In his whole life, perhaps, Franz had never before experienced so sudden a_mpression, so rapid a transition from gayety to sadness, as in this moment.
It seemed as though Rome, under the magic breath of some demon of the night, had suddenly changed into a vast tomb. By a chance, which added yet more t_he intensity of the darkness, the moon, which was on the wane, did not ris_ntil eleven o'clock, and the streets which the young man traversed wer_lunged in the deepest obscurity. The distance was short, and at the end o_en minutes his carriage, or rather the count's, stopped before the Hotel d_ondres. Dinner was waiting, but as Albert had told him that he should no_eturn so soon, Franz sat down without him. Signor Pastrini, who had bee_ccustomed to see them dine together, inquired into the cause of his absence, but Franz merely replied that Albert had received on the previous evening a_nvitation which he had accepted. The sudden extinction of the moccoletti, th_arkness which had replaced the light, and the silence which had succeeded th_urmoil, had left in Franz's mind a certain depression which was not free fro_neasiness. He therefore dined very silently, in spite of the officiou_ttention of his host, who presented himself two or three times to inquire i_e wanted anything.
Franz resolved to wait for Albert as late as possible. He ordered th_arriage, therefore, for eleven o'clock, desiring Signor Pastrini to infor_im the moment that Albert returned to the hotel. At eleven o'clock Albert ha_ot come back. Franz dressed himself, and went out, telling his host that h_as going to pass the night at the Duke of Bracciano's. The house of the Duk_f Bracciano is one of the most delightful in Rome, the duchess, one of th_ast heiresses of the Colonnas, does its honors with the most consummat_race, and thus their fetes have a European celebrity. Franz and Albert ha_rought to Rome letters of introduction to them, and their first question o_is arrival was to inquire the whereabouts of his travelling companion. Fran_eplied that he had left him at the moment they were about to extinguish th_occoli, and that he had lost sight of him in the Via Macello. "Then he ha_ot returned?" said the duke.
"I waited for him until this hour," replied Franz.
"And do you know whither he went?"
"No, not precisely; however, I think it was something very like a rendezvous."
"Diavolo!" said the duke, "this is a bad day, or rather a bad night, to be ou_ate; is it not, countess!" These words were addressed to the Countess G—— , who had just arrived, and was leaning on the arm of Signor Torlonia, th_uke's brother.
"I think, on the contrary, that it is a charming night," replied the countess,
"and those who are here will complain of but one thing — its too rapi_light."
"I am not speaking," said the duke with a smile, "of the persons who are here; the men run no other danger than that of falling in love with you, and th_omen of falling ill of jealousy at seeing you so lovely; I meant persons wh_ere out in the streets of Rome."
"Ah," asked the countess, "who is out in the streets of Rome at this hour, unless it be to go to a ball?"
"Our friend, Albert de Morcerf, countess, whom I left in pursuit of hi_nknown about seven o'clock this evening," said Franz, "and whom I have no_een since."
"And don't you know where he is?"
"Not at all."
"Is he armed?"
"He is in masquerade."
"You should not have allowed him to go," said the duke to Franz; "you, wh_now Rome better than he does."
"You might as well have tried to stop number three of the barberi, who gaine_he prize in the race to-day," replied Franz; "and then moreover, what coul_appen to him?"
"Who can tell? The night is gloomy, and the Tiber is very near the Vi_acello." Franz felt a shudder run through his veins at observing that th_eeling of the duke and the countess was so much in unison with his ow_ersonal disquietude. "I informed them at the hotel that I had the honor o_assing the night here, duke," said Franz, "and desired them to come an_nform me of his return."
"Ah," replied the duke, "here I think, is one of my servants who is seekin_ou."
The duke was not mistaken; when he saw Franz, the servant came up to him.
"Your excellency," he said, "the master of the Hotel de Londres has sent t_et you know that a man is waiting for you with a letter from the Viscount o_orcerf."
"A letter from the viscount!" exclaimed Franz.
"And who is the man?"
"I do not know."
"Why did he not bring it to me here?"
"The messenger did not say."
"And where is the messenger?"
"He went away directly he saw me enter the ball-room to find you."
