When Albert found himself alone with Monte Cristo, "My dear count," said he,
"allow me to commence my services as cicerone by showing you a specimen of _achelor's apartment. You, who are accustomed to the palaces of Italy, ca_muse yourself by calculating in how many square feet a young man who is no_he worst lodged in Paris can live. As we pass from one room to another, _ill open the windows to let you breathe." Monte Cristo had already seen th_reakfast-room and the salon on the ground-floor. Albert led him first to hi_telier, which was, as we have said, his favorite apartment. Monte Crist_uickly appreciated all that Albert had collected here — old cabinets, Japanese porcelain, Oriental stuffs, Venetian glass, arms from all parts o_he world — everything was familiar to him; and at the first glance h_ecognized their date, their country, and their origin. Morcerf had expecte_e should be the guide; on the contrary, it was he who, under the count'_uidance, followed a course of archaeology, mineralogy, and natural history.
They descended to the first floor; Albert led his guest into the salon. Th_alon was filled with the works of modern artists; there were landscapes b_upre, with their long reeds and tall trees, their lowing oxen and marvellou_kies; Delacroix's Arabian cavaliers, with their long white burnouses, thei_hining belts, their damasked arms, their horses, who tore each other wit_heir teeth while their riders contended fiercely with their maces; aquarelle_f Boulanger, representing Notre Dame de Paris with that vigor that makes th_rtist the rival of the poet; there were paintings by Diaz, who makes hi_lowers more beautiful than flowers, his suns more brilliant than the sun; designs by Decamp, as vividly colored as those of Salvator Rosa, but mor_oetic; pastels by Giraud and Muller, representing children like angels an_omen with the features of a virgin; sketches torn from the album of Dauzats'
"Travels in the East," that had been made in a few seconds on the saddle of _amel, or beneath the dome of a mosque — in a word, all that modern art ca_ive in exchange and as recompense for the art lost and gone with ages lon_ince past.
Albert expected to have something new this time to show to the traveller, but, to his great surprise, the latter, without seeking for the signatures, many o_hich, indeed, were only initials, named instantly the author of every pictur_n such a manner that it was easy to see that each name was not only known t_im, but that each style associated with it had been appreciated and studie_y him. From the salon they passed into the bed-chamber; it was a model o_aste and simple elegance. A single portrait, signed by Leopold Robert, shon_n its carved and gilded frame. This portrait attracted the Count of Mont_risto's attention, for he made three rapid steps in the chamber, and stoppe_uddenly before it. It was the portrait of a young woman of five or six an_wenty, with a dark complexion, and light and lustrous eyes, veiled beneat_ong lashes. She wore the picturesque costume of the Catalan fisherwomen, _ed and black bodice, and golden pins in her hair. She was looking at the sea, and her form was outlined on the blue ocean and sky. The light was so faint i_he room that Albert did not perceive the pallor that spread itself over th_ount's visage, or the nervous heaving of his chest and shoulders. Silenc_revailed for an instant, during which Monte Cristo gazed intently on th_icture.
"You have there a most charming mistress, viscount," said the count in _erfectly calm tone; "and this costume — a ball costume, doubtless — become_er admirably."
"Ah, monsieur," returned Albert, "I would never forgive you this mistake i_ou had seen another picture beside this. You do not know my mother; she it i_hom you see here. She had her portrait painted thus six or eight years ago.
This costume is a fancy one, it appears, and the resemblance is so great tha_ think I still see my mother the same as she was in 1830. The countess ha_his portrait painted during the count's absence. She doubtless intende_iving him an agreeable surprise; but, strange to say, this portrait seemed t_isplease my father, and the value of the picture, which is, as you see, on_f the best works of Leopold Robert, could not overcome his dislike to it. I_s true, between ourselves, that M. de Morcerf is one of the most assiduou_eers at the Luxembourg, a general renowned for theory, but a most mediocr_mateur of art. It is different with my mother, who paints exceedingly well, and who, unwilling to part with so valuable a picture, gave it to me to pu_ere, where it would be less likely to displease M. de Morcerf, whos_ortrait, by Gros, I will also show you. Excuse my talking of family matters, but as I shall have the honor of introducing you to the count, I tell you thi_o prevent you making any allusions to this picture. The picture seems to hav_ malign influence, for my mother rarely comes here without looking at it, an_till more rarely does she look at it without weeping. This disagreement i_he only one that has ever taken place between the count and countess, who ar_till as much united, although married more than twenty years, as on the firs_ay of their wedding."
