Towards the beginning of the year 1838, two young men belonging to the firs_ociety of Paris, the Vicomte Albert de Morcerf and the Baron Franz d'Epinay, were at Florence. They had agreed to see the Carnival at Rome that year, an_hat Franz, who for the last three or four years had inhabited Italy, shoul_ct as cicerone to Albert. As it is no inconsiderable affair to spend th_arnival at Rome, especially when you have no great desire to sleep on th_iazza del Popolo, or the Campo Vaccino, they wrote to Signor Pastrini, th_roprietor of the Hotel de Londres, Piazza di Spagna, to reserve comfortabl_partments for them. Signor Pastrini replied that he had only two rooms and _arlor on the third floor, which he offered at the low charge of a louis pe_iem. They accepted his offer; but wishing to make the best use of the tim_hat was left, Albert started for Naples. As for Franz, he remained a_lorence, and after having passed a few days in exploring the paradise of th_ascine, and spending two or three evenings at the houses of the Florentin_obility, he took a fancy into his head (having already visited Corsica, th_radle of Bonaparte) to visit Elba, the waiting-place of Napoleon.
One evening he cast off the painter of a sailboat from the iron ring tha_ecured it to the dock at Leghorn, wrapped himself in his coat and lay down, and said to the crew, — "To the Island of Elba!" The boat shot out of th_arbor like a bird and the next morning Franz disembarked at Porto-Ferrajo. H_raversed the island, after having followed the traces which the footsteps o_he giant have left, and re-embarked for Marciana. Two hours after he agai_anded at Pianosa, where he was assured that red partridges abounded. Th_port was bad; Franz only succeeded in killing a few partridges, and, lik_very unsuccessful sportsman, he returned to the boat very much out of temper.
"Ah, if your excellency chose," said the captain, "you might have capita_port."
"Do you see that island?" continued the captain, pointing to a conical pil_ising from the indigo sea.
"Well, what is this island?"
"The Island of Monte Cristo."
"But I have no permission to shoot over this island."
"Your excellency does not require a permit, for the island is uninhabited."
"Ah, indeed!" said the young man. "A desert island in the midst of th_editerranean must be a curiosity."
"It is very natural; this island is a mass of rocks, and does not contain a_cre of land capable of cultivation."
"To whom does this island belong?"
"What game shall I find there!"
"Thousands of wild goats."
"Who live upon the stones, I suppose," said Franz with an incredulous smile.
"No, but by browsing the shrubs and trees that grow out of the crevices of th_ocks."
"Where can I sleep?"
"On shore in the grottos, or on board in your cloak; besides, if you_xcellency pleases, we can leave as soon as you like — we can sail as well b_ight as by day, and if the wind drops we can use our oars."
As Franz had sufficient time, and his apartments at Rome were not ye_vailable, he accepted the proposition. Upon his answer in the affirmative, the sailors exchanged a few words together in a low tone. "Well," asked he,
"what now? Is there any difficulty in the way?"
"No." replied the captain, "but we must warn your excellency that the islan_s an infected port."
"What do you mean?"
"Monte Cristo although uninhabited, yet serves occasionally as a refuge fo_he smugglers and pirates who come from Corsica, Sardinia, and Africa, and i_t becomes known that we have been there, we shall have to perform quarantin_or six days on our return to Leghorn."
"The deuce! That puts a different face on the matter. Six days! Why, that's a_ong as the Almighty took to make the world! Too long a wait — too long."
"But who will say your excellency has been to Monte Cristo?"
"Oh, I shall not," cried Franz.
"Nor I, nor I," chorused the sailors.
"Then steer for Monte Cristo."
The captain gave his orders, the helm was put up, and the boat was soo_ailing in the direction of the island. Franz waited until all was in order, and when the sail was filled, and the four sailors had taken their places — three forward, and one at the helm — he resumed the conversation. "Gaetano,"
said he to the captain, "you tell me Monte Cristo serves as a refuge fo_irates, who are, it seems to me, a very different kind of game from th_oats."
"Yes, your excellency, and it is true."
"I knew there were smugglers, but I thought that since the capture of Algiers, and the destruction of the regency, pirates existed only in the romances o_ooper and Captain Marryat."
"Your excellency is mistaken; there are pirates, like the bandits who wer_elieved to have been exterminated by Pope Leo XII., and who yet, every day, rob travellers at the gates of Rome. Has not your excellency heard that th_rench charge d'affaires was robbed six months ago within five hundred pace_f Velletri?"
"Oh, yes, I heard that."
"Well, then, if, like us, your excellency lived at Leghorn, you would hear, from time to time, that a little merchant vessel, or an English yacht that wa_xpected at Bastia, at Porto-Ferrajo, or at Civita Vecchia, has not arrived; no one knows what has become of it, but, doubtless, it has struck on a roc_nd foundered. Now this rock it has met has been a long and narrow boat, manned by six or eight men, who have surprised and plundered it, some dark an_tormy night, near some desert and gloomy island, as bandits plunder _arriage in the recesses of a forest."
"But," asked Franz, who lay wrapped in his cloak at the bottom of the boat,
"why do not those who have been plundered complain to the French, Sardinian, or Tuscan governments?"
"Why?" said Gaetano with a smile.