"Oh," said the countess to Franz, "go with all speed — poor young man! Perhap_ome accident has happened to him."
"I will hasten," replied Franz.
"Shall we see you again to give us any information?" inquired the countess.
"Yes, if it is not any serious affair, otherwise I cannot answer as to what _ay do myself."
"Be prudent, in any event," said the countess.
"Oh, pray be assured of that." Franz took his hat and went away in haste. H_ad sent away his carriage with orders for it to fetch him at two o'clock; fortunately the Palazzo Bracciano, which is on one side in the Corso, and o_he other in the Square of the Holy Apostles, is hardly ten minutes' walk fro_he Hotel de Londres. As he came near the hotel, Franz saw a man in the middl_f the street. He had no doubt that it was the messenger from Albert. The ma_as wrapped up in a large cloak. He went up to him, but, to his extrem_stonishment, the stranger first addressed him. "What wants your excellency o_e?" inquired the man, retreating a step or two, as if to keep on his guard.
"Are not you the person who brought me a letter," inquired Franz, "from th_iscount of Morcerf?"
"Your excellency lodges at Pastrini's hotel?"
"Your excellency is the travelling companion of the viscount?"
"Your excellency's name" —
"Is the Baron Franz d'Epinay."
"Then it is to your excellency that this letter is addressed."
"Is there any answer?" inquired Franz, taking the letter from him.
"Yes — your friend at least hopes so."
"Come up-stairs with me, and I will give it to you."
"I prefer waiting here," said the messenger, with a smile.
"Your excellency will know when you have read the letter."
"Shall I find you here, then?"
Franz entered the hotel. On the staircase he met Signor Pastrini. "Well?" sai_he landlord.
"Well — what?" responded Franz.
"You have seen the man who desired to speak with you from your friend?" h_sked of Franz.
"Yes, I have seen him," he replied, "and he has handed this letter to me.
Light the candles in my apartment, if you please." The inn-keeper gave order_o a servant to go before Franz with a light. The young man had found Signo_astrini looking very much alarmed, and this had only made him the mor_nxious to read Albert's letter; and so he went instantly towards th_axlight, and unfolded it. It was written and signed by Albert. Franz read i_wice before he could comprehend what it contained. It was thus worded: —
My Dear Fellow, — The moment you have received this, have the kindness to tak_he letter of credit from my pocket-book, which you will find in the squar_rawer of the secretary; add your own to it, if it be not sufficient. Run t_orlonia, draw from him instantly four thousand piastres, and give them to th_earer. It is urgent that I should have this money without delay. I do not sa_ore, relying on you as you may rely on me. Your friend,
Albert de Morcerf.
P.S. — I now believe in Italian banditti.
Below these lines were written, in a strange hand, the following in Italian: —
Se alle sei della mattina le quattro mile piastre non sono nelle mie mani, alla sette il conte Alberto avra cessato di vivere.
"If by six in the morning the four thousand piastres are not in my hands, b_even o'clock the Count Albert will have ceased to live."
This second signature explained everything to Franz, who now understood th_bjection of the messenger to coming up into the apartment; the street wa_afer for him. Albert, then, had fallen into the hands of the famous bandi_hief, in whose existence he had for so long a time refused to believe. Ther_as no time to lose. He hastened to open the secretary, and found the pocket- book in the drawer, and in it the letter of credit. There were in all si_housand piastres, but of these six thousand Albert had already expended thre_housand. As to Franz, he had no letter of credit, as he lived at Florence, and had only come to Rome to pass seven or eight days; he had brought but _undred louis, and of these he had not more than fifty left. Thus seven o_ight hundred piastres were wanting to them both to make up the sum tha_lbert required. True, he might in such a case rely on the kindness of Signo_orlonia. He was, therefore, about to return to the Palazzo Bracciano withou_oss of time, when suddenly a luminous idea crossed his mind. He remembere_he Count of Monte Cristo. Franz was about to ring for Signor Pastrini, whe_hat worthy presented himself. "My dear sir," he said, hastily, "do you kno_f the count is within?"
"Yes, your excellency; he has this moment returned."
"Is he in bed?"
"I should say no."
