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    Chapter 24

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    Chapter 24
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    CHAPTER 24
    The Secret Cave.

    The sun had nearly reached the meridian, and his scorching
    rays fell full on the rocks, which seemed themselves
    sensible of the heat. Thousands of grasshoppers, hidden in
    the bushes, chirped with a monotonous and dull note; the
    leaves of the myrtle and olive trees waved and rustled in
    the wind. At every step that Edmond took he disturbed the
    lizards glittering with the hues of the emerald; afar off he
    saw the wild goats bounding from crag to crag. In a word,
    the island was inhabited, yet Edmond felt himself alone,
    guided by the hand of God. He felt an indescribable
    sensation somewhat akin to dread -- that dread of the
    daylight which even in the desert makes us fear we are
    watched and observed. This feeling was so strong that at the
    moment when Edmond was about to begin his labor, he stopped,
    laid down his pickaxe, seized his gun, mounted to the summit
    of the highest rock, and from thence gazed round in every
    direction.

    But it was not upon Corsica, the very houses of which he
    could distinguish; or on Sardinia; or on the Island of Elba,
    with its historical associations; or upon the almost
    imperceptible line that to the experienced eye of a sailor
    alone revealed the coast of Genoa the proud, and Leghorn the
    commercial, that he gazed. It was at the brigantine that had
    left in the morning, and the tartan that had just set sail,
    that Edmond fixed his eyes. The first was just disappearing
    in the straits of Bonifacio; the other, following an
    opposite direction, was about to round the Island of
    Corsica. This sight reassured him. He then looked at the
    objects near him. He saw that he was on the highest point of
    the island, -- a statue on this vast pedestal of granite,
    nothing human appearing in sight, while the blue ocean beat
    against the base of the island, and covered it with a fringe
    of foam. Then he descended with cautious and slow step, for
    he dreaded lest an accident similar to that he had so
    adroitly feigned should happen in reality.

    Dantes, as we have said, had traced the marks along the
    rocks, and he had noticed that they led to a small creek.
    which was hidden like the bath of some ancient nymph. This
    creek was sufficiently wide at its mouth, and deep in the
    centre, to admit of the entrance of a small vessel of the
    lugger class, which would be perfectly concealed from
    observation.

    Then following the clew that, in the hands of the Abbe
    Faria, had been so skilfully used to guide him through the
    Daedalian labyrinth of probabilities, he thought that the
    Cardinal Spada, anxious not to be watched, had entered the
    creek, concealed his little barque, followed the line marked
    by the notches in the rock, and at the end of it had buried
    his treasure. It was this idea that had brought Dantes back
    to the circular rock. One thing only perplexed Edmond, and
    destroyed his theory. How could this rock, which weighed
    several tons, have been lifted to this spot, without the aid
    of many men? Suddenly an idea flashed across his mind.
    Instead of raising it, thought he, they have lowered it. And
    he sprang from the rock in order to inspect the base on
    which it had formerly stood. He soon perceived that a slope
    had been formed, and the rock had slid along this until it
    stopped at the spot it now occupied. A large stone had
    served as a wedge; flints and pebbles had been inserted
    around it, so as to conceal the orifice; this species of
    masonry had been covered with earth, and grass and weeds had
    grown there, moss had clung to the stones, myrtle-bushes had
    taken root, and the old rock seemed fixed to the earth.

    Dantes dug away the earth carefully, and detected, or
    fancied he detected, the ingenious artifice. He attacked
    this wall, cemented by the hand of time, with his pickaxe.
    After ten minutes' labor the wall gave way, and a hole large
    enough to insert the arm was opened. Dantes went and cut the
    strongest olive-tree he could find, stripped off its
    branches, inserted it in the hole, and used it as a lever.
    But the rock was too heavy, and too firmly wedged, to be
    moved by any one man, were he Hercules himself. Dantes saw
    that he must attack the wedge. But how? He cast his eyes
    around, and saw the horn full of powder which his friend
    Jacopo had left him. He smiled; the infernal invention would
    serve him for this purpose. With the aid of his pickaxe,
    Dantes, after the manner of a labor-saving pioneer, dug a
    mine between the upper rock and the one that supported it,
    filled it with powder, then made a match by rolling his
    handkerchief in saltpetre. He lighted it and retired. The
    explosion soon followed; the upper rock was lifted from its
    base by the terrific force of the powder; the lower one flew
    into pieces; thousands of insects escaped from the aperture
    Dantes had previously formed, and a huge snake, like the
    guardian demon of the treasure, rolled himself along in
    darkening coils, and disappeared.

