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    Chapter 23

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    Chapter 23
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    CHAPTER 23
    The Island of Monte Cristo.

    Thus, at length, by one of the unexpected strokes of fortune
    which sometimes befall those who have for a long time been
    the victims of an evil destiny, Dantes was about to secure
    the opportunity he wished for, by simple and natural means,
    and land on the island without incurring any suspicion. One
    night more and he would be on his way.

    The night was one of feverish distraction, and in its
    progress visions good and evil passed through Dantes' mind.
    If he closed his eyes, he saw Cardinal Spada's letter
    written on the wall in characters of flame -- if he slept
    for a moment the wildest dreams haunted his brain. He
    ascended into grottos paved with emeralds, with panels of
    rubies, and the roof glowing with diamond stalactites.
    Pearls fell drop by drop, as subterranean waters filter in
    their caves. Edmond, amazed, wonderstruck, filled his
    pockets with the radiant gems and then returned to daylight,
    when be discovered that his prizes had all changed into
    common pebbles. He then endeavored to re-enter the
    marvellous grottos, but they had suddenly receded, and now
    the path became a labyrinth, and then the entrance vanished,
    and in vain did he tax his memory for the magic and
    mysterious word which opened the splendid caverns of Ali
    Baba to the Arabian fisherman. All was useless, the treasure
    disappeared, and had again reverted to the genii from whom
    for a moment he had hoped to carry it off. The day came at
    length, and was almost as feverish as the night had been,
    but it brought reason to the aid of imagination, and Dantes
    was then enabled to arrange a plan which had hitherto been
    vague and unsettled in his brain. Night came, and with it
    the preparation for departure, and these preparations served
    to conceal Dantes' agitation. He had by degrees assumed such
    authority over his companions that he was almost like a
    commander on board; and as his orders were always clear,
    distinct, and easy of execution, his comrades obeyed him
    with celerity and pleasure.

    The old patron did not interfere, for he too had recognized
    the superiority of Dantes over the crew and himself. He saw
    in the young man his natural successor, and regretted that
    he had not a daughter, that he might have bound Edmond to
    him by a more secure alliance. At seven o'clock in the
    evening all was ready, and at ten minutes past seven they
    doubled the lighthouse just as the beacon was kindled. The
    sea was calm, and, with a fresh breeze from the south-east,
    they sailed beneath a bright blue sky, in which God also
    lighted up in turn his beacon lights, each of which is a
    world. Dantes told them that all hands might turn in, and he
    would take the helm. When the Maltese (for so they called
    Dantes) had said this, it was sufficient, and all went to
    their bunks contentedly. This frequently happened. Dantes,
    cast from solitude into the world, frequently experienced an
    imperious desire for solitude; and what solitude is more
    complete, or more poetical, then that of a ship floating in
    isolation on the sea during the obscurity of the night, in
    the silence of immensity, and under the eye of heaven?

    Now this solitude was peopled with his thoughts, the night
    lighted up by his illusions, and the silence animated by his
    anticipations. When the patron awoke, the vessel was
    hurrying on with every sail set, and every sail full with
    the breeze. They were making nearly ten knots an hour. The
    Island of Monte Cristo loomed large in the horizon. Edmond
    resigned the lugger to the master's care, and went and lay
    down in his hammock; but, in spite of a sleepless night, he
    could not close his eyes for a moment. Two hours afterwards
    he came on deck, as the boat was about to double the Island
    of Elba. They were just abreast of Mareciana, and beyond the
    flat but verdant Island of La Pianosa. The peak of Monte
    Cristo reddened by the burning sun, was seen against the
    azure sky. Dantes ordered the helmsman to put down his helm,
    in order to leave La Pianosa to starboard, as he knew that
    he should shorten his course by two or three knots. About
    five o'clock in the evening the island was distinct, and
    everything on it was plainly perceptible, owing to that
    clearness of the atmosphere peculiar to the light which the
    rays of the sun cast at its setting.

