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Chapter 15
Number 34 and Number 27.

Dantes passed through all the stages of torture natural to
prisoners in suspense. He was sustained at first by that
pride of conscious innocence which is the sequence to hope;
then he began to doubt his own innocence, which justified in
some measure the governor's belief in his mental alienation;
and then, relaxing his sentiment of pride, he addressed his
supplications, not to God, but to man. God is always the
last resource. Unfortunates, who ought to begin with God, do
not have any hope in him till they have exhausted all other
means of deliverance.

Dantes asked to be removed from his present dungeon into
another; for a change, however disadvantageous, was still a
change, and would afford him some amusement. He entreated to
be allowed to walk about, to have fresh air, books, and
writing materials. His requests were not granted, but he
went on asking all the same. He accustomed himself to
speaking to the new jailer, although the latter was, if
possible, more taciturn than the old one; but still, to
speak to a man, even though mute, was something. Dantes
spoke for the sake of hearing his own voice; he had tried to
speak when alone, but the sound of his voice terrified him.
Often, before his captivity, Dantes, mind had revolted at
the idea of assemblages of prisoners, made up of thieves,
vagabonds, and murderers. He now wished to be amongst them,
in order to see some other face besides that of his jailer;
he sighed for the galleys, with the infamous costume, the
chain, and the brand on the shoulder. The galley-slaves
breathed the fresh air of heaven, and saw each other. They
were very happy. He besought the jailer one day to let him
have a companion, were it even the mad abbe.

The jailer, though rough and hardened by the constant sight
of so much suffering, was yet a man. At the bottom of his
heart he had often had a feeling of pity for this unhappy
young man who suffered so; and he laid the request of number
34 before the governor; but the latter sapiently imagined
that Dantes wished to conspire or attempt an escape, and
refused his request. Dantes had exhausted all human
resources, and he then turned to God.

All the pious ideas that had been so long forgotten,
returned; he recollected the prayers his mother had taught
him, and discovered a new meaning in every word; for in
prosperity prayers seem but a mere medley of words, until
misfortune comes and the unhappy sufferer first understands
the meaning of the sublime language in which he invokes the
pity of heaven! He prayed, and prayed aloud, no longer
terrified at the sound of his own voice, for he fell into a
sort of ecstasy. He laid every action of his life before the
Almighty, proposed tasks to accomplish, and at the end of
every prayer introduced the entreaty oftener addressed to
man than to God: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive
them that trespass against us." Yet in spite of his earnest
prayers, Dantes remained a prisoner.

Then gloom settled heavily upon him. Dantes was a man of
great simplicity of thought, and without education; he could
not, therefore, in the solitude of his dungeon, traverse in
mental vision the history of the ages, bring to life the
nations that had perished, and rebuild the ancient cities so
vast and stupendous in the light of the imagination, and
that pass before the eye glowing with celestial colors in
Martin's Babylonian pictures. He could not do this, he whose
past life was so short, whose present so melancholy, and his
future so doubtful. Nineteen years of light to reflect upon
in eternal darkness! No distraction could come to his aid;
his energetic spirit, that would have exalted in thus
revisiting the past, was imprisoned like an eagle in a cage.
He clung to one idea -- that of his happiness, destroyed,
without apparent cause, by an unheard-of fatality; he
considered and reconsidered this idea, devoured it (so to
speak), as the implacable Ugolino devours the skull of
Archbishop Roger in the Inferno of Dante.

Rage supplanted religious fervor. Dantes uttered blasphemies
that made his jailer recoil with horror, dashed himself
furiously against the walls of his prison, wreaked his anger
upon everything, and chiefly upon himself, so that the least
thing, -- a grain of sand, a straw, or a breath of air that
annoyed him, led to paroxysms of fury. Then the letter that
Villefort had showed to him recurred to his mind, and every
line gleamed forth in fiery letters on the wall like the
mene tekel upharsin of Belshazzar. He told himself that it
was the enmity of man, and not the vengeance of heaven, that
had thus plunged him into the deepest misery. He consigned
his unknown persecutors to the most horrible tortures he
could imagine, and found them all insufficient, because
after torture came death, and after death, if not repose, at
least the boon of unconsciousness.

