Albert bowed to Madame Danglars, and advanced towards Madame de Villefort, whose lips opened as he approached. "I wager anything," said Albert, interrupting her, "that I know what you were about to say."
"Well, what is it?"
"If I guess rightly, will you confess it?"
"On your honor?"
"On my honor."
"You were going to ask me if the Count of Monte Cristo had arrived, or was expected."
"Not at all. It is not of him that I am now thinking. I was going to ask you if you had received any news of Monsieur Franz."
"What did he tell you?"
"That he was leaving at the same time as his letter."
"Well, now then, the count?"
"The count will come, of that you may be satisfied."
"You know that he has another name besides Monte Cristo?"
"No, I did not know it."
"Monte Cristo is the name of an island, and he has a family name."
"I never heard it."
"Well, then, I am better informed than you; his name is Zaccone."
"It is possible."
"He is a Maltese."
"That is also possible.
"The son of a shipowner."
"Really, you should relate all this aloud, you would have the greatest success."
"He served in India, discovered a mine in Thessaly, and comes to Paris to establish a mineral water-cure at Auteuil."
"Well, I'm sure," said Morcerf, "this is indeed news! Am I allowed to repeat it?"
"Yes, but cautiously, tell one thing at a time, and do not say I told you."
"Because it is a secret just discovered."
"Then the news originated"—
"At the prefect's last night. Paris, you can understand, is astonished at the sight of such unusual splendor, and the police have made inquiries."
"Well, well! Nothing more is wanting than to arrest the count as a vagabond, on the pretext of his being too rich."
"Indeed, that doubtless would have happened if his credentials had not been so favorable."
"Poor count! And is he aware of the danger he has been in?"
"I think not."
"Then it will be but charitable to inform him. When he arrives, I will not fail to do so."
Just then, a handsome young man, with bright eyes, black hair, and glossy mustache, respectfully bowed to Madame de Villefort. Albert extended his hand. "Madame," said Albert, "allow me to present to you M. Maximilian Morrel, captain of Spahis, one of our best, and, above all, of our bravest officers."
"I have already had the pleasure of meeting this gentleman at Auteuil, at the house of the Count of Monte Cristo," replied Madame de Villefort, turning away with marked coldness of manner. This answer, and especially the tone in which it was uttered, chilled the heart of poor Morrel. But a recompense was in store for him; turning around, he saw near the door a beautiful fair face, whose large blue eyes were, without any marked expression, fixed upon him, while the bouquet of myosotis was gently raised to her lips.
The salutation was so well understood that Morrel, with the same expression in his eyes, placed his handkerchief to his mouth; and these two living statues, whose hearts beat so violently under their marble aspect, separated from each other by the whole length of the room, forgot themselves for a moment, or rather forgot the world in their mutual contemplation. They might have remained much longer lost in one another, without any one noticing their abstraction. The Count of Monte Cristo had just entered.
We have already said that there was something in the count which attracted universal attention wherever he appeared. It was not the coat, unexceptional in its cut, though simple and unornamented; it was not the plain white waistcoat; it was not the trousers, that displayed the foot so perfectly formed—it was none of these things that attracted the attention,—it was his pale complexion, his waving black hair, his calm and serene expression, his dark and melancholy eye, his mouth, chiselled with such marvellous delicacy, which so easily expressed such high disdain,—these were what fixed the attention of all upon him. Many men might have been handsomer, but certainly there could be none whose appearance was more significant, if the expression may be used. Everything about the count seemed to have its meaning, for the constant habit of thought which he had acquired had given an ease and vigor to the expression of his face, and even to the most trifling gesture, scarcely to be understood. Yet the Parisian world is so strange, that even all this might not have won attention had there not been connected with it a mysterious story gilded by an immense fortune.
Meanwhile he advanced through the assemblage of guests under a battery of curious glances towards Madame de Morcerf, who, standing before a mantle-piece ornamented with flowers, had seen his entrance in a looking-glass placed opposite the door, and was prepared to receive him. She turned towards him with a serene smile just at the moment he was bowing to her. No doubt she fancied the count would speak to her, while on his side the count thought she was about to address him; but both remained silent, and after a mere bow, Monte Cristo directed his steps to Albert, who received him cordially. "Have you seen my mother?" asked Albert.
"I have just had the pleasure," replied the count; "but I have not seen your father."
"See, he is down there, talking politics with that little group of great geniuses."
