"Mercedes—to-day I know that I have sinned—I have punished harder than I had a right to do, and I can only supplicate you to forgive me. Take my life and I shall not murmur. I thought to fulfil my duty, and have executed revenge!"
"No, Edmond—do not talk like this!" said Mercedes, softly; "the lot which met me I deserved even more than—Broken faithfulness must always revenge itself bitterly. The misfortune which nowadays pulls me down has nothing to do with the past, and therefore I ask your help."
"Then speak, Mercedes—I hear," replied Monte-Cristo, simply.
"Edmond," began Mercedes, without further apologies, "you know what was the intention of my son, for whom I was attached to life when everything around was destroyed. Alas! Albert is the favorite of my heart; do not think me foolish, if I tell you he was worthy of you! His letters, which, breathe of his uninterrupted, faithful filial love, have kept me alive ten long, lonesome and weary years; when I read his tender words, when he embraced me, all my hopes centred in the moment when we should meet again! But suddenly all letters ceased to arrive. I waited many a long day, weeks, months, but all in vain—no news came.
"I anxiously read all papers—I inquired and hoped, but I could bring nothing to light. At length I resolved to write to Paris to the Minister of War—I received no answer, and my despair increased daily.
"Then an accident led Monsieur Beauchamp to Marseilles—I took heart to look for him, and acquainted him with my sorrow. He received me very kindly, listened to me, and promised to exert himself to obtain some information for me. After eight days I received the sad news—"
"Then Albert is dead?" said the count, sorrowfully.
"Oh, God, no—say not so—he cannot, he dare not be dead!" sobbed Mercedes. "The news which Beauchamp acquainted me with was disheartening enough. My poor son, captain in the first Zouave regiment, or the so-called Jackals, about three months ago, after an expedition against the Kabyles, disappeared; they fear the wild horde has taken him away!"
Monte-Cristo reflected a moment and then inquired: "Did it happen before or after the submission of Abd-el-Kader?"
"After, as much as I can tell. Monsieur Beauchamp, however, was not satisfied with the uncertain reports—he informed me that a Zouave from Albert's regiment was on furlough in Paris, and he would not fail to have the Zouave sent to Marseilles to inform me of all, in a more particular way."
"And has this Zouave arrived?" inquired Monte-Cristo, animatedly.
"Yes, a few days since."
"And what does he say?"
"He maintains Albert is still alive."
"Then we may yet hope for the best, Mercedes," said Monte-Cristo, consolingly. "God owes you a recompense, and you will see your son again!"
"If you say so, I believe it," replied Mercedes sincerely.
"May I also speak with the Zouave?"
"Certainly—he is downstairs now."
"Then let him come up; I should like to ask him a few questions."
Mercedes called the sergeant; Monte-Cristo looked at her pitifully and then whispered:
"Mercedes—here this has reference to my life—you have known me from childhood—have I ever broken my word?"
"Oh, no—only I am guilty of it!"
"I did not wish to hear of that—you have my oath, and with the help of God I shall keep the same!"
Cap in hand, the Zouave appeared, and, throwing an inquisitive glance at the count, he said politely:
"What is your pleasure, madame?"
"Dear friend," was the kind reply of Monte-Cristo, "madame has called you, because I intend to ask you a few questions; I know you love your captain, and therefore—"
"Well, I do love him," replied Coucou, enthusiastically. "I am ready to be cut in pieces for him."
"With that we need not make any haste," said Monte-Cristo, smiling. "You believe then that Captain Joliette is still alive?"
"I am no colonel," said the count.
"Then I must say general?"
"That is unnecessary—I am in no way a soldier."
"But that is hardly possible," cried Coucou, disappointed; "such a nice brave gentleman, and not a soldier?"
"I cannot help you; but now tell me plainly whether you can render me any assistance in finding the captain?"
"A thousand times, marshal, or as otherwise your title may be. You see, sir, I am a man of few words, but if you demand my heart's blood, it is at your service—the Jackal Coucou always keeps his word."
Monte-Cristo smiled—the man suited him.
"Sit down here next to me," he said, in a friendly manner, "and tell me all you know."
"To seat myself—no, that would be disrespectful; I shall remain standing; and now question me."
"Just as you like. Since when has the captain disappeared, and what do you know concerning him?"
"Accurately I cannot point out the time. On the last day of December, Abd-el-Kader, of whom so much is said, and who, I must here remark, much resembles you—"
"Quite a compliment," smilingly said the count, bowing.
"For Abd-el-Kader," interrupted Coucou, promptly. "Well, then, after Abd-el-Kader laid down his arms, subdued by Generals Lamoriciere and Cavaignac, we thought the war was ended; but God forbid, it had commenced in earnest. In confidence, sir, I believe in Algiers you will never hear of its end. That the Jackals at the affair played their game well is too well known; it was they who checked Abd-el-Kader.
"Well, on one occasion, we undertook a trifling skirmish, in order to send out some scouts; we had about twenty men, and Captain Joliette led us. 'Comrades,' he said, 'before we start, let us finally take care that the cursed Africans leave us at peace in future!' and then he called my name—you must know he had always a little order for me to execute—"
"I conclude therefrom, that you found an opportunity to render him a service once," interrupted the count, in a friendly manner.
"H'm—the marshal knows his people," nodded the sergeant, proudly; "it was, in fact, but a trifle—a brown devil brandished his yataghan at the captain, and I cut off his hand to prevent the execution of his plan. Now, the captain also called:
"'Here,' said I.
"'Coucou,' he commenced, quietly, 'one never knows how these skirmishes may end, and for the sake of life and death listen to me. Behold—I have yet a mother—she lives in Marseilles, in the Allee de Meillan, and is called Madame Joliette. In case something should befall me, demand a furlough, go to France and deliver this ring to my mother.'"
"A ring?" said Monte-Cristo, wonderfully moved, while he cast a hasty glance at Mercedes.
In a gloomy manner, but without saying a single word, Mercedes took a simple-looking silver ring from her finger, and handed it to the count, who looked at the simple precious thing with a tear in his eye—it was the wedding-ring which Edmond Dantes once presented to the Catalan, Mercedes.
"Pardon, Edmond," stammered the poor mother, with trembling voice, "I gave Albert the ring as a talisman—it was to bring him back!"
"I would not take the ring," continued Coucou. "I knew that nobody would so easily kill the captain, and if misfortune should come to pass, it may, just the same, fall on me as well. But my refusing it was in vain, and so I consented to it. Discipline goes above all! We started and soon reached the defile; not a Bedouin could be discovered, and only a few distant barren rocks looked rather suspicious. Night set in: we thought of preparing our supper, but suddenly a curious noise could be heard, and the next moment we were surrounded by a swarm of Bedouins. A desperate combat began—the shots, following in quick succession, were enough to rouse the dead; but continually fresh combatants appeared, and we had trouble enough to fight for our lives. Upon a bare rock I suddenly espied a Bedouin, who had the barrel of his musket—God knows from whom he had stolen it—just pointed at the captain. I made a leap, reached the rock, and took hold of the brown devil, but at that very moment both of us tumbled down more than twenty feet, and I became senseless."
"But the captain?" asked the count.
"Only a little patience, you will know all I know. When I awoke again, it was just the dawn of day—how it happened that I did not break my neck is to me even now inexplicable. I looked about for my comrades; they ought to have been in the neighborhood. I called out—everything remained quiet; and thus I rose with painful limbs and reached the place where we had encamped. Here a terrible sight met me; before me lay all my comrades, bleeding and mutilated—they had all been beheaded! Even to this day I feel the terrible horror which overcame me at this sight—a dark pool of blood surrounded the rigid bodies, and if I were to live to see a hundred years, never shall I forget the awful spectacle.
"After a while I began to look about among the various bodies, and suddenly, in all my distress, I rejoiced aloud—the captain was not among the slain. Had the Bedouins carried him away? I called out. And only the hoarse cry of the hyena, which waited solely for my departure to fall upon the corpses, was the answer I received. I could not attempt to bury my comrades, for the ground was rocky and I possessed no tools for that purpose. I spoke a short prayer for the slain, supplied myself from their knapsacks with plentiful ammunition, and got back to the camp as well as I could.
"When I related there what had happened, nobody at first would believe me—they reproached me with cowardice and scolded me for having left my comrades! I became vexed; I demanded a detachment to accompany me and returned to the scene of horror. There a still more horrible sight met me—the animals of the desert had already eaten the corpses, and only bloody bones and portions of uniforms indicated the spot where the surprise had taken place. Now, of course, they all were ready to believe me; we sent out scouts to all sides in order to obtain traces of the captain. Large amounts were offered to Arabian deserters if they would deliver up their prisoners, but to no purpose; the earth seemingly must have swallowed up our captain. Only once I thought I had found some trace of him: a marabout—one of those brawny devils who are regarded as sorcerers by their countrymen—came to our camp to beg, or as we supposed as a spy. An officer inquired of the man in my presence about Captain Joliette, but he pretended to know nothing, saying he had never heard the name, yet his eyes betrayed his treachery—oh, these Kabyles are all desperate fellows, scoundrels of the worst description."
"Did you communicate your opinion to the officer?" inquired the count.
