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    Chapter 38

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    Chapter 38
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    CHAPTER 38
    The Compact.

    The first words that Albert uttered to his friend, on the
    following morning, contained a request that Franz would
    accompany him on a visit to the count; true, the young man
    had warmly and energetically thanked the count on the
    previous evening; but services such as he had rendered could
    never be too often acknowledged. Franz, who seemed attracted
    by some invisible influence towards the count, in which
    terror was strangely mingled, felt an extreme reluctance to
    permit his friend to be exposed alone to the singular
    fascination that this mysterious personage seemed to
    exercise over him, and therefore made no objection to
    Albert's request, but at once accompanied him to the desired
    spot, and, after a short delay, the count joined them in the
    salon. "My dear count," said Albert, advancing to meet him,
    "permit me to repeat the poor thanks I offered last night,
    and to assure you that the remembrance of all I owe to you
    will never be effaced from my memory; believe me, as long as
    I live, I shall never cease to dwell with grateful
    recollection on the prompt and important service you
    rendered me; and also to remember that to you I am indebted
    even for my life."

    "My very good friend and excellent neighbor," replied the
    count, with a smile, "you really exaggerate my trifling
    exertions. You owe me nothing but some trifle of 20,000
    francs, which you have been saved out of your travelling
    expenses, so that there is not much of a score between us;
    -- but you must really permit me to congratulate you on the
    ease and unconcern with which you resigned yourself to your
    fate, and the perfect indifference you manifested as to the
    turn events might take."

    "Upon my word," said Albert, "I deserve no credit for what I
    could not help, namely, a determination to take everything
    as I found it, and to let those bandits see, that although
    men get into troublesome scrapes all over the world, there
    is no nation but the French that can smile even in the face
    of grim Death himself. All that, however, has nothing to do
    with my obligations to you, and I now come to ask you
    whether, in my own person, my family, or connections, I can
    in any way serve you? My father, the Comte de Morcerf,
    although of Spanish origin, possesses considerable
    influence, both at the court of France and Madrid, and I
    unhesitatingly place the best services of myself, and all to
    whom my life is dear, at your disposal."

    "Monsieur de Morcerf," replied the count, "your offer, far
    from surprising me, is precisely what I expected from you,
    and I accept it in the same spirit of hearty sincerity with
    which it is made; -- nay, I will go still further, and say
    that I had previously made up my mind to ask a great favor
    at your hands."

    "Oh, pray name it."

    "I am wholly a stranger to Paris -- it is a city I have
    never yet seen."

    "Is it possible," exclaimed Albert, "that you have reached
    your present age without visiting the finest capital in the
    world? I can scarcely credit it."

    "Nevertheless, it is quite true; still, I agree with you in
    thinking that my present ignorance of the first city in
    Europe is a reproach to me in every way, and calls for
    immediate correction; but, in all probability, I should have
    performed so important, so necessary a duty, as that of
    making myself acquainted with the wonders and beauties of
    your justly celebrated capital, had I known any person who
    would have introduced me into the fashionable world, but
    unfortunately I possessed no acquaintance there, and, of
    necessity, was compelled to abandon the idea."

    "So distinguished an individual as yourself," cried Albert,
    "could scarcely have required an introduction."

    "You are most kind; but as regards myself, I can find no
    merit I possess, save that, as a millionaire, I might have
    become a partner in the speculations of M. Aguado and M.
    Rothschild; but as my motive in travelling to your capital
    would not have been for the pleasure of dabbling in stocks,
    I stayed away till some favorable chance should present
    itself of carrying my wish into execution. Your offer,
    however, smooths all difficulties, and I have only to ask
    you, my dear M. de Morcerf" (these words were accompanied by
    a most peculiar smile), "whether you undertake, upon my
    arrival in France, to open to me the doors of that
    fashionable world of which I know no more than a Huron or a
    native of Cochin-China?"