By dint of constantly dwelling on the idea that tranquillity
was death, and if punishment were the end in view other
tortures than death must be invented, he began to reflect on
suicide. Unhappy he, who, on the brink of misfortune, broods
over ideas like these!

Before him is a dead sea that stretches in azure calm before
the eye; but he who unwarily ventures within its embrace
finds himself struggling with a monster that would drag him
down to perdition. Once thus ensnared, unless the protecting
hand of God snatch him thence, all is over, and his
struggles but tend to hasten his destruction. This state of
mental anguish is, however, less terrible than the
sufferings that precede or the punishment that possibly will
follow. There is a sort of consolation at the contemplation
of the yawning abyss, at the bottom of which lie darkness
and obscurity.

Edmond found some solace in these ideas. All his sorrows,
all his sufferings, with their train of gloomy spectres,
fled from his cell when the angel of death seemed about to
enter. Dantes reviewed his past life with composure, and,
looking forward with terror to his future existence, chose
that middle line that seemed to afford him a refuge.

"Sometimes," said he, "in my voyages, when I was a man and
commanded other men, I have seen the heavens overcast, the
sea rage and foam, the storm arise, and, like a monstrous
bird, beating the two horizons with its wings. Then I felt
that my vessel was a vain refuge, that trembled and shook
before the tempest. Soon the fury of the waves and the sight
of the sharp rocks announced the approach of death, and
death then terrified me, and I used all my skill and
intelligence as a man and a sailor to struggle against the
wrath of God. But I did so because I was happy, because I
had not courted death, because to be cast upon a bed of
rocks and seaweed seemed terrible, because I was unwilling
that I, a creature made for the service of God, should serve
for food to the gulls and ravens. But now it is different; I
have lost all that bound me to life, death smiles and
invites me to repose; I die after my own manner, I die
exhausted and broken-spirited, as I fall asleep when I have
paced three thousand times round my cell."

No sooner had this idea taken possession of him than he
became more composed, arranged his couch to the best of his
power, ate little and slept less, and found existence almost
supportable, because he felt that he could throw it off at
pleasure, like a worn-out garment. Two methods of
self-destruction were at his disposal. He could hang himself
with his handkerchief to the window bars, or refuse food and
die of starvation. But the first was repugnant to him.
Dantes had always entertained the greatest horror of
pirates, who are hung up to the yard-arm; he would not die
by what seemed an infamous death. He resolved to adopt the
second, and began that day to carry out his resolve. Nearly
four years had passed away; at the end of the second he had
ceased to mark the lapse of time.

Dantes said, "I wish to die," and had chosen the manner of
his death, and fearful of changing his mind, he had taken an
oath to die. "When my morning and evening meals are
brought," thought he, "I will cast them out of the window,
and they will think that I have eaten them."

He kept his word; twice a day he cast out, through the
barred aperture, the provisions his jailer brought him -- at
first gayly, then with deliberation, and at last with
regret. Nothing but the recollection of his oath gave him
strength to proceed. Hunger made viands once repugnant, now
acceptable; he held the plate in his hand for an hour at a
time, and gazed thoughtfully at the morsel of bad meat, of
tainted fish, of black and mouldy bread. It was the last
yearning for life contending with the resolution of despair;
then his dungeon seemed less sombre, his prospects less
desperate. He was still young -- he was only four or five
and twenty -- he had nearly fifty years to live. What
unforseen events might not open his prison door, and restore
him to liberty? Then he raised to his lips the repast that,
like a voluntary Tantalus, he refused himself; but he
thought of his oath, and he would not break it. He persisted
until, at last, he had not sufficient strength to rise and
cast his supper out of the loophole. The next morning he
could not see or hear; the jailer feared he was dangerously
ill. Edmond hoped he was dying.

Thus the day passed away. Edmond felt a sort of stupor
creeping over him which brought with it a feeling almost of
content; the gnawing pain at his stomach had ceased; his
thirst had abated; when he closed his eyes he saw myriads of
lights dancing before them like the will-o'-the-wisps that
play about the marshes. It was the twilight of that
mysterious country called Death!

Suddenly, about nine o'clock in the evening, Edmond heard a
hollow sound in the wall against which he was lying.