"Because, in the first place, they transfer from the vessel to their own boa_hatever they think worth taking, then they bind the crew hand and foot, the_ttach to every one's neck a four and twenty pound ball, a large hole i_hopped in the vessel's bottom, and then they leave her. At the end of te_inutes the vessel begins to roll heavily and settle down. First one gun'_oes under, then the other. Then they lift and sink again, and both go unde_t once. All at once there's a noise like a cannon — that's the air blowing u_he deck. Soon the water rushes out of the scupper-holes like a whal_pouting, the vessel gives a last groan, spins round and round, an_isappears, forming a vast whirlpool in the ocean, and then all is over, s_hat in five minutes nothing but the eye of God can see the vessel where sh_ies at the bottom of the sea. Do you understand now," said the captain, "wh_o complaints are made to the government, and why the vessel never reache_ort?"
It is probable that if Gaetano had related this previous to proposing th_xpedition, Franz would have hesitated, but now that they had started, h_hought it would be cowardly to draw back. He was one of those men who do no_ashly court danger, but if danger presents itself, combat it with the mos_nalterable coolness. Calm and resolute, he treated any peril as he would a_dversary in a duel, — calculated its probable method of approach; retreated, if at all, as a point of strategy and not from cowardice; was quick to see a_pening for attack, and won victory at a single thrust. "Bah!" said he, "_ave travelled through Sicily and Calabria — I have sailed two months in th_rchipelago, and yet I never saw even the shadow of a bandit or a pirate."
"I did not tell your excellency this to deter you from your project," replie_aetano, "but you questioned me, and I have answered; that's all."
"Yes, and your conversation is most interesting; and as I wish to enjoy it a_ong as possible, steer for Monte Cristo."
The wind blew strongly, the boat made six or seven knots an hour, and the_ere rapidly reaching the end of their voyage. As they drew near the islan_eemed to lift from the sea, and the air was so clear that they could alread_istinguish the rocks heaped on one another, like cannon balls in an arsenal, with green bushes and trees growing in the crevices. As for the sailors, although they appeared perfectly tranquil yet it was evident that they were o_he alert, and that they carefully watched the glassy surface over which the_ere sailing, and on which a few fishing-boats, with their white sails, wer_lone visible. They were within fifteen miles of Monte Cristo when the su_egan to set behind Corsica, whose mountains appeared against the sky, showin_heir rugged peaks in bold relief; this mass of rock, like the gian_damastor, rose dead ahead, a formidable barrier, and intercepting the ligh_hat gilded its massive peaks so that the voyagers were in shadow. Little b_ittle the shadow rose higher and seemed to drive before it the last rays o_he expiring day; at last the reflection rested on the summit of the mountain, where it paused an instant, like the fiery crest of a volcano, then gloo_radually covered the summit as it had covered the base, and the island no_nly appeared to be a gray mountain that grew continually darker; half an hou_fter, the night was quite dark.
Fortunately, the mariners were used to these latitudes, and knew every rock i_he Tuscan Archipelago; for in the midst of this obscurity Franz was no_ithout uneasiness — Corsica had long since disappeared, and Monte Crist_tself was invisible; but the sailors seemed, like the lynx, to see in th_ark, and the pilot who steered did not evince the slightest hesitation. A_our had passed since the sun had set, when Franz fancied he saw, at a quarte_f a mile to the left, a dark mass, but he could not precisely make out wha_t was, and fearing to excite the mirth of the sailors by mistaking a floatin_loud for land, he remained silent; suddenly a great light appeared on th_trand; land might resemble a cloud, but the fire was not a meteor. "What i_his light?" asked he.
"Hush!" said the captain; "it is a fire."
"But you told me the island was uninhabited?"
"I said there were no fixed habitations on it, but I said also that it serve_ometimes as a harbor for smugglers."
"And for pirates?"
"And for pirates," returned Gaetano, repeating Franz's words. "It is for tha_eason I have given orders to pass the island, for, as you see, the fire i_ehind us."
"But this fire?" continued Franz. "It seems to me rather reassuring tha_therwise; men who did not wish to be seen would not light a fire."
"Oh, that goes for nothing," said Gaetano. "If you can guess the position o_he island in the darkness, you will see that the fire cannot be seen from th_ide or from Pianosa, but only from the sea."
"You think, then, this fire indicates the presence of unpleasant neighbors?"
"That is what we must find out," returned Gaetano, fixing his eyes on thi_errestrial star.
"How can you find out?"
"You shall see." Gaetano consulted with his companions, and after fiv_inutes' discussion a manoeuvre was executed which caused the vessel to tac_bout, they returned the way they had come, and in a few minutes the fir_isappeared, hidden by an elevation of the land. The pilot again changed th_ourse of the boat, which rapidly approached the island, and was soon withi_ifty paces of it. Gaetano lowered the sail, and the boat came to rest. Al_his was done in silence, and from the moment that their course was change_ot a word was spoken.
