Franz and Albert rise the next morning, frustrated that they cannot order a carriage in Rome for the last three days of Carnival, the most important of the holiday. After a gentlemanly argument with Pastrini, they manage to secure a carriage for the next couple days (before the end of the festival), although the rate is very high, and Pastrini pockets the difference. Franz and Albert set off on a tour of St. Peter’s and they return that evening, vowing to take in the Colosseum “by moonlight,” the most romantic time in which to view it.
Franz and Albert’s tour of the Coliseum is understood, by the two men and by Pastrini, to be an absolutely necessary part of any gentleman’s time in Rome. As will be shown below, Pastrini objects not to the visit itself but to the timing of the visit, which, he feels, will mean no one can protect the two men from bandits. But it is banditry and adventure that Franz and Albert have come to Italy to find, and Albert in particular is not so worried about the possible presence of “exotic”-seeming Italian thieves.
At this, Pastrini snorts and says they cannot possibly view the Colosseum then, because the Roman bandits will be out at night, trying to rob them, especially one 22-year-old bandit—the most famous in the city—named Luigi Vampa. Albert says that he would try to fight Vampa if he could, but Pastrini warns him not to joke about a man so dangerous. He promises he will tell both men Vampa’s life-story, if they will listen. At first Albert continues to joke, but Franz manages finally to quiet him, and both men listen to Pastrini.
This is another example of the story-within-a-story framing that crops up from time to time in the novel. The previous instance was Caderousse’s tale of his own suffering, and before that, Abbe Faria’s narration of the events surrounding the burial of the treasure on Monte Cristo. These narratives do strain the novel’s structure of reality somewhat, as the reader is presumably meant to believe that the character’s story more or less resembles the narrator’s tone of the rest of the book.
First, Pastrini describes the education of the young Vampa, a shepherd in the countryside surrounding Rome. As a boy, Vampa develops talents for reading and writing, though he has only the occasional tutoring of a learned man in a village. He also becomes skilled at shooting and riding and hunting, which he practices on his own when he has time. Vampa is in love with a girl named Teresa, also a peasant and a shepherdess. Although they do not speak of this openly, they plan to spend their lives together and to raise themselves up out of poverty.
Vampa is a foil – a character who is similar, but contrasts in key ways – to the Count of Monte Cristo himself. Both are self-made men, and both achieve success relatively early in life through their advanced skill and intelligence, and their indomitable work ethic. If Dantes is a self-made character who tends to make positive, moral, and loyal decisions, however (especially in his younger life), Vampa is a character who tends toward the violent, the immoral, and eventually the criminal.
At this, Pastrini breaks the narrative of Vampa and introduces a new set of characters, brigands in the surrounding countryside, led by the master Cucumetto. Pastrini tells, by way of illustration, a story about Cucumetto, in which one of his band, a man named Carlini, discovers that the band has captured a woman, Rita, whom Carlini loves. Although Carlini begs that the woman be set free and not assaulted, Cucumetto assaults her and offers her to the rest of the band. But before they, too, can assault her, Carlini kills Rita, and when Rita’s father comes to rescue his daughter (with a ransom), Carlini reveals to him that he killed Rita to protect her from the savagery of the other brigands.
This section is notable for its extreme violence, even beyond the standards already set for the novel. It’s also a narration-within-a-narration-within-a-narration, as it’s a story that sheds light on Vampa’s own story, which Pastrini tells to Franz and Albert within the primary story of the unfolding novel. Again, it’s difficult to believe that Pastrini would have enough access to Vampa’s interiority to tell this story in such detail, but the reader might be expected to suspend their disbelief in order to be swept away by the exciting narrative of Vampa’s rise within the criminal subculture of Italy.
Rita’s father thanks Carlini for his “honor” in doing this, and, after burying his daughter in the woods, commits suicide. A few days later, Cucumetto kills Carlini during a battle and the fellow-brigands understand that Cucumetto has done this to keep Carlini, who has grown to hate Cucumetto, from killing him. Pastrini tells this story of the gang of Cucumetto to demonstrate the brutality of the bandits in the region where Vampa came of age.
Fundamentally, this story tells of loyalty vs. disloyalty – Carlini is devoted to the memory of Rita, and Rita’s father understands that, according to the morals of that time and place, Carlini has done what he can to preserve Rita’s honor. Cucumetto, however, has been doubly disloyal, first by engaging in criminal assault of Rita, and then in killing Carlini, whom he understands to want to kill him for his crime against Rita.
