The Count of Monte Cristo – Day 94 of 400

“I do not know who could if I could not,” said Caderousse. “Why, I lived almost on the same floor with the poor old man. Ah, yes, about a year after the disappearance of his son the poor old man died.”

“Of what did he die?”

“Why, the doctors called his complaint gastro-enteritis, I believe; his acquaintances say he died of grief; but I, who saw him in his dying moments, I say he died of”—Caderousse paused.

“Of what?” asked the priest, anxiously and eagerly.

“Why, of downright starvation.”

“Starvation!” exclaimed the abbe, springing from his seat. “Why, the vilest animals are not suffered to die by such a death as that. The very dogs that wander houseless and homeless in the streets find some pitying hand to cast them a mouthful of bread; and that a man, a Christian, should be allowed to perish of hunger in the midst of other men who call themselves Christians, is too horrible for belief. Oh, it is impossible—utterly impossible!”

“What I have said, I have said,” answered Caderousse.

“And you are a fool for having said anything about it,” said a voice from the top of the stairs. “Why should you meddle with what does not concern you?”

The two men turned quickly, and saw the sickly countenance of La Carconte peering between the baluster rails; attracted by the sound of voices, she had feebly dragged herself down the stairs, and, seated on the lower step, head on knees, she had listened to the foregoing conversation. “Mind your own business, wife,” replied Caderousse sharply. “This gentleman asks me for information, which common politeness will not permit me to refuse.”

“Politeness, you simpleton!” retorted La Carconte. “What have you to do with politeness, I should like to know? Better study a little common prudence. How do you know the motives that person may have for trying to extract all he can from you?”

“I pledge you my word, madam,” said the abbe, “that my intentions are good; and that you husband can incur no risk, provided he answers me candidly.”

“Ah, that’s all very fine,” retorted the woman. “Nothing is easier than to begin with fair promises and assurances of nothing to fear; but when poor, silly folks, like my husband there, have been persuaded to tell all they know, the promises and assurances of safety are quickly forgotten; and at some moment when nobody is expecting it, behold trouble and misery, and all sorts of persecutions, are heaped on the unfortunate wretches, who cannot even see whence all their afflictions come.”

“Nay, nay, my good woman, make yourself perfectly easy, I beg of you. Whatever evils may befall you, they will not be occasioned by my instrumentality, that I solemnly promise you.”

La Carconte muttered a few inarticulate words, then let her head again drop upon her knees, and went into a fit of ague, leaving the two speakers to resume the conversation, but remaining so as to be able to hear every word they uttered. Again the abbe had been obliged to swallow a draught of water to calm the emotions that threatened to overpower him. When he had sufficiently recovered himself, he said, “It appears, then, that the miserable old man you were telling me of was forsaken by every one. Surely, had not such been the case, he would not have perished by so dreadful a death.”

“Why, he was not altogether forsaken,” continued Caderousse, “for Mercedes the Catalan and Monsieur Morrel were very kind to him; but somehow the poor old man had contracted a profound hatred for Fernand—the very person,” added Caderousse with a bitter smile, “that you named just now as being one of Dantes’ faithful and attached friends.”

“And was he not so?” asked the abbe.

“Gaspard, Gaspard!” murmured the woman, from her seat on the stairs, “mind what you are saying!” Caderousse made no reply to these words, though evidently irritated and annoyed by the interruption, but, addressing the abbe, said, “Can a man be faithful to another whose wife he covets and desires for himself? But Dantes was so honorable and true in his own nature, that he believed everybody’s professions of friendship. Poor Edmond, he was cruelly deceived; but it was fortunate that he never knew, or he might have found it more difficult, when on his deathbed, to pardon his enemies. And, whatever people may say,” continued Caderousse, in his native language, which was not altogether devoid of rude poetry, “I cannot help being more frightened at the idea of the malediction of the dead than the hatred of the living.”

“Imbecile!” exclaimed La Carconte.

“Do you, then, know in what manner Fernand injured Dantes?” inquired the abbe of Caderousse.

“Do I? No one better.”

“Speak out then, say what it was!”

“Gaspard!” cried La Carconte, “do as you will; you are master—but if you take my advice you’ll hold your tongue.”

“Well, wife,” replied Caderousse, “I don’t know but what you’re right!”

“So you will say nothing?” asked the abbe.

“Why, what good would it do?” asked Caderousse. “If the poor lad were living, and came to me and begged that I would candidly tell which were his true and which his false friends, why, perhaps, I should not hesitate. But you tell me he is no more, and therefore can have nothing to do with hatred or revenge, so let all such feeling be buried with him.”

“You prefer, then,” said the abbe, “that I should bestow on men you say are false and treacherous, the reward intended for faithful friendship?”

“That is true enough,” returned Caderousse. “You say truly, the gift of poor Edmond was not meant for such traitors as Fernand and Danglars; besides, what would it be to them? no more than a drop of water in the ocean.”

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