"Certainly; he at first laughed at me, and when he at last resolved upon the man being called a second time, he had already disappeared."
"What was the name of the marabout?"
"If I recollect aright it was Elak Achel, or something like it."
"Can you describe his appearance—had he bony cheeks, large, projecting ears, and a long, pointed beard?"
"Truly, I could almost believe the marshal must have seen the scamp," said Coucou, quite astonished.
"Ah, no, I only guessed at it. I know some races in the desert which correspond to the description you give. But another question: does it sound perhaps like Radjel el Achem?"
"Sapristi, that was the name! And now as we know his name, we will soon find him again," said Coucou, quite delighted.
Mercedes rose, encouraged by fresh hopes, but Monte-Cristo put his hand softly upon her arm and said:
"Mercedes, beware of being deceived. The words I have just spoken signify nothing—nothing but 'great sorcerer,' and are the general appellation of the people who operate in the south of the Algeric Sahara."
The words which Monte-Cristo quietly spoke did not fail to take effect upon Mercedes. She dropped her hands and stared sorrowfully through the window.
"Is that all you know?"—the count turned toward the Zouave.
"Unfortunately, no more," said Coucou. At the same time, however, being noticed by Mercedes, he made a sign and placed his finger upon the lips.
"In order to fulfil my promise," continued the Zouave, "I took a furlough and came to France. I had scarcely arrived in Paris when I was ordered to this place. I brought Madame Joliette the ring, and told her what I had experienced. Alas! if I could only find our captain again; but, I am afraid, it is almost impossible."
"Impossible!" called out Mercedes, throwing a supplicating look at the count.
"Sergeant Coucou," said Monte-Cristo, with earnest mien, "a man should never speak of impossibilities. I have often accomplished things which others thought impossible."
"Yes, if you, as our commander, would take the matter in hand, that would be quite a different thing," thought the Zouave, confidently.
"Well then, I shall do my best."
"Hurrah!—is it not so, I'm allowed to call you commander?"
"But I have already told you—"
"Let me only say so, and if you wish to oblige me, call me simply Coucou, and all will be well."
"I shall consider the matter. Now go down and wait for me in the street, I shall be there almost immediately."
"At your service, commander," said the Zouave, putting his hand to his cap, whereupon he left.
"Well?" inquired Mercedes, when alone with the count.
"Mercedes," said Monte-Cristo, with sincerity, "do not despair. All my energy shall be devoted toward finding your son, and perhaps God will be merciful."
"I will believe it and not give way to despair."
"Then farewell, Mercedes! We will soon meet again. Now I am ready to look for Beauchamp, who, as I have heard, is again in Marseilles."
A knock interrupted the count—the door was quietly opened and a clear voice inquired:
"Are you alone, dear mother?"
Receiving a wink from the count, Mercedes said:
"Yes, Clary, you may enter."
The young English lady skipped over the threshold, but she stood still and blushed as soon as she saw the stranger.
"My dear little friend," said Mercedes, presenting the girl, "keeps me company in my desolation, and thus helps me to pass away many a weary hour."
The count bowed respectfully, whereupon he extended his hand to Mercedes and went away.
"Who is the gentleman?" asked Clary, as soon as the door closed behind Monte-Cristo.
"The Count of Monte-Cristo," said Mercedes.
"Was he the person whom you expected?"
"Oh, then be of good cheer," said Clary, putting her tiny hand upon her heaving breast; "something tells me that this man is almighty! Hope, Mother Mercedes—hope!"
"SEARCH FOR THE WIFE!"
The count found the Zouave outside the house in animated conversation with Madame Caraman. Coucou had a special predilection for the "female sex," and the widow of the sergeant saw in every blue-coat a comrade of her "blessed one."
"How do you do, madame? Surely you are the companion of the beautiful little one up-stairs?" and he pointed at the house.
Madame Caraman nodded.
"Well, the little one is well cared for; I often wished that as much had been done for my education," continued the Zouave obligingly. The companion laughed and soon a lively conversation commenced. Both were very fond of chatting together, and when the count made his appearance, the Zouave grew timid and muttered:
"Dear me, the commander."
Madame Caraman responded respectfully to the Count of Monte-Cristo's kind salute; the count walked along the street and hailed a passer-by. Immediately a beautiful carriage with two splendid horses approached, and after the count had ordered Ali, who sat in front, "to drive around the town," he and Coucou got inside, where began the conversation in a friendly manner.
"So—now tell me all you know."
"Immediately, commander, but allow me in the meantime to remark that I never have ridden in such a splendid carriage."
"One must try all things," replied the count laughing; "if I have understood you rightly before it is concerning a report which has come to the knowledge of Madame Joliette."
"Quite right, commander. Do you see, in some things the ladies are very distrustful—"
"The long preface makes me conclude that it is concerning a woman," interrupted the count.
"Not exactly a woman, she was but a child not more than fifteen years at the utmost."
"And this child was Captain Joliette's sweetheart?"
"Alas, God forbid—no, that was not the case."
"Well make it short and tell the story."
"At once, sir," began the Zouave bowing. "One evening we had pursued a troop of Bedouins, and when night set in we were too far away from camp to reach it. We lay down in a hollow; the terrible howling of panthers and hyenas was the song to put us to sleep. Toward two o'clock in the morning I awoke suddenly—the moon had risen and I saw a large dark body close to the hollow pass by rapidly. I soon got my gun ready and fired. The sound woke the captain up and he inquired the reason. Ere I had time to answer, I heard a cry of anguish proceeding from above the hollow—in two leaps the captain reached the top of the rock and I followed him. The sight which presented itself was terrible. On the ground lay a white figure and close by was an enormous panther. The yellow glowing eyes of the animal and its wide-open blood-red jaws terrified me—the captain held his poniard in the right hand and hit at all sides. I intended to fire at the beast, but man and beast rolled over and over again and I was afraid that I might hit the captain. Now the iron grasp of the captain had hold of the panther's neck—the animal howled fearfully, and the next moment the weapon of the man slit the body of the beast open. The panther turned over, a streak of blood drenching the ground; the captain, breathing heavily, sank down quite exhausted. I hastened to his assistance; the panther's paw had torn his breast and the wound caused him a great deal of pain, but when I tried to dress it he refused and said firmly:
"Look after the little one, Coucou, don't mind me."
I bent over the white figure; it was a beautiful girl, whose pale, wax-like face seemed to have become motionless from fright. Long dark hair hung over her tender cheeks, and on her white shoulder the paw of the panther had made a large open wound, from which the blood was flowing.
In the meantime our comrades had hastened to the spot: with their help the captain rose and his wound was washed and dressed. I did all I could to revive the child, but was unsuccessful. As soon as the captain could move again, he ceased thinking of himself, but continually aided me in my endeavor; bending over the wounded one, he whispered:
"'I hope she is not dead.'"
"He is not the son of his father, but of his mother," muttered Monte-Cristo to himself, but in a louder tone he then said:
"Who was the girl?"
"I cannot answer who she was," replied the Zouave; "she could scarcely be persuaded to speak, and only after many cross-questions put to her we found out that she belonged to one of the tribes in the Sahara which we continually pursued. Her people ill-treated her, and she resolved to run away. While seated among the shrubs to rest herself, all at once she heard the growling of the animal close to her.
"What further happened," continued the Zouave, "I cannot tell; her wound was, thank God! not dangerous, and we took the poor child with us to the camp. Our camp was at that time at Laghouat, a small oasis, the springs of which were considered to possess medicinal properties, and the captain, together with the little one, were removed thither in sedans. Heavens! both were surprisingly beautiful—even unto this day I see this poor young child slowly lift her large dark lashes, and open her dark almond-shaped eyes. And the captain—oh, commander, his equal cannot easily be met with—he was in every respect quite different from his comrades! With him there were no love affairs, no debts; he never thought about himself, and in battle he was always at the head—a very pearl of an officer!"
A strange feeling came over the count as he listened to the praiseworthy words of the Zouave. Had Albert been his son he could not have been more proud of him. Monte-Cristo was not a man of ordinary nature, otherwise he would have shown bitter hatred toward the son of Fernand Mandego; but it appeared to him that the good qualities of the young man atoned for the faults of the father.
"What was the name of the girl?" he inquired afterward.
"Medje, commander; as soon as she was able to speak the captain inquired after her name. But when he observed that she, perhaps, might wish to return to her tribe, she sobbed bitterly, and tried to show in every respect how much she dreaded it. Who she really was we could never make out. In that cursed country it is quite different than with us. As soon as they can muster together ten people they imagine that they are a nation, and in need of a sultan. From some expressions of Medje we could form the idea that she was the daughter of such a sultan. The captain placed his hand over her, and I was present when he said to her:
"'Medje, you do not seem to have a longing for your father; if you wish to remain with us I will take you under my protection, and I will care for you as if you were my own daughter.'"
"And what answer did Medje give to that?" inquired the count, eagerly.
"Oh, she kissed his hands, she cried for joy, and was really treated well by him. He acted toward her as though she were a little queen. She had her servants, and when the captain went out skirmishing he always reminded the comrades to take care of her, who accordingly were ready and willing to put their hands under her feet!"
"What became of her afterward?"