Gaetano, who had proposed the expedition, had taken all the responsibility o_imself; the four sailors fixed their eyes on him, while they got out thei_ars and held themselves in readiness to row away, which, thanks to th_arkness, would not be difficult. As for Franz, he examined his arms with th_tmost coolness; he had two double-barrelled guns and a rifle; he loaded them, looked at the priming, and waited quietly. During this time the captain ha_hrown off his vest and shirt, and secured his trousers round his waist; hi_eet were naked, so he had no shoes and stockings to take off; after thes_reparations he placed his finger on his lips, and lowering himsel_oiselessly into the sea, swam towards the shore with such precaution that i_as impossible to hear the slightest sound; he could only be traced by th_hosphorescent line in his wake. This track soon disappeared; it was eviden_hat he had touched the shore. Every one on board remained motionless for hal_n hour, when the same luminous track was again observed, and the swimmer wa_oon on board. "Well?" exclaimed Franz and the sailors in unison.
"They are Spanish smugglers," said he; "they have with them two Corsica_andits."
"And what are these Corsican bandits doing here with Spanish smugglers?"
"Alas," returned the captain with an accent of the most profound pity, "w_ught always to help one another. Very often the bandits are hard pressed b_endarmes or carbineers; well, they see a vessel, and good fellows like us o_oard, they come and demand hospitality of us; you can't refuse help to a poo_unted devil; we receive them, and for greater security we stand out to sea.
This costs us nothing, and saves the life, or at least the liberty, of _ellow-creature, who on the first occasion returns the service by pointing ou_ome safe spot where we can land our goods without interruption."
"Ah!" said Franz, "then you are a smuggler occasionally, Gaetano?"
"Your excellency, we must live somehow," returned the other, smilin_mpenetrably.
"Then you know the men who are now on Monte Cristo?"
"Oh, yes, we sailors are like freemasons, and recognize each other by signs."
"And do you think we have nothing to fear if we land?"
"Nothing at all; smugglers are not thieves."
"But these two Corsican bandits?" said Franz, calculating the chances o_eril.
"It is not their fault that they are bandits, but that of the authorities."
"Because they are pursued for having made a stiff, as if it was not in _orsican's nature to revenge himself."
"What do you mean by having made a stiff? — having assassinated a man?" sai_ranz, continuing his investigation.
"I mean that they have killed an enemy, which is a very different thing,"
returned the captain.
"Well," said the young man, "let us demand hospitality of these smugglers an_andits. Do you think they will grant it?"
"How many are they?"
"Four, and the two bandits make six."
"Just our number, so that if they prove troublesome, we shall be able to hol_hem in check; so, for the last time, steer to Monte Cristo."
"Yes, but your excellency will permit us to take all due precautions."
"By all means, be as wise as Nestor and as prudent as Ulysses; I do more tha_ermit, I exhort you."
"Silence, then!" said Gaetano.
Every one obeyed. For a man who, like Franz, viewed his position in its tru_ight, it was a grave one. He was alone in the darkness with sailors whom h_id not know, and who had no reason to be devoted to him; who knew that he ha_everal thousand francs in his belt, and who had often examined his weapons, — which were very beautiful, — if not with envy, at least with curiosity. On th_ther hand, he was about to land, without any other escort than these men, o_n island which had, indeed, a very religious name, but which did not seem t_ranz likely to afford him much hospitality, thanks to the smugglers an_andits. The history of the scuttled vessels, which had appeared improbabl_uring the day, seemed very probable at night; placed as he was between tw_ossible sources of danger, he kept his eye on the crew, and his gun in hi_and. The sailors had again hoisted sail, and the vessel was once mor_leaving the waves. Through the darkness Franz, whose eyes were now mor_ccustomed to it, could see the looming shore along which the boat wa_ailing, and then, as they rounded a rocky point, he saw the fire mor_rilliant than ever, and about it five or six persons seated. The blaz_llumined the sea for a hundred paces around. Gaetano skirted the light, carefully keeping the boat in the shadow; then, when they were opposite th_ire, he steered to the centre of the circle, singing a fishing song, of whic_is companions sung the chorus. At the first words of the song the men seate_ound the fire arose and approached the landing-place, their eyes fixed on th_oat, evidently seeking to know who the new-comers were and what were thei_ntentions. They soon appeared satisfied and returned (with the exception o_ne, who remained at the shore) to their fire, at which the carcass of a goa_as roasting. When the boat was within twenty paces of the shore, the man o_he beach, who carried a carbine, presented arms after the manner of _entinel, and cried, "Who comes there?" in Sardinian. Franz coolly cocked bot_arrels. Gaetano then exchanged a few words with this man which the travelle_id not understand, but which evidently concerned him. "Will your excellenc_ive your name, or remain incognito?" asked the captain.
"My name must rest unknown, — merely say I am a Frenchman travelling fo_leasure." As soon as Gaetano had transmitted this answer, the sentinel gav_n order to one of the men seated round the fire, who rose and disappeare_mong the rocks. Not a word was spoken, every one seemed occupied, Franz wit_is disembarkment, the sailors with their sails, the smugglers with thei_oat; but in the midst of all this carelessness it was evident that the_utually observed each other. The man who had disappeared returned suddenly o_he opposite side to that by which he had left; he made a sign with his hea_o the sentinel, who, turning to the boat, said, "S'accommodi." The Italia_'accommodi is untranslatable; it means at once, "Come, enter, you ar_elcome; make yourself at home; you are the master." It is like that Turkis_hrase of Moliere's that so astonished the bourgeois gentleman by the numbe_f things implied in its utterance. The sailors did not wait for a secon_nvitation; four strokes of the oar brought them to land; Gaetano sprang t_hore, exchanged a few words with the sentinel, then his comrades disembarked, and lastly came Franz. One of his guns was swung over his shoulder, Gaetan_ad the other, and a sailor held his rifle; his dress, half artist, hal_andy, did not excite any suspicion, and, consequently, no disquietude. Th_oat was moored to the shore, and they advanced a few paces to find _omfortable bivouac; but, doubtless, the spot they chose did not suit th_muggler who filled the post of sentinel, for he cried out, "Not that way, i_ou please."
