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    Chapter 63

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    Chapter 63
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    CHAPTER 63
    The Dinner.

    It was evident that one sentiment affected all the guests on
    entering the dining-room. Each one asked what strange
    influence had brought them to this house, and yet
    astonished, even uneasy though they were, they still felt
    that they would not like to be absent. The recent events,
    the solitary and eccentric position of the count, his
    enormous, nay, almost incredible fortune, should have made
    men cautious, and have altogether prevented ladies visiting
    a house where there was no one of their own sex to receive
    them; and yet curiosity had been enough to lead them to
    overleap the bounds of prudence and decorum. And all
    present, even including Cavalcanti and his son,
    notwithstanding the stiffness of the one and the
    carelessness of the other, were thoughtful, on finding
    themselves assembled at the house of this incomprehensible
    man. Madame Danglars had started when Villefort, on the
    count's invitation, offered his arm; and Villefort felt that
    his glance was uneasy beneath his gold spectacles, when he
    felt the arm of the baroness press upon his own. None of
    this had escaped the count, and even by this mere contact of
    individuals the scene had already acquired considerable
    interest for an observer. M. de Villefort had on the right
    hand Madame Danglars, on his left Morrel. The count was
    seated between Madame de Villefort and Danglars; the other
    seats were filled by Debray, who was placed between the two
    Cavalcanti, and by Chateau-Renaud, seated between Madame de
    Villefort and Morrel.

    The repast was magnificent; Monte Cristo had endeavored
    completely to overturn the Parisian ideas, and to feed the
    curiosity as much as the appetite of his guests. It was an
    Oriental feast that he offered to them, but of such a kind
    as the Arabian fairies might be supposed to prepare. Every
    delicious fruit that the four quarters of the globe could
    provide was heaped in vases from China and jars from Japan.
    Rare birds, retaining their most brilliant plumage, enormous
    fish, spread upon massive silver dishes, together with every
    wine produced in the Archipelago, Asia Minor, or the Cape,
    sparkling in bottles, whose grotesque shape seemed to give
    an additional flavor to the draught, -- all these, like one
    of the displays with which Apicius of old gratified his
    guests, passed in review before the eyes of the astonished
    Parisians, who understood that it was possible to expend a
    thousand louis upon a dinner for ten persons, but only on
    the condition of eating pearls, like Cleopatra, or drinking
    refined gold, like Lorenzo de' Medici.

    Monte Cristo noticed the general astonishment, and began
    laughing and joking about it. "Gentlemen," he said, "you
    will admit that, when arrived at a certain degree of
    fortune, the superfluities of life are all that can be
    desired; and the ladies will allow that, after having risen
    to a certain eminence of position, the ideal alone can be
    more exalted. Now, to follow out this reasoning, what is the
    marvellous? -- that which we do not understand. What is it
    that we really desire? -- that which we cannot obtain. Now,
    to see things which I cannot understand, to procure
    impossibilities, these are the study of my life. I gratify
    my wishes by two means -- my will and my money. I take as
    much interest in the pursuit of some whim as you do, M.
    Danglars, in promoting a new railway line; you, M. de
    Villefort, in condemning a culprit to death; you, M. Debray,
    in pacifying a kingdom; you, M. de Chateau-Renaud, in
    pleasing a woman; and you, Morrel, in breaking a horse that
    no one can ride. For example, you see these two fish; one
    brought fifty leagues beyond St. Petersburg, the other five
    leagues from Naples. Is it not amusing to see them both on
    the same table?"

    "What are the two fish?" asked Danglars.

    "M. Chateau-Renaud, who has lived in Russia, will tell you
    the name of one, and Major Cavalcanti, who is an Italian,
    will tell you the name of the other."

    "This one is, I think, a sterlet," said Chateau-Renaud.

    "And that one, if I mistake not, a lamprey."

    "Just so. Now, M. Danglars, ask these gentlemen where they
    are caught."

    "Starlets," said Chateau-Renaud, "are only found in the
    Volga."

    "And," said Cavalcanti, "I know that Lake Fusaro alone
    supplies lampreys of that size."

    "Exactly; one comes from the Volga, and the other from Lake
    Fusaro."

    "Impossible!" cried all the guests simultaneously.

    "Well, this is just what amuses me," said Monte Cristo. "I
    am like Nero -- cupitor impossibilium; and that is what is
    amusing you at this moment. This fish, which seems so
    exquisite to you, is very likely no better than perch or
    salmon; but it seemed impossible to procure it, and here it
    is."

    "But how could you have these fish brought to France?"

    "Oh, nothing more easy. Each fish was brought over in a cask
    -- one filled with river herbs and weeds, the other with
    rushes and lake plants; they were placed in a wagon built on
    purpose, and thus the sterlet lived twelve days, the lamprey
    eight, and both were alive when my cook seized them, killing
    one with milk and the other with wine. You do not believe
    me, M. Danglars!"