"Yes, that is the great point at issue. When the last expedition, from which the captain was not to return, was planned, Medje threw herself around the neck of her protector, and adjured him to remain back. The captain laughed at her. She had no idea what discipline signified, and, sobbing, she repeated constantly:
"'Not go away, little papa—not going!'
"Ah, what would not I have given afterward had we taken her advice! When I alone returned from this unfortunate expedition, I was informed that Medje had disappeared the same night, almost at the same hour."
"Then the child was a spy!" exclaimed the count, displeased. "She knew about the expedition, and informed her people accordingly."
"At first I was of the same opinion, but later I changed it, because I found out that already previous to the expedition suspicious forms were swarming about our tents. Medje had accidentally seen one of these men, and, shrieking terribly, she ran away."
"Why did she not give warning to the captain?"
"Who could fathom that? Sure it was that a bold Bedouin, whose name was quite sufficient to set the whole camp in commotion, and who had been seen in the neighborhood, and—"
"What was the name of this Bedouin?" inquired Monte-Cristo, eagerly.
"Mohammed ben Abdallah."
"He? Are you not mistaken?" the count inquired, rather excitedly.
"Oh, no, I have heard the name often enough."
"And you do not know who this man really was?"
"No—probably also a marabout, a kind of juggler or sorcerer."
"Did you acquaint your superiors of this sorcerer?" asked the count after a while.
"No," replied Coucou, rather hesitatingly.
"Then I am surprised that you acquaint me of this," said Monte-Cristo, while he threw a penetrating glance at the Zouave.
Coucou was silent—he could not explain even to himself wherein lay the great influence Monte-Cristo had over him.
"You saw Medje constantly," the count took up the topic once more; "have you never noticed anything striking about her?"
Almost frightened, Coucou looked at the count.
"Yes," said he, then, hesitating; "upon her two cheeks and on her forehead one could perceive a small red cross; it was tattooed by a skilful hand, and seemed to become her very well."
Monte-Cristo began to tremble.
"Do you know," he then said, "that Mohammed ben Abdallah is the most cruel enemy of France, and that he has taken an oath to take vengeance for Abd-el-Kader? If the captain has fallen into his hands then we shall never see him again, unless by a miracle."
"Commander, if you take the matter in hand, then a miracle will happen," said Coucou, confidently.
"We hope so—and now I shall ride to the hotel, and this evening at ten o'clock you may there inquire for me," said the count, quite loud; but he gently whispered: "Mercedes, I must save your son!"
DEPEND ONLY ON YOURSELF
Arrived at the Hotel de l'Univers, the count sent his card to Monsieur Beauchamp, and as the answer of the journalist was that the count's visit would be very agreeable to him, he went at once to Monsieur Beauchamp.
"Welcome in Marseilles, count," was the salute he received from the Parisian. "I am glad to see you again."
"I am also glad," returned the count, taking the proffered hand and shaking it heartily. "Well, what news in the political world?"
"Pah! let us not speak about that. On the 24th of February, as you are aware of, the Republic was proclaimed, and at first I really believed we had made an excellent bargain; but the joy was only of short duration. The people are but a makeshift to the leaders; they are asked to make sacrifices, yet not for themselves, but for others, and in the end—No, I had better drop this topic, for I really get vexed for nothing at all, and I only came here in order to forget! Tell me, rather, how I can serve you; and, if I am not mistaken, you take an interest in Madame de Morcerf?"
"Yes; but how do you come to know all this?"
"Oh—I know you, dear count. Wherever there is any grief to alleviate, a heroic act to accomplish, the Count of Monte-Cristo is always on the spot."
"You have a good opinion of me," said the count, deprecatingly; "and then, who was it that took care that the Zouave Coucou was sent here in order to console the poor mother?"
"Pah, that was only Christian duty; and besides, Captain Joliette bears among his superiors an excellent name. He was always the first in the midst of the enemy's fire, and his modesty, in spite of his bravery, has become proverbial among his comrades."
"And his disappearance?"
"For myself and all others this disappearance is really a puzzle. The Arabs seldom take prisoners, and I greatly fear that he has been dragged into the desert and killed."
"Do you, perhaps, know of what race the Bedouins were who attacked the expedition?" inquired Monte-Cristo, considering.
"If I am not mistaken, they were Yavaregs."
"Tell me what you think of the capture of Abd-el-Kader. Are you now of opinion that Algiers will be pacified?"
"Oh, no; either early or late there will probably be found another leader who, under pretence of avenging Abd-el-Kader, will renew the combat, for the Bedouins never submit."
"Your views tally exactly with mine, and I may almost say, to my sorrow, you are in the right. The leader whose appearance you expect is already announced!"
"You joke—should I be such a good prophet? But what is the reason that the ministry knows nothing of his existence?"
"Oh, a ministry fares in this respect the same as the husband of a frivolous woman: all others know more of what concerns him most than he himself."
"You may be right. What is the name of the new Bedouin leader?"
"Mohammed ben Abdallah."
"This name is quite strange to me. Are you not, perhaps, mistaken?"
"No," replied Monte-Cristo, coolly, "I know what I am speaking about. The man whose name I mentioned has sworn to accept the bloody heirloom of Abd-el-Kader and before four weeks have elapsed the revolutionary flag will again wave throughout all parts of the desert."
"Well, I shall not doubt any further; but tell me, in what connection does the soon-expected rising of the Kabyles stand with the disappearance of Albert?"
"Who is able to tell, Monsieur Beauchamp? But now I come to the chief point of my visit. You have influence in Paris?"
"Oh, dear count, had you only something to ask!"
"Perhaps I have. I should like to obtain an indefinite furlough for the Zouave Coucou."
"That shall be granted to you, you may rest assured."
"Thanks, more I do not want."
"But it is hardly worth while your applying to one who am in power for the moment, a support of the Republic, in order to obtain such a bagatelle. Consider, you may perhaps think of something else."
"Yes, and have almost forgotten it," said the count smiling, while he tore a leaf from his pocketbook and quickly wrote a few words.
"So," turning to Beauchamp, "permit me to hand you a small contribution for the poor of Paris—"
"Dear count," interrupted the journalist, quite moved, "if you consider a million francs a small contribution, then I should like to see your large ones."
"My dear friend," said the count, almost sorrowfully, "what is a million to me with my great wealth? The sun of a poor person overweighs my gift a thousandfold."
"Are you indeed so very rich?"
"So rich that in this respect I envy those who have yet anything to wish for."
"Well, who knows whether you may not one day find somebody richer than you. In the meantime I thank you in the name of our working-women, for while the men in the service of the Republic sacrifice their time the families at home are obliged to suffer."
"Distribute this money according as you think proper, and if you wish to favor me do not bestow any of it toward public collections. I dislike this ostentatious mode of benevolence."
"I am of the same opinion. But now tell me how will you be able to console Madame de Morcerf?"
"First step here to the window, Monsieur Beauchamp; do you see the yacht which has her steam up?"
"Yes. What is the matter with that fine ship?"
"It will depart for foreign parts to-morrow morning."
"And what is her destination?"
"Ah, now I understand—you are sending emissaries for the discovery of poor Albert."
Monte-Cristo smiled and then said:
"Monsieur Beauchamp, if you desired to accomplish a certain thing to your satisfaction, how would you go to work?"
"Well, that is very simple, because I should attend to it myself."
"Then you will know whom I am sending to Algiers to find Captain Joliette."
"Have I understood you right? You are ready to venture into the desert? Count, you have undertaken a difficult task, and although I do not doubt your courage nor energy, I must nevertheless say that your resolution is a very bold one. In Algiers it is not only necessary to combat with men who hardly deserve the appellation, but also all the dangers of nature are there arrayed in battle against you! The simoom, the fatal breath of the desert, has put many a one there under the sand, and bleached bones caution the wanderer not to set his step on the deceptive ground of the Sahara!"
"Monsieur Beauchamp," replied the count earnestly, "if you were to know what I have already gone through you would not discourage me from doing my duty. What is that to the combat with beasts in human shape which I have stood victoriously? No, let me go and do my duty; I am not afraid of the Sahara."
"But the countess and her son?"
A shadow fell across Monte-Cristo's face, but his voice sounded clear and steady when he replied:
"Visit me this evening, and you shall have my answer."
"With pleasure. Where do you live? Here in some hotel?"
"Oh, no," said Monte-Cristo, smiling; "since a law-court has condemned me to pay a heavy fine because I had no domicile in France, I have come to a different conclusion."
"How is that?"
"Well, I possess now in every large town in France a house, and in Paris and Lyons and other chief towns a palace."
"Excellent—it is only a pity that this expedient is not at everybody's command. But when did this fine in money take effect? It was not I suppose in the lawsuits you had against Andrea Cavalcanti, alias Benedetto? Yes? But do you know what I have heard? Benedetto is said to have escaped from Toulon. Take care of him; if there is a tiger in human shape, it is surely Benedetto!"
"I know it, Monsieur Beauchamp," replied the count, reluctantly; "Benedetto is the embodiment of evil principles—Satan in person! But one day I shall stretch out my hand and order him to stop—even if I have to go to the corners of the world to find him, he will not escape me."