"Indeed?" said Monte Cristo; "and so those gentlemen down there are men of great talent. I should not have guessed it. And for what kind of talent are they celebrated? You know there are different sorts."
"That tall, harsh-looking man is very learned, he discovered, in the neighborhood of Rome, a kind of lizard with a vertebra more than lizards usually have, and he immediately laid his discovery before the Institute. The thing was discussed for a long time, but finally decided in his favor. I can assure you the vertebra made a great noise in the learned world, and the gentleman, who was only a knight of the Legion of Honor, was made an officer."
"Come," said Monte Cristo, "this cross seems to me to be wisely awarded. I suppose, had he found another additional vertebra, they would have made him a commander."
"Very likely," said Albert.
"And who can that person be who has taken it into his head to wrap himself up in a blue coat embroidered with green?"
"Oh, that coat is not his own idea; it is the Republic's, which deputed David [*] to devise a uniform for the Academicians."
* Louis David, a famous French painter.
"Indeed?" said Monte Cristo; "so this gentleman is an Academician?"
"Within the last week he has been made one of the learned assembly."
"And what is his especial talent?"
"His talent? I believe he thrusts pins through the heads of rabbits, he makes fowls eat madder, and punches the spinal marrow out of dogs with whalebone."
"And he is made a member of the Academy of Sciences for this?"
"No; of the French Academy."
"But what has the French Academy to do with all this?"
"I was going to tell you. It seems"—
"That his experiments have very considerably advanced the cause of science, doubtless?"
"No; that his style of writing is very good."
"This must be very flattering to the feelings of the rabbits into whose heads he has thrust pins, to the fowls whose bones he has dyed red, and to the dogs whose spinal marrow he has punched out?"
"And the other one?" demanded the count.
"Yes, the third."
"The one in the dark blue coat?"
"He is a colleague of the count, and one of the most active opponents to the idea of providing the Chamber of Peers with a uniform. He was very successful upon that question. He stood badly with the Liberal papers, but his noble opposition to the wishes of the court is now getting him into favor with the journalists. They talk of making him an ambassador."
"And what are his claims to the peerage?"
"He has composed two or three comic operas, written four or five articles in the Siecle, and voted five or six years on the ministerial side."
"Bravo, Viscount," said Monte Cristo, smiling; "you are a delightful cicerone. And now you will do me a favor, will you not?"
"What is it?"
"Do not introduce me to any of these gentlemen; and should they wish it, you will warn me." Just then the count felt his arm pressed. He turned round; it was Danglars.
"Ah, is it you, baron?" said he.
"Why do you call me baron?" said Danglars; "you know that I care nothing for my title. I am not like you, viscount; you like your title, do you not?"
"Certainly," replied Albert, "seeing that without my title I should be nothing; while you, sacrificing the baron, would still remain the millionaire."
"Which seems to me the finest title under the royalty of July," replied Danglars.
"Unfortunately," said Monte Cristo, "one's title to a millionaire does not last for life, like that of baron, peer of France, or Academician; for example, the millionaires Franck & Poulmann, of Frankfort, who have just become bankrupts."
"Indeed?" said Danglars, becoming pale.
"Yes; I received the news this evening by a courier. I had about a million in their hands, but, warned in time, I withdrew it a month ago."
"Ah, mon Dieu," exclaimed Danglars, "they have drawn on me for 200,000 francs!"
"Well, you can throw out the draft; their signature is worth five per cent."
"Yes, but it is too late," said Danglars, "I have honored their bills."
"Then," said Monte Cristo, "here are 200,000 francs gone after"—
"Hush, do not mention these things," said Danglars; then, approaching Monte Cristo, he added, "especially before young M. Cavalcanti;" after which he smiled, and turned towards the young man in question. Albert had left the count to speak to his mother, Danglars to converse with young Cavalcanti; Monte Cristo was for an instant alone. Meanwhile the heat became excessive. The footmen were hastening through the rooms with waiters loaded with ices. Monte Cristo wiped the perspiration from his forehead, but drew back when the waiter was presented to him; he took no refreshment. Madame de Morcerf did not lose sight of Monte Cristo; she saw that he took nothing, and even noticed his gesture of refusal.
"Albert," she asked, "did you notice that?"
"That the count has never been willing to partake of food under the roof of M. de Morcerf."
"Yes; but then he breakfasted with me—indeed, he made his first appearance in the world on that occasion."
