The Count of Monte Cristo – Day 65 of 400

“You must teach me a small part of what you know,” said Dantes, “if only to prevent your growing weary of me. I can well believe that so learned a person as yourself would prefer absolute solitude to being tormented with the company of one as ignorant and uninformed as myself. If you will only agree to my request, I promise you never to mention another word about escaping.” The abbe smiled. “Alas, my boy,” said he, “human knowledge is confined within very narrow limits; and when I have taught you mathematics, physics, history, and the three or four modern languages with which I am acquainted, you will know as much as I do myself. Now, it will scarcely require two years for me to communicate to you the stock of learning I possess.”

“Two years!” exclaimed Dantes; “do you really believe I can acquire all these things in so short a time?”

“Not their application, certainly, but their principles you may; to learn is not to know; there are the learners and the learned. Memory makes the one, philosophy the other.”

“But cannot one learn philosophy?”

“Philosophy cannot be taught; it is the application of the sciences to truth; it is like the golden cloud in which the Messiah went up into heaven.”

“Well, then,” said Dantes, “What shall you teach me first? I am in a hurry to begin. I want to learn.”

“Everything,” said the abbe. And that very evening the prisoners sketched a plan of education, to be entered upon the following day. Dantes possessed a prodigious memory, combined with an astonishing quickness and readiness of conception; the mathematical turn of his mind rendered him apt at all kinds of calculation, while his naturally poetical feelings threw a light and pleasing veil over the dry reality of arithmetical computation, or the rigid severity of geometry. He already knew Italian, and had also picked up a little of the Romaic dialect during voyages to the East; and by the aid of these two languages he easily comprehended the construction of all the others, so that at the end of six months he began to speak Spanish, English, and German. In strict accordance with the promise made to the abbe, Dantes spoke no more of escape. Perhaps the delight his studies afforded him left no room for such thoughts; perhaps the recollection that he had pledged his word (on which his sense of honor was keen) kept him from referring in any way to the possibilities of flight. Days, even months, passed by unheeded in one rapid and instructive course. At the end of a year Dantes was a new man. Dantes observed, however, that Faria, in spite of the relief his society afforded, daily grew sadder; one thought seemed incessantly to harass and distract his mind. Sometimes he would fall into long reveries, sigh heavily and involuntarily, then suddenly rise, and, with folded arms, begin pacing the confined space of his dungeon. One day he stopped all at once, and exclaimed, “Ah, if there were no sentinel!”

“There shall not be one a minute longer than you please,” said Dantes, who had followed the working of his thoughts as accurately as though his brain were enclosed in crystal so clear as to display its minutest operations.

“I have already told you,” answered the abbe, “that I loathe the idea of shedding blood.”

“And yet the murder, if you choose to call it so, would be simply a measure of self-preservation.”

“No matter! I could never agree to it.”

“Still, you have thought of it?”

“Incessantly, alas!” cried the abbe.

“And you have discovered a means of regaining our freedom, have you not?” asked Dantes eagerly.

“I have; if it were only possible to place a deaf and blind sentinel in the gallery beyond us.”

“He shall be both blind and deaf,” replied the young man, with an air of determination that made his companion shudder.

“No, no,” cried the abbe; “impossible!” Dantes endeavored to renew the subject; the abbe shook his head in token of disapproval, and refused to make any further response. Three months passed away.

“Are you strong?” the abbe asked one day of Dantes. The young man, in reply, took up the chisel, bent it into the form of a horseshoe, and then as readily straightened it.

“And will you engage not to do any harm to the sentry, except as a last resort?”

“I promise on my honor.”

“Then,” said the abbe, “we may hope to put our design into execution.”

“And how long shall we be in accomplishing the necessary work?”

“At least a year.”

“And shall we begin at once?”

“At once.”

“We have lost a year to no purpose!” cried Dantes.

“Do you consider the last twelve months to have been wasted?” asked the abbe.

“Forgive me!” cried Edmond, blushing deeply.

“Tut, tut!” answered the abbe, “man is but man after all, and you are about the best specimen of the genus I have ever known. Come, let me show you my plan.” The abbe then showed Dantes the sketch he had made for their escape. It consisted of a plan of his own cell and that of Dantes, with the passage which united them. In this passage he proposed to drive a level as they do in mines; this level would bring the two prisoners immediately beneath the gallery where the sentry kept watch; once there, a large excavation would be made, and one of the flag-stones with which the gallery was paved be so completely loosened that at the desired moment it would give way beneath the feet of the soldier, who, stunned by his fall, would be immediately bound and gagged by Dantes before he had power to offer any resistance. The prisoners were then to make their way through one of the gallery windows, and to let themselves down from the outer walls by means of the abbe’s ladder of cords. Dantes’ eyes sparkled with joy, and he rubbed his hands with delight at the idea of a plan so simple, yet apparently so certain to succeed.

That very day the miners began their labors, with a vigor and alacrity proportionate to their long rest from fatigue and their hopes of ultimate success. Nothing interrupted the progress of the work except the necessity that each was under of returning to his cell in anticipation of the turnkey’s visits. They had learned to distinguish the almost imperceptible sound of his footsteps as he descended towards their dungeons, and happily, never failed of being prepared for his coming. The fresh earth excavated during their present work, and which would have entirely blocked up the old passage, was thrown, by degrees and with the utmost precaution, out of the window in either Faria’s or Dantes’ cell, the rubbish being first pulverized so finely that the night wind carried it far away without permitting the smallest trace to remain. More than a year had been consumed in this undertaking, the only tools for which had been a chisel, a knife, and a wooden lever; Faria still continuing to instruct Dantes by conversing with him, sometimes in one language, sometimes in another; at others, relating to him the history of nations and great men who from time to time have risen to fame and trodden the path of glory.

The abbe was a man of the world, and had, moreover, mixed in the first society of the day; he wore an air of melancholy dignity which Dantes, thanks to the imitative powers bestowed on him by nature, easily acquired, as well as that outward polish and politeness he had before been wanting in, and which is seldom possessed except by those who have been placed in constant intercourse with persons of high birth and breeding. At the end of fifteen months the level was finished, and the excavation completed beneath the gallery, and the two workmen could distinctly hear the measured tread of the sentinel as he paced to and fro over their heads.

Compelled, as they were, to await a night sufficiently dark to favor their flight, they were obliged to defer their final attempt till that auspicious moment should arrive; their greatest dread now was lest the stone through which the sentry was doomed to fall should give way before its right time, and this they had in some measure provided against by propping it up with a small beam which they had discovered in the walls through which they had worked their way. Dantes was occupied in arranging this piece of wood when he heard Faria, who had remained in Edmond’s cell for the purpose of cutting a peg to secure their rope-ladder, call to him in a tone indicative of great suffering. Dantes hastened to his dungeon, where he found him standing in the middle of the room, pale as death, his forehead streaming with perspiration, and his hands clinched tightly together.

“Gracious heavens!” exclaimed Dantes, “what is the matter? what has happened?”

“Quick! quick!” returned the abbe, “listen to what I have to say.” Dantes looked in fear and wonder at the livid countenance of Faria, whose eyes, already dull and sunken, were surrounded by purple circles, while his lips were white as those of a corpse, and his very hair seemed to stand on end.

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