GREAT NOVEL, THE "COUNT OF MONTE-CRISTO," AND CONCLUSION OF "EDMOND DANTES."
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"MONTE-CRISTO'S DAUGHTER," a wonderfully brilliant, original, exciting and absorbing novel, is the Sequel to "The Count of Monte-Cristo," Alexander Dumas' masterwork, and the continuation and conclusion of that great romance, "Edmond Dantes." It possesses rare power, unflagging interest and an intricate plot that for constructive skill and efficient development stands unrivalled. Zuleika, the beautiful daughter of Monte-Cristo and Haydee, is the heroine, and her suitor, the Viscount Giovanni Massetti, an ardent, impetuous young Roman, the hero. The latter, through a flirtation with a pretty flower-girl, Annunziata Solara, becomes involved in a maze of suspicion that points to him as an abductor and an assassin, causes his separation from Zuleika and converts him into a maniac. The straightening out of these tangled complications constitutes the main theme of the thrilling book. The novel abounds in ardent love scenes and stirring adventures. The Count of Monte-Cristo figures largely in it, and numerous Monte-Cristo characters are introduced. "MONTE-CRISTO'S DAUGHTER" is the latest addition to Petersons' famous series, consisting of "The Count of Monte-Cristo," "Edmond Dantes," "The Countess of Monte-Cristo," "The Wife of Monte-Cristo," and "The Son of Monte-Cristo."
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WM. L. ALLISON COMPANY
Chapter. Page. I. MONTE-CRISTO AND THE PRIMA DONNA 21
II. A STRANGELY SENT EPISTLE 33
III. THE INTRUDER IN THE CONVENT GARDEN 45
IV. A STORMY INTERVIEW 57
V. ANNUNZIATA SOLARA 69
VI. THE POWER OF A NAME 81
VII. IN THE PEASANT'S HUT 91
VIII. A SYLVAN IDYL 101
IX. THE ABDUCTION 112
X. THE COUNTESS OF MONTE-CRISTO 130
XI. THE BEGGAR AND HIS MATES 142
XII. FATHER AND DAUGHTER 156
XIII. MORCERF'S ADVENTURE 166
XIV. ZULEIKA AND MME. MORREL 183
XV. AN UNEXPECTED MEETING 195
XVI. AMID THE COLOSSEUM'S RUINS 206
XVII. PEPPINO'S STORY 218
XVIII. MORE OF PEPPINO'S STORY 228
XIX. THE MANIAC OF THE COLOSSEUM 238
XX. THE ISLE OF MONTE-CRISTO 248
XXI. ZULEIKA LEARNS THE TRUTH 264
XXII. THE WONDROUS PHYSICIAN 274
XXIII. A MODERN MIRACLE 285
XXIV. A DESPERATE ENCOUNTER 296
XXV. A VISIT TO THE REFUGE 306
XXVI. VAMPA AND MONTE-CRISTO 316
XXVII. THE BANDITS' REPRISALS 326
XXVIII. THE RAID ON THE BANDITS 336
XXIX. VAMPA'S TRIAL 346
XXX. JOY UNBOUNDED 363
SEQUEL TO ALEXANDER DUMAS' GREAT NOVEL, "THE COUNT OF MONTE-CRISTO," AND CONTINUATION AND CONCLUSION OF "EDMOND DANTES."
MONTE-CRISTO AND THE PRIMA DONNA.
The Count of Monte-Cristo was in Rome. He had hired one of the numerous private palaces, the Palazzo Costi, situated on a broad thoroughfare near the point where the Ponte St. Angelo connects Rome proper with that transtiberine suburb known as the Leonine City or Trastavere. The impecunious Roman nobility were ever ready to let their palaces to titled foreigners of wealth, and Ali, acting for the Count, had experienced no difficulty in procuring for his master an abode that even a potentate might have envied him. It was a lofty, commodious edifice, built of white marble in antique architectural design, and commanded from its ample balconies a fine view of the Tiber and its western shore, upon which loomed up that vast prison and citadel, the Castle of St. Angelo, and the largest palace in the world, the Vatican.
The Count of Monte-Cristo had always liked Rome because of its picturesque, mysterious antiquity, but his present mission there had nothing whatever to do with his individual tastes. He had fixed himself for a time in the Eternal City that his daughter Zuleika, Haydee's child, might finish her education at a famous convent school conducted under the auspices of the Sisterhood of the Sacred Heart.
Zuleika was fifteen years of age, but looked much older, having the early maturity of the Greeks, whose ardent blood, on her dead mother's side, flowed in her youthful veins. She had attained her full height, and was tall and well-developed. She strongly resembled her mother, possessing brilliant beauty of the dreamy, voluptuous oriental type. Her hair was abundant and black as night. She had dark, flashing eyes, pearly teeth, full ruby lips and feet and hands that were of fairylike diminutiveness, as well as miracles of grace and dainty shapeliness. In temperament she was more like Haydee than the Count, though she possessed her father's quick decision and firmness, with the addition of much of his enthusiasm.
The Palazzo Costi was magnificently furnished, so the Count had made no alterations in that respect, bringing with him only the family wardrobe and a portion of his library, consisting mainly of oriental manuscripts written in weird, cabalistic characters and intelligible to no one but himself.
The household was made up solely of the Count, his son Esperance, his daughter Zuleika, the faithful Nubian mute Ali and five or six male and female domestics. Having no other object than his daughter's education, the Count wished to live in as thorough retirement as he could, but it was impossible for him to keep his presence a secret, and no sooner had it become known that he was in Rome than he was besieged by hosts of callers belonging to the highest nobility, mingled with whom came numerous patriots, disciples of the unfortunate Savonarola, distinguished for their firm devotion to the cause of Italian liberty.
At an early hour of the morning upon which this narrative opens the Count of Monte-Cristo sat alone in a small apartment of the Palazzo Costi, which had been arranged as his study and in which his precious manuscripts were stored in closely locked cabinets. The Count had a copy of a Roman newspaper before him, and his eyes were fixed on a paragraph that seemed to have fascinated him as the serpent fascinates the bird. The paragraph read as follows:
"Mlle. Louise d' Armilly, the famous prima donna, who will sing to-night at the Apollo Theatre her great role of Lucrezia Borgia, has, it appears, a deep impenetrable mystery surrounding her. She is French by birth, and is said to be the daughter of a banker, who vanished under peculiar circumstances, but, as she positively declines to speak of her history, we can only give the rumors concerning her for what they are worth. M. Leon d' Armilly, brother of the prima donna, who supports her in Donizetti's opera, also refuses to be communicative. At any rate, the mere hint of the mystery has already caused quite a flutter of excitement in high society circles and that is sufficient to insure a crowded house."
"Louise d' Armilly!" murmured the Count, half-audibly. "The name is familiar, certainly, though where I have seen or heard it before I cannot now recall. The lady is French by birth, the paper says, and that fact, at least, is a sufficient pretext for me to visit her. I will call on her as a fellow countryman, and the interview will demonstrate if she is known to me."
The Count arose, went to his desk and, seating himself there, wrote the following brief epistle:
"Edmond Dantes, Count of Monte-Cristo, desires permission to call upon Mlle. Louise d' Armilly at ten o'clock this morning. In this desire M. Dantes is actuated solely by the wish to lay the homage of a Frenchman at the feet of so distinguished an artiste of his own nation as Mlle. d' Armilly."
Having finished, sealed and addressed this note, the Count touched a bell which was immediately answered by the ever-watchful Nubian.
"Ali," said the Count, in the Arabic tongue, "take this letter to the Hotel de France and wait for a reply."
The faithful servant bowed almost to the floor, took the missive and departed. When he had gone, the Count walked the apartment with the long strides habitual to him at such times as he was engrossed by some all-powerful thought.
"Surely," he muttered, "this artiste can in no way interest me personally, and yet I feel a subtile premonition that it would be wise in me to see her."
He was still pacing the study when Ali returned. The Nubian's usually impassible face bore traces of excitement and horror. He prostrated himself at his master's feet and, with his visage pressed against the floor, held up his hand, presenting to the Count the identical letter of which he had been the bearer.
"Why, how is this, Ali?" asked the Count, frowning. "My letter sent back without an answer. The seal has been broken, too. It must have been read."
The mute slowly arose and began an eloquent pantomime which his master readily translated into words: "You went to the Hotel de France and sent up the letter. In ten minutes it was returned to you by the lady's valet, who said all the answer the Count of Monte-Cristo deserved from his mistress was written on the back."
Ali nodded his head in confirmation of his master's translation, looking as if he expected to be severely reprimanded for being the bearer of such an indignity. The Count, however, merely smiled. Curiosity rather than anger predominated in him. He turned the letter over and read, scrawled in pencil in a woman's hand, the following brief and enigmatical but insulting communication:
"Any Frenchman save the ignominious M. Dantes, the so-called Count of Monte-Cristo, would be welcome to Mlle. d' Armilly. That person she does not wish to see and will not."
The Count was perplexed and also amused. The fervor of the prima donna made him smile. He certainly did not know her, certainly had never seen her. Why then was she so bitter against him? He could make nothing out of it. Was it possible her name was really as familiar to him as it had seemed? The irate artiste had surely heard of the Count of Monte-Cristo and, therefore, could not be mistaken in regard to his identity, but in what way could he have injured her or incurred her anger? The more he thought of the matter the more perplexed he grew. As he was debating within himself what action he ought to take, there was a knock at the door and a domestic entered, handing him a card upon which was inscribed: "Captain Joliette."