"But your house is not M. de Morcerf's," murmured Mercedes; "and since he has been here I have watched him."
"Well, he has taken nothing yet."
"The count is very temperate." Mercedes smiled sadly. "Approach him," said she, "and when the next waiter passes, insist upon his taking something."
"But why, mother?"
"Just to please me, Albert," said Mercedes. Albert kissed his mother's hand, and drew near the count. Another salver passed, loaded like the preceding ones; she saw Albert attempt to persuade the count, but he obstinately refused. Albert rejoined his mother; she was very pale.
"Well," said she, "you see he refuses?"
"Yes; but why need this annoy you?"
"You know, Albert, women are singular creatures. I should like to have seen the count take something in my house, if only an ice. Perhaps he cannot reconcile himself to the French style of living, and might prefer something else."
"Oh, no; I have seen him eat of everything in Italy; no doubt he does not feel inclined this evening."
"And besides," said the countess, "accustomed as he is to burning climates, possibly he does not feel the heat as we do."
"I do not think that, for he has complained of feeling almost suffocated, and asked why the Venetian blinds were not opened as well as the windows."
"In a word," said Mercedes, "it was a way of assuring me that his abstinence was intended." And she left the room. A minute afterwards the blinds were thrown open, and through the jessamine and clematis that overhung the window one could see the garden ornamented with lanterns, and the supper laid under the tent. Dancers, players, talkers, all uttered an exclamation of joy—every one inhaled with delight the breeze that floated in. At the same time Mercedes reappeared, paler than before, but with that imperturbable expression of countenance which she sometimes wore. She went straight to the group of which her husband formed the centre. "Do not detain those gentlemen here, count," she said; "they would prefer, I should think, to breathe in the garden rather than suffocate here, since they are not playing."
"Ah," said a gallant old general, who, in 1809, had sung "Partant pour la Syrie,"—"we will not go alone to the garden."
"Then," said Mercedes, "I will lead the way." Turning towards Monte Cristo, she added, "count, will you oblige me with your arm?" The count almost staggered at these simple words; then he fixed his eyes on Mercedes. It was only a momentary glance, but it seemed to the countess to have lasted for a century, so much was expressed in that one look. He offered his arm to the countess; she took it, or rather just touched it with her little hand, and they together descended the steps, lined with rhododendrons and camellias. Behind them, by another outlet, a group of about twenty persons rushed into the garden with loud exclamations of delight.
Chapter 71. Bread and Salt.
Madame de Morcerf entered an archway of trees with her companion. It led through a grove of lindens to a conservatory.
"It was too warm in the room, was it not, count?" she asked.
"Yes, madame; and it was an excellent idea of yours to open the doors and the blinds." As he ceased speaking, the count felt the hand of Mercedes tremble. "But you," he said, "with that light dress, and without anything to cover you but that gauze scarf, perhaps you feel cold?"
"Do you know where I am leading you?" said the countess, without replying to the question.
"No, madame," replied Monte Cristo; "but you see I make no resistance."
"We are going to the greenhouse that you see at the other end of the grove."
The count looked at Mercedes as if to interrogate her, but she continued to walk on in silence, and he refrained from speaking. They reached the building, ornamented with magnificent fruits, which ripen at the beginning of July in the artificial temperature which takes the place of the sun, so frequently absent in our climate. The countess left the arm of Monte Cristo, and gathered a bunch of Muscatel grapes. "See, count," she said, with a smile so sad in its expression that one could almost detect the tears on her eyelids—"see, our French grapes are not to be compared, I know, with yours of Sicily and Cyprus, but you will make allowance for our northern sun." The count bowed, but stepped back. "Do you refuse?" said Mercedes, in a tremulous voice. "Pray excuse me, madame," replied Monte Cristo, "but I never eat Muscatel grapes."
Mercedes let them fall, and sighed. A magnificent peach was hanging against an adjoining wall, ripened by the same artificial heat. Mercedes drew near, and plucked the fruit. "Take this peach, then," she said. The count again refused. "What, again?" she exclaimed, in so plaintive an accent that it seemed to stifle a sob; "really, you pain me."
A long silence followed; the peach, like the grapes, fell to the ground. "Count," added Mercedes with a supplicating glance, "there is a beautiful Arabian custom, which makes eternal friends of those who have together eaten bread and salt under the same roof."