"To that I respond amen. As to the Jackal Coucou, take him quietly with you. I shall take care to get him an indefinite furlough—he will render you good service, in the hell of Algiers which he knows as well as his pocket. But something struck me just now: accident, which often plays wonderful tricks, might bring you in contact with one of our co-workers, who, Heaven knows, roves about perhaps in Timbuctoo or even Zanzibar; he sent me once a few good sketches about Abd-el-Kader, and then became an adventurer somewhere else."
"And this gentleman's name?"
Monte-Cristo wrote the name in his pocketbook and then said:
"If I should happen to find Gratillet, I shall not forget your recommendation."
"Thanks beforehand. Gratillet is a curious fellow, and I shall not feel surprised if you meet him in peaceful transactions with a panther. He is not afraid of any kind of devil."
"Then he is the man for me."
"And if you can prevent his entering upon further follies, you will, no doubt, do it? I should like to establish a large journal, and Gratillet is in this case indispensable to me."
"I shall do my utmost; although—the Sahara is great."
"But God is greater. Then I shall be with you this evening. Where can I find you?"
"Only inquire for the Palace Monte-Cristo, and now adieu till later. Who knows whether you will not now accompany me to Algeria!"
"Oh, I should certainly not feel indisposed, but my duties chain me to France; the battles which are still to be fought here require my presence."
The gentlemen separated, and while the count ordered the porter to show the Zouave, should he inquire for him, to the palace of Monte-Cristo, Beauchamp muttered: "If there are any magicians then I have seen one to-day!"
Not far from the harbor, with a beautiful view of the sea, the Villa Monte-Cristo lay. It was like all dwellings of the count, rich and elegantly furnished, and a splendid terrace with exotic plants could readily induce the inhabitants to believe they were really in a tropical region. Parrots of many colors swung on the branches of tamarind-trees—the sycamore rustled, and leafy bananas and beautiful palm-trees reflected their branches in the blue waters of the Mediterranean sea.
On the evening of the day Monte-Cristo arrived in Marseilles, the count sat with Haydee on the terrace. Both seemed delighted with the splendid panorama before them, and from time to time the count rose to look after Spero, who, bending over a book, sat reading in the adjacent conservatory. Now, Monte-Cristo remained with Haydee, who in her usual way was leaning back in an ottoman, and putting his arm around the young woman's neck, he whispered:
"Haydee, look at me!"
The shining dark eyes which beamed like stars gazed steadfastly upon the noble face of her husband, and the small white hand glided softly into his.
"Haydee," said Monte-Cristo, earnestly, "do you believe in me?"
Haydee raised herself half sorrowfully.
"Do I believe in you?" she repeated, rather vexed; "are you not my master, my god? do we ask the slave if he believes in his employer?"
"Haydee, I am not your employer, and you are not my slave."
"You are my husband, my all! Oh, could you read in my soul, you would not question me in this manner. Listen. I was present when my father was betrayed and murdered—they tore me from his corpse and dragged me to the slave market, where grief and death awaited me."
Haydee continued: "Then you appeared—like a god you stepped before my tearful eyes, and from that moment I lived for you only in the world! You purchased me and I became yours—yours in body and soul, and daily I bless the hour when first I saw you!"
Haydee drew her husband's hand to her lips, and then in a low tone continued:
"All my thoughts and contemplations since then were centred in you—at that time, being afraid you would remove me from you, I was on the point of taking my own life!"
"Haydee, what are you talking about?" muttered Monte-Cristo, confused.
"In truth—do not try to deceive me—you intended to give me in marriage and bestow my hand on somebody else!"
"Who knows whether it would not have proved fortunate for you?" whispered the count sorrowfully.
"Oh, Edmond, you break my heart with such words! How could I, separated from you, be happy? I live, I breathe for you only, I honor you not only as my husband, but as the greatest, noblest man!"
"Haydee, you make me blush—I am weak and sinful the same as others!"
"No, oh, no! If you, as a chastening angel, caused the guilty to vindicate themselves, and recompensed what is good; you seemed to me almost god-like. You raised me to be your wife; to you I am indebted for the greatest happiness of a woman, the happiness of possessing a darling child, and Spero is the more dear to me as he promises to be your very image."
Monte-Cristo threw a timid glance at Spero, who was still diligently reading by his lamp, and then cordially said:
"Haydee, then you never regretted having bestowed your hand on me?"
"I have never caused you any pain?"
"None—I am the happiest of women."
"And if circumstances occurred which would compel me to give you pain?"
"Then I would submit to your intelligence and not complain."
"Also if I were to destroy your happiness forever?"
"Even then—I would live in the past and be rich."
"Then listen to me, Haydee—we must separate."
"Separate?" repeated Haydee, leaping up terrified and her eyes filling with tears.
"Yes—for some time—a few months."
"Thy will be done," uttered Haydee sighing; "I know that a sacred duty calls you away, and God will strengthen me to bear the trial!"
"Thanks, Haydee, for this word—it will accompany me when I am away from you!"
"And to what place does your duty call you?"
"To Algiers—in the desert! I am obliged to return a son to his mother, or even die, if circumstances should become mightier than my will."
"To Algiers? But why am I not allowed to accompany you? You know that with you I am not afraid of any danger, and—"
Haydee became suddenly silent. She noticed that her husband's eye, remarkably sorrowful, turned from her and Spero, and bending her little head she whispered:
"Forgive me. I know that I dare not leave Spero."
Monte-Cristo trembled. The most difficult was to come yet.
"Haydee," he then said, softly, "you cannot accompany me. I shall explain to you immediately why it cannot be. Not because you dare not leave Spero—"
He stopped short. The expression of terror in Haydee's beautiful eyes benumbed him.
"What do you mean by that?" she ejaculated, pale and trembling. "You do not intend to rob me of my last consolation, do you?"
"Compose yourself, Haydee. Remember the words which you uttered just now. Yes, I leave you, and take Spero with me."
"Spero—to go away with you!" groaned the young wife, with panting breast; "oh, my lord and master, that you cannot really mean! You do not wish to kill me, and—"
"Haydee, you once told me your life is in my hands."
"That I am still ready to acknowledge. Here is my poniard. Kill me, but leave me my child!"
In consternation the young wife pulled a dagger sparkling with diamonds out of her waist, and offered it to Monte-Cristo.
"Strike!" she said, with faltering voice. "What good am I in this world if you and Spero leave me? Well, why are you hesitating? Take my heart out of me, but leave me Spero."
She knelt at Monte-Cristo's feet, and embraced his knee.
Suddenly her eye flashed, and she cried, animated with fresh hopes:
"Indeed, my beloved, I think you only intended to try me. You will not crush me; you will be persuaded. Oh, make an end of this torment. Tell me that you do not wish my death."
"Haydee," replied Monte-Cristo, with stern forehead, "you know that I only fulfil my duty, and instead of assisting me to smooth the path for me, you refuse to bear your share of the burden."
"I do not understand you," uttered Haydee.
"I must depart, and Spero has to accompany me; but if I do not consent, my dear Haydee, for you to accompany us, it is for the reason that you have a mission to fulfil here."
Haydee remained on her knees, but her tears ceased.
Oh, what mastery did not this man exercise over her! The heart was ready to break, and yet she could not do otherwise; she was obliged to obey him.
"Haydee," remarked Monte-Cristo, quietly, "surely you do not believe that I give you pain unless compelled to do so?"
"No, oh, no," sighed the young wife, throwing herself in his arms. "Speak, what is to happen?"
"Listen. Behold, ten years ago I brought you to Monte-Cristo, and there disclosed to you my past. I explained to you how I punished the guilty, and you told me I acted rightly. At that time I vowed to be efficacious henceforth wherever I am able to protect the innocent in order to atone in case I carried my zeal too far. Among others who suffered much from my vengeance were Mercedes and her son. You know the love I bestowed upon this Catalonian, and I have not concealed from you that the rage of being disappointed in her furnished my arm with weapons against Ferdinand Mandego, the murderer of your father.
"I stretched out my hand, the avenging flash of lightning struck, and Ferdinand Mandego died—his wife and his son felt the heavy blow in all its bitterness, but the further consequences of my deed I had not considered! Albert de Morcerf has disappeared, his mother despairs, and it is myself who have chased him to death! Haydee, should you like to see your husband a hangman?"
"Oh, Edmond, do not speak thus! You did not intend anything wrong; you are great and noble!"
"No, I profess to be so, and that is my crime. I made Albert de Morcerf suffer for the deed of his father; I clothed myself with divine majesty and exercised justice with human hands! Do you now understand, Haydee, that I must stake my life, in order to restore to Mercedes her son, that I, who punished others, may become reconciled with myself?"
Haydee sighed—she was conquered.
"But," commencing anew with trembling voice, "also I am a mother, and my son—"
"Your son, Haydee," interrupted Monte-Cristo, with flaming eyes, "your son shall be made worthy of you. The world calls him the son of the Count of Monte-Cristo—let him be deserving of this title! Spero is noble and courageous; he knows what is good and evil, and his pure heart I am proud of. To be just he believes to be his aim—to be just means to combat for what is good. In the midst of approaching dangers you never saw me trembling; with firm step I faced all danger and death; and Spero shall be trained to act in the same manner. The terror of the desert shall not make him turn pale—he is to face danger and learn to become worthy of the mission his father began, in order to accomplish it. 'Noble be man, efficacious and good'—may this poetical phrase be his shield, and may God guide him in his ways! Answer me, Haydee—is Spero to accompany me?"
