eBooks Cube
 
Chapter 43
The House at Auteuil.

Monte Cristo noticed, as they descended the staircase, that
Bertuccio signed himself in the Corsican manner; that is,
had formed the sign of the cross in the air with his thumb,
and as he seated himself in the carriage, muttered a short
prayer. Any one but a man of exhaustless thirst for
knowledge would have had pity on seeing the steward's
extraordinary repugnance for the count's projected drive
without the walls; but the Count was too curious to let
Bertuccio off from this little journey. In twenty minutes
they were at Auteuil; the steward's emotion had continued to
augment as they entered the village. Bertuccio, crouched in
the corner of the carriage, began to examine with a feverish
anxiety every house they passed. "Tell them to stop at Rue
de la Fontaine, No. 28," said the count, fixing his eyes on
the steward, to whom he gave this order. Bertuccio's
forehead was covered with perspiration; however, he obeyed,
and, leaning out of the window, he cried to the coachman, --
"Rue de la Fontaine, No. 28." No. 28 was situated at the
extremity of the village; during the drive night had set in,
and darkness gave the surroundings the artificial appearance
of a scene on the stage. The carriage stopped, the footman
sprang off the box, and opened the door. "Well," said the
count, "you do not get out, M. Bertuccio -- you are going to
stay in the carriage, then? What are you thinking of this
evening?" Bertuccio sprang out, and offered his shoulder to
the count, who, this time, leaned upon it as he descended
the three steps of the carriage. "Knock," said the count,
"and announce me." Bertuccio knocked, the door opened, and
the concierge appeared. "What is it?" asked he.

"It is your new master, my good fellow," said the footman.
And he held out to the concierge the notary's order.

"The house is sold, then?" demanded the concierge; "and this
gentleman is coming to live here?"

"Yes, my friend," returned the count; "and I will endeavor
to give you no cause to regret your old master."

"Oh, monsieur," said the concierge, "I shall not have much
cause to regret him, for he came here but seldom; it is five
years since he was here last, and he did well to sell the
house, for it did not bring him in anything at all."

"What was the name of your old master?" said Monte Cristo.

"The Marquis of Saint-Meran. Ah, I am sure he has not sold
the house for what he gave for it."

"The Marquis of Saint-Meran!" returned the count. "The name
is not unknown to me; the Marquis of Saint-Meran!" and he
appeared to meditate.

"An old gentleman," continued the concierge, "a stanch
follower of the Bourbons; he had an only daughter, who
married M. de Villefort, who had been the king's attorney at
Nimes, and afterwards at Versailles." Monte Cristo glanced
at Bertuccio, who became whiter than the wall against which
he leaned to prevent himself from falling. "And is not this
daughter dead?" demanded Monte Cristo; "I fancy I have heard
so."

"Yes, monsieur, one and twenty years ago; and since then we
have not seen the poor marquis three times."

"Thanks, thanks," said Monte Cristo, judging from the
steward's utter prostration that he could not stretch the
cord further without danger of breaking it. "Give me a
light."

"Shall I accompany you, monsieur?"

"No, it is unnecessary; Bertuccio will show me a light." And
Monte Cristo accompanied these words by the gift of two gold
pieces, which produced a torrent of thanks and blessings
from the concierge. "Ah, monsieur," said he, after having
vainly searched on the mantle-piece and the shelves, "I have
not got any candles."

"Take one of the carriage-lamps, Bertuccio," said the count,
"and show me the apartments." The steward obeyed in silence,
but it was easy to see, from the manner in which the hand
that held the light trembled, how much it cost him to obey.
They went over a tolerably large ground-floor; a second
floor consisted of a salon, a bathroom, and two bedrooms;
near one of the bedrooms they came to a winding staircase
that led down to the garden.

"Ah, here is a private staircase," said the count; "that is
convenient. Light me, M. Bertuccio, and go first; we will
see where it leads to."

"Monsieur," replied Bertuccio, "it leads to the garden."

"And, pray, how do you know that?"

"It ought to do so, at least."