"I know it, madame," replied the count; "but we are in France, and not in Arabia, and in France eternal friendships are as rare as the custom of dividing bread and salt with one another."
"But," said the countess, breathlessly, with her eyes fixed on Monte Cristo, whose arm she convulsively pressed with both hands, "we are friends, are we not?"
The count became pale as death, the blood rushed to his heart, and then again rising, dyed his cheeks with crimson; his eyes swam like those of a man suddenly dazzled. "Certainly, we are friends," he replied; "why should we not be?" The answer was so little like the one Mercedes desired, that she turned away to give vent to a sigh, which sounded more like a groan. "Thank you," she said. And they walked on again. They went the whole length of the garden without uttering a word. "Sir," suddenly exclaimed the countess, after their walk had continued ten minutes in silence, "is it true that you have seen so much, travelled so far, and suffered so deeply?"
"I have suffered deeply, madame," answered Monte Cristo.
"But now you are happy?"
"Doubtless," replied the count, "since no one hears me complain."
"And your present happiness, has it softened your heart?"
"My present happiness equals my past misery," said the count.
"Are you not married?" asked the countess. "I, married?" exclaimed Monte Cristo, shuddering; "who could have told you so?"
"No one told me you were, but you have frequently been seen at the opera with a young and lovely woman."
"She is a slave whom I bought at Constantinople, madame, the daughter of a prince. I have adopted her as my daughter, having no one else to love in the world."
"You live alone, then?"
"You have no sister—no son—no father?"
"I have no one."
"How can you exist thus without any one to attach you to life?"
"It is not my fault, madame. At Malta, I loved a young girl, was on the point of marrying her, when war came and carried me away. I thought she loved me well enough to wait for me, and even to remain faithful to my memory. When I returned she was married. This is the history of most men who have passed twenty years of age. Perhaps my heart was weaker than the hearts of most men, and I suffered more than they would have done in my place; that is all." The countess stopped for a moment, as if gasping for breath. "Yes," she said, "and you have still preserved this love in your heart—one can only love once—and did you ever see her again?"
"I never returned to the country where she lived."
"She is, then, now at Malta?"
"I think so."
"And have you forgiven her for all she has made you suffer?"
"But only her; do you then still hate those who separated you?"
"I hate them? Not at all; why should I?" The countess placed herself before Monte Cristo, still holding in her hand a portion of the perfumed grapes. "Take some," she said. "Madame, I never eat Muscatel grapes," replied Monte Cristo, as if the subject had not been mentioned before. The countess dashed the grapes into the nearest thicket, with a gesture of despair. "Inflexible man!" she murmured. Monte Cristo remained as unmoved as if the reproach had not been addressed to him. Albert at this moment ran in. "Oh, mother," he exclaimed, "such a misfortune has happened!"
"What? What has happened?" asked the countess, as though awakening from a sleep to the realities of life; "did you say a misfortune? Indeed, I should expect misfortunes."
"M. de Villefort is here."
"He comes to fetch his wife and daughter."
"Because Madame de Saint-Meran is just arrived in Paris, bringing the news of M. de Saint-Meran's death, which took place on the first stage after he left Marseilles. Madame de Villefort, who was in very good spirits, would neither believe nor think of the misfortune, but Mademoiselle Valentine, at the first words, guessed the whole truth, notwithstanding all the precautions of her father; the blow struck her like a thunderbolt, and she fell senseless."
"And how was M. de Saint-Meran related to Mademoiselle de Villefort?" said the count.
"He was her grandfather on the mother's side. He was coming here to hasten her marriage with Franz."
"So Franz must wait. Why was not M. de Saint-Meran also grandfather to Mademoiselle Danglars?"
"Albert, Albert," said Madame de Morcerf, in a tone of mild reproof, "what are you saying? Ah, count, he esteems you so highly, tell him that he has spoken amiss." And she took two or three steps forward. Monte Cristo watched her with an air so thoughtful, and so full of affectionate admiration, that she turned back and grasped his hand; at the same time she seized that of her son, and joined them together.
"We are friends; are we not?" she asked.
"Oh, madame, I do not presume to call myself your friend, but at all times I am your most respectful servant." The countess left with an indescribable pang in her heart, and before she had taken ten steps the count saw her raise her handkerchief to her eyes. "Do not my mother and you agree?" asked Albert, astonished.
"On the contrary," replied the count, "did you not hear her declare that we were friends?" They re-entered the drawing-room, which Valentine and Madame de Villefort had just quitted. It is perhaps needless to add that Morrel departed almost at the same time.