    "Oh, that I do, and with infinite pleasure," answered
    Albert; "and so much the more readily as a letter received
    this morning from my father summons me to Paris, in
    consequence of a treaty of marriage (my dear Franz, do not
    smile, I beg of you) with a family of high standing, and
    connected with the very cream of Parisian society."

    "Connected by marriage, you mean," said Franz, laughingly.

    "Well, never mind how it is," answered Albert, "it comes to
    the same thing in the end. Perhaps by the time you return to
    Paris, I shall be quite a sober, staid father of a family! A
    most edifying representative I shall make of all the
    domestic virtues -- don't you think so? But as regards your
    wish to visit our fine city, my dear count, I can only say
    that you may command me and mine to any extent you please."

    "Then it is settled," said the count, "and I give you my
    solemn assurance that I only waited an opportunity like the
    present to realize plans that I have long meditated." Franz
    did not doubt that these plans were the same concerning
    which the count had dropped a few words in the grotto of
    Monte Cristo, and while the Count was speaking the young man
    watched him closely, hoping to read something of his purpose
    in his face, but his countenance was inscrutable especially
    when, as in the present case, it was veiled in a sphinx-like
    smile. "But tell me now, count," exclaimed Albert, delighted
    at the idea of having to chaperon so distinguished a person
    as Monte Cristo; "tell me truly whether you are in earnest,
    or if this project of visiting Paris is merely one of the
    chimerical and uncertain air castles of which we make so
    many in the course of our lives, but which, like a house
    built on the sand, is liable to be blown over by the first
    puff of wind?"

    "I pledge you my honor," returned the count, "that I mean to
    do as I have said; both inclination and positive necessity
    compel me to visit Paris."

    "When do you propose going thither?"

    "Have you made up your mind when you shall be there
    yourself?"

    "Certainly I have; in a fortnight or three weeks' time, that
    is to say, as fast as I can get there!"

    "Nay," said the Count; "I will give you three months ere I
    join you; you see I make an ample allowance for all delays
    and difficulties.

    "And in three months' time," said Albert, "you will be at my
    house?"

    "Shall we make a positive appointment for a particular day
    and hour?" inquired the count; "only let me warn you that I
    am proverbial for my punctilious exactitude in keeping my
    engagements."

    "Day for day, hour for hour," said Albert; "that will suit
    me to a dot."

    "So be it, then," replied the count, and extending his hand
    towards a calendar, suspended near the chimney-piece, he
    said, "to-day is the 21st of February;" and drawing out his
    watch, added, "it is exactly half-past ten o'clock. Now
    promise me to remember this, and expect me the 21st of May
    at the same hour in the forenoon."

    "Capital," exclaimed Albert; "your breakfast shall be
    waiting."

    "Where do you live?"

    "No. 27, Rue du Helder."

    "Have you bachelor's apartments there? I hope my coming will
    not put you to any inconvenience."

    "I reside in my father's house, but occupy a pavilion at the
    farther side of the court-yard, entirely separated from the
    main building."

    "Quite sufficient," replied the count, as, taking out his
    tablets, he wrote down "No. 27, Rue du Helder, 21st May,
    half-past ten in the morning."

    "Now then," said the count, returning his tablets to his
    pocket, "make yourself perfectly easy; the hand of your
    time-piece will not be more accurate in marking the time
    than myself."

    "Shall I see you again ere my departure?" asked Albert.

    "That depends; when do you leave?"

    "To-morrow evening, at five o'clock."

    "In that case I must say adieu to you, as I am compelled to
    go to Naples, and shall not return hither before Saturday
    evening or Sunday morning. And you, baron," pursued the
    count, addressing Franz, "do you also depart to-morrow?"

    "Yes."

    "For France?"

    "No, for Venice; I shall remain in Italy for another year or
    two."

    "Then we shall not meet in Paris?"

    "I fear I shall not have that honor."

