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    Chapter 26

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    Chapter 26
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    CHAPTER 26
    The Pont du Gard Inn.

    Such of my readers as have made a pedestrian excursion to
    the south of France may perchance have noticed, about midway
    between the town of Beaucaire and the village of Bellegarde,
    -- a little nearer to the former than to the latter, -- a
    small roadside inn, from the front of which hung, creaking
    and flapping in the wind, a sheet of tin covered with a
    grotesque representation of the Pont du Gard. This modern
    place of entertainment stood on the left-hand side of the
    post road, and backed upon the Rhone. It also boasted of
    what in Languedoc is styled a garden, consisting of a small
    plot of ground, on the side opposite to the main entrance
    reserved for the reception of guests. A few dingy olives and
    stunted fig-trees struggled hard for existence, but their
    withered dusty foliage abundantly proved how unequal was the
    conflict. Between these sickly shrubs grew a scanty supply
    of garlic, tomatoes, and eschalots; while, lone and
    solitary, like a forgotten sentinel, a tall pine raised its
    melancholy head in one of the corners of this unattractive
    spot, and displayed its flexible stem and fan-shaped summit
    dried and cracked by the fierce heat of the sub-tropical
    sun.

    In the surrounding plain, which more resembled a dusty lake
    than solid ground, were scattered a few miserable stalks of
    wheat, the effect, no doubt, of a curious desire on the part
    of the agriculturists of the country to see whether such a
    thing as the raising of grain in those parched regions was
    practicable. Each stalk served as a perch for a grasshopper,
    which regaled the passers by through this Egyptian scene
    with its strident, monotonous note.

    For about seven or eight years the little tavern had been
    kept by a man and his wife, with two servants, -- a
    chambermaid named Trinette, and a hostler called Pecaud.
    This small staff was quite equal to all the requirements,
    for a canal between Beaucaire and Aiguemortes had
    revolutionized transportation by substituting boats for the
    cart and the stagecoach. And, as though to add to the daily
    misery which this prosperous canal inflicted on the
    unfortunate inn-keeper, whose utter ruin it was fast
    accomplishing, it was situated between the Rhone from which
    it had its source and the post-road it had depleted, not a
    hundred steps from the inn, of which we have given a brief
    but faithful description.

    The inn-keeper himself was a man of from forty to fifty-five
    years of age, tall, strong, and bony, a perfect specimen of
    the natives of those southern latitudes; he had dark,
    sparkling, and deep-set eyes, hooked nose, and teeth white
    as those of a carnivorous animal; his hair, like his beard,
    which he wore under his chin, was thick and curly, and in
    spite of his age but slightly interspersed with a few
    silvery threads. His naturally dark complexion had assumed a
    still further shade of brown from the habit the unfortunate
    man had acquired of stationing himself from morning till eve
    at the threshold of his door, on the lookout for guests who
    seldom came, yet there he stood, day after day, exposed to
    the meridional rays of a burning sun, with no other
    protection for his head than a red handkerchief twisted
    around it, after the manner of the Spanish muleteers. This
    man was our old acquaintance, Gaspard Caderousse. His wife,
    on the contrary, whose maiden name had been Madeleine
    Radelle, was pale, meagre, and sickly-looking. Born in the
    neighborhood of Arles, she had shared in the beauty for
    which its women are proverbial; but that beauty had
    gradually withered beneath the devastating influence of the
    slow fever so prevalent among dwellers by the ponds of
    Aiguemortes and the marshes of Camargue. She remained nearly
    always in her second-floor chamber, shivering in her chair,
    or stretched languid and feeble on her bed, while her
    husband kept his daily watch at the door -- a duty he
    performed with so much the greater willingness, as it saved
    him the necessity of listening to the endless plaints and
    murmurs of his helpmate, who never saw him without breaking
    out into bitter invectives against fate; to all of which her
    husband would calmly return an unvarying reply, in these
    philosophic words: --

    "Hush, La Carconte. It is God's pleasure that things should
    be so."

