"Really, all you have related to me is exceedingly interesting," said Monte Cristo, observing the young man with a gloomy satisfaction; "and you have done well to conform in everything to the wishes of my friend Sinbad; for your father is indeed here, and is seeking you."
The count from the moment of first entering the drawing-room, had not once lost sight of the expression of the young man's countenance; he had admired the assurance of his look and the firmness of his voice; but at these words, so natural in themselves, "Your father is indeed here, and is seeking you," young Andrea started, and exclaimed, "My father? Is my father here?"
"Most undoubtedly," replied Monte Cristo; "your father, Major Bartolomeo Cavalcanti." The expression of terror which, for the moment, had overspread the features of the young man, had now disappeared. "Ah, yes, that is the name, certainly. Major Bartolomeo Cavalcanti. And you really mean to say; monsieur, that my dear father is here?"
"Yes, sir; and I can even add that I have only just left his company. The history which he related to me of his lost son touched me to the quick; indeed, his griefs, hopes, and fears on that subject might furnish material for a most touching and pathetic poem. At length, he one day received a letter, stating that the abductors of his son now offered to restore him, or at least to give notice where he might be found, on condition of receiving a large sum of money, by way of ransom. Your father did not hesitate an instant, and the sum was sent to the frontier of Piedmont, with a passport signed for Italy. You were in the south of France, I think?"
"Yes," replied Andrea, with an embarrassed air, "I was in the south of France."
"A carriage was to await you at Nice?"
"Precisely so; and it conveyed me from Nice to Genoa, from Genoa to Turin, from Turin to Chambery, from Chambery to Pont-de-Beauvoisin, and from Pont-de-Beauvoisin to Paris."
"Indeed? Then your father ought to have met with you on the road, for it is exactly the same route which he himself took, and that is how we have been able to trace your journey to this place."
"But," said Andrea, "if my father had met me, I doubt if he would have recognized me; I must be somewhat altered since he last saw me."
"Oh, the voice of nature," said Monte Cristo.
"True," interrupted the young man, "I had not looked upon it in that light."
"Now," replied Monte Cristo "there is only one source of uneasiness left in your father's mind, which is this—he is anxious to know how you have been employed during your long absence from him, how you have been treated by your persecutors, and if they have conducted themselves towards you with all the deference due to your rank. Finally, he is anxious to see if you have been fortunate enough to escape the bad moral influence to which you have been exposed, and which is infinitely more to be dreaded than any physical suffering; he wishes to discover if the fine abilities with which nature had endowed you have been weakened by want of culture; and, in short, whether you consider yourself capable of resuming and retaining in the world the high position to which your rank entitles you."
"Sir!" exclaimed the young man, quite astounded, "I hope no false report"—
"As for myself, I first heard you spoken of by my friend Wilmore, the philanthropist. I believe he found you in some unpleasant position, but do not know of what nature, for I did not ask, not being inquisitive. Your misfortunes engaged his sympathies, so you see you must have been interesting. He told me that he was anxious to restore you to the position which you had lost, and that he would seek your father until he found him. He did seek, and has found him, apparently, since he is here now; and, finally, my friend apprised me of your coming, and gave me a few other instructions relative to your future fortune. I am quite aware that my friend Wilmore is peculiar, but he is sincere, and as rich as a gold-mine, consequently, he may indulge his eccentricities without any fear of their ruining him, and I have promised to adhere to his instructions. Now, sir, pray do not be offended at the question I am about to put to you, as it comes in the way of my duty as your patron. I would wish to know if the misfortunes which have happened to you—misfortunes entirely beyond your control, and which in no degree diminish my regard for you—I would wish to know if they have not, in some measure, contributed to render you a stranger to the world in which your fortune and your name entitle you to make a conspicuous figure?"
"Sir," returned the young man, with a reassurance of manner, "make your mind easy on this score. Those who took me from my father, and who always intended, sooner or later, to sell me again to my original proprietor, as they have now done, calculated that, in order to make the most of their bargain, it would be politic to leave me in possession of all my personal and hereditary worth, and even to increase the value, if possible. I have, therefore, received a very good education, and have been treated by these kidnappers very much as the slaves were treated in Asia Minor, whose masters made them grammarians, doctors, and philosophers, in order that they might fetch a higher price in the Roman market." Monte Cristo smiled with satisfaction; it appeared as if he had not expected so much from M. Andrea Cavalcanti. "Besides," continued the young man, "if there did appear some defect in education, or offence against the established forms of etiquette, I suppose it would be excused, in consideration of the misfortunes which accompanied my birth, and followed me through my youth."
"Well," said Monte Cristo in an indifferent tone, "you will do as you please, count, for you are the master of your own actions, and are the person most concerned in the matter, but if I were you, I would not divulge a word of these adventures. Your history is quite a romance, and the world, which delights in romances in yellow covers, strangely mistrusts those which are bound in living parchment, even though they be gilded like yourself. This is the kind of difficulty which I wished to represent to you, my dear count. You would hardly have recited your touching history before it would go forth to the world, and be deemed unlikely and unnatural. You would be no longer a lost child found, but you would be looked upon as an upstart, who had sprung up like a mushroom in the night. You might excite a little curiosity, but it is not every one who likes to be made the centre of observation and the subject of unpleasant remark."
"I agree with you, monsieur," said the young man, turning pale, and, in spite of himself, trembling beneath the scrutinizing look of his companion, "such consequences would be extremely unpleasant."
"Nevertheless, you must not exaggerate the evil," said Monte Cristo, "for by endeavoring to avoid one fault you will fall into another. You must resolve upon one simple and single line of conduct, and for a man of your intelligence, this plan is as easy as it is necessary; you must form honorable friendships, and by that means counteract the prejudice which may attach to the obscurity of your former life." Andrea visibly changed countenance. "I would offer myself as your surety and friendly adviser," said Monte Cristo, "did I not possess a moral distrust of my best friends, and a sort of inclination to lead others to doubt them too; therefore, in departing from this rule, I should (as the actors say) be playing a part quite out of my line, and should, therefore, run the risk of being hissed, which would be an act of folly."
"However, your excellency," said Andrea, "in consideration of Lord Wilmore, by whom I was recommended to you—"
"Yes, certainly," interrupted Monte Cristo; "but Lord Wilmore did not omit to inform me, my dear M. Andrea, that the season of your youth was rather a stormy one. Ah," said the count, watching Andrea's countenance, "I do not demand any confession from you; it is precisely to avoid that necessity that your father was sent for from Lucca. You shall soon see him. He is a little stiff and pompous in his manner, and he is disfigured by his uniform; but when it becomes known that he has been for eighteen years in the Austrian service, all that will be pardoned. We are not generally very severe with the Austrians. In short, you will find your father a very presentable person, I assure you."
"Ah, sir, you have given me confidence; it is so long since we were separated, that I have not the least remembrance of him, and, besides, you know that in the eyes of the world a large fortune covers all defects."
"He is a millionaire—his income is 500,000 francs."
"Then," said the young man, with anxiety, "I shall be sure to be placed in an agreeable position."
"One of the most agreeable possible, my dear sir; he will allow you an income of 50,000 livres per annum during the whole time of your stay in Paris."
"Then in that case I shall always choose to remain there."
"You cannot control circumstances, my dear sir; 'man proposes, and God disposes.'" Andrea sighed. "But," said he, "so long as I do remain in Paris, and nothing forces me to quit it, do you mean to tell me that I may rely on receiving the sum you just now mentioned to me?"
"Shall I receive it from my father?" asked Andrea, with some uneasiness.
"Yes, you will receive it from your father personally, but Lord Wilmore will be the security for the money. He has, at the request of your father, opened an account of 6,000. francs a month at M. Danglars', which is one of the safest banks in Paris."
"And does my father mean to remain long in Paris?" asked Andrea.
"Only a few days," replied Monte Cristo. "His service does not allow him to absent himself more than two or three weeks together."
"Ah, my dear father!" exclaimed Andrea, evidently charmed with the idea of his speedy departure.
"Therefore," said Monte Cristo feigning to mistake his meaning—"therefore I will not, for another instant, retard the pleasure of your meeting. Are you prepared to embrace your worthy father?"
"I hope you do not doubt it."
"Go, then, into the drawing-room, my young friend, where you will find your father awaiting you." Andrea made a low bow to the count, and entered the adjoining room. Monte Cristo watched him till he disappeared, and then touched a spring in a panel made to look like a picture, which, in sliding partly from the frame, discovered to view a small opening, so cleverly contrived that it revealed all that was passing in the drawing-room now occupied by Cavalcanti and Andrea. The young man closed the door behind him, and advanced towards the major, who had risen when he heard steps approaching him. "Ah, my dear father!" said Andrea in a loud voice, in order that the count might hear him in the next room, "is it really you?"
"How do you do, my dear son?" said the major gravely.
"After so many years of painful separation," said Andrea, in the same tone of voice, and glancing towards the door, "what a happiness it is to meet again!"
"Indeed it is, after so long a separation."
