The first words that Albert uttered to his friend, on the following morning, contained a request that Franz would accompany him on a visit to the count; true, the young man had warmly and energetically thanked the count on th_revious evening; but services such as he had rendered could never be to_ften acknowledged. Franz, who seemed attracted by some invisible influenc_owards the count, in which terror was strangely mingled, felt an extrem_eluctance to permit his friend to be exposed alone to the singula_ascination that this mysterious personage seemed to exercise over him, an_herefore made no objection to Albert's request, but at once accompanied hi_o the desired spot, and, after a short delay, the count joined them in th_alon. "My dear count," said Albert, advancing to meet him, "permit me t_epeat the poor thanks I offered last night, and to assure you that th_emembrance of all I owe to you will never be effaced from my memory; believ_e, as long as I live, I shall never cease to dwell with grateful recollectio_n the prompt and important service you rendered me; and also to remember tha_o you I am indebted even for my life."
"My very good friend and excellent neighbor," replied the count, with a smile,
"you really exaggerate my trifling exertions. You owe me nothing but som_rifle of 20,000 francs, which you have been saved out of your travellin_xpenses, so that there is not much of a score between us; — but you mus_eally permit me to congratulate you on the ease and unconcern with which yo_esigned yourself to your fate, and the perfect indifference you manifested a_o the turn events might take."
"Upon my word," said Albert, "I deserve no credit for what I could not help, namely, a determination to take everything as I found it, and to let thos_andits see, that although men get into troublesome scrapes all over th_orld, there is no nation but the French that can smile even in the face o_rim Death himself. All that, however, has nothing to do with my obligation_o you, and I now come to ask you whether, in my own person, my family, o_onnections, I can in any way serve you? My father, the Comte de Morcerf, although of Spanish origin, possesses considerable influence, both at th_ourt of France and Madrid, and I unhesitatingly place the best services o_yself, and all to whom my life is dear, at your disposal."
"Monsieur de Morcerf," replied the count, "your offer, far from surprising me, is precisely what I expected from you, and I accept it in the same spirit o_earty sincerity with which it is made; — nay, I will go still further, an_ay that I had previously made up my mind to ask a great favor at your hands."
"Oh, pray name it."
"I am wholly a stranger to Paris — it is a city I have never yet seen."
"Is it possible," exclaimed Albert, "that you have reached your present ag_ithout visiting the finest capital in the world? I can scarcely credit it."
"Nevertheless, it is quite true; still, I agree with you in thinking that m_resent ignorance of the first city in Europe is a reproach to me in ever_ay, and calls for immediate correction; but, in all probability, I shoul_ave performed so important, so necessary a duty, as that of making mysel_cquainted with the wonders and beauties of your justly celebrated capital, had I known any person who would have introduced me into the fashionabl_orld, but unfortunately I possessed no acquaintance there, and, of necessity, was compelled to abandon the idea."
"So distinguished an individual as yourself," cried Albert, "could scarcel_ave required an introduction."
"You are most kind; but as regards myself, I can find no merit I possess, sav_hat, as a millionaire, I might have become a partner in the speculations o_. Aguado and M. Rothschild; but as my motive in travelling to your capita_ould not have been for the pleasure of dabbling in stocks, I stayed away til_ome favorable chance should present itself of carrying my wish int_xecution. Your offer, however, smooths all difficulties, and I have only t_sk you, my dear M. de Morcerf" (these words were accompanied by a mos_eculiar smile), "whether you undertake, upon my arrival in France, to open t_e the doors of that fashionable world of which I know no more than a Huron o_ native of Cochin-China?"
"Oh, that I do, and with infinite pleasure," answered Albert; "and so much th_ore readily as a letter received this morning from my father summons me t_aris, in consequence of a treaty of marriage (my dear Franz, do not smile, _eg of you) with a family of high standing, and connected with the very crea_f Parisian society."
"Connected by marriage, you mean," said Franz, laughingly.
"Well, never mind how it is," answered Albert, "it comes to the same thing i_he end. Perhaps by the time you return to Paris, I shall be quite a sober, staid father of a family! A most edifying representative I shall make of al_he domestic virtues — don't you think so? But as regards your wish to visi_ur fine city, my dear count, I can only say that you may command me and min_o any extent you please."
"Then it is settled," said the count, "and I give you my solemn assurance tha_ only waited an opportunity like the present to realize plans that I hav_ong meditated." Franz did not doubt that these plans were the same concernin_hich the count had dropped a few words in the grotto of Monte Cristo, an_hile the Count was speaking the young man watched him closely, hoping to rea_omething of his purpose in his face, but his countenance was inscrutabl_specially when, as in the present case, it was veiled in a sphinx-like smile.
"But tell me now, count," exclaimed Albert, delighted at the idea of having t_haperon so distinguished a person as Monte Cristo; "tell me truly whether yo_re in earnest, or if this project of visiting Paris is merely one of th_himerical and uncertain air castles of which we make so many in the course o_ur lives, but which, like a house built on the sand, is liable to be blow_ver by the first puff of wind?"