    The sobriquet of La Carconte had been bestowed on Madeleine
    Radelle from the fact that she had been born in a village,
    so called, situated between Salon and Lambesc; and as a
    custom existed among the inhabitants of that part of France
    where Caderousse lived of styling every person by some
    particular and distinctive appellation, her husband had
    bestowed on her the name of La Carconte in place of her
    sweet and euphonious name of Madeleine, which, in all
    probability, his rude gutteral language would not have
    enabled him to pronounce. Still, let it not be supposed that
    amid this affected resignation to the will of Providence,
    the unfortunate inn-keeper did not writhe under the double
    misery of seeing the hateful canal carry off his customers
    and his profits, and the daily infliction of his peevish
    partner's murmurs and lamentations.

    Like other dwellers in the south, he was a man of sober
    habits and moderate desires, but fond of external show,
    vain, and addicted to display. During the days of his
    prosperity, not a festivity took place without himself and
    wife being among the spectators. He dressed in the
    picturesque costume worn upon grand occasions by the
    inhabitants of the south of France, bearing equal
    resemblance to the style adopted both by the Catalans and
    Andalusians; while La Carconte displayed the charming
    fashion prevalent among the women of Arles, a mode of attire
    borrowed equally from Greece and Arabia. But, by degrees,
    watch-chains, necklaces, parti-colored scarfs, embroidered
    bodices, velvet vests, elegantly worked stockings, striped
    gaiters, and silver buckles for the shoes, all disappeared;
    and Gaspard Caderousse, unable to appear abroad in his
    pristine splendor, had given up any further participation in
    the pomps and vanities, both for himself and wife, although
    a bitter feeling of envious discontent filled his mind as
    the sound of mirth and merry music from the joyous revellers
    reached even the miserable hostelry to which he still clung,
    more for the shelter than the profit it afforded.

    Caderousse, then, was, as usual, at his place of observation
    before the door, his eyes glancing listlessly from a piece
    of closely shaven grass -- on which some fowls were
    industriously, though fruitlessly, endeavoring to turn up
    some grain or insect suited to their palate -- to the
    deserted road, which led away to the north and south, when
    he was aroused by the shrill voice of his wife, and
    grumbling to himself as he went, he mounted to her chamber,
    first taking care, however, to set the entrance door wide
    open, as an invitation to any chance traveller who might be
    passing.

    At the moment Caderousse quitted his sentry-like watch
    before the door, the road on which he so eagerly strained
    his sight was void and lonely as a desert at mid-day. There
    it lay stretching out into one interminable line of dust and
    sand, with its sides bordered by tall, meagre trees,
    altogether presenting so uninviting an appearance, that no
    one in his senses could have imagined that any traveller, at
    liberty to regulate his hours for journeying, would choose
    to expose himself in such a formidable Sahara. Nevertheless,
    had Caderousse but retained his post a few minutes longer,
    he might have caught a dim outline of something approaching
    from the direction of Bellegarde; as the moving object drew
    nearer, he would easily have perceived that it consisted of
    a man and horse, between whom the kindest and most amiable
    understanding appeared to exist. The horse was of Hungarian
    breed, and ambled along at an easy pace. His rider was a
    priest, dressed in black, and wearing a three-cornered hat;
    and, spite of the ardent rays of a noonday sun, the pair
    came on with a fair degree of rapidity.

    Having arrived before the Pont du Gard, the horse stopped,
    but whether for his own pleasure or that of his rider would
    have been difficult to say. However that might have been,
    the priest, dismounting, led his steed by the bridle in
    search of some place to which he could secure him. Availing
    himself of a handle that projected from a half-fallen door,
    he tied the animal safely and having drawn a red cotton
    handkerchief, from his pocket, wiped away the perspiration
    that streamed from his brow, then, advancing to the door,
    struck thrice with the end of his iron-shod stick. At this
    unusual sound, a huge black dog came rushing to meet the
    daring assailant of his ordinarily tranquil abode, snarling
    and displaying his sharp white teeth with a determined
    hostility that abundantly proved how little he was
    accustomed to society. At that moment a heavy footstep was
    heard descending the wooden staircase that led from the
    upper floor, and, with many bows and courteous smiles, mine
    host of the Pont du Gard besought his guest to enter.

    "You are welcome, sir, most welcome!" repeated the
    astonished Caderousse. "Now, then, Margotin," cried he,
    speaking to the dog, "will you be quiet? Pray don't heed
    him, sir! -- he only barks, he never bites. I make no doubt
    a glass of good wine would be acceptable this dreadfully hot
    day." Then perceiving for the first time the garb of the
    traveller he had to entertain, Caderousse hastily exclaimed:
    "A thousand pardons! I really did not observe whom I had the
    honor to receive under my poor roof. What would the abbe
    please to have? What refreshment can I offer? All I have is
    at his service."