"Will you not embrace me, sir?" said Andrea.
"If you wish it, my son," said the major; and the two men embraced each other after the fashion of actors on the stage; that is to say, each rested his head on the other's shoulder.
"Then we are once more reunited?" said Andrea.
"Once more," replied the major.
"Never more to be separated?"
"Why, as to that—I think, my dear son, you must be by this time so accustomed to France as to look upon it almost as a second country."
"The fact is," said the young man, "that I should be exceedingly grieved to leave it."
"As for me, you must know I cannot possibly live out of Lucca; therefore I shall return to Italy as soon as I can."
"But before you leave France, my dear father, I hope you will put me in possession of the documents which will be necessary to prove my descent."
"Certainly; I am come expressly on that account; it has cost me much trouble to find you, but I had resolved on giving them into your hands, and if I had to recommence my search, it would occupy all the few remaining years of my life."
"Where are these papers, then?"
"Here they are."
Andrea seized the certificate of his father's marriage and his own baptismal register, and after having opened them with all the eagerness which might be expected under the circumstances, he read them with a facility which proved that he was accustomed to similar documents, and with an expression which plainly denoted an unusual interest in the contents. When he had perused the documents, an indefinable expression of pleasure lighted up his countenance, and looking at the major with a most peculiar smile, he said, in very excellent Tuscan,—"Then there is no longer any such thing, in Italy as being condemned to the galleys?" The major drew himself up to his full height.
"Why?—what do you mean by that question?"
"I mean that if there were, it would be impossible to draw up with impunity two such deeds as these. In France, my dear sir, half such a piece of effrontery as that would cause you to be quickly despatched to Toulon for five years, for change of air."
"Will you be good enough to explain your meaning?" said the major, endeavoring as much as possible to assume an air of the greatest majesty.
"My dear M. Cavalcanti," said Andrea, taking the major by the arm in a confidential manner, "how much are you paid for being my father?" The major was about to speak, when Andrea continued, in a low voice.
"Nonsense, I am going to set you an example of confidence, they give me 50,000 francs a year to be your son; consequently, you can understand that it is not at all likely I shall ever deny my parent." The major looked anxiously around him. "Make yourself easy, we are quite alone," said Andrea; "besides, we are conversing in Italian."
"Well, then," replied the major, "they paid me 50,000 francs down."
"Monsieur Cavalcanti," said Andrea, "do you believe in fairy tales?"
"I used not to do so, but I really feel now almost obliged to have faith in them."
"You have, then, been induced to alter your opinion; you have had some proofs of their truth?" The major drew from his pocket a handful of gold. "Most palpable proofs," said he, "as you may perceive."
"You think, then, that I may rely on the count's promises?"
"Certainly I do."
"You are sure he will keep his word with me?"
"To the letter, but at the same time, remember, we must continue to play our respective parts. I, as a tender father"—
"And I as a dutiful son, as they choose that I shall be descended from you."
"Whom do you mean by they?"
"Ma foi, I can hardly tell, but I was alluding to those who wrote the letter; you received one, did you not?"
"From a certain Abbe Busoni."
"Have you any knowledge of him?"
"No, I have never seen him."
"What did he say in the letter?"
"You will promise not to betray me?"
"Rest assured of that; you well know that our interests are the same."
"Then read for yourself;" and the major gave a letter into the young man's hand. Andrea read in a low voice—
"You are poor; a miserable old age awaits you. Would you like to become rich, or at least independent? Set out immediately for Paris, and demand of the Count of Monte Cristo, Avenue des Champs Elysees, No. 30, the son whom you had by the Marchesa Corsinari, and who was taken from you at five years of age. This son is named Andrea Cavalcanti. In order that you may not doubt the kind intention of the writer of this letter, you will find enclosed an order for 2,400 francs, payable in Florence, at Signor Gozzi's; also a letter of introduction to the Count of Monte Cristo, on whom I give you a draft of 48,000 francs. Remember to go to the count on the 26th May at seven o'clock in the evening.
"It is the same."
"What do you mean?" said the major.
"I was going to say that I received a letter almost to the same effect."
"From the Abbe Busoni?"
"From whom, then?"
"From an Englishman, called Lord Wilmore, who takes the name of Sinbad the Sailor."
"And of whom you have no more knowledge than I of the Abbe Busoni?"
"You are mistaken; there I am ahead of you."
"You have seen him, then?"
"Ah, that is just what I cannot tell you; if I did, I should make you as wise as myself, which it is not my intention to do."
"And what did the letter contain?"
"'You are poor, and your future prospects are dark and gloomy. Do you wish for a name? should you like to be rich, and your own master?'"
"Ma foi," said the young man; "was it possible there could be two answers to such a question?"
"Take the post-chaise which you will find waiting at the Porte de Genes, as you enter Nice; pass through Turin, Chambery, and Pont-de-Beauvoisin. Go to the Count of Monte Cristo, Avenue des Champs Elysees, on the 26th of May, at seven o'clock in the evening, and demand of him your father. You are the son of the Marchese Cavalcanti and the Marchesa Oliva Corsinari. The marquis will give you some papers which will certify this fact, and authorize you to appear under that name in the Parisian world. As to your rank, an annual income of 50,000 livres will enable you to support it admirably. I enclose a draft for 5,000 livres, payable on M. Ferrea, banker at Nice, and also a letter of introduction to the Count of Monte Cristo, whom I have directed to supply all your wants.
"Sinbad the Sailor."
"Humph," said the major; "very good. You have seen the count, you say?"
"I have only just left him."
"And has he conformed to all that the letter specified?"
"Do you understand it?"
"Not in the least."
"There is a dupe somewhere."
"At all events, it is neither you nor I."
"Why, it does not much concern us, do you think it does?"
"No; I agree with you there. We must play the game to the end, and consent to be blindfolded."
"Ah, you shall see; I promise you I will sustain my part to admiration."
"I never once doubted your doing so." Monte Cristo chose this moment for re-entering the drawing-room. On hearing the sound of his footsteps, the two men threw themselves in each other's arms, and while they were in the midst of this embrace, the count entered. "Well, marquis," said Monte Cristo, "you appear to be in no way disappointed in the son whom your good fortune has restored to you."
"Ah, your excellency, I am overwhelmed with delight."
"And what are your feelings?" said Monte Cristo, turning to the young man.
"As for me, my heart is overflowing with happiness."
"Happy father, happy son!" said the count.
"There is only one thing which grieves me," observed the major, "and that is the necessity for my leaving Paris so soon."
"Ah, my dear M. Cavalcanti, I trust you will not leave before I have had the honor of presenting you to some of my friends."
"I am at your service, sir," replied the major.
"Now, sir," said Monte Cristo, addressing Andrea, "make your confession."
"Tell M. Cavalcanti something of the state of your finances."
"Ma foi, monsieur, you have touched upon a tender chord."
"Do you hear what he says, major?"
"Certainly I do."
"But do you understand?"
"Your son says he requires money."
"Well, what would you have me do?" said the major.
"You should furnish him with some of course," replied Monte Cristo.
"Yes, you," said the count, at the same time advancing towards Andrea, and slipping a packet of bank-notes into the young man's hand.
"What is this?"
"It is from your father."
"From my father?"
"Yes; did you not tell him just now that you wanted money? Well, then, he deputes me to give you this."
"Am I to consider this as part of my income on account?"
"No, it is for the first expenses of your settling in Paris."
"Ah, how good my dear father is!"
"Silence," said Monte Cristo; "he does not wish you to know that it comes from him."
"I fully appreciate his delicacy," said Andrea, cramming the notes hastily into his pocket.
"And now, gentlemen, I wish you good-morning," said Monte Cristo.
"And when shall we have the honor of seeing you again, your excellency?" asked Cavalcanti.
"Ah," said Andrea, "when may we hope for that pleasure?"
"On Saturday, if you will—Yes.—Let me see—Saturday—I am to dine at my country house, at Auteuil, on that day, Rue de la Fontaine, No. 28. Several persons are invited, and among others, M. Danglars, your banker. I will introduce you to him, for it will be necessary he should know you, as he is to pay your money."
"Full dress?" said the major, half aloud.
"Oh, yes, certainly," said the count; "uniform, cross, knee-breeches."
"And how shall I be dressed?" demanded Andrea.
"Oh, very simply; black trousers, patent leather boots, white waistcoat, either a black or blue coat, and a long cravat. Go to Blin or Veronique for your clothes. Baptistin will tell you where, if you do not know their address. The less pretension there is in your attire, the better will be the effect, as you are a rich man. If you mean to buy any horses, get them of Devedeux, and if you purchase a phaeton, go to Baptiste for it."
"At what hour shall we come?" asked the young man.
"About half-past six."
"We will be with you at that time," said the major. The two Cavalcanti bowed to the count, and left the house. Monte Cristo went to the window, and saw them crossing the street, arm in arm. "There go two miscreants;" said he, "it is a pity they are not really related!"—then, after an instant of gloomy reflection, "Come, I will go to see the Morrels," said he; "I think that disgust is even more sickening than hatred."
