian uttered a cry of surprise. Ali bowed deeply, handed the physician a letter, and disappeared.
D'Avigny opened it and read the following:
"Waiting and hoping! In these two words lies the mystery of life. Be courageous and God will help."
As soon as Monsieur de Villefort's remains were buried, Valentine, Maximilian and Julie returned to Marseilles. Valentine wished to make the journey to Toulon, and then go to Italy for the remainder of the winter with Maximilian, her grandfather, and the Herbaults. D'Avigny's last words at the parting were:
"Beware of Benedetto!"
The days at the Bagnio passed monotonously. The rat furnished the evening's amusement, and in the same degree as Benedetto was excited, Anselmo remained calm and cool. On the evening of the 24th of February, the young man's patience was exhausted, and he forgot himself so much as to call Anselmo a liar and traitor, even threatening him with death.
"Come, come," said Anselmo indifferently, "don't be so violent. Instead of exciting yourself you had better be calm and tell me what relation it has with the million."
"That means," hissed Benedetto, "I should tell you my secret."
"You are a fool," said Anselmo, laughing; "remember that you can never get the million without my aid, and therefore leave off your sulks and speak."
"You are always right," growled Benedetto. "You have my fate in your hands and I must speak. The million, of course, must first be earned—"
"I am not so foolish as to imagine that the million will fly into my mouth like a broiled pigeon," interrupted Anselmo; "but first of all, I must know if you have some right to this million?"
"Certainly," replied Benedetto; "if the million should slip from my grasp, I should look upon myself as being robbed."
"Really—who is the thief?"
"I thought so; the lady no doubt who took charge of the letter?"
"And you must be set free punctually on the 24th?"
"Yes, on the 25th the money would be irredeemably lost."
"H'm! that would be fatal. Well, I shall arrange it."
"You arrange it? Are you ever going to tell me how you intend to set us free?"
Anselmo peered cautiously about. The jailers were sleeping in the corners, and the other prisoners, as it was Sunday, were amusing themselves with the rat, which ran from board to board, performing the most difficult tricks.
"I will call our savior at once," whispered Anselmo, and, whistling softly, he called the little rat-king to him.
The rat immediately came to its master and climbed upon his knee. Anselmo took the animal in his hand, put it on its back, and took from under its thick, hairy skin a small, thin instrument called in galley-slave slang "cow's tail."
Benedetto uttered a cry of astonishment. Anselmo waved before his comrade's eyes a narrow little tooth-saw.
"Do you believe in my promise now?" the ex-priest triumphantly exclaimed: "the jailers call our little animal 'rat!' I call him 'necessary.'"
Benedetto laughed aloud. Anselmo placed the instrument back in its place and the little rat-king sprang away, while Benedetto looked at him deaf and dumb with astonishment.
"I am convinced now," he finally said, breathing deeply, "and now you shall hear how the million is to be got. A lady will come here on the 24th—"
"Are you sure of it?"
"Positive. On the 25th this woman will draw one million to give to others."
"You are joking—she intends to give away a million?"
"Yes, and we two will prevent her," said Benedetto, firmly.
"And who is to get the million?"
"The Church, of course; you understand, now, that I must be free on the 24th, so as to be able to follow the lady and take the million from her."
"Yes, I understand. Who is the woman?"
Benedetto shrugged his shoulders.
"Do not bother yourself about that, that is my affair." He answered indifferently.
"Is it a former girl of yours?"
"Good. Keep your secret. Tell me one thing more. Will it be a stabbing case?"
"What do you mean?"
"Don't make yourself so green. From what I know of the world, this woman, who intends to give the money to the Church, will not offer it to you. You will take it from her, and if she resists—" He finished the sentence with a suggestive gesture.
Benedetto became pale as death. He bit his lips and in a hollow voice replied:
"What is necessary will occur."
"Good. I am pleased with you; but look—there comes a lady on our pontoon. Perhaps that is your millionnairess."
Benedetto looked in the direction indicated. A lady, leaning on the arm of a gentleman and accompanied by several high officials, was coming toward him.
The Corsican gave vent to an oath and made a movement as if he intended to throw himself upon the party. "Redhead," said the jailer, letting his heavy stick fall on Benedetto's shoulders, "you are trying to fly away?" Benedetto gritted his teeth. He had recognized Valentine, and as she was a Villefort, and occupied the place he thought ought to have been his own, he would have liked to have wrung her neck. He recognized Morrel, whom he had seen in Monte-Cristo's house at Auteuil, and he, too, made his anger rise. He thought they had both come to gloat over his shame. The head officer whispered a few words to the jailer, and immediately afterward Benedetto and Anselmo were ushered into the presence of the visitors.
"They take me along too because they can't help it," said Anselmo wickedly, pointing to the chain which bound them.
The jailer nodded, and the ex-priest whispered in Benedetto's ear:
"Commit no follies. You look as if you would like to poison every one."
"That is what I should like to do. But have no fear, I will be circumspect."
"Which one of you is named Benedetto?" asked the inspector, gruffly, turning to the convicts.
"I," said the former Prince Cavalcanti, modestly.
"You are wanted. Follow me, but do not speak a word or else you will be put in the black hole."
Benedetto bowed silently, and the next minute stood with his comrade before Valentine.
The young girl drew back in terror, as she saw him whom she had thought was her brother. She soon collected herself and gently said:
"Sir, Monsieur de Villefort is dead."
Benedetto's eyes shone. He felt a wild joy at the death of the man he so bitterly hated.
"On his death-bed," continued Valentine with emotion, "he thought of you, and the officials have carried out his last wishes, and allowed me to bring you his regards and certain ameliorations for you. From this day on you are freed from double chains, and if you conduct yourself well in the future, you can hope for other mercies. Farewell, and may God be with you."
Valentine's voice broke, Maximilian laid his arm protectingly around the young girl and led her away, while Benedetto and Anselmo were brought back to their comrades.
"Who is the lady?" asked Anselmo. "She is very handsome."
Benedetto remained silent and the ex-priest looked distrustfully at him.
Toward evening the blacksmith came, and Benedetto was freed from Anselmo.
"Keep up your spirits," said the jailer to the ex-priest, "and I will see what can be done for you. In a few days a new column will arrive, and if you conduct yourself properly, I will see that you get no new comrade."
"I will let my little rat-king intercede for me," said Anselmo, laughing, and the jailer nodded.
The 24th of February dawned, and Benedetto, who had not closed an eye during the night, looked so miserable in the morning that Anselmo became frightened.
"Come, now, you are frightened, perhaps?" he maliciously asked. The look he received from his comrade made him pause.
The prisoners went as usual to work, and gradually Benedetto calmed down. The night was to bring the decision, and if Anselmo lied he would make him pay dearly for it.
During this time a carriage with four horses rode from Aubagne to Beaussuet. At the inn of the latter place it stopped, and while the guard put fresh horses in the traces, the occupant of the coach, a heavily veiled woman, got out and asked of the postmaster who advanced how far it was to the nearest vicarage.
"About fifty steps from the inn," he said.
"Then please let some one come along with me to show me the way," begged the lady.
"Directly, madame. Jean, lead this lady to the vicarage."
"Yes, Monsieur Etienne," was the servant's reply, "but the priest is not at home."
"What?" said the lady, astonished. "Where is he, then?"
"I do not know. He rode past me this morning. Perhaps the housekeeper can tell us," added the servant.
"Good. Let us go there," said the lady, and before the end of five minutes they were at the vicarage.
The door was opened by an elderly woman. She made a courtesy when she saw the lady, and politely said: "Ah, madame—you are here."
"Were you expecting me?" asked the lady, astonished.
"Certainly; his reverence was unfortunately obliged to go on a journey, but there is a letter here for Madame Danglars, if you are the lady."
"I am Madame Danglars," said the lady, quickly.
The old woman handed her a letter, and invited her to make herself at home. Upon which she left.
As soon as the lady found herself alone, she hastily tore open the letter. It contained a sealed packet, and these lines:
"MADAME—I am, unfortunately, not able to receive you personally. A journey obliges me to be disrespectful. Nevertheless I hope to see you to-morrow, and beg you to make yourself comfortable in my house. All your conditions have been fulfilled. I inclose a note addressed to the port inspector at Toulon and hope everything will turn out as you desire.
"JEAN BALAIS, Curate of Beaussuet."
The lady put the letter and the note in her pocket, and as the old lady entered with a cup of steaming bouillon, she hesitatingly said:
"Did the priest tell you I was going to stay here over night?"
"Yes, madame! Your room is ready, and I hope you will sleep soundly," replied the woman, cordially.
"The house is safe?" asked Madame Danglars, looking anxiously about.
"Certainly, madame; we are hid here as if in Abraham's bosom."
The lady drank the bouillon, and then said:
"Will you please show me my room?"