    The priest gazed on the person addressing him with a long
    and searching gaze -- there even seemed a disposition on his
    part to court a similar scrutiny on the part of the
    inn-keeper; then, observing in the countenance of the latter
    no other expression than extreme surprise at his own want of
    attention to an inquiry so courteously worded, he deemed it
    as well to terminate this dumb show, and therefore said,
    speaking with a strong Italian accent, "You are, I presume,
    M. Caderousse?"

    "Yes, sir," answered the host, even more surprised at the
    question than he had been by the silence which had preceded
    it; "I am Gaspard Caderousse, at your service."

    "Gaspard Caderousse," rejoined the priest. "Yes, --
    Christian and surname are the same. You formerly lived, I
    believe in the Allees de Meillan, on the fourth floor?"

    "I did."

    "And you followed the business of a tailor?"

    "True, I was a tailor, till the trade fell off. It is so hot
    at Marseilles, that really I believe that the respectable
    inhabitants will in time go without any clothing whatever.
    But talking of heat, is there nothing I can offer you by way
    of refreshment?"

    "Yes; let me have a bottle of your best wine, and then, with
    your permission, we will resume our conversation from where
    we left off."

    "As you please, sir," said Caderousse, who, anxious not to
    lose the present opportunity of finding a customer for one
    of the few bottles of Cahors still remaining in his
    possession, hastily raised a trap-door in the floor of the
    apartment they were in, which served both as parlor and
    kitchen. Upon issuing forth from his subterranean retreat at
    the expiration of five minutes, he found the abbe seated
    upon a wooden stool, leaning his elbow on a table, while
    Margotin, whose animosity seemed appeased by the unusual
    command of the traveller for refreshments, had crept up to
    him, and had established himself very comfortably between
    his knees, his long, skinny neck resting on his lap, while
    his dim eye was fixed earnestly on the traveller's face.

    "Are you quite alone?" inquired the guest, as Caderousse
    placed before him the bottle of wine and a glass.

    "Quite, quite alone," replied the man -- "or, at least,
    practically so, for my poor wife, who is the only person in
    the house besides myself, is laid up with illness, and
    unable to render me the least assistance, poor thing!"

    "You are married, then?" said the priest, with a show of
    interest, glancing round as he spoke at the scanty
    furnishings of the apartment.

    "Ah, sir," said Caderousse with a sigh, "it is easy to
    perceive I am not a rich man; but in this world a man does
    not thrive the better for being honest." The abbe fixed on
    him a searching, penetrating glance.

    "Yes, honest -- I can certainly say that much for myself,"
    continued the inn-keeper, fairly sustaining the scrutiny of
    the abbe's gaze; "I can boast with truth of being an honest
    man; and," continued he significantly, with a hand on his
    breast and shaking his head, "that is more than every one
    can say nowadays."

    "So much the better for you, if what you assert be true,"
    said the abbe; "for I am firmly persuaded that, sooner or
    later, the good will be rewarded, and the wicked punished."

    "Such words as those belong to your profession," answered
    Caderousse, "and you do well to repeat them; but," added he,
    with a bitter expression of countenance, "one is free to
    believe them or not, as one pleases."

    "You are wrong to speak thus," said the abbe; "and perhaps I
    may, in my own person, be able to prove to you how
    completely you are in error."

    "What mean you?" inquired Caderousse with a look of
    surprise.

    "In the first place, I must be satisfied that you are the
    person I am in search of."

    "What proofs do you require?"

    "Did you, in the year 1814 or 1815, know anything of a young
    sailor named Dantes?"

    "Dantes? Did I know poor dear Edmond? Why, Edmond Dantes and
    myself were intimate friends!" exclaimed Caderousse, whose
    countenance flushed darkly as he caught the penetrating gaze
    of the abbe fixed on him, while the clear, calm eye of the
    questioner seemed to dilate with feverish scrutiny.

    "You remind me," said the priest, "that the young man
    concerning whom I asked you was said to bear the name of
    Edmond."