Gaetano faltered an excuse, and advanced to the opposite side, while tw_ailors kindled torches at the fire to light them on their way. They advance_bout thirty paces, and then stopped at a small esplanade surrounded wit_ocks, in which seats had been cut, not unlike sentry-boxes. Around in th_revices of the rocks grew a few dwarf oaks and thick bushes of myrtles. Fran_owered a torch, and saw by the mass of cinders that had accumulated that h_as not the first to discover this retreat, which was, doubtless, one of th_alting-places of the wandering visitors of Monte Cristo. As for hi_uspicions, once on terra firma, once that he had seen the indifferent, if no_riendly, appearance of his hosts, his anxiety had quite disappeared, o_ather, at sight of the goat, had turned to appetite. He mentioned this t_aetano, who replied that nothing could be more easy than to prepare a suppe_hen they had in their boat, bread, wine, half a dozen partridges, and a goo_ire to roast them by. "Besides," added he, "if the smell of their roast mea_empts you, I will go and offer them two of our birds for a slice."
"You are a born diplomat," returned Franz; "go and try."
Meanwhile the sailors had collected dried sticks and branches with which the_ade a fire. Franz waited impatiently, inhaling the aroma of the roasted meat, when the captain returned with a mysterious air.
"Well," said Franz, "anything new? — do they refuse?"
"On the contrary," returned Gaetano, "the chief, who was told you were a youn_renchman, invites you to sup with him."
"Well," observed Franz, "this chief is very polite, and I see no objection — the more so as I bring my share of the supper."
"Oh, it is not that; he has plenty, and to spare, for supper; but he makes on_ondition, and rather a peculiar one, before he will receive you at hi_ouse."
"His house? Has he built one here, then?"
"No; but he has a very comfortable one all the same, so they say."
"You know this chief, then?"
"I have heard talk of him."
"Favorably or otherwise?"
"The deuce! — and what is this condition?"
"That you are blindfolded, and do not take off the bandage until he himsel_ids you." Franz looked at Gaetano, to see, if possible, what he thought o_his proposal. "Ah," replied he, guessing Franz's thought, "I know this is _erious matter."
"What should you do in my place?"
"I, who have nothing to lose, — I should go."
"You would accept?"
"Yes, were it only out of curiosity."
"There is something very peculiar about this chief, then?"
"Listen," said Gaetano, lowering his voice, "I do not know if what they say i_rue" — he stopped to see if any one was near.
"What do they say?"
"That this chief inhabits a cavern to which the Pitti Palace is nothing."
"What nonsense!" said Franz, reseating himself.
"It is no nonsense; it is quite true. Cama, the pilot of the Saint Ferdinand, went in once, and he came back amazed, vowing that such treasures were only t_e heard of in fairy tales."
"Do you know," observed Franz, "that with such stories you make me think o_li Baba's enchanted cavern?"
"I tell you what I have been told."
"Then you advise me to accept?"
"Oh, I don't say that; your excellency will do as you please; I should b_orry to advise you in the matter." Franz pondered the matter for a fe_oments, concluded that a man so rich could not have any intention o_lundering him of what little he had, and seeing only the prospect of a goo_upper, accepted. Gaetano departed with the reply. Franz was prudent, an_ished to learn all he possibly could concerning his host. He turned toward_he sailor, who, during this dialogue, had sat gravely plucking the partridge_ith the air of a man proud of his office, and asked him how these men ha_anded, as no vessel of any kind was visible.
"Never mind that," returned the sailor, "I know their vessel."
"Is it a very beautiful vessel?"
"I would not wish for a better to sail round the world."
"Of what burden is she?"
"About a hundred tons; but she is built to stand any weather. She is what th_nglish call a yacht."
"Where was she built?"
"I know not; but my own opinion is she is a Genoese."
"And how did a leader of smugglers," continued Franz, "venture to build _essel designed for such a purpose at Genoa?"
"I did not say that the owner was a smuggler," replied the sailor.
"No; but Gaetano did, I thought."
"Gaetano had only seen the vessel from a distance, he had not then spoken t_ny one."
"And if this person be not a smuggler, who is he?"
"A wealthy signor, who travels for his pleasure."
"Come," thought Franz, "he is still more mysterious, since the two accounts d_ot agree."
"What is his name?"
"If you ask him he says Sinbad the Sailor; but I doubt if it be his rea_ame."
"Sinbad the Sailor?"
"And where does he reside?"
"On the sea."
"What country does he come from?"
"I do not know."
"Have you ever seen him?"
"What sort of a man is he?"
"Your excellency will judge for yourself."
"Where will he receive me?"
"No doubt in the subterranean palace Gaetano told you of."
"Have you never had the curiosity, when you have landed and found this islan_eserted, to seek for this enchanted palace?"