Monte Cristo glanced rapidly at Albert, as if to seek a hidden meaning in hi_ords, but it was evident the young man uttered them in the simplicity of hi_eart. "Now," said Albert, "that you have seen all my treasures, allow me t_ffer them to you, unworthy as they are. Consider yourself as in your ow_ouse, and to put yourself still more at your ease, pray accompany me to th_partments of M. de Morcerf, he whom I wrote from Rome an account of th_ervices you rendered me, and to whom I announced your promised visit, and _ay say that both the count and countess anxiously desire to thank you i_erson. You are somewhat blase I know, and family scenes have not much effec_n Sinbad the Sailor, who has seen so many others. However, accept what _ropose to you as an initiation into Parisian life — a life of politeness, visiting, and introductions." Monte Cristo bowed without making any answer; h_ccepted the offer without enthusiasm and without regret, as one of thos_onventions of society which every gentleman looks upon as a duty. Alber_ummoned his servant, and ordered him to acquaint M. and Madame de Morcerf o_he arrival of the Count of Monte Cristo. Albert followed him with the count.
When they arrived at the ante-chamber, above the door was visible a shield, which, by its rich ornaments and its harmony with the rest of the furniture, indicated the importance the owner attached to this blazon. Monte Crist_topped and examined it attentively.
"Azure seven merlets, or, placed bender," said he. "These are, doubtless, you_amily arms? Except the knowledge of blazons, that enables me to deciphe_hem, I am very ignorant of heraldry — I, a count of a fresh creation, fabricated in Tuscany by the aid of a commandery of St. Stephen, and who woul_ot have taken the trouble had I not been told that when you travel much it i_ecessary. Besides, you must have something on the panels of your carriage, t_scape being searched by the custom-house officers. Excuse my putting such _uestion to you."
"It is not indiscreet," returned Morcerf, with the simplicity of conviction.
"You have guessed rightly. These are our arms, that is, those of my father, but they are, as you see, joined to another shield, which has gules, a silve_ower, which are my mother's. By her side I am Spanish, but the family o_orcerf is French, and, I have heard, one of the oldest of the south o_rance."
"Yes," replied Monte Cristo "these blazons prove that. Almost all the arme_ilgrims that went to the Holy Land took for their arms either a cross, i_onor of their mission, or birds of passage, in sign of the long voyage the_ere about to undertake, and which they hoped to accomplish on the wings o_aith. One of your ancestors had joined the Crusades, and supposing it to b_nly that of St. Louis, that makes you mount to the thirteenth century, whic_s tolerably ancient."
"It is possible," said Morcerf; "my father has in his study a genealogica_ree which will tell you all that, and on which I made commentaries that woul_ave greatly edified Hozier and Jaucourt. At present I no longer think of it, and yet I must tell you that we are beginning to occupy ourselves greatly wit_hese things under our popular government."
"Well, then, your government would do well to choose from the past somethin_etter than the things that I have noticed on your monuments, and which hav_o heraldic meaning whatever. As for you, viscount," continued Monte Cristo t_orcerf, "you are more fortunate than the government, for your arms are reall_eautiful, and speak to the imagination. Yes, you are at once from Provenc_nd Spain; that explains, if the portrait you showed me be like, the dark hu_ so much admired on the visage of the noble Catalan." It would have require_he penetration of Oedipus or the Sphinx to have divined the irony the coun_oncealed beneath these words, apparently uttered with the greates_oliteness. Morcerf thanked him with a smile, and pushed open the door abov_hich were his arms, and which, as we have said, opened into the salon. In th_ost conspicuous part of the salon was another portrait. It was that of a man, from five to eight and thirty, in the uniform of a general officer, wearin_he double epaulet of heavy bullion, that indicates superior rank, the ribbo_f the Legion of Honor around his neck, which showed he was a commander, an_n the right breast, the star of a grand officer of the order of the Saviour, and on the left that of the grand cross of Charles III., which proved that th_erson represented by the picture had served in the wars of Greece and Spain, or, what was just the same thing as regarded decorations, had fulfilled som_iplomatic mission in the two countries.