"Then ring at his door, if you please, and request him to be so kind as t_ive me an audience." Signor Pastrini did as he was desired, and returnin_ive minutes after, he said, — "The count awaits your excellency." Franz wen_long the corridor, and a servant introduced him to the count. He was in _mall room which Franz had not yet seen, and which was surrounded with divans.
The count came towards him. "Well, what good wind blows you hither at thi_our?" said he; "have you come to sup with me? It would be very kind of you."
"No; I have come to speak to you of a very serious matter."
"A serious matter," said the count, looking at Franz with the earnestnes_sual to him; "and what may it be?"
"Are we alone?"
"Yes," replied the count, going to the door, and returning. Franz gave hi_lbert's letter. "Read that," he said. The count read it.
"Well, well!" said he.
"Did you see the postscript?"
"I did, indeed.
"`Se alle sei della mattina le quattro mile piastre non sono nelle mie mani, alla sette il conte Alberto avra cessato di vivere.
"What think you of that?" inquired Franz.
"Have you the money he demands?"
"Yes, all but eight hundred piastres." The count went to his secretary, opene_t, and pulling out a drawer filled with gold, said to Franz, — "I hope yo_ill not offend me by applying to any one but myself."
"You see, on the contrary, I come to you first and instantly," replied Franz.
"And I thank you; have what you will; "and he made a sign to Franz to tak_hat he pleased.
"Is it absolutely necessary, then, to send the money to Luigi Vampa?" aske_he young man, looking fixedly in his turn at the count.
"Judge for yourself," replied he. "The postscript is explicit."
"I think that if you would take the trouble of reflecting, you could find _ay of simplifying the negotiation," said Franz.
"How so?" returned the count, with surprise.
"If we were to go together to Luigi Vampa, I am sure he would not refuse yo_lbert's freedom."
"What influence can I possibly have over a bandit?"
"Have you not just rendered him a service that can never be forgotten?"
"What is that?"
"Have you not saved Peppino's life?"
"Well, well," said the count, "who told you that?"
"No matter; I know it." The count knit his brows, and remained silent a_nstant. "And if I went to seek Vampa, would you accompany me?"
"If my society would not be disagreeable."
"Be it so. It is a lovely night, and a walk without Rome will do us bot_ood."
"Shall I take any arms?"
"For what purpose?"
"It is useless. Where is the man who brought the letter?"
"In the street."
"He awaits the answer?"
"I must learn where we are going. I will summon him hither."
"It is useless; he would not come up."
"To your apartments, perhaps; but he will not make any difficulty at enterin_ine." The count went to the window of the apartment that looked on to th_treet, and whistled in a peculiar manner. The man in the mantle quitted th_all, and advanced into the middle of the street. "Salite!" said the count, i_he same tone in which he would have given an order to his servant. Th_essenger obeyed without the least hesitation, but rather with alacrity, and, mounting the steps at a bound, entered the hotel; five seconds afterwards h_as at the door of the room. "Ah, it is you, Peppino," said the count. Bu_eppino, instead of answering, threw himself on his knees, seized the count'_and, and covered it with kisses. "Ah," said the count, "you have, then, no_orgotten that I saved your life; that is strange, for it is a week ago."
"No, excellency; and never shall I forget it," returned Peppino, with a_ccent of profound gratitude.
"Never? That is a long time; but it is something that you believe so. Rise an_nswer." Peppino glanced anxiously at Franz. "Oh, you may speak before hi_xcellency," said he; "he is one of my friends. You allow me to give you thi_itle?" continued the count in French, "it is necessary to excite this man'_onfidence."
"You can speak before me," said Franz; "I am a friend of the count's."
"Good!" returned Peppino. "I am ready to answer any questions your excellenc_ay address to me."
"How did the Viscount Albert fall into Luigi's hands?"
"Excellency, the Frenchman's carriage passed several times the one in whic_as Teresa."
"The chief's mistress?"
"Yes. The Frenchman threw her a bouquet; Teresa returned it — all this wit_he consent of the chief, who was in the carriage."
"What?" cried Franz, "was Luigi Vampa in the carriage with the Roma_easants?"
"It was he who drove, disguised as the coachman," replied Peppino.
"Well?" said the count.
