"Will your excellency condescend to take a look over the house—"
At the same moment, as Salvani had entered the box, the gentleman in the opposite box had arisen and placed a light blue band over the lady's shoulders. Simultaneously all the other ladies in the house threw sashes over their shoulders; yellow, blue, black, and brown were the colors which met the astonished gaze of the adjutant, and he grumblingly said:
"Wait, canaille, I will not be deceived."
Salvani had hurriedly left. The first notes of the overture ran through the house, and loud applause was heard. This time, too, the gentleman in the proscenium box gave the signal for the applause, but no one appeared to notice it.
Ticellini hurried to La Luciola's dressing-room. The diva was already dressed for her part, and looked so transcendently beautiful that the maestro held his breath.
"Well, maestro," said the diva, laughing, "do I please you, and do you think the opera will be a success?"
"Oh, signora, I have never doubted it, since you consented to take the part of Marguerite."
A dark form came from the rear of the dressing-room, and the Marquis Aslitta went toward Ticellini.
"Let me congratulate you, maestro," he cordially said, offering Ticellini his hand.
Ticellini hesitated before he took it. Aslitta was looked upon in Milan as a renegade, and therefore Ticellini was very glad when he was called away. Bidding good-by to the diva, he hurried back to the stage, and Aslitta remained alone with Luciola.
"Giorgio," whispered Luciola, giving the marquis her hand, "the eventful hour has arrived."
"Thanks, my darling," murmured the young man; "you are staking your existence to save my country—a whole life would not suffice to reward you."
Luciola threw herself into the outstretched arms of Aslitta.
"You love me, Giorgio?"
"Dearly; you are my goddess, my all."
"Oh, Giorgio; nothing shall be too difficult for me to do for you. But go now, the time has come."
"And you have forgotten nothing, and will observe the sign?"
"Be easy, I will think of everything."
"Then farewell; have courage."
"And hope," added Luciola, kissing Aslitta.
At this moment a heavy hand was laid upon Aslitta's shoulder, and a clear voice said:
"Marquis, you should have closed the door."
Aslitta turned hurriedly about. A man stood in front of him, whose appearance was very repulsive.
Count San Pietro had short, red-brown hair, and one of his eyes was always closed; a deep blue scar, reaching from the eye to the left ear, disfigured his otherwise handsome face in a horrible manner. A diabolical smile played upon his lips, and Aslitta grew pale as he recognized the count.
La Luciola, measuring the count with a stern look, said:
"Count, by what right have you come here?"
A malicious smile was the answer, and then San Pietro audaciously said:
"Who will prevent me from coming in?"
"I!" exclaimed Luciola, passionately. "Depart at once."
"Ah, you are defending the marquis."
Aslitta was moved to become angry, but he restrained himself, and laughingly said:
"Why should not others have the right to admire La Luciola?"
The diva trembled, but a look from Aslitta gave her courage, and, trying to appear cool, she said:
"Really, count, you frightened me; I hardly recognized you."
"And the marquis has no need to hide; he can leave that to the conspirators," remarked the count, with a piercing look.
Aslitta met the gaze fearlessly, and indifferently answered, evading the question:
"Count, have you a box for to-night's performance?"
"No, every place was taken when my servant went to the box-office."
"Then do me the honor to take a seat in my box."
"Ah, you were more fortunate than I."
The manager opened the door leading to the stage-row, and exclaimed:
"Signora, your scene begins."
"I am coming," said Luciola, and, passing by the gentlemen, she laughingly said:
"Good-by, and do not forget to applaud."
As soon as she had gone, the gentlemen went toward the auditorium, and on the stairs leading to the boxes Pietro paused and hissed:
"Marquis, you know I shall kill you the first chance I have."
"Really?" asked Aslitta; "have you become so bloodthirsty all of a sudden?"
"No evasions," replied the count. "You love Luciola?"
"And Luciola loves you?"
"I am not vain enough to imagine your statement to be true."
"Beware, marquis," said the count; "I have eyes."
"So much the better for you."
"And in the dungeons of Milan there are cells, in which patriots are broken on the wheel and forced to name their accomplices—"
"Count," interrupted Aslitta, "there are also dark places in Milan, where Italians who betray their country to the oppressor are shot."
Stepping into his box, Aslitta closed the door in the count's face, and San Pietro was forced to go to the marshal's box.
As San Pietro took his place, La Luciola just appeared on the scene; deafening applause greeted her, and she gratefully bowed.
"Colonel," said San Pietro, turning to the adjutant, "I have to give you the name of a traitor."
"But not now," said the colonel, impatiently; "just listen to that beautiful duet."
The duet between the rose and the daisy was magnificently sung. No one noticed, however, that Luciola threw a look at the gentleman in the proscenium box, directing his attention to that occupied by Radetzky's adjutant. The unknown arose, and cast his sparkling eyes at San Pietro. He then looked down at the stage again, and La Luciola laughed with satisfaction. The duet finished amid applause.
"Colonel," repeated the count again, "Aslitta conspires with the patriots, and—"
"To-morrow would be too late."
"Then, in the devil's name, speak now and be done with it. What do you wish?"
"That Aslitta be arrested this evening."
"Ah, La Luciola is divine; we must secure her for Vienna!" exclaimed the colonel, enthusiastically. "Will you arrange it?"
"What, your excellency?"
"Are you deaf? We must secure Luciola for Vienna."
"Have Aslitta arrested, and La Luciola will be a member of the Vienna Opera."
"Stupid, what interest has La Luciola in Aslitta?"
"She loves him," hissed the count.
"What! La Luciola disdains our advances, and falls in love with this Neapolitan! That is treason."
"Then your excellency—"
"I give you carte blanche; bring Aslitta to the citadel, but not before the close of the performance; I wish to hear the opera to the end."
The adjutant tore a piece of paper from a note-book, wrote a few lines upon it and gave it to San Pietro. The count gave a diabolical laugh. His course was easy now.
As much as San Pietro had tried, he could not remember whom La Luciola looked like. Thanks to his wound, a blank had occurred in his memory, and certain episodes of his former life were covered with a heavy veil. As he now threw a glance at the opposite box, a part of this veil was torn asunder, and like a dazed person he looked at the gentleman dressed in black. The latter transfixed him likewise. Instinctively the count coughed and hid his face in his handkerchief. He could not meet the gaze of those coal-black eyes.
"No, no," he muttered, anxiously. "No one knows my former name; I would be a fool to get frightened."
As soon as the first act was over, San Pietro turned to an officer and said:
"Do you know the gentleman sitting in the opposite box?"
"Not personally, but from reputation. He is said to be enormously rich."
"What is his name?"
"The Count of Monte-Cristo; his wife, who is sitting next to him, is wonderfully handsome; they say she is a Greek. The pretty boy is their son."
"Thanks," said San Pietro; and then he muttered to himself: "'Tis he; he has a son! This time he will not escape me."
"Do you know the count's political opinions?" said San Pietro, after a pause.
"I only know that immediately after the gentleman's arrival from Naples he sent his negro with his card to Radetzky, asking the marshal to allow him to pay his respects to him."
"That is decisive."
The opera had in the meantime been proceeded with; when the third act began a messenger appeared with an order which called the adjutant to the marshal's house. What could the officers do? The service went before everything else, and they disappeared just as La Luciola, Ruinta, and Signor Tino were singing a beautiful trio.
At length the last scene came; the rose, the proud queen of flowers, assented to the marriage of the pink and the daisy, and a bower of green vines was raised before an altar constructed of evergreens.
Red, white and green! The national colors!
At this moment Monte-Cristo arose and gave the signal. Immediately every one rose and clapped their hands, and he joyously exclaimed:
"Long live Italy! Long live the national flag!"
And then a loud voice thundered above the tumult:
"Fuori i barbari! Away with the foreigners!"
The next minute the students climbed on to the stage and divided the palms. A roar of a thousand voices was heard singing the national hymn:
"Chi per la patria muore Vessuto ha assai!"
La Luciola was carried in triumph to her coach by the students; the enthusiastic young men took the horses out of the traces and bore the carriage along themselves, shouting through the night air:
"Long live La Luciola! Long live Italy!"
A FIGHT IN THE STREETS
When the Major von Kirchstein and his comrades, attracted by the noise, rushed out into the street, they saw La Luciola's carriage covered with flags bearing the national colors; the diva and her friend were seated therein, and La Luciola enthusiastically cried:
"Oh, Milla, Milla, this is great and sublime!"
"Comrades!" shouted the major in a rage, "follow me. We will capture La Luciola, and bring her to the citadel!"
Loud applause greeted the major's words, but before he had reached the coach a hand grasped him by the throat, and a hoarse voice cried in his ear:
"If you touch a hair of La Luciola's head, you are a dead man."
It was Aslitta. Our readers have already guessed that the marquis was playing the part of a Brutus, and La Luciola, who loved him dearly, supported him in his plans. The two fiery natures had become acquainted at Naples. Luciola's friend, the gentle Milla, had written the mysterious libretto and Aslitta had sent it to Ticellini. Edmond Dantes had kept the oath he made upon Monte-Cristo, to be the warm friend of the oppressed. He was an admirer of Aslitta, and placed himself at his service and the cause he represented.
Up till now he had never met La Luciola, but when the diva saw at the Scala that evening the man whom her lover had talked to her about, she was seized with a deep emotion. Yes, she recognized and knew the man who took up the cause of Italy's misery, and had confidence in his ability to carry out whatever project he undertook.
As the major uttered the threat against La Luciola, Aslitta recognized the danger his love was in. He had already grasped the coach door with his hand, when he felt himself seized by strong arms and borne to the ground. A well-known voice hissed in his ear—the voice of San Pietro:
"We have got you."
