The Count of Monte Cristo – Day 103 of 400

“Yes, monsieur; you are aware from whom I come?”

“The house of Thomson & French; at least, so my cashier tells me.”

“He has told you rightly. The house of Thomson & French had 300,000 or 400,000 francs to pay this month in France; and, knowing your strict punctuality, have collected all the bills bearing your signature, and charged me as they became due to present them, and to employ the money otherwise.” Morrel sighed deeply, and passed his hand over his forehead, which was covered with perspiration.

“So then, sir,” said Morrel, “you hold bills of mine?”

“Yes, and for a considerable sum.”

“What is the amount?” asked Morrel with a voice he strove to render firm.

“Here is,” said the Englishman, taking a quantity of papers from his pocket, “an assignment of 200,000 francs to our house by M. de Boville, the inspector of prisons, to whom they are due. You acknowledge, of course, that you owe this sum to him?”

“Yes; he placed the money in my hands at four and a half per cent nearly five years ago.”

“When are you to pay?”

“Half the 15th of this month, half the 15th of next.”

“Just so; and now here are 32,500 francs payable shortly; they are all signed by you, and assigned to our house by the holders.”

“I recognize them,” said Morrel, whose face was suffused, as he thought that, for the first time in his life, he would be unable to honor his own signature. “Is this all?”

“No, I have for the end of the month these bills which have been assigned to us by the house of Pascal, and the house of Wild & Turner of Marseilles, amounting to nearly 55,000. francs; in all, 287,500 francs.” It is impossible to describe what Morrel suffered during this enumeration. “Two hundred and eighty-seven thousand five hundred francs,” repeated he.

“Yes, sir,” replied the Englishman. “I will not,” continued he, after a moment’s silence, “conceal from you, that while your probity and exactitude up to this moment are universally acknowledged, yet the report is current in Marseilles that you are not able to meet your liabilities.” At this almost brutal speech Morrel turned deathly pale. “Sir,” said he, “up to this time—and it is now more than four-and-twenty years since I received the direction of this house from my father, who had himself conducted it for five and thirty years—never has anything bearing the signature of Morrel & Son been dishonored.”

“I know that,” replied the Englishman. “But as a man of honor should answer another, tell me fairly, shall you pay these with the same punctuality?” Morrel shuddered, and looked at the man, who spoke with more assurance than he had hitherto shown. “To questions frankly put,” said he, “a straightforward answer should be given. Yes, I shall pay, if, as I hope, my vessel arrives safely; for its arrival will again procure me the credit which the numerous accidents, of which I have been the victim, have deprived me; but if the Pharaon should be lost, and this last resource be gone”—the poor man’s eyes filled with tears.

“Well,” said the other, “if this last resource fail you?”

“Well,” returned Morrel, “it is a cruel thing to be forced to say, but, already used to misfortune, I must habituate myself to shame. I fear I shall be forced to suspend payment.”

“Have you no friends who could assist you?” Morrel smiled mournfully. “In business, sir,” said he, “one has no friends, only correspondents.”

“It is true,” murmured the Englishman; “then you have but one hope.”

“But one.”

“The last?”

“The last.”

“So that if this fail”—

“I am ruined,—completely ruined!”

“As I was on my way here, a vessel was coming into port.”

“I know it, sir; a young man, who still adheres to my fallen fortunes, passes a part of his time in a belvidere at the top of the house, in hopes of being the first to announce good news to me; he has informed me of the arrival of this ship.”

“And it is not yours?”

“No, she is a Bordeaux vessel, La Gironde; she comes from India also; but she is not mine.”

“Perhaps she has spoken to the Pharaon, and brings you some tidings of her?”

“Shall I tell you plainly one thing, sir? I dread almost as much to receive any tidings of my vessel as to remain in doubt. Uncertainty is still hope.” Then in a low voice Morrel added,—“This delay is not natural. The Pharaon left Calcutta the 5th February; she ought to have been here a month ago.”

“What is that?” said the Englishman. “What is the meaning of that noise?”

“Oh, oh!” cried Morrel, turning pale, “what is it?” A loud noise was heard on the stairs of people moving hastily, and half-stifled sobs. Morrel rose and advanced to the door; but his strength failed him and he sank into a chair. The two men remained opposite one another, Morrel trembling in every limb, the stranger gazing at him with an air of profound pity. The noise had ceased; but it seemed that Morrel expected something—something had occasioned the noise, and something must follow. The stranger fancied he heard footsteps on the stairs; and that the footsteps, which were those of several persons, stopped at the door. A key was inserted in the lock of the first door, and the creaking of hinges was audible.

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