"Yes," escaped in a low tone, like a breath, from the lips of the young wife.
"Thanks, Haydee; now listen as to what your mission consists of. You are yourself a mother—and you will know how to console a mother. Mercedes—enter!"
The door leading to the terrace opened, and Mercedes with tottering steps approached Haydee.
"Haydee," said Monte-Cristo, turning toward his wife, "here is Mercedes, whom you have known through me for some time."
Haydee hastened toward Mercedes with extended arms.
"Be welcome, dear friend," she accosted her with a sweet, melodious voice.
"Oh, how beautiful you are," muttered Mercedes, looking at the young wife admiringly.
"Madame," stammered Haydee, blushing, "I give you my most valuable possessions, my husband and my son."
"Your son?" repeated Mercedes, with emotion.
"Spero—come this way," said the count.
The boy sprang toward him—Mercedes looked at him and sobbed bitterly.
"Papa, why is she crying?" whispered Spero.
"Because she is reminded of her son who is in peril of death," replied the count significantly.
"In danger of death?" Spero repeated quickly; "oh, papa, why do we not hasten to his rescue?"
Monte-Cristo lifted the boy joyfully in his arms and kissed him passionately.
"How is it," said Haydee, alike proud and sorrowful, "will you leave me, Spero?"
"Oh, mamma—to hasten to aid the unfortunate is our first duty, and you yourself have taught me it," replied Spero, embracing the young wife.
Now Bertuccio appeared.
"Count," said he, "here is a soldier who desires to speak to you!"
"Ah—the Zouave Coucou—let him come in!"
The Jackal entered and inquiringly looked around—yes, here it was almost as nice as in Africa.
"Coucou," the count commenced, "I have obtained for you an unlimited furlough."
Coucou scratched his head.
"Well—is it, perhaps, not acceptable to you?"
"Not exactly that, commander, but what am I to do in the intervening time? Africa's sun, the Bedouins, the Jackals, nay even the Hyenas I shall miss."
"Well, perhaps we can find a remedy—to-morrow at daybreak we depart for Algiers."
"To Algiers—is that true?" joyfully exclaimed Coucou, throwing his cap in the air and making a salute, which perhaps was not fashionable, but nevertheless significant.
"Excuse me, commander," he stammered, placing his hand on his cap, "I am overcome with joy! God be praised, now we shall find my good captain!"
"That I also hope, Coucou."
"But how is it with her ladyship, commander?" asked Coucou doubtfully; "is she satisfied?"
"Ask her yourself," said Monte-Cristo.
"Madame," Coucou said turning toward Haydee, "you have a brave husband, and as long as Coucou lives nobody shall touch a hair of his head!"
Haydee smiled amid her tears, and the count said:
"Coucou—here is my son, he will accompany us!"
"The little fellow—Sapristi—that is grand! the young gentleman is the little corporal—do you like the title, my young master?"
Spero, clapping his hand joyfully into the proffered one of the Zouave, cried out laughingly:
"I shall do my best to earn my epaulets!"
"Go now, Coucou," said Monte-Cristo, "and do not fail to be at the harbor at six o'clock to-morrow morning."
"I will not fail, commander."
The Zouave, placing his hand to his cap, went away.
HOW AND WHERE COUCOU TOOK LEAVE
In a beautiful garden, adjacent to a small splendid villa, Clary Ellis this evening walked irresolutely to and fro. Madam Caraman, with whom the young girl had a lively conversation, had retired, as she stated, to work on the veranda, and Clary was reflecting on the conversation.
When the young girl had, in the afternoon, seen the count at Mercedes', she had become quite inquisitive to know something more about the stranger; the way and manner, however, Mercedes answered her questions in nowise satisfied her curiosity.
The count was an old friend of the family, was Mercedes' answer; he had known her son, previous to going to Africa, and he had always felt a lively interest for him.
Clary had accepted this explanation without putting confidence in it; she saw that Mercedes tried to hide something from her and that vexed her.
Madame Caraman had the next day called for her protegee, and in walking home together, she said:
"Do you know, Clary, what I have heard to-day—the Count of Monte Cristo is said to be in Marseilles."
"Well, what is there remarkable in that?" Clary calmly asked. "Have you not seen him then?"
"Seen him—where?" responded Madame Caraman, stupefied.
"Dear me, he just left as I came to Madame Joliette. You were waiting outside the house and could not have failed to see him."
"Oh, Lord! could the gentleman who rode off with the Zouave have been the count?" remarked Madame Caraman, quickly.
"No doubt; a slender, pale man, with dark hair."
"That I should not have known it!—where must my eyes have been?" lamented Madame Caraman, and in the meantime both had reached the villa, and Clary said carelessly:
"Please come with me in the garden, Madame Caraman; I like to hear more particulars about this Count of Monte-Cristo."
"But, Clary," said the French lady with astonishment, "have you never heard of the count? What do they read yonder in England?"
"Oh, various matters—but what has this to do with the count?"
"More than you think of; you have stocked in your little heart a great deal of ballast, and neglected the most necessary things. Do you know the author Alexandre Dumas?"
"Only as far as the name is concerned."
"H'm—I thought so; yes—France does not for no purpose possess the credit of being at the head of civilization."
"But Mamma Caraman, when are we then to return to our subject, the count?" asked Clary, impatiently.
"At once. Alexandre Dumas has written many romances, and one of the most interesting is 'The Count of Monte-Cristo.'"
"Mamma Caraman," said Clary, vexed, "how is it that you intend to dish up for me such a childish fable?"
"But I am speaking seriously; Dumas has rendered more service for the general education of the people than ten ministers. In his 'Three Guardsmen,' for instance, one gets thoroughly acquainted with the histories of Richelieu, Anna of Austria and Louis XIII., in a very interesting manner. In the 'Count of Monte-Cristo' the shortcomings and faults of the government after the overthrow of the great emperor are unsparingly exposed, and in the same way every work of the great novelist offers special merits. The more I think of it the more clearly I understand it, that we also have in your friend, Madame Joliette, a character of the novel before us. Her name is Mercedes, and she is no doubt Madame de Morcerf. And the name of her son?"
"Well, there it is; the father was a scamp, who shot himself, the son and the wife resigned their possessions and then disappeared from society. It will perhaps be best if I send the servant to a library to get the romance; I wager that you will not put the book aside till you have perused it all through?"
Clary nodded and ten minutes later she sat with glowing cheeks and beating heart absorbed in the reading of this interesting novel. She sympathized with Edmond Dantes and Faria, she wept with Mercedes, she hated Villefort, lamented for Madame Danglars, was enthusiastic for Valentine, admired Maximilian and breathed much easier when Madame de Villefort, the inhuman poisoner, had ended her evil career. And over all these personages hovered in wonderful glory the modern knight without fear and blame, the chastising judge, the noble benefactor. Monte-Cristo seemed to the young girl like a god, and when darkness set in and Madame Caraman looked about for her protegee, Clary embraced her and said, sobbing:
"Oh, Mamma Caraman, how beautiful is the romance and how happy do I feel to have seen the count! Yes, so, just so, he ought to appear; oh, Alexandre Dumas is a great man!"
Madame Caraman smiled; she did not expect anything else. Both ladies conversed then more explicitly of the various persons in the romance, and afterward the companion withdrew, as already mentioned, to the veranda to work, and Clary remained, absorbed in a reverie, sitting in a little pavilion ornamented with flowers.
How long she had been meditating she was unable to tell, when all at once without the garden wall a curious noise was heard. Clary lifted her head and listened; the reading had excited her to the extent that at this moment a spectral appearance would have come not unexpectedly and yet she quite plainly noticed a sparkling pair of eyes, which inquiringly turned in all directions. Clary did not stir. A cloud, which up to that moment hid the moon, broke, and the girl recognized the Zouave, who sat upon the wall and then slipped down into the garden. Coucou seemed to know that he was trespassing upon strange ground; he listened for a while, and as everything seemed quiet he selected the walk which led to the veranda.
At the veranda a lamp was burning, and close by stood a basket filled with various skeins and balls of wool, while Madame Caraman sat in her chair snoring comfortably. The Jackal remained motionless at the foot of the veranda and looked up, and as nothing seemed to move, he soon resolved to climb the fence, which was closed by the stairs leading into the garden.
As soon as the Jackal saw Madame Caraman, he became rather agitated; he thought of his mother, and yet he was aware that this lady appeared far younger and more elegant than his mother, even were she alive. With his hands folded over his breast, he looked at the sleeping woman; he did not anticipate that Clary, hid behind a tamarind-tree, watched all his movements and almost broke her head in considering what motive brought the Zouave to this spot.
Now Coucou approached the companion, but the noise woke Madame Caraman, and uttering a half-suppressed shriek she jumped up and looked drowsily at the intruder. She recognized only the form of a man, and instinctively grasping after the first object at hand, she took hold of the work-basket and threw it with all her might at the Zouave. The basket hit Coucou's head and clapped itself like a helmet over his face, while the wool skeins became entangled in his hair, tickling his nose and causing a violent cough and continual sneezing.
