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Chapter 63
The Dinner.

It was evident that one sentiment affected all the guests on
entering the dining-room. Each one asked what strange
influence had brought them to this house, and yet
astonished, even uneasy though they were, they still felt
that they would not like to be absent. The recent events,
the solitary and eccentric position of the count, his
enormous, nay, almost incredible fortune, should have made
men cautious, and have altogether prevented ladies visiting
a house where there was no one of their own sex to receive
them; and yet curiosity had been enough to lead them to
overleap the bounds of prudence and decorum. 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 this incomprehensible
man. Madame Danglars had started when Villefort, on the
count's invitation, offered his arm; and Villefort felt that
his glance was uneasy beneath his gold spectacles, when he
felt the arm of the baroness press upon his own. None of
this had escaped the count, and even by this mere contact of
individuals the scene had already acquired considerable
interest for an observer. M. de Villefort had on the right
hand Madame Danglars, on his left Morrel. The count was
seated between Madame de Villefort and Danglars; the other
seats were filled by Debray, who was placed between the two
Cavalcanti, and by Chateau-Renaud, seated between Madame de
Villefort and Morrel.

The repast was magnificent; Monte Cristo had endeavored
completely to overturn the Parisian ideas, and to feed the
curiosity as much as the appetite of his guests. It was an
Oriental feast that he offered to them, but of such a kind
as the Arabian fairies might be supposed to prepare. Every
delicious fruit that the four quarters of the globe could
provide was heaped in vases from China and jars from Japan.
Rare birds, retaining their most brilliant plumage, enormous
fish, spread upon massive silver dishes, together with every
wine produced 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 his
guests, passed in review before the eyes of the astonished
Parisians, who understood that it was possible to expend a
thousand louis upon a dinner for ten persons, but only on
the condition of eating pearls, like Cleopatra, or drinking
refined gold, like Lorenzo de' Medici.

Monte Cristo noticed the general astonishment, and began
laughing and joking about it. "Gentlemen," he said, "you
will admit that, when arrived at a certain degree of
fortune, the superfluities of life are all that can be
desired; and the ladies will allow that, after having risen
to a certain eminence of position, the ideal alone can be
more exalted. Now, to follow out this 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 see things which I cannot understand, to procure
impossibilities, these are the study of my life. I gratify
my wishes by two means -- my will and my money. I take as
much interest in the pursuit of some whim as you do, M.
Danglars, in promoting a new railway line; you, M. de
Villefort, in condemning a culprit to death; you, M. Debray,
in pacifying a kingdom; you, M. de Chateau-Renaud, in
pleasing 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 them both 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

"And," said Cavalcanti, "I know that Lake Fusaro alone
supplies lampreys of that size."

"Exactly; one comes from the Volga, and the other from Lake

"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. This fish, which seems so
exquisite to you, is very likely no better than perch or
salmon; but it seemed impossible to procure it, and here it

"But how could you have these fish brought to France?"

"Oh, nothing more easy. Each fish was brought over in a cask
-- one filled with river herbs and weeds, the other with
rushes and lake plants; they were placed in a wagon built on
purpose, and thus the sterlet lived twelve days, the lamprey
eight, and both were alive when my cook seized them, killing
one with milk and the other with wine. You do not believe
me, M. Danglars!"

"I cannot help doubting," answered Danglars with his stupid

"Baptistin," said the count, "have the other fish brought in
-- the sterlet and the lamprey which came in the other
casks, and which are yet alive." Danglars opened his
bewildered eyes; the company clapped their hands. Four
servants carried in two casks covered with aquatic plants,
and in each of which was breathing 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 may well say it is a fine thing to be

"And to have ideas," added Madame Danglars.

"Oh, do not give me credit for this, madame; it was done by
the Romans, who much esteemed them, and Pliny relates that
they sent slaves from Ostia to Rome, 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 a luxury 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 when it
disappears, pass through all the prismatic shades, after
which they were sent to the kitchen. Their agony formed part
of their merit -- if they were not seen 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 eighteen hundred years after Lucullus. if we can do
no better than he could?" The two Cavalcanti opened their
enormous eyes, but had the good sense not to say anything.
"All this is very extraordinary," said Chateau-Renaud;
"still, what I admire the most, I confess, is the marvellous
promptitude with which your orders are executed. Is it not
true that you only bought this house five or six days ago?"