A gag was inserted between Aslitta's lips, his arms and limbs were bound, and two pandours dragged him away, while the count said:
"You know the order; take good care of him! You must answer for the prisoner with your life."
One of the pandours pressed the muzzle of his gun against Aslitta's forehead and threateningly said:
"Do not stir or I will blow your brains out."
Aslitta was obliged to obey. The carriage in which he had been placed stopped, the marquis was lifted out, and the doors of a subterranean dungeon closed behind him.
THE MASKS FALL
When the hated Austrian uniforms appeared in the brilliantly lighted streets, a threatening noise was uttered by the mob, and the students who surrounded Luciola's carriage threw themselves upon the officers.
It was a foolish beginning, for they had no weapons—they only possessed burning patriotism, and their hatred of the foreign oppressor.
A shot now fell, and at the same time the tall form of Count San Pietro loomed up, giving commands to the soldiers to make the attack—an attack against a defenceless crowd of human beings. As soon as the students heard the shot, they surrounded the carriage of the diva again. The latter tried to encourage the trembling Milla. As for herself, she had no fear, and though she could not understand Aslitta's absence, she was far from imagining the truth.
Suddenly San Pietro's repulsive features appeared at the carriage window, and Luciola's heart ceased beating.
Had he betrayed Aslitta?
The count had arranged things well. Narrower and narrower grew the circle about the patriots, and the students tried in vain to draw the carriage away from the soldiers.
"Luciola," said the count, maliciously, "do you still think you can escape me?"
Luciola drew herself up, and casting a look of contempt at the count, she cried, in loud, clear tones:
San Pietro uttered a cry of rage, and lifted his sword aloof.
Luciola looked coolly at him; not a muscle of her fine face quivered, but her hand grasped the jewelled hilt of a dagger.
She did not intend to fall into the villain's hands alive.
Suddenly, above the roar of the multitude, a voice thundered:
"Benedetto! Murderer! Escaped galley slave—beware! God cannot be mocked at! Shame over you!"
And as these words were heard, Count San Pietro, the favorite of Radetzky, tremblingly looked in the direction from whence the words came, and which sounded to him like the call of the judgment day. On the pedestal of a marble statue opposite to him stood the man he had recognized at the Scala, who pointed threateningly at him, and Benedetto, wild with rage, pulled a pistol from his pocket and fired at Monte-Cristo. When the smoke cleared away, Monte-Cristo still stood there; at the same time the crowd separated in the centre, and two harnessed horses were shoved in front of Luciola's carriage. How it happened no one knew—in an instant the traces were fastened to the shafts, the negro who sat on the box whipped up the horses, and in a second the carriage rolled away.
The shots fired after them did not reach them, and in a few minutes they had disappeared.
"Death and thunder," hissed Benedetto, "this one at least shall not escape me"; and foaming with rage, he threw himself upon the count.
The latter let him come. Benedetto put the muzzle of his pistol to the count's breast, but at the same moment the iron arm of the latter had clutched the scoundrel by the throat, and with a hoarse laugh Benedetto let his weapon fall and sank upon his knees. Quick as thought the count seized the weapon, and placing it against Benedetto's forehead, said in a loud, clear voice:
"All you people who are with this villain whom you call Count San Pietro ought, at least, to know whom your ally is. Listen attentively, gentlemen. The man to whom you bend the knee is an escaped galley slave—he murdered his mother!"
A cry of horror came from the lips of the crowd, and the Croatians, whose roughness was proverbial, turned with horror from the scoundrel.
Monte-Cristo threw the pistol on the ground, and, getting down from the pedestal, he walked slowly through the lines of the retreating soldiers.
As soon as Benedetto felt himself free he sprang up, and, turning to the crowd, he hissed:
"Do not believe him, he lied; he is an enemy of Austria! How will you be able to look Marshal Radetzky in the face, if you allow him to escape?"
The name of Radetzky acted like magic upon the soldiers. They turned pale and rushed in pursuit of Monte-Cristo.
They had caught up to the count, when he suddenly vanished from their gaze. To the bystanders it seemed as if a wall had opened to give him protection.
But soon the riddle was solved. The wall through which the Count of Monte-Cristo had escaped belonged to the Vertelli house, and all the officers knew that the building contained several secret passages.
"Follow me," said Benedetto, angrily, entering the Casino.
On the threshold Major Bartolomeo met him. Benedetto grasped the old veteran by the throat, and shaking him like a leaf, he exclaimed:
"Wretch, you have betrayed us; but you shall pay for it!"
"I," stammered the major, "I—am—innocent."
"Oh, no deception. I know you. How long is it since you called yourself Cavalcanti, and played the part of my father? Come, men, take this man prisoner. I will report to the marshal about it."
LOVE OF COUNTRY
Led by Ali's strong hands the noble steeds flew along the streets of Milan like the wind. La Luciola appeared now to have changed roles with Milla, for she wept bitterly.
"Oh, Milla," groaned the diva, "Aslitta is surely dead, or else he would have kept his word, and if I have lost him my life will be at an end."
"But, Eugenie," consoled Milla, "why fear the worst always? I—"
The sudden stoppage of the coach caused Milla to pause. The negro sprang from the box, opened the door and motioned with his hand to the ladies to descend.
"Come, Milla," said La Luciola, "wherever we are, we are under the protection of a powerful friend."
They were ushered into a beautifully furnished hallway, which led to a room furnished with heavy velvet draperies. A man with gray hair and aquiline nose, our old friend Bertuccio, received the ladies with a deep bow.
"Signora," he said, turning to Luciola, "have no fear; you are in the house of a friend. Follow me."
La Luciola and Milla accepted the invitation and uttered a cry of surprise. They had entered a room decorated with the finest frescoes and hung with the richest silk and satin tapestries. In the centre of the room was a tent of blue silk under which sat a lady of extraordinary beauty, the same one who had attracted such attention at the Scala.
"Welcome, sisters," said Haydee in a gentle voice as she came toward them, "I was expecting you."
La Luciola and Milla bent over to kiss the white hand she extended toward them, but Haydee would not permit it, and pressing her lips to the young girl's forehead she drew them both to the divan.
"You have acted courageously, sister," said Haydee, turning to Luciola, "but I was not anxious about you. He told me he would watch over you."
La Luciola understood whom she meant by this "he," and she timidly replied:
"Madame, you seem to know all about the terrible affair. Would you permit me a question?"
"Gladly. Ask without fear; I will answer you."
La Luciola hesitated a moment and then firmly said:
"Madame, there is a patriot in Milan who is putting his life at stake for the freedom of Italy. He offered his breast to the minions of Radetzky—"
"You are speaking of the Marquis Aslitta," said Haydee, gently.
"Yes, of him, and if you knew my past you would understand that it is the love I bear for him which keeps me alive."
"Speak freely, sister," whispered the handsome Greek, "perhaps I can help you."
"I am a Frenchwoman by birth," said the diva, timidly. "My youth was passed in the capital. I was courted and petted, and yet I was not happy. My father, occupied with his financial operations, did not bother himself about me. My mother was just as unhappy as I was. I would have become desperate if a dear friend had not clung to me," and putting her arm about Milla's waist, the diva continued:
"We were both devoted to music. It was a substitute for happiness to me, and in the empire of harmony I tried to forget my barren life. A certain trouble happened to me; in a twinkling all the ties which bound me to home were broken, and I fled, with misery and desperation in my heart! Madame, I was then hardly twenty, but virtue, honesty and love were already to me empty words!"
"Poor sister," murmured Haydee, "how you must have suffered."
"Yes, I suffered greatly," continued Luciola, with tears in her eyes. "The world appeared to be a desert, and so I devoted myself to art. In Naples I discovered that there was something besides the applause of the crowd and one's own ambition! A group of young Italian noblemen had come to Naples to free their brothers from the tyranny of the Austrian oppressors. One night we heard a loud noise. Not having anything to lose, I had my horse harnessed and rode in the direction of the cry. Milla insisted upon accompanying me. When we reached the spot, a bloody fight was going on. We saw shining uniforms. It was at Crotona in Calabria. On a ledge stood a young man, swinging a sword and urging his comrades on against the Austrians. A shot was fired and the young man fell. I urged my horse on toward the spot where I had last seen him. The unhappy man had fallen down a precipice. With the help of my strong tunic, Milla and I succeeded in drawing him up. We brought him to my house and I cared for him tenderly. Giorgio Aslitta awoke to new life. His first words, as he gained sensibility, were:
"Chi per la patria muore Vessuto ha assai!"
"Ah, the battle hymn of the Italians," interrupted Haydee, her eyes glistening.
"Yes; and when I heard these words I was saved! I believed in man again, and no love song ever sounded so sweet to me as that patriotic hymn."
SHADOWS OF THE PAST
Hardly had Luciola uttered the last words, than a deep voice said:
"Eugenie Danglars, I thank you in the name of humanity! The past is forgiven!"
The diva turned affrightedly around. The Count of Monte-Cristo stood before her, leading his son by the hand.
"Oh, how grateful I am to you," said Luciola, sobbing. "You recognized me?"
"I have never lost sight of you," replied Monte-Cristo, earnestly; "and the name you bear makes me a debtor to you."
"You shame me, count—you my debtor?"
"Rest satisfied with what I have told you. I am not at liberty to reveal the sorrowful past to you. But be assured that if I have ever caused you grief, it was because I am the instrument of a higher power."
"You know something about my parents. I beseech you, do not hide anything from me," implored Luciola. "I know that my father lives, and—"
"One moment," interrupted Monte-Cristo, giving Haydee a wink.
Immediately the young woman put her hand upon the boy's shoulder and led him out.
"I know that my father is doing Stock Exchange business in Germany," continued Luciola, "but my poor mother—"
"Your mother lives too," interrupted the count, sorrowfully, "though I do not know whether you will ever see her again."
"I do not understand," stammered La Luciola.
