The Count of Monte Cristo – Day 162 of 400

Chapter 43. The House at Auteuil.

Monte Cristo noticed, as they descended the staircase, that Bertuccio signed himself in the Corsican manner; that is, had formed the sign of the cross in the air with his thumb, and as he seated himself in the carriage, muttered a short prayer. Any one but a man of exhaustless thirst for knowledge would have had pity on seeing the steward’s extraordinary repugnance for the count’s projected drive without the walls; but the Count was too curious to let Bertuccio off from this little journey. In twenty minutes they were at Auteuil; the steward’s emotion had continued to augment as they entered the village. Bertuccio, crouched in the corner of the carriage, began to examine with a feverish anxiety every house they passed. “Tell them to stop at Rue de la Fontaine, No. 28,” said the count, fixing his eyes on the steward, to whom he gave this order. Bertuccio’s forehead was covered with perspiration; however, he obeyed, and, leaning out of the window, he cried to the coachman,—“Rue de la Fontaine, No. 28.” No. 28 was situated at the extremity of the village; during the drive night had set in, and darkness gave the surroundings the artificial appearance of a scene on the stage. The carriage stopped, the footman sprang off the box, and opened the door. “Well,” said the count, “you do not get out, M. Bertuccio—you are going to stay in the carriage, then? What are you thinking of this evening?” Bertuccio sprang out, and offered his shoulder to the count, who, this time, leaned upon it as he descended the three steps of the carriage. “Knock,” said the count, “and announce me.” Bertuccio knocked, the door opened, and the concierge appeared. “What is it?” asked he.

“It is your new master, my good fellow,” said the footman. And he held out to the concierge the notary’s order.

“The house is sold, then?” demanded the concierge; “and this gentleman is coming to live here?”

“Yes, my friend,” returned the count; “and I will endeavor to give you no cause to regret your old master.”

“Oh, monsieur,” said the concierge, “I shall not have much cause to regret him, for he came here but seldom; it is five years since he was here last, and he did well to sell the house, for it did not bring him in anything at all.”

“What was the name of your old master?” said Monte Cristo.

“The Marquis of Saint-Meran. Ah, I am sure he has not sold the house for what he gave for it.”

“The Marquis of Saint-Meran!” returned the count. “The name is not unknown to me; the Marquis of Saint-Meran!” and he appeared to meditate.

“An old gentleman,” continued the concierge, “a stanch follower of the Bourbons; he had an only daughter, who married M. de Villefort, who had been the king’s attorney at Nimes, and afterwards at Versailles.” Monte Cristo glanced at Bertuccio, who became whiter than the wall against which he leaned to prevent himself from falling. “And is not this daughter dead?” demanded Monte Cristo; “I fancy I have heard so.”

“Yes, monsieur, one and twenty years ago; and since then we have not seen the poor marquis three times.”

“Thanks, thanks,” said Monte Cristo, judging from the steward’s utter prostration that he could not stretch the cord further without danger of breaking it. “Give me a light.”

“Shall I accompany you, monsieur?”

“No, it is unnecessary; Bertuccio will show me a light.” And Monte Cristo accompanied these words by the gift of two gold pieces, which produced a torrent of thanks and blessings from the concierge. “Ah, monsieur,” said he, after having vainly searched on the mantle-piece and the shelves, “I have not got any candles.”

“Take one of the carriage-lamps, Bertuccio,” said the count, “and show me the apartments.” The steward obeyed in silence, but it was easy to see, from the manner in which the hand that held the light trembled, how much it cost him to obey. They went over a tolerably large ground-floor; a second floor consisted of a salon, a bathroom, and two bedrooms; near one of the bedrooms they came to a winding staircase that led down to the garden.

“Ah, here is a private staircase,” said the count; “that is convenient. Light me, M. Bertuccio, and go first; we will see where it leads to.”

“Monsieur,” replied Bertuccio, “it leads to the garden.”

“And, pray, how do you know that?”

“It ought to do so, at least.”

“Well, let us be sure of that.” Bertuccio sighed, and went on first; the stairs did, indeed, lead to the garden. At the outer door the steward paused. “Go on, Monsieur Bertuccio,” said the count. But he who was addressed stood there, stupefied, bewildered, stunned; his haggard eyes glanced around, as if in search of the traces of some terrible event, and with his clinched hands he seemed striving to shut out horrible recollections. “Well,” insisted the Count. “No, no,” cried Bertuccio, setting down the lantern at the angle of the interior wall. “No, monsieur, it is impossible; I can go no farther.”

“What does this mean?” demanded the irresistible voice of Monte Cristo.

“Why, you must see, your excellency,” cried the steward, “that this is not natural; that, having a house to purchase, you purchase it exactly at Auteuil, and that, purchasing it at Auteuil, this house should be No. 28, Rue de la Fontaine. Oh, why did I not tell you all? I am sure you would not have forced me to come. I hoped your house would have been some other one than this; as if there was not another house at Auteuil than that of the assassination!”

“What, what!” cried Monte Cristo, stopping suddenly, “what words do you utter? Devil of a man, Corsican that you are—always mysteries or superstitions. Come, take the lantern, and let us visit the garden; you are not afraid of ghosts with me, I hope?” Bertuccio raised the lantern, and obeyed. The door, as it opened, disclosed a gloomy sky, in which the moon strove vainly to struggle through a sea of clouds that covered her with billows of vapor which she illumined for an instant, only to sink into obscurity. The steward wished to turn to the left. “No, no, monsieur,” said Monte Cristo. “What is the use of following the alleys? Here is a beautiful lawn; let us go on straight forwards.”

Bertuccio wiped the perspiration from his brow, but obeyed; however, he continued to take the left hand. Monte Cristo, on the contrary, took the right hand; arrived near a clump of trees, he stopped. The steward could not restrain himself. “Move, monsieur—move away, I entreat you; you are exactly in the spot!”

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