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Chapter 38
The Compact.

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 the
previous evening; but services such as he had rendered could
never be too often acknowledged. Franz, who seemed attracted
by some invisible influence towards the count, in which
terror was strangely mingled, felt an extreme reluctance to
permit his friend to be exposed alone to the singular
fascination that this mysterious personage seemed to
exercise over him, and therefore made no objection to
Albert's request, but at once accompanied him to the desired
spot, and, after a short delay, the count joined them in the
salon. "My dear count," said Albert, advancing to meet him,
"permit me to repeat the poor thanks I offered last night,
and to assure you that the remembrance of all I owe to you
will never be effaced from my memory; believe me, as long as
I live, I shall never cease to dwell with grateful
recollection on the prompt and important service you
rendered me; and also to remember that to 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 some trifle of 20,000
francs, which you have been saved out of your travelling
expenses, so that there is not much of a score between us;
-- but you must really permit me to congratulate you on the
ease and unconcern with which you resigned yourself to your
fate, and the perfect indifference you manifested as to 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 those bandits see, that although
men get into troublesome scrapes all over the world, there
is no nation but the French that can smile even in the face
of grim Death himself. All that, however, has nothing to do
with my obligations to you, and I now come to ask you
whether, in my own person, my family, or connections, I can
in any way serve you? My father, the Comte de Morcerf,
although of Spanish origin, possesses considerable
influence, both at the court of France and Madrid, and I
unhesitatingly place the best services of myself, 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 of hearty sincerity with
which it is made; -- nay, I will go still further, and say
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 age without 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 my present ignorance of the first city in
Europe is a reproach to me in every way, and calls for
immediate correction; but, in all probability, I should have
performed so important, so necessary a duty, as that of
making myself acquainted with the wonders and beauties of
your justly celebrated capital, had I known any person who
would have introduced me into the fashionable world, 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 scarcely have required an introduction."

"You are most kind; but as regards myself, I can find no
merit I possess, save that, as a millionaire, I might have
become a partner in the speculations of M. Aguado and M.
Rothschild; but as my motive in travelling to your capital
would not have been for the pleasure of dabbling in stocks,
I stayed away till some favorable chance should present
itself of carrying my wish into execution. Your offer,
however, smooths all difficulties, and I have only to ask
you, my dear M. de Morcerf" (these words were accompanied by
a most peculiar smile), "whether you undertake, upon my
arrival in France, to open to me the doors of that
fashionable world of which I know no more than a Huron or a
native of Cochin-China?"

"Oh, that I do, and with infinite pleasure," answered
Albert; "and so much the more readily as a letter received
this morning from my father summons me to Paris, in
consequence of a treaty of marriage (my dear Franz, do not
smile, I beg of you) with a family of high standing, and
connected with the very cream of Parisian society."

"Connected by marriage, you mean," said Franz, laughingly.

"Well, never mind how it is," answered Albert, "it comes to
the same thing in the 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 all the
domestic virtues -- don't you think so? But as regards your
wish to visit our fine city, my dear count, I can only say
that you may command me and mine to any extent you please."

"Then it is settled," said the count, "and I give you my
solemn assurance that I only waited an opportunity like the
present to realize plans that I have long meditated." Franz
did not doubt that these plans were the same concerning
which the count had dropped a few words in the grotto of
Monte Cristo, and while the Count was speaking the young man
watched him closely, hoping to read something of his purpose
in his face, but his countenance was inscrutable especially
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 to chaperon so distinguished a person
as Monte Cristo; "tell me truly whether you are in earnest,
or if this project of visiting Paris is merely one of the
chimerical and uncertain air castles of which we make so
many in the course of our lives, but which, like a house
built on the sand, is liable to be blown over by the first
puff of wind?"

"I pledge you my honor," returned the count, "that I mean to
do as I have said; 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, as fast as I can get there!"

"Nay," said the Count; "I will give you three months ere I
join you; you see I make 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?" inquired the count; "only let me warn you that I
am proverbial for my punctilious exactitude 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 a calendar, suspended near the chimney-piece, he
said, "to-day is the 21st of February;" and drawing out his
watch, added, "it is exactly half-past ten o'clock. Now
promise me to remember this, and expect me the 21st of May
at the same 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 to any inconvenience."

"I reside in my father's house, but occupy a pavilion at the
farther side of the court-yard, entirely separated from the
main building."

"Quite sufficient," replied the count, as, taking out his
tablets, he wrote down "No. 27, Rue du Helder, 21st May,
half-past ten in the morning."

"Now then," said the count, returning his tablets to his
pocket, "make yourself perfectly easy; the hand of your
time-piece will not be more accurate in 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, and shall not return hither before Saturday
evening or Sunday morning. And you, baron," pursued the
count, addressing Franz, "do you also depart to-morrow?"

"Yes."

"For France?"

"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 the young men, "allow me to wish you both a
safe and pleasant journey." It was the first time the hand
of Franz had come in contact with that of the mysterious
individual before him, and unconsciously he shuddered at its
touch, for it felt cold and icy as that of a corpse. "Let us
understand each other," said Albert; "it is agreed -- is it
not? -- that you are to be at No. 27, in the Rue du Helder,
on the 21st of May, at half-past ten in the morning, and
your word of 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, quitted the room. "What is the
matter?" asked Albert of Franz, when they had returned to
their own apartments; "you seem more than commonly
thoughtful."

"I will confess to you, Albert," replied Franz, "the count
is a very singular person, and the appointment you have made
to meet him in Paris fills me with a thousand
apprehensions."