Chapter 57. In the Lucerne Patch.
Our readers must now allow us to transport them again to the enclosure surrounding M. de Villefort's house, and, behind the gate, half screened from view by the large chestnut-trees, which on all sides spread their luxuriant branches, we shall find some people of our acquaintance. This time Maximilian was the first to arrive. He was intently watching for a shadow to appear among the trees, and awaiting with anxiety the sound of a light step on the gravel walk. At length, the long-desired sound was heard, and instead of one figure, as he had expected, he perceived that two were approaching him. The delay had been occasioned by a visit from Madame Danglars and Eugenie, which had been prolonged beyond the time at which Valentine was expected. That she might not appear to fail in her promise to Maximilian, she proposed to Mademoiselle Danglars that they should take a walk in the garden, being anxious to show that the delay, which was doubtless a cause of vexation to him, was not occasioned by any neglect on her part. The young man, with the intuitive perception of a lover, quickly understood the circumstances in which she was involuntarily placed, and he was comforted. Besides, although she avoided coming within speaking distance, Valentine arranged so that Maximilian could see her pass and repass, and each time she went by, she managed, unperceived by her companion, to cast an expressive look at the young man, which seemed to say, "Have patience! You see it is not my fault." And Maximilian was patient, and employed himself in mentally contrasting the two girls,—one fair, with soft languishing eyes, a figure gracefully bending like a weeping willow; the other a brunette, with a fierce and haughty expression, and as straight as a poplar. It is unnecessary to state that, in the eyes of the young man, Valentine did not suffer by the contrast. In about half an hour the girls went away, and Maximilian understood that Mademoiselle Danglars' visit had at last come to an end. In a few minutes Valentine re-entered the garden alone. For fear that any one should be observing her return, she walked slowly; and instead of immediately directing her steps towards the gate, she seated herself on a bench, and, carefully casting her eyes around, to convince herself that she was not watched, she presently arose, and proceeded quickly to join Maximilian.
"Good-evening, Valentine," said a well-known voice.
"Good-evening, Maximilian; I know I have kept you waiting, but you saw the cause of my delay."
"Yes, I recognized Mademoiselle Danglars. I was not aware that you were so intimate with her."
"Who told you we were intimate, Maximilian?"
"No one, but you appeared to be so. From the manner in which you walked and talked together, one would have thought you were two school-girls telling your secrets to each other."
"We were having a confidential conversation," returned Valentine; "she was owning to me her repugnance to the marriage with M. de Morcerf; and I, on the other hand, was confessing to her how wretched it made me to think of marrying M. d'Epinay."
"That will account to you for the unreserved manner which you observed between me and Eugenie, as in speaking of the man whom I could not love, my thoughts involuntarily reverted to him on whom my affections were fixed."
"Ah, how good you are to say so, Valentine! You possess a quality which can never belong to Mademoiselle Danglars. It is that indefinable charm which is to a woman what perfume is to the flower and flavor to the fruit, for the beauty of either is not the only quality we seek."
"It is your love which makes you look upon everything in that light."
"No, Valentine, I assure you such is not the case. I was observing you both when you were walking in the garden, and, on my honor, without at all wishing to depreciate the beauty of Mademoiselle Danglars, I cannot understand how any man can really love her."
"The fact is, Maximilian, that I was there, and my presence had the effect of rendering you unjust in your comparison."
"No; but tell me—it is a question of simple curiosity, and which was suggested by certain ideas passing in my mind relative to Mademoiselle Danglars"—
"I dare say it is something disparaging which you are going to say. It only proves how little indulgence we may expect from your sex," interrupted Valentine.
"You cannot, at least, deny that you are very harsh judges of each other."
"If we are so, it is because we generally judge under the influence of excitement. But return to your question."
"Does Mademoiselle Danglars object to this marriage with M. de Morcerf on account of loving another?"
"I told you I was not on terms of strict intimacy with Eugenie."
"Yes, but girls tell each other secrets without being particularly intimate; own, now, that you did question her on the subject. Ah, I see you are smiling."
"If you are already aware of the conversation that passed, the wooden partition which interposed between us and you has proved but a slight security."
"Come, what did she say?"
"She told me that she loved no one," said Valentine; "that she disliked the idea of being married; that she would infinitely prefer leading an independent and unfettered life; and that she almost wished her father might lose his fortune, that she might become an artist, like her friend, Mademoiselle Louise d'Armilly."
"Ah, you see"—
"Well, what does that prove?" asked Valentine.
"Nothing," replied Maximilian.
"Then why did you smile?"
"Why, you know very well that you are reflecting on yourself, Valentine."
"Do you want me to go away?"
"Ah, no, no. But do not let us lose time; you are the subject on which I wish to speak."
"True, we must be quick, for we have scarcely ten minutes more to pass together."
"Ma foi," said Maximilian, in consternation.
"Yes, you are right; I am but a poor friend to you. What a life I cause you to lead, poor Maximilian, you who are formed for happiness! I bitterly reproach myself, I assure you."
"Well, what does it signify, Valentine, so long as I am satisfied, and feel that even this long and painful suspense is amply repaid by five minutes of your society, or two words from your lips? And I have also a deep conviction that heaven would not have created two hearts, harmonizing as ours do, and almost miraculously brought us together, to separate us at last."
"Those are kind and cheering words. You must hope for us both, Maximilian; that will make me at least partly happy."
"But why must you leave me so soon?"
"I do not know particulars. I can only tell you that Madame de Villefort sent to request my presence, as she had a communication to make on which a part of my fortune depended. Let them take my fortune, I am already too rich; and, perhaps, when they have taken it, they will leave me in peace and quietness. You would love me as much if I were poor, would you not, Maximilian?"
"Oh, I shall always love you. What should I care for either riches or poverty, if my Valentine was near me, and I felt certain that no one could deprive me of her? But do you not fear that this communication may relate to your marriage?"
"I do not think that is the case."
"However it may be, Valentine, you must not be alarmed. I assure you that, as long as I live, I shall never love any one else!"
"You think to reassure me when you say that, Maximilian."
"Pardon me, you are right. I am a brute. But I was going to tell you that I met M. de Morcerf the other day."
"Monsieur Franz is his friend, you know."
"Monsieur de Morcerf has received a letter from Franz, announcing his immediate return." Valentine turned pale, and leaned her hand against the gate. "Ah heavens, if it were that! But no, the communication would not come through Madame de Villefort."
"Because—I scarcely know why—but it has appeared as if Madame de Villefort secretly objected to the marriage, although she did not choose openly to oppose it."
"Is it so? Then I feel as if I could adore Madame de Villefort."
"Do not be in such a hurry to do that," said Valentine, with a sad smile.
"If she objects to your marrying M. d'Epinay, she would be all the more likely to listen to any other proposition."
"No, Maximilian, it is not suitors to which Madame de Villefort objects, it is marriage itself."
"Marriage? If she dislikes that so much, why did she ever marry herself?"
"You do not understand me, Maximilian. About a year ago, I talked of retiring to a convent. Madame de Villefort, in spite of all the remarks which she considered it her duty to make, secretly approved of the proposition, my father consented to it at her instigation, and it was only on account of my poor grandfather that I finally abandoned the project. You can form no idea of the expression of that old man's eye when he looks at me, the only person in the world whom he loves, and, I had almost said, by whom he is beloved in return. When he learned my resolution, I shall never forget the reproachful look which he cast on me, and the tears of utter despair which chased each other down his lifeless cheeks. Ah, Maximilian, I experienced, at that moment, such remorse for my intention, that, throwing myself at his feet, I exclaimed,—'Forgive me, pray forgive me, my dear grandfather; they may do what they will with me, I will never leave you.' When I had ceased speaking, he thankfully raised his eyes to heaven, but without uttering a word. Ah, Maximilian, I may have much to suffer, but I feel as if my grandfather's look at that moment would more than compensate for all."
"Dear Valentine, you are a perfect angel, and I am sure I do not know what I—sabring right and left among the Bedouins—can have done to merit your being revealed to me, unless, indeed, heaven took into consideration the fact that the victims of my sword were infidels. But tell me what interest Madame de Villefort can have in your remaining unmarried?"
"Did I not tell you just now that I was rich, Maximilian—too rich? I possess nearly 50,000 livres in right of my mother; my grandfather and my grandmother, the Marquis and Marquise de Saint-Meran, will leave me as much, and M. Noirtier evidently intends making me his heir. My brother Edward, who inherits nothing from his mother, will, therefore, be poor in comparison with me. Now, if I had taken the veil, all this fortune would have descended to my father, and, in reversion, to his son."
"Ah, how strange it seems that such a young and beautiful woman should be so avaricious."
"It is not for herself that she is so, but for her son, and what you regard as a vice becomes almost a virtue when looked at in the light of maternal love."
"But could you not compromise matters, and give up a portion of your fortune to her son?"
"How could I make such a proposition, especially to a woman who always professes to be so entirely disinterested?"