"Yes, madame! I hope it will please you," replied the woman, as she walked up the stairs, followed by the lady.
Here she opened a door, and the stranger looked in and saw a large, plainly furnished room. At one side stood a snow-white bed, a washstand, some chairs, and an old-fashioned bureau.
"Does this closet lock?" asked Madame Danglars, examining the lock. "I have a jewel-case in the coach which I would like to bring to a place of security."
"Ah, the closet is as safe as the poor-box," the old lady assured her.
The lady nodded her pleasure at this, and, after she had convinced herself that the door of the room was in order, she went back to the coach, took a portfolio from the jewel-casket, and brought it to the vicarage. The old lady awaited her at the door; Madame Danglars walked past her and went to the upper story, opened the closet, put the box in it, closed the door carefully, and put both keys in her pocket. She then went downstairs again, and, turning to the old woman, said:
"For the present, good-by; I shall probably be back again before night."
"Good-by, madame; but do not stay out too late. A storm is coming up, and the roads of Oliolles are dangerous at night."
"I will try to be back soon. Adieu."
Madame Danglars got into her carriage and drove off in the direction of Toulon.
The feelings of the poor woman, who was going to the Bagnio to see Benedetto as she had promised, can be imagined. She had seen all her hopes reduced to nothing. Her husband had fled after a shameful bankruptcy, her lover had deserted her, her daughter had disappeared without leaving a word behind her, and what was left to her? The child of her shame, who had been sentenced to the galleys for murder.
She had sacrificed everything for this son, whom she loved dearly; the Jesuits had taken her million, and saved Benedetto from the gallows. Though, to her idea, the galleys was worse than death; but there was a chance of his getting free. No, she did not wish to think any more; she would bury herself in a convent in Asia Minor, and forget everything.
Toulon was at length reached; the driver took the road to the port, and she felt her heart cease beating. In a little while she would see Benedetto; the carriage stopped; the driver got out and opened the door.
"Will you please step out? Here is the Bagnio."
With trembling limbs, Madame Danglars left the coach, and slipping a few gold pieces into his hand, she said:
"Make yourself comfortable in the nearest saloon; in about three hours we shall return home."
"To-day, madame?" asked the man; "that would be impossible."
"Why impossible? Get fresh horses, I will pay you for everything."
"I am very sorry, madame, but the storm, the mistral will come very soon, and while the mistral lasts we cannot ride."
"Then I must look for another driver; I cannot delay my return."
"Madame, believe me, you will not find any one who will drive you while the storm lasts. Wait till to-morrow. I will put up my horses at the Black Eagle and await your commands there."
"I will think about it, but doubt whether I shall follow your advice. Adieu."
Madame Danglars entered the office of the port inspector and the driver drove off.
IN THE BAGNIO
"Well, what is the matter now?" asked the inspector, gruffly, as Madame Danglars handed him the priest's letter. He grumblingly opened the letter, but when he had read its contents his face lighted up and, making a respectful bow, he said:
"Madame, after reading these lines, I can only carry out all your wishes, as far as they are confined within the limits of the rules in force here. You desire to see one of our prisoners?"
"You are aware that such an interview can only take place in the presence of the chaplain?"
Madame Danglars became frightened. She had not expected this.
"I will have the chaplain informed," continued the official. "In fact, I shall let him come into my office. This is a special favor. Yesterday there was a lady here to see Benedetto, who was not permitted to converse with him except in the presence of the port inspector and the jailer."
"A lady?" exclaimed Madame Danglars, vivaciously. "Can you tell me who she was?"
"Oh, certainly, it was Mademoiselle de Villefort, the daughter of the recently deceased district-attorney."
"Monsieur de Villefort is dead?" said Madame Danglars in a choking voice.
"Yes, madame, he died in a private lunatic asylum in Paris. Did you know the gentleman?"
"Yes, slightly," replied Madame Danglars, restraining her emotion. "If you would let the gentleman be informed now—"
"At once, madame," said the official.
He wrote a few lines and went away, promising to return shortly. In about half an hour the chaplain appeared. He bowed respectfully, and said:
"Madame, I am aware of the reason which brings you here."
"What, you know?" exclaimed Madame Danglars, frightened.
"Calm yourself, madame; the secrets which are intrusted to me are buried. I must witness your interview as a matter of form, but I shall neither hear nor see."
Madame Danglars with tears in her eyes thanked the chaplain. The next minute the door opened and Benedetto appeared, accompanied by the jailer. When the poor mother saw the yellow and red clothing, the green cap, and the chain which led from the waist to the ankle, she uttered a low cry and clutched the arm of a chair to prevent herself from fainting. Upon a wink from the chaplain, who wore the dress of a Jesuit priest, the jailer departed, and after the priest had closed the door, he turned toward Benedetto, and said:
"My son, thank God for his mercy, and try to show yourself worthy of it."
Neither Madame Danglars nor the priest noticed the smile which flitted across the convict's face. Benedetto collected himself immediately, and taking off his hat he bent his knee to his mother and crossed his eyes with his hand. The priest sat in the window alcove, pulled a prayer-book out of his pocket and began to read; Madame Danglars threw a look around, then she took the bald-shaved head of Benedetto in her hands and sobbingly murmured:
"My poor, poor son!"
"A thousand thanks, mother, for coming," said the hypocritical convict.
"Oh, I desired to come, it was necessary for me to see you again," stammered the poor woman.
"How good you are! Are you aware that my father pursued me even on his death-bed? He sent his daughter, my sister, here; she brought me his last regards, but she did not give me her hand nor call me brother."
"My son, forget everything bad that has been done to you; forgive your enemies, as you desire to be yourself forgiven," implored the poor mother.
"For your sake, then. But, tell me, mother, are you really going to leave France?"
"Yes; to-morrow, at this hour, I shall sail."
"But you are not going alone; the journey is so far, and I fear danger for you."
"Thanks, Benedetto, for your anxiety. How happy you make me. But calm yourself, I shall dwell in the society of pious women, who will protect me."
"Yes, I forgot. You gave your fortune to buy this protection—the price you paid was pretty steep."
"Benedetto, you blaspheme. Your life is not too dear for me to purchase."
"I wish I could earn your love," murmured Benedetto, apparently annihilated; "you gave up a million to rescue me. If you had more money, I am sure you would sacrifice it to secure my full pardon."
"Oh, I do not give up all hope yet," exclaimed Madame Danglars, vivaciously.
"What? Have you still got the million?" asked Benedetto, hastily.
"I shall not deliver the money before to-morrow. But that has nothing to do with the matter. What I have promised, I keep."
Benedetto remained silent, while a thousand confused ideas ran through his mind. He stood with downcast eyes, his left hand carelessly stroking his chain and his right crumpling his green cap.
"Mother," he finally said, in a low voice, "there is no use speaking of the past—let us think of the future. You are going to depart to-morrow; where are you staying now?"
"I live at the vicarage of Beaussuet. The Jesuit fathers recommended me there, and I am staying there over-night, although the priest is absent."
"Oh, God!" sobbed Benedetto, "if I could only accompany you."
"I would be glad, too; I have a rough road to go back to Beaussuet. The mistral blows, and the roads of Oliolles are said to be so dangerous that my driver refuses to take me back to-night. Well, I will find another one."
"But why do you not stay in Toulon until the morning?"
"Impossible. I must hurry back to Beaussuet. I left the money at the vicarage."
"Wasn't that careless? A lonely vicarage, whose owner is absent—"
"I took good care of it; the portfolio containing the money is stowed safely away in a tight closet, the key of which I carry."
"But the portfolio must be a large one. It is not so easy to wrap up a million," said Benedetto, inquisitively.
"Yes, if I had to deliver the whole sum in coin; but that is not the case. Only a small part of the million is in gold, the rest is in bank-notes."
Benedetto nodded. He knew now exactly what he had desired to find out, and as the chaplain rose, and gently hinted that the time for the interview had expired, the convict turned to his mother, and weepingly said:
"Bless me, mother."
Madame Danglars placed her trembling hands on his head, and tenderly whispered:
"God be with you!"
Her strength deserted her; and while Benedetto was being led out by a jailer, she leaned faintingly against a chair.
The priest consoled her. She sorrowfully shook her head, collected herself, slipped a thousand-franc note into the priest's hand, and murmured:
"Give that to those who are as unhappy as I am."
The next moment she wrapped her cloak firmly about her, and strode toward the inn where the driver awaited her.
"Well," said Anselmo to his comrade as the latter returned, "how do things stand?"
Benedetto did not answer at first, but seated himself on a block of wood and looked steadfastly before him.
"Well, has the million been stolen?" asked Anselmo, growing impatient.
"No, the million is safe for us," replied Benedetto.
"So much the better. This mistral is very favorable to us. It helps our escape."
"Really? Anselmo, we must be free in two hours."
"I shall look out for that—but what will happen then? Have you a plan?"
