The Count of Monte Cristo – Day 152 of 400

“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.”

“Just so, Lucien,” returned Morcerf; “you have described him feature for feature. Yes, keen and cutting politeness. This man has often made me shudder; and one day that we were viewing an execution, I thought I should faint, more from hearing the cold and calm manner in which he spoke of every description of torture, than from the sight of the executioner and the culprit.”

“Did he not conduct you to the ruins of the Colosseum and suck your blood?” asked Beauchamp.

“Or, having delivered you, make you sign a flaming parchment, surrendering your soul to him as Esau did his birth-right?”

“Rail on, rail on at your ease, gentlemen,” said Morcerf, somewhat piqued. “When I look at you Parisians, idlers on the Boulevard de Gand or the Bois de Boulogne, and think of this man, it seems to me we are not of the same race.”

“I am highly flattered,” returned Beauchamp. “At the same time,” added Chateau-Renaud, “your Count of Monte Cristo is a very fine fellow, always excepting his little arrangements with the Italian banditti.”

“There are no Italian banditti,” said Debray.

“No vampire,” cried Beauchamp. “No Count of Monte Cristo” added Debray. “There is half-past ten striking, Albert.”

“Confess you have dreamed this, and let us sit down to breakfast,” continued Beauchamp. But the sound of the clock had not died away when Germain announced, “His excellency the Count of Monte Cristo.” The involuntary start every one gave proved how much Morcerf’s narrative had impressed them, and Albert himself could not wholly refrain from manifesting sudden emotion. He had not heard a carriage stop in the street, or steps in the ante-chamber; the door had itself opened noiselessly. The count appeared, dressed with the greatest simplicity, but the most fastidious dandy could have found nothing to cavil at in his toilet. Every article of dress—hat, coat, gloves, and boots—was from the first makers. He seemed scarcely five and thirty. But what struck everybody was his extreme resemblance to the portrait Debray had drawn. The count advanced, smiling, into the centre of the room, and approached Albert, who hastened towards him holding out his hand in a ceremonial manner. “Punctuality,” said Monte Cristo, “is the politeness of kings, according to one of your sovereigns, I think; but it is not the same with travellers. However, I hope you will excuse the two or three seconds I am behindhand; five hundred leagues are not to be accomplished without some trouble, and especially in France, where, it seems, it is forbidden to beat the postilions.”

“My dear count,” replied Albert, “I was announcing your visit to some of my friends, whom I had invited in consequence of the promise you did me the honor to make, and whom I now present to you. They are the Count of Chateau-Renaud, whose nobility goes back to the twelve peers, and whose ancestors had a place at the Round Table; M. Lucien Debray, private secretary to the minister of the interior; M. Beauchamp, an editor of a paper, and the terror of the French government, but of whom, in spite of his national celebrity, you perhaps have not heard in Italy, since his paper is prohibited there; and M. Maximilian Morrel, captain of Spahis.”

At this name the count, who had hitherto saluted every one with courtesy, but at the same time with coldness and formality, stepped a pace forward, and a slight tinge of red colored his pale cheeks. “You wear the uniform of the new French conquerors, monsieur,” said he; “it is a handsome uniform.” No one could have said what caused the count’s voice to vibrate so deeply, and what made his eye flash, which was in general so clear, lustrous, and limpid when he pleased. “You have never seen our Africans, count?” said Albert. “Never,” replied the count, who was by this time perfectly master of himself again.

“Well, beneath this uniform beats one of the bravest and noblest hearts in the whole army.”

“Oh, M. de Morcerf,” interrupted Morrel.

“Let me go on, captain. And we have just heard,” continued Albert, “of a new deed of his, and so heroic a one, that, although I have seen him to-day for the first time, I request you to allow me to introduce him as my friend.” At these words it was still possible to observe in Monte Cristo the concentrated look, changing color, and slight trembling of the eyelid that show emotion. “Ah, you have a noble heart,” said the count; “so much the better.” This exclamation, which corresponded to the count’s own thought rather than to what Albert was saying, surprised everybody, and especially Morrel, who looked at Monte Cristo with wonder. But, at the same time, the intonation was so soft that, however strange the speech might seem, it was impossible to be offended at it. “Why should he doubt it?” said Beauchamp to Chateau-Renaud.

“In reality,” replied the latter, who, with his aristocratic glance and his knowledge of the world, had penetrated at once all that was penetrable in Monte Cristo, “Albert has not deceived us, for the count is a most singular being. What say you, Morrel!”

“Ma foi, he has an open look about him that pleases me, in spite of the singular remark he has made about me.”

“Gentlemen,” said Albert, “Germain informs me that breakfast is ready. My dear count, allow me to show you the way.” They passed silently into the breakfast-room, and every one took his place. “Gentlemen,” said the count, seating himself, “permit me to make a confession which must form my excuse for any improprieties I may commit. I am a stranger, and a stranger to such a degree, that this is the first time I have ever been at Paris. The French way of living is utterly unknown to me, and up to the present time I have followed the Eastern customs, which are entirely in contrast to the Parisian. I beg you, therefore, to excuse if you find anything in me too Turkish, too Italian, or too Arabian. Now, then, let us breakfast.”

“With what an air he says all this,” muttered Beauchamp; “decidedly he is a great man.”

“A great man in his own country,” added Debray.

“A great man in every country, M. Debray,” said Chateau-Renaud. The count was, it may be remembered, a most temperate guest. Albert remarked this, expressing his fears lest, at the outset, the Parisian mode of life should displease the traveller in the most essential point. “My dear count,” said he, “I fear one thing, and that is, that the fare of the Rue du Helder is not so much to your taste as that of the Piazza di Spagni. I ought to have consulted you on the point, and have had some dishes prepared expressly.”

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