"Certainly not longer."

"Well, I am sure it is quite transformed since last week. If
I remember rightly, 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 a
hundred 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 on the day of my miraculous escape you
brought me into the house from the road, I remember."

"Yes, madame," said Monte Cristo; "but I preferred having an
entrance which would 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 house out of an old one; for it was very old, and
dull too. I recollect coming for my mother to look at it
when M. de Saint-Meran advertised it for sale two or three
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

"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 not
belonged to the father-in-law of the procureur, one might
have thought it some accursed place where a horrible crime
had been committed." Villefort, who had hitherto not tasted
the three or four glasses of rare wine which were placed
before him, here took one, and drank it off. Monte Cristo
allowed a short time to elapse, and then said, "It is
singular, baron, but the same idea came across me the first
time I came here; it looked so gloomy I should never have
bought it if my steward had not taken the matter into his
own hands. Perhaps the fellow had been bribed by the

"It is probable," stammered out Villefort, trying to smile;
"but I can assure you that I had nothing to do with any such
proceeding. This house is part of Valentine's
marriage-portion, and M. de Saint-Meran wished to sell it;
for if it had remained another year or two uninhabited it
would have fallen to ruin." It was Morrel's turn to become

"There was, above all, one room," continued Monte Cristo,
"very plain in appearance, hung with red damask, which, I
know not why, appeared to me quite dramatic."

"Why so?" said Danglars; "why dramatic?"

"Can we account for instinct?" said Monte Cristo. "Are there
not some places where we seem to breathe sadness? -- why, we
cannot tell. It is a chain of recollections -- an idea which
carries you back to other times, to other places -- which,
very likely, have no connection with the present time and
place. And there is something in this room which reminds me
forcibly of the chamber of the Marquise de Ganges* or
Desdemona. Stay, since we have finished dinner, I will 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 Villefort rose, Monte Cristo did the same,
and the rest followed their example. Villefort and Madame
Danglars remained for a moment, as if rooted to their seats;
they questioned each other with vague and stupid glances.
"Did you hear?" said Madame Danglars.

* Elisabeth de Rossan, Marquise de Ganges, was one of the
famous women of the court of Louis XIV. where she was known
as "La Belle Provencale." She was the widow of the Marquise
de Castellane when she married de Ganges, and having the
misfortune to excite the enmity of her new brothers-in-law,
was forced by them to take poison; and they finished her off
with pistol and dagger. -- Ed.

"We must go," replied Villefort, offering his arm. The
others, attracted by curiosity, were already scattered in
different parts of the house; for they thought the visit
would not be limited to the one room, and that, at the same
time, they would obtain a view of the rest of the building,
of which Monte Cristo had created a palace. Each one went
out by the open doors. Monte Cristo waited for the two who
remained; then, when they had passed, he brought up the
rear, 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 to enter. They began by
walking through the apartments, many of which were fitted up
in the Eastern style, with cushions and divans instead of
beds, and pipes instead of furniture. The drawing-rooms were
decorated with the rarest pictures by the old masters, the
boudoirs hung with draperies from China, of fanciful colors,
fantastic design, and wonderful texture. At length they
arrived at the famous room. There was nothing particular
about it, excepting that, although daylight had disappeared,
it was not lighted, and everything in it was old-fashioned,
while the rest of the rooms had been redecorated. These two
causes were enough to give it a gloomy aspect. "Oh." cried
Madame de Villefort, "it is really frightful." Madame
Danglars tried to utter a few words, but was not heard. Many
observations were made, the import of which was a unanimous
opinion that there was something sinister about the room.
"Is it not so?" asked Monte Cristo. "Look at that large
clumsy bed, hung with such gloomy, blood-colored drapery!
And those two crayon portraits, that have faded from the
dampness; do they not seem to say, with their pale lips and
staring eyes, `We have seen'?" Villefort became livid;
Madame Danglars fell into a long seat placed near the
chimney. "Oh," said Madame de Villefort, smiling, "are you
courageous enough to sit down upon the very seat perhaps
upon which the crime was committed?" Madame Danglars rose

"And then," said Monte Cristo, "this is not all."