"Well, let us be sure of that." Bertuccio sighed, and went
on first; the stairs did, indeed, lead to the garden. At the
outer door the steward paused. "Go on, Monsieur Bertuccio,"
said the count. But he who was addressed stood there,
stupefied, bewildered, stunned; his haggard eyes glanced
around, as if in search of the traces of some terrible
event, and with his clinched hands he seemed striving to
shut out horrible recollections. "Well," insisted the Count.
"No, no," cried Bertuccio, setting down the lantern at the
angle of the interior wall. "No, monsieur, it is impossible;
I can go no farther."

"What does this mean?" demanded the irresistible voice of
Monte Cristo.

"Why, you must see, your excellency," cried the steward,
"that this is not natural; that, having a house to purchase,
you purchase it exactly at Auteuil, and that, purchasing it
at Auteuil, this house should be No. 28, Rue de la Fontaine.
Oh, why did I not tell you all? I am sure you would not have
forced me to come. I hoped your house would have been some
other one than this; as if there was not another house at
Auteuil than that of the assassination!"

"What, what!" cried Monte Cristo, stopping suddenly, "what
words do you utter? Devil of a man, Corsican that you are --
always mysteries or superstitions. Come, take the lantern,
and let us visit the garden; you are not afraid of ghosts
with me, I hope?" Bertuccio raised the lantern, and obeyed.
The door, as it opened, disclosed a gloomy sky, in which the
moon strove vainly to struggle through a sea of clouds that
covered her with billows of vapor which she illumined for an
instant, only to sink into obscurity. The steward wished to
turn to the left. "No, no, monsieur," said Monte Cristo.
"What is the use of following the alleys? Here is a
beautiful lawn; let us go on straight forwards."

Bertuccio wiped the perspiration from his brow, but obeyed;
however, he continued to take the left hand. Monte Cristo,
on the contrary, took the right hand; arrived near a clump
of trees, he stopped. The steward could not restrain
himself. "Move, monsieur -- move away, I entreat you; you
are exactly in the spot!"

"What spot?"

"Where he fell."

"My dear Monsieur Bertuccio," said Monte Cristo, laughing,
"control yourself; we are not at Sartena or at Corte. This
is not a Corsican arbor, but an English garden; badly kept,
I own, but still you must not calumniate it for that."

"Monsieur, I implore you do not stay there!"

"I think you are going mad, Bertuccio," said the count
coldly. "If that is the case, I warn you, I shall have you
put in a lunatic asylum."

"Alas, excellency," returned Bertuccio, joining his hands,
and shaking his head in a manner that would have excited the
count's laughter, had not thoughts of a superior interest
occupied him, and rendered him attentive to the least
revelation of this timorous conscience. "Alas, excellency,
the evil has arrived!"

"M. Bertuccio," said the count, "I am very glad to tell you,
that while you gesticulate, you wring your hands and roll
your eyes like a man possessed by a devil who will not leave
him; and I have always observed, that the devil most
obstinate to be expelled is a secret. I knew you were a
Corsican. I knew you were gloomy, and always brooding over
some old history of the vendetta; and I overlooked that in
Italy, because in Italy those things are thought nothing of.
But in France they are considered in very bad taste; there
are gendarmes who occupy themselves with such affairs,
judges who condemn, and scaffolds which avenge." Bertuccio
clasped his hands, and as, in all these evolutions, he did
not let fall the lantern, the light showed his pale and
altered countenance. Monte Cristo examined him with the same
look that, at Rome, he had bent upon the execution of
Andrea, and then, in a tone that made a shudder pass through
the veins of the poor steward, -- "The Abbe Busoni, then
told me an untruth," said he, "when, after his journey in
France, in 1829, he sent you to me, with a letter of
recommendation, in which he enumerated all your valuable
qualities. Well, I shall write to the abbe; I shall hold him
responsible for his protege's misconduct, and I shall soon
know all about this assassination. Only I warn you, that
when I reside in a country, I conform to all its code, and I
have no wish to put myself within the compass of the French
laws for your sake."

"Oh, do not do that, excellency; I have always served you
faithfully," cried Bertuccio, in despair. "I have always
been an honest man, and, as far as lay in my power, I have
done good."