"Listen, my child, and be strong. Have you recognized the wretch who calls himself Count San Pietro?"
"Recognized? No; he is a wretch who merits the contempt of every one."
"I thought Eugenie Danglars was shrewder than that. Of course his scar disfigures his face so much as to make it almost unrecognizable. Who was it, Eugenie, who, in former years, had the audacity to ask your hand in marriage, and then—"
"Prince Cavalcanti!" exclaimed La Luciola, horror-stricken.
"Yes, if you wish to call him thus; in reality, though, he is the escaped galley slave and murderer, Benedetto."
"But what has the wretch to do with my mother?"
"Unfortunately, more than you think; to rob your mother of her treasure, a full million, the monster plunged a dagger in her breast—"
"Oh, the miserable coward! But you told me my mother lived—"
"Yes, she lives! The murderer did not strike the heart as he had intended, and, after months of agony, the poor woman recovered."
"Thank God! But where is she? I want to go to her and throw myself at her feet. My love will make her forget her grief," exclaimed Luciola, passionately.
"That is impossible just now. Your mother had intended to enter a convent, but chance just happened to throw her in Valentine de Villefort's way. You know her?"
"Oh, certainly; Valentine, the only one whom I love to remember among all my past acquaintances."
"Well, then, Valentine is now Madame Morrel. They left France and went to India. They needed a governess for their little daughters, and so she asked Madame Danglars to take the position."
"Poor mother," muttered Luciola, sorrowfully. "How hard it must have been for her to take a dependent position."
"Madame Danglars," said the count, "accepted the offer with thanks, and she tenderly loves Valentine and her daughters."
"How long has my mother been in India?"
"About three years."
"And do you know where she is?"
"I do not know Morrel's present address, but expect a letter from him soon."
Just then the deep tones of a bell were heard, and Monte-Cristo arose.
"My child," he solemnly said, "whatever your past has been, you have expiated it a thousand times, and you deserve the love of a humane and honest man."
"Ah, you recall Aslitta to me—where is he?"
Monte-Cristo sorrowfully shook his head.
"Eugenie, the Marquis d'Aslitta was arrested two hours ago."
"Arrested. Oh, my God! That is worse than death."
"All is not lost yet."
"Where is he?"
"In the citadel."
"Count, rescue him. You are superhuman. But tell me who betrayed him?"
Luciola uttered a cry of horror.
"I will do what I can," continued the count, "to rescue him."
"A thousand thanks; I believe you."
The count went to the door and called:
The handsome boy immediately appeared, and looked inquiringly at his father.
"Come with me," said the count. "You are still a child, but from this day forth you enter life. Courage and devotion to a just cause make the weak strong. Should I die before my work is done, then take my place."
A pressure of a silver bell brought Ali to the count.
"Are all here?" he asked.
The Nubian nodded.
"Ali, you know what you have to do. As soon as the slightest traitorous voice is heard, you give the signal."
Ali again nodded; the count shoved the curtain aside and disclosed a secret staircase.
"Spero, conduct La Luciola," he ordered, as he descended the stairs, followed by Spero and the diva.
Arriving at the foot of the stairs, Monte-Cristo entered a large hall, in which several hundred men were assembled. They all rose up from their seats, and, taking off their hats, greeted the count with loud cries of:
"Long live Italy!"
Monte-Cristo approached a white-haired old man, the Marquis of Sante-Croce, and asked him to preside over the assembly. Sante-Croce nodded, and began his address:
"Friends and patriots," he said, "the long-wished-for day has come. Are you ready to defend the flag?"
"So help us God! Out with the foreigners!" was shouted from all sides.
"Good! Now listen to what our noble friend, the Count of Monte-Cristo, has to tell us!"
The marquis took his seat, and the count, unrolling a paper, said in an earnest voice:
"I can bring you a piece of news which Marshal Radetzky has just received; a revolution has broken out in Vienna, and at this very hour the viceroy is leaving Milan."
A murmur of astonishment ran through the assembly.
"My couriers," continued the count, "were quicker than the emperor's, and in consequence of that I am better informed than the officials. The emperor has bowed to the necessity of the situation, and made important concessions—"
"No concessions!" said a voice; "we want freedom!"
"Patience," said Monte-Cristo. "The emperor has repealed the censorship; the new press law is very liberal, and the representatives of the German and Lombard-Venetian provinces have been convoked."
The astonishment was now general. Loud cries of "Impossible! impossible!" were heard.
"And when will the convocation take place?" asked Sante-Croce.
"Unfortunately not so soon—on the 3d of July," said the count, sorrowfully.
Angry murmurs arose.
"They wish to mock us," said a young man. "Radetzky's minions have murdered my brother; I demand revenge!"
"My mother was wounded at Corsa," said a second. "No compromises: war!"
"Yes, war to the knife!" shouted the whole assembly.
"One moment!" exclaimed Monte-Cristo, in a tone of command. "I know how angry you all are, and yet counsel you to reflect. A nation which is eager for independence, is strong and powerful, but your oppressors are as numerous as sands in the sea. You will conquer, Milan will be free; but when you have spilled your blood, and piled your bodies up like a wall, the allies upon whom you count will desert you. You will fall again into the hands of the enemy, and the heavy yoke will become heavier. Charles Albert, the king of Sardinia, will betray you as soon as his ends have been served. Do you still desire to carry out your ideas?"
Monte-Cristo's words sounded prophetic. The patriots could not dissimulate the impression they made. But their opinions did not change.
"And if the worst should come!" said one, courageously, "I would rather die than hesitate any longer. To arms!"
"To arms, then!" repeated the Marquis of Sante-Croce, solemnly, "and may God be with us!"
"But where is Aslitta? He must lead us," some cried.
La Luciola advanced.
"The patriot Aslitta has been imprisoned," she sorrowfully said; "he is lying in the citadel."
A cry of rage arose.
"Let us rescue him," came from all sides. "Let us storm the citadel before they murder him."
"Yes, let us rescue him," said Monte-Cristo. "Let the fight begin to-morrow! To arms in the name of humanity and freedom!"
Suddenly a man arose from the crowd, who had heretofore remained silent, and casting a look at the count, he slowly said:
"We hardly know you. What guarantee will you give us that you won't betray us?"
"The man is right," the count replied. "Sante-Croce, here is my own child. Take Spero with you. Let him vouch for his father with his head!"
Sante-Croce refused to accept the guarantee, but Monte-Cristo was firm. The boy, with proudly uplifted head, strode toward the old man and said:
"I shall accompany you. My father has taught me to do my duty."
With enthusiastic cries the patriots crowded about the handsome lad, and Monte-Cristo felt his heart throb with joy as he looked at Spero.
"And I, too, will accompany you!" exclaimed La Luciola. "Italy must be freed, and Aslitta rescued."
FATHER AND SON
Benedetto, who had been pushed into the open sea in a frail bark by the Count of Monte-Cristo, had been miraculously rescued by some fishermen, and when the murderer recovered consciousness his first glance fell on the box which stood near his bed. The contents were undisturbed, the poor fishermen had not thought of opening the box which the Count of Monte-Cristo had closed again, and thus the world stood open to the wretch.
His viperous instincts had not deserted him. One evening as Benedetto lay faint and weak on the straw, he heard low murmurs of conversation in the neighboring room. He discovered that his benefactors belonged to a patriotic league similar to the Carbonari, whose object was to free Italy. On this particular evening they were discussing the question of shipping arms and ammunition to their countrymen.
The next day Benedetto, with tears in his eyes, told them that he had to depart at once, as he was expected at Lucca by a friend of his. The honest fishermen took cordial leave of him. He arrived at Lucca, got some elegant clothing there, and went to Milan, where he represented himself as Count San Pietro. His first visit was to Radetzky, to whom he denounced the fishermen who had saved his life. Radetzky took advantage of the traitor's story, captured the fishermen, had them tried by court-martial, and then shot. From that moment San Pietro became a favorite of the marshal.
The Major Bartolomeo had been formerly a croupier in a large gambling house at Lucca. Where he got his major's title from, no one knew; even his mistress, the beautiful Aurora Vertelli, was reticent on this point. When Bartolomeo came back from Paris and threw his winnings, amounting to fifty thousand francs, into the lap of the handsome Aurora Vertelli, the practical beauty said:
"Bartolomeo, suppose we open a dining-room too. You have been a croupier long enough—let us try to turn over the fifty thousand francs."
Bartolomeo gleefully assented to this proposal. They opened a magnificent place, and were soon making money hand over fist. Yet—no luck without a shadow—one evening, as Bartolomeo was receiving his guests, a tall, slim young man, whose face was disfigured by a scar, approached him, and laying his hand upon his shoulder, whispered in his ear:
The major trembled, and, looking with affright at the stranger, stammered:
"I do not know you, sir—it would be a great honor to me—but—"
The stranger laughed loudly, and, conducting the major to a neighboring room, impressively said:
"My dear sir, let us be candid—do you remember the name of Cavalcanti which you once wrongfully bore?"
The major grew pale, and the stranger continued unmercifully:
"If the officials were to find out that you were once a counterfeiter, it might go hard with you. Your license would be revoked, and besides—well, you understand."
The major looked about him in astonishment—who was the man who knew the secrets of his past life?
"Well, father?" mockingly said Benedetto.
"Father, father," repeated the major, dazed. "You are not—"
He mechanically opened his arms to press Benedetto to his heart.
"Not necessary," said the latter, laughing. "We are not in the Count of Monte-Cristo's house, and can dispense with tenderness."
The major sighed—for a further sum of fifty thousand francs he would have embraced ten Andreas.
"But who are you, anyhow?" he finally asked. "I thought I had heard that you—"
"Beware!" exclaimed Benedetto. "Do not refer to the past; here I am the Count of San Pietro!"
"The confidant—" stammered the major.