So many loathsome animals inhabited the prison, that their
noise did not, in general, awake him; but whether abstinence
had quickened his faculties, or whether the noise was really
louder than usual, Edmond raised his head and listened. It
was a continual scratching, as if made by a huge claw, a
powerful tooth, or some iron instrument attacking the

Although weakened, the young man's brain instantly responded
to the idea that haunts all prisoners -- liberty! It seemed
to him that heaven had at length taken pity on him, and had
sent this noise to warn him on the very brink of the abyss.
Perhaps one of those beloved ones he had so often thought of
was thinking of him, and striving to diminish the distance
that separated them.

No, no, doubtless he was deceived, and it was but one of
those dreams that forerun death!

Edmond still heard the sound. It lasted nearly three hours;
he then heard a noise of something falling, and all was

Some hours afterwards it began again, nearer and more
distinct. Edmond was intensely interested. Suddenly the
jailer entered.

For a week since he had resolved to die, and during the four
days that he had been carrying out his purpose, Edmond had
not spoken to the attendant, had not answered him when he
inquired what was the matter with him, and turned his face
to the wall when he looked too curiously at him; but now the
jailer might hear the noise and put an end to it, and so
destroy a ray of something like hope that soothed his last

The jailer brought him his breakfast. Dantes raised himself
up and began to talk about everything; about the bad quality
of the food, about the coldness of his dungeon, grumbling
and complaining, in order to have an excuse for speaking
louder, and wearying the patience of his jailer, who out of
kindness of heart had brought broth and white bread for his

Fortunately, he fancied that Dantes was delirious; and
placing the food on the rickety table, he withdrew. Edmond
listened, and the sound became more and more distinct.

"There can be no doubt about it," thought he; "it is some
prisoner who is striving to obtain his freedom. Oh, if I
were only there to help him!" Suddenly another idea took
possession of his mind, so used to misfortune, that it was
scarcely capable of hope -- the idea that the noise was made
by workmen the governor had ordered to repair the
neighboring dungeon.

It was easy to ascertain this; but how could he risk the
question? It was easy to call his jailer's attention to the
noise, and watch his countenance as he listened; but might
he not by this means destroy hopes far more important than
the short-lived satisfaction of his own curiosity?
Unfortunately, Edmond's brain was still so feeble that he
could not bend his thoughts to anything in particular.

He saw but one means of restoring lucidity and clearness to
his judgment. He turned his eyes towards the soup which the
jailer had brought, rose, staggered towards it, raised the
vessel to his lips, and drank off the contents with a
feeling of indescribable pleasure. He had often heard that
shipwrecked persons had died through having eagerly devoured
too much food. Edmond replaced on the table the bread he was
about to devour, and returned to his couch -- he did not
wish to die. He soon felt that his ideas became again
collected -- he could think, and strengthen his thoughts by
reasoning. Then he said to himself, "I must put this to the
test, but without compromising anybody. If it is a workman,
I need but knock against the wall, and he will cease to
work, in order to find out who is knocking, and why he does
so; but as his occupation is sanctioned by the governor, he
will soon resume it. If, on the contrary, it is a prisoner,
the noise I make will alarm him, he will cease, and not
begin again until he thinks every one is asleep."

Edmond rose again, but this time his legs did not tremble,
and his sight was clear; he went to a corner of his dungeon,
detached a stone, and with it knocked against the wall where
the sound came. He struck thrice. At the first blow the
sound ceased, as if by magic.

Edmond listened intently; an hour passed, two hours passed,
and no sound was heard from the wall -- all was silent

Full of hope, Edmond swallowed a few mouthfuls of bread and
water, and, thanks to the vigor of his constitution, found
himself well-nigh recovered.

The day passed away in utter silence -- night came without
recurrence of the noise.

"It is a prisoner," said Edmond joyfully. The night passed
in perfect silence. Edmond did not close his eyes.

In the morning the jailer brought him fresh provisions -- he
had already devoured those of the previous day; he ate these
listening anxiously for the sound, walking round and round
his cell, shaking the iron bars of the loophole, restoring
vigor and agility to his limbs by exercise, and so preparing
himself for his future destiny. At intervals he listened to
learn if the noise had not begun again, and grew impatient
at the prudence of the prisoner, who did not guess he had
been disturbed by a captive as anxious for liberty as

Three days passed -- seventy-two long tedious hours which he
counted off by minutes!