    "I cannot help doubting," answered Danglars with his stupid
    smile.

    "Baptistin," said the count, "have the other fish brought in
    -- the sterlet and the lamprey which came in the other
    casks, and which are yet alive." Danglars opened his
    bewildered eyes; the company clapped their hands. Four
    servants carried in two casks covered with aquatic plants,
    and in each of which was breathing a fish similar to those
    on the table.

    "But why have two of each sort?" asked Danglars.

    "Merely because one might have died," carelessly answered
    Monte Cristo.

    "You are certainly an extraordinary man," said Danglars;
    "and philosophers may well say it is a fine thing to be
    rich."

    "And to have ideas," added Madame Danglars.

    "Oh, do not give me credit for this, madame; it was done by
    the Romans, who much esteemed them, and Pliny relates that
    they sent slaves from Ostia to Rome, who carried on their
    heads fish which he calls the mulus, and which, from the
    description, must probably be the goldfish. It was also
    considered a luxury to have them alive, it being an amusing
    sight to see them die, for, when dying, they change color
    three or four times, and like the rainbow when it
    disappears, pass through all the prismatic shades, after
    which they were sent to the kitchen. Their agony formed part
    of their merit -- if they were not seen alive, they were
    despised when dead."

    "Yes," said Debray, "but then Ostia is only a few leagues
    from Rome."

    "True," said Monte Cristo; "but what would be the use of
    living eighteen hundred years after Lucullus. if we can do
    no better than he could?" The two Cavalcanti opened their
    enormous eyes, but had the good sense not to say anything.
    "All this is very extraordinary," said Chateau-Renaud;
    "still, what I admire the most, I confess, is the marvellous
    promptitude with which your orders are executed. Is it not
    true that you only bought this house five or six days ago?"

    "Certainly not longer."

    "Well, I am sure it is quite transformed since last week. If
    I remember rightly, it had another entrance, and the
    court-yard was paved and empty; while to-day we have a
    splendid lawn, bordered by trees which appear to be a
    hundred years old."

    "Why not? I am fond of grass and shade," said Monte Cristo.

    "Yes," said Madame de Villefort, "the door was towards the
    road before, and on the day of my miraculous escape you
    brought me into the house from the road, I remember."

    "Yes, madame," said Monte Cristo; "but I preferred having an
    entrance which would allow me to see the Bois de Boulogne
    over my gate."

    "In four days," said Morrel; "it is extraordinary!"

    "Indeed," said Chateau-Renaud, "it seems quite miraculous to
    make a new house out of an old one; for it was very old, and
    dull too. I recollect coming for my mother to look at it
    when M. de Saint-Meran advertised it for sale two or three
    years ago."

    "M. de Saint-Meran?" said Madame de Villefort; "then this
    house belonged to M. de Saint-Meran before you bought it?"

    "It appears so," replied Monte Cristo.

    "Is it possible that you do not know of whom you purchased
    it?"

    "Quite so; my steward transacts all this business for me."

    "It is certainly ten years since the house had been
    occupied," said Chateau-Renaud, "and it was quite melancholy
    to look at it, with the blinds closed, the doors locked, and
    the weeds in the court. Really, if the house had not
    belonged to the father-in-law of the procureur, one might
    have thought it some accursed place where a horrible crime
    had been committed." Villefort, who had hitherto not tasted
    the three or four glasses of rare wine which were placed
    before him, here took one, and drank it off. Monte Cristo
    allowed a short time to elapse, and then said, "It is
    singular, baron, but the same idea came across me the first
    time I came here; it looked so gloomy I should never have
    bought it if my steward had not taken the matter into his
    own hands. Perhaps the fellow had been bribed by the
    notary."

    "It is probable," stammered out Villefort, trying to smile;
    "but I can assure you that I had nothing to do with any such
    proceeding. This house is part of Valentine's
    marriage-portion, and M. de Saint-Meran wished to sell it;
    for if it had remained another year or two uninhabited it
    would have fallen to ruin." It was Morrel's turn to become
    pale.

    "There was, above all, one room," continued Monte Cristo,
    "very plain in appearance, hung with red damask, which, I
    know not why, appeared to me quite dramatic."

    "Why so?" said Danglars; "why dramatic?"

    "Can we account for instinct?" said Monte Cristo. "Are there
    not some places where we seem to breathe sadness? -- why, we
    cannot tell. It is a chain of recollections -- an idea which
    carries you back to other times, to other places -- which,
    very likely, have no connection with the present time and
    place. And there is something in this room which reminds me
    forcibly of the chamber of the Marquise de Ganges* or
    Desdemona. Stay, since we have finished dinner, I will show
    it to you, and then we will take coffee in the garden. After
    dinner, the play." Monte Cristo looked inquiringly at his
    guests. Madame de Villefort rose, Monte Cristo did the same,
    and the rest followed their example. Villefort and Madame
    Danglars remained for a moment, as if rooted to their seats;
    they questioned each other with vague and stupid glances.
    "Did you hear?" said Madame Danglars.