    Dantes approached the upper rock, which now, without any
    support, leaned towards the sea. The intrepid
    treasure-seeker walked round it, and, selecting the spot
    from whence it appeared most susceptible to attack, placed
    his lever in one of the crevices, and strained every nerve
    to move the mass. The rock, already shaken by the explosion,
    tottered on its base. Dantes redoubled his efforts; he
    seemed like one of the ancient Titans, who uprooted the
    mountains to hurl against the father of the gods. The rock
    yielded, rolled over, bounded from point to point, and
    finally disappeared in the ocean.

    On the spot it had occupied was a circular space, exposing
    an iron ring let into a square flag-stone. Dantes uttered a
    cry of joy and surprise; never had a first attempt been
    crowned with more perfect success. He would fain have
    continued, but his knees trembled, and his heart beat so
    violently, and his sight became so dim, that he was forced
    to pause. This feeling lasted but for a moment. Edmond
    inserted his lever in the ring and exerted all his strength;
    the flag-stone yielded, and disclosed steps that descended
    until they were lost in the obscurity of a subterraneous
    grotto. Any one else would have rushed on with a cry of joy.
    Dantes turned pale, hesitated, and reflected. "Come," said
    he to himself, "be a man. I am accustomed to adversity. I
    must not be cast down by the discovery that I have been
    deceived. What, then, would be the use of all I have
    suffered? The heart breaks when, after having been elated by
    flattering hopes, it sees all its illusions destroyed. Faria
    has dreamed this; the Cardinal Spada buried no treasure
    here; perhaps he never came here, or if he did, Caesar
    Borgia, the intrepid adventurer, the stealthy and
    indefatigable plunderer, has followed him, discovered his
    traces, pursued them as I have done, raised the stone, and
    descending before me, has left me nothing." He remained
    motionless and pensive, his eyes fixed on the gloomy
    aperture that was open at his feet.

    "Now that I expect nothing, now that I no longer entertain
    the slightest hopes, the end of this adventure becomes
    simply a matter of curiosity." And he remained again
    motionless and thoughtful.

    "Yes, yes; this is an adventure worthy a place in the varied
    career of that royal bandit. This fabulous event formed but
    a link in a long chain of marvels. Yes, Borgia has been
    here, a torch in one band, a sword in the other, and within
    twenty paces, at the foot of this rock, perhaps two guards
    kept watch on land and sea, while their master descended, as
    I am about to descend, dispelling the darkness before his
    awe-inspiring progress."

    "But what was the fate of the guards who thus possessed his
    secret?" asked Dantes of himself.

    "The fate," replied he, smiling, "of those who buried
    Alaric."

    "Yet, had he come," thought Dantes, "he would have found the
    treasure, and Borgia, he who compared Italy to an artichoke,
    which he could devour leaf by leaf, knew too well the value
    of time to waste it in replacing this rock. I will go down."

    Then he descended, a smile on his lips, and murmuring that
    last word of human philosophy, "Perhaps!" But instead of the
    darkness, and the thick and mephitic atmosphere he had
    expected to find, Dantes saw a dim and bluish light, which,
    as well as the air, entered, not merely by the aperture he
    had just formed, but by the interstices and crevices of the
    rock which were visible from without, and through which he
    could distinguish the blue sky and the waving branches of
    the evergreen oaks, and the tendrils of the creepers that
    grew from the rocks. After having stood a few minutes in the
    cavern, the atmosphere of which was rather warm than damp,
    Dantes' eye, habituated as it was to darkness, could pierce
    even to the remotest angles of the cavern, which was of
    granite that sparkled like diamonds. "Alas," said Edmond,
    smiling, "these are the treasures the cardinal has left; and
    the good abbe, seeing in a dream these glittering walls, has
    indulged in fallacious hopes."