"Well, then, the Frenchman took off his mask; Teresa, with the chief'_onsent, did the same. The Frenchman asked for a rendezvous; Teresa gave hi_ne — only, instead of Teresa, it was Beppo who was on the steps of the churc_f San Giacomo."
"What!" exclaimed Franz, "the peasant girl who snatched his mocoletto fro_im" —
"Was a lad of fifteen," replied Peppino. "But it was no disgrace to you_riend to have been deceived; Beppo has taken in plenty of others."
"And Beppo led him outside the walls?" said the count.
"Exactly so; a carriage was waiting at the end of the Via Macello. Beppo go_n, inviting the Frenchman to follow him, and he did not wait to be aske_wice. He gallantly offered the right-hand seat to Beppo, and sat by him.
Beppo told him he was going to take him to a villa a league from Rome; th_renchman assured him he would follow him to the end of the world. Th_oachman went up the Via di Ripetta and the Porta San Paola; and when the_ere two hundred yards outside, as the Frenchman became somewhat too forward, Beppo put a brace of pistols to his head, the coachman pulled up and did th_ame. At the same time, four of the band, who were concealed on the banks o_he Almo, surrounded the carriage. The Frenchman made some resistance, an_early strangled Beppo; but he could not resist five armed men. and was force_o yield. They made him get out, walk along the banks of the river, and the_rought him to Teresa and Luigi, who were waiting for him in the catacombs o_t. Sebastian."
"Well," said the count, turning towards Franz, "it seems to me that this is _ery likely story. What do you say to it?"
"Why, that I should think it very amusing," replied Franz, "if it had happene_o any one but poor Albert."
"And, in truth, if you had not found me here," said the count, "it might hav_roved a gallant adventure which would have cost your friend dear; but now, b_ssured, his alarm will be the only serious consequence."
"And shall we go and find him?" inquired Franz.
"Oh, decidedly, sir. He is in a very picturesque place — do you know th_atacombs of St. Sebastian?"
"I was never in them; but I have often resolved to visit them."
"Well, here is an opportunity made to your hand, and it would be difficult t_ontrive a better. Have you a carriage?"
"That is of no consequence; I always have one ready, day and night."
"Yes. I am a very capricious being, and I should tell you that sometimes whe_ rise, or after my dinner, or in the middle of the night, I resolve o_tarting for some particular point, and away I go." The count rang, and _ootman appeared. "Order out the carriage," he said, "and remove the pistol_hich are in the holsters. You need not awaken the coachman; Ali will drive."
In a very short time the noise of wheels was heard, and the carriage stoppe_t the door. The count took out his watch. "Half-past twelve," he said. "W_ight start at five o'clock and be in time, but the delay may cause you_riend to pass an uneasy night, and therefore we had better go with all spee_o extricate him from the hands of the infidels. Are you still resolved t_ccompany me?"
"More determined than ever."
"Well, then, come along."
Franz and the count went downstairs, accompanied by Peppino. At the door the_ound the carriage. Ali was on the box, in whom Franz recognized the dum_lave of the grotto of Monte Cristo. Franz and the count got into th_arriage. Peppino placed himself beside Ali, and they set off at a rapid pace.
Ali had received his instructions, and went down the Corso, crossed the Camp_accino, went up the Strada San Gregorio, and reached the gates of St.
Sebastian. Then the porter raised some difficulties, but the Count of Mont_risto produced a permit from the governor of Rome, allowing him to leave o_nter the city at any hour of the day or night; the portcullis was therefor_aised, the porter had a louis for his trouble, and they went on their way.
The road which the carriage now traversed was the ancient Appian Way, an_ordered with tombs. From time to time, by the light of the moon, which bega_o rise, Franz imagined that he saw something like a sentinel appear a_arious points among the ruins, and suddenly retreat into the darkness on _ignal from Peppino. A short time before they reached the Baths of Caracall_he carriage stopped, Peppino opened the door, and the count and Fran_lighted.
"In ten minutes," said the count to his companion, "we shall be there."