"Oh, yes, more than once, but always in vain; we examined the grotto all over, but we never could find the slightest trace of any opening; they say that th_oor is not opened by a key, but a magic word."
"Decidedly," muttered Franz, "this is an Arabian Nights' adventure."
"His excellency waits for you," said a voice, which he recognized as that o_he sentinel. He was accompanied by two of the yacht's crew. Franz drew hi_andkerchief from his pocket, and presented it to the man who had spoken t_im. Without uttering a word, they bandaged his eyes with a care that showe_heir apprehensions of his committing some indiscretion. Afterwards he wa_ade to promise that he would not make the least attempt to raise the bandage.
He promised. Then his two guides took his arms, and he went on, guided b_hem, and preceded by the sentinel. After going about thirty paces, he smel_he appetizing odor of the kid that was roasting, and knew thus that he wa_assing the bivouac; they then led him on about fifty paces farther, evidentl_dvancing towards that part of the shore where they would not allow Gaetano t_o — a refusal he could now comprehend. Presently, by a change in th_tmosphere, he knew that they were entering a cave; after going on for a fe_econds more he heard a crackling, and it seemed to him as though th_tmosphere again changed, and became balmy and perfumed. At length his fee_ouched on a thick and soft carpet, and his guides let go their hold of him.
There was a moment's silence, and then a voice, in excellent French, although, with a foreign accent, said, "Welcome, sir. I beg you will remove you_andage." It may be supposed, then, Franz did not wait for a repetition o_his permission, but took off the handkerchief, and found himself in th_resence of a man from thirty-eight to forty years of age, dressed in _unisian costume — that is to say, a red cap with a long blue silk tassel, _est of black cloth embroidered with gold, pantaloons of deep red, large an_ull gaiters of the same color, embroidered with gold like the vest, an_ellow slippers; he had a splendid cashmere round his waist, and a small shar_nd crooked cangiar was passed through his girdle. Although of a paleness tha_as almost livid, this man had a remarkably handsome face; his eyes wer_enetrating and sparkling; his nose, quite straight, and projecting direc_rom the brow, was of the pure Greek type, while his teeth, as white a_earls, were set off to admiration by the black mustache that encircled them.
His pallor was so peculiar, that it seemed to pertain to one who had been lon_ntombed, and who was incapable of resuming the healthy glow and hue of life.
He was not particularly tall, but extremely well made, and, like the men o_he south, had small hands and feet. But what astonished Franz, who ha_reated Gaetano's description as a fable, was the splendor of the apartment i_hich he found himself. The entire chamber was lined with crimson brocade, worked with flowers of gold. In a recess was a kind of divan, surmounted wit_ stand of Arabian swords in silver scabbards, and the handles resplenden_ith gems; from the ceiling hung a lamp of Venetian glass, of beautiful shap_nd color, while the feet rested on a Turkey carpet, in which they sunk to th_nstep; tapestry hung before the door by which Franz had entered, and also i_ront of another door, leading into a second apartment which seemed to b_rilliantly illuminated. The host gave Franz time to recover from hi_urprise, and, moreover, returned look for look, not even taking his eyes of_im. "Sir," he said, after a pause, "a thousand excuses for the precautio_aken in your introduction hither; but as, during the greater portion of th_ear, this island is deserted, if the secret of this abode were discovered. _hould doubtless, find on my return my temporary retirement in a state o_reat disorder, which would be exceedingly annoying, not for the loss i_ccasioned me, but because I should not have the certainty I now possess o_eparating myself from all the rest of mankind at pleasure. Let me no_ndeavor to make you forget this temporary unpleasantness, and offer you wha_o doubt you did not expect to find here — that is to say, a tolerable suppe_nd pretty comfortable beds."
"Ma foi, my dear sir," replied Franz, "make no apologies. I have alway_bserved that they bandage people's eyes who penetrate enchanted palaces, fo_nstance, those of Raoul in the `Huguenots,' and really I have nothing t_omplain of, for what I see makes me think of the wonders of the `Arabia_ights.'"
"Alas, I may say with Lucullus, if I could have anticipated the honor of you_isit, I would have prepared for it. But such as is my hermitage, it is a_our disposal; such as is my supper, it is yours to share, if you will. Ali, is the supper ready?" At this moment the tapestry moved aside, and a Nubian, black as ebony, and dressed in a plain white tunic, made a sign to his maste_hat all was prepared in the dining-room. "Now," said the unknown to Franz, "_o not know if you are of my opinion, but I think nothing is more annoyin_han to remain two or three hours together without knowing by name o_ppellation how to address one another. Pray observe, that I too much respec_he laws of hospitality to ask your name or title. I only request you to giv_e one by which I may have the pleasure of addressing you. As for myself, tha_ may put you at your ease, I tell you that I am generally called `Sinbad th_ailor.'"
"And I," replied Franz, "will tell you, as I only require his wonderful lam_o make me precisely like Aladdin, that I see no reason why at this moment _hould not be called Aladdin. That will keep us from going away from the Eas_hither I am tempted to think I have been conveyed by some good genius."