"Valentine, I have always regarded our love in the light of something sacred; consequently, I have covered it with the veil of respect, and hid it in the innermost recesses of my soul. No human being, not even my sister, is aware of its existence. Valentine, will you permit me to make a confidant of a friend and reveal to him the love I bear you?"
Valentine started. "A friend, Maximilian; and who is this friend? I tremble to give my permission."
"Listen, Valentine. Have you never experienced for any one that sudden and irresistible sympathy which made you feel as if the object of it had been your old and familiar friend, though, in reality, it was the first time you had ever met? Nay, further, have you never endeavored to recall the time, place, and circumstances of your former intercourse, and failing in this attempt, have almost believed that your spirits must have held converse with each other in some state of being anterior to the present, and that you are only now occupied in a reminiscence of the past?"
"Well, that is precisely the feeling which I experienced when I first saw that extraordinary man."
"Extraordinary, did you say?"
"You have known him for some time, then?"
"Scarcely longer than eight or ten days."
"And do you call a man your friend whom you have only known for eight or ten days? Ah, Maximilian, I had hoped you set a higher value on the title of friend."
"Your logic is most powerful, Valentine, but say what you will, I can never renounce the sentiment which has instinctively taken possession of my mind. I feel as if it were ordained that this man should be associated with all the good which the future may have in store for me, and sometimes it really seems as if his eye was able to see what was to come, and his hand endowed with the power of directing events according to his own will."
"He must be a prophet, then," said Valentine, smiling.
"Indeed," said Maximilian, "I have often been almost tempted to attribute to him the gift of prophecy; at all events, he has a wonderful power of foretelling any future good."
"Ah," said Valentine in a mournful tone, "do let me see this man, Maximilian; he may tell me whether I shall ever be loved sufficiently to make amends for all I have suffered."
"My poor girl, you know him already."
"I know him?"
"Yes; it was he who saved the life of your step-mother and her son."
"The Count of Monte Cristo?"
"Ah," cried Valentine, "he is too much the friend of Madame de Villefort ever to be mine."
"The friend of Madame de Villefort! It cannot be; surely, Valentine, you are mistaken?"
"No, indeed, I am not; for I assure you, his power over our household is almost unlimited. Courted by my step-mother, who regards him as the epitome of human wisdom; admired by my father, who says he has never before heard such sublime ideas so eloquently expressed; idolized by Edward, who, notwithstanding his fear of the count's large black eyes, runs to meet him the moment he arrives, and opens his hand, in which he is sure to find some delightful present,—M. de Monte Cristo appears to exert a mysterious and almost uncontrollable influence over all the members of our family."
"If such be the case, my dear Valentine, you must yourself have felt, or at all events will soon feel, the effects of his presence. He meets Albert de Morcerf in Italy—it is to rescue him from the hands of the banditti; he introduces himself to Madame Danglars—it is that he may give her a royal present; your step-mother and her son pass before his door—it is that his Nubian may save them from destruction. This man evidently possesses the power of influencing events, both as regards men and things. I never saw more simple tastes united to greater magnificence. His smile is so sweet when he addresses me, that I forget it ever can be bitter to others. Ah, Valentine, tell me, if he ever looked on you with one of those sweet smiles? if so, depend on it, you will be happy."
"Me?" said the young girl, "he never even glances at me; on the contrary, if I accidentally cross his path, he appears rather to avoid me. Ah, he is not generous, neither does he possess that supernatural penetration which you attribute to him, for if he did, he would have perceived that I was unhappy; and if he had been generous, seeing me sad and solitary, he would have used his influence to my advantage, and since, as you say, he resembles the sun, he would have warmed my heart with one of his life-giving rays. You say he loves you, Maximilian; how do you know that he does? All would pay deference to an officer like you, with a fierce mustache and a long sabre, but they think they may crush a poor weeping girl with impunity."
"Ah, Valentine, I assure you you are mistaken."
"If it were otherwise—if he treated me diplomatically—that is to say, like a man who wishes, by some means or other, to obtain a footing in the house, so that he may ultimately gain the power of dictating to its occupants—he would, if it had been but once, have honored me with the smile which you extol so loudly; but no, he saw that I was unhappy, he understood that I could be of no use to him, and therefore paid no attention to me whatever. Who knows but that, in order to please Madame de Villefort and my father, he may not persecute me by every means in his power? It is not just that he should despise me so, without any reason. Ah, forgive me," said Valentine, perceiving the effect which her words were producing on Maximilian: "I have done wrong, for I have given utterance to thoughts concerning that man which I did not even know existed in my heart. I do not deny the influence of which you speak, or that I have not myself experienced it, but with me it has been productive of evil rather than good."
"Well, Valentine," said Morrel with a sigh, "we will not discuss the matter further. I will not make a confidant of him."
"Alas," said Valentine, "I see that I have given you pain. I can only say how sincerely I ask pardon for having griefed you. But, indeed, I am not prejudiced beyond the power of conviction. Tell me what this Count of Monte Cristo has done for you."
"I own that your question embarrasses me, Valentine, for I cannot say that the count has rendered me any ostensible service. Still, as I have already told you I have an instinctive affection for him, the source of which I cannot explain to you. Has the sun done anything for me? No; he warms me with his rays, and it is by his light that I see you—nothing more. Has such and such a perfume done anything for me? No; its odor charms one of my senses—that is all I can say when I am asked why I praise it. My friendship for him is as strange and unaccountable as his for me. A secret voice seems to whisper to me that there must be something more than chance in this unexpected reciprocity of friendship. In his most simple actions, as well as in his most secret thoughts, I find a relation to my own. You will perhaps smile at me when I tell you that, ever since I have known this man, I have involuntarily entertained the idea that all the good fortune which has befallen me originated from him. However, I have managed to live thirty years without this protection, you will say; but I will endeavor a little to illustrate my meaning. He invited me to dine with him on Saturday, which was a very natural thing for him to do. Well, what have I learned since? That your mother and M. de Villefort are both coming to this dinner. I shall meet them there, and who knows what future advantages may result from the interview? This may appear to you to be no unusual combination of circumstances; nevertheless, I perceive some hidden plot in the arrangement—something, in fact, more than is apparent on a casual view of the subject. I believe that this singular man, who appears to fathom the motives of every one, has purposely arranged for me to meet M. and Madame de Villefort, and sometimes, I confess, I have gone so far as to try to read in his eyes whether he was in possession of the secret of our love."
"My good friend," said Valentine, "I should take you for a visionary, and should tremble for your reason, if I were always to hear you talk in a strain similar to this. Is it possible that you can see anything more than the merest chance in this meeting? Pray reflect a little. My father, who never goes out, has several times been on the point of refusing this invitation; Madame de Villefort, on the contrary, is burning with the desire of seeing this extraordinary nabob in his own house, therefore, she has with great difficulty prevailed on my father to accompany her. No, no; it is as I have said, Maximilian,—there is no one in the world of whom I can ask help but yourself and my grandfather, who is little better than a corpse."
"I see that you are right, logically speaking," said Maximilian; "but the gentle voice which usually has such power over me fails to convince me to-day."
"I feel the same as regards yourself." said Valentine; "and I own that, if you have no stronger proof to give me"—
"I have another," replied Maximilian; "but I fear you will deem it even more absurd than the first."
"So much the worse," said Valentine, smiling.
"It is, nevertheless, conclusive to my mind. My ten years of service have also confirmed my ideas on the subject of sudden inspirations, for I have several times owed my life to a mysterious impulse which directed me to move at once either to the right or to the left, in order to escape the ball which killed the comrade fighting by my side, while it left me unharmed."
"Dear Maximilian, why not attribute your escape to my constant prayers for your safety? When you are away, I no longer pray for myself, but for you."
"Yes, since you have known me," said Morrel, smiling; "but that cannot apply to the time previous to our acquaintance, Valentine."
"You are very provoking, and will not give me credit for anything; but let me hear this second proof, which you yourself own to be absurd."
"Well, look through this opening, and you will see the beautiful new horse which I rode here."
"Ah, what a beautiful creature!" cried Valentine; "why did you not bring him close to the gate, so that I could talk to him and pat him?"
"He is, as you see, a very valuable animal," said Maximilian. "You know that my means are limited, and that I am what would be designated a man of moderate pretensions. Well, I went to a horse dealer's, where I saw this magnificent horse, which I have named Medeah. I asked the price; they told me it was 4,500 francs. I was, therefore, obliged to give it up, as you may imagine, but I own I went away with rather a heavy heart, for the horse had looked at me affectionately, had rubbed his head against me and, when I mounted him, had pranced in the most delightful way imaginable, so that I was altogether fascinated with him. The same evening some friends of mine visited me,—M. de Chateau-Renaud, M. Debray, and five or six other choice spirits, whom you do not know, even by name. They proposed a game of bouillotte. I never play, for I am not rich enough to afford to lose, or sufficiently poor to desire to gain. But I was at my own house, you understand, so there was nothing to be done but to send for the cards, which I did.