Chapter 72. Madame de Saint-Meran.
A gloomy scene had indeed just passed at the house of M. de Villefort. After the ladies had departed for the ball, whither all the entreaties of Madame de Villefort had failed in persuading him to accompany them, the procureur had shut himself up in his study, according to his custom, with a heap of papers calculated to alarm any one else, but which generally scarcely satisfied his inordinate desires. But this time the papers were a mere matter of form. Villefort had secluded himself, not to study, but to reflect; and with the door locked and orders given that he should not be disturbed excepting for important business, he sat down in his arm-chair and began to ponder over the events, the remembrance of which had during the last eight days filled his mind with so many gloomy thoughts and bitter recollections. Then, instead of plunging into the mass of documents piled before him, he opened the drawer of his desk, touched a spring, and drew out a parcel of cherished memoranda, amongst which he had carefully arranged, in characters only known to himself, the names of all those who, either in his political career, in money matters, at the bar, or in his mysterious love affairs, had become his enemies.
Their number was formidable, now that he had begun to fear, and yet these names, powerful though they were, had often caused him to smile with the same kind of satisfaction experienced by a traveller who from the summit of a mountain beholds at his feet the craggy eminences, the almost impassable paths, and the fearful chasms, through which he has so perilously climbed. When he had run over all these names in his memory, again read and studied them, commenting meanwhile upon his lists, he shook his head.
"No," he murmured, "none of my enemies would have waited so patiently and laboriously for so long a space of time, that they might now come and crush me with this secret. Sometimes, as Hamlet says—
'Foul deeds will rise, Tho' all the earth o'erwhelm them to men's eyes;'
but, like a phosphoric light, they rise but to mislead. The story has been told by the Corsican to some priest, who in his turn has repeated it. M. de Monte Cristo may have heard it, and to enlighten himself—but why should he wish to enlighten himself upon the subject?" asked Villefort, after a moment's reflection, "what interest can this M. de Monte Cristo or M. Zaccone,—son of a shipowner of Malta, discoverer of a mine in Thessaly, now visiting Paris for the first time,—what interest, I say, can he take in discovering a gloomy, mysterious, and useless fact like this? However, among all the incoherent details given to me by the Abbe Busoni and by Lord Wilmore, by that friend and that enemy, one thing appears certain and clear in my opinion—that in no period, in no case, in no circumstance, could there have been any contact between him and me."
But Villefort uttered words which even he himself did not believe. He dreaded not so much the revelation, for he could reply to or deny its truth;—he cared little for that mene, tekel, upharsin, which appeared suddenly in letters of blood upon the wall;—but what he was really anxious for was to discover whose hand had traced them. While he was endeavoring to calm his fears,—and instead of dwelling upon the political future that had so often been the subject of his ambitious dreams, was imagining a future limited to the enjoyments of home, in fear of awakening the enemy that had so long slept,—the noise of a carriage sounded in the yard, then he heard the steps of an aged person ascending the stairs, followed by tears and lamentations, such as servants always give vent to when they wish to appear interested in their master's grief. He drew back the bolt of his door, and almost directly an old lady entered, unannounced, carrying her shawl on her arm, and her bonnet in her hand. The white hair was thrown back from her yellow forehead, and her eyes, already sunken by the furrows of age, now almost disappeared beneath the eyelids swollen with grief. "Oh, sir," she said; "oh, sir, what a misfortune! I shall die of it; oh, yes, I shall certainly die of it!"
And then, falling upon the chair nearest the door, she burst into a paroxysm of sobs. The servants, standing in the doorway, not daring to approach nearer, were looking at Noirtier's old servant, who had heard the noise from his master's room, and run there also, remaining behind the others. Villefort rose, and ran towards his mother-in-law, for it was she.
"Why, what can have happened?" he exclaimed, "what has thus disturbed you? Is M. de Saint-Meran with you?"
"M. de Saint-Meran is dead," answered the old marchioness, without preface and without expression; she appeared to be stupefied. Villefort drew back, and clasping his hands together, exclaimed—"Dead!—so suddenly?"