"Well, then, Signor Aladdin," replied the singular amphitryon, "you heard ou_epast announced, will you now take the trouble to enter the dining-room, you_umble servant going first to show the way?" At these words, moving aside th_apestry, Sinbad preceded his guest. Franz now looked upon another scene o_nchantment; the table was splendidly covered, and once convinced of thi_mportant point he cast his eyes around him. The dining-room was scarcely les_triking than the room he had just left; it was entirely of marble, wit_ntique bas-reliefs of priceless value; and at the four corners of thi_partment, which was oblong, were four magnificent statues, having baskets i_heir hands. These baskets contained four pyramids of most splendid fruit; there were Sicily pine-apples, pomegranates from Malaga, oranges from th_alearic Isles, peaches from France, and dates from Tunis. The suppe_onsisted of a roast pheasant garnished with Corsican blackbirds; a boar's ha_ith jelly, a quarter of a kid with tartar sauce, a glorious turbot, and _igantic lobster. Between these large dishes were smaller ones containin_arious dainties. The dishes were of silver, and the plates of Japanese china.
Franz rubbed his eyes in order to assure himself that this was not a dream.
Ali alone was present to wait at table, and acquitted himself so admirably, that the guest complimented his host thereupon. "Yes," replied he, while h_id the honors of the supper with much ease and grace — "yes, he is a poo_evil who is much devoted to me, and does all he can to prove it. He remember_hat I saved his life, and as he has a regard for his head, he feels som_ratitude towards me for having kept it on his shoulders." Ali approached hi_aster, took his hand, and kissed it.
"Would it be impertinent, Signor Sinbad," said Franz, "to ask you th_articulars of this kindness?"
"Oh, they are simple enough," replied the host. "It seems the fellow had bee_aught wandering nearer to the harem of the Bey of Tunis than etiquett_ermits to one of his color, and he was condemned by the bey to have hi_ongue cut out, and his hand and head cut off; the tongue the first day, th_and the second, and the head the third. I always had a desire to have a mut_n my service, so learning the day his tongue was cut out, I went to the bey, and proposed to give him for Ali a splendid double-barreled gun which I kne_e was very desirous of having. He hesitated a moment, he was so very desirou_o complete the poor devil's punishment. But when I added to the gun a_nglish cutlass with which I had shivered his highness's yataghan to pieces, the bey yielded, and agreed to forgive the hand and head, but on conditio_hat the poor fellow never again set foot in Tunis. This was a useless claus_n the bargain, for whenever the coward sees the first glimpse of the shore_f Africa, he runs down below, and can only be induced to appear again when w_re out of sight of that quarter of the globe."
Franz remained a moment silent and pensive, hardly knowing what to think o_he half-kindness, half-cruelty, with which his host related the brie_arrative. "And like the celebrated sailor whose name you have assumed," h_aid, by way of changing the conversation, "you pass your life in travelling?"
"Yes. I made a vow at a time when I little thought I should ever be able t_ccomplish it," said the unknown with a singular smile; "and I made som_thers also which I hope I may fulfil in due season." Although Sinba_ronounced these words with much calmness, his eyes gave forth gleams o_xtraordinary ferocity.
"You have suffered a great deal, sir?" said Franz inquiringly.
Sinbad started and looked fixedly at him, as he replied, "What makes yo_uppose so?"
"Everything," answered Franz, — "your voice, your look, your palli_omplexion, and even the life you lead."
"I? — I live the happiest life possible, the real life of a pasha. I am kin_f all creation. I am pleased with one place, and stay there; I get tired o_t, and leave it; I am free as a bird and have wings like one; my attendant_bey my slightest wish. Sometimes I amuse myself by delivering some bandit o_riminal from the bonds of the law. Then I have my mode of dispensing justice, silent and sure, without respite or appeal, which condemns or pardons, an_hich no one sees. Ah, if you had tasted my life, you would not desire an_ther, and would never return to the world unless you had some great projec_o accomplish there."
"Revenge, for instance!" observed Franz.
The unknown fixed on the young man one of those looks which penetrate into th_epth of the heart and thoughts. "And why revenge?" he asked.
"Because," replied Franz, "you seem to me like a man who, persecuted b_ociety, has a fearful account to settle with it."
"Ah," responded Sinbad, laughing with his singular laugh which displayed hi_hite and sharp teeth. "You have not guessed rightly. Such as you see me I am, a sort of philosopher, and one day perhaps I shall go to Paris to riva_onsieur Appert, and the little man in the blue cloak."
"And will that be the first time you ever took that journey?"
"Yes; it will. I must seem to you by no means curious, but I assure you tha_t is not my fault I have delayed it so long — it will happen one day or th_ther."
"And do you propose to make this journey very shortly?"
"I do not know; it depends on circumstances which depend on certai_rrangements."
"I should like to be there at the time you come, and I will endeavor to repa_ou, as far as lies in my power, for your liberal hospitality displayed to m_t Monte Cristo."
"I should avail myself of your offer with pleasure," replied the host, "but, unfortunately, if I go there, it will be, in all probability, incognito."
The supper appeared to have been supplied solely for Franz, for the unknow_carcely touched one or two dishes of the splendid banquet to which his gues_id ample justice. Then Ali brought on the dessert, or rather took the basket_rom the hands of the statues and placed them on the table. Between the tw_askets he placed a small silver cup with a silver cover. The care with whic_li placed this cup on the table roused Franz's curiosity. He raised the cove_nd saw a kind of greenish paste, something like preserved angelica, but whic_as perfectly unknown to him. He replaced the lid, as ignorant of what the cu_ontained as he was before he had looked at it, and then casting his eye_owards his host he saw him smile at his disappointment. "You cannot guess,"
said he, "what there is in that small vase, can you?"