"Ha!" cried Monte-Cristo, "he comes in time. He will aid me in solving this mystery."
He motioned Ali from the study, and directed the valet who had brought the card to show the visitor up at once. In another instant Captain Joliette entered the room. The Count sprang forward to greet him.
"Welcome, Captain," said he. "I have not seen you since our stirring adventures in Algeria. I hope you are well and happy. By the way, what are you doing, in Rome? I was not aware you were here."
"I am here simply by chance," answered the young soldier, with a blush that belied his words. "I was in Italy on a little pleasure trip and naturally drifted to the Eternal City. I learned only this morning that you were installed at the Palazzo Costi and instantly hastened to pay my respects."
When their cordial greetings were over and they were seated side by side upon a commodious sofa luxuriously upholstered in crimson silk, the Count said, abruptly:
"Captain, did you ever hear of a French opera singer named Louise d' Armilly?"
Again the young man colored deeply, a circumstance that did not escape the close observation of his companion, who instantly divined that the famous prima donna counted for more in the reasons that had brought the Captain to Rome than that gallant warrior was willing to admit.
"Yes," stammered Joliette, "I have heard of her, and report says she is a remarkably charming lady as well as a great artiste."
"Your tone is enthusiastic, my dear Captain," returned Monte-Cristo, smiling pleasantly. "Perhaps you are acquainted with Mlle. d' Armilly."
"Well, to confess, Count," said Joliette, with a laugh, "I am acquainted with her, and, curiously enough, part of my mission here to-day was to ask you to occupy a box at the performance of 'Lucrezia Borgia' this evening. Will you accept?"
"With genuine delight," was Monte-Cristo's ready answer. "I desire to see this mysterious prima donna for more than one reason. In the first place, her name is dimly familiar to me, though I cannot remember where I ever heard it, and, in the second place, she flatly refused a visit from me no later than this morning."
Joliette looked greatly surprised.
"Refused a visit from you, Count! I would not believe it did I not hear it from your own lips. Mlle. d' Armilly must be mad! She surely cannot know what an honor it is to receive a visit from the Count of Monte-Cristo!"
The Count smiled in his peculiar way, and handed the Captain Mlle. d' Armilly's singular reply to his note. The young man glanced at it in amazement, reading it again and again; finally he stammered out:
"It is her handwriting, but what can she mean?"
"That is exactly what I would like to know, and I see by your manner and words that you are powerless to enlighten me. Still, you can tell me who this Mlle. d' Armilly is, and that will in all probability furnish me with the key to her rather shabby treatment of me."
"My dear Count, I am acquainted with the young lady, it is true, but, like yourself, I am in total ignorance so far as her history is concerned. She is French, that is evident, and she has gone so far as to admit to me that Louise d' Armilly is only her professional name, but what her real name is she has more than once positively refused to disclose to me. She is equally reticent as to the rumors afloat regarding her. You are, doubtless, aware that she is reputed to be the daughter of a French banker who mysteriously disappeared. This she neither denies nor affirms; she merely maintains an obstinate silence whenever it is mentioned in her presence."
"Your recital interests me greatly, Captain," said Monte-Cristo. "You are more privileged than myself in that you enjoy the acquaintance of this eccentric young lady, but she does not seem to repose a greater degree of confidence in you than in me, for she has told you absolutely nothing."
"Well," said Joliette, "you will see her to-night, at any rate, despite her prohibition. She cannot keep you out of the theatre, for the box is purchased and here are the tickets."
"But she will be angry with you, Captain," said the Count, slyly, "for bringing such an undesirable auditor. I had better go alone and occupy some obscure seat. I do not wish you to forfeit Mlle. d' Armilly's smiles for me."
"Pshaw!" replied Joliette, "there is plainly some mistake. She does not know you, will not recognize you. She has certainly confounded you with some one else."
"Perhaps so," said Monte-Cristo; "but women's memories are good, and I warn you that you are taking a grave risk."
"None whatever, I assure you. It is more than likely that, in answering your note as she did, Mlle. d' Armilly was influenced solely by caprice. If she should ask me after the performance who was my companion, I have only to give you a fictitious name and she will be none the wiser."
That evening Captain Joliette and the Count of Monte-Cristo made their way through the dense throng in front of the Apollo Theatre, and were finally shown into a lower proscenium box commanding a full view of the stage. Monte-Cristo instinctively sought refuge behind the curtains and drapery of the box, where he could sit unobserved and yet be enabled to closely scrutinize the mysterious singer who appeared to have such an intense aversion for him.
Although still early the house was already crowded in every part, and throngs were unable to gain even admission. The vast audience was made up chiefly of the best and most fashionable society in Rome. It included many of the highest nobility, who occupied the boxes they held for the season. Everywhere the bright colored, elegant toilets of the ladies met the eye, while the gentlemen were brilliant in fete attire. Fresh young faces and noble old visages were side by side, the beauty of youth and the impressiveness of age, and the male countenances were not less striking than those of the females. Truly, it was a grand assemblage, one that should delight the heart and flatter the vanity of even the most capricious of prima donnas.
At first there was a low hum of conversation throughout the theatre, together with preliminary visits from box to box, but the flutter began to subside as the musicians appeared, and by the time they were in their places in the orchestra absolute silence reigned. When the conductor made his appearance he was greeted with a burst of applause, which he gracefully acknowledged with a profound bow. Then he grasped his baton, tapped lightly upon the rack in front of him, and the delightful overture to Donizetti's great work commenced.
At its conclusion the curtain slowly rose and the opera began. Mlle. d' Armilly came forth in due course, and the house fairly rung with plaudits of welcome. She sang divinely and acted with consummate art, receiving loud encores for all her numbers. Monte-Cristo who was passionately fond of music, caught the prevailing enthusiasm and gradually emerged from the shelter of the protecting curtains and drapery. He had scanned Mlle. d' Armilly carefully through his opera-glass and was thoroughly convinced that she was a perfect stranger to him, although now and then a tone, a gesture or a movement of the body vaguely conveyed a sense of recognition of some tone, gesture or movement he had heard or seen somewhere before. The Count, however, reflected that all women possessed certain points of resemblance in voice and bearing; he, therefore, passed the present coincidences over as purely accidental, thinking no more of them.
For a long while Mlle. d' Armilly did not glance at the box occupied by Captain Joliette and the Count of Monte-Cristo, and it was not until the former threw her a costly wreath of flowers that she turned her eyes in that direction. She was about bowing her acknowledgments, when her gaze rested upon the stately form of the Count. Instantly she paused in the centre of the stage, turned deadly pale beneath the paint of her make-up, and, with a loud scream, fell in a swoon. The curtain was at once rung down, and the director, stating that the prima donna had been seized with sudden and alarming indisposition, dismissed the audience. Captain Joliette rushed to Mlle. d' Armilly's dressing-room and the Count of Monte-Cristo wended his way back to the Palazzo Costi, utterly bewildered by what had taken place.
 A full account of the life of Haydee, will be found in that great romance "The Wife of Monte-Cristo," published complete and unabridged by T. B. Peterson & Brothers, Philadelphia.
 A full account of his life and of Esperance's remarkable career will be found in that absorbing novel, "The Son of Monte-Cristo," published complete and unabridged by T. B. Peterson & Brothers, Philadelphia.
 For a full account of the life and career of "Edmond Dantes," one of the most powerful and thrilling novels ever issued, see "Edmond Dantes," published complete and unabridged by T. B. Peterson & Brothers, Philadelphia.
 See "The Son of Monte-Cristo," complete and unabridged edition, published by T. B. Peterson & Brothers, Philadelphia.
 For a full account of the life and remarkable career of "The Count of Monte-Cristo," Alexander Dumas' masterpiece, one of the greatest romances ever written, see the illustrated and unabridged edition of it, published by T. B. Peterson & Brothers, Philadelphia.
A STRANGELY SENT EPISTLE.
Zuleika, Monte-Cristo's daughter, had been for some months in the convent school conducted by the Sisterhood of the Sacred Heart. She was not a close student though a rapid learner, and was rather inclined to romance and adventure than to musty books of history and science. As has already been stated, she had the early maturity of Greek girls. Besides, she had attracted the attention of several Roman youths of high and noble lineage, who had eagerly paid her the homage due to her beauty and oriental attractiveness. Though but fifteen, she appreciated and felt flattered by this homage, and naturally was impatient of the restraint put upon her by the regulations of the convent school, which rigorously excluded all male visitors save parents or guardians.
In the first rank of her youthful admirers was the Viscount Giovanni Massetti. He was more ardent than any of the rest and, indeed, was desperately in love with the fair and bewitching child of the dead Haydee. He belonged to a family of great antiquity and boundless wealth, and was reputed to possess a vast fortune in his own right. The Viscount was only in his twenty-first year, but was exceedingly manly, dashing and gallant. He was quite handsome and was said to be the soul of honor, though his ardent temperament and headlong pursuit of whatever he most coveted not unfrequently involved him in serious troubles, from which, thanks to his own tact and the vast influence of his family, he generally came out unscathed.