"Just as they were sitting down to table, M. de Monte Cristo arrived. He took his seat amongst them; they played, and I won. I am almost ashamed to say that my gains amounted to 5,000 francs. We separated at midnight. I could not defer my pleasure, so I took a cabriolet and drove to the horse dealer's. Feverish and excited, I rang at the door. The person who opened it must have taken me for a madman, for I rushed at once to the stable. Medeah was standing at the rack, eating his hay. I immediately put on the saddle and bridle, to which operation he lent himself with the best grace possible; then, putting the 4,500 francs into the hands of the astonished dealer, I proceeded to fulfil my intention of passing the night in riding in the Champs Elysees. As I rode by the count's house I perceived a light in one of the windows, and fancied I saw the shadow of his figure moving behind the curtain. Now, Valentine, I firmly believe that he knew of my wish to possess this horse, and that he lost expressly to give me the means of procuring him."
"My dear Maximilian, you are really too fanciful; you will not love even me long. A man who accustoms himself to live in such a world of poetry and imagination must find far too little excitement in a common, every-day sort of attachment such as ours. But they are calling me. Do you hear?"
"Ah, Valentine," said Maximilian, "give me but one finger through this opening in the grating, one finger, the littlest finger of all, that I may have the happiness of kissing it."
"Maximilian, we said we would be to each other as two voices, two shadows."
"As you will, Valentine."
"Shall you be happy if I do what you wish?"
"Oh, yes!" Valentine mounted on a bench, and passed not only her finger but her whole hand through the opening. Maximilian uttered a cry of delight, and, springing forwards, seized the hand extended towards him, and imprinted on it a fervent and impassioned kiss. The little hand was then immediately withdrawn, and the young man saw Valentine hurrying towards the house, as though she were almost terrified at her own sensations.
Chapter 58. M. Noirtier de Villefort.
We will now relate what was passing in the house of the king's attorney after the departure of Madame Danglars and her daughter, and during the time of the conversation between Maximilian and Valentine, which we have just detailed. M. de Villefort entered his father's room, followed by Madame de Villefort. Both of the visitors, after saluting the old man and speaking to Barrois, a faithful servant, who had been twenty-five years in his service, took their places on either side of the paralytic.
M. Noirtier was sitting in an arm-chair, which moved upon casters, in which he was wheeled into the room in the morning, and in the same way drawn out again at night. He was placed before a large glass, which reflected the whole apartment, and so, without any attempt to move, which would have been impossible, he could see all who entered the room and everything which was going on around him. M. Noirtier, although almost as immovable as a corpse, looked at the new-comers with a quick and intelligent expression, perceiving at once, by their ceremonious courtesy, that they were come on business of an unexpected and official character. Sight and hearing were the only senses remaining, and they, like two solitary sparks, remained to animate the miserable body which seemed fit for nothing but the grave; it was only, however, by means of one of these senses that he could reveal the thoughts and feelings that still occupied his mind, and the look by which he gave expression to his inner life was like the distant gleam of a candle which a traveller sees by night across some desert place, and knows that a living being dwells beyond the silence and obscurity. Noirtier's hair was long and white, and flowed over his shoulders; while in his eyes, shaded by thick black lashes, was concentrated, as it often happens with an organ which is used to the exclusion of the others, all the activity, address, force, and intelligence which were formerly diffused over his whole body; and so although the movement of the arm, the sound of the voice, and the agility of the body, were wanting, the speaking eye sufficed for all. He commanded with it; it was the medium through which his thanks were conveyed. In short, his whole appearance produced on the mind the impression of a corpse with living eyes, and nothing could be more startling than to observe the expression of anger or joy suddenly lighting up these organs, while the rest of the rigid and marble-like features were utterly deprived of the power of participation. Three persons only could understand this language of the poor paralytic; these were Villefort, Valentine, and the old servant of whom we have already spoken. But as Villefort saw his father but seldom, and then only when absolutely obliged, and as he never took any pains to please or gratify him when he was there, all the old man's happiness was centred in his granddaughter. Valentine, by means of her love, her patience, and her devotion, had learned to read in Noirtier's look all the varied feelings which were passing in his mind. To this dumb language, which was so unintelligible to others, she answered by throwing her whole soul into the expression of her countenance, and in this manner were the conversations sustained between the blooming girl and the helpless invalid, whose body could scarcely be called a living one, but who, nevertheless, possessed a fund of knowledge and penetration, united with a will as powerful as ever although clogged by a body rendered utterly incapable of obeying its impulses. Valentine had solved the problem, and was able easily to understand his thoughts, and to convey her own in return, and, through her untiring and devoted assiduity, it was seldom that, in the ordinary transactions of every-day life, she failed to anticipate the wishes of the living, thinking mind, or the wants of the almost inanimate body. As to the servant, he had, as we have said, been with his master for five and twenty years, therefore he knew all his habits, and it was seldom that Noirtier found it necessary to ask for anything, so prompt was he in administering to all the necessities of the invalid. Villefort did not need the help of either Valentine or the domestic in order to carry on with his father the strange conversation which he was about to begin. As we have said, he perfectly understood the old man's vocabulary, and if he did not use it more often, it was only indifference and ennui which prevented him from so doing. He therefore allowed Valentine to go into the garden, sent away Barrois, and after having seated himself at his father's right hand, while Madame de Villefort placed herself on the left, he addressed him thus:—
"I trust you will not be displeased, sir, that Valentine has not come with us, or that I dismissed Barrois, for our conference will be one which could not with propriety be carried on in the presence of either. Madame de Villefort and I have a communication to make to you."
Noirtier's face remained perfectly passive during this long preamble, while, on the contrary, Villefort's eye was endeavoring to penetrate into the inmost recesses of the old man's heart.
"This communication," continued the procureur, in that cold and decisive tone which seemed at once to preclude all discussion, "will, we are sure, meet with your approbation." The eye of the invalid still retained that vacancy of expression which prevented his son from obtaining any knowledge of the feelings which were passing in his mind; he listened, nothing more. "Sir," resumed Villefort, "we are thinking of marrying Valentine." Had the old man's face been moulded in wax it could not have shown less emotion at this news than was now to be traced there. "The marriage will take place in less than three months," said Villefort. Noirtier's eye still retained its inanimate expression.
Madame de Villefort now took her part in the conversation and added,—"We thought this news would possess an interest for you, sir, who have always entertained a great affection for Valentine; it therefore only now remains for us to tell you the name of the young man for whom she is destined. It is one of the most desirable connections which could possibly be formed; he possesses fortune, a high rank in society, and every personal qualification likely to render Valentine supremely happy,—his name, moreover, cannot be wholly unknown to you. It is M. Franz de Quesnel, Baron d'Epinay."
While his wife was speaking, Villefort had narrowly watched the old man's countenance. When Madame de Villefort pronounced the name of Franz, the pupil of M. Noirtier's eye began to dilate, and his eyelids trembled with the same movement that may be perceived on the lips of an individual about to speak, and he darted a lightning glance at Madame de Villefort and his son. The procureur, who knew the political hatred which had formerly existed between M. Noirtier and the elder d'Epinay, well understood the agitation and anger which the announcement had produced; but, feigning not to perceive either, he immediately resumed the narrative begun by his wife. "Sir," said he, "you are aware that Valentine is about to enter her nineteenth year, which renders it important that she should lose no time in forming a suitable alliance. Nevertheless, you have not been forgotten in our plans, and we have fully ascertained beforehand that Valentine's future husband will consent, not to live in this house, for that might not be pleasant for the young people, but that you should live with them; so that you and Valentine, who are so attached to each other, would not be separated, and you would be able to pursue exactly the same course of life which you have hitherto done, and thus, instead of losing, you will be a gainer by the change, as it will secure to you two children instead of one, to watch over and comfort you."
Noirtier's look was furious; it was very evident that something desperate was passing in the old man's mind, for a cry of anger and grief rose in his throat, and not being able to find vent in utterance, appeared almost to choke him, for his face and lips turned quite purple with the struggle. Villefort quietly opened a window, saying, "It is very warm, and the heat affects M. Noirtier." He then returned to his place, but did not sit down. "This marriage," added Madame de Villefort, "is quite agreeable to the wishes of M. d'Epinay and his family; besides, he had no relations nearer than an uncle and aunt, his mother having died at his birth, and his father having been assassinated in 1815, that is to say, when he was but two years old; it naturally followed that the child was permitted to choose his own pursuits, and he has, therefore, seldom acknowledged any other authority but that of his own will."
"That assassination was a mysterious affair," said Villefort, "and the perpetrators have hitherto escaped detection, although suspicion has fallen on the head of more than one person." Noirtier made such an effort that his lips expanded into a smile.
