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- The Count of Monte Cristo - 6/309 -
husband? Rest content with my friendship, for I say once more that is all I can promise, and I will promise no more than I can bestow."
"I understand," replied Fernand, "you can endure your own wretchedness patiently, but you are afraid to share mine. Well, Mercedes, beloved by you, I would tempt fortune; you would bring me good luck, and I should become rich. I could extend my occupation as a fisherman, might get a place as clerk in a warehouse, and become in time a dealer myself."
"You could do no such thing, Fernand; you are a soldier, and if you remain at the Catalans it is because there is no war; so remain a fisherman, and contented with my friendship, as I cannot give you more."
"Well, I will do better, Mercedes. I will be a sailor; instead of the costume of our fathers, which you despise, I will wear a varnished hat, a striped shirt, and a blue jacket, with an anchor on the buttons. Would not that dress please you?"
"What do you mean?" asked Mercedes, with an angry glance, -- "what do you mean? I do not understand you?"
"I mean, Mercedes, that you are thus harsh and cruel with me, because you are expecting some one who is thus attired; but perhaps he whom you await is inconstant, or if he is not, the sea is so to him."
"Fernand," cried Mercedes, "I believed you were good-hearted, and I was mistaken! Fernand, you are wicked to call to your aid jealousy and the anger of God! Yes, I will not deny it, I do await, and I do love him of whom you speak; and, if he does not return, instead of accusing him of the inconstancy which you insinuate, I will tell you that he died loving me and me only." The young girl made a gesture of rage. "I understand you, Fernand; you would be revenged on him because I do not love you; you would cross your Catalan knife with his dirk. What end would that answer? To lose you my friendship if he were conquered, and see that friendship changed into hate if you were victor. Believe me, to seek a quarrel with a man is a bad method of pleasing the woman who loves that man. No, Fernand, you will not thus give way to evil thoughts. Unable to have me for your wife, you will content yourself with having me for your friend and sister; and besides," she added, her eyes troubled and moistened with tears, "wait, wait, Fernand; you said just now that the sea was treacherous, and he has been gone four months, and during these four months there have been some terrible storms."
Fernand made no reply, nor did he attempt to check the tears which flowed down the cheeks of Mercedes, although for each of these tears he would have shed his heart's blood; but these tears flowed for another. He arose, paced a while up and down the hut, and then, suddenly stopping before Mercedes, with his eyes glowing and his hands clinched, -- "Say, Mercedes," he said, "once for all, is this your final determination?"
"I love Edmond Dantes," the young girl calmly replied, "and none but Edmond shall ever be my husband."
"And you will always love him?"
"As long as I live."
Fernand let fall his head like a defeated man, heaved a sigh that was like a groan, and then suddenly looking her full in the face, with clinched teeth and expanded nostrils, said, -- "But if he is dead" --
"If he is dead, I shall die too."
"If he has forgotten you" --
"Mercedes!" called a joyous voice from without, -- "Mercedes!"
"Ah," exclaimed the young girl, blushing with delight, and fairly leaping in excess of love, "you see he has not forgotten me, for here he is!" And rushing towards the door, she opened it, saying, "Here, Edmond, here I am!"
Fernand, pale and trembling, drew back, like a traveller at the sight of a serpent, and fell into a chair beside him. Edmond and Mercedes were clasped in each other's arms. The burning Marseilles sun, which shot into the room through the open door, covered them with a flood of light. At first they saw nothing around them. Their intense happiness isolated them from all the rest of the world, and they only spoke in broken words, which are the tokens of a joy so extreme that they seem rather the expression of sorrow. Suddenly Edmond saw the gloomy, pale, and threatening countenance of Fernand, as it was defined in the shadow. By a movement for which he could scarcely account to himself, the young Catalan placed his hand on the knife at his belt.
"Ah, your pardon," said Dantes, frowning in his turn; "I did not perceive that there were three of us." Then, turning to Mercedes, he inquired, "Who is this gentleman?"
"One who will be your best friend, Dantes, for he is my friend, my cousin, my brother; it is Fernand -- the man whom, after you, Edmond, I love the best in the world. Do you not remember him?"
"Yes!" said Dantes, and without relinquishing Mercedes hand clasped in one of his own, he extended the other to the Catalan with a cordial air. But Fernand, instead of responding to this amiable gesture, remained mute and trembling. Edmond then cast his eyes scrutinizingly at the agitated and embarrassed Mercedes, and then again on the gloomy and menacing Fernand. This look told him all, and his anger waxed hot.
"I did not know, when I came with such haste to you, that I was to meet an enemy here."
"An enemy!" cried Mercedes, with an angry look at her cousin. "An enemy in my house, do you say, Edmond! If I believed that, I would place my arm under yours and go with you to Marseilles, leaving the house to return to it no more."
Fernand's eye darted lightning. "And should any misfortune occur to you, dear Edmond," she continued with the same calmness which proved to Fernand that the young girl had read the very innermost depths of his sinister thought, "if misfortune should occur to you, I would ascend the highest point of the Cape de Morgion and cast myself headlong from it."
Fernand became deadly pale. "But you are deceived, Edmond," she continued. "You have no enemy here -- there is no one but Fernand, my brother, who will grasp your hand as a devoted friend."
And at these words the young girl fixed her imperious look on the Catalan, who, as if fascinated by it, came slowly towards Edmond, and offered him his hand. His hatred, like a powerless though furious wave, was broken against the strong ascendancy which Mercedes exercised over him. Scarcely, however, had he touched Edmond's hand than he felt he had done all he could do, and rushed hastily out of the house.
"Oh," he exclaimed, running furiously and tearing his hair -- "Oh, who will deliver me from this man? Wretched -- wretched that I am!"
"Hallo, Catalan! Hallo, Fernand! where are you running to?" exclaimed a voice.
The young man stopped suddenly, looked around him, and perceived Caderousse sitting at table with Danglars, under an arbor.
"Well", said Caderousse, "why don't you come? Are you really in such a hurry that you have no time to pass the time of day with your friends?"
"Particularly when they have still a full bottle before them," added Danglars. Fernand looked at them both with a stupefied air, but did not say a word.
"He seems besotted," said Danglars, pushing Caderousse with his knee. "Are we mistaken, and is Dantes triumphant in spite of all we have believed?"
"Why, we must inquire into that," was Caderousse's reply; and turning towards the young man, said, "Well, Catalan, can't you make up your mind?"
Fernand wiped away the perspiration steaming from his brow, and slowly entered the arbor, whose shade seemed to restore somewhat of calmness to his senses, and whose coolness somewhat of refreshment to his exhausted body.
"Good-day," said he. "You called me, didn't you?" And he fell, rather than sat down, on one of the seats which surrounded the table.
"I called you because you were running like a madman, and I was afraid you would throw yourself into the sea," said Caderousse, laughing. "Why, when a man has friends, they are not only to offer him a glass of wine, but, moreover, to prevent his swallowing three or four pints of water unnecessarily!"
Fernand gave a groan, which resembled a sob, and dropped his head into his hands, his elbows leaning on the table.
"Well, Fernand, I must say," said Caderousse, beginning the conversation, with that brutality of the common people in which curiosity destroys all diplomacy, "you look uncommonly like a rejected lover;" and he burst into a hoarse laugh.
"Bah!" said Danglars, "a lad of his make was not born to be unhappy in love. You are laughing at him, Caderousse."
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