"Of Radetzky," added Benedetto.
"But as an Italian—"
"Keep silent and listen to me. Either you do as I say, or else I denounce you to the marshal," said Benedetto in a rough voice, and as the major bowed his head, the wretch explained to him what he wished of him. It was nothing less than to play the part of a spy.
One can call one's self a major, even play the part of a loving father for a sum of fifty thousand francs, and yet not be a traitor to one's country, and Bartolomeo, in spite of his being a criminal, was an ardent patriot; but when the count calmly said he would have Radetzky close the Casino, he gave in.
From that day the major tried to drive the Italians away from his Casino. He was pompous and disrespectful to his countrymen and polite and cordial to the Austrian officers, so that the latter were at length the only ones who came, and San Pietro's spy had very little news to report.
Aslitta, who was playing a double game, was the only one who could not be driven away. One day he took Bartolomeo aside, told him he knew his position exactly and would help him to deceive San Pietro and free Milan of the tyrant.
Bartolomeo, who until now found himself despised by his countrymen, was overjoyed; he threw himself at the feet of Aslitta, acknowledged him as his deity and vowed that he would follow him at command.
Bartolomeo arose, and as he did so he secretly resolved to square his account with Benedetto in such a way as to serve his country. He soon became the most clever of Aslitta's emissaries, and soon pictured himself as one of the most illustrious patriots of his country bedecked with laurels.
But fortune makes rapid strides. Through certain peculiar events Benedetto turned his attention to Bartolomeo and caused a strict watch to be kept upon him, and when on the evening of the 15th of March he saw him vanish from the Casino he realized all.
Night was already far advanced when he reached the damp subterranean cell of Bartolomeo and rattled the rusty hooks that held the bolts. The major having fallen into a pleasant revery in which he beheld visions of his future greatness as a martyr to duty's cause, raised his eyes and shrank back as he saw the three men, one of whom carried a cane tipped with hair of an unusual design.
"Get up, you old fool," cried the one who carried the cane, addressing the prisoner, "follow us!"
Bartolomeo rose without a murmur, and, arranging his disordered uniform, stepped between the two soldiers, who bore torches, and who rudely pushed him down a dark stair.
He was no coward, but yet he felt as though he would rather ascend to where he could at least enjoy the sunshine than go further down where it became darker and colder. They walked a considerable distance along dark passages, and halted in front of a rickety iron door. A huge key was thrust into the keyhole and slowly the bolts sprang back.
Accompanied by his guides, Bartolomeo stepped into a gloomy cavern—the torture-chamber. Heavy chains hung on the walls, blocks, tourniquets, thumbscrews, and other implements of torture lay upon the floor, while the corners contained a variety of others which the major could not recognize.
"Sit down," commanded the bearer of the cane, pointing to a block; as Bartolomeo hesitated, a well-directed blow caused him to accelerate his movements. Thereupon the man withdrew, leaving the major and the soldiers behind. The prisoner gazed timidly upon his jailers, and murmured:
"Poor prospects for me."
Although the remark was scarcely audible, a heavy blow from one of the soldiers caused him to stagger, and for the next fifteen minutes he remained silent.
At last the door was again opened and Benedetto entered; at a sign the soldiers withdrew; to his dismay, Bartolomeo saw his former son standing before him.
Benedetto wore the uniform of an Austrian officer, a kalpak was strapped over his forehead and his coat bedecked with costly gold lace. From his belt hung a dagger, whose handle was inlaid with jewels, which was partly concealed by the flowing mantle that covered his shoulders. As soon as he entered he threw off the mantle and posed, as if to dazzle Bartolomeo with the splendor of his attire.
"You know," he began, without wasting any words, "that you need expect no mercy from me."
The major remained silent, his speech failed him through the brusque manner in which he was addressed. Taking advantage of the situation, Benedetto continued:
"You have betrayed me. Don't deny it—I know all."
"I!" stammered the major, confused.
"Yes, you!—the virago has exposed you."
This remark roused the nobler qualities of Bartolomeo. He was astounded at the impudence of the knave who dared to call Aurora a virago.
"Be silent!" he cried, angrily; "and do not malign the character of a pure woman—you red-headed scoundrel!"
Benedetto moved as if to rise, but on second thoughts he remained seated, and burst into a hearty laugh.
"Your immutable confidence in your wife is to be envied, but really it is out of place here. Aurora Vertelli has confessed to me what you will doubtless deny. I forced her to admit the truth at the point of the pistol."
The major grew pale, and beneath his clinched lips a terrible feeling raged.
"Base coward! to wring a confession from a woman in such a way."
"Enough—cease your idle talk," cried Benedetto, stamping his foot nervously. "Tell me, where do the so-called patriots hold their meetings? Do not hesitate. Aslitta is a prisoner like yourself, and I desire to know the truth."
"I do not know," replied the major, with a sinister smile.
"You don't say so. I am sorry for you, for I believed that your memory would come to the rescue," said Benedetto, casting a knowing glance at the implements of torture.
Bartolomeo's heart beat fast. He knew that Benedetto was capable of any crime. Not a muscle of his face trembled as Benedetto said threateningly:
"So you will not speak!"
Bartolomeo cast a look of contempt toward him, and exclaimed: "Go to the devil!"
Benedetto clinched his fist and held it in the face of the major.
"Did you not understand me? Look here! You see those beautiful toys?" pointing to the implements of torture. "I will dismember you if you hesitate longer!"
"Tell me, what did you want," demanded the major, with a shrug of his shoulders, "at the time when you introduced me into the salon of the Count of Monte-Cristo?"
A cry of rage, uttered by Benedetto, interrupted him.
"Do not mention that name!" exclaimed the bandit, gritting his teeth. "If I kill you off and slay Aslitta it will only be to wreak my vengeance upon that man, whom I despise. Oh, he called me a galley slave once—the murderer!"
And he stopped short, his voice half choked with rage. Bartolomeo trembled visibly; and to humble him the more, Benedetto spat in his face.
The major scarcely regarded this last insult. He was busied with many reflections. How would it be if he tried to overpower Benedetto?
"Well, I am waiting," said San Pietro, after a pause; "will you speak?"
"You know that Aslitta is in my power, and you will die like him if you remain headstrong."
"Listen to me, Benedetto," said the major, earnestly. "I have lied and defrauded, but never will I consent to become a traitor to my country!"
"Well, then, come along!" cried Benedetto, seizing the major by the shoulder and shoving him to a corner of the closet. There stood an old wardrobe. Benedetto opened the door, and, by the flickering light of the torches, Bartolomeo saw the dim outlines of a human head, which stood out like a silhouette from the wall.
"Do you see that apparatus?" he asked.
"And do you know its purpose?"
"Then mark well what I say—you shall soon know! About a century ago an Italian nobleman was deceived by his wife, who had a liaison with one of his pages. The nobleman discovered it, but pretended ignorance in order to complete his plans for the destruction of both. One day he presented the page with a beautifully wrought helmet. As soon as the present was received, the page placed it upon his head, and, lo! it fitted him so perfectly that he could not take it off, and he died a horrible death; for as soon as it touched the forehead a concealed spring loosened and caused the helmet to drop over the head, thus choking him."
"Well," replied Bartolomeo, in suspense.
"Well, in this closet you will find the counterpart of that beautiful helmet. If you refuse to accede to my demands I shall summon aid and have you placed in the closet. A delicate attachment will push the helmet into place, and after your head has been placed inside, you will die a most horrible slow death by starvation, and that indeed is a terrible way to die."
"I am resigned," was the quick response of the major. With a strong grasp he seized Benedetto, who was unprepared for the attack, and pushed him into the wardrobe. The ominous helmet encircled his head, and, despite his struggles, he could not free himself.
Bartolomeo stopped for a moment; being a prudent man, he at once foresaw what was to be done. Throwing his green coat across his shoulders, he approached Benedetto. He tore the embroidered coat from his body, and replaced it by his own, and, together with the kalpak, which Benedetto had thrown aside, completed his toilet.
Hastily strapping the dagger to his side, he left the torture chamber. At the door he met the soldiers, who did not recognize him, and saluted him as he passed. His thoughts were not regarding his own safety—he desired to rescue Aslitta if possible.
IN THE WELL
The subterranean prison into which Aslitta had been thrown was dark as pitch, and it was a long time before his eyes became accustomed to the darkness and he could make out his surroundings. He remembered that he had descended many steps, and he supposed that his cell was in the casemates of the citadel.
He soon discovered that the cell was very narrow but high; about ten feet above his head he found an opening, secured by iron bars. All attempts to reach this proved futile, and he could secure no foothold on the slippery walls.
What should he do? At any moment the door might be opened, and his captors enter and lead him to the torture-chamber, or, perhaps, to his doom. He did not fear death itself—but what would become of Luciola in case he died? The last meeting of the patriots was to take place this very evening. As it was, there were but a few of these in comparison to the number of their oppressors, and if but one remained away the good work might be seriously hampered.
He paced the floor deeply absorbed in thought, when suddenly he stumbled and fell, as it appeared, into a vast empty space. Instinctively extending his arms, he caught hold of one of the projecting ledges, and so hung suspended in mid-air.
What was to be done? Aslitta strove to secure a foothold, but the relation of his accident to his imprisonment soon dawned upon him.
In the centre of the floor he had discovered an opening, which evidently was the passage leading to a well, or perhaps, as he thought, to one of the unused drains, such as there are many in the old castles. A low stone fence surrounded the opening, and it was this over which he had stumbled. Aslitta reflected for a moment—perhaps it was once covered with a stone, which, slipping out of place, dropped below. The opening was not very wide, and it was only after a great effort that he succeeded in jumping over the rail.
If he could only have seen whether there was water in the well which might aid him in his escape. What would he not have given for a match? But that was out of the question.
