Chapter 63 The Dinner
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.
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.
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
are the two fish?" asked Danglars.
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
one is, I think, a sterlet," said Chateau-Renaud.
that one, if I mistake not, a lamprey."
so. Now, M. Danglars, ask these gentlemen where they are caught."
said Chateau-Renaud, "are only found in the Volga."
said Cavalcanti, "I know that Lake Fusaro alone supplies lampreys of
one comes from the Volga, and the other from Lake Fusaro."
cried all the guests simultaneously.
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."
how could you have these fish brought to France?"
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.
cannot help doubting," answered Danglars with his stupid smile.
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.
why have two of each sort?" asked Danglars.
because one might have died," carelessly answered Monte Cristo.
are certainly an extraordinary man," said Danglars; "and
philosophers may well say it is a fine thing to be rich."
to have ideas," added Madame Danglars.
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
said Debray, "but then Ostia is only a few leagues from Rome."
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?"
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."
not? I am fond of grass and shade," said Monte Cristo.
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."
madame," said Monte Cristo; "but I preferred having an entrance
which would allow me to see the Bois de Boulogne over my gate."
four days," said Morrel; "it is extraordinary!"
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-Méran advertised it for sale two or three years
said Madame de Villefort; "then this house belonged to M. de Saint-Méran before you bought it?"
appears so," replied Monte Cristo.
it possible that you do not know of whom you purchased it?"
so; my steward transacts all this business for me."
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."
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-Méran 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.
was, above all, one room," continued Monte Cristo, "very plain
in appearance, hung with red damask, which, I know not why, appeared to me
so?" said Danglars; "why dramatic?"
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.
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.
then," said Monte Cristo, "this is not all."
is there more?" said Debray, who had not failed to notice the
agitation of Madame Danglars.
what else is there?" said Danglars; "for, at present, I cannot
say that I have seen anything extraordinary. What do you say, M.
said he, "we have at Pisa, Ugolino's tower; at Ferrara, Tasso's
prison; at Rimini, the room of Francesca and Paolo."
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."
a wicked-looking, crooked staircase," said Chateau-Renaud with a
do not know whether the wine of Chios produces melancholy, but certainly
everything appears to me black in this house," said Debray.
since Valentine's dowry had been mentioned, Morrel had been silent and
sad. "Can you imagine," said Monte Cristo, "some Othello or
Abbé 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!"
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."
said Villefort, "really, count, you frighten the ladies."
is the matter?" asked Debray, in a whisper, of Madame Danglars.
she replied with a violent effort. "I want air, that is all."
you come into the garden?" said Debray, advancing towards the back
no," she answered, "I would rather remain here."
you really frightened, madame?" said Monte Cristo.
no, sir," said Madame Danglars; "but you suppose scenes in a
manner which gives them the appearance of reality "
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."
mon Dieu," said Monte Cristo, "and I have forgotten my
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.
said Monte Cristo, taking it from her hand.
she said, "at your advice I have made the trial."
have you succeeded?"
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
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?"
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."
said Monte Cristo, "you may believe me if you like, but it is my
opinion that a crime has been committed in this house."
care," said Madame de Villefort, "the king's attorney is
replied Monte Cristo, "since that is the case, I will take advantage
of his presence to make my declaration."
declaration?" said Villefort.
this is very interesting," said Debray; "if there really has
been a crime, we will investigate it."
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!"
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."
said it was a crime?" asked Villefort, with a last effort.
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?"
who said it was buried alive?"
bury it there if it were dead? This garden has never been a
is done to infanticides in this country?" asked Major Cavalcanti
their heads are soon cut off," said Danglars.
indeed?" said Cavalcanti.
think so; am I not right, M. de Villefort?" asked Monte Cristo.
count," replied Villefort, in a voice now scarcely human.
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.
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."
my office, or in the court, if you like,--that is the surest place."
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."