    "Well, since we must part," said the count, holding out a
    hand to each of the young men, "allow me to wish you both a
    safe and pleasant journey." It was the first time the hand
    of Franz had come in contact with that of the mysterious
    individual before him, and unconsciously he shuddered at its
    touch, for it felt cold and icy as that of a corpse. "Let us
    understand each other," said Albert; "it is agreed -- is it
    not? -- that you are to be at No. 27, in the Rue du Helder,
    on the 21st of May, at half-past ten in the morning, and
    your word of honor passed for your punctuality?"

    "The 21st of May, at half-past ten in the morning, Rue du
    Helder, No. 27," replied the Count. The young men then rose,
    and bowing to the count, quitted the room. "What is the
    matter?" asked Albert of Franz, when they had returned to
    their own apartments; "you seem more than commonly
    thoughtful."

    "I will confess to you, Albert," replied Franz, "the count
    is a very singular person, and the appointment you have made
    to meet him in Paris fills me with a thousand
    apprehensions."

    "My dear fellow," exclaimed Albert, "what can there possibly
    be in that to excite uneasiness? Why, you must have lost
    your senses."

    "Whether I am in my senses or not," answered Franz, "that is
    the way I feel."

    "Listen to me, Franz," said Albert; "I am glad that the
    occasion has presented itself for saying this to you, for I
    have noticed how cold you are in your bearing towards the
    count, while he, on the other hand, has always been courtesy
    itself to us. Have you anything particular against him?"

    "Possibly."

    "Did you ever meet him previously to coming hither?"

    "I have."

    "And where?"

    "Will you promise me not to repeat a single word of what I
    am about to tell you?"

    "I promise."

    "Upon your honor?"

    "Upon my honor."

    "Then listen to me." Franz then related to his friend the
    history of his excursion to the Island of Monte Cristo and
    of his finding a party of smugglers there, and the two
    Corsican bandits with them. He dwelt with considerable force
    and energy on the almost magical hospitality he had received
    from the count, and the magnificence of his entertainment in
    the grotto of the "Thousand and One Nights." He recounted,
    with circumstantial exactitude, all the particulars of the
    supper, the hashish, the statues, the dream, and how, at his
    awakening, there remained no proof or trace of all these
    events, save the small yacht, seen in the distant horizon
    driving under full sail toward Porto-Vecchio. Then he
    detailed the conversation overheard by him at the Colosseum,
    between the count and Vampa, in which the count had promised
    to obtain the release of the bandit Peppino, -- an
    engagement which, as our readers are aware, he most
    faithfully fulfilled. At last he arrived at the adventure of
    the preceding night, and the embarrassment in which he found
    himself placed by not having sufficient cash by six or seven
    hundred piastres to make up the sum required, and finally of
    his application to the count and the picturesque and
    satisfactory result that followed. Albert listened with the
    most profound attention. "Well," said he, when Franz had
    concluded, "what do you find to object to in all you have
    related? The count is fond of travelling, and, being rich,
    possesses a vessel of his own. Go but to Portsmouth or
    Southampton, and you will find the harbors crowded with the
    yachts belonging to such of the English as can afford the
    expense, and have the same liking for this amusement. Now,
    by way of having a resting-place during his excursions,
    avoiding the wretched cookery -- which has been trying its
    best to poison me during the last four months, while you
    have manfully resisted its effects for as many years, -- and
    obtaining a bed on which it is possible to slumber, Monte
    Cristo has furnished for himself a temporary abode where you
    first found him; but, to prevent the possibility of the
    Tuscan government taking a fancy to his enchanted palace,
    and thereby depriving him of the advantages naturally
    expected from so large an outlay of capital, he has wisely
    enough purchased the island, and taken its name. Just ask
    yourself, my good fellow, whether there are not many persons
    of our acquaintance who assume the names of lands and
    properties they never in their lives were masters of?"

    "But," said Franz, "the Corsican bandits that were among the
    crew of his vessel?"