"Now," continued Villefort, "those to whom the guilt really belongs, by whom the crime was committed, on whose heads the justice of man may probably descend here, and the certain judgment of God hereafter, would rejoice in the opportunity thus afforded of bestowing such a peace-offering as Valentine on the son of him whose life they so ruthlessly destroyed." Noirtier had succeeded in mastering his emotion more than could have been deemed possible with such an enfeebled and shattered frame. "Yes, I understand," was the reply contained in his look; and this look expressed a feeling of strong indignation, mixed with profound contempt. Villefort fully understood his father's meaning, and answered by a slight shrug of his shoulders. He then motioned to his wife to take leave. "Now sir," said Madame de Villefort, "I must bid you farewell. Would you like me to send Edward to you for a short time?"
It had been agreed that the old man should express his approbation by closing his eyes, his refusal by winking them several times, and if he had some desire or feeling to express, he raised them to heaven. If he wanted Valentine, he closed his right eye only, and if Barrois, the left. At Madame de Villefort's proposition he instantly winked his eyes. Provoked by a complete refusal, she bit her lip and said, "Then shall I send Valentine to you?" The old man closed his eyes eagerly, thereby intimating that such was his wish. M. and Madame de Villefort bowed and left the room, giving orders that Valentine should be summoned to her grandfather's presence, and feeling sure that she would have much to do to restore calmness to the perturbed spirit of the invalid. Valentine, with a color still heightened by emotion, entered the room just after her parents had quitted it. One look was sufficient to tell her that her grandfather was suffering, and that there was much on his mind which he was wishing to communicate to her. "Dear grandpapa," cried she, "what has happened? They have vexed you, and you are angry?" The paralytic closed his eyes in token of assent. "Who has displeased you? Is it my father?"
"Madame de Villefort?"
"Me?" The former sign was repeated. "Are you displeased with me?" cried Valentine in astonishment. M. Noirtier again closed his eyes. "And what have I done, dear grandpapa, that you should be angry with me?" cried Valentine.
There was no answer, and she continued. "I have not seen you all day. Has any one been speaking to you against me?"
"Yes," said the old man's look, with eagerness.
"Let me think a moment. I do assure you, grandpapa—Ah—M. and Madame de Villefort have just left this room, have they not?"
"And it was they who told you something which made you angry? What was it then? May I go and ask them, that I may have the opportunity of making my peace with you?"
"No, no," said Noirtier's look.
"Ah, you frighten me. What can they have said?" and she again tried to think what it could be.
"Ah, I know," said she, lowering her voice and going close to the old man. "They have been speaking of my marriage,—have they not?"
"Yes," replied the angry look.
"I understand; you are displeased at the silence I have preserved on the subject. The reason of it was, that they had insisted on my keeping the matter a secret, and begged me not to tell you anything of it. They did not even acquaint me with their intentions, and I only discovered them by chance, that is why I have been so reserved with you, dear grandpapa. Pray forgive me." But there was no look calculated to reassure her; all it seemed to say was, "It is not only your reserve which afflicts me."
"What is it, then?" asked the young girl. "Perhaps you think I shall abandon you, dear grandpapa, and that I shall forget you when I am married?"
"They told you, then, that M. d'Epinay consented to our all living together?"
"Then why are you still vexed and grieved?" The old man's eyes beamed with an expression of gentle affection. "Yes, I understand," said Valentine; "it is because you love me." The old man assented. "And you are afraid I shall be unhappy?"
"You do not like M. Franz?" The eyes repeated several times, "No, no, no."
"Then you are vexed with the engagement?"
"Well, listen," said Valentine, throwing herself on her knees, and putting her arm round her grandfather's neck, "I am vexed, too, for I do not love M. Franz d'Epinay." An expression of intense joy illumined the old man's eyes. "When I wished to retire into a convent, you remember how angry you were with me?" A tear trembled in the eye of the invalid. "Well," continued Valentine, "the reason of my proposing it was that I might escape this hateful marriage, which drives me to despair." Noirtier's breathing came thick and short. "Then the idea of this marriage really grieves you too? Ah, if you could but help me—if we could both together defeat their plan! But you are unable to oppose them,—you, whose mind is so quick, and whose will is so firm are nevertheless, as weak and unequal to the contest as I am myself. Alas, you, who would have been such a powerful protector to me in the days of your health and strength, can now only sympathize in my joys and sorrows, without being able to take any active part in them. However, this is much, and calls for gratitude and heaven has not taken away all my blessings when it leaves me your sympathy and kindness."
At these words there appeared in Noirtier's eye an expression of such deep meaning that the young girl thought she could read these words there: "You are mistaken; I can still do much for you."
"Do you think you can help me, dear grandpapa?" said Valentine.
"Yes." Noirtier raised his eyes, it was the sign agreed on between him and Valentine when he wanted anything.
"What is it you want, dear grandpapa?" said Valentine, and she endeavored to recall to mind all the things which he would be likely to need; and as the ideas presented themselves to her mind, she repeated them aloud, then,—finding that all her efforts elicited nothing but a constant "No,"—she said, "Come, since this plan does not answer, I will have recourse to another." She then recited all the letters of the alphabet from A down to N. When she arrived at that letter the paralytic made her understand that she had spoken the initial letter of the thing he wanted. "Ah," said Valentine, "the thing you desire begins with the letter N; it is with N that we have to do, then. Well, let me see, what can you want that begins with N? Na—Ne—Ni—No"—
"Yes, yes, yes," said the old man's eye.
"Ah, it is No, then?"
"Yes." Valentine fetched a dictionary, which she placed on a desk before Noirtier; she opened it, and, seeing that the odd man's eye was thoroughly fixed on its pages, she ran her finger quickly up and down the columns. During the six years which had passed since Noirtier first fell into this sad state, Valentine's powers of invention had been too often put to the test not to render her expert in devising expedients for gaining a knowledge of his wishes, and the constant practice had so perfected her in the art that she guessed the old man's meaning as quickly as if he himself had been able to seek for what he wanted. At the word "Notary," Noirtier made a sign to her to stop. "Notary," said she, "do you want a notary, dear grandpapa?" The old man again signified that it was a notary he desired.
"You would wish a notary to be sent for then?" said Valentine.
"Shall my father be informed of your wish?"
"Do you wish the notary to be sent for immediately?"
"Then they shall go for him directly, dear grandpapa. Is that all you want?"
"Yes." Valentine rang the bell, and ordered the servant to tell Monsieur or Madame de Villefort that they were requested to come to M. Noirtier's room. "Are you satisfied now?" inquired Valentine.
"I am sure you are; it is not very difficult to discover that,"—and the young girl smiled on her grandfather, as if he had been a child. M. de Villefort entered, followed by Barrois. "What do you want me for, sir?" demanded he of the paralytic.
"Sir," said Valentine, "my grandfather wishes for a notary." At this strange and unexpected demand M. de Villefort and his father exchanged looks. "Yes," motioned the latter, with a firmness which seemed to declare that with the help of Valentine and his old servant, who both knew what his wishes were, he was quite prepared to maintain the contest. "Do you wish for a notary?" asked Villefort.
"What to do?"
Noirtier made no answer. "What do you want with a notary?" again repeated Villefort. The invalid's eye remained fixed, by which expression he intended to intimate that his resolution was unalterable. "Is it to do us some ill turn? Do you think it is worth while?" said Villefort.
"Still," said Barrois, with the freedom and fidelity of an old servant, "if M. Noirtier asks for a notary, I suppose he really wishes for a notary; therefore I shall go at once and fetch one." Barrois acknowledged no master but Noirtier, and never allowed his desires in any way to be contradicted.
"Yes, I do want a notary," motioned the old man, shutting his eyes with a look of defiance, which seemed to say, "and I should like to see the person who dares to refuse my request."
"You shall have a notary, as you absolutely wish for one, sir," said Villefort; "but I shall explain to him your state of health, and make excuses for you, for the scene cannot fail of being a most ridiculous one."
"Never mind that," said Barrois; "I shall go and fetch a notary, nevertheless,"—and the old servant departed triumphantly on his mission.
Chapter 59. The Will.
As soon as Barrois had left the room, Noirtier looked at Valentine with a malicious expression that said many things. The young girl perfectly understood the look, and so did Villefort, for his countenance became clouded, and he knitted his eyebrows angrily. He took a seat, and quietly awaited the arrival of the notary. Noirtier saw him seat himself with an appearance of perfect indifference, at the same time giving a side look at Valentine, which made her understand that she also was to remain in the room. Three-quarters of an hour after, Barrois returned, bringing the notary with him. "Sir," said Villefort, after the first salutations were over, "you were sent for by M. Noirtier, whom you see here. All his limbs have become completely paralysed, he has lost his voice also, and we ourselves find much trouble in endeavoring to catch some fragments of his meaning." Noirtier cast an appealing look on Valentine, which look was at once so earnest and imperative, that she answered immediately. "Sir," said she, "I perfectly understand my grandfather's meaning at all times."
"That is quite true," said Barrois; "and that is what I told the gentleman as we walked along."