"No, I really cannot."
"Well, then, that green preserve is nothing less than the ambrosia which Heb_erved at the table of Jupiter."
"But," replied Franz, "this ambrosia, no doubt, in passing through morta_ands has lost its heavenly appellation and assumed a human name; in vulga_hrase, what may you term this composition, for which, to tell the truth, I d_ot feel any particular desire?"
"Ah, thus it is that our material origin is revealed," cried Sinbad; "w_requently pass so near to happiness without seeing, without regarding it, o_f we do see and regard it, yet without recognizing it. Are you a man for th_ubstantials, and is gold your god? taste this, and the mines of Peru, Guzerat, and Golconda are opened to you. Are you a man of imagination — _oet? taste this, and the boundaries of possibility disappear; the fields o_nfinite space open to you, you advance free in heart, free in mind, into th_oundless realms of unfettered revery. Are you ambitious, and do you see_fter the greatnesses of the earth? taste this, and in an hour you will be _ing, not a king of a petty kingdom hidden in some corner of Europe lik_rance, Spain, or England, but king of the world, king of the universe, kin_f creation; without bowing at the feet of Satan, you will be king and maste_f all the kingdoms of the earth. Is it not tempting what I offer you, and i_t not an easy thing, since it is only to do thus? look!" At these words h_ncovered the small cup which contained the substance so lauded, took _easpoonful of the magic sweetmeat, raised it to his lips, and swallowed i_lowly with his eyes half shut and his head bent backwards. Franz did no_isturb him whilst he absorbed his favorite sweetmeat, but when he ha_inished, he inquired, — "What, then, is this precious stuff?"
"Did you ever hear," he replied, "of the Old Man of the Mountain, wh_ttempted to assassinate Philip Augustus?"
"Of course I have."
"Well, you know he reigned over a rich valley which was overhung by th_ountain whence he derived his picturesque name. In this valley wer_agnificent gardens planted by Hassen-ben-Sabah, and in these gardens isolate_avilions. Into these pavilions he admitted the elect, and there, says Marc_olo, gave them to eat a certain herb, which transported them to Paradise, i_he midst of ever-blooming shrubs, ever-ripe fruit, and ever-lovely virgins.
What these happy persons took for reality was but a dream; but it was a drea_o soft, so voluptuous, so enthralling, that they sold themselves body an_oul to him who gave it to them, and obedient to his orders as to those of _eity, struck down the designated victim, died in torture without a murmur, believing that the death they underwent was but a quick transition to tha_ife of delights of which the holy herb, now before you had given them _light foretaste."
"Then," cried Franz, "it is hashish! I know that — by name at least."
"That is it precisely, Signor Aladdin; it is hashish — the purest and mos_nadulterated hashish of Alexandria, — the hashish of Abou-Gor, the celebrate_aker, the only man, the man to whom there should be built a palace, inscribe_ith these words, `A grateful world to the dealer in happiness.'"
"Do you know," said Franz, "I have a very great inclination to judge fo_yself of the truth or exaggeration of your eulogies."
"Judge for yourself, Signor Aladdin — judge, but do not confine yourself t_ne trial. Like everything else, we must habituate the senses to a fres_mpression, gentle or violent, sad or joyous. There is a struggle in natur_gainst this divine substance, — in nature which is not made for joy an_lings to pain. Nature subdued must yield in the combat, the dream mus_ucceed to reality, and then the dream reigns supreme, then the dream become_ife, and life becomes the dream. But what changes occur! It is only b_omparing the pains of actual being with the joys of the assumed existence, that you would desire to live no longer, but to dream thus forever. When yo_eturn to this mundane sphere from your visionary world, you would seem t_eave a Neapolitan spring for a Lapland winter — to quit paradise for earth — heaven for hell! Taste the hashish, guest of mine — taste the hashish."
Franz's only reply was to take a teaspoonful of the marvellous preparation, about as much in quantity as his host had eaten, and lift it to his mouth.
"Diable!" he said, after having swallowed the divine preserve. "I do not kno_f the result will be as agreeable as you describe, but the thing does no_ppear to me as palatable as you say."
"Because your palate his not yet been attuned to the sublimity of th_ubstances it flavors. Tell me, the first time you tasted oysters, tea, porter, truffles, and sundry other dainties which you now adore, did you lik_hem? Could you comprehend how the Romans stuffed their pheasants wit_ssafoetida, and the Chinese eat swallows' nests? Eh? no! Well, it is the sam_ith hashish; only eat for a week, and nothing in the world will seem to yo_o equal the delicacy of its flavor, which now appears to you flat an_istasteful. Let us now go into the adjoining chamber, which is you_partment, and Ali will bring us coffee and pipes." They both arose, and whil_e who called himself Sinbad — and whom we have occasionally named so, that w_ight, like his guest, have some title by which to distinguish him — gave som_rders to the servant, Franz entered still another apartment. It was simpl_et richly furnished. It was round, and a large divan completely encircled it.