On Zuleika's arrival in Rome and before she had been placed in the convent school, the Viscount Massetti had made her acquaintance in a way that savored of romance and that made a deep impression upon the inexperienced young girl. In Monte-Cristo's carriage, attended only by a timid femme de chambre, she was one day crossing one of the two bridges leading to the Island of San Bartolomeo, when a trace broke and the horses took fright. The terrified driver lost control of them, and the mad animals dashed along at a fearful rate, almost overturning the carriage. Zuleika had arisen in the vehicle, which was an open barouche, and was wildly clinging to the back of the front seat, her face white with fear and her long black hair, which had become loosened, streaming out behind her. Her wide open eyes had in them a look of tearful supplication most difficult to resist. The young Viscount, who was riding over the bridge on horseback at the time of the accident, could not resist it. He sprang from his horse and, as the carriage passed him, leaped into it. Seizing Zuleika by the waist, and holding her tightly to him, he then made another spring, alighting safely with her upon the roadway of the bridge. The flying horses were ultimately stopped and the occupants of the badly shattered vehicle rescued from their dangerous situation. This adventure caused the Count of Monte-Cristo to throw open the doors of his palazzo to the young Italian, and he had been a frequent visitor there up to the time of Zuleika's departure for the convent school.
In the interval both the Viscount and the girl had become much attached to each other, and then this mutual attachment had rapidly ripened into mutual love of that ardor and intensity experienced only by children of the southern or oriental sun. Young Massetti had avowed his passion to his beautiful charmer, and the avowal had not caused her displeasure; it was, on the contrary, exceedingly agreeable to her and she did not seek to conceal the fact from her enthusiastic suitor.
The momentous interview took place in a densely shaded alley of the garden of the Palazzo Costi one sultry afternoon of the early autumn. The youthful couple were seated very near each other upon a rustic bench. Massetti held Zuleika's small, soft hand in his and the electric touch of her tiny and shapely fingers thrilled him as the touch of female fingers had never thrilled him before. He gazed into the liquid depths of her dark, glowing eyes and their subtile fire seemed to melt his very soul. The close, sultry atmosphere, laden with heavy, intoxicating perfumes, was fraught with a delirious influence well calculated to set the blood aflame and promote the explosion of pent-up love. The thick, green foliage enclosed the pair as in a verdant cloud, effectually concealing them from observation. The opportunity was irresistible. Giovanni drew closer to his fascinating companion, so closely that her fragrant breath came full in his face, utterly subjecting him and totally obliterating all caution, everything save his absorbing passion for the palpitating girl whose slight, but clear-cut form, gracefully-outlined beneath her flowing, half-oriental garments, touched his. Suddenly carried away by a powerful transport, he threw his arm around the young girl's yielding waist and drew her without resistance upon his bosom, where she lay, gazing up into his flushed, excited countenance with an indescribable, voluptuous charm, mingled with thorough confidence and unhesitating innocence. Panting in his clasp, her ruby lips partly opened as if for breath, and the ardent Italian hastily, recklessly imprinted a fiery kiss upon them. Zuleika, with an almost imperceptible movement, returned this chaste, but ravishing salute.
"Oh! how I love you!" murmured Giovanni, quivering from head to foot in his wild ecstasy, and clasping the lovely girl still tighter.
She made no verbal response, but did not stir, did not strive to extricate herself from his warm embrace This was a sufficient answer for the quick Italian. Zuleika, the beautiful Zuleika, returned his love, favored his suit. His joy approached delirium.
"Oh! Zuleika," he whispered, gazing directly into her night black eyes, "you love me, I am sure! Give me the treasures of your virgin heart! Be mine—be my wife!"
"Oh! Giovanni," returned the quivering girl, in a low, but sweetly modulated voice, "I do love you—God alone knows how much!—but I am too young to be your wife! I am only a child, not yet out of school. My father would not hear of my marrying for several years to come. Can you not wait?"
"It will be a hard task, Zuleika," answered the young man, excitedly; "but, still, I will wait if you give me a lover's hope. Promise to marry me when you are at liberty to do so, nay, swear it, and I shall be satisfied!"
"I can neither promise nor swear it, Giovanni, without my father's approval and consent. He is a wise, experienced and thoughtful man, tender and mild to every one he loves, though hard and implacable to his enemies. Speak to him of me, of your love, of your wish. He will listen to you and he will not imperil his daughter's happiness. Go to him without delay, and rest assured that whatever he says or does will be for the best interests of us both."
She had released herself from his clasp and drawn slightly away from him, not in terror, not in prudery, not in coquetry, but as a measure of prudence. She felt intuitively that the wild, intense passion of her Italian adorer must be kept within discreet limits.
"I cannot speak to your father yet," replied Giovanni, hesitatingly. "He might listen to me, it is true; but he would treat our love as a mere childish fancy that time could not fail to dim, if not obliterate. I am deeply in earnest, Zuleika, and could not bear to be treated as a thoughtless, headlong stripling, who did not know his own mind. Ridicule, even in its mildest form, would fire my blood, fill me with mad projects of revenge. I prefer not to ask your father for your hand until certain of a favorable reception of my suit. You comprehend my scruples, do you not, Zuleika? I love you too dearly not to win you when I ask!"
"But you will speak to my father?" said the girl, in faltering tones.
"Yes, darling, oh! yes; but not until that hated convent school has ceased to oppose its barriers between us. When you have left it, when you have completed the education the Count designs for you, I will seek your father and ask you of him for my wife; until then, until I can with safety speak, at least promise me that you will love no other man, encourage no other suitor."
"That I will do," responded the girl, joyously. "Rest assured I will love no other man, encourage no other suitor!"
Unable to control himself, the Viscount again clasped the object of his adoration in his arms, and again their lips met in a long, passionate kiss of love.
So it was settled, and Zuleika went to the convent school of the Sacred Heart, feeling that her happiness was assured, but impatient of and dissatisfied with the long delay that must necessarily intervene before the realization of her hopes, the dawn of her woman's future.
The Viscount Massetti, though he had professed himself willing to wait, was, on his side, thoroughly discontented with the arduous task he had undertaken. It was one thing to make a rash promise in the heat of enthusiasm, but quite another to keep it, especially when that promise involved a separation from the lovely girl who had inextricably entwined herself about the fibres of his heart and was the sole guiding star of his life and love.
The convent school of the Sacred Heart was located in the convent of that Sisterhood, about three miles beyond the Porta del Popolo on the northern side of Rome. The convent was a spacious edifice, but gloomy and forbidding, with the aspect of a prison. Narrow, barred windows, like those of a dungeon of the middle ages, admitted the light from without, furnishing a dim, restricted illumination that gave but little evidence of the power and brilliancy of the orb of day. At night the faint, sepulchral blaze of candles only served to make the darkness palpable and more ghastly.
The huge school-room was as primitive and comfortless in its appointments and furniture as well could be. The walls were of dressed stone and loomed up bare and grisly to a lofty ceiling that was covered with a perfect labyrinth of curiously carved beams, the work of some unknown artist of long ago. The scholars' dormitories were narrow cell-like affairs, scantily furnished, in which every light must be extinguished at the hour of nine in the evening. Once admitted to the school, the pupils were not permitted to leave its precincts save at vacation or at the termination of their course of studies, a circumstance that heartily disgusted the gay, light-hearted Italian girls sent there to receive both mental and moral training. Another source of grave vexation to them was the regulation, already alluded to, that rigorously excluded all male visitors, with the exception of parents or guardians.
Attached to the convent was an extensive garden, full of huge trees that had, apparently, stood there for centuries, so bent, gnarled and aged were they. An ancient gardener, with a flowing beard as white as snow and scanty locks of the same spotless hue, aided by two or three assistants almost as ancient as himself, attended to the lawns and vast flower-beds, the latter being kept constantly filled with plants of gorgeous bloom and exquisite fragrance. The picturesque appearance of the garden contrasted strongly and strangely with the rigid and staid aspect of the convent edifice, and this garden was the one spot where the pupils felt at home and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. They were allowed to walk there at noon and towards twilight in the evening, under the supervision of Sister Agatha, a sharp-sighted and vigilant nun, who never failed to rebuke and correct her vivacious charges for even the slightest infraction of discipline. Still, the girls enjoyed themselves in the garden, for its extent and the fact that Sister Agatha could not be everywhere at once enabled the frisky and light-hearted pupils to indulge in many an escapade.
One noon Zuleika, who was in an unusually despondent frame of mind, strayed from the rest of her companions and strolled beneath the centenarian trees. Unconsciously she approached the lofty wall of the garden. She seated herself at the foot of a gnarled old elm, the leafy branches of which descended to the ground and effectually screened Monte-Cristo's daughter from view. At least, so she thought, but though she could not be seen by any within the garden enclosure she was plainly visible from the wall and the trees looming above it without.
As Zuleika sat pondering on her lot and sadly thinking of her separation from her lover, she heard or imagined she heard a singular noise amid the thick boughs of an immense chestnut tree immediately outside the garden wall. She started up in affright, but could discern nothing unusual, and the singular noise was not repeated. The strangest part of the whole affair, however, was that the noise had sounded like her own name uttered by a human voice. This increased her terror and confusion, and she was about to flee from the spot when an oblong pebble to which something white was attached fluttered over the wall and fell at her feet. She was now more alarmed then ever and took several steps backward, the while regarding the white object that lay where it had fallen, motionless and fascinating.