    "Said to bear the name!" repeated Caderousse, becoming
    excited and eager. "Why, he was so called as truly as I
    myself bore the appellation of Gaspard Caderousse; but tell
    me, I pray, what has become of poor Edmond? Did you know
    him? Is he alive and at liberty? Is he prosperous and
    happy?"

    "He died a more wretched, hopeless, heart-broken prisoner
    than the felons who pay the penalty of their crimes at the
    galleys of Toulon."

    A deadly pallor followed the flush on the countenance of
    Caderousse, who turned away, and the priest saw him wiping
    the tears from his eyes with the corner of the red
    handkerchief twisted round his head.

    "Poor fellow, poor fellow!" murmured Caderousse. "Well,
    there, sir, is another proof that good people are never
    rewarded on this earth, and that none but the wicked
    prosper. Ah," continued Caderousse, speaking in the highly
    colored language of the south, "the world grows worse and
    worse. Why does not God, if he really hates the wicked, as
    he is said to do, send down brimstone and fire, and consume
    them altogether?"

    "You speak as though you had loved this young Dantes,"
    observed the abbe, without taking any notice of his
    companion's vehemence.

    "And so I did," replied Caderousse; "though once, I confess,
    I envied him his good fortune. But I swear to you, sir, I
    swear to you, by everything a man holds dear, I have, since
    then, deeply and sincerely lamented his unhappy fate." There
    was a brief silence, during which the fixed, searching eye
    of the abbe was employed in scrutinizing the agitated
    features of the inn-keeper.

    "You knew the poor lad, then?" continued Caderousse.

    "I was called to see him on his dying bed, that I might
    administer to him the consolations of religion."

    "And of what did he die?" asked Caderousse in a choking
    voice.

    "Of what, think you, do young and strong men die in prison,
    when they have scarcely numbered their thirtieth year,
    unless it be of imprisonment?" Caderousse wiped away the
    large beads of perspiration that gathered on his brow.

    "But the strangest part of the story is," resumed the abbe,
    "that Dantes, even in his dying moments, swore by his
    crucified Redeemer, that he was utterly ignorant of the
    cause of his detention."

    "And so he was," murmured Caderousse. "How should he have
    been otherwise? Ah, sir, the poor fellow told you the
    truth."

    "And for that reason, he besought me to try and clear up a
    mystery he had never been able to penetrate, and to clear
    his memory should any foul spot or stain have fallen on it."

    And here the look of the abbe, becoming more and more fixed,
    seemed to rest with ill-concealed satisfaction on the gloomy
    depression which was rapidly spreading over the countenance
    of Caderousse.

    "A rich Englishman," continued the abbe, "who had been his
    companion in misfortune, but had been released from prison
    during the second restoration, was possessed of a diamond of
    immense value; this jewel he bestowed on Dantes upon himself
    quitting the prison, as a mark of his gratitude for the
    kindness and brotherly care with which Dantes had nursed him
    in a severe illness he underwent during his confinement.
    Instead of employing this diamond in attempting to bribe his
    jailers, who might only have taken it and then betrayed him
    to the governor, Dantes carefully preserved it, that in the
    event of his getting out of prison he might have wherewithal
    to live, for the sale of such a diamond would have quite
    sufficed to make his fortune."

    "Then, I suppose," asked Caderousse, with eager, glowing
    looks, "that it was a stone of immense value?"

    "Why, everything is relative," answered the abbe. "To one in
    Edmond's position the diamond certainly was of great value.
    It was estimated at fifty thousand francs."

    "Bless me!" exclaimed Caderousse, "fifty thousand francs!
    Surely the diamond was as large as a nut to be worth all
    that."

    "No," replied the abbe, "it was not of such a size as that;
    but you shall judge for yourself. I have it with me."

    The sharp gaze of Caderousse was instantly directed towards
    the priest's garments, as though hoping to discover the
    location of the treasure. Calmly drawing forth from his
    pocket a small box covered with black shagreen, the abbe
    opened it, and displayed to the dazzled eyes of Caderousse
    the sparkling jewel it contained, set in a ring of admirable
    workmanship. "And that diamond," cried Caderousse, almost
    breathless with eager admiration, "you say, is worth fifty
    thousand francs?"