"Yes. Do you know the village of Beaussuet?"
"Yes. It is near the gorge of Oliolles."
"Right. We must reach this village to-night, even though we run the danger of being caught and brought back, if we escape by daylight."
"What are you talking about? There is no daylight to-day. One can hardly see one's hand now, and in two hours it will be night."
"But suppose we should be locked up in the pontoons?"
"That is what I desire. We must flee by way of the pontoons."
"And our chains?"
"Have you forgotten our little Rat King?"
"You are talking nonsense again."
"Listen, Benedetto. When a million is involved, I never joke. The saw our necessary carries will cut our chains in ten minutes. And now to work. Here comes the overseer."
The convicts grasped one of the heavy logs and pretended to be working hard peeling off the rind. As Anselmo had rightly predicted, one could not see one's own hand, and no one observed Anselmo and his companion glide toward the pontoon, which was empty.
"Lie flat on the ground," Anselmo ordered, "and feel about with your hands."
Benedetto did as he was told. Suddenly he uttered a low cry as his hand came in contact with a dark object, which flitted about.
"What a noise you make," grumbled Anselmo. "You have disturbed our poor little Rat King from his work."
"Ah, now I feel a split, too. Has the rat gnawed it through?" whispered Benedetto, gleefully.
"Certainly. The courageous animal has been working to free us for over a month. As you might have noticed, I smeared the floor of our pontoon with grease, in consequence of which our shrewd rat has spent all his spare moments here, and now his business is ended. The boards are gnawed through."
"Ah! then we are to escape by swimming?" asked Benedetto, surprised.
"Have you finally found out? You are not afraid, are you?"
"No, no!" exclaimed Benedetto hastily. "Freedom at any price."
"Now you please me! Let us go now and take up our work again before our absence is noticed."
"One word more! Have you thought of our clothes?"
"I have thought of everything. Trust in me."
The convicts returned to their work, but soon after the weather became so bad that the jailers stopped work and formed the prisoners in columns to return them to the pontoons. The storm broke with such fury that the masts snapped and the sails flew about. A piece of a mast knocked a convict overboard, and when he was fished up his skull was found to be fractured. A cry of terror ran through the lines and the jailers hastened to bring the columns to the pontoons. Benedetto and Anselmo cowered in their corners and listened to the roar of the mistral. The louder it became, the more their hearts beat with joy.
"Are you ready?" whispered Anselmo to his comrade.
"Then forward! It is a question of life or death."
They both lay flat on the ground and Anselmo drew from a hole a package wrapped in sail cloth. "Here, take this package," the ex-priest told his companion, "and give it to me as soon as I am in the water. Do you see the plank which our little pet gnawed through? Well, it can be shoved aside, and by that way we come to a cave where instruments and nails are kept. In this cave is a door, to which I have the key which locks it. Now pay attention; I am turning the key. Forward, in the devil's name!" Through the open door Anselmo carefully glided into the water, which surged and roared. Benedetto handed him the package and glided likewise into the river, and while the pontoon creaked and groaned, torn by the force of the storm, the two convicts disappeared in the darkness.
IN THE MOUNTAIN PASS OF OLIOLLES
Madame Danglars had returned to the inn and asked feverishly for fresh horses, so as to be able to drive to Beaussuet. The innkeeper politely assured her it was impossible to carry out her wishes. Madame Danglars, without changing a muscle, looked steadily at the man. To her idea money could do anything, and she therefore opened her purse, and placing five hundred francs on the table, asked once more for fresh horses. The innkeeper immediately remembered that there was a man in Toulon who would risk his own and his horses' lives for money, and he sent a messenger for him. Two long hours passed before the messenger returned. He brought a favorable answer. Father Jacob, that was the man's name, would come at four o'clock with two good horses.
"Who is this Father Jacob?" asked Madame Danglars of the innkeeper.
"Oh, he is a former city boarder," replied the host, laughing, as he gave a suggestive glance in the direction of the Bagnio.
Madame Danglars shuddered.
"Does he know how to drive?" she asked.
"Like Satan. He used to be a driver of the mail coach, but got a few years in the galleys for assisting robbers to plunder the mails. He is now, however, a good, honest man, and you can safely trust yourself to his care."
What was the baroness to do? She patiently sat down, and breathed more freely when the clock struck four, and the expected coachman arrived with two splendid horses.
"So you want to drive me to Beaussuet?" asked Madame Danglars, vivaciously.
"Yes, madame, for five hundred francs."
"Then harness your horses at once."
"But," stammered the ex-convict, scratching his head, "I make it a rule to take money in advance."
"Good! Here is the money, and go quick, because I am in a hurry."
"I am in a hurry to go too. The roads will not get any better, and the mountain passes of Oliolles are not easy to ride over, even in good weather."
In less than a quarter of an hour, the baroness sat in the coach. The innkeeper stood at the door, and, as the horses started, he whispered to the coachman: "Take care of yourself, old fellow. You know you have every reason to be prudent."
"I will be so," replied Jacob, as he whipped the horses and drove off.
In the meantime, the storm continued with unabated vigor, tearing up trees, rolling the waves mountains high, and sometimes shaking the heavy coach as if it had been a feather. The horses seemed to care as little for the weather as the coachman. Madame Danglars, however, became terribly excited, and, sobbing bitterly, cowered in a corner of the carriage. Around about her, as within her, all was dark. She still thought she heard the rattling of Benedetto's chains in the roar and fury of the storm—she thought she could distinguish the soft voice of Benedetto. Suddenly a sharp jolt was felt, the coachman uttered an oath, and Madame Danglars sank in a semi-unconscious condition against the cushions of the coach.
When she recovered herself she became aware that one of the horses had stumbled; the coachman was still swearing, and tried to raise the animal up. Suddenly he came to the carriage door, and grumblingly said:
"Madame, I must give you your money back. We will not be able to reach Beaussuet."
The storm whistled and roared with bitter fury. Madame Danglars looked anxiously at the man, and in a hollow voice asked:
"Where are we?"
"The devil only knows. These passes look all alike."
"But we cannot remain here. What would become of us?" said the poor woman sobbing.
"Come, come, do not carry on so," Jacob consolingly said.
"These passes have always been dangerous. Thirty years ago I met with a misfortune at this same place; oh, when I think of that time—"
The face of the ex-convict darkened; Madame Danglars looked anxiously at him, and murmured softly:
"May God have mercy upon me!"
The man paused for a moment and then said:
"I know another way out of the difficulty. We could return to Oliolles, which is fifteen minutes distant, and some one there would fix my axle, which the horse in falling broke. We could wait at Oliolles until the storm subsides. It won't rage so furiously long. I know the mistral well."
"And you promise me you will go ahead again as soon as the storm is over?"
"As true as I stand here," the man replied.
Madame Danglars rose up and got out, while Jacob unharnessed the horses and took one of the coach lamps in his hand.
"Now follow me," he said, holding the lantern aloft.
He threw the reins about his arm and strode bravely along, while Madame Danglars slowly walked behind.
As Jacob had said, the storm had decreased in intensity. A fine rain poured down, and the poor woman strode on with renewed courage.
Suddenly the storm cast a curiously formed thing at the feet of the pedestrians. Jacob picked it up and laughed loudly, as he put a convict's green cap, for such it was, upon his head.
"Almighty God!" exclaimed Madame Danglars in terror.
"Madame," said Jacob, confused, "I did not want to frighten you. I was only glad to see such a cap after so long a time."
"How did the cap get here?" asked Madame Danglars, excitedly.
"That is easy to say. A convict has thought fit to free himself from the kindly care of the Bagnio attendants, and as the beautiful costume of the galley slaves is universally known, he has changed his toilet and thrown his cap, jacket and trousers to the winds."
Madame Danglars became excited, but she kept silent. They soon reached the house at Oliolles. The church bell of the village struck eight o'clock. Jacob went to the nearest inn, and, tying his horses to a tree, he entered the smoky little saloon, accompanied by his companion.
The innkeeper immediately hurried toward them, and while Madame Danglars ordered a glass of brandy for the coachman, the latter went to the kitchen to get the nails and cords he required to fix his broken axle. He threw the green cap carelessly on the table. Several people who sat there threw curious glances at the despised head-dress. Finally one of them said:
"Where did you get that pretty cap?"
"My coachman found it," said Madame Danglars softly.
"On the road?" exclaimed the men, rising as if electrified.
"We must hurry! Who is going along?"
"I—I!" came from all sides, and, as Madame Danglars looked from one to the other, the innkeeper said:
"There is a reward, madame, given by the city of Toulon for the capture of an escaped convict, and where a convict's cap is found they naturally conclude that the owner must be near at hand. At present wages are low, and one must not blame our peasants if they try to make something extra. I can guarantee you that the prisoner will be captured before two hours more have passed."
