The Count of Monte Cristo – Day 98 of 400

“Horrible!” ejaculated the priest.

“And it is thus heaven recompenses virtue, sir,” added Caderousse. “You see, I, who never did a bad action but that I have told you of—am in destitution, with my poor wife dying of fever before my very eyes, and I unable to do anything in the world for her; I shall die of hunger, as old Dantes did, while Fernand and Danglars are rolling in wealth.”

“How is that?”

“Because their deeds have brought them good fortune, while honest men have been reduced to misery.”

“What has become of Danglars, the instigator, and therefore the most guilty?”

“What has become of him? Why, he left Marseilles, and was taken, on the recommendation of M. Morrel, who did not know his crime, as cashier into a Spanish bank. During the war with Spain he was employed in the commissariat of the French army, and made a fortune; then with that money he speculated in the funds, and trebled or quadrupled his capital; and, having first married his banker’s daughter, who left him a widower, he has married a second time, a widow, a Madame de Nargonne, daughter of M. de Servieux, the king’s chamberlain, who is in high favor at court. He is a millionaire, and they have made him a baron, and now he is the Baron Danglars, with a fine residence in the Rue de Mont-Blanc, with ten horses in his stables, six footmen in his ante-chamber, and I know not how many millions in his strongbox.”

“Ah!” said the abbe, in a peculiar tone, “he is happy.”

“Happy? Who can answer for that? Happiness or unhappiness is the secret known but to one’s self and the walls—walls have ears but no tongue; but if a large fortune produces happiness, Danglars is happy.”

“And Fernand?”

“Fernand? Why, much the same story.”

“But how could a poor Catalan fisher-boy, without education or resources, make a fortune? I confess this staggers me.”

“And it has staggered everybody. There must have been in his life some strange secret that no one knows.”

“But, then, by what visible steps has he attained this high fortune or high position?”

“Both, sir—he has both fortune and position—both.”

“This must be impossible!”

“It would seem so; but listen, and you will understand. Some days before the return of the emperor, Fernand was drafted. The Bourbons left him quietly enough at the Catalans, but Napoleon returned, a special levy was made, and Fernand was compelled to join. I went too; but as I was older than Fernand, and had just married my poor wife, I was only sent to the coast. Fernand was enrolled in the active troop, went to the frontier with his regiment, and was at the battle of Ligny. The night after that battle he was sentry at the door of a general who carried on a secret correspondence with the enemy. That same night the general was to go over to the English. He proposed to Fernand to accompany him; Fernand agreed to do so, deserted his post, and followed the general. Fernand would have been court-martialed if Napoleon had remained on the throne, but his action was rewarded by the Bourbons. He returned to France with the epaulet of sub-lieutenant, and as the protection of the general, who is in the highest favor, was accorded to him, he was a captain in 1823, during the Spanish war—that is to say, at the time when Danglars made his early speculations. Fernand was a Spaniard, and being sent to Spain to ascertain the feeling of his fellow-countrymen, found Danglars there, got on very intimate terms with him, won over the support of the royalists at the capital and in the provinces, received promises and made pledges on his own part, guided his regiment by paths known to himself alone through the mountain gorges which were held by the royalists, and, in fact, rendered such services in this brief campaign that, after the taking of Trocadero, he was made colonel, and received the title of count and the cross of an officer of the Legion of Honor.”

“Destiny! destiny!” murmured the abbe.

“Yes, but listen: this was not all. The war with Spain being ended, Fernand’s career was checked by the long peace which seemed likely to endure throughout Europe. Greece only had risen against Turkey, and had begun her war of independence; all eyes were turned towards Athens—it was the fashion to pity and support the Greeks. The French government, without protecting them openly, as you know, gave countenance to volunteer assistance. Fernand sought and obtained leave to go and serve in Greece, still having his name kept on the army roll. Some time after, it was stated that the Comte de Morcerf (this was the name he bore) had entered the service of Ali Pasha with the rank of instructor-general. Ali Pasha was killed, as you know, but before he died he recompensed the services of Fernand by leaving him a considerable sum, with which he returned to France, when he was gazetted lieutenant-general.”

“So that now?”—inquired the abbe.

“So that now,” continued Caderousse, “he owns a magnificent house—No. 27, Rue du Helder, Paris.” The abbe opened his mouth, hesitated for a moment, then, making an effort at self-control, he said, “And Mercedes—they tell me that she has disappeared?”