"What is there more?" said Debray, who had not failed to
notice the agitation of Madame Danglars.

"Ah, what else is there?" said Danglars; "for, at present, I
cannot say that I have 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 a door 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 certainly everything appears to me black in
this house," said Debray.

Ever since Valentine's dowry had been mentioned, Morrel had
been silent and sad. "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?"
Madame Danglars half fainted on the arm of Villefort, who
was obliged to support himself against the wall. "Ah,
madame," cried Debray, "what is the matter with you? 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 to frighten us
to death."

"Yes," said Villefort, "really, count, you frighten the

"What is the matter?" asked Debray, in a whisper, of Madame

"Nothing," she replied with a violent effort. "I want air,
that is all."

"Will you come into the garden?" said Debray, advancing
towards the back staircase.

"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 which gives them the appearance of reality "

"Ah, yes," said Monte Cristo smiling; "it is all a matter of
imagination. Why should we not imagine this the apartment of
an honest mother? And this bed with red hangings, a bed
visited by the goddess Lucina? And that mysterious
staircase, the passage through which, not to disturb their
sleep, the doctor and nurse pass, or even the father
carrying the sleeping child?" Here Madame Danglars, instead
of being calmed by the soft picture, uttered a groan and
fainted. "Madame Danglars is ill," said Villefort; "it would
be better to take her to her carriage."

"Oh, mon Dieu," said Monte Cristo, "and I have forgotten my

"I have mine," said Madame de Villefort; and she passed over
to Monte Cristo a bottle full of the same kind of red liquid
whose good properties the count had tested 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 a very small portion of the red liquid upon
her lips; she returned to consciousness. "Ah," she cried,
"what a frightful dream!"

Villefort pressed her hand to let her know it was not a
dream. They looked for M. Danglars, but, as he was not
especially interested in poetical ideas, he had gone into
the garden, and was talking with Major Cavalcanti on the
projected railway from Leghorn to Florence. Monte Cristo
seemed in despair. He took the arm of Madame Danglars, and
conducted her into the garden, where they found Danglars
taking coffee between the Cavalcanti. "Really, madame," he
said, "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, you know," he said, "an
idea, a supposition, is sufficient."

"Well," said Monte Cristo, "you may believe me if you like,
but it is my opinion that a crime has been committed in this

"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 of his presence to make my declaration."

"Your declaration?" said Villefort.

"Yes, before witnesses."

"Oh, this is very interesting," said Debray; "if there
really has been a crime, 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 the competent 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 the plantain-tree, where the shade was
thickest. All the other guests followed. "Stay," said Monte
Cristo, "here, in this very spot" (and he stamped upon the
ground), "I had the earth dug up and fresh mould put in, to
refresh these old trees; 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 Cristo felt the
arm of Madame Danglars stiffen, while that of Villefort
trembled. "A newly born infant," repeated Debray; "this
affair becomes serious!"

"Well," said Chateau-Renaud, "I was not wrong just now then,
when I said that houses had souls and faces like men, and
that their exteriors carried the impress 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

"How? is it not a crime to bury a living child in a garden?"
cried Monte Cristo. "And pray what do you call such an

"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
Cavalcanti innocently.

"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

"Yes, count," replied Villefort, in a voice now scarcely

Monte Cristo, seeing that the two persons for whom he had
prepared this scene could 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 the
guests back to the table on the lawn.

"Indeed, count," said Madame Danglars, "I am ashamed to own
it, but all your frightful 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 de Villefort. "I
think Madame Danglars again requires your bottle," he said.
But before Madame de Villefort could reach her friend the
procureur had found time to 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 I am much better."

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
General Fiction
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