Monte Cristo was engaged in examining this portrait with no less care than h_ad bestowed upon the other, when another door opened, and he found himsel_pposite to the Count of Morcerf in person. He was a man of forty to forty- five years, but he seemed at least fifty, and his black mustache and eyebrow_ontrasted strangely with his almost white hair, which was cut short, in th_ilitary fashion. He was dressed in plain clothes, and wore at his button-hol_he ribbons of the different orders to which he belonged. He entered with _olerably dignified step, and some little haste. Monte Cristo saw him advanc_owards him without making a single step. It seemed as if his feet were roote_o the ground, and his eyes on the Count of Morcerf. "Father," said the youn_an, "I have the honor of presenting to you the Count of Monte Cristo, th_enerous friend whom I had the good fortune to meet in the critical situatio_f which I have told you."
"You are most welcome, monsieur," said the Count of Morcerf, saluting Mont_risto with a smile, "and monsieur has rendered our house, in preserving it_nly heir, a service which insures him our eternal gratitude." As he sai_hese words, the count of Morcerf pointed to a chair, while he seated himsel_n another opposite the window.
Monte Cristo, in taking the seat Morcerf offered him, placed himself in such _anner as to remain concealed in the shadow of the large velvet curtains, an_ead on the careworn and livid features of the count a whole history of secre_riefs written in each wrinkle time had planted there. "The countess," sai_orcerf, "was at her toilet when she was informed of the visit she was abou_o receive. She will, however, be in the salon in ten minutes."
"It is a great honor to me," returned Monte Cristo, "to be thus, on the firs_ay of my arrival in Paris, brought in contact with a man whose merit equal_is reputation, and to whom fortune has for once been equitable, but has sh_ot still on the plains of Metidja, or in the mountains of Atlas, a marshal'_taff to offer you?"
"Oh," replied Morcerf, reddening slightly, "I have left the service, monsieur.
Made a peer at the Restoration, I served through the first campaign under th_rders of Marshal Bourmont. I could, therefore, expect a higher rank, and wh_nows what might have happened had the elder branch remained on the throne?
But the Revolution of July was, it seems, sufficiently glorious to allo_tself to be ungrateful, and it was so for all services that did not date fro_he imperial period. I tendered my resignation, for when you have gained you_paulets on the battle-field, you do not know how to manoeuvre on the slipper_rounds of the salons. I have hung up my sword, and cast myself into politics.
I have devoted myself to industry; I study the useful arts. During the twent_ears I served, I often wished to do so, but I had not the time."
"These are the ideas that render your nation superior to any other," returne_onte Cristo. "A gentleman of high birth, possessor of an ample fortune, yo_ave consented to gain your promotion as an obscure soldier, step by step — this is uncommon; then become general, peer of France, commander of the Legio_f Honor, you consent to again commence a second apprenticeship, without an_ther hope or any other desire than that of one day becoming useful to you_ellow-creatures; this, indeed, is praiseworthy, — nay, more, it is sublime."
Albert looked on and listened with astonishment; he was not used to see Mont_risto give vent to such bursts of enthusiasm. "Alas," continued the stranger, doubtless to dispel the slight cloud that covered Morcerf's brow, "we do no_ct thus in Italy; we grow according to our race and our species, and w_ursue the same lines, and often the same uselessness, all our lives."
"But, monsieur," said the Count of Morcerf, "for a man of your merit, Italy i_ot a country, and France opens her arms to receive you; respond to her call.
France will not, perhaps, be always ungrateful. She treats her children ill, but she always welcomes strangers."
"Ah, father," said Albert with a smile, "it is evident you do not know th_ount of Monte Cristo; he despises all honors, and contents himself with thos_ritten on his passport."
"That is the most just remark," replied the stranger, "I ever heard mad_oncerning myself."
"You have been free to choose your career," observed the Count of Morcerf, with a sigh; "and you have chosen the path strewed with flowers."
"Precisely, monsieur," replied Monte Cristo with one of those smiles that _ainter could never represent or a physiologist analyze.
"If I did not fear to fatigue you," said the general, evidently charmed wit_he count's manners, "I would have taken you to the Chamber; there is a debat_ery curious to those who are strangers to our modern senators."
"I shall be most grateful, monsieur, if you will, at some future time, rene_our offer, but I have been flattered with the hope of being introduced to th_ountess, and I will therefore wait."
"Ah, here is my mother," cried the viscount. Monte Cristo, turned roun_astily, and saw Madame de Morcerf at the entrance of the salon, at the doo_pposite to that by which her husband had entered, pale and motionless; whe_onte Cristo turned round, she let fall her arm, which for some unknown reaso_ad been resting on the gilded door-post. She had been there some moments, an_ad heard the last words of the visitor. The latter rose and bowed to th_ountess, who inclined herself without speaking. "Ah, good heavens, madame,"
said the count, "are you ill, or is it the heat of the room that affects you?"
"Are you ill, mother?" cried the viscount, springing towards her.
She thanked them both with a smile. "No," returned she, "but I feel som_motion on seeing, for the first time, the man without whose intervention w_hould have been in tears and desolation. Monsieur," continued the countess, advancing with the majesty of a queen, "I owe to you the life of my son, an_or this I bless you. Now, I thank you for the pleasure you give me in thu_ffording me the opportunity of thanking you as I have blessed you, from th_ottom of my heart." The count bowed again, but lower than before; He was eve_aler than Mercedes. "Madame," said he, "the count and yourself recompense to_enerously a simple action. To save a man, to spare a father's feelings, or _other's sensibility, is not to do a good action, but a simple deed o_umanity." At these words, uttered with the most exquisite sweetness an_oliteness, Madame de Morcerf replied. "It is very fortunate for my son, monsieur, that he found such a friend, and I thank God that things are thus."
And Mercedes raised her fine eyes to heaven with so fervent an expression o_ratitude, that the count fancied he saw tears in them. M. de Morcer_pproached her. "Madame," said he. "I have already made my excuses to th_ount for quitting him, and I pray you to do so also. The sitting commences a_wo; it is now three, and I am to speak."
"Go, then, and monsieur and I will strive our best to forget your absence,"
replied the countess, with the same tone of deep feeling. "Monsieur,"
continued she, turning to Monte Cristo, "will you do us the honor of passin_he rest of the day with us?"
"Believe me, madame, I feel most grateful for your kindness, but I got out o_y travelling carriage at your door this morning, and I am ignorant how I a_nstalled in Paris, which I scarcely know; this is but a trifling inquietude, I know, but one that may be appreciated."
"We shall have the pleasure another time," said the countess; "you promis_hat?" Monte Cristo inclined himself without answering, but the gesture migh_ass for assent. "I will not detain you, monsieur," continued the countess; "_ould not have our gratitude become indiscreet or importunate."
"My dear Count," said Albert, "I will endeavor to return your politeness a_ome, and place my coupe at your disposal until your own be ready."
"A thousand thanks for your kindness, viscount," returned the Count of Mont_risto "but I suppose that M. Bertuccio has suitably employed the four hour_nd a half I have given him, and that I shall find a carriage of some sor_eady at the door." Albert was used to the count's manner of proceeding; h_new that, like Nero, he was in search of the impossible, and nothin_stonished him, but wishing to judge with his own eyes how far the count'_rders had been executed, he accompanied him to the door of the house. Mont_risto was not deceived. As soon as he appeared in the Count of Morcerf'_nte-chamber, a footman, the same who at Rome had brought the count's card t_he two young men, and announced his visit, sprang into the vestibule, an_hen he arrived at the door the illustrious traveller found his carriag_waiting him. It was a coupe of Koller's building, and with horses and harnes_or which Drake had, to the knowledge of all the lions of Paris, refused o_he previous day seven hundred guineas. "Monsieur," said the count to Albert,
"I do not ask you to accompany me to my house, as I can only show you _abitation fitted up in a hurry, and I have, as you know, a reputation to kee_p as regards not being taken by surprise. Give me, therefore, one more da_efore I invite you; I shall then be certain not to fail in my hospitality."
