The Count of Monte Cristo – Day 398 of 400

“You are wrong, Morrel; I was really happy.”

“Then you forget me, so much the better.”

“How so?”

“Yes; for as the gladiator said to the emperor, when he entered the arena, ‘He who is about to die salutes you.'”

“Then you are not consoled?” asked the count, surprised.

“Oh,” exclaimed Morrel, with a glance full of bitter reproach, “do you think it possible that I could be?”

“Listen,” said the count. “Do you understand the meaning of my words? You cannot take me for a commonplace man, a mere rattle, emitting a vague and senseless noise. When I ask you if you are consoled, I speak to you as a man for whom the human heart has no secrets. Well, Morrel, let us both examine the depths of your heart. Do you still feel the same feverish impatience of grief which made you start like a wounded lion? Have you still that devouring thirst which can only be appeased in the grave? Are you still actuated by the regret which drags the living to the pursuit of death; or are you only suffering from the prostration of fatigue and the weariness of hope deferred? Has the loss of memory rendered it impossible for you to weep? Oh, my dear friend, if this be the case,—if you can no longer weep, if your frozen heart be dead, if you put all your trust in God, then, Maximilian, you are consoled—do not complain.”

“Count,” said Morrel, in a firm and at the same time soft voice, “listen to me, as to a man whose thoughts are raised to heaven, though he remains on earth; I come to die in the arms of a friend. Certainly, there are people whom I love. I love my sister Julie,—I love her husband Emmanuel; but I require a strong mind to smile on my last moments. My sister would be bathed in tears and fainting; I could not bear to see her suffer. Emmanuel would tear the weapon from my hand, and alarm the house with his cries. You, count, who are more than mortal, will, I am sure, lead me to death by a pleasant path, will you not?”

“My friend,” said the count, “I have still one doubt,—are you weak enough to pride yourself upon your sufferings?”

“No, indeed,—I am calm,” said Morrel, giving his hand to the count; “my pulse does not beat slower or faster than usual. No, I feel that I have reached the goal, and I will go no farther. You told me to wait and hope; do you know what you did, unfortunate adviser? I waited a month, or rather I suffered for a month! I did hope (man is a poor wretched creature), I did hope. What I cannot tell,—something wonderful, an absurdity, a miracle,—of what nature he alone can tell who has mingled with our reason that folly we call hope. Yes, I did wait—yes, I did hope, count, and during this quarter of an hour we have been talking together, you have unconsciously wounded, tortured my heart, for every word you have uttered proved that there was no hope for me. Oh, count, I shall sleep calmly, deliciously in the arms of death.” Morrel uttered these words with an energy which made the count shudder. “My friend,” continued Morrel, “you named the fifth of October as the end of the period of waiting,—to-day is the fifth of October,” he took out his watch, “it is now nine o’clock,—I have yet three hours to live.”

“Be it so,” said the count, “come.” Morrel mechanically followed the count, and they had entered the grotto before he perceived it. He felt a carpet under his feet, a door opened, perfumes surrounded him, and a brilliant light dazzled his eyes. Morrel hesitated to advance; he dreaded the enervating effect of all that he saw. Monte Cristo drew him in gently. “Why should we not spend the last three hours remaining to us of life, like those ancient Romans, who when condemned by Nero, their emperor and heir, sat down at a table covered with flowers, and gently glided into death, amid the perfume of heliotropes and roses?” Morrel smiled. “As you please,” he said; “death is always death,—that is forgetfulness, repose, exclusion from life, and therefore from grief.” He sat down, and Monte Cristo placed himself opposite to him. They were in the marvellous dining-room before described, where the statues had baskets on their heads always filled with fruits and flowers. Morrel had looked carelessly around, and had probably noticed nothing.

“Let us talk like men,” he said, looking at the count.

“Go on!”

“Count,” said Morrel, “you are the epitome of all human knowledge, and you seem like a being descended from a wiser and more advanced world than ours.”

“There is something true in what you say,” said the count, with that smile which made him so handsome; “I have descended from a planet called grief.”

“I believe all you tell me without questioning its meaning; for instance, you told me to live, and I did live; you told me to hope, and I almost did so. I am almost inclined to ask you, as though you had experienced death, ‘is it painful to die?'”

Monte Cristo looked upon Morrel with indescribable tenderness. “Yes,” he said, “yes, doubtless it is painful, if you violently break the outer covering which obstinately begs for life. If you plunge a dagger into your flesh, if you insinuate a bullet into your brain, which the least shock disorders,—then certainly, you will suffer pain, and you will repent quitting a life for a repose you have bought at so dear a price.”

“Yes; I know that there is a secret of luxury and pain in death, as well as in life; the only thing is to understand it.”

“You have spoken truly, Maximilian; according to the care we bestow upon it, death is either a friend who rocks us gently as a nurse, or an enemy who violently drags the soul from the body. Some day, when the world is much older, and when mankind will be masters of all the destructive powers in nature, to serve for the general good of humanity; when mankind, as you were just saying, have discovered the secrets of death, then that death will become as sweet and voluptuous as a slumber in the arms of your beloved.”

“And if you wished to die, you would choose this death, count?”


Morrel extended his hand. “Now I understand,” he said, “why you had me brought here to this desolate spot, in the midst of the ocean, to this subterranean palace; it was because you loved me, was it not, count? It was because you loved me well enough to give me one of those sweet means of death of which we were speaking; a death without agony, a death which allows me to fade away while pronouncing Valentine’s name and pressing your hand.”

“Yes, you have guessed rightly, Morrel,” said the count, “that is what I intended.”

“Thanks; the idea that tomorrow I shall no longer suffer, is sweet to my heart.”

“Do you then regret nothing?”

“No,” replied Morrel.

“Not even me?” asked the count with deep emotion. Morrel’s clear eye was for the moment clouded, then it shone with unusual lustre, and a large tear rolled down his cheek.

“What,” said the count, “do you still regret anything in the world, and yet die?”

“Oh, I entreat you,” exclaimed Morrel in a low voice, “do not speak another word, count; do not prolong my punishment.” The count fancied that he was yielding, and this belief revived the horrible doubt that had overwhelmed him at the Chateau d’If. “I am endeavoring,” he thought, “to make this man happy; I look upon this restitution as a weight thrown into the scale to balance the evil I have wrought. Now, supposing I am deceived, supposing this man has not been unhappy enough to merit happiness. Alas, what would become of me who can only atone for evil by doing good?” Then he said aloud: “Listen, Morrel, I see your grief is great, but still you do not like to risk your soul.” Morrel smiled sadly. “Count,” he said, “I swear to you my soul is no longer my own.”

“Maximilian, you know I have no relation in the world. I have accustomed myself to regard you as my son: well, then, to save my son, I will sacrifice my life, nay, even my fortune.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, that you wish to quit life because you do not understand all the enjoyments which are the fruits of a large fortune. Morrel, I possess nearly a hundred millions and I give them to you; with such a fortune you can attain every wish. Are you ambitious? Every career is open to you. Overturn the world, change its character, yield to mad ideas, be even criminal—but live.”

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