    "Why, really the thing seems to me simple enough. Nobody
    knows better than yourself that the bandits of Corsica are
    not rogues or thieves, but purely and simply fugitives,
    driven by some sinister motive from their native town or
    village, and that their fellowship involves no disgrace or
    stigma; for my own part, I protest that, should I ever go to
    Corsica, my first visit, ere even I presented myself to the
    mayor or prefect, should be to the bandits of Colomba, if I
    could only manage to find them; for, on my conscience, they
    are a race of men I admire greatly."

    "Still," persisted Franz, "I suppose you will allow that
    such men as Vampa and his band are regular villains, who
    have no other motive than plunder when they seize your
    person. How do you explain the influence the count evidently
    possessed over those ruffians?"

    "My good friend, as in all probability I own my present
    safety to that influence, it would ill become me to search
    too closely into its source; therefore, instead of
    condemning him for his intimacy with outlaws, you must give
    me leave to excuse any little irregularity there may be in
    such a connection; not altogether for preserving my life,
    for my own idea was that it never was in much danger, but
    certainly for saving me 4,000 piastres, which, being
    translated, means neither more nor less than 24,000 livres
    of our money -- a sum at which, most assuredly, I should
    never have been estimated in France, proving most
    indisputably," added Albert with a laugh, "that no prophet
    is honored in his own country."

    "Talking of countries," replied Franz, "of what country is
    the count, what is his native tongue, whence does he derive
    his immense fortune, and what were those events of his early
    life -- a life as marvellous as unknown -- that have
    tinctured his succeeding years with so dark and gloomy a
    misanthropy? Certainly these are questions that, in your
    place, I should like to have answered."

    "My dear Franz," replied Albert, "when, upon receipt of my
    letter, you found the necessity of asking the count's
    assistance, you promptly went to him, saying, 'My friend
    Albert de Morcerf is in danger; help me to deliver him.' Was
    not that nearly what you said?"

    "It was."

    "Well, then, did he ask you, 'Who is M. Albert de Morcerf?
    how does he come by his name -- his fortune? what are his
    means of existence? what is his birthplace! of what country
    is he a native?' Tell me, did he put all these questions to
    you?"

    "I confess he asked me none."

    "No; he merely came and freed me from the hands of Signor
    Vampa, where, I can assure you, in spite of all my outward
    appearance of ease and unconcern, I did not very
    particularly care to remain. Now, then, Franz, when, for
    services so promptly and unhesitatingly rendered, he but
    asks me in return to do for him what is done daily for any
    Russian prince or Italian nobleman who may pass through
    Paris -- merely to introduce him into society -- would you
    have me refuse? My good fellow, you must have lost your
    senses to think it possible I could act with such
    cold-blooded policy." And this time it must be confessed
    that, contrary to the usual state of affairs in discussions
    between the young men, the effective arguments were all on
    Albert's side.

    "Well," said Franz with a sigh, "do as you please my dear
    viscount, for your arguments are beyond my powers of
    refutation. Still, in spite of all, you must admit that this
    Count of Monte Cristo is a most singular personage."

    "He is a philanthropist," answered the other; "and no doubt
    his motive in visiting Paris is to compete for the Monthyon
    prize, given, as you are aware, to whoever shall be proved
    to have most materially advanced the interests of virtue and
    humanity. If my vote and interest can obtain it for him, I
    will readily give him the one and promise the other. And
    now, my dear Franz, let us talk of something else. Come,
    shall we take our luncheon, and then pay a last visit to St.
    Peter's?" Franz silently assented; and the following
    afternoon, at half-past five o'clock, the young men parted.
    Albert de Morcerf to return to Paris, and Franz d'Epinay to
    pass a fortnight at Venice. But, ere he entered his
    travelling carriage, Albert, fearing that his expected guest
    might forget the engagement he had entered into, placed in
    the care of a waiter at the hotel a card to be delivered to
    the Count of Monte Cristo, on which, beneath the name of
    Vicomte Albert de Morcerf, he had written in pencil -- "27,
    Rue du Helder, on the 21st May, half-past ten A.M."
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