    Edmond gazed very earnestly at the mass of rocks which gave
    out all the variety of twilight colors, from the brightest
    pink to the deepest blue; and from time to time his cheeks
    flushed, his brow darkened, and a mist passed over his eyes.
    Never did gamester, whose whole fortune is staked on one
    cast of the die, experience the anguish which Edmond felt in
    his paroxysms of hope. Night came, and at ten o'clock they
    anchored. The Young Amelia was first at the rendezvous. In
    spite of his usual command over himself, Dantes could not
    restrain his impetuosity. He was the first to jump on shore;
    and had he dared, he would, like Lucius Brutus, have "kissed
    his mother earth." It was dark, but at eleven o'clock the
    moon rose in the midst of the ocean, whose every wave she
    silvered, and then, "ascending high," played in floods of
    pale light on the rocky hills of this second Pelion.

    The island was familiar to the crew of The Young Amelia, --
    it was one of her regular haunts. As to Dantes, he had
    passed it on his voyage to and from the Levant, but never
    touched at it. He questioned Jacopo. "Where shall we pass
    the night?" he inquired.

    "Why, on board the tartan," replied the sailor.

    "Should we not do better in the grottos?"

    "What grottos?"

    "Why, the grottos -- caves of the island."

    "I do not know of any grottos," replied Jacopo. The cold
    sweat sprang forth on Dantes' brow.

    "What, are there no grottos at Monte Cristo?" he asked.

    "None."

    For a moment Dantes was speechless; then he remembered that
    these caves might have been filled up by some accident, or
    even stopped up, for the sake of greater security, by
    Cardinal Spada. The point was, then, to discover the hidden
    entrance. It was useless to search at night, and Dantes
    therefore delayed all investigation until the morning.
    Besides, a signal made half a league out at sea, and to
    which The Young Amelia replied by a similar signal,
    indicated that the moment for business had come. The boat
    that now arrived, assured by the answering signal that all
    was well, soon came in sight, white and silent as a phantom,
    and cast anchor within a cable's length of shore.

    Then the landing began. Dantes reflected, as he worked, on
    the shout of joy which, with a single word, he could evoke
    from all these men, if he gave utterance to the one
    unchanging thought that pervaded his heart; but, far from
    disclosing this precious secret, he almost feared that he
    had already said too much, and by his restlessness and
    continual questions, his minute observations and evident
    pre-occupation, aroused suspicions. Fortunately, as regarded
    this circumstance at least, his painful past gave to his
    countenance an indelible sadness, and the glimmerings of
    gayety seen beneath this cloud were indeed but transitory.

    No one had the slightest suspicion; and when next day,
    taking a fowling-piece, powder, and shot, Dantes declared
    his intention to go and kill some of the wild goats that
    were seen springing from rock to rock, his wish was
    construed into a love of sport, or a desire for solitude.
    However, Jacopo insisted on following him, and Dantes did
    not oppose this, fearing if he did so that he might incur
    distrust. Scarcely, however, had they gone a quarter of a
    league when, having killed a kid, he begged Jacopo to take
    it to his comrades, and request them to cook it, and when
    ready to let him know by firing a gun. This and some dried
    fruits and a flask of Monte Pulciano, was the bill of fare.
    Dantes went on, looking from time to time behind and around
    about him. Having reached the summit of a rock, he saw, a
    thousand feet beneath him, his companions, whom Jacopo had
    rejoined, and who were all busy preparing the repast which
    Edmond's skill as a marksman had augmented with a capital
    dish.

