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- The Count of Monte Cristo - 240/309 -
interest my mother takes in you."
"`Woman is fickle.' said Francis I.; `woman is like a wave of the sea,' said Shakespeare; both the great king and the great poet ought to have known woman's nature well."
"Woman's, yes; my mother is not woman, but a woman."
"As I am only a humble foreigner, you must pardon me if I do not understand all the subtle refinements of your language."
"What I mean to say is, that my mother is not quick to give her confidence, but when she does she never changes."
"Ah, yes, indeed," said Monte Cristo with a sigh; "and do you think she is in the least interested in me?"
"I repeat it, you must really be a very strange and superior man, for my mother is so absorbed by the interest you have excited, that when I am with her she speaks of no one else."
"And does she try to make you dislike me?"
"On the contrary, she often says, `Morcerf, I believe the count has a noble nature; try to gain his esteem.'"
"Indeed?" said Monte Cristo, sighing.
"You see, then," said Albert, "that instead of opposing, she will encourage me."
"Adieu, then, until five o'clock; be punctual, and we shall arrive at twelve or one."
"Yes; or in the neighborhood."
"But can we travel forty-eight leagues in eight hours?"
"Easily," said Monte Cristo.
"You are certainly a prodigy; you will soon not only surpass the railway, which would not be very difficult in France, but even the telegraph."
"But, viscount, since we cannot perform the journey in less than seven or eight hours, do not keep me waiting."
"Do not fear, I have little to prepare." Monte Cristo smiled as he nodded to Albert, then remained a moment absorbed in deep meditation. But passing his hand across his forehead as if to dispel his revery, he rang the bell twice and Bertuccio entered. "Bertuccio," said he, "I intend going this evening to Normandy, instead of to-morrow or the next day. You will have sufficient time before five o'clock; despatch a messenger to apprise the grooms at the first station. M. de Morcerf will accompany me." Bertuccio obeyed and despatched a courier to Pontoise to say the travelling-carriage would arrive at six o'clock. From Pontoise another express was sent to the next stage, and in six hours all the horses stationed on the road were ready. Before his departure, the count went to Haidee's apartments, told her his intention, and resigned everything to her care. Albert was punctual. The journey soon became interesting from its rapidity, of which Morcerf had formed no previous idea. "Truly," said Monte Cristo, "with your posthorses going at the rate of two leagues an hour, and that absurd law that one traveller shall not pass another without permission, so that an invalid or ill-tempered traveller may detain those who are well and active, it is impossible to move; I escape this annoyance by travelling with my own postilion and horses; do I not, Ali?"
The count put his head out of the window and whistled, and the horses appeared to fly. The carriage rolled with a thundering noise over the pavement, and every one turned to notice the dazzling meteor. Ali, smiling, repeated the sound, grasped the reins with a firm hand, and spurred his horses, whose beautiful manes floated in the breeze. This child of the desert was in his element, and with his black face and sparkling eyes appeared, in the cloud of dust he raised, like the genius of the simoom and the god of the hurricane. "I never knew till now the delight of speed," said Morcerf, and the last cloud disappeared from his brow; "but where the devil do you get such horses? Are they made to order?"
"Precisely," said the count; "six years since I bought a horse in Hungary remarkable for its swiftness. The thirty-two that we shall use to-night are its progeny; they are all entirely black, with the exception of a star upon the forehead."
"That is perfectly admirable; but what do you do, count, with all these horses?"
"You see, I travel with them."
"But you are not always travelling."
"When I no longer require them, Bertuccio will sell them, and he expects to realize thirty or forty thousand francs by the sale."
"But no monarch in Europe will be wealthy enough to purchase them."
"Then he will sell them to some Eastern vizier, who will empty his coffers to purchase them, and refill them by applying the bastinado to his subjects."
"Count, may I suggest one idea to you?"
"It is that, next to you, Bertuccio must be the richest gentleman in Europe."
"You are mistaken, viscount; I believe he has not a franc in his possession."
"Then he must be a wonder. My dear count, if you tell me many more marvellous things, I warn you I shall not believe them."
"I countenance nothing that is marvellous, M. Albert. Tell me, why does a steward rob his master?"
"Because, I suppose, it is his nature to do so, for the love of robbing."
"You are mistaken; it is because he has a wife and family, and ambitious desires for himself and them. Also because he is not sure of always retaining his situation, and wishes to provide for the future. Now, M. Bertuccio is alone in the world; he uses my property without accounting for the use he makes of it; he is sure never to leave my service."
"Because I should never get a better."
"Probabilities are deceptive."
"But I deal in certainties; he is the best servant over whom one has the power of life and death."
"Do you possess that right over Bertuccio?"
There are words which close a conversation with an iron door; such was the count's "yes." The whole journey was performed with equal rapidity; the thirty-two horses, dispersed over seven stages, brought them to their destination in eight hours. At midnight they arrived at the gate of a beautiful park. The porter was in attendance; he had been apprised by the groom of the last stage of the count's approach. At half past two in the morning Morcerf was conducted to his apartments, where a bath and supper were prepared. The servant who had travelled at the back of the carriage waited on him; Baptistin, who rode in front, attended the count. Albert bathed, took his supper, and went to bed. All night he was lulled by the melancholy noise of the surf. On rising, he went to his window, which opened on a terrace, having the sea in front, and at the back a pretty park bounded by a small forest. In a creek lay a little sloop, with a narrow keel and high masts, bearing on its flag the Monte Cristo arms which were a mountain on a sea azure, with a cross gules on the shield. Around the schooner lay a number of small fishing-boats belonging to the fishermen of the neighboring village, like humble subjects awaiting orders from their queen. There, as in every spot where Monte Cristo stopped, if but for two days, luxury abounded and life went on with the utmost ease.
Albert found in his anteroom two guns, with all the accoutrements for hunting; a lofty room on the ground-floor containing all the ingenious instruments the English -- eminent in piscatory pursuits, since they are patient and sluggish -- have invented for fishing. The day passed in pursuing those exercises in which Monte Cristo excelled. They killed a dozen pheasants in the park, as many trout in the stream, dined in a summer-house overlooking the ocean, and took tea in the library.
Towards the evening of the third day. Albert, completely exhausted with the exercise which invigorated Monte Cristo, was sleeping in an arm-chair near the window, while the count was designing with his architect the plan of a conservatory in his house, when the sound of a horse at full speed on the high road made Albert look up. He was disagreeably surprised to see his own valet de chambre, whom he had not brought, that he might not inconvenience Monte Cristo.
"Florentin here!" cried he, starting up; "is my mother ill?" And he hastened to the door. Monte Cristo watched and saw him approach the valet, who drew a small sealed parcel from
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