The lady now first recognized the brave Jackal, and considering the awkward situation he was placed in, she could not help bursting into a loud laugh. In vain Coucou tried to rid himself of the wool threads; he coughed and sneezed uninterruptedly, and the basket seemed to cling more tightly to his face. At length the French lady took pity on him and helped him to remove the basket, and then in a voice of merriment which she could not suppress she said:
"Well, Monsieur Jackal, you will perhaps tell me what induced you to come here?"
Coucou was ready to answer, but the wool threads prevented him, and while Madame Caraman again broke out laughing, and Clary, below in the garden, suffered from suffocation, because she felt obliged to suppress her laughter in order not to betray her presence, the Zouave breathlessly gasped:
"One—drop—of water—I suffocate!"
Madame Caraman was not cruel. She handed the Jackal a glassful of water, and as the cough would not stop, she took from the sideboard a bottle filled with cordial and offered it to the soldier with these words:
"There, drink a drop, you big scamp, and then explain your presence here."
The Zouave cast a grateful glance at the lady and took a long draught out of the bottle.
"Sapristi!" he then exclaimed, smacking his tongue, "that is an excellent drop!"
"Bah, never mind the drop now, but answer my question," rejoined the lady. "What are you looking for here?"
"Quick, and do not stutter so awfully. Is it lawful at night and in darkness to enter a strange abode and to frighten people?"
"Alas, I shall certainly never do it again," stammered poor Coucou, crestfallen. "I came here, because—"
"Dear me, I almost believe you have lost your power of speech," laughingly interrupted Madame Caraman.
"Not exactly, madame, but behold, there are moments in the life of a soldier—"
"In which he proves himself especially stupid," added Madame Caraman impatiently; "stick to your subject."
Coucou bowed, as if a compliment were paid him.
"Madame," he commenced again, "Providence permitted us to-day to meet each other—"
"Providence?" repeated the lady in great merriment; "Mr. Zouave, you seem to me to be getting a little crazy!"
"Oh, madame," said Coucou ardently, "it will not offend you, if I tell you that I find you exceedingly—and, speaking plainly, consider you quite lovely! Call me impertinent, madame: but believe my assurance that I speak the real truth. I have seen ladies in all parts of the world, blondes and brunettes, black and white, but I never met one who understood how to win my heart till I this day met you!"
Madame Caraman was, indeed, Clary's governess, but she was, first of all, a wife, and Coucou's words were repugnant to her.
"Monsieur Zouave," she replied, "I am forty-two years old" (unwittingly she skipped a few), "and you may call yourself lucky that I do not mind a joke—"
"A joke? But I can take an oath—"
"Do not swear," interrupted the lady, in a menacing manner, "but let me speak. First, you ought to know that I have always been an honest wife, and only loved my husband, who is now in heaven. Secondly, I am employed by a greatly esteemed and amiable young girl, and as you have without the slightest pretext entered here, you have forfeited the respect which you owe the owner of this villa. Thus you know now what you ought to know, and mark it down for the future, Monsieur Zouave."
Coucou felt as if it were best for him to sink into the ground; red like a peony he began to stutter:
"Pardon me, I intended nothing wrong!"
The widow of the gendarme officer had compassion on his embarrassment.
"Well, do not take it to heart too much," she said, kindly. "I do not bite anybody! You are, after all, a soldier, and if you do your duty, you cannot always touch everything with kid gloves. My dear departed husband often told me so, and therefore console yourself and listen to me. I am ready to pardon you, but only under one condition."
"Oh, under all conditions, even ever so difficult," ejaculated Coucou, lively. "Speak, please; what am I to do?"
"Not much, but to tell me, quite openly, why you have come to this place this evening?"
"Only to see you."
"Indeed! Well, I must confess I like you! So you have fallen in love with me, like a student at a boarding-school, and in order to satisfy your suddenly aroused desires you creep at night into other people's houses! Do you know how these fellows are generally styled?"
Coucou bent his head, and Madame Caraman earnestly continued:
"Would it not be more simple and also more becoming, if you were to come here to-morrow by daylight, and ask for admittance?"
"But that is just the thing," despairingly exclaimed Coucou, "for me there is no morning!"
"What does that all mean?"
"Well, what I say is, that for me there is no morning here!"
"Lord and Saviour, how am I to understand this nonsense?" said Madame Caraman, impatiently.
Coucou changed his tactics.
"Madame," said he with emphasis, "I will admit that my uncalled-for entrance here was certainly quite wrong, but you ought not to consider it in the light of an offence."
"I hope so," replied the companion respectfully, "and I am ready to look for any proofs thereof."
The Zouave again looked down quite abashed.
"It passed previously through my head," he commenced, rather discouraged, "that you perhaps would show a little interest for me—"
"Always worse—you are getting impertinent!"
"No, no, madame, that I am not; only allow me to explain. Consider, I am a soldier; the regiment is my home, and I have neither father nor mother who care for me. Taking it all in all, I do not mind that; I fight with the Kabyles, and when one day my end approaches, nobody will have to mourn for me. But you appear to me so kind and trustworthy, that Satan urged me on, and as I shall probably never see you again—"
"Ah, and why not?"
"I bid you farewell, for to-morrow morning it will be all over."
"Well, not so hasty; don't jump immediately from one extreme to another," scolded Madame Caraman, who against her own desire felt some sympathy, although she tried to hide it; "tell me now exactly the whole proceeding; otherwise you seem to be a brave fellow, and it would be a pity for the uniform you wear were it not so. Well, then, speak out; what is the matter to-morrow?"
"Alas, madame, your kindness encourages me. Only consider, if a man is on the point of leaving his home, and perhaps forever, he is longing to say to somebody good-by, and when on such an occasion a beautiful woman shakes hands and says, 'Farewell, my boy,' then it surely brings luck!"
"But, Monsieur Zouave, you speak in riddles to me. Where are you going, if I may put the question?"
"To Algiers, in the desert, and then further."
"But you are returning to your regiment?"
"God forbid. I have an unlimited furlough."
"By my life, it requires a corkscrew in order to get the words out of your mouth! Plainly told, what mean all these preliminaries?"
"Well, you know already that the son of Madame Mercedes, Captain Joliette, has disappeared. I am attached to my captain and—"
"Quick, make haste, I am fast losing all patience!"
"To-day a pale-looking man with sparkling dark eyes, and coal-black hair and beard, told me that he starts to-morrow morning in order to search for Captain Joliette, and intends to take me with him!"
Neither the Zouave nor Madame Caraman heard the half-suppressed exclamation, which had just occurred close to the veranda; Madame Caraman felt astonished, and rising suddenly asked almost breathlessly:
"If I understand rightly, then, the Count of Monte-Cristo intends searching the Sahara for Captain Joliette?"
"Yes, that is the case, and I accompany him. For such an expedition courage is the first requirement, and, as I do not lack any, the count has selected me. Now, you know all and wherefore I came; I did not wish to vex you, and now I depart again. Adieu, Madame Caraman!"
The Zouave swung his cap and turned round ready to depart. The lady looked at him with mingled feelings; she was a kind-hearted soul and the brave Zouave amused her. She never had a son, but she thought, if God had presented her with one, he ought to have resembled the Jackal. That he came to bid her good-by, moved her, and she said in a half-audible voice:
Coucou remained standing.
"Come this way! Are you, perhaps, afraid of me? On previous occasions you were less timid."
Coucou's hesitating steps justified this suspicion, and Madame Caraman continued, smilingly:
"I shall not hurt you; there, put your hand into mine—" Coucou blushed like a girl.
"What? I should be allowed to put my ugly paw into your hand!" he stuttered quite confounded, and then he perceived that he had been again rude and tried to excuse himself.
"I spoke of my ugly paw—I—"
"Never mind that," the lady interrupted him; "there, shake hands and think that I am your mother!"
"You my mother?" said Coucou laughing, with tears in his eyes; "oh, no such thing; then you must act differently! When I took leave of my poor mother, she took hold of my head and kissed me heartily on both cheeks! I believe I have to thank these kisses that I still carry my head between my shoulders!"
Madame Caraman wiped a tear from her eye, and then she took the head of the Zouave between her hands and did exactly like his mother.
"Hurrah, Mother Caraman," called out Coucou joyfully; "you are an excellent mother! Farewell, and if God spares me, I hope we may meet again!"
"I hope so, my boy," said Madame Caraman with faltering voice. "God protect you and grant that you may again find your captain! It will all be right in course of time—adieu!"
The Zouave made two long strides in getting downstairs, and in a moment he had reached and climbed the garden-wall. Placing himself upon it, he swung his cap, and calling aloud, "Adieu, Mother Caraman," disappeared.
"A real Parisian boy," muttered Madame Caraman to herself: "a hot-headed fellow with a golden heart. It would grieve me should I not see him again."
A soft hand now touched the lady's shoulder, and looking up she perceived her protegee, who stood before her smiling.
"Is it you, Clary," said the companion rather awkwardly, while she changed color and became red and white, by turns, "you have then—"
"Seen and heard the Zouave," rejoined the young girl, laughing.