"Permit me," said the notary, turning first to Villefort and then to Valentine—"permit me to state that the case in question is just one of those in which a public officer like myself cannot proceed to act without thereby incurring a dangerous responsibility. The first thing necessary to render an act valid is, that the notary should be thoroughly convinced that he has faithfully interpreted the will and wishes of the person dictating the act. Now I cannot be sure of the approbation or disapprobation of a client who cannot speak, and as the object of his desire or his repugnance cannot be clearly proved to me, on account of his want of speech, my services here would be quite useless, and cannot be legally exercised." The notary then prepared to retire. An imperceptible smile of triumph was expressed on the lips of the procureur. Noirtier looked at Valentine with an expression so full of grief, that she arrested the departure of the notary. "Sir," said she, "the language which I speak with my grandfather may be easily learnt, and I can teach you in a few minutes, to understand it almost as well as I can myself. Will you tell me what you require, in order to set your conscience quite at ease on the subject?"
"In order to render an act valid, I must be certain of the approbation or disapprobation of my client. Illness of body would not affect the validity of the deed, but sanity of mind is absolutely requisite."
"Well, sir, by the help of two signs, with which I will acquaint you presently, you may ascertain with perfect certainty that my grandfather is still in the full possession of all his mental faculties. M. Noirtier, being deprived of voice and motion, is accustomed to convey his meaning by closing his eyes when he wishes to signify 'yes,' and to wink when he means 'no.' You now know quite enough to enable you to converse with M. Noirtier;—try." Noirtier gave Valentine such a look of tenderness and gratitude that it was comprehended even by the notary himself. "You have heard and understood what your granddaughter has been saying, sir, have you?" asked the notary. Noirtier closed his eyes. "And you approve of what she said—that is to say, you declare that the signs which she mentioned are really those by means of which you are accustomed to convey your thoughts?"
"It was you who sent for me?"
"To make your will?"
"And you do not wish me to go away without fulfilling your original intentions?" The old man winked violently. "Well, sir," said the young girl, "do you understand now, and is your conscience perfectly at rest on the subject?" But before the notary could answer, Villefort had drawn him aside. "Sir," said he, "do you suppose for a moment that a man can sustain a physical shock, such as M. Noirtier has received, without any detriment to his mental faculties?"
"It is not exactly that, sir," said the notary, "which makes me uneasy, but the difficulty will be in wording his thoughts and intentions, so as to be able to get his answers."
"You must see that to be an utter impossibility," said Villefort. Valentine and the old man heard this conversation, and Noirtier fixed his eye so earnestly on Valentine that she felt bound to answer to the look.
"Sir," said she, "that need not make you uneasy, however difficult it may at first sight appear to be. I can discover and explain to you my grandfather's thoughts, so as to put an end to all your doubts and fears on the subject. I have now been six years with M. Noirtier, and let him tell you if ever once, during that time, he has entertained a thought which he was unable to make me understand."
"No," signed the old man.
"Let us try what we can do, then," said the notary. "You accept this young lady as your interpreter, M. Noirtier?"
"Well, sir, what do you require of me, and what document is it that you wish to be drawn up?" Valentine named all the letters of the alphabet until she came to W. At this letter the eloquent eye of Noirtier gave her notice that she was to stop. "It is very evident that it is the letter W which M. Noirtier wants," said the notary. "Wait," said Valentine; and, turning to her grandfather, she repeated, "Wa—We—Wi"—The old man stopped her at the last syllable. Valentine then took the dictionary, and the notary watched her while she turned over the pages. She passed her finger slowly down the columns, and when she came to the word "Will," M. Noirtier's eye bade her stop. "Will," said the notary; "it is very evident that M. Noirtier is desirous of making his will."
"Yes, yes, yes," motioned the invalid.
"Really, sir, you must allow that this is most extraordinary," said the astonished notary, turning to M. de Villefort. "Yes," said the procureur, "and I think the will promises to be yet more extraordinary, for I cannot see how it is to be drawn up without the intervention of Valentine, and she may, perhaps, be considered as too much interested in its contents to allow of her being a suitable interpreter of the obscure and ill-defined wishes of her grandfather."
"No, no, no," replied the eye of the paralytic.
"What?" said Villefort, "do you mean to say that Valentine is not interested in your will?"
"Sir," said the notary, whose interest had been greatly excited, and who had resolved on publishing far and wide the account of this extraordinary and picturesque scene, "what appeared so impossible to me an hour ago, has now become quite easy and practicable, and this may be a perfectly valid will, provided it be read in the presence of seven witnesses, approved by the testator, and sealed by the notary in the presence of the witnesses. As to the time, it will not require very much more than the generality of wills. There are certain forms necessary to be gone through, and which are always the same. As to the details, the greater part will be furnished afterwards by the state in which we find the affairs of the testator, and by yourself, who, having had the management of them, can doubtless give full information on the subject. But besides all this, in order that the instrument may not be contested, I am anxious to give it the greatest possible authenticity, therefore, one of my colleagues will help me, and, contrary to custom, will assist in the dictation of the testament. Are you satisfied, sir?" continued the notary, addressing the old man.
"Yes," looked the invalid, his eye beaming with delight at the ready interpretation of his meaning.
"What is he going to do?" thought Villefort, whose position demanded much reserve, but who was longing to know what his father's intentions were. He left the room to give orders for another notary to be sent, but Barrois, who had heard all that passed, had guessed his master's wishes, and had already gone to fetch one. The procureur then told his wife to come up. In the course of a quarter of an hour every one had assembled in the chamber of the paralytic; the second notary had also arrived. A few words sufficed for a mutual understanding between the two officers of the law. They read to Noirtier the formal copy of a will, in order to give him an idea of the terms in which such documents are generally couched; then, in order to test the capacity of the testator, the first notary said, turning towards him,—"When an individual makes his will, it is generally in favor or in prejudice of some person."
"Have you an exact idea of the amount of your fortune?"
"I will name to you several sums which will increase by gradation; you will stop me when I reach the one representing the amount of your own possessions?"
"Yes." There was a kind of solemnity in this interrogation. Never had the struggle between mind and matter been more apparent than now, and if it was not a sublime, it was, at least, a curious spectacle. They had formed a circle round the invalid; the second notary was sitting at a table, prepared for writing, and his colleague was standing before the testator in the act of interrogating him on the subject to which we have alluded. "Your fortune exceeds 300,000. francs, does it not?" asked he. Noirtier made a sign that it did. "Do you possess 400,000 francs?" inquired the notary. Noirtier's eye remained immovable. "Five hundred thousand?" The same expression continued. "Six hundred thousand—700,000—800,000—900,000?" Noirtier stopped him at the last-named sum. "You are then in possession of 900,000. francs?" asked the notary. "Yes."
"In landed property?"
"The stock is in your own hands?" The look which M. Noirtier cast on Barrois showed that there was something wanting which he knew where to find. The old servant left the room, and presently returned, bringing with him a small casket. "Do you permit us to open this casket?" asked the notary. Noirtier gave his assent. They opened it, and found 900,000. francs in bank scrip. The first notary handed over each note, as he examined it, to his colleague.
The total amount was found to be as M. Noirtier had stated. "It is all as he has said; it is very evident that the mind still retains its full force and vigor." Then, turning towards the paralytic, he said, "You possess, then, 900,000. francs of capital, which, according to the manner in which you have invested it, ought to bring in an income of about 40,000 livres?"
"To whom do you desire to leave this fortune?"
"Oh," said Madame de Villefort, "there is not much doubt on that subject. M. Noirtier tenderly loves his granddaughter, Mademoiselle de Villefort; it is she who has nursed and tended him for six years, and has, by her devoted attention, fully secured the affection, I had almost said the gratitude, of her grandfather, and it is but just that she should reap the fruit of her devotion." The eye of Noirtier clearly showed by its expression that he was not deceived by the false assent given by Madame de Villefort's words and manner to the motives which she supposed him to entertain. "Is it, then, to Mademoiselle Valentine de Villefort that you leave these 900,000 francs?" demanded the notary, thinking he had only to insert this clause, but waiting first for the assent of Noirtier, which it was necessary should be given before all the witnesses of this singular scene. Valentine, when her name was made the subject of discussion, had stepped back, to escape unpleasant observation; her eyes were cast down, and she was crying. The old man looked at her for an instant with an expression of the deepest tenderness, then, turning towards the notary, he significantly winked his eye in token of dissent.
"What," said the notary, "do you not intend making Mademoiselle Valentine de Villefort your residuary legatee?"
"You are not making any mistake, are you?" said the notary; "you really mean to declare that such is not your intention?"
"No," repeated Noirtier; "No." Valentine raised her head, struck dumb with astonishment. It was not so much the conviction that she was disinherited that caused her grief, but her total inability to account for the feelings which had provoked her grandfather to such an act. But Noirtier looked at her with so much affectionate tenderness that she exclaimed, "Oh, grandpapa, I see now that it is only your fortune of which you deprive me; you still leave me the love which I have always enjoyed."