Suddenly he stopped short; it appeared as though he heard a noise proceed from the well. He listened, but again everything was quiet. He bent over the opening, and now he could distinctly hear a sound. It was a human voice—it was a curse he had heard uttered.
Placing his hands about his mouth he cried out:
"Is anybody here?"
No answer came. The prisoner waited and then called out once more.
Again no answer came.
Presently he heard a voice cry out, "You are a prisoner; are you not?"
"Yes, I am. Whoever you may be, have no fear; I am not your enemy," returned the voice of Aslitta.
"I am down in the water half drowned."
"Peculiar," thought Aslitta; "I ought to know that voice, it sounds so familiar;" and in a loud tone he asked, "Who are you?"
Yet no answer came; evidently the voice in the well doubted his sincerity. To his good fortune he found a match which he lighted. With a suppressed cry he shrank back; he recognized the uniform of the Austrian officer.
Before he could recover his surprise, he heard words in pure Italian proceeding from the well.
"Keep me up! I am sinking deeper and deeper."
Now there was no reason for doubt; were he friend or enemy he would save him. Quickly unfastening his scarf, he held one end firmly while he threw the other over into the well.
"Catch hold of the scarf," he called down, "the stuff is firm and will bear you."
Immediately thereafter he felt that his order had been obeyed—the heavy silk became taut.
"Pull up," a voice now cried from below, "I will hold tight."
Aslitta was young and powerful, but he had to exert himself terribly to pull up the heavy load and lift it over the rim of the well.
"Thank Heaven," the words reached his ear, "for the present we are saved. Ah, what would my poor Aurora say if she knew this?"
Aurora! This name seemed like a revelation to Aslitta, and, in glad surprise, he exclaimed:
"Bartolomeo—is it you?"
"Why, of course; but with whom have I the honor—It is as dark here as in a sack."
"I am Giorgio Aslitta."
"Heaven be praised that I have found you. I was looking for you."
"Indeed? Where, in truth, do you come from?"
"Oh, that would take us too far to-day. I fell into the clutches of that cursed San Pietro and escaped from him only through a miracle. Well, for that he's now got his deserts."
"Is he dead?"
"Oh, no. That sort of vermin has a very tough life, but he's locked up for the present, and therefore we must hurry up to clear out."
"I'm with you, only tell me how and in which way, and, besides, I would like to know how you obtained that Croatian uniform."
"Oh, that was a rare joke! It was San Pietro's uniform which I took from him. I will tell you the particulars later on—or do you mistrust me?"
"No, Bartolomeo, I know you as a good patriot."
"Thanks for this word. I come, besides, direct from the torture-chamber. After I had escaped from my torturer I was standing in a damp, narrow, totally dark passage. By groping along I reached a descending staircase; I slowly walked on and only stopped when I felt the moisture under my feet. But what could I do? I cautiously groped ahead, and soon my shoes were filled with water. It shortly afterward rose to my calves; and then, oh joy! I could again rise to my full height. The steps were at an end and I stood in a capacious vault, as I could perceive by the light of a match. At the same time I felt a strong draught, and then I heard your question whether anybody was down there. I answered for luck—whether I was captured or drowned in the gradually rising water would, in the end, amount to the same thing."
"But why were you arrested?"
"Later on you shall hear all."
"Can you not at least tell me whether Luciola has been saved?"
"Yes, she is in safety in the Count of Monte-Cristo's house."
"Heaven be praised! Now I can die calmly," whispered Aslitta.
"Nonsense! who is speaking of dying? Think of our rescue. It is not safe to remain here, and the sooner we get out of this hole the better. Where is this cell?"
"Ah, if I knew that! I have no matches, and, therefore, could not very well fix where I was."
"Good; we will find out."
Bartolomeo drew a match from his pocket, and soon a bright light illuminated the cell, without, however, revealing a consoling prospect.
"Humph!" growled the major, "it was, after all, better down there."
"But there, also, you did not find an exit."
"True; but I was, perhaps, awkward. You may do better. Let us descend."
"As if that was so easy. If one holds the scarf, the other can descend, and that's the end of the chapter," said Aslitta, calmly.
"Well, one's enough," thought the major, after a few moments' deliberation.
"Well, I don't amount to much, and if I go under, my poor wife will be taken care of. You will give Aurora a small annuity, will you not, marquis, should she fall in need, and you will tell her that I died for my country? You, on the other hand, must preserve yourself. What would become of Italy without you? Come, I will hold the scarf, and you can descend by it. The more I consider it, the surer I am that there's a canal down there, by means of which we can get into the moat of the fortress. Well, won't you do it?"
"No," replied Aslitta, with emotion. "I would be a scoundrel to save myself at your expense."
"But there's no other way. Were I in your place I would not hesitate an instant. Think of your friends; you are to lead them, and if you are missing, they are lost."
Tears rose to Aslitta's eyes, but he resisted no longer, and, cordially shaking the major's hand, he said: "Friend, I accept your sacrifice, and if I find an exit, I will save you."
It seemed to Bartolomeo as if Aslitta's clasp was the most precious thing he had gained, and he was almost overcome with emotion. But he quickly recovered when he heard footsteps close at hand, and urged Aslitta to leave.
The young man embraced the major.
"Thanks, in the name of Italy!" he ardently exclaimed. Then, tying the scarf around his waist, he swung himself from the rim of the well.
Bartolomeo held the other end of the scarf with all his might. Aslitta must now have reached the bottom. At the moment when the major let go of the silken stuff, a key was turned in the lock and the door opened. The major had crouched on the floor; but, as he threw a glance at those who entered, he almost uttered a loud ejaculation, for before him stood—Benedetto. "I thought so," muttered Bartolomeo, in a rage; "some cursed chance has rescued him. Such a scoundrel's soul is too bad for the devil himself."
"Get up, vagabond," roughly exclaimed Benedetto.
He had looked up Aslitta to avenge Bartolomeo's escape on him, and he was in a very bad humor.
As the major did not stir, Benedetto uttered an oath and cried:
"Are you deaf, Aslitta?"
He then snatched a torch from one of the soldiers who accompanied him and looked around. As if struck by lightning he started when a well-known voice tauntingly said:
"Good-day, Andrea Cavalcanti."
"You and always you!" cried the bandit furiously. "Where is the other one?"
The major shrugged his shoulders, while the soldiers looked in every corner and Benedetto angrily gnawed his under lip.
"He has probably escaped through the well," said one of the soldiers at last.
"Oh, then we have him sure," laughed another.
"Light here," ordered Benedetto, bending over the opening. The soldier obeyed as directed and Bartolomeo felt his heart cease beating.
"We have him sure," one of the soldiers had said. Was the well a trap? A strange sound was now heard. The major sank on his knees. He recognized the noise. The water was slowly rising in the well and soon stood hand-high under the stone curbing.
"Where does the water come from?" asked Benedetto, stepping back.
"About a quarter of an hour ago," replied one of the soldiers, "the commander gave the order to open the sluices of Santa Maria. Canals run from the aqueduct under the citadel, and that's why I said before we had our prisoner sure. He is drowned."
"Speak, wretch!" said San Pietro, turning to the major. "Did Aslitta escape through the well?"
But Bartolomeo made no reply. A dull sob escaped his lips, and his eyes, filled with hot tears, fixed themselves, in horror, on the silk scarf which the rising flood wafted to and fro.
"One has escaped," cried Benedetto, from between his gritted teeth, "but the other shall suffer for it. Take the prisoner with you," he added, addressing the soldiers; "to-morrow at daybreak he shall be shot."
He walked toward the door. Bartolomeo slowly rose to his feet and muttered only a single word:
The morning of the 16th of March had come, and Milan had a martial appearance. Placards were attached to all the walls, informing the Imperial authorities of the ultimatum of the people of Lombardy; a great throng was gathered around these placards, and the streets were crowded with Austrian troops.
Grenadiers were on guard before the official buildings, but the sentinels were suddenly disarmed, and, without being able to tell how it happened, the palace was occupied by the citizens. The municipal councillors fled in every direction; only the president of the Senate remained firm, and only when the tumult became greater, he, too, went, guarded by an escort, to the Brobetto palace, which was situated in the centre of the city.
In the Via Del Monte the crowd was the greatest, and all passage was soon entirely cut off. Rifle shots were suddenly heard, deafening shouts followed, and there was a terrible confusion. Radetzky had ordered his soldiers to load heavily and to fire into the crowd. A howl of rage followed the first discharge, and numberless wounded fell to the ground. That was no honest combat, but an infamous massacre.
Monte-Cristo stood at one of the lofty arched windows in the Vidiserti palace, and, with a dark frown, observed the terrible massacre which Radetzky's minions created in the streets. Spero stood at his father's side.
"See, papa," he said, with tear-choked utterance, "that wounded woman carrying a dead child. It was shot in her arms. Oh, the poor wretches, what did they do to the soldiers?"
"My child," sadly replied Monte-Cristo, "man's worst enemy is man!"
"Papa!" suddenly exclaimed Spero, "see, there, the flag!"
The count glanced in the direction indicated. A young Italian had just climbed up the tower of a church opposite the Vidiserti palace, and there unfurled the national standard. The tricolor fluttered gayly in the wind. Suddenly, however, the young man was seen to totter; he sought to hold himself, turned a somersault and fell crushed to the pavement. A bullet had hit him.
At this moment Bertuccio entered the hall.
"Well?" asked the count.
"Count, one of our emissaries has penetrated to the citadel. The Marquis Aslitta is no longer there!"
"What can that mean? Had he escaped he would have looked for us here," exclaimed the count uneasily.
"The man could learn nothing further," said Bertuccio, sadly; "but he was informed that some one else was found in the marquis's cell."
"Some one else? Who?"
"You know him. In Paris he called himself Major Cavalcanti, and here—"
"What about this substitute?" eagerly interrupted the count.