    * Elisabeth de Rossan, Marquise de Ganges, was one of the
    famous women of the court of Louis XIV. where she was known
    as "La Belle Provencale." She was the widow of the Marquise
    de Castellane when she married de Ganges, and having the
    misfortune to excite the enmity of her new brothers-in-law,
    was forced by them to take poison; and they finished her off
    with pistol and dagger. -- Ed.

    "We must go," replied Villefort, offering his arm. The
    others, attracted by curiosity, were already scattered in
    different parts of the house; for they thought the visit
    would not be limited to the one room, and that, at the same
    time, they would obtain a view of the rest of the building,
    of which Monte Cristo had created a palace. Each one went
    out by the open doors. Monte Cristo waited for the two who
    remained; then, when they had passed, he brought up the
    rear, and on his face was a smile, which, if they could have
    understood it, would have alarmed them much more than a
    visit to the room they were about to enter. They began by
    walking through the apartments, many of which were fitted up
    in the Eastern style, with cushions and divans instead of
    beds, and pipes instead of furniture. The drawing-rooms were
    decorated with the rarest pictures by the old masters, the
    boudoirs hung with draperies from China, of fanciful colors,
    fantastic design, and wonderful texture. At length they
    arrived at the famous room. There was nothing particular
    about it, excepting that, although daylight had disappeared,
    it was not lighted, and everything in it was old-fashioned,
    while the rest of the rooms had been redecorated. These two
    causes were enough to give it a gloomy aspect. "Oh." cried
    Madame de Villefort, "it is really frightful." Madame
    Danglars tried to utter a few words, but was not heard. Many
    observations were made, the import of which was a unanimous
    opinion that there was something sinister about the room.
    "Is it not so?" asked Monte Cristo. "Look at that large
    clumsy bed, hung with such gloomy, blood-colored drapery!
    And those two crayon portraits, that have faded from the
    dampness; do they not seem to say, with their pale lips and
    staring eyes, 'We have seen'?" Villefort became livid;
    Madame Danglars fell into a long seat placed near the
    chimney. "Oh," said Madame de Villefort, smiling, "are you
    courageous enough to sit down upon the very seat perhaps
    upon which the crime was committed?" Madame Danglars rose
    suddenly.

    "And then," said Monte Cristo, "this is not all."

    "What is there more?" said Debray, who had not failed to
    notice the agitation of Madame Danglars.

    "Ah, what else is there?" said Danglars; "for, at present, I
    cannot say that I have seen anything extraordinary. What do
    you say, M. Cavalcanti?"

    "Ah," said he, "we have at Pisa, Ugolino's tower; at
    Ferrara, Tasso's prison; at Rimini, the room of Francesca
    and Paolo."

    "Yes, but you have not this little staircase," said Monte
    Cristo, opening a door concealed by the drapery. "Look at
    it, and tell me what you think of it."

    "What a wicked-looking, crooked staircase," said
    Chateau-Renaud with a smile.

    "I do not know whether the wine of Chios produces
    melancholy, but certainly everything appears to me black in
    this house," said Debray.

    Ever since Valentine's dowry had been mentioned, Morrel had
    been silent and sad. "Can you imagine," said Monte Cristo,
    "some Othello or Abbe de Ganges, one stormy, dark night,
    descending these stairs step by step, carrying a load, which
    he wishes to hide from the sight of man, if not from God?"
    Madame Danglars half fainted on the arm of Villefort, who
    was obliged to support himself against the wall. "Ah,
    madame," cried Debray, "what is the matter with you? how
    pale you look!"

    "It is very evident what is the matter with her," said
    Madame de Villefort; "M. de Monte Cristo is relating
    horrible stories to us, doubtless intending to frighten us
    to death."

    "Yes," said Villefort, "really, count, you frighten the
    ladies."

    "What is the matter?" asked Debray, in a whisper, of Madame
    Danglars.

    "Nothing," she replied with a violent effort. "I want air,
    that is all."

    "Will you come into the garden?" said Debray, advancing
    towards the back staircase.

    "No, no," she answered, "I would rather remain here."

    "Are you really frightened, madame?" said Monte Cristo.

    "Oh, no, sir," said Madame Danglars; "but you suppose scenes
    in a manner which gives them the appearance of reality "

    "Ah, yes," said Monte Cristo smiling; "it is all a matter of
    imagination. Why should we not imagine this the apartment of
    an honest mother? And this bed with red hangings, a bed
    visited by the goddess Lucina? And that mysterious
    staircase, the passage through which, not to disturb their
    sleep, the doctor and nurse pass, or even the father
    carrying the sleeping child?" Here Madame Danglars, instead
    of being calmed by the soft picture, uttered a groan and
    fainted. "Madame Danglars is ill," said Villefort; "it would
    be better to take her to her carriage."