He then took Peppino aside, gave him an order in a low voice, and Peppino wen_way, taking with him a torch, brought with them in the carriage. Five minute_lapsed, during which Franz saw the shepherd going along a narrow path tha_ed over the irregular and broken surface of the Campagna; and finally h_isappeared in the midst of the tall red herbage, which seemed like th_ristling mane of an enormous lion. "Now," said the count, "let us follo_im." Franz and the count in their turn then advanced along the same path, which, at the distance of a hundred paces, led them over a declivity to th_ottom of a small valley. They then perceived two men conversing in th_bscurity. "Ought we to go on?" asked Franz of the count; "or shall we wai_while?"
"Let us go on; Peppino will have warned the sentry of our coming." One of th_wo men was Peppino, and the other a bandit on the lookout. Franz and th_ount advanced, and the bandit saluted them. "Your excellency," said Peppino, addressing the count, "if you will follow me, the opening of the catacombs i_lose at hand."
"Go on, then," replied the count. They came to an opening behind a clump o_ushes and in the midst of a pile of rocks, by which a man could scarcel_ass. Peppino glided first into this crevice; after they got along a few pace_he passage widened. Peppino passed, lighted his torch, and turned to see i_hey came after him. The count first reached an open space and Franz followe_im closely. The passageway sloped in a gentle descent, enlarging as the_roceeded; still Franz and the count were compelled to advance in a stoopin_osture, and were scarcely able to proceed abreast of one another. They wen_n a hundred and fifty paces in this way, and then were stopped by, "Who come_here?" At the same time they saw the reflection of a torch on a carbin_arrel.
"A friend!" responded Peppino; and, advancing alone towards the sentry, h_aid a few words to him in a low tone; and then he, like the first, salute_he nocturnal visitors, making a sign that they might proceed.
Behind the sentinel was a staircase with twenty steps. Franz and the coun_escended these, and found themselves in a mortuary chamber. Five corridor_iverged like the rays of a star, and the walls, dug into niches, which wer_rranged one above the other in the shape of coffins, showed that they were a_ast in the catacombs. Down one of the corridors, whose extent it wa_mpossible to determine, rays of light were visible. The count laid his han_n Franz's shoulder. "Would you like to see a camp of bandits in repose?" h_nquired.
"Exceedingly," replied Franz.
"Come with me, then. Peppino, put out the torch." Peppino obeyed, and Fran_nd the count were in utter darkness, except that fifty paces in advance o_hem a reddish glare, more evident since Peppino had put out his torch, wa_isible along the wall. They advanced silently, the count guiding Franz as i_e had the singular faculty of seeing in the dark. Franz himself, however, sa_is way more plainly in proportion as he went on towards the light, whic_erved in some manner as a guide. Three arcades were before them, and th_iddle one was used as a door. These arcades opened on one side into th_orridor where the count and Franz were, and on the other into a large squar_hamber, entirely surrounded by niches similar to those of which we hav_poken. In the midst of this chamber were four stones, which had formerl_erved as an altar, as was evident from the cross which still surmounted them.
A lamp, placed at the base of a pillar, lighted up with its pale an_lickering flame the singular scene which presented itself to the eyes of th_wo visitors concealed in the shadow. A man was seated with his elbow leanin_n the column, and was reading with his back turned to the arcades, throug_he openings of which the newcomers contemplated him. This was the chief o_he band, Luigi Vampa. Around him, and in groups, according to their fancy, lying in their mantles, or with their backs against a sort of stone bench, which went all round the columbarium, were to be seen twenty brigands or more, each having his carbine within reach. At the other end, silent, scarcel_isible, and like a shadow, was a sentinel, who was walking up and down befor_ grotto, which was only distinguishable because in that spot the darknes_eemed more dense than elsewhere. When the count thought Franz had gaze_ufficiently on this picturesque tableau, he raised his finger to his lips, t_arn him to be silent, and, ascending the three steps which led to th_orridor of the columbarium, entered the chamber by the middle arcade, an_dvanced towards Vampa, who was so intent on the book before him that he di_ot hear the noise of his footsteps.
"Who comes there?" cried the sentinel, who was less abstracted, and who saw b_he lamp-light a shadow approaching his chief. At this challenge, Vampa ros_uickly, drawing at the same moment a pistol from his girdle. In a moment al_he bandits were on their feet, and twenty carbines were levelled at th_ount. "Well," said he in a voice perfectly calm, and no muscle of hi_ountenance disturbed, "well, my dear Vampa, it appears to me that you receiv_ friend with a great deal of ceremony."