Finally her curiosity obtained the mastery, and, approaching the suspicious object with the utmost caution, she bent over to examine it. It was an ordinary envelope and, no doubt, contained a letter. For whom was it intended? Obviously for one of the pupils. It was a clandestine epistle, too, otherwise it would have come by the regular channel through the post office. Perhaps it was a love letter. At this thought she gave a guilty start and gazed piercingly into the chestnut tree, but nothing was visible there save boughs and leaves. After all, the epistle was, doubtless, destined for some swarthy-visaged Italian beauty, and many such were in the convent school. That it had fallen at her feet was certainly but a mere coincidence. It was not, it could not be intended for her! Its rightful owner, who had clearly received many similar notes in the same way, knew where it was and presently would come for it. The envelope had fallen face downward, and she could not see the address. She touched it with her foot, then cautiously turned it with the tip of her shoe. She saw writing. It was the address. Somehow the arrangement of the characters seemed familiar to her, though she was so dazed and confused she could not make out the name. Her curiosity was unworthy of her, she knew, unworthy of Monte-Cristo's daughter. What right had she to pry into the heart secret of one of her school companions? Still she gazed; she could not help it. Suddenly she stooped and took the envelope from the ground. The address riveted her eyes like a magician's spell. Great heavens! it was her own name—Zuleika!
Hurriedly snapping the slight string that bound the envelope to the stone, she thrust the former into the bosom of her dress. Then she glanced around her, half-fearing she had been seen by some of the pupils or the watchful Sister Agatha. But no, she was unobserved, and even now her companions and the nun were at such a distance that she could read her letter without the slightest danger of being discovered or interrupted. The temptation was strong. She yielded to it. She would read the letter. She felt convinced that it was from the Viscount Massetti, and the conviction filled her with unutterable joy. She had not heard a word concerning him since she had been immured within the sombre walls of that dismal convent, and now she had tidings of him in his own handwriting! It was rapture! What had he written to her? An assurance of his love, no doubt, and, perhaps, an exhortation to her to keep her part of their agreement—to love no other man, to encourage no other suitor! Surely she loved no one else—she never could love any one but Giovanni Massetti, for did he not possess her whole heart, all the wealth of her ardent youthful affection?
She kissed the envelope, then opened it, took out the letter, which was written in pencil, and read:
DEAREST ZULEIKA: I can keep from you no longer. I must see you once more and again call you my own. I strove to attract your attention just now in the chestnut tree outside the wall. I uttered your beloved name, but you did not seem to understand me. This evening at twilight I will scale the wall. At that time be at the elm where you now stand and I will meet you there. Do not fail me, and, above all, do not be afraid. I assure you that no harm can possibly befall either of us. Meet me, darling. Your own, GIOVANNI.
Zuleika stood staring at this passionate note with sensations made up of amazement, rapture and dismay. Giovanni, her lover, was coming. He would stand there, on that very spot, and she would see him in all the glory of his youthful manhood, with the radiant love-light in his eyes. But how if he were discovered? What then would become of him and of her? She shuddered at the possibilities of danger. But on one point she was resolved—she would meet him let the danger be what it might. How Giovanni would manage to avoid observation she did not know, but she would trust to his judgment and discretion.
She glanced in the direction of the pupils and Sister Agatha. They were coming slowly towards her. Again secreting her lover's epistle in her bosom, she went to meet them.
THE INTRUDER IN THE CONVENT GARDEN.
As the hour for the evening promenade drew near, Zuleika became painfully excited, and uneasy. She longed with all her heart to see Giovanni Massetti again, to hear the ardent words of love he would be sure to utter, but would she be doing right to meet him clandestinely and alone? Her mind misgave her. Of course she could trust her young Italian lover, for he was the very soul of chivalry and honor. But did others know this? How would her conduct be judged should the other pupils and Sister Agatha steal upon them unawares? Giovanni might escape without recognition, but with her it would be altogether different. She could escape only by coining an ingenious lie, and at that her whole nature revolted. She could not stoop to an innocent deception, much less to an absolute falsehood. Why had Giovanni tempted her? Why had he sought to place her in a situation he must know would be perilous? There was but one answer—because of his love—and that answer was sufficient to induce her to take the risk, however great it might be. Yes, she would meet him at the appointed time and spot.
At length the bell rang for the promenade, and Sister Agatha headed the little procession for the garden. For a brief space Zuleika lingered with her companions among the shady walks and gorgeous flowers, but at the first opportunity stole away and sought the leafy elm, beneath the friendly boughs of which she was to receive the welcome yet dreaded visit from the Viscount Massetti. She gained the rendezvous unobserved, with loudly beating heart. The young Italian was not there. She searched eagerly but vainly for him in the gathering twilight. What had happened to prevent his coming? She was on thorns of anxiety. Perhaps he had attempted to scale the wall and had fallen, sustaining some severe injury! Perhaps even then, while she was waiting for him, he was lying outside the wall, bruised and bleeding! But what could she do? Only wait, wait, with torturing thoughts seething in her troubled brain.
She listened intently. Not a sound. If Giovanni were wounded, disabled, he was maintaining a most heroic silence. She drew a magnificent gold watch, the exquisite case of which was thickly incrusted with diamonds, from her belt and glanced at the dial. It was after seven o'clock, and by eight all the scholars were required to be safely housed within the convent. Besides, she was not sure that she would not be missed, searched for and found. What should she do, what course should she take?
As she was debating within herself, uncertain whether to remain or return, there was a rustle amid the foliage of the chestnut tree immediately outside the garden enclosure, and a man's form swung from one of the branches to the top of the wall. Zuleika's emotion well-nigh overcame her. She had recognized Giovanni. In another instant he had leaped from the wall to the ground and was at her side. He stretched out his arms to her and the girl, all of a tremble, impetuously cast herself into them.
"Oh! Giovanni!" she murmured. "At last. I feared some terrible accident had befallen you."
"I am safe, darling Zuleika," answered the young Italian, folding her in a close embrace and showering ardent kisses upon her forehead and lips. "But you, dearest, you are well? You have not forgotten me, have not ceased to love me?"
"Forgotten you, ceased to love you, Giovanni!" whispered the quivering girl, in a tone of slight reproach, gazing fondly into his eyes. "Have I not given you my solemn promise to love you only?"
"Forgive me, my own!" cried the youthful Viscount. "What is a lover without fears and doubts? They are the proof of the strength of his adoration!"
They seated themselves at the foot of the branching elm, the friendly shelter of which shut them in. Then Zuleika said, with apprehension in her voice:
"Why did you come here, Giovanni? Are you not aware that you are running a great risk and putting me in peril? If we are found together, you will be ignominiously expelled and I severely punished. Besides, think of the disgrace for us both in such an event! The matter will get abroad, furnish food for gossip and certainly reach the ears of my father and brother, whose displeasure I dread more than all else! Think, too, that Esperance will call you to account for your conduct, and I could never bear a quarrel between you and him in which, perhaps, blood might be shed!"
"Never fear, Zuleika," replied Massetti, gallantly. "Should we be discovered I will shield you. As to your father and brother, they cannot be displeased, for I will explain all to them and end by demanding you in marriage. Why have I come here? Simply because I could hold aloof from you no longer. I felt that I must see you, speak with you, renew my vows of love. Oh! Zuleika, the world is all dark to me without your smile!"
"But you promised me to wait!"
"I know it; but I miscalculated my strength when I made that promise. Could I see you I might be patient; but to wait for weeks and weeks without even a glimpse of your dear face, without once hearing the sound of your beloved voice, is utterly beyond me. I cannot do it!"
"You must. Nothing else can be done. My father wishes me to remain at the convent school for a year, and the rules positively prohibit your visits. Be patient yet awhile, Giovanni. We both are very young and have a life of happiness to look forward to. Besides, we can see each other at the Palazzo Costi during vacation, and that is something."
"It is nothing to a man who wishes to see you constantly, to be always with you. Oh! Zuleika, I cannot bear our separation, I cannot do without you!"
The young man had risen to his feet and uttered these words loudly, recklessly. Zuleika sprang up and caught him by the arm, her face white with terror.
"Control yourself, Giovanni, control yourself!" she whispered, in a frightened tone. "Speak lower, with more caution, or other ears than mine will hear you!"
But the Viscount did not heed her. He was fearfully agitated and his entire frame shook with excitement and emotion.
"Fly with me, Zuleika, fly with me now, this very moment, and be my wife!" he exclaimed, in a voice so strangely altered that Monte-Cristo's daughter scarcely recognized it. "I am rich, and my family has wealth and power sufficient to protect us against everything and everybody, even your father, with all his untold gold and influence! The Count of Monte-Cristo seeks to part us; that is the reason he has sent you here, to this convent, where you are little less than a prisoner!"
He caught her wildly in his arms and held her against his breast as if defying fate. Zuleika, more terrified than ever, struggled in his embrace and finally released herself. She faced Giovanni, and said, warmly:
"You do my father injustice. He does not seek to part us. He esteems you greatly, Viscount Massetti, loves you for the service you rendered me, his daughter, and will reward that service with the highest recompense in his power to bestow—my hand. But he considers me a child as yet, wishes me to have education and experience before I marry, that I may be a wife worth having and not a mere useless doll. Respect his wishes, Giovanni, respect him. He is a good, kind-hearted man, and will do right. His wisdom has been shown too often for me to doubt it!"