    "It is, without the setting, which is also valuable,"
    replied the abbe, as he closed the box, and returned it to
    his pocket, while its brilliant hues seemed still to dance
    before the eyes of the fascinated inn-keeper.

    "But how comes the diamond in your possession, sir? Did
    Edmond make you his heir?"

    "No, merely his testamentary executor. 'I once possessed
    four dear and faithful friends, besides the maiden to whom I
    was betrothed' he said; 'and I feel convinced they have all
    unfeignedly grieved over my loss. The name of one of the
    four friends is Caderousse.'" The inn-keeper shivered.

    "'Another of the number,'" continued the abbe, without
    seeming to notice the emotion of Caderousse, "'is called
    Danglars; and the third, in spite of being my rival,
    entertained a very sincere affection for me.'" A fiendish
    smile played over the features of Caderousse, who was about
    to break in upon the abbe's speech, when the latter, waving
    his hand, said, "Allow me to finish first, and then if you
    have any observations to make, you can do so afterwards.
    'The third of my friends, although my rival, was much
    attached to me, -- his name was Fernand; that of my
    betrothed was' -- Stay, stay," continued the abbe, "I have
    forgotten what he called her."

    "Mercedes," said Caderousse eagerly.

    "True," said the abbe, with a stifled sigh, "Mercedes it
    was."

    "Go on," urged Caderousse.

    "Bring me a carafe of water," said the abbe.

    Caderousse quickly performed the stranger's bidding; and
    after pouring some into a glass, and slowly swallowing its
    contents, the abbe, resuming his usual placidity of manner,
    said, as he placed his empty glass on the table, -- "Where
    did we leave off?"

    "The name of Edmond's betrothed was Mercedes."

    "To be sure. 'You will go to Marseilles,' said Dantes, --
    for you understand, I repeat his words just as he uttered
    them. Do you understand?"

    "Perfectly."

    "'You will sell this diamond; you will divide the money into
    five equal parts, and give an equal portion to these good
    friends, the only persons who have loved me upon earth.'"

    "But why into five parts?" asked Caderousse; "you only
    mentioned four persons."

    "Because the fifth is dead, as I hear. The fifth sharer in
    Edmond's bequest, was his own father."

    "Too true, too true!" ejaculated Caderousse, almost
    suffocated by the contending passions which assailed him,
    "the poor old man did die."

    "I learned so much at Marseilles," replied the abbe, making
    a strong effort to appear indifferent; "but from the length
    of time that has elapsed since the death of the elder
    Dantes, I was unable to obtain any particulars of his end.
    Can you enlighten me on that point?"

    "I do not know who could if I could not," said Caderousse.
    "Why, I lived almost on the same floor with the poor old
    man. Ah, yes, about a year after the disappearance of his
    son the poor old man died."

    "Of what did he die?"

    "Why, the doctors called his complaint gastro-enteritis, I
    believe; his acquaintances say he died of grief; but I, who
    saw him in his dying moments, I say he died of" --
    Caderousse paused.

    "Of what?" asked the priest, anxiously and eagerly.

    "Why, of downright starvation."

    "Starvation!" exclaimed the abbe, springing from his seat.
    "Why, the vilest animals are not suffered to die by such a
    death as that. The very dogs that wander houseless and
    homeless in the streets find some pitying hand to cast them
    a mouthful of bread; and that a man, a Christian, should be
    allowed to perish of hunger in the midst of other men who
    call themselves Christians, is too horrible for belief. Oh,
    it is impossible -- utterly impossible!"

    "What I have said, I have said," answered Caderousse.

    "And you are a fool for having said anything about it," said
    a voice from the top of the stairs. "Why should you meddle
    with what does not concern you?"

    The two men turned quickly, and saw the sickly countenance
    of La Carconte peering between the baluster rails; attracted
    by the sound of voices, she had feebly dragged herself down
    the stairs, and, seated on the lower step, head on knees,
    she had listened to the foregoing conversation. "Mind your
    own business, wife," replied Caderousse sharply. "This
    gentleman asks me for information, which common politeness
    will not permit me to refuse."

    "Politeness, you simpleton!" retorted La Carconte. "What
    have you to do with politeness, I should like to know?
    Better study a little common prudence. How do you know the
    motives that person may have for trying to extract all he
    can from you?"