"The escaped convict cannot have been long in the Bagnio!" exclaimed a peasant looking closely at the cap. "The thing is almost new."
"Is there no name on the lining?" asked another.
"No, only a number—88!"
Madame Danglars gave a loud scream and with difficulty stammered:
"Show me the cap?"
Yes, there could be no doubt, the cap bore the number 88, the same which she had noticed on Benedetto's clothing. Had he escaped? And now these people wished to hunt him down like a wild animal, and he would not be able to hide from them.
"We must be going," said one of the peasants; "the convict cannot be far away, and who knows but we shall have luck and find two. It seldom happens that one escapes alone, the double chain is a good invention. Are you all ready?"
"Listen to me, gentlemen," said Madame Danglars firmly; "I will make you a proposition. Let the convict escape."
"And our hundred francs?"
"You will lose nothing! I will give you two hundred francs. It might be a humor, but I cannot reconcile myself to the thought of having a man pursued as if he were a wild animal."
The men looked up.
"The weather is terrible," said one.
"And a bird in the hand is worth two in a bush," said another.
"But we are three?" said the third, with a look of cupidity.
"You shall have three hundred francs, but let the convict escape."
"Good, madame! Your wish shall be fulfilled," said the men, after a pause; "but suppose he should be captured by some one else?"
"That cannot be helped," said Madame Danglars. "Who knows but what the poor fellow might get free this time. I saw the Bagnio to-day, and since then I am terribly nervous. It was frightful."
At this minute a shot was heard, and a firm voice cried:
"Help! help! Hold him!"
The innkeeper ran out, followed by the men. Madame Danglars crouched in a corner, and prayed to God to let her die before she should see her son.
The door was now torn open, and a great crowd entered the room.
"Forward, you horse thief," Jacob's rough voice was heard saying; "we just captured you in time."
A man whose face was covered with blood was pushed into the room. He fought desperately, throwing chairs and tables about, and falling flat on the ground.
"Let me alone," he cried, breathlessly. "I am tied already. I cannot escape."
Madame Danglars muttered a prayer of gratitude. No, that was not Benedetto's voice.
"Yes, we have got you," replied Jacob; "but the other one who took my horse has escaped! Would you believe it," he said, turning to the people, "that the other rascal ran off with my horse? While I was getting cord and nails I heard a noise in the courtyard. I ran to the spot, and saw two men getting on the backs of my horses. Quick as thought I pulled out my pistol and fired. One of them fell, but before I could load again the other had disappeared! But I shall get him, and may God have mercy on him. Quick, a glass of brandy, and may the devil take him!"
While the people crowded about Jacob, Madame Danglars drew near to the convict.
"Did Benedetto accompany you?" asked Madame Danglars, softly.
Anselmo looked up surprised.
"Ha! the lady who gave me the letter for Benedetto," he murmured.—"Yes, Benedetto accompanied me."
"I want to save him; help me, and I will make you rich."
Lo! that was the lady with the million. Anselmo looked cautiously about, then whispered softly:
"Cut my cords. A knife lies over there."
Madame Danglars let her handkerchief fall on the table; when she picked it up she held a knife in her trembling hands; one cut and Anselmo was free. At the same moment she got up and stood in front of the door.
"Now, good-night," said Jacob, putting the empty glass down and drawing his pistol from his pocket.
At the same instant Anselmo sprang forward, and, seizing the pistol, he clutched Madame Danglars under the arm as if she were a child, and ran out of the room with her. Madame Danglars at once realized the situation. While Anselmo pressed against the door with all his strength, Madame Danglars, who was a splendid horsewoman, sprang into the saddle. Anselmo then let go of the door, fired a shot into the crowd which surrounded him, and likewise bounded on to the back of the horse. The animal reared, but receiving a slight cut with the knife Madame Danglars still held in her hand, it flew like the wind, bearing the two far from their pursuers.
Benedetto, who had been told the way to Beaussuet by Anselmo, whipped his horse severely, making it fly over the stones and pavement. The vicarage was situated at the entrance to the village; the horse was covered with blood and foam, but Benedetto knew no mercy. Like a flash of lightning horse and rider flew along, and when the horse finally broke down, the first houses in the village had been reached.
Benedetto jumped off, but did not throw a look at the dying horse; he only thought of himself and his safety. He thought Anselmo had fallen into the hands of the people at Oliolles. That his companion would not betray him he knew, but the coachman had seen him and he would be pursued. There was no way out of it. He must get possession of the million, and then try to reach the coast.
Benedetto recognized the vicarage at the first glance, as his mother had described it accurately to him. An olive-tree stood inside the wall near the entrance. Benedetto took between his teeth the knife Anselmo had given him, and swung himself over the wall and thence on to the window-sill. The wretch hesitated a moment before he broke the pane. Suppose his mother uttered a cry.
"Ah, bah," he thought, "it will be her own fault."
With a quick movement he broke the glass.
Taking out a small thieves'-lantern and some matches, which Anselmo had also given him, he struck a light and looked around. The bed was empty.
"The mistral delayed her," muttered Benedetto; "I must be quick."
Hastily plunging his knife into the closet, he opened the door, and was soon in possession of the portfolio. He put it on the table and tried to open the lock with his knife. But in vain; it would not open.
At this moment his sharp ear detected the sound of horses' hoofs.
"The pursuers," he muttered, and for a moment he was dazed.
He collected himself rapidly. He did not wish to be caught, yet did not desire to lose the million. Taking the portfolio in his hand, he opened the window and was about to spring out when he paused. Unless he had the use of both of his hands, he could not hope to reach the wall, and he did not think of leaving his plunder behind him. Now he heard voices. His pursuers must have halted under the olive-tree; a horse whinnied, there was no chance of escape! He ran to the door. It was shut tight, and now it recurred to him that his mother had told him she carried the key in her pocket.
What was he to do? Alive he would not be captured, and the bandit who hesitated to draw his knife against his pursuers was a coward. He himself dreaded death, and he therefore carefully tried to remove the lock with his knife. Perhaps he could escape anyhow!
He had just removed two screws, when he heard heavy steps coming up the stairs. His pursuers were at his heels.
With the portfolio under his arm and his knife held aloof in his hand, he waited. A key was inserted in the lock now, the door opened, and a figure entered the room.
But it did not proceed far. Benedetto's knife sank down and a hot stream of blood squirted into the face of the murderer, who had struck his victim in the breast. At the same moment Benedetto felt himself seized by a hand of iron and thrown down, while a well-known voice cried in his ear:
"Miserable scoundrel, it was your mother—your mother, and you knew it!"
The man who said this in a voice of thunder was none other than Anselmo, the galley slave, the ex-priest who had disgraced his cloth, but who was innocent in comparison to his comrade Benedetto.
He shook the Corsican like a madman, and continually repeated the words:
"Scoundrel! Murderer! Monster! It is your mother!"
Madame Danglars lay groaning on the floor, the knife was buried up to the hilt in her breast, and yet she did not utter a cry as she recognized her murderer. She restrained herself with superhuman power, fearing to give the alarm to Benedetto's pursuers.
"Benedetto," she faintly whispered, "you have killed me—but you did not know it was I, did you? Oh, sir," she added, turning to Anselmo, "leave him alone, he must escape—quick!"
Anselmo obeyed. During their desperate ride, he had been told by the poor mother what Benedetto was to her. He knew Benedetto would go to the extreme, and his heart stopped beating as he thought of the unnatural son! He had urged the horse on at a wild gallop, so as to bring Benedetto's mother to the vicarage in safety. His own safety was of secondary importance to him, when it was a question of protecting a mother from the knife of her son. He intended to alarm the house; that Benedetto would arrive there before them he had not imagined.
"Sir," muttered the baroness, faintly, "swear to me that you will let Benedetto escape. Do not pursue him, and I die peacefully."
"I swear it," said Anselmo, in a hollow voice.
"Thanks, a thousand thanks! Benedetto, embrace me and fly."
The bandit stood as if transfixed, and gazed at the dying woman, and only when Anselmo touched him by the arm and drew him to the groaning woman, exclaiming: "Do as she says, or I will kill you," did he condescend to press his forehead to her cold lips.
"Benedetto," she whispered faintly.
Her breath ceased—she was dead.
"I have the million," said Benedetto, after a pause, "come!"
Instead of answering, Anselmo tore the knife from out of the breast of the dead woman and, holding it toward the son, hissed:
"Go, monster, or I shall break my oath and kill you."
Benedetto hesitated no longer, took the portfolio which lay on the floor, and bounded down the stairs.