"Ground arms," exclaimed the chief, with an imperative sign of the hand, whil_ith the other he took off his hat respectfully; then, turning to the singula_ersonage who had caused this scene, he said, "Your pardon, your excellency, but I was so far from expecting the honor of a visit, that I did not reall_ecognize you."
"It seems that your memory is equally short in everything, Vampa," said th_ount, "and that not only do you forget people's faces, but also th_onditions you make with them."
"What conditions have I forgotten, your excellency?" inquired the bandit, wit_he air of a man who, having committed an error, is anxious to repair it.
"Was it not agreed," asked the count, "that not only my person, but also tha_f my friends, should be respected by you?"
"And how have I broken that treaty, your excellency?"
"You have this evening carried off and conveyed hither the Vicomte Albert d_orcerf. Well," continued the count, in a tone that made Franz shudder, "thi_oung gentleman is one of my friends — this young gentleman lodges in the sam_otel as myself — this young gentleman has been up and down the Corso fo_ight hours in my private carriage, and yet, I repeat to you, you have carrie_im off, and conveyed him hither, and," added the count, taking the lette_rom his pocket, "you have set a ransom on him, as if he were an utte_tranger."
"Why did you not tell me all this — you?" inquired the brigand chief, turnin_owards his men, who all retreated before his look. "Why have you caused m_hus to fail in my word towards a gentleman like the count, who has all ou_ives in his hands? By heavens, if I thought one of you knew that the youn_entleman was the friend of his excellency, I would blow his brains out wit_y own hand!"
"Well," said the count, turning towards Franz, "I told you there was som_istake in this."
"Are you not alone?" asked Vampa with uneasiness.
"I am with the person to whom this letter was addressed, and to whom I desire_o prove that Luigi Vampa was a man of his word. Come, your excellency," th_ount added, turning to Franz, "here is Luigi Vampa, who will himself expres_o you his deep regret at the mistake he has committed." Franz approached, th_hief advancing several steps to meet him. "Welcome among us, you_xcellency," he said to him; "you heard what the count just said, and also m_eply; let me add that I would not for the four thousand piastres at which _ad fixed your friend's ransom, that this had happened."
"But," said Franz, looking round him uneasily, "where is the Viscount? — I d_ot see him."
"Nothing has happened to him, I hope," said the count frowningly.
"The prisoner is there," replied Vampa, pointing to the hollow space in fron_f which the bandit was on guard, "and I will go myself and tell him he i_ree." The chief went towards the place he had pointed out as Albert's prison, and Franz and the count followed him. "What is the prisoner doing?" inquire_ampa of the sentinel.
"Ma foi, captain," replied the sentry, "I do not know; for the last hour _ave not heard him stir."
"Come in, your excellency," said Vampa. The count and Franz ascended seven o_ight steps after the chief, who drew back a bolt and opened a door. Then, b_he gleam of a lamp, similar to that which lighted the columbarium, Albert wa_o be seen wrapped up in a cloak which one of the bandits had lent him, lyin_n a corner in profound slumber. "Come," said the count, smiling with his ow_eculiar smile, "not so bad for a man who is to be shot at seven o'clock to- morrow morning." Vampa looked at Albert with a kind of admiration; he was no_nsensible to such a proof of courage.
"You are right, your excellency," he said; "this must be one of your friends."
Then going to Albert, he touched him on the shoulder, saying, "Will you_xcellency please to awaken?" Albert stretched out his arms, rubbed hi_yelids, and opened his eyes. "Oh," said he, "is it you, captain? You shoul_ave allowed me to sleep. I had such a delightful dream. I was dancing th_alop at Torlonia's with the Countess G—— ." Then he drew his watch from hi_ocket, that he might see how time sped.
"Half-past one only?" said he. "Why the devil do you rouse me at this hour?"
"To tell you that you are free, your excellency."
"My dear fellow," replied Albert, with perfect ease of mind, "remember, fo_he future, Napoleon's maxim, `Never awaken me but for bad news;' if you ha_et me sleep on, I should have finished my galop, and have been grateful t_ou all my life. So, then, they have paid my ransom?"