"But I can assure you—he came—I am not answerable—the garden-wall—"
"I know, I know, Mamma Caraman," interrupted Clary. "You do not think that I am going to reproach you? So Coucou goes to Algiers?"
"Yes, in order to search for Captain Joliette; the count—"
"I know all," said Clary, hastily placing her finger upon the governess's lips; "they are going, but it is all chance—"
"Yes, all chance work in a desert. It is terrible! Think only of the simoom, the sand, the Kabyles, and the wild animals!"
"Have you the map of Algiers at hand?"
"Yes, here is the atlas."
Clary knelt close to the chair of the governess, who had the atlas on her lap, and after they had studied minutely all the mountains and deserts of Africa, she suddenly inquired:
"How do people travel in the Sahara?"
"In caravans, with camels and negroes. It is a troublesome journey, dear child, and—"
"Mamma Caraman, how much money have we at present in hand?" suddenly interrupted Clary.
The governess drew a pocketbook out of her work-basket, and, examining the contents, said:
"About three hundred pounds sterling, or seven thousand five hundred francs."
"That is very little," said Clary.
"We have besides bills of exchange to the amount of one hundred thousand francs."
"What may be the time now?"
"Nearly ten o'clock, Clary."
"Well, then, please have our horses ready."
"Our horses, at this time?" said the governess, alarmed.
"Yes, at once. Hurry your toilet; I shall do the same, and then good-by."
"But, Clary, what do you intend to do?"
"Mamma Caraman, I am not yet quite clear upon that point, but on the road to Marseilles you shall know everything. Apropos, take the three hundred pounds with you."
"You are not thinking, surely, of spending the money this very evening?"
"H'm, who knows. At any rate take also the bills of exchange, and now go and make haste."
Clary soon got away, and the astonished governess had no other alternative than to obey the orders of the spoiled child. Ten minutes later both ladies sat in their saddles, and rode, accompanied by a groom, toward the town.
IN THE SPIDER'S WEB
If one passes in Marseilles from Main Street across Villeneuve Place, and turns into Prison Street, there appears a dirty old house just opposite this street, which upon a signboard bears the appellation: "The Big Spider." This house is a resort for sailors of the worst kind, and, as soon as darkness sets in, becomes crowded with customers, whose physiognomies are anything but encouraging. The worst of vices found here in the Big Spider their formation, and the scum of all parts of the world used to assemble here. In fact, the whole surroundings of that quarter were nicknamed "The Spider Quarter," and many a one who had entered the quarter with well-filled pockets never left it again. The "Spider's web" closed upon him, and he was lost; for the walls never betrayed what passed behind them, nor did the inhabitants feel any desire to do so.
In the dark smoky rooms alcoholic drinks were the principal beverage, and characterless women shared and indulged in the drunken revels. Continual strife and quarrels in which the knife was the chief weapon were always going on, while the police took good care not to come into contact with the guests of the Spider. At present, of course, the Spider's Quarter has ceased to exist, and one who nowadays perceives the well-lighted streets will hardly believe what a place it formerly was—tempora mutantur. While the Zouave Coucou took leave in the villa, a mixed company, like on all other nights, had gathered together in the Spider. English, French, Maltese, Italians and Spanish sailors sat round the heavy oak tables; girls in curious dresses, whose painted cheeks showed plainly the traces of debauchery, thronged around a female card conjurer, who in a corner was performing her black art, while a woman with a harp was waiting with her old instrument till called upon to play or sing before the company. Here and there sat groups of men and women on whose foreheads vice was plainly written, and according as the dice rolled and the cards dropped, there could be heard curses and imprecations, as well as shouts of joy. The atmosphere was impregnated with the filthy oil of the dimly lighted lamps, the odor of alcoholic drinks, and the poisonous smell of tobacco.
It was almost midnight when a new-comer entered. The man wore a short jacket, a red girdle held the dark trousers around the waist, and a broad-brimmed oilcloth hat sat at an angle upon a head full of rich red-blond hair. The beard of the man was red and thick, while his form showed that he was possessed of great muscular power.
It was plain that the stranger was an English sailor, and the sharp accent with which he gave his orders to the morose landlord, of whom he demanded a mixture of rum and cordial, testified to this supposition. The host, who was a suspicious-looking individual with piercing black eyes, which wickedly squinted from under a pair of peculiar thick eyelashes, soon brought the drink to the sailor, and while placing the tin can containing the hot beverage on the table, he held out his right hand to receive payment; for in the Spider the rule is: "First pay and then you may drink." The sailor did not seem to relish this custom; he drew a heavy purse from his pocket, took out a gold piece and threw it on the table.
While the host took the gold piece, a louis d'or, and curiously looked at it, more than twenty eyes turned greedily upon the sailor; the customers of the Spider knew well the sound of the gold pieces. Out of pure mischief the host tried the sound of the gold piece again on the tin can, and then smilingly placed it in his pocket: again, suspicious looks turned upon the man who paid in gold, and their bewilderment was increased as the stranger refused the change. "Keep it for yourself," said he, loud enough to be heard. The landlord, who understood many languages, shook his head and dryly replied:
"Keep your money, old fellow—I only take my due."
The Englishman felt vexed, struck with his fist on the table, took hold of the tin can and emptied the drink with one draught.
"You decline my money?" he asked with a strong English accent.
"I do not say so," added the host, in a half-satisfactory tone, "but to-day and to-morrow do not resemble each other, and what you bestow on me to-day you may rue to-morrow."
"That concerns no one but myself," exclaimed the sailor; "if I like to be generous, I have a right to be so. Yes or no—will you accept the money?"
"No, braggart, I do not need your money! The host of the Big Spider is richer than you!"
"Richer than I am? Who the dickens can say so?" ejaculated the sailor in a rage, and pulling out his purse and opening it he threw all its contents on the table. A heap of gold rolled on the oaken surface, and with loud shouting the guests around the table jumped up.
Only the landlord looked upon it indifferently.
"Englishman, you are a fool," he muttered half aloud; "you wish to be duped under all circumstances! Beware!"
"Shut up," shouted the sailor, and turning toward the rest, he said in a low voice:
"Do you know what the host has just whispered to me? He cautions me to be on my guard; he seemingly believes that you intend to murder me in order to get my money!"
A death-like silence followed these bold words, and the eyes of all present turned with unmistakable eagerness upon the heap of gold. Most of these miserable beings had already often bathed themselves knee-deep in blood; and therefore to commit murder was a bagatelle, as long as it brought profit.
The landlord, shrugging his shoulders, returned to his place near the door; he would let the sailor take his own part, if he really wanted to be stupid.
Now, a large fellow, a Provencal, approached and placed himself on a seat right before the Englishman, and was at once ready to take hold of the money.
"Old fellow," said he, grumbling, "is that lot of money really your own property?"
"Yes, all honestly earned money."
"H'm—that I care for but very little. Do you know, I am just at present short of cash, and I suppose you will not hesitate to lend a friend a helping hand, eh? Well, then, I'll take just what I am in want of."
The hand of the Provencal selected a few gold pieces, but almost at the same time he shouted aloud and staggered back.
The sailor, with a vise-like grip, grasped the wrist of the intruder and he soon dropped the gold pieces.
The Provencal gnashed his teeth in rage, and, rubbing his bruised wrist, muttered:
"If you do not wish your sinful money to be touched, then you should not expose it so boastingly! You will not even assist me a little? It stands to reason that later on I will pay you everything back: well, are you satisfied?"
"No," replied the sailor coolly, "go to the devil! Away—do not touch my money; I can skin you!"
"Ah, that we shall soon see," loudly exclaimed the Provencal, and putting his hand in his pocket he produced a large knife. At the same time he uttered a few words to his comrades in their own jargon, and immediately the sailor was surrounded by a dozen men whose hands were armed with glittering knives.
The Englishman seemed, however, not in the least affected; he put the money all in one heap, and placing himself with his back toward the wall, he crossed his arms over his chest, and asked, scornfully:
"What do you mean to do? Are you really ready to murder me?"
"Keep your peace, braggart! You wish to entice us with your money. Give us half of it, or you will not fare very well here. Well, are you willing to divide?"
"I don't know about that. If anybody in my part of the country says 'I will,' then he must prove that he is also able."
"What does this all mean? Do you think of defying us?"
"I am ready for you. Just come on, if you think proper!"
"Stand back, comrades!" exclaimed the Provencal, "I will teach him something better. Just wait, John Bull, you will soon know me; I'll get the best of you, and then we will divide the spoils."
"Yes, yes!" the others cried, "let us divide!"
"Keep quiet," said the Englishman, coolly. "You want a regular fight with knives, do you? Pah, I have no objection; but you will allow me, instead of using a knife, to make use of this weapon!" and thereupon he drew from his pocket a small, brightly polished poniard about three or four inches long, which looked more like a lady's plaything than anything else.
The shabby lot laughed at him loudly; and, comparing the Catalonian knives they handled with the sailor's poniard, it appeared like a sewing-needle.
"Perhaps you think I am a tailor?" said the Provencal, scornfully; "and have you not also a measure in your pocket?"
