The Count of Monte Cristo – Day 132 of 400

Chapter 35. La Mazzolata.

“Gentlemen,” said the Count of Monte Cristo as he entered, “I pray you excuse me for suffering my visit to be anticipated; but I feared to disturb you by presenting myself earlier at your apartments; besides, you sent me word that you would come to me, and I have held myself at your disposal.”

“Franz and I have to thank you a thousand times, count,” returned Albert; “you extricated us from a great dilemma, and we were on the point of inventing a very fantastic vehicle when your friendly invitation reached us.”

“Indeed,” returned the count, motioning the two young men to sit down. “It was the fault of that blockhead Pastrini, that I did not sooner assist you in your distress. He did not mention a syllable of your embarrassment to me, when he knows that, alone and isolated as I am, I seek every opportunity of making the acquaintance of my neighbors. As soon as I learned I could in any way assist you, I most eagerly seized the opportunity of offering my services.” The two young men bowed. Franz had, as yet, found nothing to say; he had come to no determination, and as nothing in the count’s manner manifested the wish that he should recognize him, he did not know whether to make any allusion to the past, or wait until he had more proof; besides, although sure it was he who had been in the box the previous evening, he could not be equally positive that this was the man he had seen at the Colosseum. He resolved, therefore, to let things take their course without making any direct overture to the count. Moreover, he had this advantage, he was master of the count’s secret, while the count had no hold on Franz, who had nothing to conceal. However, he resolved to lead the conversation to a subject which might possibly clear up his doubts.

“Count,” said he, “you have offered us places in your carriage, and at your windows in the Rospoli Palace. Can you tell us where we can obtain a sight of the Piazza del Popolo?”

“Ah,” said the count negligently, looking attentively at Morcerf, “is there not something like an execution upon the Piazza del Popolo?”

“Yes,” returned Franz, finding that the count was coming to the point he wished.

“Stay, I think I told my steward yesterday to attend to this; perhaps I can render you this slight service also.” He extended his hand, and rang the bell thrice. “Did you ever occupy yourself,” said he to Franz, “with the employment of time and the means of simplifying the summoning your servants? I have. When I ring once, it is for my valet; twice, for my majordomo; thrice, for my steward,—thus I do not waste a minute or a word. Here he is.” A man of about forty-five or fifty entered, exactly resembling the smuggler who had introduced Franz into the cavern; but he did not appear to recognize him. It was evident he had his orders. “Monsieur Bertuccio,” said the count, “you have procured me windows looking on the Piazza del Popolo, as I ordered you yesterday.”

“Yes, excellency,” returned the steward; “but it was very late.”

“Did I not tell you I wished for one?” replied the count, frowning.

“And your excellency has one, which was let to Prince Lobanieff; but I was obliged to pay a hundred”—

“That will do—that will do, Monsieur Bertuccio; spare these gentlemen all such domestic arrangements. You have the window, that is sufficient. Give orders to the coachman; and be in readiness on the stairs to conduct us to it.” The steward bowed, and was about to quit the room. “Ah,” continued the count, “be good enough to ask Pastrini if he has received the tavoletta, and if he can send us an account of the execution.”

“There is no need to do that,” said Franz, taking out his tablets; “for I saw the account, and copied it down.”

“Very well, you can retire, M. Bertuccio; but let us know when breakfast is ready. These gentlemen,” added he, turning to the two friends, “will, I trust, do me the honor to breakfast with me?”

“But, my dear count,” said Albert, “we shall abuse your kindness.”

“Not at all; on the contrary, you will give me great pleasure. You will, one or other of you, perhaps both, return it to me at Paris. M. Bertuccio, lay covers for three.” He then took Franz’s tablets out of his hand. “‘We announce,’ he read, in the same tone with which he would have read a newspaper, ‘that to-day, the 23d of February, will be executed Andrea Rondolo, guilty of murder on the person of the respected and venerated Don Cesare Torlini, canon of the church of St. John Lateran, and Peppino, called Rocca Priori, convicted of complicity with the detestable bandit Luigi Vampa, and the men of his band.’ Hum! ‘The first will be mazzolato, the second decapitato.’ Yes,” continued the count, “it was at first arranged in this way; but I think since yesterday some change has taken place in the order of the ceremony.”

“Really?” said Franz.

“Yes, I passed the evening at the Cardinal Rospigliosi’s, and there mention was made of something like a pardon for one of the two men.”

“For Andrea Rondolo?” asked Franz.

* Guillotine.

“No,” replied the count, carelessly; “for the other (he glanced at the tablets as if to recall the name), for Peppino, called Rocca Priori. You are thus deprived of seeing a man guillotined; but the mazzuola still remains, which is a very curious punishment when seen for the first time, and even the second, while the other, as you must know, is very simple. The mandaia * never fails, never trembles, never strikes thirty times ineffectually, like the soldier who beheaded the Count of Chalais, and to whose tender mercy Richelieu had doubtless recommended the sufferer. Ah,” added the count, in a contemptuous tone, “do not tell me of European punishments, they are in the infancy, or rather the old age, of cruelty.”

“Really, count,” replied Franz, “one would think that you had studied the different tortures of all the nations of the world.”

“There are, at least, few that I have not seen,” said the count coldly.

“And you took pleasure in beholding these dreadful spectacles?”

“My first sentiment was horror, the second indifference, the third curiosity.”

“Curiosity—that is a terrible word.”

“Why so? In life, our greatest preoccupation is death; is it not then, curious to study the different ways by which the soul and body can part; and how, according to their different characters, temperaments, and even the different customs of their countries, different persons bear the transition from life to death, from existence to annihilation? As for myself, I can assure you of one thing,—the more men you see die, the easier it becomes to die yourself; and in my opinion, death may be a torture, but it is not an expiation.”

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