"He was sentenced to death; whether the sentence had been already executed our emissary could not ascertain."
"Bertuccio," said the count anxiously, "if Aslitta—"
"Aslitta is dead!" cried Luciola, who had entered unperceived and sank to her knees sobbing.
"Who dares to allege that?" exclaimed the count, turning pale.
"Step to the window," stammered Luciola.
The count did so and staggered back, for the sight he saw confirmed the poor girl's words; four men, with uncovered heads, carried a bier on which lay a motionless body. It was the Marquis Aslitta, and Monte-Cristo's heart swelled as he recognized him.
"How could this calamity have happened?" whispered Spero, clinging anxiously to Luciola.
Bertuccio, in the meantime, had run down into the street to direct the carriers. He now returned and tremblingly said:
"A quarter of an hour ago our men found the body in the moat of the fortifications; how Aslitta got there is a riddle."
Loud cries were heard from the street.
"Revenge on the murderers! Death to the miserable cowards."
A crowd numbered by hundreds gathered around the bier, and the carriers had trouble to reach the palace gate.
Luciola had dragged herself with difficulty to the staircase, but there she swooned away, and while Spero bedewed her beautiful pale face with his tears, he appealingly whispered to his father:
"Papa, you have already aided so many people, aid her too!"
Monte-Cristo started. He had promised Luciola to save Aslitta, and now—
The next moment he was standing beside the bier; his gaze rested searchingly, with unspeakable terror, on the pale features of the drowned man, and with trembling hands he bared the bosom and placed his ear to Aslitta's breast.
At this instant the beating of drums was heard and a Croatian battalion turned the corner of the street.
"Men," exclaimed Monte-Cristo, "carry the Marquis Aslitta into the Vidiserti palace, and if you love your leader, who has staked his life for you, see to it that no soldier enters the building! Turn the palace into a bulwark against which the soldiers smash their skulls, and who knows whether Italy and Aslitta may not, together, become resurrected?"
Luciola had heard the prophetic words; she rose up, and, approaching the bier, exclaimed enthusiastically:
"You hear his words; he always keeps what he promises. To arms, friends! Long live Italy and Liberty."
A shout of joy answered Luciola. The next instant the street was blocked by turned wagons, logs and other obstacles, the pavement was torn up, and as the Croatians approached they found a raging multitude ready for defence. At a first-story window of the Palace Vidiserti Luciola stood and encouraged the patriots. She had seized a flag, and, unmindful of the bullets which whistled around her, waved the tricolor in the air.
The spark had dropped into the powder barrel; from all sides the patriots rallied around the national standard, and, amid the ringing of the alarm bells, the insurrection kept growing in dimensions.
Luciola had long ago left her place at the window and stood on a barricade, waving her flag and spurring on the combatants. The Croatians retreated after about an hour. Surrounded on all sides by the Italians, they sought safety in flight, and the patriots followed them with shouts of joy.
Luciola now left the barricade, and, hastening into the palace, sank on her knees beside the bier, on which Aslitta still lay extended motionless. She raised her clasped hands to Monte-Cristo, who was busying himself about the lifeless man, and imploringly exclaimed:
"Count, I have kept my word—the tricolor waves in freedom in Milan; restore Giorgio to me."
The count did not reply; he held in his hand a small vial containing a dark-red liquid, and slowly he dropped single drops on Aslitta's compressed lips.
At this instant Sante-Croce rushed into the apartment and excitedly exclaimed:
"Things are bad, count. Radetzky has retreated with his troops into the citadel and begins to bombard the city! You have promised to assist us with act and counsel, and, instead of redeeming your word, you are wasting the time in useless revivification experiments. Let the dead alone and take care of the living."
Monte-Cristo's flashing eyes fixed themselves on the old patriot, and with ringing tones he retorted:
"Marquis, I have as yet always kept my word."
"But when? It may soon be too late. We are lacking in arms and ammunition, and the superiority of numbers will crush us if we are defenceless."
"Ali," ordered the count.
The Nubian appeared and glanced inquiringly at his master.
"You have the key of the vault which contains the arms and ammunition?"
"Go and show the Marquis of Sante-Croce the way to the vaults. Arm the patriots, marquis, and believe my words, before night Radetzky will give up the fight and to-morrow will leave Milan. Stop, one instant yet; I told the patriots that the Marquis Aslitta would lead them. I have kept my word. See for yourself. Aslitta opens his eyes; he lives."
The dark eyelids really opened, and with a dreamy look Aslitta surveyed the people who surrounded him.
"Thanks be to God, he lives!" exclaimed Luciola, gleefully.
"Calm yourself, Eugenie," said the Count. "Aslitta must be spared for the present any excitement! Leave him to me, he will soon recover."
"Oh, you have performed a miracle," said Luciola, enthusiastically.
Monte-Cristo bowed his head and a tear glistened in his eye.
It was in memory of his friend and teacher, the Abbe Faria.
Sante-Croce looked wonderingly at the count.
"You are a god!" he exclaimed; "forgive the words I spoke before."
"I have nothing to forgive," replied the count, gently; "I have only to keep what I have promised. Spero, come here."
"Here I am, papa," called the boy.
"Good, my son. You know your duty. Accompany the patriots; take my place until Aslitta's condition permits me to relieve you."
A cannon-shot caused the house to shake to its foundations, and Haydee, pale and trembling, entered.
"The bombardment begins," she whispered to her husband. "Oh, the cruelty!"
Monte-Cristo threw his arm about his handsome wife, and giving the boy a wink, he consolingly said:
"Spero will be worthy of you and me. Come, Spero, say good-by and go."
Spero pressed a kiss on Haydee's lips, threw his arms about his father's neck and whispered in his ear:
"I will do my duty."
Turning to the marquis he put his hand in that of the old man and said:
"Let us go!"
A half-hour passed by. Monte-Cristo and Haydee were still busied with Aslitta, when a servant entered bearing a sealed letter on a silver salver.
"A courier who has come from France has just brought it," said the servant, in answer to a question of the count's.
"Did he give his name?"
"Yes; he said his name was Penelon, and that he came from Marseilles."
"From Marseilles!" exclaimed Haydee, anxiously; "oh, quick! see what the letter says."
Monte-Cristo broke the seal. The letter only contained a few words:
"I am dying from grief. Come at once!
The count handed the letter to Haydee. The latter read it and then said:
"When do we go?"
"Thanks, Haydee," said the count, tenderly. "We go as soon as my duty here is ended! Give the necessary orders. Let Bertuccio inform Jacopo and rest easy! See, Aslitta has recovered—God will protect Spero!"
Bartolomeo was thrown into a subterranean dungeon of the citadel, and now that Aslitta was lost he accepted his fate calmly. He could not be of any further service to the fatherland.
As he was sitting meditatively in his cell, the door opened and a corporal entered.
"What do you wish?" asked the major politely. "What time is it?"
"Three o'clock in the morning," replied the corporal, a handsome young fellow with blue eyes and blond hair.
"Only three o'clock. Then I have three long hours still to live. Can't I be shot at once?"
"No, no chance whatever."
"How awkward. What shall I do with myself? It's so monotonous here!"
"Oh, you can remedy that," said the corporal, laughing.
"How so? What do you mean?" asked Bartolomeo.
"Well, you see, I know that you are a good card-player. To-morrow I must shoot you, and before doing so I came here to ask you to do me a favor. Will you please teach me ecarte?"
"With pleasure," replied the major.
"Good; then let us begin," said the soldier, gleefully, and pulling a pack of cards out of his pocket, he threw them on a chair and went away, returning shortly afterward with a drum.
The major seated himself on a chair, the corporal on the bed, and the drum served as a table.
The corporal was a good scholar and soon learned the elements of the game. Bartolomeo was delighted. He dealt, picked up, trumped, and forgot entirely that in a few hours he would be shot.
When the clock struck four, the young man had won twice, and he proudly exclaimed:
"If my luck continues, I will be ahead of you soon. Couldn't we play for money?"
"No, that would be unfair," replied the major, "I am so superior to you."
"Oh, that could be tested by a trial. But first I will get some rum. I am thirsty, and you are so also, no doubt."
"Thanks, I will take some too," replied Bartolomeo.
The corporal disappeared. As soon as the footsteps died away, the major took the cards and stacked them. When the soldier returned with the rum, the major had already taken his place.
"Ah, that tastes good," he said, after he had taken a deep draught.
The corporal drank also and then they sat down again. This time the game was for money, the stakes being a few pennies. After a while, the soldier in the meantime having won repeatedly, the stakes were increased. The major continued to lose, and soon the soldier had won all of Bartolomeo's cash. While the play was going on they drank often, and when Bartolomeo refused to play any more because his money was all gone, the corporal said he would lend him a few lire.
"Ah, if I lose these too," remarked the major, "the time will have gone by for a revenge. It is already past five o'clock."
"Bah—let us play anyhow!" exclaimed the corporal, exhilarated by the money he had won and the liquor he had swallowed.
A slight smile crossed the major's lips. The play began again, but this time the prisoner won. It did not take long before the major had not only won back all his money, but that of the corporal's too, and just as the latter had asked him for a loan a knock was heard at the door.
"Confound it!" exclaimed the corporal, "who is disturbing us now?"
In answer to a harsh "Come in," the door opened and a soldier appeared. He announced that it was time to go to the barracks in the Piazza Poliziotti.
"It is all right; I shall be there directly," answered the corporal.
The soldier departed, and the corporal now turned to Bartolomeo, who had arisen from his chair.
"One more game," begged the Austrian.
"Not for the world. I must collect my thoughts now, and close my account with God," replied the major.
"But you won my money and ought to give me a revenge."
"Gladly, if I only had time to do so."
The corporal, who was very tight, swore roundly.