ON THE SEA
Since that eventful evening at the vicarage of Beaussuet eight days have passed. On the evening of the eighth day a sharp northeast wind blew and whipped the waves of the Mediterranean Sea so violently that they rose mountain high and almost buried a small frigate under their white caps. The captain of the frigate stood at the helm and hoarsely roared out his commands to the sailors, but they did not understand him, and when the storm tore off the mainmast a loud outcry was heard. The captain was the only one who did not lose his senses. With his axe he chopped off the remaining pieces of the mast, and turning to his crew, his face convulsed with passion, he said:
"Thunder and lightning! what do you mean by disobeying my orders? Have you got cotton in your ears?"
"No, captain," replied the oldest sailor, "we do not disobey your orders, but why should we carry them out, since we are lost anyhow?"
As if in confirmation of his words a terrific wind threw the frigate on its side, and even the captain could hardly sustain himself on his feet.
"You are miserable cowards," he cried to the sailors; "one would imagine you had never seen a storm before! Do you still remember how the frigate was almost wrecked off Malta, and yet we saved our lives then?—"
"Yes, captain," interrupted a sailor, "but that was different."
"How so? What do you mean? Open your mouth, or—"
"That time we did not have any branded men on board," said the sailor, firmly.
"No branded men? Are you mad?"
"No, captain; but so long as we have these unhappy men on board the storm rages, and neither God nor the devil can save us. Look over there; there he lies on the floor, and, Jesus, Mary and Joseph!—another such a crash and we shall be food for the sharks!"
Unconsciously the captain looked in the direction indicated. A man, whose face could not be seen, lay flat on the vessel, his arms nervously clutching a package enveloped in a piece of sail-cloth. Now and then a tremor ran through his frame. He was apparently greatly frightened.
"What's the matter with the man?" asked the captain, gruffly.
"When he came on board at St. Tropez he was covered with blood, and—"
"Well, what then?"
"Well, his hair is shaved clean to the skin, as if he just came from the Bagnio."
"One would think," exclaimed the captain, loudly, "you are all saints. Do you remember, Pietro, what you had done before I shipped you?"
"Bah! I killed a Custom House officer, that is no crime."
"So, and what was the matter with you, Rosario?"
"Captain," answered Rosario, proudly, "you ought to know what a vendetta is."
"Didn't I say so? You are all as innocent as newborn babes. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves."
In spite of his apparent indifference, the captain felt inwardly uneasy, and the sailors' statements appeared to him to be well founded.
About four days before, as the frigate lay at anchor at St. Tropez, a man had approached the captain and offered him three thousand francs if he would take him along and land him on the Italian coast. Gennaro, the captain and owner of a smuggling vessel, did not hesitate long. Three thousand francs was a large sum, and as the passenger paid cash he overlooked certain things which he might otherwise have noticed. The closely shaved head pointed to a former galley slave, but as he conducted himself well on board and kept out of every one's way, the captain no longer thought about it.
The sailors, however, thought differently. With that superstition peculiar to Italians, they blamed the strange passenger for all the mishaps which had befallen the vessel since the "Shaven Redhead," as they called him, had come on board the vessel. On the first night a sudden storm carried away the rudder, on the second day one of the planks near the helm split, and the storm kept on increasing, finally reaching such a height that even Gennaro, the veteran sailor, could not remember to have ever seen one like it.
The boatswain now approached Gennaro.
"Well, Mello," said the captain, trying to appear indifferent, "do you also think the frigate is lost because the branded man is on board?"
"Yes," replied Mello, briefly, "if God does not perform a miracle."
At this moment a terrific crash was heard, and with loud cries the sailors rushed on deck.
"A waterspout; we are sinking!" they exclaimed, terror-stricken. "Help, captain, help!"
Immense waves of water poured over the deck and tore away part of the stern, making a deep hole in the frigate, which rapidly filled with water.
"To the pumps, men!" exclaimed Gennaro—"to the pumps!"
This time his command was immediately obeyed. The feeling of self-protection was stronger than their superstition, and the sailors were soon hard at work at the pumps.
Only two persons remained behind.
"Pietro," said one of them to the other, "are you anxious to swallow water?"
"Corpo di Dio, no!"
"How do you expect to save yourself?"
"Oh, there is still a remedy!"
The men exchanged knowing looks, and then one of them whispered:
"Be careful; do not let the captain hear of it; he might hinder us."
"He would be foolish enough to do so. We are heading straight for Elba, on the rocks of which we will be hopelessly dashed, if we do not take our steps beforehand. Let me attend to it as soon as she lies in the water."
As he said this, he looked toward the stranger, who was still lying motionless on the deck.
"Comrade," said Pietro to the stranger, "are you aware that we are sinking?"
A look of horror met the speaker, and then Benedetto, for it was he, said:
"Is there no rescue possible?"
"Oh, yes; with money you can do anything."
"Then rescue me, and I will pay you what you ask."
"Then listen. The frigate has but one boat. Follow us and make no noise. We will get into the boat and push off. For the rest, may God look out."
Benedetto nodded. When had he ever said no to any deviltry?
With staggering steps he followed the two sailors.
"Here!" exclaimed Pietro.
Benedetto could not see his hands before his eyes and blindly followed his guides. Suddenly he felt himself grasped by strong arms, and the next minute he was hurled headlong into the sea. The sailors had thrown him overboard to save the ship!
The package enveloped in sail cloth, and which contained his fortune, the wretch firmly clasped.
The waves threw him here and there. He lost consciousness. Suddenly he came to; a wave had thrown him upon a rock, and his forehead struck violently on a sharp stone. A dark stream of blood flowed over the pale face of the parricide, and heaving a deep sigh he lost consciousness anew.
The storm had subsided and the stars shone clear and bright upon the softly rippling sea as a yacht plowed swiftly through the blue waters. A man enveloped in a long cloak leaned with folded arms against the railing and thoughtfully peered into the stream. He shuddered slightly as a small white hand was softly laid upon his arm. The next minute, however, he grasped the hand, pressed it to his lips, and gazed tenderly with his sparkling eyes, which shone like dark stars, upon a handsome young woman.
The young woman wore the costume of the inhabitants of Epirus; the fine white silk dress, which inclosed the slim, beautifully shaped form, looked like freshly fallen snow, and the embroidered flowers on her broad belt could hardly be distinguished from real plants.
"My darling," said the man softly, as he pressed a kiss upon the raven-black hair.
"Oh, how I love you, my friend, my husband," she whispered in the same tone.
"Did the storm frighten you, Haydee?" asked the man anxiously.
"I am never frightened when you are near me," the pretty Greek laughingly replied; "you ought to know me better."
"Nature, Haydee, is sometimes stronger than the will of man."
"But God supervises the actions of nature, as he does the hearts of men," said Haydee, casting a look full of childish confidence at the starry sky.
"Are you aware, Haydee, that we shall reach our destination in an hour?"
"Yes, and when we land at Monte-Cristo you will tell me the story of your life, and I shall then find out the nature of the sorrow you have undergone."
"Haydee, the sorrow belongs to the past; the future at your side has in store for me only joy and happiness. From your pure lips the sentence, whether I am to be damned or saved, must come."
At this moment an old sailor approached them and in a tone of awe said:
"Count, are we going to Monte-Cristo?"
"Yes, Jacopo; you and your men stay on board, while Bertuccio and Ali accompany us. We shall only stay a few hours. Send Ali to me, and see to it that the yacht reaches its destination soon."
Jacopo bowed, and shortly afterward Ali appeared.
"Ali," said the count, turning to the Nubian, "have you carried out my orders?"
Ali folded his arms across his breast and nodded his head.
"And you know that your life is at stake?"
Ali again nodded.
"Good; you can go."
"You frighten me," said Haydee, clinging to the count. "Ali is so devoted to you, and if we should lose him—"
"Have no fear, child; we will not lose him if he does his duty."
Like lightning the Ice Bird—for such was the name of the yacht—flew over the hot waves, which were bathed in the first rays of the morning sun, and soon the rude rocks of the island of Monte-Cristo were in view of the travellers. Haydee stood leaning against her husband's shoulder, and watched the play of the glistening waves, while before Monte-Cristo's eyes the past rose like a vision.
Ten years before, in February, 1829, Jacopo had taken him, who had passed fourteen long years in the Chateau d'If, into his service. Caderousse, Ferdinand, Danglars, and Villefort had been his enemies, and now justice had overtaken all of them. The treasure of the Abbe Faria had placed Edmond Dantes in a position to play an important part in the world as the Count of Monte-Cristo, and, now that he saw his plans realized, and the traitors punished, Monte-Cristo felt his soul stirred by doubts. Faria had intended to establish the unity of Italy with the legendary wealth of the Spadas. Later on he had given his treasure to Edmond Dantes to do with as he pleased; like the angel with the fiery sword, Monte-Cristo had punished the guilty, and now—
"Count," said Bertuccio, "we shall land directly. Have you any new order for me?"
"No, Bertuccio; you know my orders for Ali; they suffice."
Bertuccio departed, and immediately afterward the ship came to anchor.