    "I pledge you my word, madam," said the abbe, "that my
    intentions are good; and that you husband can incur no risk,
    provided he answers me candidly."

    "Ah, that's all very fine," retorted the woman. "Nothing is
    easier than to begin with fair promises and assurances of
    nothing to fear; but when poor, silly folks, like my husband
    there, have been persuaded to tell all they know, the
    promises and assurances of safety are quickly forgotten; and
    at some moment when nobody is expecting it, behold trouble
    and misery, and all sorts of persecutions, are heaped on the
    unfortunate wretches, who cannot even see whence all their
    afflictions come."

    "Nay, nay, my good woman, make yourself perfectly easy, I
    beg of you. Whatever evils may befall you, they will not be
    occasioned by my instrumentality, that I solemnly promise
    you."

    La Carconte muttered a few inarticulate words, then let her
    head again drop upon her knees, and went into a fit of ague,
    leaving the two speakers to resume the conversation, but
    remaining so as to be able to hear every word they uttered.
    Again the abbe had been obliged to swallow a draught of
    water to calm the emotions that threatened to overpower him.
    When he had sufficiently recovered himself, he said, "It
    appears, then, that the miserable old man you were telling
    me of was forsaken by every one. Surely, had not such been
    the case, he would not have perished by so dreadful a
    death."

    "Why, he was not altogether forsaken," continued Caderousse,
    "for Mercedes the Catalan and Monsieur Morrel were very kind
    to him; but somehow the poor old man had contracted a
    profound hatred for Fernand -- the very person," added
    Caderousse with a bitter smile, "that you named just now as
    being one of Dantes' faithful and attached friends."

    "And was he not so?" asked the abbe.

    "Gaspard, Gaspard!" murmured the woman, from her seat on the
    stairs, "mind what you are saying!" Caderousse made no reply
    to these words, though evidently irritated and annoyed by
    the interruption, but, addressing the abbe, said, "Can a man
    be faithful to another whose wife he covets and desires for
    himself? But Dantes was so honorable and true in his own
    nature, that he believed everybody's professions of
    friendship. Poor Edmond, he was cruelly deceived; but it was
    fortunate that he never knew, or he might have found it more
    difficult, when on his deathbed, to pardon his enemies. And,
    whatever people may say," continued Caderousse, in his
    native language, which was not altogether devoid of rude
    poetry, "I cannot help being more frightened at the idea of
    the malediction of the dead than the hatred of the living."

    "Imbecile!" exclaimed La Carconte.

    "Do you, then, know in what manner Fernand injured Dantes?"
    inquired the abbe of Caderousse.

    "Do I? No one better."

    "Speak out then, say what it was!"

    "Gaspard!" cried La Carconte, "do as you will; you are
    master -- but if you take my advice you'll hold your
    tongue."

    "Well, wife," replied Caderousse, "I don't know but what
    you're right!"

    "So you will say nothing?" asked the abbe.

    "Why, what good would it do?" asked Caderousse. "If the poor
    lad were living, and came to me and begged that I would
    candidly tell which were his true and which his false
    friends, why, perhaps, I should not hesitate. But you tell
    me he is no more, and therefore can have nothing to do with
    hatred or revenge, so let all such feeling be buried with
    him."

    "You prefer, then," said the abbe, "that I should bestow on
    men you say are false and treacherous, the reward intended
    for faithful friendship?"

    "That is true enough," returned Caderousse. "You say truly,
    the gift of poor Edmond was not meant for such traitors as
    Fernand and Danglars; besides, what would it be to them? no
    more than a drop of water in the ocean."

    "Remember," chimed in La Carconte, "those two could crush
    you at a single blow!"

    "How so?" inquired the abbe. "Are these persons, then, so
    rich and powerful?"

    "Do you not know their history?"

    "I do not. Pray relate it to me!" Caderousse seemed to
    reflect for a few moments, then said, "No, truly, it would
    take up too much time."

    "Well, my good friend," returned the abbe, in a tone that
    indicated utter indifference on his part, "you are at
    liberty, either to speak or be silent, just as you please;
    for my own part, I respect your scruples and admire your
    sentiments; so let the matter end. I shall do my duty as
    conscientiously as I can, and fulfil my promise to the dying
    man. My first business will be to dispose of this diamond."
    So saying, the abbe again draw the small box from his
    pocket, opened it, and contrived to hold it in such a light,
    that a bright flash of brilliant hues passed before the
    dazzled gaze of Caderousse.