"Ah, yes, most assuredly," said the eyes of the paralytic, for he closed them with an expression which Valentine could not mistake. "Thank you, thank you," murmured she. The old man's declaration that Valentine was not the destined inheritor of his fortune had excited the hopes of Madame de Villefort; she gradually approached the invalid, and said: "Then, doubtless, dear M. Noirtier, you intend leaving your fortune to your grandson, Edward de Villefort?" The winking of the eyes which answered this speech was most decided and terrible, and expressed a feeling almost amounting to hatred.
"No?" said the notary; "then, perhaps, it is to your son, M. de Villefort?"
"No." The two notaries looked at each other in mute astonishment and inquiry as to what were the real intentions of the testator. Villefort and his wife both grew red, one from shame, the other from anger.
"What have we all done, then, dear grandpapa?" said Valentine; "you no longer seem to love any of us?" The old man's eyes passed rapidly from Villefort and his wife, and rested on Valentine with a look of unutterable fondness. "Well," said she; "if you love me, grandpapa, try and bring that love to bear upon your actions at this present moment. You know me well enough to be quite sure that I have never thought of your fortune; besides, they say I am already rich in right of my mother—too rich, even. Explain yourself, then." Noirtier fixed his intelligent eyes on Valentine's hand. "My hand?" said she.
"Her hand!" exclaimed every one.
"Oh, gentlemen, you see it is all useless, and that my father's mind is really impaired," said Villefort.
"Ah," cried Valentine suddenly, "I understand. It is my marriage you mean, is it not, dear grandpapa?"
"Yes, yes, yes," signed the paralytic, casting on Valentine a look of joyful gratitude for having guessed his meaning.
"You are angry with us all on account of this marriage, are you not?"
"Really, this is too absurd," said Villefort.
"Excuse me, sir," replied the notary; "on the contrary, the meaning of M. Noirtier is quite evident to me, and I can quite easily connect the train of ideas passing in his mind."
"You do not wish me to marry M. Franz d'Epinay?" observed Valentine.
"I do not wish it," said the eye of her grandfather. "And you disinherit your granddaughter," continued the notary, "because she has contracted an engagement contrary to your wishes?"
"So that, but for this marriage, she would have been your heir?"
"Yes." There was a profound silence. The two notaries were holding a consultation as to the best means of proceeding with the affair. Valentine was looking at her grandfather with a smile of intense gratitude, and Villefort was biting his lips with vexation, while Madame de Villefort could not succeed in repressing an inward feeling of joy, which, in spite of herself, appeared in her whole countenance. "But," said Villefort, who was the first to break the silence, "I consider that I am the best judge of the propriety of the marriage in question. I am the only person possessing the right to dispose of my daughter's hand. It is my wish that she should marry M. Franz d'Epinay—and she shall marry him." Valentine sank weeping into a chair.
"Sir," said the notary, "how do you intend disposing of your fortune in case Mademoiselle de Villefort still determines on marrying M. Franz?" The old man gave no answer. "You will, of course, dispose of it in some way or other?"
"In favor of some member of your family?"
"Do you intend devoting it to charitable purposes, then?" pursued the notary.
"But," said the notary, "you are aware that the law does not allow a son to be entirely deprived of his patrimony?"
"You only intend, then, to dispose of that part of your fortune which the law allows you to subtract from the inheritance of your son?" Noirtier made no answer. "Do you still wish to dispose of all?"
"But they will contest the will after your death?"
"My father knows me," replied Villefort; "he is quite sure that his wishes will be held sacred by me; besides, he understands that in my position I cannot plead against the poor." The eye of Noirtier beamed with triumph. "What do you decide on, sir?" asked the notary of Villefort.
"Nothing, sir; it is a resolution which my father has taken and I know he never alters his mind. I am quite resigned. These 900,000 francs will go out of the family in order to enrich some hospital; but it is ridiculous thus to yield to the caprices of an old man, and I shall, therefore, act according to my conscience." Having said this, Villefort quitted the room with his wife, leaving his father at liberty to do as he pleased. The same day the will was made, the witnesses were brought, it was approved by the old man, sealed in the presence of all and given in charge to M. Deschamps, the family notary.
Chapter 60. The Telegraph.
M. and Madame de Villefort found on their return that the Count of Monte Cristo, who had come to visit them in their absence, had been ushered into the drawing-room, and was still awaiting them there. Madame de Villefort, who had not yet sufficiently recovered from her late emotion to allow of her entertaining visitors so immediately, retired to her bedroom, while the procureur, who could better depend upon himself, proceeded at once to the salon. Although M. de Villefort flattered himself that, to all outward view, he had completely masked the feelings which were passing in his mind, he did not know that the cloud was still lowering on his brow, so much so that the count, whose smile was radiant, immediately noticed his sombre and thoughtful air. "Ma foi," said Monte Cristo, after the first compliments were over, "what is the matter with you, M. de Villefort? Have I arrived at the moment when you were drawing up an indictment for a capital crime?" Villefort tried to smile. "No, count," he replied, "I am the only victim in this case. It is I who lose my cause, and it is ill-luck, obstinacy, and folly which have caused it to be decided against me."
"To what do you refer?" said Monte Cristo with well-feigned interest. "Have you really met with some great misfortune?"
"Oh, no, monsieur," said Villefort with a bitter smile; "it is only a loss of money which I have sustained—nothing worth mentioning, I assure you."
"True," said Monte Cristo, "the loss of a sum of money becomes almost immaterial with a fortune such as you possess, and to one of your philosophic spirit."
"It is not so much the loss of the money that vexes me," said Villefort, "though, after all, 900,000 francs are worth regretting; but I am the more annoyed with this fate, chance, or whatever you please to call the power which has destroyed my hopes and my fortune, and may blast the prospects of my child also, as it is all occasioned by an old man relapsed into second childhood."
"What do you say?" said the count; "900,000 francs? It is indeed a sum which might be regretted even by a philosopher. And who is the cause of all this annoyance?"
"My father, as I told you."
"M. Noirtier? But I thought you told me he had become entirely paralyzed, and that all his faculties were completely destroyed?"
"Yes, his bodily faculties, for he can neither move nor speak, nevertheless he thinks, acts, and wills in the manner I have described. I left him about five minutes ago, and he is now occupied in dictating his will to two notaries."
"But to do this he must have spoken?"
"He has done better than that—he has made himself understood."
"How was such a thing possible?"
"By the help of his eyes, which are still full of life, and, as you perceive, possess the power of inflicting mortal injury."
"My dear," said Madame de Villefort, who had just entered the room, "perhaps you exaggerate the evil."
"Good-morning, madame," said the count, bowing. Madame de Villefort acknowledged the salutation with one of her most gracious smiles. "What is this that M. de Villefort has been telling me?" demanded Monte Cristo "and what incomprehensible misfortune"—
"Incomprehensible is not the word," interrupted the procureur, shrugging his shoulders. "It is an old man's caprice."
"And is there no means of making him revoke his decision?"
"Yes," said Madame de Villefort; "and it is still entirely in the power of my husband to cause the will, which is now in prejudice of Valentine, to be altered in her favor." The count, who perceived that M. and Madame de Villefort were beginning to speak in parables, appeared to pay no attention to the conversation, and feigned to be busily engaged in watching Edward, who was mischievously pouring some ink into the bird's water-glass. "My dear," said Villefort, in answer to his wife, "you know I have never been accustomed to play the patriarch in my family, nor have I ever considered that the fate of a universe was to be decided by my nod. Nevertheless, it is necessary that my will should be respected in my family, and that the folly of an old man and the caprice of a child should not be allowed to overturn a project which I have entertained for so many years. The Baron d'Epinay was my friend, as you know, and an alliance with his son is the most suitable thing that could possibly be arranged."
"Do you think," said Madame de Villefort, "that Valentine is in league with him? She has always been opposed to this marriage, and I should not be at all surprised if what we have just seen and heard is nothing but the execution of a plan concerted between them."
"Madame," said Villefort, "believe me, a fortune of 900,000. francs is not so easily renounced."
"She could, nevertheless, make up her mind to renounce the world, sir, since it is only about a year ago that she herself proposed entering a convent."
"Never mind," replied Villefort; "I say that this marriage shall be consummated."
"Notwithstanding your father's wishes to the contrary?" said Madame de Villefort, selecting a new point of attack. "That is a serious thing." Monte Cristo, who pretended not to be listening, heard however, every word that was said. "Madame," replied Villefort "I can truly say that I have always entertained a high respect for my father, because, to the natural feeling of relationship was added the consciousness of his moral superiority. The name of father is sacred in two senses; he should be reverenced as the author of our being and as a master whom we ought to obey. But, under the present circumstances, I am justified in doubting the wisdom of an old man who, because he hated the father, vents his anger on the son. It would be ridiculous in me to regulate my conduct by such caprices. I shall still continue to preserve the same respect toward M. Noirtier; I will suffer, without complaint, the pecuniary deprivation to which he has subjected me; but I shall remain firm in my determination, and the world shall see which party has reason on his side. Consequently I shall marry my daughter to the Baron Franz d'Epinay, because I consider it would be a proper and eligible match for her to make, and, in short, because I choose to bestow my daughter's hand on whomever I please."