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"A thousand thanks," said the count, "your invitation is most gracious, and I regret exceedingly that it is not in my power to accept it. I am not so much at liberty as you suppose; on the contrary, I have a most important engagement."
"Ah, take care, you were teaching me just now how, in case of an invitation to dinner, one might creditably make an excuse. I require the proof of a pre-engagement. I am not a banker, like M. Danglars, but I am quite as incredulous as he is."
"I am going to give you a proof," replied the count, and he rang the bell.
"Humph," said Morcerf, "this is the second time you have refused to dine with my mother; it is evident that you wish to avoid her." Monte Cristo started. "Oh, you do not mean that," said he; "besides, here comes the confirmation of my assertion." Baptistin entered, and remained standing at the door. "I had no previous knowledge of your visit, had I?"
"Indeed, you are such an extraordinary person, that I would not answer for it."
"At all events, I could not guess that you would invite me to dinner."
"Well, listen, Baptistin, what did I tell you this morning when I called you into my laboratory?"
"To close the door against visitors as soon as the clock struck five," replied the valet.
"Ah, my dear count," said Albert.
"No, no, I wish to do away with that mysterious reputation that you have given me, my dear viscount; it is tiresome to be always acting Manfred. I wish my life to be free and open. Go on, Baptistin."
"Then to admit no one except Major Bartolomeo Cavalcanti and his son."
"You hear -- Major Bartolomeo Cavalcanti -- a man who ranks amongst the most ancient nobility of Italy, whose name Dante has celebrated in the tenth canto of `The Inferno,' you remember it, do you not? Then there is his son, Andrea, a charming young man, about your own age, viscount, bearing the same title as yourself, and who is making his entry into the Parisian world, aided by his father's millions. The major will bring his son with him this evening, the contino, as we say in Italy; he confides him to my care. If he proves himself worthy of it, I will do what I can to advance his interests. You will assist me in the work, will you not?"
"Most undoubtedly. This Major Cavalcanti is an old friend of yours, then?"
"By no means. He is a perfect nobleman, very polite, modest, and agreeable, such as may be found constantly in Italy, descendants of very ancient families. I have met him several times at Florence, Bologna and Lucca, and he has now communicated to me the fact of his arrival in Paris. The acquaintances one makes in travelling have a sort of claim on one; they everywhere expect to receive the same attention which you once paid them by chance, as though the civilities of a passing hour were likely to awaken any lasting interest in favor of the man in whose society you may happen to be thrown in the course of your journey. This good Major Cavalcanti is come to take a second view of Paris, which he only saw in passing through in the time of the Empire, when he was on his way to Moscow. I shall give him a good dinner, he will confide his son to my care, I will promise to watch over him, I shall let him follow in whatever path his folly may lead him, and then I shall have done my part."