At length one evening, as the jailer was visiting him for
the last time that night, Dantes, with his ear for the
hundredth time at the wall, fancied he heard an almost
imperceptible movement among the stones. He moved away,
walked up and down his cell to collect his thoughts, and
then went back and listened.

The matter was no longer doubtful. Something was at work on
the other side of the wall; the prisoner had discovered the
danger, and had substituted a lever for a chisel.

Encouraged by this discovery, Edmond determined to assist
the indefatigable laborer. He began by moving his bed, and
looked around for anything with which he could pierce the
wall, penetrate the moist cement, and displace a stone.

He saw nothing, he had no knife or sharp instrument, the
window grating was of iron, but he had too often assured
himself of its solidity. All his furniture consisted of a
bed, a chair, a table, a pail, and a jug. The bed had iron
clamps, but they were screwed to the wood, and it would have
required a screw-driver to take them off. The table and
chair had nothing, the pail had once possessed a handle, but
that had been removed.

Dantes had but one resource, which was to break the jug, and
with one of the sharp fragments attack the wall. He let the
jug fall on the floor, and it broke in pieces.

Dantes concealed two or three of the sharpest fragments in
his bed, leaving the rest on the floor. The breaking of his
jug was too natural an accident to excite suspicion. Edmond
had all the night to work in, but in the darkness he could
not do much, and he soon felt that he was working against
something very hard; he pushed back his bed, and waited for

All night he heard the subterranean workman, who continued
to mine his way. Day came, the jailer entered. Dantes told
him that the jug had fallen from his hands while he was
drinking, and the jailer went grumblingly to fetch another,
without giving himself the trouble to remove the fragments
of the broken one. He returned speedily, advised the
prisoner to be more careful, and departed.

Dantes heard joyfully the key grate in the lock; he listened
until the sound of steps died away, and then, hastily
displacing his bed, saw by the faint light that penetrated
into his cell, that he had labored uselessly the previous
evening in attacking the stone instead of removing the
plaster that surrounded it.

The damp had rendered it friable, and Dantes was able to
break it off -- in small morsels, it is true, but at the end
of half an hour he had scraped off a handful; a
mathematician might have calculated that in two years,
supposing that the rock was not encountered, a passage
twenty feet long and two feet broad, might be formed.

The prisoner reproached himself with not having thus
employed the hours he had passed in vain hopes, prayer, and
despondency. During the six years that he had been
imprisoned, what might he not have accomplished?

In three days he had succeeded, with the utmost precaution,
in removing the cement, and exposing the stone-work. The
wall was built of rough stones, among which, to give
strength to the structure, blocks of hewn stone were at
intervals imbedded. It was one of these he had uncovered,
and which he must remove from its socket.

Dantes strove to do this with his nails, but they were too
weak. The fragments of the jug broke, and after an hour of
useless toil, he paused.

Was he to be thus stopped at the beginning, and was he to
wait inactive until his fellow workman had completed his
task? Suddenly an idea occurred to him -- he smiled, and the
perspiration dried on his forehead.

The jailer always brought Dantes' soup in an iron saucepan;
this saucepan contained soup for both prisoners, for Dantes
had noticed that it was either quite full, or half empty,
according as the turnkey gave it to him or to his companion

The handle of this saucepan was of iron; Dantes would have
given ten years of his life in exchange for it.

The jailer was accustomed to pour the contents of the
saucepan into Dantes' plate, and Dantes, after eating his
soup with a wooden spoon, washed the plate, which thus
served for every day. Now when evening came Dantes put his
plate on the ground near the door; the jailer, as he
entered, stepped on it and broke it.

This time he could not blame Dantes. He was wrong to leave
it there, but the jailer was wrong not to have looked before

The jailer, therefore, only grumbled. Then he looked about
for something to pour the soup into; Dantes' entire dinner
service consisted of one plate -- there was no alternative.

"Leave the saucepan," said Dantes; "you can take it away
when you bring me my breakfast." This advice was to the
jailer's taste, as it spared him the necessity of making
another trip. He left the saucepan.