The count laid his arm on the shoulder of the pretty Greek, and tenderly led her to the boat in waiting. Ali and Bertuccio followed, and the little vessel, driven by four strong oarsmen, flew like an arrow through the water.
The boat soon reached the beach, and Monte-Cristo carried Haydee in his arms to land. He motioned to Bertuccio and Ali, and, turning to the sailors, said:
"Come back for us in two hours."
The bark disappeared, and Monte-Cristo walked in the direction of the grotto. Haydee followed him, feeling as if she were entering some sanctuary, since it was at Monte-Cristo that she became the wife of the man whom she loved above everything else in the world.
The count divined the young woman's thoughts and drawing her toward him, he whispered: "My darling, at this place you became mine. To-day I wish to hear from your own lips whether I really deserve my happiness."
The subterranean palace housed the travellers. Fragrant perfumes filled the magnificent halls, and in the light of the wax candles the gold and silver service shone with fairy-like splendor.
Monte-Cristo conducted Haydee to a charming boudoir; her feet sank in wavy carpets, and after she had seated herself with incomparable grace on a divan, the count stood beside her and proceeded to relate the story of his life. It was a long time before he had finished his tale. Haydee felt with him the horrors of his prison, she sobbed as he described the death of Faria, whom he called his spiritual father, and cried out in terror as she heard that the cemetery of Chateau d'If was the wide sea! Then he had dug out Faria's treasure. How rich he thought himself then, and how poor he was at the moment when he set foot on the land and heard that his father had died of starvation, and that Mercedes, his bride, had forgotten him and married the man who had betrayed him.
He had sworn then that he would revenge himself and punish all those who had sinned against him. Villefort, Caderousse, Danglars and Morcerf had succumbed to him, and he could now triumphantly exclaim: "I am your master; I have punished all of you as you have deserved."
"Haydee," said Monte-Cristo finally, "what is your decision?"
"That you have fulfilled the mission which God has placed in your hands according to his wish and desire. God was with you, for you have dealt out justice," exclaimed Haydee, her eyes sparkling.
"And now, Haydee—now—"
"Now justice is satisfied and you will become merciful," whispered the young woman softly.
"I wish to do so, Haydee, so help me God; for each act of revenge I will place a good deed in the eternal scales, and the years which still remain to me shall be devoted to the noblest aims of humanity. I—"
Suddenly Monte-Cristo paused, a slight motion from Ali showed that something unexpected had happened, and, hastily drawing Haydee with him, he left the grotto.
"What's the matter, Ali?" he asked, turning to the Nubian, who stood uneasily on a sharp ledge of the rock.
Ali threw himself at full length on the ground and closed his eyes.
"Ah!" exclaimed the count, "you have a man on this rock?"
Ali nodded gleefully.
"And do you know who he is?"
Ali's look expressed doubt. He put his hand to his forehead and shook his head to indicate that his memory had deserted him.
"Is the man wounded?"
"Yes," nodded Ali.
"No," shaking his head.
"But he is not able to move?"
Ali's face lighted up again when he saw he was understood.
"Haydee," said the count, turning to his wife, "I look upon it as a good sign that God has permitted me at this minute to do an act of charity. Remain here, while I go with Ali to save the poor fellow."
"I shall accompany you," said Haydee, pleadingly; "let me take part in your good deeds."
"Then come, my darling," said Monte-Cristo, in whose eye a tear glistened, and they both followed Ali, who hurried toward the beach.
As they passed by the entrance to the grotto, Haydee noticed that Bertuccio was making a hole in the rock with his pickaxe.
"What is Bertuccio doing?" asked Haydee, curiously.
"You shall find out later on," replied the count, and, turning to Bertuccio, he asked in a low voice:
"Is the work nearly finished?"
"Almost, count. I have just one thing more to do, and as soon as you give the sign, all will be over."
"Very well, Bertuccio, and now follow us."
The Corsican looked wonderingly at the count, and, taking his pick in his hand, walked behind. When they had reached the rear part of the little island, Ali paused and pointed to a rock which projected into the sea.
Monte-Cristo's eyes followed the Nubian's direction, and he recognized a human body lying at full length upon a rock. The face was turned aside, and a dark pool of blood indicated a wound. The man's right hand convulsively clutched a package. With a bound Monte-Cristo had reached the side of the motionless man, and taking him in his strong arms, he carried him to a small grass plot and carefully laid him down.
"Ali," he ordered, "run to the grotto and get some rum. Do not lose a minute, it is a question of life and death."
The Nubian departed, and Monte-Cristo laid his hand upon the wounded man's breast.
"He still lives," he exclaimed, breathing more freely, "and with God's help we will save him."
Suddenly a terrible cry was heard behind him, and Bertuccio stammeringly exclaimed:
"Oh, sir, it is the wretch, the murderer! Do you not recognize him?"
The count bent over the wounded man, and washing the blood from his face he exclaimed in horror:
"Really, it is Benedetto!"
"Back, sir," cried Bertuccio in a rage, as he swung his pickaxe, "I will crush the viper's skull."
The pick cleaved through the air, but before it descended on Benedetto's head, the count had grasped it, and with a powerful movement hurled it into the sea.
"Bertuccio," he said coldly, "what right have you to play the judge in my presence?"
"Oh, sir, pardon. Anger overcame me. Benedetto burned Assunta, my sister-in-law and his foster mother, so as to get her money; he only lived from robbery and murder."
"He is a man, he must be saved."
Ali came now with the rum. The count poured a few drops into Benedetto's throat, Haydee rubbed his temples, and in a few minutes the wretch uttered a deep sigh and his lips moved, though his eyes still remained closed.
The count examined the wound.
"He will live," he said decisively. "The wound is not dangerous."
"It would be better for society if he died," hissed Bertuccio.
"Bertuccio," said the count sternly, "get some water and wash out this wound."
"But, count, I—"
"Yes, you! Either you obey, or we shall separate."
Bertuccio hurried away and soon returned with some water. He trembled with rage, as he washed Benedetto's wound, but he did not dare to say a word.
Haydee had in the meantime loosened a cord from the package and discovered a small oaken box, which she tried in vain to open. The count noticed it, and after he had carefully examined the lock, he murmured:
"I will try to open it with my key."
He really succeeded in doing it. The cover flew open, and the count could not repress a cry of surprise when he saw the pile of gold and bank-notes.
"Count," said Bertuccio, approaching, "he is opening his eyes."
"Did he recognize you?"
"Oh, no, he is still confused."
"So much the better. Keep yourself at a distance. He will recover."
"What is this?" exclaimed Bertuccio, catching a glimpse of the contents of the box. "It must be the spoils of some new robbery."
"Undoubtedly," said the count; "but, stay, there is a letter under these bank-notes which might clear up the mystery."
"My son," ran the letter, "I will send this letter to you on the eve of my departure from France. You have forgiven me. To-morrow I shall see you for the last time. May God be with you and place you under his protection. Your mother, H. D."
"Hermine Danglars," he muttered to himself. "Poor, poor woman!"
Shoving Bertuccio aside, he bent over Benedetto, and said, in a voice which penetrated the deepest depths of the soul:
"Benedetto, hear me!"
A shiver ran through the wretch, but the dark eyes remained closed.
"Benedetto," continued Monte-Cristo, sternly, "you have killed your mother. Shame upon you, parricide."
This time Benedetto opened his eyes in terror, and in a faint voice murmured:
"My mother! Yes, yes. Mercy!"
Monte-Cristo rose. His gaze met that of Bertuccio, in which he read a silent question.
"Are you still going to be charitable?" asked Bertuccio's eye. "The wretch has murdered the mother who bore him? Does he deserve mercy?"
Just then a merry sailor-song was heard. The bark of the Ice Bird appeared on the beach to fetch the passengers.
"Jacopo," exclaimed Monte-Cristo aloud, "listen!"
Jacopo stood up in the bark, and looked closely at the count, who called out some words in Maltese dialect to him.
Immediately a sailor jumped from the bark into the sea and swam toward the Ice Bird, while Jacopo with the two other sailors jumped on land.
"Bring some provisions from the grotto," ordered the count.
Jacopo and Ali did as they were told, and while the sailors carried the provisions to the bark, the count whispered a few words to the Nubian. Ali approached the wounded man, and, taking him in his strong arms, he carried him to the bark and placed him on the floor of the same. The count then took the box and threw it near Benedetto; he then took Haydee's arm in his own and went back with her, while Ali plunged into the water up to his waist and laid hold of the bark.
"Benedetto," cried the count aloud, "you have blasphemed God. You have trodden under foot all human and divine laws. Men cannot punish you; may God weigh guilt and punishment with each other! Ali, do your duty."
Ali, with a powerful movement, pushed the bark from the shore. The tide seized the light vessel, and in a short while it disappeared from the horizon.
"Oh, count," stammered Bertuccio, beside himself, "you have given him his life."