"I do not deny it," returned the count; "but why are you
thus agitated. It is a bad sign; a quiet conscience does not
occasion such paleness in the cheeks, and such fever in the
hands of a man."

"But, your excellency," replied Bertuccio hesitatingly, "did
not the Abbe Busoni, who heard my confession in the prison
at Nimes, tell you that I had a heavy burden upon my
conscience?"

"Yes; but as he said you would make an excellent steward, I
concluded you had stolen -- that was all."

"Oh, your excellency," returned Bertuccio in deep contempt.

"Or, as you are a Corsican, that you had been unable to
resist the desire of making a `stiff,' as you call it."

"Yes, my good master," cried Bertuccio, casting himself at
the count's feet, "it was simply vengeance -- nothing else."

"I understand that, but I do not understand what it is that
galvanizes you in this manner."

"But, monsieur, it is very natural," returned Bertuccio,
"since it was in this house that my vengeance was
accomplished."

"What! my house?"

"Oh, your excellency, it was not yours, then."

"Whose, then? The Marquis de Saint-Meran, I think, the
concierge said. What had you to revenge on the Marquis de
Saint-Meran?"

"Oh, it was not on him, monsieur; it was on another."

"This is strange," returned Monte Cristo, seeming to yield
to his reflections, "that you should find yourself without
any preparation in a house where the event happened that
causes you so much remorse."

"Monsieur," said the steward, "it is fatality, I am sure.
First, you purchase a house at Auteuil -- this house is the
one where I have committed an assassination; you descend to
the garden by the same staircase by which he descended; you
stop at the spot where he received the blow; and two paces
farther is the grave in which he had just buried his child.
This is not chance, for chance, in this case, is too much
like providence."

"Well, amiable Corsican, let us suppose it is providence. I
always suppose anything people please, and, besides, you
must concede something to diseased minds. Come, collect
yourself, and tell me all."

"I have related it but once, and that was to the Abbe
Busoni. Such things," continued Bertuccio, shaking his head,
"are only related under the seal of confession."

"Then," said the count, "I refer you to your confessor. Turn
Chartreux or Trappist, and relate your secrets, but, as for
me, I do not like any one who is alarmed by such phantasms,
and I do not choose that my servants should be afraid to
walk in the garden of an evening. I confess I am not very
desirous of a visit from the commissary of police, for, in
Italy, justice is only paid when silent -- in France she is
paid only when she speaks. Peste, I thought you somewhat
Corsican, a great deal smuggler, and an excellent steward;
but I see you have other strings to your bow. You are no
longer in my service, Monsieur Bertuccio."

"Oh, your excellency, your excellency!" cried the steward,
struck with terror at this threat, "if that is the only
reason I cannot remain in your service, I will tell all, for
if I quit you, it will only be to go to the scaffold."

"That is different," replied Monte Cristo; "but if you
intend to tell an untruth, reflect it were better not to
speak at all."

"No, monsieur, I swear to you, by my hopes of salvation, I
will tell you all, for the Abbe Busoni himself only knew a
part of my secret; but, I pray you, go away from that
plane-tree. The moon is just bursting through the clouds,
and there, standing where you do, and wrapped in that cloak
that conceals your figure, you remind me of M. de
Villefort."

" What!" cried Monte Cristo, "it was M. de Villefort?"

"Your excellency knows him?"

"The former royal attorney at Nimes?"

"Yes."

"Who married the Marquis of Saint-Meran's daughter?"

"Yes."

"Who enjoyed the reputation of being the most severe, the
most upright, the most rigid magistrate on the bench?"

"Well, monsieur," said Bertuccio, "this man with this
spotless reputation" --

"Well?"

"Was a villain."

"Bah," replied Monte Cristo, "impossible!"

"It is as I tell you."

"Ah, really," said Monte Cristo. "Have you proof of this?"

"I had it."

"And you have lost it; how stupid!"

"Yes; but by careful search it might be recovered."

"Really," returned the count, "relate it to me, for it
begins to interest me." And the count, humming an air from
"Lucia," went to sit down on a bench, while Bertuccio
followed him, collecting his thoughts. Bertuccio remained
standing before him.



The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Category:
General Fiction
Nabou.com: the big site