"I pledge you my honor," returned the count, "that I mean to do as I hav_aid; both inclination and positive necessity compel me to visit Paris."
"When do you propose going thither?"
"Have you made up your mind when you shall be there yourself?"
"Certainly I have; in a fortnight or three weeks' time, that is to say, a_ast as I can get there!"
"Nay," said the Count; "I will give you three months ere I join you; you see _ake an ample allowance for all delays and difficulties.
"And in three months' time," said Albert, "you will be at my house?"
"Shall we make a positive appointment for a particular day and hour?" inquire_he count; "only let me warn you that I am proverbial for my punctiliou_xactitude in keeping my engagements."
"Day for day, hour for hour," said Albert; "that will suit me to a dot."
"So be it, then," replied the count, and extending his hand towards _alendar, suspended near the chimney-piece, he said, "to-day is the 21st o_ebruary;" and drawing out his watch, added, "it is exactly half-past te_'clock. Now promise me to remember this, and expect me the 21st of May at th_ame hour in the forenoon."
"Capital," exclaimed Albert; "your breakfast shall be waiting."
"Where do you live?"
"No. 27, Rue du Helder."
"Have you bachelor's apartments there? I hope my coming will not put you t_ny inconvenience."
"I reside in my father's house, but occupy a pavilion at the farther side o_he court-yard, entirely separated from the main building."
"Quite sufficient," replied the count, as, taking out his tablets, he wrot_own "No. 27, Rue du Helder, 21st May, half-past ten in the morning."
"Now then," said the count, returning his tablets to his pocket, "mak_ourself perfectly easy; the hand of your time-piece will not be more accurat_n marking the time than myself."
"Shall I see you again ere my departure?" asked Albert.
"That depends; when do you leave?"
"To-morrow evening, at five o'clock."
"In that case I must say adieu to you, as I am compelled to go to Naples, an_hall not return hither before Saturday evening or Sunday morning. And you, baron," pursued the count, addressing Franz, "do you also depart to-morrow?"
"No, for Venice; I shall remain in Italy for another year or two."
"Then we shall not meet in Paris?"
"I fear I shall not have that honor."
"Well, since we must part," said the count, holding out a hand to each of th_oung men, "allow me to wish you both a safe and pleasant journey." It was th_irst time the hand of Franz had come in contact with that of the mysteriou_ndividual before him, and unconsciously he shuddered at its touch, for i_elt cold and icy as that of a corpse. "Let us understand each other," sai_lbert; "it is agreed — is it not? — that you are to be at No. 27, in the Ru_u Helder, on the 21st of May, at half-past ten in the morning, and your wor_f honor passed for your punctuality?"
"The 21st of May, at half-past ten in the morning, Rue du Helder, No. 27,"
replied the Count. The young men then rose, and bowing to the count, quitte_he room. "What is the matter?" asked Albert of Franz, when they had returne_o their own apartments; "you seem more than commonly thoughtful."
"I will confess to you, Albert," replied Franz, "the count is a very singula_erson, and the appointment you have made to meet him in Paris fills me with _housand apprehensions."
"My dear fellow," exclaimed Albert, "what can there possibly be in that t_xcite uneasiness? Why, you must have lost your senses."
"Whether I am in my senses or not," answered Franz, "that is the way I feel."
"Listen to me, Franz," said Albert; "I am glad that the occasion has presente_tself for saying this to you, for I have noticed how cold you are in you_earing towards the count, while he, on the other hand, has always bee_ourtesy itself to us. Have you anything particular against him?"
"Did you ever meet him previously to coming hither?"
"Will you promise me not to repeat a single word of what I am about to tel_ou?"
"Upon your honor?"
"Upon my honor."
"Then listen to me." Franz then related to his friend the history of hi_xcursion to the Island of Monte Cristo and of his finding a party o_mugglers there, and the two Corsican bandits with them. He dwelt wit_onsiderable force and energy on the almost magical hospitality he ha_eceived from the count, and the magnificence of his entertainment in th_rotto of the "Thousand and One Nights." He recounted, with circumstantia_xactitude, all the particulars of the supper, the hashish, the statues, th_ream, and how, at his awakening, there remained no proof or trace of al_hese events, save the small yacht, seen in the distant horizon driving unde_ull sail toward Porto-Vecchio. Then he detailed the conversation overheard b_im at the Colosseum, between the count and Vampa, in which the count ha_romised to obtain the release of the bandit Peppino, — an engagement which, as our readers are aware, he most faithfully fulfilled. At last he arrived a_he adventure of the preceding night, and the embarrassment in which he foun_imself placed by not having sufficient cash by six or seven hundred piastre_o make up the sum required, and finally of his application to the count an_he picturesque and satisfactory result that followed. Albert listened wit_he most profound attention. "Well," said he, when Franz had concluded, "wha_o you find to object to in all you have related? The count is fond o_ravelling, and, being rich, possesses a vessel of his own. Go but t_ortsmouth or Southampton, and you will find the harbors crowded with th_achts belonging to such of the English as can afford the expense, and hav_he same liking for this amusement. Now, by way of having a resting-plac_uring his excursions, avoiding the wretched cookery — which has been tryin_ts best to poison me during the last four months, while you have manfull_esisted its effects for as many years, — and obtaining a bed on which it i_ossible to slumber, Monte Cristo has furnished for himself a temporary abod_here you first found him; but, to prevent the possibility of the Tusca_overnment taking a fancy to his enchanted palace, and thereby depriving hi_f the advantages naturally expected from so large an outlay of capital, h_as wisely enough purchased the island, and taken its name. Just ask yourself, my good fellow, whether there are not many persons of our acquaintance wh_ssume the names of lands and properties they never in their lives wer_asters of?"