The major gazed at him for a moment, and then in a hesitating way said:
"I know a way out of the difficulty."
"What is it?" asked the corporal, breathlessly.
"Your order is to shoot me, and then to go to the barracks; postpone the execution half an hour—take me with you to the Poliziotti barracks, and I will give you your revenge there," proposed Bartolomeo.
"Certainly," cried the corporal, gleefully.
He strode in advance of Bartolomeo, and ordered his men to take the major along to the barracks.
The soldiers looked at one another in astonishment, but none dared to say a word, and at a quick step they were on their way to the barracks.
"Time won—everything won," muttered the major. "I have not played cards a lifetime for nothing."
In the streets of Milan the battle raged. The Italians resembled lions in courage, and soon one bulwark after another fell into their hands. The ladies of the aristocracy were busy in the Casa Borromeo melting lead and making cannon-balls. All the druggists and chemists manufactured powder and gun-cotton, and the gunsmiths gave up their stocks of firearms.
In spite of the brave resistance of the Austrians, the Borletto Palace had been conquered again by the patriots. Radetzky demanded an armistice, but his proposition was declined. The enemy were not allowed time to collect themselves.
One barrack after the other was captured, and then the great mass of the patriots turned toward the Casa Santa Margarita, where the elite of the artillery had taken up a position, and a bitter struggle ensued. The battle raged indecisively for a long time, when suddenly a bright flame issued from the gate. A patriot, Pasquale Sottocorni, had stealthily reached the palace and set it on fire. He was the first victim of his heroic deed, and died with the cry on his lips:
"Long live Italy!"
But his boldness helped the patriots materially. The escaping soldiers were taken prisoners, and the ranks of the people were recruited in numbers. The Poliziotti barracks still remained to be captured. The Poliziotti was intensely hated in Milan because it was mainly filled with renegades—Italians who sold themselves to Radetzky.
While the fight was going on about the building, Bartolomeo and the corporal were sitting in a room playing cards. The major permitted his pupil to win and lose at times. Every minute he gained was precious to him, and the corporal did not dream of shooting his teacher while they were playing ecarte.
From time to time a soldier put his head in the room to ask when the execution was going to take place.
Every time he did so he was told to be off.
The corporal had just finished dealing the cards, when the soldier again appeared.
"Corporal," he said, breathlessly, "the Poliziotti are giving way, the Croatians are decimated—shall we go to their rescue?"
"Bah! we are only a handful," growled the corporal. "Let us await the result."
The door closed behind the soldier. Bartolomeo now sprang up, took the sword and gun from the drunken corporal, and cried in his ear:
"Obey my order, or you are a dead man!"
"What—should—I—do?" stammered the corporal, partly sobered.
"Hoist the white flag—quick!"
"Who cares?" exclaimed Bartolomeo, "give the order—the people will be needlessly sacrificed—are you going now?"
The corporal still hesitated, but just then a police sergeant ran in and cried:
"Corporal—let your men get shot—the scoundrels refuse to fight!"
Bartolomeo had placed himself behind the corporal; the muzzle of the gun lay against his knee, and this fact made the Austrian obedient.
"My people are right," he said, gruffly; "I have given the order to hoist the white flag."
"The white flag? What for?"
"Special order from the marshal," replied the corporal.
"Which reached you?" asked the sergeant, distrustfully.
"Yes; do not consider any longer!" thundered Bartolomeo, coming forward: "I have brought the order myself."
The sergeant saw the Austrian uniform; he disappeared hurriedly, and Bartolomeo called after him:
"God help you if the flag is not hoisted before two minutes have passed."
Suddenly the firing ceased, a loud noise was heard. The Italians saluted the white flag—the signal of peace.
In the barracks itself loud curses were heard—Count San Pietro had discovered that the white flag had been hoisted, and was heaping insults upon the officers. No one admitted having given the order. Benedetto, though, did not look kindly upon the proposition of an old colonel to have the flag removed. With a diabolical smile he said:
"If the patriots have any confidence in the flag then it's their own fault. Follow my commands punctually, and I will forget your stupidity."
A few minutes later a terrible crash was heard, followed by a loud cry. From all the windows the bullets flew; the cannons threw death and destruction into the ranks of the trusting patriots.
The confusion only lasted a moment.
"Surround the rat-hole! Not a single one must escape—down with the poliziotti!" exclaimed the Italians, wildly.
In firm columns they advanced against the barracks, and then they paused. Suppose treachery was in store for them?
The patriots now retreated to the right and left, to make room for two persons: a white-haired old man and a handsome dark-featured boy. The old man turned to the Italians, and said in a loud voice:
"Friends and brothers! The barracks of San Francisco, San Vittore and the military hospital are in our possession. Radetzky's palace has been stormed, and the marshal's baton has fallen into the hands of the conquerors. Forward, with God! We two, an old man and a weak child, will show you the way!"
Proudly erect, the old man strode toward the door, and Spero walked hurriedly behind him, and a fanatical, enthusiastic crowd followed.
On the threshold stood an Austrian officer. He lifted his gun, and triumphantly exclaimed:
"Ha, Monte-Cristo—to-day I shall strike you through the heart! Curses on you and your race!"
The gun directed against Spero's breast went off. When the smoke had cleared away, the boy stood there unharmed, while a man tumbled down at his feet. It was Bartolomeo! Taking advantage of the confusion, he ran away and came just in the nick of time to receive Benedetto's murderous bullet in his breast.
A quarter of an hour later Aslitta appeared accompanied by Monte-Cristo and La Luciola. He was still pale and exhausted, but he swung his sword and joyfully exclaimed: "Radetzky has fled. The citadel has surrendered."
The Italians embraced each other. Their dream was realized. Milan was free.
"Papa," whispered Spero, "come with me. There is a man lying over there who sacrificed himself for me."
Monte-Cristo bent over the major, whose pale face lighted up joyfully when he saw the count.
"Let me see the wound," said Monte-Cristo. "Who knows but—"
"Unnecessary," whispered Bartolomeo; "my adopted son understands—how—to—aim!"
"Ha! then it was Benedetto!" exclaimed the count.
"His bullet was intended for me," said Spero. "He said he wished to strike you through the heart."
"The monster!" said Monte-Cristo, and turning to Bartolomeo, he added: "and how shall I thank you?"
"Ah!—that—does good," stammered Bartolomeo. "Count—care for—Aurora. Ah!—I am dying. Your hand—farewell—child. Italy—is—free!"
The major stretched himself out and his eyes became glassy.
Spero sobbed bitterly, and the count whispered:
"May the earth be light to you. If you have sinned, your love for your country has made atonement!"
One hour later the count, Haydee and Spero bade adieu to Aslitta and Luciola in the Cafe Vidiserti.
"Farewell, marquis," said the count, throwing a knowing glance at Aslitta, who held the diva in his arms.
"To-day Luciola will be my bride," he gently said.
"Why do you wish to leave us?" exclaimed Luciola, sobbing.
"Because others need me. Come, Haydee, Mercedes is waiting."
Ten years had passed since Mercedes had bade her only son good-by. She lived in the small house in the Allee de Meillan at Marseilles, which formerly belonged to old Dantes, and though her face was pale and her eyes no longer sparkled as of yore, the widow of General de Morcerf was still a wonderfully handsome woman. Mercedes was standing at the window, gazing out upon the sea. Behind her stood a man in the uniform of a Zouave. Small, brown and thin, he looked like the type of what a Zouave is generally thought to be.
What the Zouave's name was no one exactly knew. He had many sobriquets, the most popular of which was "Sergeant Coucou," so that after a while he was never called otherwise.
The sergeant's cradle, in spite of his brown skin, had not stood in Africa, but in the Faubourg Merceau in Paris.
Coucou was the son of a poor washerwoman. His first studies were made on the curbstone and in the gutter, and pretty soon he became the toughest boy in the neighborhood. His mother decided the time had come for her son to enter the army. Coucou did not hesitate long; only he made it a condition that he be allowed to enter an African regiment. The mother was satisfied. A regiment which bore the trusting name, the "Jackals," was just on the point of sailing to Algiers, and so Coucou became a Jackal.
When the time for saying good-by came, the mother began to weep, but Coucou consoled her.
"You see, mamma," he said, confidently, "I will make a name for myself, and when you read about my heroic deeds in the papers, you will be proud of me."
The mother laughed between her sobs. The few pennies she had saved she used to buy a pair of spectacles to read the forthcoming chronicles; for she was one of that class of innocent people who believe that the faculty of reading rests in spectacles.
About the year 1843 the Zouave regiment, to which Coucou belonged, made a sortie under General Cavaignac against the Kabyles in Beni Djaad. Among the few who escaped was the Sheik Sidi ben Abed. No one knew where he had disappeared to, and when the call to retreat had been sounded, Coucou declared he would remain behind to find out where the Kabyles were.
"They will kill you," his comrades warned him.
"Bah! a Parisian child does not fear the devil!" said Coucou, laughing.
In a few minutes he had disappeared. The soldiers feared the worst; but, to their astonishment, Coucou came back in a few hours, dragging the sheik by his long beard behind him. The Kabyle was armed to the teeth, but nevertheless Coucou had forced him to succumb without a struggle.
Six months later Coucou was struck over the head by a yataghan, and, but for the timely interference of a comrade, would have been killed. How the sergeant came to the little house in the Allee de Meillan we will relate further on. One thing was certain, Mercedes' silence made him feel uncomfortable; but his eye lighted up when the door opened, and a small white hand was laid on Mercedes' shoulder, and a clear, bright voice said:
"Good-day, my dear little woman."
Mercedes trembled and shrunk away, although the possessor of the small white hand was a charming young girl.