"His wisdom!" cried Massetti, bitterly. "Yes, he is wise, too wise to bestow your hand upon me, a mere Viscount! What is my family in his eyes? Nothing. What is my wealth? An utter trifle compared to his. I tell you, Zuleika, he does not wish us to marry. He designs you for some high potentate with riches to match the princely marriage-portion you will have!"
"No, no!" cried the girl. "You are despondent, and in your despondency misjudge him. He cares nothing for wealth or exalted station, but values a good name and an unstained reputation above all else."
"But will you not be mine, will you not fly with me from this wretched prison, in which I can see you only by stealth and like a criminal?"
The Italian's eyes sparkled in the twilight and his voice was full of eloquent persuasion. He fell upon his knees at Zuleika's feet, and, seizing her hand, kissed it passionately again and again. The trembling young girl was deeply touched by his love and entreaties. For a moment she wavered, but for a moment only; then reason asserted its sway and cooler reflection came to her aid.
"Rise, Giovanni," she said, with comparative calmness, "rise and be a man. This proposition is altogether unworthy of you, and, should I accept it, we would both be disgraced. I am yours, my heart is in your keeping, and I will be your wife at the proper time with my father's full consent. But I cannot fly with you, I will not!"
The young man sprang to his feet as if an electric bat had struck him.
"You have no confidence in me, then!" he cried, impulsively. "You do not love me!"
"Do not love you!" exclaimed the girl, winding her shapely arms about his neck, as her lovely head sank upon his bosom. "I love you with all my heart, with all my soul, and it is because I love you that I will not fly with you!"
Giovanni kissed her hair rapturously, excitedly, and the beautiful girl, looking ten times more beautiful in her pleading earnestness, added, sweetly, persuasively:
"Leave me now, darling. The bell for the pupils to return to the convent will soon ring and I must not be missed from among them. Leave me, but remember the maxim, 'Wait and hope!'"
The lover was about to reply when the sound of footsteps suddenly broke upon their ears. They glanced at each other, startled, uncertain what to do. Giovanni was the first to recover self-possession. He noiselessly parted the boughs of the elm and peered cautiously in the direction of the sound.
"Three men are rapidly approaching," he said, hastily, in a whisper. "They are almost here!"
Zuleika looked, in her turn, through the branches.
"The gardener and his assistants," she whispered, nearly petrified by consternation. "They have evidently learned that you scaled the wall and are in quest of you!"
"See," said Giovanni, breathlessly, pointing to a group behind the men. "A number of nuns are also coming!"
"They are searching for me! Oh! Giovanni, fly, fly instantly!"
"And leave you to suffer, to bear the weight of my imprudence! Never! I will stay and protect you!"
"You will not protect me by remaining. You will only compromise us both the more. Go, I beseech you, go, while there is yet time!"
With tears in her imploring eyes, Zuleika pushed her lover gently towards the wall. He gazed at her for an instant and then at the approaching men and nuns, who were now very near.
The girl clasped her hands supplicatingly, then mutely pointed to the wall.
"It is your wish?" asked Massetti, hurriedly.
Zuleika nodded her head affirmatively, and still more imperatively pointed to the wall.
"I will obey you," whispered the young Italian, "and I will 'wait and hope!'"
She had gained the victory. A joyous love-light came into her eyes, for the moment eclipsing her terror. Giovanni could not resist the temptation to embrace her, even in the face of the danger that threatened him. He wound his arms about her yielding form, drew her to him with a crushing strain, showering burning kisses upon her upturned lips.
"Farewell," he murmured, reluctantly releasing her, "farewell, my own!"
He turned from her and ran to the wall, scaled it with the agility of a cat and vanished.
When the gardener and his assistants reached the elm, they found Zuleika standing there alone. Had they seen Massetti scale the wall? Had they recognized him? These thoughts shot through the girl's agitated mind. She gave no attention to her own peril.
The men came to a halt and stood silently by, waiting for the nuns to arrive. Horror was pictured on their aged countenances, and they stared at Monte-Cristo's daughter as if she had committed some heinous, unpardonable crime.
The group of nuns speedily arrived, headed by Sister Agatha, who held an open letter in her hand. Zuleika gazed at this letter in silent dismay. It was hers, the one Giovanni had written her! How had it got into Sister Agatha's possession? She mechanically felt in her bosom where she had secreted it, as she thought, safely. Her hand touched only the empty envelope. The note must have fallen upon the floor of the school-room and been found by some malicious pupil, who, after reading it and discovering its compromising contents, had surrendered it to the nun, thus divulging the weighty secret.
Zuleika stood abashed and terror-stricken. No chance of escape now. No chance for deception had she wished to essay it. The letter told the whole story, and the proof of its truth was furnished, for was she not at the appointed rendezvous, and was it not probable that the men and the nuns had seen Giovanni quit her and scale the garden wall?
The nuns looked as horrified as the old servants, but they were more to be dreaded; they possessed the power of reprimanding and punishing, and what punishment would they think too severe in this extreme case? Sister Agatha spoke. Her tone was milder than Zuleika had expected.
"Oh! mademoiselle," she said, reproachfully, "what is this? A meeting with a lover, and within these holy precincts dedicated to celibacy, chastity and sacred things! What will your father, the Count of Monte-Cristo, say when your conduct is reported to him? You are young, and allowance must be made for youthful blood and passionate impulses; but still you have done wrong, very wrong! Is this man, who signs himself Giovanni and who just left you, your betrothed?"
"He is," murmured Zuleika, blushing and holding down her head.
"With your father's permission, mademoiselle?"
"My father does not object to him," replied the girl evasively.
"In that case your fault is not so great as I at first supposed," said the nun. "You are pardonable for receiving the man, who, with your father's consent, is in time to become your husband; but, nevertheless, in meeting him within the convent grounds you are censurable for lack of discipline, and also for conniving at a breach of our rule which excludes all male visitors, save parents or guardians."
Zuleika bowed her head in submission.
"The punishment," continued Sister Agatha, "shall be as light as possible, however, if you have never before met this man within the convent grounds."
"I have never met him here before," said Zuleika, "and I only met him in this instance because—because—"
She hesitated and burst into tears.
"Because what, my poor child?" asked the nun, kindly.
"Because I love him so, and because I was afraid, if I did not meet him, in his desperation he would seek me out in face of you all!"
"Have you ever written to him since you have been in this school?"
"Has he ever written to you before?"
"You hold his first letter to me in your hand!"
"How was this letter delivered, by what means did it reach you?"
Her face one mass of crimson, trembling from head to foot, Zuleika told the whole story of her adventure at noon that day. How she had strayed from her companions without any definite intention; how she had seated herself within the screening branches of the elm to meditate; how she had heard the singular noise in the chestnut tree, and, finally, how the letter, fastened to a stone, had come fluttering over the wall and fallen at her feet.
The nuns glanced at each other, horrified and amazed at the audacity of the young Italian.
"Zuleika," said Sister Agatha, "I told you your punishment should be as light as possible. You have been exposed and reprimanded; the blush of shame has been brought to your cheek! This, I think, is penalty sufficient for a first offense, considering also that it was, in a measure, forced upon you. But beware of a second infraction of our rules! Now, return to your companions."
So it happened that Zuleika suffered but slightly for the imprudence and headlong devotion of her lover. Fearing gossip, the Sisterhood of the Sacred Heart suppressed the matter, and the Count of Monte-Cristo never heard of it. Zuleika expected ridicule from her companions, but the warm-blooded, romantic Italian girls, instead of ridiculing her, looked upon her as a heroine and envied her the possession of a lover daring and devoted enough to scale the wall of a convent garden.
A STORMY INTERVIEW.
When Captain Joliette entered the dressing-room of Mlle. d' Armilly, after quitting the Count of Monte-Cristo at the Apollo Theatre on the sudden termination of the performance of "Lucrezia Borgia," he found the prima donna lying upon a sofa and slowly recovering from the effects of her swoon. Her maid and the ladies of the company, the latter still in their stage attire, were giving her every attention. It was a strange and somewhat grotesque scene—a real drama with theatrical surroundings. The blazing lights, enclosed by their wire spheres, threw a ruddy glare upon the faces of those present, making them appear weird and witch-like in their paint and powder. On chairs and tables lay Mlle. d' Armilly's changes of dress for the performance and her street garments, while upon a broad shelf in front of a mirror were the various mysterious articles used in her make-up—rouge, grease-paint, poudre de riz, etc., together with brushes and numerous camel's hair pencils. A basin filled with water stood on a washstand, and on the floor was the pitcher, in company with a heterogeneous collection of stage and street boots belonging to the eminent songstress. The director of the theatre was standing anxiously beside the suffering prima donna, mentally calculating the chances of her ability to appear the following night. Leon d' Armilly was walking back and forth in the small apartment, wringing his hands and shedding tears like a woman, while at the open door lounged the tenor and baritone of the troupe, their countenances wearing the usual listless expression of veteran opera singers who, from long habit, are thoroughly accustomed to the indispositions and caprices of prima donnas and consider them as incidental to the profession.
As Captain Joliette came in, Leon ran to him and exclaimed amid his tears:
"Oh! how could you bring that odious man to your box! See how the very sight of him has affected my poor sister!"
At these words Mlle. d' Armilly roused herself and, springing to her feet, faced the young soldier in a fit of uncontrollable rage.
"How dare you," she cried, her eyes flashing and her voice tremulous with anger, "come here, to me, after what has occurred to-night!"
