The Count of Monte Cristo – Day 151 of 400

“What shall we do?” said Debray; “we have only one Monthyon prize.”

“Well, it will be given to some one who has done nothing to deserve it,” said Beauchamp; “that is the way the Academy mostly escapes from the dilemma.”

“And where does he come from?” asked Debray. “You have already answered the question once, but so vaguely that I venture to put it a second time.”

“Really,” said Albert, “I do not know; when I invited him three months ago, he was then at Rome, but since that time who knows where he may have gone?”

“And you think him capable of being exact?” demanded Debray.

“I think him capable of everything.”

“Well, with the five minutes’ grace, we have only ten left.”

“I will profit by them to tell you something about my guest.”

“I beg pardon,” interrupted Beauchamp; “are there any materials for an article in what you are going to tell us?”

“Yes, and for a most curious one.”

“Go on, then, for I see I shall not get to the Chamber this morning, and I must make up for it.”

“I was at Rome during the last Carnival.”

“We know that,” said Beauchamp.

“Yes, but what you do not know is that I was carried off by bandits.”

“There are no bandits,” cried Debray.

“Yes there are, and most hideous, or rather most admirable ones, for I found them ugly enough to frighten me.”

“Come, my dear Albert,” said Debray, “confess that your cook is behindhand, that the oysters have not arrived from Ostend or Marennes, and that, like Madame de Maintenon, you are going to replace the dish by a story. Say so at once; we are sufficiently well-bred to excuse you, and to listen to your history, fabulous as it promises to be.”

“And I say to you, fabulous as it may seem, I tell it as a true one from beginning to end. The brigands had carried me off, and conducted me to a gloomy spot, called the Catacombs of Saint Sebastian.”

“I know it,” said Chateau-Renaud; “I narrowly escaped catching a fever there.”

“And I did more than that,” replied Morcerf, “for I caught one. I was informed that I was prisoner until I paid the sum of 4,000 Roman crowns—about 24,000 francs. Unfortunately, I had not above 1,500. I was at the end of my journey and of my credit. I wrote to Franz—and were he here he would confirm every word—I wrote then to Franz that if he did not come with the four thousand crowns before six, at ten minutes past I should have gone to join the blessed saints and glorious martyrs in whose company I had the honor of being; and Signor Luigi Vampa, such was the name of the chief of these bandits, would have scrupulously kept his word.”

“But Franz did come with the four thousand crowns,” said Chateau-Renaud. “A man whose name is Franz d’Epinay or Albert de Morcerf has not much difficulty in procuring them.”

“No, he arrived accompanied simply by the guest I am going to present to you.”

“Ah, this gentleman is a Hercules killing Cacus, a Perseus freeing Andromeda.”

“No, he is a man about my own size.”

“Armed to the teeth?”

“He had not even a knitting-needle.”

“But he paid your ransom?”

“He said two words to the chief and I was free.”

“And they apologized to him for having carried you off?” said Beauchamp.

“Just so.”

“Why, he is a second Ariosto.”

“No, his name is the Count of Monte Cristo.”

“There is no Count of Monte Cristo” said Debray.

“I do not think so,” added Chateau-Renaud, with the air of a man who knows the whole of the European nobility perfectly.

“Does any one know anything of a Count of Monte Cristo?”

“He comes possibly from the Holy Land, and one of his ancestors possessed Calvary, as the Mortemarts did the Dead Sea.”

“I think I can assist your researches,” said Maximilian. “Monte Cristo is a little island I have often heard spoken of by the old sailors my father employed—a grain of sand in the centre of the Mediterranean, an atom in the infinite.”

“Precisely!” cried Albert. “Well, he of whom I speak is the lord and master of this grain of sand, of this atom; he has purchased the title of count somewhere in Tuscany.”

“He is rich, then?”

“I believe so.”

“But that ought to be visible.”

“That is what deceives you, Debray.”

“I do not understand you.”

“Have you read the ‘Arabian Nights’?”

“What a question!”

“Well, do you know if the persons you see there are rich or poor, if their sacks of wheat are not rubies or diamonds? They seem like poor fishermen, and suddenly they open some mysterious cavern filled with the wealth of the Indies.”

“Which means?”

“Which means that my Count of Monte Cristo is one of those fishermen. He has even a name taken from the book, since he calls himself Sinbad the Sailor, and has a cave filled with gold.”

“And you have seen this cavern, Morcerf?” asked Beauchamp.

“No, but Franz has; for heaven’s sake, not a word of this before him. Franz went in with his eyes blindfolded, and was waited on by mutes and by women to whom Cleopatra was a painted strumpet. Only he is not quite sure about the women, for they did not come in until after he had taken hashish, so that what he took for women might have been simply a row of statues.”

The two young men looked at Morcerf as if to say,—“Are you mad, or are you laughing at us?”

“And I also,” said Morrel thoughtfully, “have heard something like this from an old sailor named Penelon.”

“Ah,” cried Albert, “it is very lucky that M. Morrel comes to aid me; you are vexed, are you not, that he thus gives a clew to the labyrinth?”

“My dear Albert,” said Debray, “what you tell us is so extraordinary.”

“Ah, because your ambassadors and your consuls do not tell you of them—they have no time. They are too much taken up with interfering in the affairs of their countrymen who travel.”

“Now you get angry, and attack our poor agents. How will you have them protect you? The Chamber cuts down their salaries every day, so that now they have scarcely any. Will you be ambassador, Albert? I will send you to Constantinople.”

“No, lest on the first demonstration I make in favor of Mehemet Ali, the Sultan send me the bowstring, and make my secretaries strangle me.”

“You say very true,” responded Debray.

“Yes,” said Albert, “but this has nothing to do with the existence of the Count of Monte Cristo.”

“Pardieu, every one exists.”

“Doubtless, but not in the same way; every one has not black slaves, a princely retinue, an arsenal of weapons that would do credit to an Arabian fortress, horses that cost six thousand francs apiece, and Greek mistresses.”

“Have you seen the Greek mistress?”

“I have both seen and heard her. I saw her at the theatre, and heard her one morning when I breakfasted with the count.”

“He eats, then?”

“Yes; but so little, it can hardly be called eating.”

“He must be a vampire.”

“Laugh, if you will; the Countess G——, who knew Lord Ruthven, declared that the count was a vampire.”

“Ah, capital,” said Beauchamp. “For a man not connected with newspapers, here is the pendant to the famous sea-serpent of the Constitutionnel.”

“Wild eyes, the iris of which contracts or dilates at pleasure,” said Debray; “facial angle strongly developed, magnificent forehead, livid complexion, black beard, sharp and white teeth, politeness unexceptionable.”

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)