"If Almighty God wishes him to be saved, let it be so. He has the right to punish and forgive," replied the count, solemnly.
The yacht was now approaching the shore, in obedience to the command the sailor had brought, and, with Haydee and the seaman, the count got on board, and solemnly said:
"Bertuccio and Ali, do your duty!"
Haydee looked wonderingly at her husband; he took her head in his hands and earnestly said:
"My darling, I bury the past at this hour—the grottoes of Monte-Cristo are no more."
A column of fire rose from the island—a loud report was heard, and the treasure chamber of the Cardinal Spada was annihilated.
Ali and Bertuccio hurried to the yacht, and the Ice Bird flew with all sails toward the open sea.
"Oh, darling," whispered Haydee, blushing deeply, "you have been merciful, and I thank you doubly for it. What you do for your fellow-men God will return to your child. Yes, I speak the truth. God has given me the great happiness to become a mother. Kiss me, my beloved."
WITH THE PANDURS
In the forties, Signora Aurora Vertelli was the owner of a place near the Scala, at Milan, called the Casino. The Casino was the meeting-place of the Austrian officers, for at that time the old Lombardian city was garrisoned by Austrians, under the special command of Marshal Radetzky.
Count Joseph Wenzel Radetzky is a celebrated historical personage, and the words of a contemporary: "Radetzky is a great hunter before the Lord; he drives the people before him like the hunter game," describe him sufficiently. If Radetzky was a tyrant, his officers were a torture to Italy, and it often happened that the Bohemian and Croatian officers whipped women and children on the open streets, or else ran a dagger through the body of some peaceful citizen.
Aurora Vertelli, however, enjoyed the protection of the Austrian police! What the services were that she rendered the State is not known; but, nevertheless, the "handsome Aurora," as she was called, was in great favor at police headquarters. The eating at the Casino was celebrated, the wines were second to none, and dice and cards were provided for the "spiritual" amusement of the guests.
An Italian was seldom seen in the Casino, and those that came were generally those who had taken to the Austrian army.
On the night of the 15th to the 16th of March, 1848, lively scenes were being enacted in the Casino, and neither Aurora Vertelli herself nor old Major Bartolomeo Batto, who was one of the regular customers at the place, could restrain the excited guests.
"What is going on at Vienna, Lieutenant Pasky?" asked a young officer. "Have the riots there any importance?"
"No, thank God," replied the lieutenant; "the canaille will soon be brought to their senses."
"H'm, if the emperor would only be strict," said another.
"Ah, bah! the mob has no importance."
"And the cannons generally prove it."
"Comrades," said an elderly officer, approaching the group, "I think the affair is serious."
"How so? What has happened?"
"Well, the emperor has made concessions."
"But that would be a shame."
"They want to repeal the censorship—"
"That's good. The newspapers could then print what they pleased."
"The new press-bill is said to be very liberal."
"A bullet and a rope are the best laws."
"Besides that, the delegates of the German kingdom and the Lombardian-Venetian kingdom are going to be called in—"
A storm of anger rose, and a rough Austrian nobleman, Hermann von Kirchstein, passionately exclaimed:
"Comrades, the emperor can do what he wishes, but we shall do what we wish, and if the Italians make a move we shall crush them."
As if to add strength to his words, Herr von Kirchstein crushed the wineglass he held in his hand, amid the applause of his comrades.
"Bravo!" they cried.
Count Hermann looked proudly about and said:
"Only as late as yesterday I had an opportunity to show the Milanese who is master here."
"Tell us, comrade; tell us all about it," came from all sides.
"Well, last evening, about six o'clock, I was going across the Piazza Fontana, when two confounded Italians—a lady about forty years of age, dressed in deep mourning, and a young sixteen-year-old boy—approached me. They took one side of the pavement and did not stir to let me pass. I was walking along smoking a cigar, and did not look up; the lady did not move, and you can understand—"
The count made a gesture signifying that the lady had lost her balance, and, amid the coarse laughter of his comrades, he continued:
"I went ahead, but the young booby ran after me, cursed me, and tore my cigar out of my mouth. I drew my sword, but the woman clutched my arm and cried: 'You killed the father on the 3d of January, on the Corsa dei Servi—spare the son.'
"With my sword," continued Count Hermann, "I struck the woman over the hands until she let go of my arm, and then I broke the young fellow's skull. The people crowded around, and the police arrived, to whom I told the affair."
"Did the dastardly wretch lie dead on the ground?" asked a young officer.
"No, the police took him away; but after the explanations I gave, I think he must be tried at once; in urgent cases a criminal can be hanged inside of twenty-four hours."
"Antonio Balbini was strangled this morning, and nailed to the wall of the prison," said a deep voice, suddenly.
Every one turned toward the speaker, who continued in a calm voice:
"As I tell you, Count Hermann—nailed to the wall. Ah, we have splendid methods here to humiliate the mob. About eight days ago two traitors were fried in hot oil, and if they are to be buried alive a la proviguere—"
"What is that?" asked a captain, sipping sorbet.
"What? You don't know what that is?" said the first speaker, in hard metallic tones. "One would think you had just come from another world."
The speaker was an Italian, about thirty years of age, of extraordinary beauty. Deep black, sparkling eyes lighted up the finely-chiselled features, and perfect white teeth looked from under the fresh rosy lips and raven black mustache.
The Marquis Aslitta was since two months in Milan, and, as was said, had formerly lived at Naples. He carefully refrained from meeting his countrymen, and appeared to be a faithful servant of foreign tyrants.
While he spoke the officers appeared to feel uncomfortable, and if they laughed, it sounded forced and unnatural.
"To come back to the proviguere," said Aslitta, laughing loudly. "The prisoners are chained, their legs are broken, and they are hurled head foremost into a pit about four feet deep. Then the pit is filled with dirt, leaving the legs exposed up to the knees. It recalls little trees and looks comical."
Aslitta laughed again; but, singular thing, the laugh sounded like long-drawn sobs.
Count Hermann felt his hair stand on end.
"Let us play cards," he proposed; but before his comrades could say anything, a thunderous noise came from the direction of the Scala, mingled with loud cries.
"Long live La Luciola! Long live Italy!"
The officers hurried out. As soon as the hall was cleared, Aslitta strode toward Major Bartolomeo, and whispered in his ear:
"To-night in the little house on the Porta Tessina."
THE QUEEN OF FLOWERS
The Italians have always been born musicians, and in Milan, too, there are plenty of artists. Among the latter, Maestro Ticellini occupied the first place. He had a great deal of talent, wrote charming cavatinas, and his songs were much sought after. He had not composed an opera as yet; and what was the cause of this? Simply because he could find no fitting libretto; the strict censorship always had something to say, and the most innocent verses were looked upon as an insult to his majesty, the emperor.
Since a few weeks Ticellini was in a state of great excitement. Salvani, the impresario of the Scala and a friend of Ticellini, had engaged La Luciola, the star of the opera at Naples, for Milan, and the maestro had not been able to find a libretto.
Dozens of text books had been sent back by the censor; the subjects out of the old and new history were looked down upon, because in all of them allusions were made to tyrants and oppressed people, and while La Luciola achieved triumphs each evening in the operas of Bellini and Donizetti, Ticellini grew desperate.
One night as he returned to his home in the Via de Monte an unexpected surprise awaited him. His faithful servant stood in front of the door and triumphantly waved a roll of paper before his eyes. Ticellini indifferently unrolled the package, but suddenly he broke into a cry of joy. He held a libretto in his trembling hands.
Shutting himself in his room, Ticellini flew over the manuscript. He did not notice that the binding which held the libretto was tricolored. And yet they were the Italian colors, white, green and red, the tricolor which was looked down upon.
The title already pleased the maestro. It was "The Queen of Flowers." The verses were very lucid and melodious, and the subject agreeable. The queen of flowers was the rose, which loved a pink, whereas the pink was enamored of a daisy. After many entanglings the allegory closed with the union of the pink and the daisy, and the rose generously blessed the bond. All was joy and happiness, and as soon as Ticellini had finished reading, he began to compose.
The part of the daisy was made for the high soprano of La Luciola, the pink must be sung by Signor Tino, the celebrated baritone, and Signora Ronita, the famous contralto, would secure triumphs as the rose. The subordinate characters were soon filled, and the next morning, when Ticellini breathlessly hurried to Salvani, he was in a position to lay the outline of the opera before him.
Salvani, of course, was at first distrustful, but after he assured himself that there was nothing treasonable in it, he put the manuscript in his pocket and went to see the censor.
The censor received Salvani cordially, and taking his ominous red pencil in his hand, he glanced over the libretto. But no matter how much he sought, he could not find a single libellous sentence, and at the end of an hour Salvani was able to bring his friend the news that the performance of the opera was allowed.