Several more important events take place in Pastrini’s long story. Cucumetto, running from the authorities some time later, chances upon Vampa and Teresa in a field and asks them to hide him. They do so, and when he leaves he declares himself in their debt, though he continues to look back at Teresa as though he covets her. Later, as Pastrini explains, the Count who runs the land on which Vampa and Teresa work hosts a grand ball, and Vampa and Teresa request permission to go as house servants, dressed in costumes for the masque ball, as are the other attendants. Teresa is asked to dance by the beaux and belles of the ball, and Vampa, jealous, asks her if she wishes to have as many beautiful gowns as the daughter of the Count who has thrown the party.
The ball Vampa and Teresa attend is as lavish as the balls Franz, Albert, the Count, and other characters attend in Paris, when the Count moves there several months after the events unfolding (in the novel’s “present tense”) in Rome. It is Vampa’s devotion to Teresa, but also his conviction that he too can be a rich and powerful man, that causes him to turn to violence and vengeance. Thus the ball is an important moment in Teresa and Vampa’s relationship, as it changes their courtship from young love to a more shocking romance intertwined with Vampa’s rise in the criminal underworld.
Teresa replies that she would indeed like those gowns. That night, there is a fire in the Count’s mansion, and later, Vampa reveals that he has rescued the Count’s daughter from the fire (started by mysterious circumstances), and he shows to Teresa that he has also taken a bandit’s supply of gowns and jewels from the girl’s room. Teresa, for her part, pretends not to know where the goods come from, and she puts them on lovingly. At the same time, Vampa sees a man asking for directions, on horseback—a man dressed resplendently, and whom Vampa seems immediately to respect.
It is interesting to compare Teresa’s attitude of “not knowing” to the later attitude shown by Mercedes after she has married Fernand. Teresa must be aware of how Vampa has gained these goods, yet she takes them and seems unconcerned with Vampa’s violence. In a much milder example, Mercedes appears to know that the Count is really Dantes, her beloved of olden days, yet she is willing to live for months without betraying any knowledge of this secret.
Vampa gives the man on horseback directions, while Teresa is still trying on her gowns. And when the man offers Vampa money for his pains, Vampa refuses, offering the man his hand-carved dagger instead. The man introduces himself as Sinbad the Sailor—at this, Franz, still listening to Pastrini’s story, jumps up, for he remembers the name from his night on the island of Monte Cristo some days before. Franz also remembers that a rich man is holding the rooms next to the theirs, in the same hotel for Carnival, who goes by the name of the Count of Monte Cristo, although neither he nor Albert have seen the man next door.
This detail – the significance of which Pastrini is unaware – causes Franz to begin to put together his time on Monte Cristo with his time in Rome, and with the life of the outlaw Luigi Vampa. Franz already knows the Count to be connected to smugglers and to criminal elements. But it is not until hearing this story that Franz begins to realize just how significant those connections might be – especially if Vampa’s power as a crime-lord is to be believed.
Pastrini continues in his story. When Vampa returns from having spoken to the man called Sinbad the Sailor, he sees that Teresa has been spirited away by Cucumetto, having returned to the spot where he first encountered her. Vampa, unafraid, takes out his gun and slays Cucumetto, missing Teresa and sparing her life. He fetches her, declares his love for her, and asks if she will follow him forever. To this she replies with an ecstatic yes, and after going back into his grotto to fetch further items he’s stolen from the Count’s house (clothes for himself), he takes Teresa into the woods to find the bandits of which Cucumetto used to be the head.
Cucumetto appears to be an example of the consequences of a certain kind of violence, especially in the world of Italian gangs. Just as Cucumetto was quick to kill Carlini, abduct Rita, and order around members of his gang, so, too, is he quick to die at the hands of Vampa. Vampa, for his part, seems unafraid of Cucumetto despite his reputation, and it is Vampa’s pride and pronounced feeling of his own superiority that allows him to become the leader of the gang.
When Vampa and Teresa finally do encounter the band, Vampa declares that he wishes to be made their leader. The bandits laugh, wondering who this young shepherd could be who is asking for something so outlandish. But Vampa declares that he has killed their former leader Cucumetto, and that he burned down half the Count’s house to get “a wedding dress” for his fiancée Teresa; at this, the other bandits recognize Vampa’s power and authority and elect him their chief.
This part of the story might seem especially hard to believe, but in the world of these gangs, it’s suggested, men tend to recognize the power and sovereignty of violence. Because Vampa has shown that he can be the most ruthless and violent of any of them, the gang members instinctively know that they ought to become his followers.
Pastrini thus concludes his story, and Franz and Albert respond with a mixture of astonishment and glee. The coachman enters the room to say that the cab is ready for their nine o’clock ride to the Colosseum, and though Pastrini is fearful, they embark—hoping to take in the sights of the city, and, perhaps, to catch a glimpse of the famed Vampa.
Although this story might have been intended as a warning to Albert and Franz, it appears to have had the opposite effect, instead encouraging them to go out in search of the man whose dramatic violence they have spent the past hour learning about.