    Edmond looked at them for a moment with the sad and gentle
    smile of a man superior to his fellows. "In two hours'
    time," said he, "these persons will depart richer by fifty
    piastres each, to go and risk their lives again by
    endeavoring to gain fifty more; then they will return with a
    fortune of six hundred francs, and waste this treasure in
    some city with the pride of sultans and the insolence of
    nabobs. At this moment hope makes me despise their riches,
    which seem to me contemptible. Yet perchance to-morrow
    deception will so act on me, that I shall, on compulsion,
    consider such a contemptible possession as the utmost
    happiness. Oh, no!" exclaimed Edmond, "that will not be. The
    wise, unerring Faria could not be mistaken in this one
    thing. Besides, it were better to die than to continue to
    lead this low and wretched life." Thus Dantes, who but three
    months before had no desire but liberty had now not liberty
    enough, and panted for wealth. The cause was not in Dantes,
    but in providence, who, while limiting the power of man, has
    filled him with boundless desires.

    Meanwhile, by a cleft between two walls of rock, following a
    path worn by a torrent, and which, in all human probability,
    human foot had never before trod, Dantes approached the spot
    where he supposed the grottos must have existed. Keeping
    along the shore, and examining the smallest object with
    serious attention, he thought he could trace, on certain
    rocks, marks made by the hand of man.

    Time, which encrusts all physical substances with its mossy
    mantle, as it invests all things of the mind with
    forgetfulness, seemed to have respected these signs, which
    apparently had been made with some degree of regularity, and
    probably with a definite purpose. Occasionally the marks
    were hidden under tufts of myrtle, which spread into large
    bushes laden with blossoms, or beneath parasitical lichen.
    So Edmond had to separate the branches or brush away the
    moss to know where the guide-marks were. The sight of marks
    renewed Edmond fondest hopes. Might it not have been the
    cardinal himself who had first traced them, in order that
    they might serve as a guide for his nephew in the event of a
    catastrophe, which he could not foresee would have been so
    complete. This solitary place was precisely suited to the
    requirements of a man desirous of burying treasure. Only,
    might not these betraying marks have attracted other eyes
    than those for whom they were made? and had the dark and
    wondrous island indeed faithfully guarded its precious
    secret?

    It seemed, however, to Edmond, who was hidden from his
    comrades by the inequalities of the ground, that at sixty
    paces from the harbor the marks ceased; nor did they
    terminate at any grotto. A large round rock, placed solidly
    on its base, was the only spot to which they seemed to lead.
    Edmond concluded that perhaps instead of having reached the
    end of the route he had only explored its beginning, and he
    therefore turned round and retraced his steps.

    Meanwhile his comrades had prepared the repast, had got some
    water from a spring, spread out the fruit and bread, and
    cooked the kid. Just at the moment when they were taking the
    dainty animal from the spit, they saw Edmond springing with
    the boldness of a chamois from rock to rock, and they fired
    the signal agreed upon. The sportsman instantly changed his
    direction, and ran quickly towards them. But even while they
    watched his daring progress, Edmond's foot slipped, and they
    saw him stagger on the edge of a rock and disappear. They
    all rushed towards him, for all loved Edmond in spite of his
    superiority; yet Jacopo reached him first.

    He found Edmond lying prone, bleeding, and almost senseless.
    He had rolled down a declivity of twelve or fifteen feet.
    They poured a little rum down his throat, and this remedy
    which had before been so beneficial to him, produced the
    same effect as formerly. Edmond opened his eyes, complained
    of great pain in his knee, a feeling of heaviness in his
    head, and severe pains in his loins. They wished to carry
    him to the shore; but when they touched him, although under
    Jacopo's directions, he declared, with heavy groans, that he
    could not bear to be moved.

    It may be supposed that Dantes did not now think of his
    dinner, but he insisted that his comrades, who had not his
    reasons for fasting, should have their meal. As for himself,
    he declared that he had only need of a little rest, and that
    when they returned he should be easier. The sailors did not
    require much urging. They were hungry, and the smell of the
    roasted kid was very savory, and your tars are not very
    ceremonious. An hour afterwards they returned. All that
    Edmond had been able to do was to drag himself about a dozen
    paces forward to lean against a moss-grown rock.