Divan, walls, ceiling, floor, were all covered with magnificent skins as sof_nd downy as the richest carpets; there were heavy-maned lion-skins fro_tlas, striped tiger-skins from Bengal; panther-skins from the Cape, spotte_eautifully, like those that appeared to Dante; bear-skins from Siberia, fox- skins from Norway, and so on; and all these skins were strewn in profusion on_n the other, so that it seemed like walking over the most mossy turf, o_eclining on the most luxurious bed. Both laid themselves down on the divan; chibouques with jasmine tubes and amber mouthpieces were within reach, and al_repared so that there was no need to smoke the same pipe twice. Each of the_ook one, which Ali lighted and then retired to prepare the coffee. There wa_ moment's silence, during which Sinbad gave himself up to thoughts tha_eemed to occupy him incessantly, even in the midst of his conversation; an_ranz abandoned himself to that mute revery, into which we always sink whe_moking excellent tobacco, which seems to remove with its fume all th_roubles of the mind, and to give the smoker in exchange all the visions o_he soul. Ali brought in the coffee. "How do you take it?" inquired th_nknown; "in the French or Turkish style, strong or weak, sugar or none, coo_r boiling? As you please; it is ready in all ways."
"I will take it in the Turkish style," replied Franz.
"And you are right," said his host; "it shows you have a tendency for a_riental life. Ah, those Orientals; they are the only men who know how t_ive. As for me," he added, with one of those singular smiles which did no_scape the young man, "when I have completed my affairs in Paris, I shall g_nd die in the East; and should you wish to see me again, you must seek me a_airo, Bagdad, or Ispahan."
"Ma foi," said Franz, "it would be the easiest thing in the world; for I fee_agle's wings springing out at my shoulders, and with those wings I could mak_ tour of the world in four and twenty hours."
"Ah, yes, the hashish is beginning its work. Well, unfurl your wings, and fl_nto superhuman regions; fear nothing, there is a watch over you; and if you_ings, like those of Icarus, melt before the sun, we are here to ease you_all." He then said something in Arabic to Ali, who made a sign of obedienc_nd withdrew, but not to any distance. As to Franz a strange transformatio_ad taken place in him. All the bodily fatigue of the day, all th_reoccupation of mind which the events of the evening had brought on, disappeared as they do at the first approach of sleep, when we are stil_ufficiently conscious to be aware of the coming of slumber. His body seeme_o acquire an airy lightness, his perception brightened in a remarkabl_anner, his senses seemed to redouble their power, the horizon continued t_xpand; but it was not the gloomy horizon of vague alarms, and which he ha_een before he slept, but a blue, transparent, unbounded horizon, with all th_lue of the ocean, all the spangles of the sun, all the perfumes of the summe_reeze; then, in the midst of the songs of his sailors, — songs so clear an_onorous, that they would have made a divine harmony had their notes bee_aken down, — he saw the Island of Monte Cristo, no longer as a threatenin_ock in the midst of the waves, but as an oasis in the desert; then, as hi_oat drew nearer, the songs became louder, for an enchanting and mysteriou_armony rose to heaven, as if some Loreley had decreed to attract a sou_hither, or Amphion, the enchanter, intended there to build a city.
At length the boat touched the shore, but without effort, without shock, a_ips touch lips; and he entered the grotto amidst continued strains of mos_elicious melody. He descended, or rather seemed to descend, several steps, inhaling the fresh and balmy air, like that which may be supposed to reig_round the grotto of Circe, formed from such perfumes as set the mind _reaming, and such fires as burn the very senses; and he saw again all he ha_een before his sleep, from Sinbad, his singular host, to Ali, the mut_ttendant; then all seemed to fade away and become confused before his eyes, like the last shadows of the magic lantern before it is extinguished, and h_as again in the chamber of statues, lighted only by one of those pale an_ntique lamps which watch in the dead of the night over the sleep of pleasure.
They were the same statues, rich in form, in attraction. and poesy, with eye_f fascination, smiles of love, and bright and flowing hair. They were Phryne, Cleopatra, Messalina, those three celebrated courtesans. Then among the_lided like a pure ray, like a Christian angel in the midst of Olympus, one o_hose chaste figures, those calm shadows, those soft visions, which seemed t_eil its virgin brow before these marble wantons. Then the three statue_dvanced towards him with looks of love, and approached the couch on which h_as reposing, their feet hidden in their long white tunics, their throat_are, hair flowing like waves, and assuming attitudes which the gods could no_esist, but which saints withstood, and looks inflexible and ardent like thos_ith which the serpent charms the bird; and then he gave way before looks tha_eld him in a torturing grasp and delighted his senses as with a voluptuou_iss. It seemed to Franz that he closed his eyes, and in a last look about hi_aw the vision of modesty completely veiled; and then followed a dream o_assion like that promised by the Prophet to the elect. Lips of stone turne_o flame, breasts of ice became like heated lava, so that to Franz, yieldin_or the first time to the sway of the drug, love was a sorrow an_oluptuousness a torture, as burning mouths were pressed to his thirsty lips, and he was held in cool serpent-like embraces. The more he strove against thi_nhallowed passion the more his senses yielded to its thrall, and at length, weary of a struggle that taxed his very soul, he gave way and sank bac_reathless and exhausted beneath the kisses of these marble goddesses, and th_nchantment of his marvellous dream.