"My dear fellow," exclaimed Albert, "what can there possibly
be in that to excite 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 presented itself for saying this to you, for I
have noticed how cold you are in your bearing towards the
count, while he, on the other hand, has always been courtesy
itself to us. Have you anything particular against him?"

"Possibly."

"Did you ever meet him previously to coming hither?"

"I have."

"And where?"

"Will you promise me not to repeat a single word of what I
am about to tell you?"

"I promise."

"Upon your honor?"

"Upon my honor."

"Then listen to me." Franz then related to his friend the
history of his excursion to the Island of Monte Cristo and
of his finding a party of smugglers there, and the two
Corsican bandits with them. He dwelt with considerable force
and energy on the almost magical hospitality he had received
from the count, and the magnificence of his entertainment in
the grotto of the "Thousand and One Nights." He recounted,
with circumstantial exactitude, all the particulars of the
supper, the hashish, the statues, the dream, and how, at his
awakening, there remained no proof or trace of all these
events, save the small yacht, seen in the distant horizon
driving under full sail toward Porto-Vecchio. Then he
detailed the conversation overheard by him at the Colosseum,
between the count and Vampa, in which the count had promised
to obtain the release of the bandit Peppino, -- an
engagement which, as our readers are aware, he most
faithfully fulfilled. At last he arrived at the adventure of
the preceding night, and the embarrassment in which he found
himself placed by not having sufficient cash by six or seven
hundred piastres to make up the sum required, and finally of
his application to the count and the picturesque and
satisfactory result that followed. Albert listened with the
most profound attention. "Well," said he, when Franz had
concluded, "what do you find to object to in all you have
related? The count is fond of travelling, and, being rich,
possesses a vessel of his own. Go but to Portsmouth or
Southampton, and you will find the harbors crowded with the
yachts belonging to such of the English as can afford the
expense, and have the same liking for this amusement. Now,
by way of having a resting-place during his excursions,
avoiding the wretched cookery -- which has been trying its
best to poison me during the last four months, while you
have manfully resisted its effects for as many years, -- and
obtaining a bed on which it is possible to slumber, Monte
Cristo has furnished for himself a temporary abode where you
first found him; but, to prevent the possibility of the
Tuscan government taking a fancy to his enchanted palace,
and thereby depriving him of the advantages naturally
expected from so large an outlay of capital, he has wisely
enough purchased the island, and taken its name. Just ask
yourself, my good fellow, whether there are not many persons
of our acquaintance who assume the names of lands and
properties they never in their lives were masters of?"

"But," said Franz, "the Corsican bandits that were among the
crew of his vessel?"

"Why, really the thing seems to me simple enough. Nobody
knows better than yourself that the bandits of Corsica are
not rogues or thieves, but purely and simply fugitives,
driven by some sinister motive from their native town or
village, and that their fellowship involves no disgrace or
stigma; for my own part, I protest that, should I ever go to
Corsica, my first visit, ere even I presented 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 of men I admire greatly."

"Still," persisted Franz, "I suppose you will allow that
such men as Vampa and his band are regular villains, who
have no other motive than plunder when they seize your
person. How do you explain the influence the count evidently
possessed over those ruffians?"

"My good friend, as in all probability I own my present
safety to that influence, it would ill become me to search
too closely into its source; therefore, instead of
condemning him for his intimacy with outlaws, you must give
me leave to excuse any little irregularity there may be in
such a connection; not altogether for preserving my life,
for my own idea was that it never 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 in France, proving most
indisputably," added Albert with a laugh, "that no prophet
is honored in his own country."

"Talking of countries," replied Franz, "of what country is
the count, what is his native tongue, whence does he derive
his immense fortune, and what were those events of his early
life -- a life as marvellous as unknown -- that have
tinctured his succeeding years with so dark and gloomy a
misanthropy? Certainly these are questions that, in your
place, I should like to have answered."

"My dear Franz," replied Albert, "when, upon receipt of my
letter, you found the 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?"

"It was."

"Well, then, did he ask you, `Who is M. Albert de Morcerf?
how does he come by his name -- his fortune? what are his
means of existence? what is his birthplace! of what country
is he a native?' Tell me, did he put all these questions to
you?"

"I confess he asked me none."

"No; he merely came and freed me from the hands of Signor
Vampa, where, I can assure you, in spite of all my outward
appearance of ease and unconcern, I did not very
particularly care to remain. Now, then, Franz, when, for
services so promptly and unhesitatingly rendered, he but
asks me in return to do for him what is done daily for any
Russian prince or Italian nobleman who may pass through
Paris -- merely to introduce him into society -- would you
have me refuse? My good fellow, you must have lost your
senses to think it possible I could act with such
cold-blooded policy." And this time it must be confessed
that, contrary to the usual state of affairs in discussions
between the young men, the effective arguments were all on
Albert's side.

"Well," said Franz with a sigh, "do as you please my dear
viscount, for your arguments are beyond my powers of
refutation. Still, in spite of all, you must admit that this
Count of Monte Cristo is a most singular personage."

"He is a philanthropist," answered the other; "and no doubt
his motive in visiting 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 of virtue and
humanity. If my vote and interest can obtain it for him, I
will readily give him the one and promise the other. And
now, my dear Franz, let us talk of something else. Come,
shall we take our luncheon, and then pay a last visit 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 return to Paris, and Franz d'Epinay to
pass a fortnight at Venice. But, ere he entered his
travelling carriage, Albert, fearing that his expected guest
might forget the engagement he had entered into, placed in
the care of a waiter at the 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."



The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Category:
General Fiction
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