"I was not aware, Louise," answered he, apologetically, "that you had such a terrible aversion to the Count of Monte-Cristo."
"The Count of Monte-Cristo!" exclaimed the director. "Was he in the house this evening? What an honor!"
The irate prima donna flashed upon him a terrible glance.
"If you consider it an honor to have that monster in your theatre," she fairly hissed, "I will sing for you no more!"
The humiliated director walked away without making a reply. He deemed it the part of wisdom not to embroil himself with an eminent artiste who was capable of bringing him in so much money, and who also was capable, he thought, of breaking her engagement if she saw fit to do so. He, therefore, left the dressing-room. The others, seeing that Mlle. d' Armilly was evidently about to have a hot dispute with her admirer and that she was sufficiently restored to need no further care, also quitted the apartment.
When they were alone, the prima donna turned fiercely upon the Captain, exclaiming:
"And you profess to love me, too! Was it love that induced you to bring my worst enemy here to-night? It was hatred rather! Captain Joliette, you hate me!"
"You know I do not, Louise," said the young soldier, warmly. "You know I love you to desperation!"
"Why then was the so-called Count of Monte-Cristo in your box?"
"I was not aware that you knew him; indeed, I felt convinced that he was a total stranger to you, and his conduct to-night tended to confirm that conviction. He looked at you without the slightest sign of recognition; and so far from being your enemy is he that he gave you louder and more enthusiastic applause than any other man in the entire theatre."
"It is his art, Captain Joliette! I tell you that man is as cunning as a serpent and as remorseless as a tiger. Only this morning he sought to gain access to me, with what iniquitous motive I know not; but I returned his letter, with an answer that must have galled his pride to the quick!"
"I saw that answer," said the Captain. "Monte-Cristo showed it to me himself at his residence, the Palazzo Costi."
"What!" cried Mlle. d' Armilly, with augmented anger. "You saw it, read my very words, and yet brought him to your box?"
"Listen, Louise, and be reasonable. He told me that your name seemed familiar to him and yet he could not recall where or under what circumstances he had heard it. He was astonished at the tone of your reply to his formal and, I must say, very civil note. I was sure there must be some mistake on your part, that you had confounded him with some other person. I had gone to the Palazzo Costi expressly to invite him to hear you sing, to have such a great man present and assist at your triumph! I felt proud of you, Louise, proud of you as an artiste and as a woman, and I wanted my friend of friends to share my exalted appreciation of you. Such were the reasons that induced me to bring him to my box to-night, and, surely, if I committed an error, I deserve pardon for my motives!"
"I will never pardon you, be your motives what they may!" cried Mlle. d' Armilly, vindictively. "His presence ruined the performance and disgraced me, me, Louise d' Armilly, in the eyes of all Rome!"
The Captain stood speechless, appalled by her fury. White with rage, her eyes flashing and her bosom heaving, she looked like some beautiful demon.
"I would have triumphed as usual had he not been here," she continued, furiously and bitterly, "and to-morrow the Eternal City would have been at my feet, I would have been an acknowledged queen, nay, even greater than any sovereign alive, but now I have failed and am nothing! Captain Joliette, for all this you are to blame, and yet you think you deserve pardon for your motives! Why, man, you are worse than an idiot! No, I will never pardon you, never!"
She strode about the dressing-room as she spoke, her small, white hands working as if ready to tear the young soldier to pieces. Joliette watched her for an instant and then said:
"You are a singular creature, Louise, a problem that I must admit I cannot solve. What is the Count of Monte-Cristo to you that you swoon at the mere sight of him? You certainly could not have been in any way associated with his past life, have suffered from the signal vengeance he took upon his enemies years ago!"
Mlle. d' Armilly paused suddenly in her excited walk, and, seizing the Captain by the arm with so strong a clutch that a thrill of pain shot through him, cried, menacingly:
"If you dare to mention Monte-Cristo's fiendish vengeance to me again, I will banish you forever from my presence!"
At that moment one of the officials of the theatre appeared at the dressing-room door.
"A note for mademoiselle," said he, bowing profoundly.
The prima donna took the missive from the man and glanced at the address upon the envelope. As she did so, she knitted her brows and cried out:
"His handwriting! Another insult! I will not read it!"
The official withdrew in confusion.
"Whose handwriting?" asked Joliette, his curiosity and jealousy simultaneously excited. Mlle. d' Armilly had frequently referred to her numerous admirers and the letters she received from them, and the Captain naturally jumped to the conclusion that this note had been sent by some ardent Roman suitor. He considered the artiste's exclamation and assumption of displeasure as mere artful tricks designed to deceive him.
"Whose handwriting?" repeated Mlle. d' Armilly; scornfully. "Must I explain everything to you?"
The young man had borne all his companion in her anger had heaped upon him with comparative equanimity, but he could not bear the idea of a rival, the very thought was torture.
"Louise," he pleaded, "let me see that letter, let me read it."
"What! Must you needs examine my private correspondence! Captain Joliette, you are going too far! You have done enough to-night, without adding insult to injury!"
"I did not seek to injure you, Louise, God knows! Neither do I wish to insult you; but that letter I must and will read!"
"You talk as if I were already your wife and slave. Adopt another and less authoritative tone, monsieur. Captain Joliette, you are not yet my husband!"
"Would that I were and were sure of your love, Louise! The continual uncertainty in which you keep me is insupportable! You refuse to let me read that letter?"
The young man, in his turn, began to pace the dressing-room excitedly, his jealous suspicions growing stronger and stronger.
Mlle. d' Armilly gazed at him triumphantly. She was proud of the vast influence she exercised over this brave and manly warrior. He would stand unmoved before the cannon's mouth, but she could make him quail and tremble!
"You refuse to let me read that letter?" he repeated.
"What if I do not refuse?" said she, in a softer tone.
"You will make me a very happy man!"
"Then read it, for I will not! Thus I show my contempt for its miserable and cowardly author!"
She crumpled the note in her hand and cast it on the floor. Then she placed her foot upon it.
Joliette stooped and took it from beneath her boot. He straightened out the envelope, opened it, removed the missive and read as follows:
"The Count of Monte-Cristo presents his respects to Mlle. d' Armilly, and begs leave to express his deep regret that his presence in Captain Joliette's box was the cause of such a grave catastrophe. He is utterly at a loss to realize why Mlle. d' Armilly should entertain so profound an aversion for him, and why the sight of him should so seriously affect her. If Mlle. d' Armilly would condescend to explain, he would regard it as a special favor. He trusts that Captain Joliette will in nowise be blamed for what has occurred, as that gentleman, when he invited the Count to share his box, was as thoroughly convinced as the Count himself that Mlle. d' Armilly did not know and would not recognize him."
As Joliette read the last lines that so completely cleared him, he could not suppress an exclamation of joy.
"Louise," he cried, "the Count of Monte-Cristo has written to exculpate me!"
"Indeed!" replied the prima donna, contemptuously.
"Yes; he also apologizes to you and asks you to explain why the sight of him so seriously affects you."
"He asks an explanation, does he?" cried Mlle. d' Armilly, her anger resuming sway. "He shall never have one!"
"But you will pardon me, as you see I am altogether blameless?"
"I will hold your pardon under advisement, Captain. My action towards you will be greatly influenced by your future conduct in regard to the wretch who calls himself Monte-Cristo!"
"You surely do not wish me to cast him off, to shun him?"
"Do you prefer him to me?"
"I love you, Louise, love you better than anything or anybody else in the whole world! But I greatly esteem the Count of Monte-Cristo. There are ties between us that you do not understand."
"I do not care to understand them. I have told you that this man is my enemy. That should be sufficient for you. My lover and my enemy cannot be friends. Choose between us!"
"Would you have me quarrel with him?"
"Quarrel with him? Yes; and not only that! I would have you fight him, kill him!"
The young man stood aghast. He was totally unprepared for this explosion, this savage, vindictive demand.
"Fight him, kill him, Louise! You cannot, you do not mean what you say!"
"Am I in the habit of using idle words?"
"Louise, Louise, I entreat you, do not impose such horrible conditions upon me!"
"Are you afraid of Monte-Cristo?"
"I am afraid of no man living, Louise; but I cannot challenge Monte-Cristo to a duel even for you!"
"Then you refuse to protect, to champion me?"
"Oh! Louise, how can you speak thus! I would gladly shed every drop of blood in my veins for you, gladly lay down my life for you, but do not ask me to lift a hand against the Count of Monte-Cristo!"
The beautiful woman looked at the energetic speaker haughtily and discontentedly. She was not a little disappointed. She had thought her influence over her suitor unbounded, but now it appeared that it had its limits. She, however, did not despair. Well knowing the wonderful fascination she possessed for men, she determined to bring all its batteries to bear upon Captain Joliette. She was bent on wreaking a terrible vengeance upon the Count of Monte-Cristo for some mysterious injury he had inflicted on her in the past, an injury in regard to which she refused to be communicative even to her accepted lover, and was resolved that Joliette should give the highest proof of his devotion to her by becoming the instrument of that vengeance.
With the shrewdness of an experienced woman of the world, she readily saw that a special effort would be required on her part to bend the gallant soldier to her will and compel him to execute her inexorable purpose. She would make that special effort and, in making it, would render herself so captivating, so enticing, so desirable that Joliette could not fail to be intoxicated with her charms and fascinations. Then under the mad sway of his blind passion, excited to the utmost, he would be ready to do anything for her, anything, even to the commission of a crime, even to shedding the blood of his dearest friend!