"But," said Franz, "the Corsican bandits that were among the crew of hi_essel?"
"Why, really the thing seems to me simple enough. Nobody knows better tha_ourself that the bandits of Corsica are not rogues or thieves, but purely an_imply fugitives, driven by some sinister motive from their native town o_illage, and that their fellowship involves no disgrace or stigma; for my ow_art, I protest that, should I ever go to Corsica, my first visit, ere even _resented myself to the mayor or prefect, should be to the bandits of Colomba, if I could only manage to find them; for, on my conscience, they are a race o_en I admire greatly."
"Still," persisted Franz, "I suppose you will allow that such men as Vampa an_is band are regular villains, who have no other motive than plunder when the_eize your person. How do you explain the influence the count evidentl_ossessed over those ruffians?"
"My good friend, as in all probability I own my present safety to tha_nfluence, it would ill become me to search too closely into its source; therefore, instead of condemning him for his intimacy with outlaws, you mus_ive me leave to excuse any little irregularity there may be in such _onnection; not altogether for preserving my life, for my own idea was that i_ever was in much danger, but certainly for saving me 4,000 piastres, which, being translated, means neither more nor less than 24,000 livres of our money — a sum at which, most assuredly, I should never have been estimated i_rance, proving most indisputably," added Albert with a laugh, "that n_rophet is honored in his own country."
"Talking of countries," replied Franz, "of what country is the count, what i_is native tongue, whence does he derive his immense fortune, and what wer_hose events of his early life — a life as marvellous as unknown — that hav_inctured his succeeding years with so dark and gloomy a misanthropy?
Certainly these are questions that, in your place, I should like to hav_nswered."
"My dear Franz," replied Albert, "when, upon receipt of my letter, you foun_he necessity of asking the count's assistance, you promptly went to him, saying, `My friend Albert de Morcerf is in danger; help me to deliver him.'
Was not that nearly what you said?"
"Well, then, did he ask you, `Who is M. Albert de Morcerf? how does he come b_is name — his fortune? what are his means of existence? what is hi_irthplace! of what country is he a native?' Tell me, did he put all thes_uestions to you?"
"I confess he asked me none."
"No; he merely came and freed me from the hands of Signor Vampa, where, I ca_ssure you, in spite of all my outward appearance of ease and unconcern, I di_ot very particularly care to remain. Now, then, Franz, when, for services s_romptly and unhesitatingly rendered, he but asks me in return to do for hi_hat is done daily for any Russian prince or Italian nobleman who may pas_hrough Paris — merely to introduce him into society — would you have m_efuse? My good fellow, you must have lost your senses to think it possible _ould act with such cold-blooded policy." And this time it must be confesse_hat, contrary to the usual state of affairs in discussions between the youn_en, the effective arguments were all on Albert's side.
"Well," said Franz with a sigh, "do as you please my dear viscount, for you_rguments are beyond my powers of refutation. Still, in spite of all, you mus_dmit that this Count of Monte Cristo is a most singular personage."
"He is a philanthropist," answered the other; "and no doubt his motive i_isiting Paris is to compete for the Monthyon prize, given, as you are aware, to whoever shall be proved to have most materially advanced the interests o_irtue and humanity. If my vote and interest can obtain it for him, I wil_eadily give him the one and promise the other. And now, my dear Franz, let u_alk of something else. Come, shall we take our luncheon, and then pay a las_isit to St. Peter's?" Franz silently assented; and the following afternoon, at half-past five o'clock, the young men parted. Albert de Morcerf to retur_o Paris, and Franz d'Epinay to pass a fortnight at Venice. But, ere h_ntered his travelling carriage, Albert, fearing that his expected guest migh_orget the engagement he had entered into, placed in the care of a waiter a_he hotel a card to be delivered to the Count of Monte Cristo, on which, beneath the name of Vicomte Albert de Morcerf, he had written in pencil — "27, Rue du Helder, on the 21st May, half-past ten A.M."