    But he called to mind the words of the will, which he knew
    by heart. "In the farthest angle of the second opening,"
    said the cardinal's will. He had only found the first
    grotto; he had now to seek the second. Dantes continued his
    search. He reflected that this second grotto must penetrate
    deeper into the island; he examined the stones, and sounded
    one part of the wall where he fancied the opening existed,
    masked for precaution's sake. The pickaxe struck for a
    moment with a dull sound that drew out of Dantes' forehead
    large drops of perspiration. At last it seemed to him that
    one part of the wall gave forth a more hollow and deeper
    echo; he eagerly advanced, and with the quickness of
    perception that no one but a prisoner possesses, saw that
    there, in all probability, the opening must be.

    However, he, like Caesar Borgia, knew the value of time;
    and, in order to avoid fruitless toil, he sounded all the
    other walls with his pickaxe, struck the earth with the butt
    of his gun, and finding nothing that appeared suspicious,
    returned to that part of the wall whence issued the
    consoling sound he had before heard. He again struck it, and
    with greater force. Then a singular thing occurred. As he
    struck the wall, pieces of stucco similar to that used in
    the ground work of arabesques broke off, and fell to the
    ground in flakes, exposing a large white stone. The aperture
    of the rock had been closed with stones, then this stucco
    had been applied, and painted to imitate granite. Dantes
    struck with the sharp end of his pickaxe, which entered
    someway between the interstices. It was there he must dig.
    But by some strange play of emotion, in proportion as the
    proofs that Faria, had not been deceived became stronger, so
    did his heart give way, and a feeling of discouragement
    stole over him. This last proof, instead of giving him fresh
    strength, deprived him of it; the pickaxe descended, or
    rather fell; he placed it on the ground, passed his hand
    over his brow, and remounted the stairs, alleging to
    himself, as an excuse, a desire to be assured that no one
    was watching him, but in reality because he felt that he was
    about to faint. The island was deserted, and the sun seemed
    to cover it with its fiery glance; afar off, a few small
    fishing boats studded the bosom of the blue ocean.

    Dantes had tasted nothing, but he thought not of hunger at
    such a moment; he hastily swallowed a few drops of rum, and
    again entered the cavern. The pickaxe that had seemed so
    heavy, was now like a feather in his grasp; he seized it,
    and attacked the wall. After several blows he perceived that
    the stones were not cemented, but had been merely placed one
    upon the other, and covered with stucco; he inserted the
    point of his pickaxe, and using the handle as a lever, with
    joy soon saw the stone turn as if on hinges, and fall at his
    feet. He had nothing more to do now, but with the iron tooth
    of the pickaxe to draw the stones towards him one by one.
    The aperture was already sufficiently large for him to
    enter, but by waiting, he could still cling to hope, and
    retard the certainty of deception. At last, after renewed
    hesitation, Dantes entered the second grotto. The second
    grotto was lower and more gloomy than the first; the air
    that could only enter by the newly formed opening had the
    mephitic smell Dantes was surprised not to find in the outer
    cavern. He waited in order to allow pure air to displace the
    foul atmosphere, and then went on. At the left of the
    opening was a dark and deep angle. But to Dantes' eye there
    was no darkness. He glanced around this second grotto; it
    was, like the first, empty.

    The treasure, if it existed, was buried in this corner. The
    time had at length arrived; two feet of earth removed, and
    Dantes' fate would be decided. He advanced towards the
    angle, and summoning all his resolution, attacked the ground
    with the pickaxe. At the fifth or sixth blow the pickaxe
    struck against an iron substance. Never did funeral knell,
    never did alarm-bell, produce a greater effect on the
    hearer. Had Dantes found nothing he could not have become
    more ghastly pale. He again struck his pickaxe into the
    earth, and encountered the same resistance, but not the same
    sound. "It is a casket of wood bound with iron," thought he.
    At this moment a shadow passed rapidly before the opening;
    Dantes seized his gun, sprang through the opening, and
    mounted the stair. A wild goat had passed before the mouth
    of the cave, and was feeding at a little distance. This
    would have been a favorable occasion to secure his dinner;
    but Dantes feared lest the report of his gun should attract
    attention.