"No, your excellency."
"Well, then, how am I free?"
"A person to whom I can refuse nothing has come to demand you."
"Really? Then that person is a most amiable person." Albert looked around an_erceived Franz. "What," said he, "is it you, my dear Franz, whose devotio_nd friendship are thus displayed?"
"No, not I," replied Franz, "but our neighbor, the Count of Monte Cristo."
"Oh. my dear count." said Albert gayly, arranging his cravat and wristbands,
"you are really most kind, and I hope you will consider me as under eterna_bligations to you, in the first place for the carriage, and in the next fo_his visit," and he put out his hand to the Count, who shuddered as he gav_is own, but who nevertheless did give it. The bandit gazed on this scene wit_mazement; he was evidently accustomed to see his prisoners tremble befor_im, and yet here was one whose gay temperament was not for a moment altered; as for Franz, he was enchanted at the way in which Albert had sustained th_ational honor in the presence of the bandit. "My dear Albert," he said, "i_ou will make haste, we shall yet have time to finish the night at Torlonia's.
You may conclude your interrupted galop, so that you will owe no ill-will t_ignor Luigi, who has, indeed, throughout this whole affair acted like _entleman."
"You are decidedly right, and we may reach the Palazzo by two o'clock. Signo_uigi," continued Albert, "is there any formality to fulfil before I tak_eave of your excellency?"
"None, sir," replied the bandit, "you are as free as air."
"Well, then, a happy and merry life to you. Come, gentlemen, come."
And Albert, followed by Franz and the count, descended the staircase, crosse_he square chamber, where stood all the bandits, hat in hand. "Peppino," sai_he brigand chief, "give me the torch."
"What are you going to do?" inquired the count.
"I will show you the way back myself," said the captain; "that is the leas_onor that I can render to your excellency." And taking the lighted torch fro_he hands of the herdsman, he preceded his guests, not as a servant wh_erforms an act of civility, but like a king who precedes ambassadors. O_eaching the door, he bowed. "And now, your excellency," added he, "allow m_o repeat my apologies, and I hope you will not entertain any resentment a_hat has occurred."
"No, my dear Vampa," replied the count; "besides, you compensate for you_istakes in so gentlemanly a way, that one almost feels obliged to you fo_aving committed them."
"Gentlemen," added the chief, turning towards the young men, "perhaps th_ffer may not appear very tempting to you; but if you should ever fee_nclined to pay me a second visit, wherever I may be, you shall be welcome."
Franz and Albert bowed. The count went out first, then Albert. Franz pause_or a moment. "Has your excellency anything to ask me?" said Vampa with _mile.
"Yes, I have," replied Franz; "I am curious to know what work you wer_erusing with so much attention as we entered."
"Caesar's `Commentaries,'" said the bandit, "it is my favorite work."
"Well, are you coming?" asked Albert.
"Yes," replied Franz, "here I am," and he, in his turn, left the caves. The_dvanced to the plain. "Ah, your pardon," said Albert, turning round; "wil_ou allow me, captain?" And he lighted his cigar at Vampa's torch. "Now, m_ear count," he said, "let us on with all the speed we may. I am enormousl_nxious to finish my night at the Duke of Bracciano's." They found th_arriage where they had left it. The count said a word in Arabic to Ali, an_he horses went on at great speed. It was just two o'clock by Albert's watc_hen the two friends entered into the dancing-room. Their return was quite a_vent, but as they entered together, all uneasiness on Albert's account cease_nstantly. "Madame," said the Viscount of Morcerf, advancing towards th_ountess, "yesterday you were so condescending as to promise me a galop; I a_ather late in claiming this gracious promise, but here is my friend, whos_haracter for veracity you well know, and he will assure you the delay aros_rom no fault of mine." And as at this moment the orchestra gave the signa_or the waltz, Albert put his arm round the waist of the countess, an_isappeared with her in the whirl of dancers. In the meanwhile Franz wa_onsidering the singular shudder that had passed over the Count of Mont_risto at the moment when he had been, in some sort, forced to give his han_o Albert.