“Disappeared,” said Caderousse, “yes, as the sun disappears, to rise the next day with still more splendor.”

“Has she made a fortune also?” inquired the abbe, with an ironical smile.

“Mercedes is at this moment one of the greatest ladies in Paris,” replied Caderousse.

“Go on,” said the abbe; “it seems as if I were listening to the story of a dream. But I have seen things so extraordinary, that what you tell me seems less astonishing than it otherwise might.”

“Mercedes was at first in the deepest despair at the blow which deprived her of Edmond. I have told you of her attempts to propitiate M. de Villefort, her devotion to the elder Dantes. In the midst of her despair, a new affliction overtook her. This was the departure of Fernand—of Fernand, whose crime she did not know, and whom she regarded as her brother. Fernand went, and Mercedes remained alone. Three months passed and still she wept—no news of Edmond, no news of Fernand, no companionship save that of an old man who was dying with despair. One evening, after a day of accustomed vigil at the angle of two roads leading to Marseilles from the Catalans, she returned to her home more depressed than ever. Suddenly she heard a step she knew, turned anxiously around, the door opened, and Fernand, dressed in the uniform of a sub-lieutenant, stood before her. It was not the one she wished for most, but it seemed as if a part of her past life had returned to her. Mercedes seized Fernand’s hands with a transport which he took for love, but which was only joy at being no longer alone in the world, and seeing at last a friend, after long hours of solitary sorrow. And then, it must be confessed, Fernand had never been hated—he was only not precisely loved. Another possessed all Mercedes’ heart; that other was absent, had disappeared, perhaps was dead. At this last thought Mercedes burst into a flood of tears, and wrung her hands in agony; but the thought, which she had always repelled before when it was suggested to her by another, came now in full force upon her mind; and then, too, old Dantes incessantly said to her, ‘Our Edmond is dead; if he were not, he would return to us.’ The old man died, as I have told you; had he lived, Mercedes, perchance, had not become the wife of another, for he would have been there to reproach her infidelity. Fernand saw this, and when he learned of the old man’s death he returned. He was now a lieutenant. At his first coming he had not said a word of love to Mercedes; at the second he reminded her that he loved her. Mercedes begged for six months more in which to await and mourn for Edmond.”

“So that,” said the abbe, with a bitter smile, “that makes eighteen months in all. What more could the most devoted lover desire?” Then he murmured the words of the English poet, “‘Frailty, thy name is woman.'”

“Six months afterwards,” continued Caderousse, “the marriage took place in the church of Accoules.”

“The very church in which she was to have married Edmond,” murmured the priest; “there was only a change of bride-grooms.”

“Well, Mercedes was married,” proceeded Caderousse; “but although in the eyes of the world she appeared calm, she nearly fainted as she passed La Reserve, where, eighteen months before, the betrothal had been celebrated with him whom she might have known she still loved had she looked to the bottom of her heart. Fernand, more happy, but not more at his ease—for I saw at this time he was in constant dread of Edmond’s return—Fernand was very anxious to get his wife away, and to depart himself. There were too many unpleasant possibilities associated with the Catalans, and eight days after the wedding they left Marseilles.”

“Did you ever see Mercedes again?” inquired the priest.

“Yes, during the Spanish war, at Perpignan, where Fernand had left her; she was attending to the education of her son.” The abbe started. “Her son?” said he.

“Yes,” replied Caderousse, “little Albert.”

“But, then, to be able to instruct her child,” continued the abbe, “she must have received an education herself. I understood from Edmond that she was the daughter of a simple fisherman, beautiful but uneducated.”

“Oh,” replied Caderousse, “did he know so little of his lovely betrothed? Mercedes might have been a queen, sir, if the crown were to be placed on the heads of the loveliest and most intelligent. Fernand’s fortune was already waxing great, and she developed with his growing fortune. She learned drawing, music—everything. Besides, I believe, between ourselves, she did this in order to distract her mind, that she might forget; and she only filled her head in order to alleviate the weight on her heart. But now her position in life is assured,” continued Caderousse; “no doubt fortune and honors have comforted her; she is rich, a countess, and yet”—Caderousse paused.

“And yet what?” asked the abbe.

“Yet, I am sure, she is not happy,” said Caderousse.

“What makes you believe this?”

“Why, when I found myself utterly destitute, I thought my old friends would, perhaps, assist me. So I went to Danglars, who would not even receive me. I called on Fernand, who sent me a hundred francs by his valet-de-chambre.”

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