The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, chapter name Chapter 28. The Prison Register

Chapter 28. The Prison Register




The day after that in which the scene we have just described had taken place on the road between Bellegarde and Beaucaire, a man of about thirty or two-and-thirty, dressed in a bright blue frock coat, nankeen trousers, and a white waistcoat, having the appearance and accent of an Englishman, presented himself before the mayor of Marseilles.

“Sir,” said he, “I am chief clerk of the house of Thomson & French, of Rome. We are and have been these ten years, connected with the house of Morrel & Son, of Marseilles. We have a hundred thousand francs or thereabouts loaned on their securities, and we are a little uneasy at reports that have reached us that the firm is on the brink of ruin. I have come, therefore, express from Rome, to ask you for information.”

“Sir,” replied the mayor. “I know very well that during the last four or five years misfortune has seemed to pursue M. Morrel. He has lost four or five vessels, and suffered by three or four bankruptcies; but it is not for me, although I am a creditor myself to the amount of ten thousand francs, to give any information as to the state of his finances. Ask of me, as mayor, what is my opinion of M. Morrel, and I shall say that he is a man honourable to the last degree, and who has up to this time fulfilled every engagement with scrupulous punctuality. This is all I can say, sir; if you wish to learn more, address yourself to M. de Boville, the inspector of prisons, No. 15, Rue de Noailles; he has, I believe, two hundred thousand francs in Morrel’s hands, and if there be any grounds for apprehension, as this is a greater amount than mine, you will most probably find him better informed than myself.”

The Englishman seemed to appreciate this extreme delicacy, made his bow and went away, proceeding with a characteristic British stride towards the street mentioned.

M. de Boville was in his private room, and the Englishman, on perceiving him, made a gesture of surprise, which seemed to indicate that it was not the first time he had been in his presence. As to M. de Boville, he was in such a state of despair, that it was evident all the faculties of his mind, absorbed in the thought which occupied him at the moment, did not allow either his memory or his imagination to stray to the past.

The Englishman, with the coolness of his nation, addressed him in terms nearly similar to those with which he had accosted the mayor of Marseilles.

“Oh, sir,” exclaimed M. de Boville, “your fears are unfortunately but too well-founded, and you see before you a man in despair. I had two hundred thousand francs placed in the hands of Morrel & Son; these two hundred thousand francs were the dowry of my daughter, who was to be married in a fortnight, and these two hundred thousand francs were payable half on the 15th of this month and the other half on the 15th of next month. I had informed M. Morrel of my desire to have these payments punctually, and he has been here within the last half-hour to tell me that if his ship, the Pharaon, did not come into port on the 15th, he would be wholly unable to make this payment.”

“But,” said the Englishman, “this looks very much like a suspension of payment.”

“It looks more like bankruptcy!” exclaimed M. de Boville despairingly.

The Englishman appeared to reflect a moment, and then said, “From which it would appear, sir, that this credit inspires you with considerable apprehension?”

“To tell you the truth, I consider it lost.”

“Well, then, I will buy it of you!”


“Yes, I!”

“But at a tremendous discount, of course?”

“No, for two hundred thousand francs. Our house” added the Englishman with a laugh, “does not do things in that way.”

“And you will pay——”

“Ready money.”



And the Englishman drew from his pocket a bundle of bank notes, which might have been twice the sum M. de Boville feared to lose. A ray of joy passed across M. de Boville’s countenance, yet he made an effort at self-control and said:

“Sir, I ought to tell you that, in all probability, you will not realize six per cent of this sum.”

“That’s no affair of mine,” replied the Englishman, “that is the affair of the house of Thomson & French, in whose name I act. They have, perhaps, some motive to serve in hastening the ruin of a rival firm. But all I know, sir, is, that I am ready to hand you over this sum in exchange for your assignment of the debt. I only ask a brokerage.”

“Of course, that is perfectly just,” cried M. de Boville. “The commission is usually one and a half; will you have two—three-five per cent, or even more? Whatever you say.”

“Sir,” replied the Englishman, laughing, “I am like my house, and do not do such things—no, the commission I ask is quite different.”

“Name it, sir, I beg.”

“You are the inspector of prisons?”

“I have been so these fourteen years.”

“You keep the registers of entries and departures?”

“I do.”

“To these registers, there are added notes relative to the prisoners?”

“There are special reports on every prisoner.”

“Well, sir, I was educated at Rome by a poor devil of an abbé, who disappeared suddenly. I have since learned that he was confined in the Château d’If, and I should like to learn some particulars of his death.”

“What was his name?”

“The Abbé Faria.”

“Oh, I recollect him perfectly,” cried M. de Boville; “he was crazy.”

“So they said.”

“Oh, he was, decidedly.”

“Very possibly; but what sort of madness was it?”

“He pretended to know of an immense treasure, and offered vast sums to the government if they would liberate him.”

“Poor devil!—and he is dead?”

“Yes, sir, five or six months ago, last February.”

“You have a good memory, sir, to recollect dates so well.”

“I recollect this because the poor devil’s death was accompanied by a singular incident.”

“May I ask what that was?” said the Englishman with an expression of curiosity, which a close observer would have been astonished at discovering in his phlegmatic countenance.

“Oh dear, yes, sir; the abbé’s dungeon was forty or fifty feet distant from that of one of Bonaparte’s emissaries,—one of those who had contributed the most to the return of the usurper in 1815, a very resolute and very dangerous man.”

“Indeed!” said the Englishman.

“Yes,” replied M. de Boville; “I myself had occasion to see this man in 1816 or 1817, and we could only go into his dungeon with a file of soldiers. That man made a deep impression on me; I shall never forget his countenance!”