    He thought a moment, cut a branch of a resinous tree,
    lighted it at the fire at which the smugglers had prepared
    their breakfast, and descended with this torch. He wished to
    see everything. He approached the hole he had dug. and now,
    with the aid of the torch, saw that his pickaxe had in
    reality struck against iron and wood. He planted his torch
    in the ground and resumed his labor. In an instant a space
    three feet long by two feet broad was cleared, and Dantes
    could see an oaken coffer, bound with cut steel; in the
    middle of the lid he saw engraved on a silver plate, which
    was still untarnished, the arms of the Spada family -- viz.,
    a sword, pale, on an oval shield, like all the Italian
    armorial bearings, and surmounted by a cardinal's hat;
    Dantes easily recognized them, Faria had so often drawn them
    for him. There was no longer any doubt: the treasure was
    there -- no one would have been at such pains to conceal an
    empty casket. In an instant he had cleared every obstacle
    away, and he saw successively the lock, placed between two
    padlocks, and the two handles at each end, all carved as
    things were carved at that epoch, when art rendered the
    commonest metals precious. Dantes seized the handles, and
    strove to lift the coffer; it was impossible. He sought to
    open it; lock and padlock were fastened; these faithful
    guardians seemed unwilling to surrender their trust. Dantes
    inserted the sharp end of the pickaxe between the coffer and
    the lid, and pressing with all his force on the handle,
    burst open the fastenings. The hinges yielded in their turn
    and fell, still holding in their grasp fragments of the
    wood, and the chest was open.

    Edmond was seized with vertigo; he cocked his gun and laid
    it beside him. He then closed his eyes as children do in
    order that they may see in the resplendent night of their
    own imagination more stars than are visible in the
    firmament; then he re-opened them, and stood motionless with
    amazement. Three compartments divided the coffer. In the
    first, blazed piles of golden coin; in the second, were
    ranged bars of unpolished gold, which possessed nothing
    attractive save their value; in the third, Edmond grasped
    handfuls of diamonds, pearls, and rubies, which, as they
    fell on one another, sounded like hail against glass. After
    having touched, felt, examined these treasures, Edmond
    rushed through the caverns like a man seized with frenzy; he
    leaped on a rock, from whence he could behold the sea. He
    was alone -- alone with these countless, these unheard-of
    treasures! was he awake, or was it but a dream?

    He would fain have gazed upon his gold, and yet he had not
    strength enough; for an instant he leaned his head in his
    hands as if to prevent his senses from leaving him, and then
    rushed madly about the rocks of Monte Cristo, terrifying the
    wild goats and scaring the sea-fowls with his wild cries and
    gestures; then he returned, and, still unable to believe the
    evidence of his senses, rushed into the grotto, and found
    himself before this mine of gold and jewels. This time he
    fell on his knees, and, clasping his hands convulsively,
    uttered a prayer intelligible to God alone. He soon became
    calmer and more happy, for only now did he begin to realize
    his felicity. He then set himself to work to count his
    fortune. There were a thousand ingots of gold, each weighing
    from two to three pounds; then he piled up twenty-five
    thousand crowns, each worth about eighty francs of our
    money, and bearing the effigies of Alexander VI. and his
    predecessors; and he saw that the complement was not half
    empty. And he measured ten double handfuls of pearls,
    diamonds, and other gems, many of which, mounted by the most
    famous workmen, were valuable beyond their intrinsic worth.
    Dantes saw the light gradually disappear, and fearing to be
    surprised in the cavern, left it, his gun in his hand. A
    piece of biscuit and a small quantity of rum formed his
    supper, and he snatched a few hours' sleep, lying over the
    mouth of the cave.

    It was a night of joy and terror, such as this man of
    stupendous emotions had already experienced twice or thrice
    in his lifetime.
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