    "Oh, mon Dieu," said Monte Cristo, "and I have forgotten my
    smelling-bottle!"

    "I have mine," said Madame de Villefort; and she passed over
    to Monte Cristo a bottle full of the same kind of red liquid
    whose good properties the count had tested on Edward.

    "Ah," said Monte Cristo, taking it from her hand.

    "Yes," she said, "at your advice I have made the trial."

    "And have you succeeded?"

    "I think so."

    Madame Danglars was carried into the adjoining room; Monte
    Cristo dropped a very small portion of the red liquid upon
    her lips; she returned to consciousness. "Ah," she cried,
    "what a frightful dream!"

    Villefort pressed her hand to let her know it was not a
    dream. They looked for M. Danglars, but, as he was not
    especially interested in poetical ideas, he had gone into
    the garden, and was talking with Major Cavalcanti on the
    projected railway from Leghorn to Florence. Monte Cristo
    seemed in despair. He took the arm of Madame Danglars, and
    conducted her into the garden, where they found Danglars
    taking coffee between the Cavalcanti. "Really, madame," he
    said, "did I alarm you much?"

    "Oh, no, sir," she answered; "but you know, things impress
    us differently, according to the mood of our minds."
    Villefort forced a laugh. "And then, you know," he said, "an
    idea, a supposition, is sufficient."

    "Well," said Monte Cristo, "you may believe me if you like,
    but it is my opinion that a crime has been committed in this
    house."

    "Take care," said Madame de Villefort, "the king's attorney
    is here."

    "Ah," replied Monte Cristo, "since that is the case, I will
    take advantage of his presence to make my declaration."

    "Your declaration?" said Villefort.

    "Yes, before witnesses."

    "Oh, this is very interesting," said Debray; "if there
    really has been a crime, we will investigate it."

    "There has been a crime," said Monte Cristo. "Come this way,
    gentlemen; come, M. Villefort, for a declaration to be
    available, should be made before the competent authorities."
    He then took Villefort's arm, and, at the same time, holding
    that of Madame Danglars under his own, he dragged the
    procureur to the plantain-tree, where the shade was
    thickest. All the other guests followed. "Stay," said Monte
    Cristo, "here, in this very spot" (and he stamped upon the
    ground), "I had the earth dug up and fresh mould put in, to
    refresh these old trees; well, my man, digging, found a box,
    or rather, the iron-work of a box, in the midst of which was
    the skeleton of a newly born infant." Monte Cristo felt the
    arm of Madame Danglars stiffen, while that of Villefort
    trembled. "A newly born infant," repeated Debray; "this
    affair becomes serious!"

    "Well," said Chateau-Renaud, "I was not wrong just now then,
    when I said that houses had souls and faces like men, and
    that their exteriors carried the impress of their
    characters. This house was gloomy because it was remorseful:
    it was remorseful because it concealed a crime."

    "Who said it was a crime?" asked Villefort, with a last
    effort.

    "How? is it not a crime to bury a living child in a garden?"
    cried Monte Cristo. "And pray what do you call such an
    action?"

    "But who said it was buried alive?"

    "Why bury it there if it were dead? This garden has never
    been a cemetery."

    "What is done to infanticides in this country?" asked Major
    Cavalcanti innocently.

    "Oh, their heads are soon cut off," said Danglars.

    "Ah, indeed?" said Cavalcanti.

    "I think so; am I not right, M. de Villefort?" asked Monte
    Cristo.

    "Yes, count," replied Villefort, in a voice now scarcely
    human.

    Monte Cristo, seeing that the two persons for whom he had
    prepared this scene could scarcely endure it, and not
    wishing to carry it too far, said, "Come, gentlemen, -- some
    coffee, we seem to have forgotten it," and he conducted the
    guests back to the table on the lawn.

    "Indeed, count," said Madame Danglars, "I am ashamed to own
    it, but all your frightful stories have so upset me, that I
    must beg you to let me sit down;" and she fell into a chair.
    Monte Cristo bowed, and went to Madame de Villefort. "I
    think Madame Danglars again requires your bottle," he said.
    But before Madame de Villefort could reach her friend the
    procureur had found time to whisper to Madame Danglars, "I
    must speak to you."

    "When?"

    "To-morrow."

    "Where?"

    "In my office, or in the court, if you like, -- that is the
    surest place."

    "I will be there." -- At this moment Madame de Villefort
    approached. "Thanks, my dear friend," said Madame Danglars,
    trying to smile; "it is over now, and I am much better."
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