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- The Count of Monte Cristo - 30/309 -
of vengeance. Fernand's mind was made up; he would shoot Dantes, and then kill himself. But Fernand was mistaken; a man of his disposition never kills himself, for he constantly hopes.
During this time the empire made its last conscription, and every man in France capable of bearing arms rushed to obey the summons of the emperor. Fernand departed with the rest, bearing with him the terrible thought that while he was away, his rival would perhaps return and marry Mercedes. Had Fernand really meant to kill himself, he would have done so when he parted from Mercedes. His devotion, and the compassion he showed for her misfortunes, produced the effect they always produce on noble minds -- Mercedes had always had a sincere regard for Fernand, and this was now strengthened by gratitude.
"My brother," said she as she placed his knapsack on his shoulders, "be careful of yourself, for if you are killed, I shall be alone in the world." These words carried a ray of hope into Fernand's heart. Should Dantes not return, Mercedes might one day be his.
Mercedes was left alone face to face with the vast plain that had never seemed so barren, and the sea that had never seemed so vast. Bathed in tears she wandered about the Catalan village. Sometimes she stood mute and motionless as a statue, looking towards Marseilles, at other times gazing on the sea, and debating as to whether it were not better to cast herself into the abyss of the ocean, and thus end her woes. It was not want of courage that prevented her putting this resolution into execution; but her religious feelings came to her aid and saved her. Caderousse was, like Fernand, enrolled in the army, but, being married and eight years older, he was merely sent to the frontier. Old Dantes, who was only sustained by hope, lost all hope at Napoleon's downfall. Five months after he had been separated from his son, and almost at the hour of his arrest, he breathed his last in Mercedes' arms. M. Morrel paid the expenses of his funeral, and a few small debts the poor old man had contracted.
There was more than benevolence in this action; there was courage; the south was aflame, and to assist, even on his death-bed, the father of so dangerous a Bonapartist as Dantes, was stigmatized as a crime.
Chapter 14 The Two Prisoners.
A year after Louis XVIII.'s restoration, a visit was made by the inspector-general of prisons. Dantes in his cell heard the noise of preparation, -- sounds that at the depth where he lay would have been inaudible to any but the ear of a prisoner, who could hear the splash of the drop of water that every hour fell from the roof of his dungeon. He guessed something uncommon was passing among the living; but he had so long ceased to have any intercourse with the world, that he looked upon himself as dead.
The inspector visited, one after another, the cells and dungeons of several of the prisoners, whose good behavior or stupidity recommended them to the clemency of the government. He inquired how they were fed, and if they had any request to make. The universal response was, that the fare was detestable, and that they wanted to be set free.
The inspector asked if they had anything else to ask for. They shook their heads. What could they desire beyond their liberty? The inspector turned smilingly to the governor.
"I do not know what reason government can assign for these useless visits; when you see one prisoner, you see all, -- always the same thing, -- ill fed and innocent. Are there any others?"
"Yes; the dangerous and mad prisoners are in the dungeons."
"Let us visit them," said the inspector with an air of fatigue. "We must play the farce to the end. Let us see the dungeons."
"Let us first send for two soldiers," said the governor. "The prisoners sometimes, through mere uneasiness of life, and in order to be sentenced to death, commit acts of useless violence, and you might fall a victim."
"Take all needful precautions," replied the inspector.
Two soldiers were accordingly sent for, and the inspector descended a stairway, so foul, so humid, so dark, as to be loathsome to sight, smell, and respiration.
"Oh," cried the inspector, "who can live here?"
"A most dangerous conspirator, a man we are ordered to keep the most strict watch over, as he is daring and resolute."
"He is alone?"
"How long his he been there?"
"Nearly a year."
"Was he placed here when he first arrived?"
"No; not until he attempted to kill the turnkey, who took his food to him."
"To kill the turnkey?"
"Yes, the very one who is lighting us. Is it not true, Antoine?" asked the governor.
"True enough; he wanted to kill me!" returned the turnkey.
"He must be mad," said the inspector.
"He is worse than that, -- he is a devil!" returned the turnkey.
"Shall I complain of him?" demanded the inspector.
"Oh, no; it is useless. Besides, he is almost mad now, and in another year he will be quite so."
"So much the better for him, -- he will suffer less," said the inspector. He was, as this remark shows, a man full of philanthropy, and in every way fit for his office.
"You are right, sir," replied the governor; "and this remark proves that you have deeply considered the subject. Now we have in a dungeon about twenty feet distant, and to which you descend by another stair, an abbe, formerly leader of a party in Italy, who has been here since 1811, and in 1813 he went mad, and the change is astonishing. He used to weep, he now laughs; he grew thin, he now grows fat. You had better see him, for his madness is amusing."
"I will see them both," returned the inspector; "I must conscientiously perform my duty." This was the inspector's first visit; he wished to display his authority.
"Let us visit this one first," added he.
"By all means," replied the governor, and he signed to the turnkey to open the door. At the sound of the key turning in the lock, and the creaking of the hinges, Dantes, who was crouched in a corner of the dungeon, whence he could see the ray of light that came through a narrow iron grating above, raised his head. Seeing a stranger, escorted by two turnkeys holding torches and accompanied by two soldiers, and to whom the governor spoke bareheaded, Dantes, who guessed the truth, and that the moment to address himself to the superior authorities was come, sprang forward with clasped hands.
The soldiers interposed their bayonets, for they thought that he was about to attack the inspector, and the latter recoiled two or three steps. Dantes saw that he was looked upon as dangerous. Then, infusing all the humility he possessed into his eyes and voice, he addressed the inspector, and sought to inspire him with pity.
The inspector listened attentively; then, turning to the governor, observed, "He will become religious -- he is already more gentle; he is afraid, and retreated before the bayonets -- madmen are not afraid of anything; I made some curious observations on this at Charenton." Then, turning to the prisoner, "What is it you want?" said he.
"I want to know what crime I have committed -- to be tried; and if I am guilty, to be shot; if innocent, to be set at liberty."
"Are you well fed?" said the inspector.
"I believe so; I don't know; it's of no consequence. What matters really, not only to me, but to officers of justice and the king, is that an innocent man should languish in prison, the victim of an infamous denunciation, to die here cursing his executioners."
"You are very humble to-day," remarked the governor; "you are not so always; the other day, for instance, when you tried to kill the turnkey."
"It is true, sir, and I beg his pardon, for he his always been very good to me, but I was mad."
"And you are not so any longer?"
"No; captivity has subdued me -- I have been here so long."
"So long? -- when were you arrested, then?" asked the inspector.
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