Ticellini was overjoyed; he worked night and day, and at the end of a week he appeared before Salvani, waving the completed score triumphantly in the air.
While the two friends were sitting at the piano, and Ticellini marked several songs and duets, a knock was heard.
"No one can enter," said Salvani, springing up; "we wish to be alone."
"Oh, how polite!" exclaimed a clear, bright voice, and as Salvani and Ticellini looked up in surprise they uttered a cry of astonishment:
La Luciola was very beautiful. She was slim and tall, about twenty-seven years of age, with beautiful black hair and finely-formed features. Her almond-shaped eyes were likewise dark, but had a phosphorescent gleam, which gave her the name of Luciola, or the fire-fly. She was dressed in a red satin dress, and wore a jaunty black felt hat. There was quite a romantic legend connected with the pretty girl: no one knew from what country she came, since she spoke all the European tongues with equal facility, and steadfastly refused to say a word about the land of her birth. She possessed the elegance of a Parisian, the grace of a Creole, and the vivacity of an Italian. Her real name was unknown. She was called the heroine of several romantic adventures, though no one could say which one of her numerous admirers she preferred. La Luciola appeared to have no heart.
Very often La Luciola, dressed in men's clothes, would cross the Neapolitan plains, accompanied by her only friend, a tender, tall blonde. The latter was just as modest as La Luciola was audacious, and she clung to the proud Amazon like the ivy to the oak.
A few days before her departure from Naples, a Croatian officer had insulted her, and instead of asking a gentleman of her acquaintance to revenge the coarse remark, she herself sought the ruffian, dressed in men's clothes, and boxed his ears as he sat in a cafe. Amid the laughter of his comrades the officer left the cafe, and La Luciola triumphed.
Such was the person upon whom the fate of the new opera depended, for she reigned supreme at the Scala, and Salvani as well as Ticellini knew this.
While they were both meditating how to secure the Luciola in the easiest way, the songstress said:
"My visit seems to be unwelcome to the gentlemen?"
"Unwelcome?" repeated Salvani. "Signora, what are you thinking of? On the contrary, we were just speaking about you and wishing you were here."
"Flatterer," said La Luciola, laughing, and pointing her finger warningly at him.
"No, signora, Salvani says the truth," Ticellini said, earnestly. "We wish to ask a great favor of you."
"That is excellent. I also come to ask for a favor," replied the diva, springing up hurriedly. "You speak first, and then you shall hear what brought me to your office."
"Oh, signora," said Ticellini, crossing his hands and falling on one knee, "my fate lies in your hands."
"That sounds quite tragical! One would imagine I was Marshal Radetzky. But are you ever going to tell me what is the matter?"
"We—I—" began Salvani, stammering.
"My dear impresario," interrupted La Luciola, laughing, "let us make short work of it. I will tell you why I came, and, in the meantime, you can collect your thoughts. Well, then, I am growing tired at La Scala; Donizetti, Bellini, and whatever other names your great composers bear, are very good fellows, but, you know, toujours perdrix."
"Well—and—" asked Salvani, breathlessly, as the diva paused.
"Well, I must have a new role in a new opera or I shall run away," said La Luciola, firmly.
Both men uttered a cry of joy. Luciola looked from one to the other and finally said:
"Does my demand embarrass you?"
"No, luck alone makes us dumb. We intended, signora, to ask you to-day to take a part in a new opera."
"Is it possible?" exclaimed La Luciola, clapping her hands with joy. "Who is the composer of the new opera? Gioberto, Palmerelli, or perhaps you, Ticellini? But stay! before we go any further, I make one condition: the subject must not be tragical."
"Oh, tragic opera has long since gone out of fashion."
"Thank God, you have the same opinion as I. What I should like now would be a spectacular piece, an allegory or something like it—pretty music and bright verses."
"Oh, signora!" exclaimed Ticellini, joyfully, "I have got what you want. The new opera is called the 'Queen of Flowers.'"
"What a pretty title!"
"Your part will be that of the daisy."
"Permit me to play you the first cavatina."
Ticellini hurried to the piano and began to play.
Luciola listened attentively and nodded satisfaction as Ticellini sung the verses.
"That will do," she said. "Get everything ready for the rehearsals; I shall sing the part."
She went out, and the next day the rehearsals began for the new opera, the first performance of which was to take place on the 15th of May, 1848.
GREEN, WHITE AND RED
The night of the 15th of May arrived, and both Salvani and Ticellini were very nervous about the first performance of the "Queen of Flowers." La Luciola was certainly the pet of the public, but the situation at Milan was such that it was a question whether the performance at the Scala would receive any attention. Even the day before, there had been very little call for tickets, and Salvani, who had spared no expense to mount the new opera properly, had awful dreams on the night of the 14th about deficits and bankruptcy.
At length, on the morning of the 15th, the demand became heavier, and after a few boxes had been taken, a negro appeared at the box-office about eleven o'clock, and pointed at a pack of tickets.
"Ah—your master desires a box?" asked Salvani, who did not disdain on special days to take charge of the box-office.
The negro laughed, so that the impresario could wonder at his white teeth, and shook his head, pointing once more at the tickets.
"You want two boxes, perhaps?"
Again the negro shook his head.
"My God, are you dumb?"
An expressive look from the Nubian confirmed the insinuation. He put a roll of bank-notes on the package, and made a motion as if he wished to put the latter in his pocket.
"Do you want to buy the whole package?" asked Salvani, breathlessly.
"Yes," nodded the negro.
The impresario looked doubtingly at him, and said:
"But that is eleven boxes on the first tier, each of which costs fifty lire—"
"Twenty-two boxes on the third tier, at thirty-six lire; and all the boxes on the fourth tier, thirty boxes at twenty-five lire."
Again the Nubian nodded. Salvani began to reckon, and excitedly exclaimed:
"But that is impossible. Are you aware that this is a matter of 2,848 lire?"
Without hesitating, the negro laid the sum of 3,000 lire in bank-notes on the window and put the tickets in his pocket. Thereupon he drew his arm under that of the impresario and pointed to the stage.
"I do not understand," stammered Salvani. "You want to go on the stage?"
"Then follow me."
Salvani walked down a small stairway and soon stood, with the negro, on the dimly lighted stage. The Nubian walked in front of the prompter's box and pointed so expressively toward the parterre and the parquet, that the impresario at once knew what he wanted.
"You want to buy the rest of the seats unsold?" he hastily asked.
"The places cost originally five, four and three lire."
"Well, I would be a fool if I did not take a hand in."
Before the Nubian had departed, he had purchased all of the seats still to be had, for the round sum of 6,000 lire, and with head proudly erect he strode through the streets.
When Ticellini appeared, Salvani triumphantly pointed to the pile of bank-notes, and when the maestro anxiously remarked that he thought it must be a trick of one of his rivals to ruin him, the impresario coolly said:
"Ticellini, would you be able to raise 6,000 lire to annihilate Gioberto and Palmerelli?"
The composer was silent. This kind of logic convinced him.
When the eventful evening came, the Scala looked magnificent.
For the first time since the Austrian occupation, all the aristocratic ladies appeared in full dress. Salvani, as well as the maestro, looked wonderingly at the audience. Very soon, however, their wonder changed to curiosity, for the toilets of the ladies were arranged in a peculiar way. Some were dressed entirely in green satin, with green leaves in their hair; others wore red satin, with red roses, and others again white satin and white flowers; and then the ladies were grouped together in such a way that the tricolor green, white and red always appeared. Ticellini was a patriot from head to foot, and his heart beat loudly when he saw the Italian tricolor.
What could it all mean? A revolution? That would destroy all chances of the success of his opera, but Ticellini did not think of himself, when the fatherland was in question, and he enthusiastically hummed the first lines of the national hymn:
"Chi per la patria muore Vessuto ha assai!"
(He who has died for his country has lived long enough.)
The parquet and balcony were filled with students, and only one proscenium box was still empty.
A murmur ran through the theatre; the door of the proscenium box was opened and three persons entered it.
A tall, majestic man, whose dark locks inclosed a pale face, led a lady of extraordinary beauty. He was dressed in a frock suit, the lady in purple silk, with a white sash. A diadem of sparkling emeralds ornamented the finely shaped head, and on her neck and arms diamonds of the purest water shone.
A remarkably handsome child, a boy about eight or nine years, took a seat between the lady and gentleman, and it only needed a casual look upon the features of the youth to recognize him as the son of the pair. The box just opposite to them was Radetzky's, and was occupied by his adjutant. Observant of everything which looked like a manifestation or a demonstration, they threw threatening glances at the color constellation, and the confidant of Radetzky immediately sent for Salvani.
The impresario appeared, excited and trembling. Suppose the adjutant should forbid the performance?
"What does this mean?" the officer angrily exclaimed. "Have you noticed the three colors?"
"Your Excellency, I—"
"Well, are you going to answer me?"