The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexander Dumas
The following passage is excerpted from a novel published in 1844. Edmond Dantes, who has been falsely accused and imprisoned, meets with the inspector-general of prisons in the following scene.
1. A year after Louis XVIII.'s restoration, a visit was made by the inspector-general of prisons.
2. Dantes in his cell heard the noise of preparation,—sounds that at the depth where he lay
3. would have been inaudible to any but the ear of a prisoner, who could hear the splash of
4. the drop of water that every hour fell from the roof of his dungeon. He guessed something
5. uncommon was passing among the living; but he had so long ceased to have any intercourse
6. with the world, that he looked upon himself as dead.
7. The inspector visited, one after another, the cells and dungeons of several of the prisoners,
8. whose good behavior or stupidity recommended them to the clemency of the government.
9. He inquired how they were fed, and if they had any request to make. The universal response
10. was, that the fare was detestable, and that they wanted to be set free.
11. The inspector asked if they had anything else to ask for. They shook their heads. What could
12. they desire beyond their liberty? The inspector turned smilingly to the governor.
13. "I do not know what reason government can assign for these useless visits; when you
14. see one prisoner, you see all,—always the same thing,—ill fed and innocent. Are there any
16. "Yes; the dangerous and mad prisoners are in the dungeons."
17. "Let us visit them," said the inspector with an air of fatigue. "We must play the
18. farce to the end. Let us see the dungeons."
19. "Let us first send for two soldiers," said the governor. "The prisoners sometimes,
20. through mere uneasiness of life, and in order to be sentenced to death, commit acts of useless
21. violence, and you might fall a victim."
22. "Take all needful precautions," replied the inspector.
23. Two soldiers were accordingly sent for, and the inspector descended a stairway, so foul,
24. so humid, so dark, as to be loathsome to sight, smell, and respiration.
25. "Oh," cried the inspector, "who can live here?"
26. "A most dangerous conspirator, a man we are ordered to keep the most strict watch
27. over, as he is daring and resolute."
28. "He is alone?"
30. "How long has he been there?"
31. "Nearly a year."
32. "Was he placed here when he first arrived?"
33. "No; not until he attempted to kill the turnkey, who took his food to him."
34. "To kill the turnkey?"
35. "Yes, the very one who is lighting us. Is it not true, Antoine?" asked the governor.
36. "True enough; he wanted to kill me!" returned the turnkey.
37. "He must be mad," said the inspector.
38. "He is worse than that,—he is a devil!" returned the turnkey.
39. "Shall I complain of him?" demanded the inspector.
40. "Oh, no; it is useless. Besides, he is almost mad now, and in another year he will be quite so."
41. "So much the better for him,—he will suffer less," said the inspector. He was,
42. as this remark shows, a man full of philanthropy, and in every way fit for his office.
43. "You are right, sir," replied the governor; "and this remark proves that you have
44. deeply considered the subject. Now we have in a dungeon about twenty feet distant,
45. and to which you descend by another stair, an abbe, formerly leader of a party in Italy,
46. who has been here since 1811, and in 1813 he went mad, and the change is astonishing.
47. He used to weep, he now laughs; he grew thin, he now grows fat. You had better see him,
48. for his madness is amusing."
49. "I will see them both," returned the inspector; "I must conscientiously perform my duty.
50. " This was the inspector's first visit; he wished to display his authority.
51. "Let us visit this one first," added he.
52. "By all means," replied the governor, and he signed to the turnkey to open the door.
53. At the sound of the key turning in the lock, and the creaking of the hinges, Dantes, who was
54. crouched in a corner of the dungeon, whence he could see the ray of light that came through
55. a narrow iron grating above, raised his head. Seeing a stranger, escorted by two turnkeys
56. holding torches and accompanied by two soldiers, and to whom the governor spoke bareheaded,
57. Dantes, who guessed the truth, and that the moment to address himself to the superior
58. authorities was come, sprang forward with clasped hands.
59. The soldiers interposed their bayonets, for they thought that he was about to attack the
60. inspector, and the latter recoiled two or three steps. Dantes saw that he was looked upon
61. as dangerous. Then, infusing all the humility he possessed into his eyes and voice, he
62. addressed the inspector, and sought to inspire him with pity.
63. The inspector listened attentively; then, turning to the governor, observed, "He will
64. become religious— he is already more gentle; he is afraid, and retreated before the
65. bayonets—madmen are not afraid of anything; I made some curious observations on this
66. at Charenton." Then, turning to the prisoner, "What is it you want?" said he.
67. "I want to know what crime I have committed—to be tried; and if I am guilty, to be shot;
68. if innocent, to be set at liberty."
69. "Are you well fed?" said the inspector.
70. "I believe so; I don't know; it's of no consequence. What matters really, not only to me,
71. but to officers of justice and the king, is that an innocent man should languish in prison,
72. the victim of an infamous denunciation, to die here cursing his executioners."
73. "You are very humble to-day," remarked the governor; "you are not so always;
74. the other day, for instance, when you tried to kill the turnkey."
75. "It is true, sir, and I beg his pardon, for he his always been very good to me, but I was mad."
76. "And you are not so any longer?"
77. "No; captivity has subdued me—I have been here so long."
78. "So long?—when were you arrested, then?" asked the inspector.
79. "The 28th of February, 1815, at half-past two in the afternoon."
80. "To-day is the 30th of July, 1816,—why it is but seventeen months."
81. "Only seventeen months," replied Dantes. "Oh, you do not know what is
82. seventeen months in prison!— seventeen ages rather, especially to a man who, like
83. me, had arrived at the summit of his ambition—to a man, who, like me, was on the point of
84. marrying a woman he adored, who saw an honorable career opened before him, and who loses all
85. in an instant—who sees his prospects destroyed, and is ignorant of the fate of his affianced wife,
86. and whether his aged father be still living! Seventeen months captivity to a sailor accustomed
87. to the boundless ocean, is a worse punishment than human crime ever merited. Have
88. pity on me, then, and ask for me, not intelligence, but a trial; not pardon, but a verdict—a trial,
89. sir, I ask only for a trial; that, surely, cannot be denied to one who is accused!"
Dumas, Alexandre. The Count of Monte Cristo. New York: A.L. Burt, n.d. HathiTrust Digital Library. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.
What is the purpose of lines 17-18 ("Let us…dungeons")?