A pretty little head with ash-blond hair, deep blue eyes and fresh red lips made Miss Clary Ellis—that was the name of the eighteen-year-old girl—a very beautiful picture, and the sergeant drew back respectfully, while Mercedes said:
"Good-day, my darling—always joyful, always happy."
"And you are always sorrowful, and have tears in your eyes. Better take me for a model, who, as a consumptive, have far more reason to be melancholy than you have."
"I am waiting," said Mercedes, sorrowfully, "for him, and he will surely come if he lives."
"And who is he?"
"He is a faithful friend in need," replied Mercedes, solemnly, "and I love him as if he were divine. But tell me what brought you here to-day? Curiosity?"
"Ungrateful woman," pouted the English girl, "as if I did not like to come here. But if you are so solemn, why—"
"Oh, Clary, I am not solemn—I am melancholy, and at times desperate."
"Desperate? How can you say such a thing?"
"If you had lost everything, as I have, you would understand me," said Mercedes, gently. "Ah, Clary, I have seen everything about me tumble, but I remained easy so long as my son was with me! Since he has left me the world has no pleasures for me, and should I never see him again—"
"But, madam," interrupted Coucou, "how can you talk that way! Why should you not see my brave captain again? My captain is not one of those who are eaten by Kabyles for supper. He defends his life, and if he should be in the bowels of the earth I will find him. I—"
"Brave sergeant!" exclaimed Clary, and turning to Mercedes, she said:
"You must not despair, little woman. As far back as I can remember people always said about me: 'Ah, the poor child, to have to die so young—it is terrible—she must go to the south!' My father and brother made me sign all kinds of documents in case of my death. What was the use of my fortune if I died, and it was a settled fact I was to die?"
With a gay laugh Clary arose, and, bidding Mercedes a cordial farewell, left the house. The light-hearted girl's full name was Clara Ellis, and three months before, she, and her French governess, the widow of a police sergeant, had settled down in Nice. Madame Caraman, or, as Clary called her, Mamma Caraman, was of sound health, while her young ward, according to the opinion of eminent English physicians, was in an indifferent state of health. They sent her, because she suffered from a slight cough, and as being incurable and consumptive, to the south. Nice was the Eldorado of all chest complaints, and thus the ladies took up their residence in that place.
Lord Ellis, Clary's father, had inherited from his parents a large fortune, which, however, he squandered in noble passions, and it was feared that his son Sir Edward, the heir-at-law, would one day inherit only the empty title. But it happened that owing to the sudden death of a rich aunt residing in India, Sir Edward's sister, Miss Clary Ellis, inherited an immense fortune, and from that day Lord Ellis began to pay attention and took care of his daughter to a much greater extent than he used to do. Clary since her eighth year had lived in a world of her own imagination; fantastic ideas and representations were the fruits of her education, which pompous governesses had inculcated at an early age, and the education recommended to Clary was for the sole purpose of increasing her romantic inclinations. The heroines of Byron and Lamartine were enviously looked upon by Clary—the "Sorrows of Werther" were continually lying upon her desk ready for perusal, and the young enthusiast was soon convinced that there was no nicer death than that of Marie Beaumarchais.
Almost with joy she welcomed her sickness, looking upon it as a forerunner of approaching dissolution. Wrapped in furs, she spent her days upon her couch, and from an "imaginary patient" she was becoming a real sick person; inasmuch as the want of exercise, as well as the continual strain on the whole nervous system, did not fail to have its effect.
Lord Ellis faced with manly courage the hard lot of losing his daughter at an early age. It was indeed a great pity that Clary could not make use of and enjoy her wealth, but what else could be done? As a careful father the lord prepared for any emergency; he urged Clary to sign various papers, which entitled him and his sons to make use of her immense wealth. The sum thus turned over for his use amounted to above one million sterling—but what good did it do? If Clary died, she could not, after all, take away her great wealth; and the million sterling was only a share of the still larger sum thus to be expected in case of her demise.
The physicians all agreed that Clary should at least hold out and die in the south, and a companion had to be procured. She soon found one in the person of Madame Caraman, a lady of about forty-five years, who showed a sincere interest in her suffering ward, and thus they entered on their journey. But soon Madame Caraman found reason to doubt the incurability of her patient—she noticed that Clary, when leaving her carriage, or performing any other movement of the body, usually painful for chest complaints, never felt pain or the slightest inconvenience.
This lasted for some time, and then Madame Caraman one day said quite earnestly:
"My dear child—now it is enough—you are as much sick as I am! You will be kind enough from this day to try to eat heartily, in order to regain your strength; you will drink daily a glass of Bordeaux and take a walk with me, and not, like a sick bird in its cage, remain wrapped up in the corner of a carriage. No—no objections. You will also never cough again as you get accustomed to it; and after the lapse of a month we will see what further to do."
Clary sighed and sobbed, but it was no use—Madame Caraman stuck to her will, and, trembling and hesitating, the young lady was persuaded to eat her first beefsteak, and to her great surprise she was not suffocated by the unaccustomed food; the wine she found excellent, and Madame Caraman triumphed.
An accident happened which also brought help. One night some robbers tried to enter their villa; the servants slept in a building close by, and in this emergency Madame Caraman took to arms as soon as she heard a suspicious noise. With a heavy silver candlestick in her hand she entered the parlor from whence the noise proceeded. She knocked a person down, but ere she could pick up the heavy candlestick the second one had got hold of her throat and she would have been lost had not a shot been fired at the same moment, and her assailant with a loud shriek fell to the ground.
When Madame Caraman turned around she saw Clary, pale, but with a pair of beaming eyes, standing at the entrance of the room, and in her tiny white hand the yet smoking pistol.
The servants rushed in—the wounded were made prisoners, and Madame Caraman had to thank Clary with tears in her eyes for her assistance.
"Well, for one already half dead you certainly possess a great deal of strength and energy," she said afterward, with cunning look; "only courage, dear child—we will soon see who is in the right."
Clary was, to all appearance, from this day continually becoming more cheerful, and her strength increased gradually. It is no wonder that sometimes she still clung to her painful ideas, and thought it not worth while to live, while Madame Caraman tried hard to teach her better principles.
"You must have some kind of occupation," she said; "you must give your life some aim, some purpose."
"But how? Nobody stands in need of me," sobbed Clary.
"Oh, that is only your own belief, but it is not so. There is much sorrow and misery in the world, but in large and fine streets you cannot meet with it, and only in narrow streets and lanes and alleys can you find it. I am, for instance, a native of Paris, and I know that in the beautiful town every day many die of hunger, if not in the Rue de la Paix and on the Boulevard des Italiens."
"Alas," sobbed Clary; "if I could help them!"
"And why should it be impossible?" said Madame Caraman, in an amiable voice; "misery is easily found—one must only look for it."
"Madame Caraman, I should like to call you Mamma Caraman; will you allow me?"
"With pleasure, dear child."
"Well, then, Mamma Caraman, I am getting tired of Nice."
"I am also tired of it," nodded the companion.
"How should you like to go to Marseilles?"
"With pleasure, my dear child."
"And, Mamma Caraman, I should like to do the journey on horseback," added Clary, in a hesitating voice.
"Still better, dear child—when we reach Marseilles you will be sound in health."
Eight days later we find Clary and her companion settled down in Marseilles. Madame Caraman was in the right—the young patient got round gradually now, as she felt a real desire to get better, and whoever saw the fresh, blooming girl on horseback thought her rather to be anything else than a sufferer from consumption.
In Marseilles Clary got to know misery and sickness in every form and shape, and now she began to see the blessing of being wealthy. She gave with full hands, and Madame Caraman was proud of her conquests since her first journey undertaken under such discouraging circumstances.
Upon a walk in the Meillan alley Clary noticed Mercedes—that beautiful pale face, with its dark, deep-set, sorrowful eyes, which attracted the young girl's attention in an irresistible manner, and a pocket-handkerchief which Mercedes dropped offered her ample and good opportunity to enter upon a conversation with the owner.
Mercedes admired the lovely young girl, whose mirth showed nothing of the rudeness which, especially to mourners, becomes very disagreeable. They often met, and after a few days Clary was quite at home in the little house in which Mercedes resided.
Mercedes very soon became acquainted with the past life of the young English lady—she assisted Madame Caraman in all her work to give to Clary's life, up to now aimless, a fixed object and satisfaction, and it stands to reason that the young girl also felt great interest for Mercedes. Mercedes was only too happy to find an opportunity to speak about Albert—during the ten years he sojourned in Algiers, his letters had been the joy of his mother. Albert called himself Joliette—the name of Morcerf contained for him, the same as for Mercedes, terrible recollections—and soon Clary admired and looked upon Captain Joliette as something of a higher being.
Albert's letters, which, up to now, had always regularly reached Marseilles, now remained away altogether, and a time of indescribable anguish commenced for Mercedes—the arrival of the Jackal Coucou only increased her troubles, for the news which he brought was unsatisfactory, and thus the mother resolved at length to send that call for help to Monte-Cristo.
While Mercedes spoke to Clary the sergeant stood at the window, and he called out suddenly:
"Just now a beautiful yacht, in full sail, is entering the harbor—ah, now I can read the inscription on the vessel; it is the Ice Bird."
"God be blessed," sobbed Mercedes, falling on her knees. "Ah, I was aware that he would come!"
"I shall go, dear mother," said Clary, rising, "but mind, if anything of importance happens, I hope I shall also know of it?"
"At once," nodded Mercedes, "Monsieur Coucou, pray accompany Mademoiselle Clary, and return immediately in case you are wanted."
The sergeant nodded and both went away.
Soon after a carriage stopped before the door. A man got out and hastened up the narrow staircase.
"Mercedes," he called aloud, with faltering voice; it resounded upon him—"Edmond, Edmond!"
For a moment Mercedes and the count stood motionless opposite each other; then Monte-Cristo extended his hand to the sobbing woman, and in a faltering voice he begged: