It was evident that one sentiment affected all the guests on entering th_ining-room. Each one asked what strange influence had brought them to thi_ouse, and yet astonished, even uneasy though they were, they still felt tha_hey would not like to be absent. The recent events, the solitary an_ccentric position of the count, his enormous, nay, almost incredible fortune, should have made men cautious, and have altogether prevented ladies visiting _ouse where there was no one of their own sex to receive them; and ye_uriosity had been enough to lead them to overleap the bounds of prudence an_ecorum. And all present, even including Cavalcanti and his son, notwithstanding the stiffness of the one and the carelessness of the other, were thoughtful, on finding themselves assembled at the house of thi_ncomprehensible man. Madame Danglars had started when Villefort, on th_ount's invitation, offered his arm; and Villefort felt that his glance wa_neasy beneath his gold spectacles, when he felt the arm of the baroness pres_pon his own. None of this had escaped the count, and even by this mer_ontact of individuals the scene had already acquired considerable interes_or an observer. M. de Villefort had on the right hand Madame Danglars, on hi_eft Morrel. The count was seated between Madame de Villefort and Danglars; the other seats were filled by Debray, who was placed between the tw_avalcanti, and by Chateau-Renaud, seated between Madame de Villefort an_orrel.
The repast was magnificent; Monte Cristo had endeavored completely to overtur_he Parisian ideas, and to feed the curiosity as much as the appetite of hi_uests. It was an Oriental feast that he offered to them, but of such a kin_s the Arabian fairies might be supposed to prepare. Every delicious frui_hat the four quarters of the globe could provide was heaped in vases fro_hina and jars from Japan. Rare birds, retaining their most brilliant plumage, enormous fish, spread upon massive silver dishes, together with every win_roduced in the Archipelago, Asia Minor, or the Cape, sparkling in bottles, whose grotesque shape seemed to give an additional flavor to the draught, — all these, like one of the displays with which Apicius of old gratified hi_uests, passed in review before the eyes of the astonished Parisians, wh_nderstood that it was possible to expend a thousand louis upon a dinner fo_en persons, but only on the condition of eating pearls, like Cleopatra, o_rinking refined gold, like Lorenzo de' Medici.
Monte Cristo noticed the general astonishment, and began laughing and jokin_bout it. "Gentlemen," he said, "you will admit that, when arrived at _ertain degree of fortune, the superfluities of life are all that can b_esired; and the ladies will allow that, after having risen to a certai_minence of position, the ideal alone can be more exalted. Now, to follow ou_his reasoning, what is the marvellous? — that which we do not understand.
What is it that we really desire? — that which we cannot obtain. Now, to se_hings which I cannot understand, to procure impossibilities, these are th_tudy of my life. I gratify my wishes by two means — my will and my money. _ake as much interest in the pursuit of some whim as you do, M. Danglars, i_romoting a new railway line; you, M. de Villefort, in condemning a culprit t_eath; you, M. Debray, in pacifying a kingdom; you, M. de Chateau-Renaud, i_leasing a woman; and you, Morrel, in breaking a horse that no one can ride.
For example, you see these two fish; one brought fifty leagues beyond St.
Petersburg, the other five leagues from Naples. Is it not amusing to see the_oth on the same table?"
"What are the two fish?" asked Danglars.
"M. Chateau-Renaud, who has lived in Russia, will tell you the name of one, and Major Cavalcanti, who is an Italian, will tell you the name of the other."
"This one is, I think, a sterlet," said Chateau-Renaud.
"And that one, if I mistake not, a lamprey."
"Just so. Now, M. Danglars, ask these gentlemen where they are caught."
"Starlets," said Chateau-Renaud, "are only found in the Volga."
"And," said Cavalcanti, "I know that Lake Fusaro alone supplies lampreys o_hat size."
"Exactly; one comes from the Volga, and the other from Lake Fusaro."
"Impossible!" cried all the guests simultaneously.
"Well, this is just what amuses me," said Monte Cristo. "I am like Nero — cupitor impossibilium; and that is what is amusing you at this moment. Thi_ish, which seems so exquisite to you, is very likely no better than perch o_almon; but it seemed impossible to procure it, and here it is."
"But how could you have these fish brought to France?"
"Oh, nothing more easy. Each fish was brought over in a cask — one filled wit_iver herbs and weeds, the other with rushes and lake plants; they were place_n a wagon built on purpose, and thus the sterlet lived twelve days, th_amprey eight, and both were alive when my cook seized them, killing one wit_ilk and the other with wine. You do not believe me, M. Danglars!"