Dantes was beside himself with joy. He rapidly devoured his
food, and after waiting an hour, lest the jailer should
change his mind and return, he removed his bed, took the
handle of the saucepan, inserted the point between the hewn
stone and rough stones of the wall, and employed it as a
lever. A slight oscillation showed Dantes that all went
well. At the end of an hour the stone was extricated from
the wall, leaving a cavity a foot and a half in diameter.

Dantes carefully collected the plaster, carried it into the
corner of his cell, and covered it with earth. Then, wishing
to make the best use of his time while he had the means of
labor, he continued to work without ceasing. At the dawn of
day he replaced the stone, pushed his bed against the wall,
and lay down. The breakfast consisted of a piece of bread;
the jailer entered and placed the bread on the table.

"Well, don't you intend to bring me another plate?" said

"No," replied the turnkey; "you destroy everything. First
you break your jug, then you make me break your plate; if
all the prisoners followed your example, the government
would be ruined. I shall leave you the saucepan, and pour
your soup into that. So for the future I hope you will not
be so destructive."

Dantes raised his eyes to heaven and clasped his hands
beneath the coverlet. He felt more gratitude for the
possession of this piece of iron than he had ever felt for
anything. He had noticed, however, that the prisoner on the
other side had ceased to labor; no matter, this was a
greater reason for proceeding -- if his neighbor would not
come to him, he would go to his neighbor. All day he toiled
on untiringly, and by the evening he had succeeded in
extracting ten handfuls of plaster and fragments of stone.
When the hour for his jailer's visit arrived, Dantes
straightened the handle of the saucepan as well as he could,
and placed it in its accustomed place. The turnkey poured
his ration of soup into it, together with the fish -- for
thrice a week the prisoners were deprived of meat. This
would have been a method of reckoning time, had not Dantes
long ceased to do so. Having poured out the soup, the
turnkey retired. Dantes wished to ascertain whether his
neighbor had really ceased to work. He listened -- all was
silent, as it had been for the last three days. Dantes
sighed; it was evident that his neighbor distrusted him.
However, he toiled on all the night without being
discouraged; but after two or three hours he encountered an
obstacle. The iron made no impression, but met with a smooth
surface; Dantes touched it, and found that it was a beam.
This beam crossed, or rather blocked up, the hole Dantes had
made; it was necessary, therefore, to dig above or under it.
The unhappy young man had not thought of this. "O my God, my
God!" murmured he, "I have so earnestly prayed to you, that
I hoped my prayers had been heard. After having deprived me
of my liberty, after having deprived me of death, after
having recalled me to existence, my God, have pity on me,
and do not let me die in despair!"

"Who talks of God and despair at the same time?" said a
voice that seemed to come from beneath the earth, and,
deadened by the distance, sounded hollow and sepulchral in
the young man's ears. Edmond's hair stood on end, and he
rose to his knees.

"Ah," said he, "I hear a human voice." Edmond had not heard
any one speak save his jailer for four or five years; and a
jailer is no man to a prisoner -- he is a living door, a
barrier of flesh and blood adding strength to restraints of
oak and iron.

"In the name of heaven," cried Dantes, "speak again, though
the sound of your voice terrifies me. Who are you?"

"Who are you?" said the voice.

"An unhappy prisoner," replied Dantes, who made no
hesitation in answering.

"Of what country?"

"A Frenchman."

"Your name?"

"Edmond Dantes."

"Your profession?"

"A sailor."

"How long have you been here?"

"Since the 28th of February, 1815."

"Your crime?"

"I am innocent."

"But of what are you accused?"

"Of having conspired to aid the emperor's return."

"What! For the emperor's return? -- the emperor is no longer
on the throne, then?"

"He abdicated at Fontainebleau in 1814, and was sent to the
Island of Elba. But how long have you been here that you are
ignorant of all this?"

"Since 1811."

Dantes shuddered; this man had been four years longer than
himself in prison.

"Do not dig any more," said the voice; "only tell me how
high up is your excavation?"

"On a level with the floor."

"How is it concealed?"

"Behind my bed."

"Has your bed been moved since you have been a prisoner?"


"What does your chamber open on?"

"A corridor."

"And the corridor?"

"On a court."

"Alas!" murmured the voice.

"Oh, what is the matter?" cried Dantes.