"A week ago," continued Madame de Saint-Meran, "we went out together in the carriage after dinner. M. de Saint-Meran had been unwell for some days; still, the idea of seeing our dear Valentine again inspired him with courage, and notwithstanding his illness he would leave. At six leagues from Marseilles, after having eaten some of the lozenges he is accustomed to take, he fell into such a deep sleep, that it appeared to me unnatural; still I hesitated to wake him, although I fancied that his face was flushed, and that the veins of his temples throbbed more violently than usual. However, as it became dark, and I could no longer see, I fell asleep; I was soon aroused by a piercing shriek, as from a person suffering in his dreams, and he suddenly threw his head back violently. I called the valet, I stopped the postilion, I spoke to M. de Saint-Meran, I applied my smelling-salts; but all was over, and I arrived at Aix by the side of a corpse." Villefort stood with his mouth half open, quite stupefied.
"Of course you sent for a doctor?"
"Immediately; but, as I have told you, it was too late."
"Yes; but then he could tell of what complaint the poor marquis had died."
"Oh, yes, sir, he told me; it appears to have been an apoplectic stroke."
"And what did you do then?"
"M. de Saint-Meran had always expressed a desire, in case his death happened during his absence from Paris, that his body might be brought to the family vault. I had him put into a leaden coffin, and I am preceding him by a few days."
"Oh, my poor mother," said Villefort, "to have such duties to perform at your age after such a blow!"
"God has supported me through all; and then, my dear marquis, he would certainly have done everything for me that I performed for him. It is true that since I left him, I seem to have lost my senses. I cannot cry; at my age they say that we have no more tears,—still I think that when one is in trouble one should have the power of weeping. Where is Valentine, sir? It is on her account I am here; I wish to see Valentine." Villefort thought it would be terrible to reply that Valentine was at a ball; so he only said that she had gone out with her step-mother, and that she should be fetched. "This instant, sir—this instant, I beseech you!" said the old lady. Villefort placed the arm of Madame de Saint-Meran within his own, and conducted her to his apartment. "Rest yourself, mother," he said.
The marchioness raised her head at this word, and beholding the man who so forcibly reminded her of her deeply-regretted child, who still lived for her in Valentine, she felt touched at the name of mother, and bursting into tears, she fell on her knees before an arm-chair, where she buried her venerable head. Villefort left her to the care of the women, while old Barrois ran, half-scared, to his master; for nothing frightens old people so much as when death relaxes its vigilance over them for a moment in order to strike some other old person. Then, while Madame de Saint-Meran remained on her knees, praying fervently, Villefort sent for a cab, and went himself to fetch his wife and daughter from Madame de Morcerf's. He was so pale when he appeared at the door of the ball-room, that Valentine ran to him, saying—
"Oh, father, some misfortune has happened!"
"Your grandmamma has just arrived, Valentine," said M. de Villefort.
"And grandpapa?" inquired the young girl, trembling with apprehension. M. de Villefort only replied by offering his arm to his daughter. It was just in time, for Valentine's head swam, and she staggered; Madame de Villefort instantly hastened to her assistance, and aided her husband in dragging her to the carriage, saying—"What a singular event! Who could have thought it? Ah, yes, it is indeed strange!" And the wretched family departed, leaving a cloud of sadness hanging over the rest of the evening. At the foot of the stairs, Valentine found Barrois awaiting her.
"M. Noirtier wishes to see you to-night, he said, in an undertone.
"Tell him I will come when I leave my dear grandmamma," she replied, feeling, with true delicacy, that the person to whom she could be of the most service just then was Madame de Saint-Meran. Valentine found her grandmother in bed; silent caresses, heartwrung sobs, broken sighs, burning tears, were all that passed in this sad interview, while Madame de Villefort, leaning on her husband's arm, maintained all outward forms of respect, at least towards the poor widow. She soon whispered to her husband, "I think it would be better for me to retire, with your permission, for the sight of me appears still to afflict your mother-in-law." Madame de Saint-Meran heard her. "Yes, yes," she said softly to Valentine, "let her leave; but do you stay." Madame de Villefort left, and Valentine remained alone beside the bed, for the procureur, overcome with astonishment at the unexpected death, had followed his wife. Meanwhile, Barrois had returned for the first time to old Noirtier, who having heard the noise in the house, had, as we have said, sent his old servant to inquire the cause; on his return, his quick intelligent eye interrogated the messenger. "Alas, sir," exclaimed Barrois, "a great misfortune has happened. Madame de Saint-Meran has arrived, and her husband is dead!"