    But, instead of growing easier, Dantes' pains appeared to
    increase in violence. The old patron, who was obliged to
    sail in the morning in order to land his cargo on the
    frontiers of Piedmont and France, between Nice and Frejus,
    urged Dantes to try and rise. Edmond made great exertions in
    order to comply; but at each effort he fell back, moaning
    and turning pale.

    "He has broken his ribs," said the commander, in a low
    voice. "No matter; he is an excellent fellow, and we must
    not leave him. We will try and carry him on board the
    tartan." Dantes declared, however, that he would rather die
    where he was than undergo the agony which the slightest
    movement cost him. "Well," said the patron, "let what may
    happen, it shall never be said that we deserted a good
    comrade like you. We will not go till evening." This very
    much astonished the sailors, although, not one opposed it.
    The patron was so strict that this was the first time they
    had ever seen him give up an enterprise, or even delay in
    its execution. Dantes would not allow that any such
    infraction of regular and proper rules should be made in his
    favor. "No, no," he said to the patron, "I was awkward, and
    it is just that I pay the penalty of my clumsiness. Leave me
    a small supply of biscuit, a gun, powder, and balls, to kill
    the kids or defend myself at need, and a pickaxe, that I may
    build a shelter if you delay in coming back for me."

    "But you'll die of hunger," said the patron.

    "I would rather do so," was Edmond reply, "than suffer the
    inexpressible agonies which the slightest movement causes
    me." The patron turned towards his vessel, which was rolling
    on the swell in the little harbor, and, with sails partly
    set, would be ready for sea when her toilet should be
    completed.

    "What are we to do, Maltese?" asked the captain. "We cannot
    leave you here so, and yet we cannot stay."

    "Go, go!" exclaimed Dantes.

    "We shall be absent at least a week," said the patron, "and
    then we must run out of our course to come here and take you
    up again."

    "Why," said Dantes, "if in two or three days you hail any
    fishing-boat, desire them to come here to me. I will pay
    twenty-five piastres for my passage back to Leghorn. If you
    do not come across one, return for me." The patron shook his
    head.

    "Listen, Captain Baldi; there's one way of settling this,"
    said Jacopo. "Do you go, and I will stay and take care of
    the wounded man."

    "And give up your share of the venture," said Edmond, "to
    remain with me?"

    "Yes," said Jacopo, "and without any hesitation."

    "You are a good fellow and a kind-hearted messmate," replied
    Edmond, "and heaven will recompense you for your generous
    intentions; but I do not wish any one to stay with me. A day
    or two of rest will set me up, and I hope I shall find among
    the rocks certain herbs most excellent for bruises."

    A peculiar smile passed over Dantes' lips; he squeezed
    Jacopo's hand warmly, but nothing could shake his
    determination to remain -- and remain alone. The smugglers
    left with Edmond what he had requested and set sail, but not
    without turning about several times, and each time making
    signs of a cordial farewell, to which Edmond replied with
    his hand only, as if he could not move the rest of his body.
    Then, when they had disappeared, he said with a smile, --
    "'Tis strange that it should be among such men that we find
    proofs of friendship and devotion." Then he dragged himself
    cautiously to the top of a rock, from which he had a full
    view of the sea, and thence he saw the tartan complete her
    preparations for sailing, weigh anchor, and, balancing
    herself as gracefully as a water-fowl ere it takes to the
    wing, set sail. At the end of an hour she was completely out
    of sight; at least, it was impossible for the wounded man to
    see her any longer from the spot where he was. Then Dantes
    rose more agile and light than the kid among the myrtles and
    shrubs of these wild rocks, took his gun in one hand, his
    pickaxe in the other, and hastened towards the rock on which
    the marks he had noted terminated. "And now," he exclaimed,
    remembering the tale of the Arabian fisherman, which Faria
    had related to him, "now, open sesame!"
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