"If you ask me for a day, count, I know what to anticipate; it will not be _ouse I shall see, but a palace. You have decidedly some genius at you_ontrol."
"Ma foi, spread that idea," replied the Count of Monte Cristo, putting hi_oot on the velvet-lined steps of his splendid carriage, "and that will b_orth something to me among the ladies." As he spoke, he sprang into th_ehicle, the door was closed, but not so rapidly that Monte Cristo failed t_erceive the almost imperceptible movement which stirred the curtains of th_partment in which he had left Madame de Morcerf. When Albert returned to hi_other, he found her in the boudoir reclining in a large velvet arm-chair, th_hole room so obscure that only the shining spangle, fastened here and ther_o the drapery, and the angles of the gilded frames of the pictures, showe_ith some degree of brightness in the gloom. Albert could not see the face o_he countess, as it was covered with a thin veil she had put on her head, an_hich fell over her features in misty folds, but it seemed to him as thoug_er voice had altered. He could distinguish amid the perfumes of the roses an_eliotropes in the flower-stands, the sharp and fragrant odor of volatil_alts, and he noticed in one of the chased cups on the mantle-piece th_ountess's smelling-bottle, taken from its shagreen case, and exclaimed in _one of uneasiness, as he entered, — "My dear mother, have you been ill durin_y absence?"
"No, no, Albert, but you know these roses, tuberoses, and orange-flowers thro_ut at first, before one is used to them, such violent perfumes."
"Then, my dear mother," said Albert, putting his hand to the bell, "they mus_e taken into the ante-chamber. You are really ill, and just now were so pal_s you came into the room" —
"Was I pale, Albert?"
"Yes; a pallor that suits you admirably, mother, but which did not the les_larm my father and myself."
"Did your father speak of it?" inquired Mercedes eagerly.
"No, madame; but do you not remember that he spoke of the fact to you?"
"Yes, I do remember," replied the countess. A servant entered, summoned b_lbert's ring of the bell. "Take these flowers into the anteroom or dressing- room," said the viscount; "they make the countess ill." The footman obeyed hi_rders. A long pause ensued, which lasted until all the flowers were removed.
"What is this name of Monte Cristo?" inquired the countess, when the servan_ad taken away the last vase of flowers, "is it a family name, or the name o_he estate, or a simple title?"
"I believe, mother, it is merely a title. The count purchased an island in th_uscan archipelago, and, as he told you to-day, has founded a commandery. Yo_now the same thing was done for Saint Stephen of Florence, Saint George, Constantinian of Parma, and even for the Order of Malta. Except this, he ha_o pretension to nobility, and calls himself a chance count, although th_eneral opinion at Rome is that the count is a man of very high distinction."
"His manners are admirable," said the countess, "at least, as far as I coul_udge in the few minutes he remained here."
"They are perfect mother, so perfect, that they surpass by far all I hav_nown in the leading aristocracy of the three proudest nobilities of Europe — the English, the Spanish, and the German." The countess paused a moment; then, after a slight hesitation, she resumed, — "You have seen, my dear Albert — _sk the question as a mother — you have seen M. de Monte Cristo in his house, you are quicksighted, have much knowledge of the world, more tact than i_sual at your age, do you think the count is really what he appears to be?"
"What does he appear to be?"
"Why, you have just said, — a man of high distinction."
"I told you, my dear mother, he was esteemed such."
"But what is your own opinion, Albert?"
"I must tell you that I have not come to any decided opinion respecting him, but I think him a Maltese."
"I do not ask you of his origin but what he is."
"Ah, what he is; that is quite another thing. I have seen so many remarkabl_hings in him, that if you would have me really say what I think, I shal_eply that I really do look upon him as one of Byron's heroes, whom misery ha_arked with a fatal brand; some Manfred, some Lara, some Werner, one of thos_recks, as it were, of some ancient family, who, disinherited of thei_atrimony, have achieved one by the force of their adventurous genius, whic_as placed them above the laws of society."
"You say" —
"I say that Monte Cristo is an island in the midst of the Mediterranean, without inhabitants or garrison, the resort of smugglers of all nations, an_irates of every flag. Who knows whether or not these industrious worthies d_ot pay to their feudal lord some dues for his protection?"
"That is possible," said the countess, reflecting.
"Never mind," continued the young man, "smuggler or not, you must agree, mother dear, as you have seen him, that the Count of Monte Cristo is _emarkable man, who will have the greatest success in the salons of Paris.
Why, this very morning, in my rooms, he made his entree amongst us by strikin_very man of us with amazement, not even excepting Chateau-Renaud."
"And what do you suppose is the count's age?" inquired Mercedes, evidentl_ttaching great importance to this question.
"Thirty-five or thirty-six, mother."
"So young, — it is impossible," said Mercedes, replying at the same time t_hat Albert said as well as to her own private reflection.
"It is the truth, however. Three or four times he has said to me, an_ertainly without the slightest premeditation, `at such a period I was fiv_ears old, at another ten years old, at another twelve,' and I, induced b_uriosity, which kept me alive to these details, have compared the dates, an_ever found him inaccurate. The age of this singular man, who is of no age, i_hen, I am certain, thirty-five. Besides, mother, remark how vivid his eye, how raven-black his hair, and his brow, though so pale, is free from wrinkles, — he is not only vigorous, but also young." The countess bent her head, as i_eneath a heavy wave of bitter thoughts. "And has this man displayed _riendship for you, Albert?" she asked with a nervous shudder.
"I am inclined to think so."
"And — do — you — like — him?"
"Why, he pleases me in spite of Franz d'Epinay, who tries to convince me tha_e is a being returned from the other world." The countess shuddered.
"Albert," she said, in a voice which was altered by emotion, "I have alway_ut you on your guard against new acquaintances. Now you are a man, and ar_ble to give me advice; yet I repeat to you, Albert, be prudent."
"Why, my dear mother, it is necessary, in order to make your advice turn t_ccount, that I should know beforehand what I have to distrust. The coun_ever plays, he only drinks pure water tinged with a little sherry, and is s_ich that he cannot, without intending to laugh at me, try to borrow money.
What, then, have I to fear from him?"
"You are right," said the countess, "and my fears are weakness, especiall_hen directed against a man who has saved your life. How did your fathe_eceive him, Albert? It is necessary that we should be more than complaisan_o the count. M. de Morcerf is sometimes occupied, his business makes hi_eflective, and he might, without intending it" —
"Nothing could be in better taste than my father's demeanor, madame," sai_lbert; "nay, more, he seemed greatly flattered at two or three compliment_hich the count very skilfully and agreeably paid him with as much ease as i_e had known him these thirty years. Each of these little tickling arrows mus_ave pleased my father," added Albert with a laugh. "And thus they parted th_est possible friends, and M. de Morcerf even wished to take him to th_hamber to hear the speakers." The countess made no reply. She fell into s_eep a revery that her eyes gradually closed. The young man, standing u_efore her, gazed upon her with that filial affection which is so tender an_ndearing with children whose mothers are still young and handsome. Then, after seeing her eyes closed, and hearing her breathe gently, he believed sh_ad dropped asleep, and left the apartment on tiptoe, closing the door afte_im with the utmost precaution. "This devil of a fellow," he muttered, shakin_is head; "I said at the time he would create a sensation here, and I measur_is effect by an infallible thermometer. My mother has noticed him, and h_ust therefore, perforce, be remarkable." He went down to the stables, no_ithout some slight annoyance, when he remembered that the Count of Mont_risto had laid his hands on a "turnout" which sent his bays down to secon_lace in the opinion of connoisseurs. "Most decidedly," said he, "men are no_qual, and I must beg my father to develop this theorem in the Chamber o_eers."