At this juncture Mlle. d' Armilly, turning from the Captain as if in high displeasure, for it was an important part of her plan to assume a certain degree of coldness towards him at first, touched a bell and immediately her brother Leon and her maid appeared.
"Franchette," she said, addressing the latter, "assist me with my street toilet. I have sufficiently recovered to return to the Hotel de France."
Unmindful of the presence of the Captain and Leon, the designing prima donna at once began to remove the costume she had worn during the opera. The maid aided her in this operation with the outward impassibility of theatrical servants, though she imperceptibly smiled as she realized that this display of her mistress' personal charms was made solely for the purpose of rendering the young soldier still more the slave of that artful siren.
As Mlle. d' Armilly stood in her corset and clinging skirts of spotless white that delicately outlined her faultless shape, her fine throat, shoulders and arms displaying their glowing brilliancy, Captain Joliette gazed at her like one entranced. Never in all his life, he thought, had he looked upon a woman so thoroughly beautiful, so goddess-like. She was as perfect as a painting of Venus, and a thousand times more lovely for being alive. He held his breath as he saw her bosom palpitate and felt that he would give all he possessed in the world to call her his own, to be with her forever.
Leon seemed somewhat abashed by his sister's proceeding and blushed like a girl, the crimson tide giving his countenance a beauty altogether feminine.
The toilet operation completed, Mlle. d' Armilly surveyed herself triumphantly in the mirror. She was well aware that she had riveted her chains very tightly upon her lover, but, for all that, she could tell only by actual experiment if he were sufficiently under her dominion to accede to her wishes concerning the Count of Monte-Cristo. Hence she determined to make that experiment without delay, ere cool reflection had come to the dazzled warrior's aid and enabled him to realize that a trap had been laid for him.
Quitting the mirror, she went to Captain Joliette's side and, placing her hand on his arm, as she threw into his eyes all the magnetism of her glance, said, in a dulcet tone:
"Will you accompany me to the hotel, Captain?"
The young man joyously assented, and soon an elegant equipage was bearing him swiftly towards the prima donna's apartments.
It was a bright, warm afternoon in spring, and the Piazza del Popolo, Rome's great promenade, was crowded with gay pleasure-seekers of both sexes, while the Corso and the two other principal thoroughfares diverging from this extensive public square were also thronged with young and old. The trees were covered with fresh green foliage, and multitudes of blooming flowers adorned the Piazza and the windows of the adjacent palaces and humble dwellings. Sounds of joy and mirth were heard on every side, while now and then strains of soft music were audible. It was truly a most inspiring scene of light and life. Flirtations were frequent between beautiful dark-visaged girls, with hair and eyes like night, in their picturesque attire, and manly-looking youthful gallants, while here and there sullen and sombre glances spoke of jealousy as fierce as fire, hinting of marital vengeance and love tragedies characteristic of the hot-blooded, impetuous Italians.
In the midst of the throng on the Piazza two youths were strolling, arm in arm. They were the Viscount Giovanni Massetti and Esperance, the son of Monte-Cristo. Fast friends they seemed, and gayly they chatted as they passed leisurely along. Their spirits were in full harmony with the animated scene around them, and they were evidently not insensible to the charms of the many pretty maidens they encountered and upon whom they cast admiring glances.
Suddenly a peasant girl of dazzling beauty appeared in the Piazza very near them. She was apparently about seventeen, glowing with sturdy health, her full cheeks the hue of the red rose. Her sleeves, rolled above the elbows, displayed perfect arms that would have been the envy of a sculptor. Her feet were bare and her short skirts afforded dazzling glimpses of finely turned ankles and limbs of almost faultless form. Her face had a cheery and agreeable expression, not unmixed with piquant archness and a sort of dainty, bewitching coquetry. She was a flower-girl, and was vending bouquets from a basket jauntily borne on one arm. She addressed herself glibly to the young men she met, offering her wares so demurely and modestly that she seldom failed in finding appreciation and liberal customers. There was not even a suspicion of boldness or sauciness about her, but she had that entire self-possession engendered by thorough familiarity with her somewhat risky and perilous vocation.
Giovanni and Esperance caught sight of her simultaneously. Both were struck by her appearance and demeanor, to which her gaudy but neat and clean peasant costume gave additional eclat.
"What a handsome girl!" exclaimed Esperance, involuntarily.
"A divinity!" replied the Viscount, excitedly.
Then they glanced at each other and laughed, evidently rather ashamed of the admiration they had so enthusiastically expressed.
"Her first words, however, will scatter the illusion to the winds," said Esperance, cynically. "She is, no doubt, as ignorant as she is pretty."
"Quite likely," rejoined Giovanni. "The outside beauty of these peasant girls generally conceals much internal coarseness, not to say depravity."
They were about pursuing their way, when the girl advanced, offering them her bouquets. Her voice was so sweet, so melodious, so deliciously modulated, that the young men paused in spite of themselves. She stood in a most graceful attitude, her parted coral lips exhibiting teeth as white and glittering as pearls. A subtile magnetism seemed to exhale from her that was not without its influence upon the two youths. Besides, her words did not betoken that ignorance alluded to by Esperance or that depravity the Viscount had spoken of.
"Buy some bouquets for your fair sweethearts, signors," she said. "They will gladden their hearts, for the perfume speaks of love!"
"Love!" exclaimed Giovanni, smiling at her earnestness and poetic language. "What do you know of love?"
"Ah! signor," she answered, blushing deeply and averting her eyes, "what girl does not know of love! Even the meanest peasant feels the arrow of the little blind god!"
The young men were amused and interested. Though belonging to the lower class, this poor flower-girl had certainly received some education and was endowed with a fair share of the finer feelings. Esperance felt attracted towards her, and Giovanni experienced a fascination not difficult to account for. Separated from Zuleika, filled with a lover's despair, the ardent Viscount was not averse to a little flirtation, more or less innocent. Here was his opportunity; he would cultivate this romantic and handsome girl's acquaintance. Where was the harm? He did not design being unfaithful to Zuleika, and this piquant peasant would be none the worse for brightening some of his sad hours. No doubt she was accessible and would welcome such a diversion, especially as he would pour gold liberally into her lap.
"I will buy some flowers of you, my girl," he said, encouragingly.
"Here is a beautiful bouquet, signor," said the girl, smiling joyously at the prospect of making a profitable sale, and handing him a magnificent selection of fragrant buds and bloom.
Giovanni took the bouquet and, at the same time, gently pressed the girl's taper fingers. They were soft and velvety to his touch. A delightful thrill shot through him at the contact. The flower-girl evinced no displeasure. Clearly she was accustomed to such advances. The Viscount slipped a gold coin of considerable value into her hand, again experiencing the delightful thrill.
"This is too much, signor," said the girl, looking at the coin, "and I have not the change. You must wait a moment until I get it."
"Never mind the change," answered Giovanni. "Keep the whole."
The girl looked astonished at such liberality, then a joyous smile overspread her beautiful visage.
"Oh! thank you, thank you ever so much, signor," she said, effusively, the color deepening on her tempting cheeks. Giovanni with difficulty restrained himself from kissing them.
"What is your name, my girl?" he asked, as she moved to depart.
"Annunziata Solara, signor," she replied, surprised that such a question should be asked her.
"Where do you live?"
"In the country, just beyond the Trastavere."
"Do you live alone?"
"No; with my father, Pasquale Solara."
"What is his occupation?"
"He is a shepherd, signor."
The girl bowed to the two young men and, with a glance at Giovanni that set his blood tingling in his veins, passed on and was speedily lost in the throng of promenaders.
Esperance, who had watched this scene with amused curiosity, broke into a hearty laugh as the Viscount turned towards him with something very like a sigh.
"Giovanni," said he, "the pretty Annunziata Solara has bewitched you!"
"Not quite so much as that, Esperance," replied the young Italian. "But she is a glorious creature, isn't she?"
"Yes, as far as looks go; but all is not gold that glitters, and this fair Annunziata may turn out a perfect fiend or fury upon a closer acquaintance!"
Giovanni gave his friend a glance of reproach.
"Do not insult her with such wretched insinuations," he replied, warmly.
Esperance smiled and said:
"You are smitten with her, that's plain!"
"I am not, but I admire her as I would anything beautiful."
"Put it as you please. At any rate, you will hardly be likely to see her again. She was a vision and has faded."
"But I do not intend to lose sight of her."
"You do not mean to say that you design seeking her out?"
"That is exactly what I mean to say."
Esperance looked at his friend quizzically and, at the same time, uneasily.
"When do you design seeking her out?"
"This very night."
"In the Trastavere?"
"No. You did not hear her aright. She said she lived in the country, just beyond the Trastavere. I will seek her there."
"Beware, Giovanni! Her bright eyes may lead you into danger! How do you know that she has not some fierce brigand lover, who will meet you with a stiletto?"
"Nonsense! Your fears are childish!"
"I am not so sure of that. The country beyond the Trastavere is infested by daring robbers, who would not hesitate to seize you and hold you for a ransom. Only the other day the notorious Luigi Vampa performed just such an exploit, exacting a very large sum for the release of his prisoner, who was a wealthy nobleman like yourself."
"I will take the chances!"
"You are mad!"