"Large words, large knives, and that is all," said the sailor, contemptuously. "Listen. I make you an offer: if you can touch me, the money is yours; and, mark well, not only half, but the whole of it!"
"Agreed. Comrades, step aside!"
With a push of his foot the Provencal cleared one of the tables; the rest did the same in putting tables and chairs aside for an open space. The host alone remained passive; he had seen enough of these occurrences, and was in nowise astonished. Even the female portion of the guests seemed to take an interest in the combat; everywhere you could see glittering eyes awaiting the spectacle to come, and now and then the call went forth: "The impertinent fool!" "Well, the Provencal will teach him better!" "Just look, the poniard is set with diamonds!" "Where could he have stolen it?" "Perhaps from his sweetheart. Ha! ha! ha!"
One of the guests, however, did not share in the general noise. He was a man who sat at a side table, his head resting in both his hands, so that his face could not exactly be recognized. Raven black long hair, slightly tinged with gray, fell down on his broad shoulders; the man wore sailor's clothes, but they looked tattered and worn out. Before him stood a large, half-emptied bottle of liquor. He sat motionless, and, in spite of the noise around him, remained at the table without stirring. The glance of the English sailor was at different times directed toward him, and it even seemed as if he wanted to speak to him, but nobody noticed it.
Now the Provencal approached the Englishman. It was quite a sight to see him standing with spread-out legs, half-naked, hairy arms, muscular chest, the knife lifted up in his right hand, and a vulgar smile on his thick lips, and many a one would have considered twice before he ventured on such a task. His age was, no doubt, about forty, and his glaring eyes glanced continually from the Englishman to the gold, and then again at his comrades, as if intending to say:
"Just be a little patient, I'll procure the prize for us."
The Englishman too had arisen. His slender figure appeared almost meagre when compared with his opponent, and yet his dark eyes looked around steadily and quietly. Either he plays with the danger threatening him, or he is not able to see it; one stroke of the Provencal was sufficient to batter down the Englishman, and what use is the neat little weapon in comparison with the terrible large knife?
"Are you ready?" shouted aloud the Provencal.
"Yes, bandit," sounded loudly in reply.
The sailor leaned with his back to the wall; a retrograde movement was impossible, and yet—yet the Provencal began to press him closely. The knife glittered—a jump—and the Provencal shrieked with pain and sank to the ground. The poniard of the Englishman had penetrated deeply into the hand which held the knife; a dark stream of blood flowed from the wound, when the sailor drew out the point of the blade, and the Provencal screamed in his agony:
"Wait, miserable juggler, you will suffer for it."
Breathing heavily he stepped back a few paces, and again swinging his knife, he threw it quickly at the face of the sailor. The sailor had lifted his left hand, and in a second struck the weapon as it fell; the knife whirled around, and the next moment the Englishman caught it in his hand. Triumphantly he swung round the knife in his left, and the poniard in his right hand; the Provencal uttered a heavy curse, and withdrawing the knife from a comrade standing behind him, he prepared to again attack his opponent.
The Englishman allowed him to approach; but as soon as he was ready to jump at him, he threw away poniard and knife, took hold of the Provencal by his wrists, and as easily as if he were but a child, pitched him right in the midst of bottles and glasses, placed upon a table some distance off.
The Provencal howled with rage; and the breaking of the bottles and glasses scattered glass all over the place, causing many bloody hands and heads. The giant bled from a wound on his forehead, and, turning to his comrades, he called aloud:
"Kill him, ye canaille! Can you look on quietly when he is killing me?"
Irresolute, the crowd stared at the sailor, and he, taking advantage of the momentary quietness, jumped over tables and benches into a corner, where the solitary guest sat, and placed his hand upon his shoulder:
"Up!" he called with penetrating voice, "up in the name of Manuelita!"
As if touched by an electric shock, the man jumped up, and, throwing one single glance at the sailor, he gave a yell and leaped right in the midst of the vagabonds, and with herculean power he knocked down all who were near him, crying with rage:
"Away with you, bandits! Whoever touches a hair on this man's head dies!"
As soon as the men heard the voice, they remained standing as if petrified, and even the most courageous turned pale.
"Jacopo!" went from mouth to mouth. "What the devil brought him here? Let us hasten to depart. See only how his eyes are rolling; he is once more in a passion!"
The other must have been aware of his ruling power over these miserable vagabonds, for he pulled the door open and peremptorily ordered them to leave the room, saying threateningly:
"March off, or I'll get you all on the galleys again, which you ought never to have left!"
"We are going; pardon us!" cringingly replied the men; and like beaten dogs they all left quite hastily.
The Provencal lingered a while at the door.
"How about the money?" he inquired, in dog-like submission.
"Throw it to the bandits outside the door, Jacopo," said the sailor, despisingly.
Jacopo took the money in both hands and scattered it in a large circle on the street.
Howling, shrieking, and with a tremendous noise, the bandits fought for the booty. Jacopo locked the door, closed the latch, and kneeling before the sailor, whispered: "Master, what is it you demand of me?"
Who was Jacopo?
About nineteen years before, in February, 1829, Edmond Dantes—a prisoner for life in the Castle d'If—owing to his energy, escaped from his jailers, sewed up in a sack which had contained the corpse of his friend, the Abbe Faria. He was dragged by the jailers to the churchyard of the Castle d'If, and there buried. The churchyard of the Castle d'If, however, was the ocean! The waves were more merciful than man; they gave the deserted one a friendly reception, and washed him close to a ship, a genuine tartane, where in despair he called out for help. He waved the red sailor's cap which a sympathizing gust of wind had thrown down from a rock, and the men on board of the tartane saw it. "Courage!" they called to him. With a weak, despairing grasp he took hold of the rope which had been thrown toward him, and then became insensible.
When he came to he lay on the deck, and sympathizing sailors bent over him. They administered rum, they rubbed his benumbed body, and he who had first seen the unfortunate man put his own woollen jacket around the man's shivering shoulders. This sympathizing sailor was called Jacopo; he was a powerful young fellow, with laughing blue eyes. When Edmond Dantes had recourse to stratagem, and, in order to remain alone at Monte-Cristo, leaped from the rock, it was Jacopo who picked him up, and only against his will left him again.
"Who knows whether you will not one time become a captain? Has not your countryman Bonaparte become emperor?"
Hereupon Jacopo almost went into hysterics; how could he become captain? no, so high he never climbed even in his boldest dreams; he felt satisfied if he only continued to have a place on the deck of a ship; then the ocean was his home, his family, his all!
Edmond Dantes has the name Jacopo fixed in his memory. He will, no doubt, have an after opportunity to reward the brave fellow.
Years had passed when the Count of Monte-Cristo began to recollect the brave Corsican. He searched for him and said:
"Do you remember a sailor whose life you once saved, and who prophesied that you would become a captain?"
Jacopo blushed; no, he has not yet forgotten this prophecy.
"I knew this sailor," continued the count, "and received of him the commission to cancel his debt to you."
"His debt?" exclaimed Jacopo, not knowing the meaning thereof.
"Yes, your dream points to a captaincy, and I have the order to realize this dream."
"You! oh, do not make fun of me—"
"What are you thinking of? Look here, Jacopo, do you see this yacht which is now riding on the waves?"
"I see her. She appears to me slender and beautiful—she is a pearl of a vessel."
"I am glad that the yacht is to your taste; she is my property, and I appoint you as captain, if you have no objection!"
Jacopo became almost wild with joy. During the next few months the elegant yacht, called the Ice Bird, moved her wings actively, crossing every sea, and the captain was delighted with her.
When the count came to Paris to investigate the fate of the families Villefort and Danglars, Jacopo received his dismissal, or rather his temporary freedom.
"Master," he asked, sorrowfully, "why do you send me away? Have you to complain of anything concerning me?"
"No, Jacopo; but at present I do not need the yacht any further; I intend for a time to remain in Paris."
"Well, at any rate, I will always be ready to obey your least hint," said the Corsican, with enthusiasm. "Command me, and I shall at once honor your call."
"How who knows?" said Monte-Cristo, laughingly.
"What do you wish to say by that assertion, master? Do you believe Jacopo will be remiss in fulfilling his promise?"
"Who knows?" repeated the count, still laughing, and then, drawing out his pocketbook, he said in an earnest tone: "Jacopo, you have a secret."
"Why avoid my question? Your blushing cheeks convict you of untruth, and then you ought to know me sufficiently; you know that my looks can penetrate the innermost depths of thy soul."
Jacopo bent down his head, turned the cap in his hand confusedly, and became red like a red garden flower.
"Am I to tell you that I am able to read you to the bottom of your heart?"
"I read there a name—"
Jacopo trembled, and grasped a chair to support himself.
"It is the name of a woman."
"Master, master, I entreat you not to mention the name. I suffer enough without that."
The count's countenance grew gloomy.
"Jacopo," said he, peremptorily, "I am forbearing if anybody places confidence in me; irreconcilable if any one seeks to deceive me. I keep silent if you wish it, but we are forever separated. Farewell, you will never see me more!"
He turned to go, but the power which this singular man exercised over others was so great that Jacopo broke out into loud lamentations. He preferred to suffer anything rather than consent to perpetual separation.