    "Wife, wife!" cried he in a hoarse voice, "come here!"

    "Diamond!" exclaimed La Carconte, rising and descending to
    the chamber with a tolerably firm step; "what diamond are
    you talking about?"

    "Why, did you not hear all we said?" inquired Caderousse.
    "It is a beautiful diamond left by poor Edmond Dantes, to be
    sold, and the money divided between his father, Mercedes,
    his betrothed bride, Fernand, Danglars, and myself. The
    jewel is worth at least fifty thousand francs."

    "Oh, what a magnificent jewel!" cried the astonished woman.

    "The fifth part of the profits from this stone belongs to us
    then, does it not?" asked Caderousse.

    "It does," replied the abbe; "with the addition of an equal
    division of that part intended for the elder Dantes, which I
    believe myself at liberty to divide equally with the four
    survivors."

    "And why among us four?" inquired Caderousse.

    "As being the friends Edmond esteemed most faithful and
    devoted to him."

    "I don't call those friends who betray and ruin you,"
    murmured the wife in her turn, in a low, muttering voice.

    "Of course not!" rejoined Caderousse quickly; "no more do I,
    and that was what I was observing to this gentleman just
    now. I said I looked upon it as a sacrilegious profanation
    to reward treachery, perhaps crime."

    "Remember," answered the abbe calmly, as he replaced the
    jewel and its case in the pocket of his cassock, "it is your
    fault, not mine, that I do so. You will have the goodness to
    furnish me with the address of both Fernand and Danglars, in
    order that I may execute Edmond's last wishes." The
    agitation of Caderousse became extreme, and large drops of
    perspiration rolled from his heated brow. As he saw the abbe
    rise from his seat and go towards the door, as though to
    ascertain if his horse were sufficiently refreshed to
    continue his journey, Caderousse and his wife exchanged
    looks of deep meaning.

    "There, you see, wife," said the former, "this splendid
    diamond might all be ours, if we chose!"

    "Do you believe it?"

    "Why, surely a man of his holy profession would not deceive
    us!"

    "Well," replied La Carconte, "do as you like. For my part, I
    wash my hands of the affair." So saying, she once more
    climbed the staircase leading to her chamber, her body
    convulsed with chills, and her teeth rattling in her head,
    in spite of the intense heat of the weather. Arrived at the
    top stair, she turned round, and called out, in a warning
    tone, to her husband, "Gaspard, consider well what you are
    about to do!"

    "I have both reflected and decided," answered he. La
    Carconte then entered her chamber, the flooring of which
    creaked beneath her heavy, uncertain tread, as she proceeded
    towards her arm-chair, into which she fell as though
    exhausted.

    "Well," asked the abbe, as he returned to the apartment
    below, "what have you made up your mind to do?"

    "To tell you all I know," was the reply.

    "I certainly think you act wisely in so doing," said the
    priest. "Not because I have the least desire to learn
    anything you may please to conceal from me, but simply that
    if, through your assistance, I could distribute the legacy
    according to the wishes of the testator, why, so much the
    better, that is all."

    "I hope it may be so," replied Caderousse, his face flushed
    with cupidity.

    "I am all attention," said the abbe.

    "Stop a minute," answered Caderousse; "we might be
    interrupted in the most interesting part of my story, which
    would be a pity; and it is as well that your visit hither
    should be made known only to ourselves." With these words he
    went stealthily to the door, which he closed, and, by way of
    still greater precaution, bolted and barred it, as he was
    accustomed to do at night. During this time the abbe had
    chosen his place for listening at his ease. He removed his
    seat into a corner of the room, where he himself would be in
    deep shadow, while the light would be fully thrown on the
    narrator; then, with head bent down and hands clasped, or
    rather clinched together, he prepared to give his whole
    attention to Caderousse, who seated himself on the little
    stool, exactly opposite to him.

    "Remember, this is no affair of mine," said the trembling
    voice of La Carconte, as though through the flooring of her
    chamber she viewed the scene that was enacting below.

    "Enough, enough!" replied Caderousse; "say no more about it;
    I will take all the consequences upon myself." And he began
    his story.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 26
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