"I am not. I have no fear of brigands. They would not dare to lay even a finger upon a Massetti!"
The young Viscount drew himself up proudly as he spoke. He believed the power of his family invincible.
Esperance was at a total loss to understand the firm hold this sudden infatuation had taken upon his friend. Of course, he fully comprehended the influence of female beauty over hot, headstrong youth, and he acknowledged to himself that Annunziata was really very beautiful and alluring; still, she was not more so than hosts of other girls who would be glad to win a smile from the Viscount Massetti at almost any price, and whose pursuit would be altogether unattended with danger. It was well known that the shrewd brigands frequently sent handsome young women to Rome to entice their prey to them, and might not Annunziata Solara, with all her apparent demureness, be one of those dangerous Delilahs?
After several further attempts to dissuade the Viscount from the rash venture he had decided upon making, all of which were vain, Esperance resolved that his impetuous friend should not go alone that night in quest of the fascinating Annunziata. He would follow him unseen and endeavor to protect him should the necessity arise. He knew the Viscount's nature too thoroughly to propose accompanying him, as such a proposition would undoubtedly be received with scorn, if not as an absolute insult. He would, however, keep track of him and, if all went well, Massetti would be none the wiser. If, on the contrary, his aid should be needed, he could come forward and give it. In that event, gratitude on the Viscount's part would prevent him from demanding an explanation of his presence.
Meanwhile the young men had continued their stroll and had passed from the Piazza del Popolo to the Corso. Giovanni was taciturn and moody. He looked straight ahead, failing to notice the gayly attired beauties thronging that great thoroughfare, who at ordinary times would have engrossed his attention. Not so with Esperance; he admired the vivacious ladies on the sidewalk or in their handsome carriages drawn by spirited horses. Now and then he recognized an acquaintance among them and bowed, but Giovanni recognized no one. He seemed plunged in a reverie that nothing could break. Scarcely did he reply to Esperance's occasional remarks, and when he did so it was with the air of a man whose thoughts are far away.
At the broad portico of the magnificent Palazzo Massetti, Esperance, the son of Monte-Cristo bade his friend farewell. As he turned to depart, he said:
"Is your determination still unaltered, do you yet intend to seek Annunziata Solara in the country beyond the Trastavere?"
Giovanni glanced at him keenly, as he replied, somewhat impatiently:
"My determination is unaltered. I shall seek her!"
Esperance said nothing further, but departed, full of sad forebodings. He felt a premonition of evil, and was certain that his infatuated friend would meet with some dire mishap during the romantic and hazardous expedition of that night. It was now quite late, and the young man hurriedly bent his steps towards the Palazzo Costi, maturing his plan as he walked along. He would inform the Count of Monte-Cristo that he had been invited to accompany some friends on a pleasure excursion, requesting his permission to absent himself from Rome for a few days. This permission obtained, he would assume the garb of an Italian peasant, make his way to the Ponte St. Angelo and there, in the shadow of the bridge, await the coming of the Viscount Massetti. When the latter had passed his place of concealment, he would follow him at a distance, keeping him in view and watching him closely.
Monte-Cristo made no objection to his son's proposed absence, and the young man, after a hasty supper, hurried to his sleeping chamber, where he soon assumed a peasant's dress he had worn at a recent masquerade. Stepping in front of a toilet mirror, he applied a stain to his face, giving it the color of that of a sunburnt tiller of the fields. When his disguise was completed, he surveyed himself triumphantly in the glass. Even his father could not have recognized him, so radically had he altered his appearance.
Gaining the street by a private door without being observed, he was speedily at the bridge. As he stepped into the shadow of one of the abutments, he heard the great clock of the Vatican strike seven. It was twilight, but everything around him was as plainly visible as in broad day. He glanced in every direction. No sign of Giovanni. Had the ardent young Viscount already crossed the Tiber?
He thought not, and waited patiently for a quarter of an hour. Still no sign. Then he began to grow anxious. Massetti had certainly passed over the bridge and he had missed him. He waited a few minutes longer, devoured by impatience and anxiety. At last he reached the conclusion that Giovanni had preceded him, had gone on alone, unprotected. He must have done so; otherwise he would certainly have appeared ere this. The thought was torture. To what unknown, what deadly perils was he exposing himself amid the marshes without the city walls? But perhaps he had not yet left the city walls behind him! A ray of hope came to Esperance. If Massetti were still within the limits of the Trastavere, he might by using due speed overtake him! He would make the attempt at any rate. As he formed this resolution, he emerged from the shadow of the abutment. At that instant a man came upon the bridge and passed him. He passed so closely that they almost touched, uttering a suppressed oath at finding an intruder in his path. His pace was rapid, so rapid that he was soon far away. He had not even looked at Esperance, and it seemed to the latter that he had endeavored to conceal his face. The man was of Giovanni's size and had Giovanni's bearing, but there the resemblance ended. He was certainly a peasant; his attire betokened it; besides, his countenance, of which Esperance had caught a glimpse, was rough and tanned. The son of Monte-Cristo felt a pang of keen disappointment; then he glanced at his own garments, thought of his own stained visage, and a revelation came to him like a flash of lightning—the man was Giovanni—Giovanni in disguise! He hurriedly looked after his retiring figure; it was now but a mere speck in the distance, scarcely discernible in the fading twilight. He started swiftly in pursuit, almost running across the bridge. After a hot and weary chase, he at length gained so much on the object of his solicitude that he was as near as he deemed it prudent to approach. He was now sure that the man ahead of him was the Viscount Massetti.
Esperance paused a second to recover his breath; then he went on at a slower pace. The pursued had not discovered the pursuit; he trudged along steadily and sturdily, never once looking back. Thus the two men crossed the Trastavere, and each in turn, emerging from a gate in the wall of the Leonine City, passed out into the marshy country beyond. They had not gone very far, when Esperance saw Giovanni suddenly give a start; at the same time he heard a loud, harsh voice cry out:
"In the name of Luigi Vampa, halt!"
Straining his eyes, Esperance finally succeeded in piercing the semi-darkness of the surroundings, and perceived a gigantic ruffian, who wore a black mask, standing in the centre of the road and presenting a pistol at the head of the man he had every reason to believe was Giovanni Massetti.
THE POWER OF A NAME.
The young Viscount, for it was, indeed, he whom the gigantic masked brigand had halted, was staggered for an instant by this unlooked for interruption of his journey in pursuit of the beautiful flower-girl. He gazed at the huge ruffian in front of him first in bewilderment and then in anger. The robber calmly continued to cover him with his pistol; as Giovanni made a movement with his hand towards a stiletto he wore at the belt of his peasant's dress, the man's quick eye detected his intention and he exclaimed, in a rough tone of command:
"Touch that stiletto and I will blow your brains out!"
The Viscount dropped his hand; he was as brave as a lion, but the bandit had the advantage of him and, courageous as he was, he instantly recognized the folly of disregarding his warning. His rage and indignation, however, were too great for him to control. He cried to his stalwart adversary:
"Why do you stop a poor peasant from whom you can obtain nothing?"
"You are not a poor peasant, signor!"
"I am not, eh? Well, search me and see!"
"You are neither a poor peasant, signor, nor any peasant at all! I have seen you too often in Rome to be deceived by the flimsy disguise you wear so unnaturally! I know you! You are the Viscount Giovanni Massetti!"
"Well, what if I am?" retorted the young man, sharply. "The fact will not benefit you or any member of your accursed and cowardly band!"
"Have a care how you talk, signor!" exclaimed the bandit, threateningly. "Insolence to your captors may cost you more than you would be willing to pay!"
"Yes; I mean exactly what I say. It may cost you your life!"
Giovanni glared at the brigand with unflinching eyes. He returned threat for threat.
"Take my life, if you will," he said. "It would be the worst piece of work you have ever done!"
"May I ask why, signor?"
"It would raise my family against you and the result could not fail to be your extermination!"
The man laughed loudly, and caustically replied:
"You are joking! What can your family do against Luigi Vampa and his comrades, who have long been countenanced by the highest authority!"
This was the climax of insult, and Giovanni, driven to the highest pitch of fury, unable longer to control himself, tore his stiletto from its sheath and, raising it aloft, made a frantic dash at the gigantic brigand. Instantly the latter fired. Giovanni dropped his weapon; his right arm fell useless at his side.
Esperance meanwhile had not been idle. His excitement was intense, and with it was mingled terrible fear for the safety of his friend. Nevertheless, he eventually succeeded in sufficiently calming and collecting himself to form a plan of action and put it in execution. He had provided himself with a pistol, which he had freshly charged prior to his departure from the Palazzo Costi. He drew this weapon from its place of concealment at the first intimation of danger, noiselessly cocking it. The road was skirted with tall thick bushes from which projected a fringe of heavy shadows. Along this dark fringe Esperance stole with cautious tread towards the huge bandit, as soon as he perceived him standing in the centre of the highway and noted his threatening attitude. As he stealthily advanced, the moon suddenly rose, flooding the scene with its silvery light. Its rays, however, did not disturb the line of skirting shadows, and Esperance passed on unseen. When the brigand fired he was very near him. Seeing Giovanni's arm fall and realizing that he was wounded, the son of Monte-Cristo promptly raised his weapon and, covering the gigantic ruffian, discharged it directly at his heart. Blood gushed from the man's breast. He sank to the ground, where he lay quivering convulsively; in another instant he expired without even uttering a groan.