"I have made a mistake owing to an error in my plans. I took
the wrong angle, and have come out fifteen feet from where I
intended. I took the wall you are mining for the outer wall
of the fortress."

"But then you would be close to the sea?"

"That is what I hoped."

"And supposing you had succeeded?"

"I should have thrown myself into the sea, gained one of the
islands near here -- the Isle de Daume or the Isle de
Tiboulen -- and then I should have been safe."

"Could you have swum so far?"

"Heaven would have given me strength; but now all is lost."


"Yes; stop up your excavation carefully, do not work any
more, and wait until you hear from me."

"Tell me, at least, who you are?"

"I am -- I am No. 27."

"You mistrust me, then," said Dantes. Edmond fancied he
heard a bitter laugh resounding from the depths.

"Oh, I am a Christian," cried Dantes, guessing instinctively
that this man meant to abandon him. "I swear to you by him
who died for us that naught shall induce me to breathe one
syllable to my jailers; but I conjure you do not abandon me.
If you do, I swear to you, for I have got to the end of my
strength, that I will dash my brains out against the wall,
and you will have my death to reproach yourself with."

"How old are you? Your voice is that of a young man."

"I do not know my age, for I have not counted the years I
have been here. All I do know is, that I was just nineteen
when I was arrested, the 28th of February, 1815."

"Not quite twenty-six!" murmured the voice; "at that age he
cannot be a traitor."

"Oh, no, no," cried Dantes. "I swear to you again, rather
than betray you, I would allow myself to be hacked in

"You have done well to speak to me, and ask for my
assistance, for I was about to form another plan, and leave
you; but your age reassures me. I will not forget you.

"How long?"

"I must calculate our chances; I will give you the signal."

"But you will not leave me; you will come to me, or you will
let me come to you. We will escape, and if we cannot escape
we will talk; you of those whom you love, and I of those
whom I love. You must love somebody?"

"No, I am alone in the world."

"Then you will love me. If you are young, I will be your
comrade; if you are old, I will be your son. I have a father
who is seventy if he yet lives; I only love him and a young
girl called Mercedes. My father has not yet forgotten me, I
am sure, but God alone knows if she loves me still; I shall
love you as I loved my father."

"It is well," returned the voice; "to-morrow."

These few words were uttered with an accent that left no
doubt of his sincerity; Dantes rose, dispersed the fragments
with the same precaution as before, and pushed his bed back
against the wall. He then gave himself up to his happiness.
He would no longer be alone. He was, perhaps, about to
regain his liberty; at the worst, he would have a companion,
and captivity that is shared is but half captivity. Plaints
made in common are almost prayers, and prayers where two or
three are gathered together invoke the mercy of heaven.

All day Dantes walked up and down his cell. He sat down
occasionally on his bed, pressing his hand on his heart. At
the slightest noise he bounded towards the door. Once or
twice the thought crossed his mind that he might be
separated from this unknown, whom he loved already; and then
his mind was made up -- when the jailer moved his bed and
stooped to examine the opening, he would kill him with his
water jug. He would be condemned to die, but he was about to
die of grief and despair when this miraculous noise recalled
him to life.

The jailer came in the evening. Dantes was on his bed. It
seemed to him that thus he better guarded the unfinished
opening. Doubtless there was a strange expression in his
eyes, for the jailer said, "Come, are you going mad again?"

Dantes did not answer; he feared that the emotion of his
voice would betray him. The jailer went away shaking his
head. Night came; Dantes hoped that his neighbor would
profit by the silence to address him, but he was mistaken.
The next morning, however, just as he removed his bed from
the wall, he heard three knocks; he threw himself on his

"Is it you?" said he; "I am here."

"Is your jailer gone?"

"Yes," said Dantes; "he will not return until the evening;
so that we have twelve hours before us."

"I can work, then?" said the voice.

"Oh, yes, yes; this instant, I entreat you."

In a moment that part of the floor on which Dantes was
resting his two hands, as he knelt with his head in the
opening, suddenly gave way; he drew back smartly, while a
mass of stones and earth disappeared in a hole that opened
beneath the aperture he himself had formed. Then from the
bottom of this passage, the depth of which it was impossible
to measure, he saw appear, first the head, then the
shoulders, and lastly the body of a man, who sprang lightly
into his cell.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
General Fiction
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