"I cannot help doubting," answered Danglars with his stupid smile.
"Baptistin," said the count, "have the other fish brought in — the sterlet an_he lamprey which came in the other casks, and which are yet alive." Danglar_pened his bewildered eyes; the company clapped their hands. Four servant_arried in two casks covered with aquatic plants, and in each of which wa_reathing a fish similar to those on the table.
"But why have two of each sort?" asked Danglars.
"Merely because one might have died," carelessly answered Monte Cristo.
"You are certainly an extraordinary man," said Danglars; "and philosophers ma_ell say it is a fine thing to be rich."
"And to have ideas," added Madame Danglars.
"Oh, do not give me credit for this, madame; it was done by the Romans, wh_uch esteemed them, and Pliny relates that they sent slaves from Ostia t_ome, who carried on their heads fish which he calls the mulus, and which, from the description, must probably be the goldfish. It was also considered _uxury to have them alive, it being an amusing sight to see them die, for, when dying, they change color three or four times, and like the rainbow whe_t disappears, pass through all the prismatic shades, after which they wer_ent to the kitchen. Their agony formed part of their merit — if they were no_een alive, they were despised when dead."
"Yes," said Debray, "but then Ostia is only a few leagues from Rome."
"True," said Monte Cristo; "but what would be the use of living eightee_undred years after Lucullus, if we can do no better than he could?" The tw_avalcanti opened their enormous eyes, but had the good sense not to sa_nything. "All this is very extraordinary," said Chateau-Renaud; "still, wha_ admire the most, I confess, is the marvellous promptitude with which you_rders are executed. Is it not true that you only bought this house five o_ix days ago?"
"Certainly not longer."
"Well, I am sure it is quite transformed since last week. If I remembe_ightly, it had another entrance, and the court-yard was paved and empty; while to-day we have a splendid lawn, bordered by trees which appear to be _undred years old."
"Why not? I am fond of grass and shade," said Monte Cristo.
"Yes," said Madame de Villefort, "the door was towards the road before, and o_he day of my miraculous escape you brought me into the house from the road, _emember."
"Yes, madame," said Monte Cristo; "but I preferred having an entrance whic_ould allow me to see the Bois de Boulogne over my gate."
"In four days," said Morrel; "it is extraordinary!"
"Indeed," said Chateau-Renaud, "it seems quite miraculous to make a new hous_ut of an old one; for it was very old, and dull too. I recollect coming fo_y mother to look at it when M. de Saint-Meran advertised it for sale two o_hree years ago."
"M. de Saint-Meran?" said Madame de Villefort; "then this house belonged to M.
de Saint-Meran before you bought it?"
"It appears so," replied Monte Cristo.
"Is it possible that you do not know of whom you purchased it?"
"Quite so; my steward transacts all this business for me."
"It is certainly ten years since the house had been occupied," said Chateau- Renaud, "and it was quite melancholy to look at it, with the blinds closed, the doors locked, and the weeds in the court. Really, if the house had no_elonged to the father-in-law of the procureur, one might have thought it som_ccursed place where a horrible crime had been committed." Villefort, who ha_itherto not tasted the three or four glasses of rare wine which were place_efore him, here took one, and drank it off. Monte Cristo allowed a short tim_o elapse, and then said, "It is singular, baron, but the same idea cam_cross me the first time I came here; it looked so gloomy I should never hav_ought it if my steward had not taken the matter into his own hands. Perhap_he fellow had been bribed by the notary."
"It is probable," stammered out Villefort, trying to smile; "but I can assur_ou that I had nothing to do with any such proceeding. This house is part o_alentine's marriage-portion, and M. de Saint-Meran wished to sell it; for i_t had remained another year or two uninhabited it would have fallen to ruin."
It was Morrel's turn to become pale.
"There was, above all, one room," continued Monte Cristo, "very plain i_ppearance, hung with red damask, which, I know not why, appeared to me quit_ramatic."
"Why so?" said Danglars; "why dramatic?"
"Can we account for instinct?" said Monte Cristo. "Are there not some place_here we seem to breathe sadness? — why, we cannot tell. It is a chain o_ecollections — an idea which carries you back to other times, to other places — which, very likely, have no connection with the present time and place. An_here is something in this room which reminds me forcibly of the chamber o_he Marquise de Ganges* or Desdemona. Stay, since we have finished dinner, _ill show it to you, and then we will take coffee in the garden. After dinner, the play." Monte Cristo looked inquiringly at his guests. Madame de Villefor_ose, Monte Cristo did the same, and the rest followed their example.
Villefort and Madame Danglars remained for a moment, as if rooted to thei_eats; they questioned each other with vague and stupid glances. "Did yo_ear?" said Madame Danglars.
(* Elisabeth de Rossan, Marquise de Ganges, was one of the famous women of th_ourt of Louis XIV. where she was known as "La Belle Provencale." She was th_idow of the Marquise de Castellane when she married de Ganges, and having th_isfortune to excite the enmity of her new brothers-in-law, was forced by the_o take poison; and they finished her off with pistol and dagger. — Ed.)
"We must go," replied Villefort, offering his arm. The others, attracted b_uriosity, were already scattered in different parts of the house; for the_hought the visit would not be limited to the one room, and that, at the sam_ime, they would obtain a view of the rest of the building, of which Mont_risto had created a palace. Each one went out by the open doors. Monte Crist_aited for the two who remained; then, when they had passed, he brought up th_ear, and on his face was a smile, which, if they could have understood it, would have alarmed them much more than a visit to the room they were about t_nter. They began by walking through the apartments, many of which were fitte_p in the Eastern style, with cushions and divans instead of beds, and pipe_nstead of furniture. The drawing-rooms were decorated with the rares_ictures by the old masters, the boudoirs hung with draperies from China, o_anciful colors, fantastic design, and wonderful texture. At length the_rrived at the famous room. There was nothing particular about it, exceptin_hat, although daylight had disappeared, it was not lighted, and everything i_t was old-fashioned, while the rest of the rooms had been redecorated. Thes_wo causes were enough to give it a gloomy aspect. "Oh." cried Madame d_illefort, "it is really frightful." Madame Danglars tried to utter a fe_ords, but was not heard. Many observations were made, the import of which wa_ unanimous opinion that there was something sinister about the room. "Is i_ot so?" asked Monte Cristo. "Look at that large clumsy bed, hung with suc_loomy, blood-colored drapery! And those two crayon portraits, that have fade_rom the dampness; do they not seem to say, with their pale lips and starin_yes, `We have seen'?" Villefort became livid; Madame Danglars fell into _ong seat placed near the chimney. "Oh," said Madame de Villefort, smiling,
"are you courageous enough to sit down upon the very seat perhaps upon whic_he crime was committed?" Madame Danglars rose suddenly.
"And then," said Monte Cristo, "this is not all."
"What is there more?" said Debray, who had not failed to notice the agitatio_f Madame Danglars.
"Ah, what else is there?" said Danglars; "for, at present, I cannot say that _ave seen anything extraordinary. What do you say, M. Cavalcanti?"
"Ah," said he, "we have at Pisa, Ugolino's tower; at Ferrara, Tasso's prison; at Rimini, the room of Francesca and Paolo."
"Yes, but you have not this little staircase," said Monte Cristo, opening _oor concealed by the drapery. "Look at it, and tell me what you think of it."
"What a wicked-looking, crooked staircase," said Chateau-Renaud with a smile.
"I do not know whether the wine of Chios produces melancholy, but certainl_verything appears to me black in this house," said Debray.
Ever since Valentine's dowry had been mentioned, Morrel had been silent an_ad. "Can you imagine," said Monte Cristo, "some Othello or Abbe de Ganges, one stormy, dark night, descending these stairs step by step, carrying a load, which he wishes to hide from the sight of man, if not from God?" Madam_anglars half fainted on the arm of Villefort, who was obliged to suppor_imself against the wall. "Ah, madame," cried Debray, "what is the matter wit_ou? how pale you look!"
"It is very evident what is the matter with her," said Madame de Villefort;
"M. de Monte Cristo is relating horrible stories to us, doubtless intending t_righten us to death."
"Yes," said Villefort, "really, count, you frighten the ladies."
"What is the matter?" asked Debray, in a whisper, of Madame Danglars.
"Nothing," she replied with a violent effort. "I want air, that is all."
"Will you come into the garden?" said Debray, advancing towards the bac_taircase.
"No, no," she answered, "I would rather remain here."
"Are you really frightened, madame?" said Monte Cristo.
"Oh, no, sir," said Madame Danglars; "but you suppose scenes in a manner whic_ives them the appearance of reality."
"Ah, yes," said Monte Cristo smiling; "it is all a matter of imagination. Wh_hould we not imagine this the apartment of an honest mother? And this be_ith red hangings, a bed visited by the goddess Lucina? And that mysteriou_taircase, the passage through which, not to disturb their sleep, the docto_nd nurse pass, or even the father carrying the sleeping child?" Here Madam_anglars, instead of being calmed by the soft picture, uttered a groan an_ainted. "Madame Danglars is ill," said Villefort; "it would be better to tak_er to her carriage."
"Oh, mon Dieu," said Monte Cristo, "and I have forgotten my smelling-bottle!"
"I have mine," said Madame de Villefort; and she passed over to Monte Cristo _ottle full of the same kind of red liquid whose good properties the count ha_ested on Edward.
"Ah," said Monte Cristo, taking it from her hand.
"Yes," she said, "at your advice I have made the trial."
"And have you succeeded?"
"I think so."
Madame Danglars was carried into the adjoining room; Monte Cristo dropped _ery small portion of the red liquid upon her lips; she returned t_onsciousness. "Ah," she cried, "what a frightful dream!"
Villefort pressed her hand to let her know it was not a dream. They looked fo_. Danglars, but, as he was not especially interested in poetical ideas, h_ad gone into the garden, and was talking with Major Cavalcanti on th_rojected railway from Leghorn to Florence. Monte Cristo seemed in despair. H_ook the arm of Madame Danglars, and conducted her into the garden, where the_ound Danglars taking coffee between the Cavalcanti. "Really, madame," h_aid, "did I alarm you much?"
"Oh, no, sir," she answered; "but you know, things impress us differently, according to the mood of our minds." Villefort forced a laugh. "And then, yo_now," he said, "an idea, a supposition, is sufficient."
"Well," said Monte Cristo, "you may believe me if you like, but it is m_pinion that a crime has been committed in this house."
"Take care," said Madame de Villefort, "the king's attorney is here."
"Ah," replied Monte Cristo, "since that is the case, I will take advantage o_is presence to make my declaration."
"Your declaration?" said Villefort.
"Yes, before witnesses."
"Oh, this is very interesting," said Debray; "if there really has been _rime, we will investigate it."
"There has been a crime," said Monte Cristo. "Come this way, gentlemen; come, M. Villefort, for a declaration to be available, should be made before th_ompetent authorities." He then took Villefort's arm, and, at the same time, holding that of Madame Danglars under his own, he dragged the procureur to th_lantain-tree, where the shade was thickest. All the other guests followed.
"Stay," said Monte Cristo, "here, in this very spot" (and he stamped upon th_round), "I had the earth dug up and fresh mould put in, to refresh these ol_rees; well, my man, digging, found a box, or rather, the iron-work of a box, in the midst of which was the skeleton of a newly born infant." Monte Crist_elt the arm of Madame Danglars stiffen, while that of Villefort trembled. "_ewly born infant," repeated Debray; "this affair becomes serious!"
"Well," said Chateau-Renaud, "I was not wrong just now then, when I said tha_ouses had souls and faces like men, and that their exteriors carried th_mpress of their characters. This house was gloomy because it was remorseful: it was remorseful because it concealed a crime."
"Who said it was a crime?" asked Villefort, with a last effort.
"How? is it not a crime to bury a living child in a garden?" cried Mont_risto. "And pray what do you call such an action?"
"But who said it was buried alive?"
"Why bury it there if it were dead? This garden has never been a cemetery."
"What is done to infanticides in this country?" asked Major Cavalcant_nnocently.
"Oh, their heads are soon cut off," said Danglars.
"Ah, indeed?" said Cavalcanti.
"I think so; am I not right, M. de Villefort?" asked Monte Cristo.
"Yes, count," replied Villefort, in a voice now scarcely human.
Monte Cristo, seeing that the two persons for whom he had prepared this scen_ould scarcely endure it, and not wishing to carry it too far, said, "Come, gentlemen, — some coffee, we seem to have forgotten it," and he conducted th_uests back to the table on the lawn.
"Indeed, count," said Madame Danglars, "I am ashamed to own it, but all you_rightful stories have so upset me, that I must beg you to let me sit down;"
and she fell into a chair. Monte Cristo bowed, and went to Madame d_illefort. "I think Madame Danglars again requires your bottle," he said. Bu_efore Madame de Villefort could reach her friend the procureur had found tim_o whisper to Madame Danglars, "I must speak to you."
"In my office, or in the court, if you like, — that is the surest place."
"I will be there." — At this moment Madame de Villefort approached. "Thanks, my dear friend," said Madame Danglars, trying to smile; "it is over now, and _m much better."