M. de Saint-Meran and Noirtier had never been on strict terms of friendship; still, the death of one old man always considerably affects another. Noirtier let his head fall upon his chest, apparently overwhelmed and thoughtful; then he closed one eye, in token of inquiry. "Mademoiselle Valentine?" Noirtier nodded his head. "She is at the ball, as you know, since she came to say good-by to you in full dress." Noirtier again closed his left eye. "Do you wish to see her?" Noirtier again made an affirmative sign. "Well, they have gone to fetch her, no doubt, from Madame de Morcerf's; I will await her return, and beg her to come up here. Is that what you wish for?"
"Yes," replied the invalid.
Barrois, therefore, as we have seen, watched for Valentine, and informed her of her grandfather's wish. Consequently, Valentine came up to Noirtier, on leaving Madame de Saint-Meran, who in the midst of her grief had at last yielded to fatigue and fallen into a feverish sleep. Within reach of her hand they placed a small table upon which stood a bottle of orangeade, her usual beverage, and a glass. Then, as we have said, the young girl left the bedside to see M. Noirtier. Valentine kissed the old man, who looked at her with such tenderness that her eyes again filled with tears, whose sources he thought must be exhausted. The old gentleman continued to dwell upon her with the same expression. "Yes, yes," said Valentine, "you mean that I have yet a kind grandfather left, do you not." The old man intimated that such was his meaning. "Ah, yes, happily I have," replied Valentine. "Without that, what would become of me?"
It was one o'clock in the morning. Barrois, who wished to go to bed himself, observed that after such sad events every one stood in need of rest. Noirtier would not say that the only rest he needed was to see his child, but wished her good-night, for grief and fatigue had made her appear quite ill. The next morning she found her grandmother in bed; the fever had not abated, on the contrary her eyes glistened and she appeared to be suffering from violent nervous irritability. "Oh, dear grandmamma, are you worse?" exclaimed Valentine, perceiving all these signs of agitation.
"No, my child, no," said Madame de Saint-Meran; "but I was impatiently waiting for your arrival, that I might send for your father."
"My father?" inquired Valentine, uneasily.
"Yes, I wish to speak to him." Valentine durst not oppose her grandmother's wish, the cause of which she did not know, and an instant afterwards Villefort entered. "Sir," said Madame de Saint-Meran, without using any circumlocution, and as if fearing she had no time to lose, "you wrote to me concerning the marriage of this child?"
"Yes, madame," replied Villefort, "it is not only projected but arranged."
"Your intended son-in-law is named M. Franz d'Epinay?"
"Is he not the son of General d'Epinay who was on our side, and who was assassinated some days before the usurper returned from the Island of Elba?"
"Does he not dislike the idea of marrying the granddaughter of a Jacobin?"
"Our civil dissensions are now happily extinguished, mother," said Villefort; "M. d'Epinay was quite a child when his father died, he knows very little of M. Noirtier, and will meet him, if not with pleasure, at least with indifference."
"Is it a suitable match?"
"In every respect."
"And the young man?"
"Is regarded with universal esteem."
"You approve of him?"
"He is one of the most well-bred young men I know." During the whole of this conversation Valentine had remained silent. "Well, sir," said Madame de Saint-Meran, after a few minutes' reflection, "I must hasten the marriage, for I have but a short time to live."
"You, madame?" "You, dear mamma?" exclaimed M. de Villefort and Valentine at the same time.
"I know what I am saying," continued the marchioness; "I must hurry you, so that, as she has no mother, she may at least have a grandmother to bless her marriage. I am all that is left to her belonging to my poor Renee, whom you have so soon forgotten, sir."
"Ah, madame," said Villefort, "you forget that I was obliged to give a mother to my child."
"A stepmother is never a mother, sir. But this is not to the purpose,—our business concerns Valentine, let us leave the dead in peace."
All this was said with such exceeding rapidity, that there was something in the conversation that seemed like the beginning of delirium.
"It shall be as you wish, madame," said Villefort; "more especially since your wishes coincide with mine, and as soon as M. d'Epinay arrives in Paris"—
"My dear grandmother," interrupted Valentine, "consider decorum—the recent death. You would not have me marry under such sad auspices?"
"My child," exclaimed the old lady sharply, "let us hear none of the conventional objections that deter weak minds from preparing for the future. I also was married at the death-bed of my mother, and certainly I have not been less happy on that account."
"Still that idea of death, madame," said Villefort.
"Still?—Always! I tell you I am going to die—do you understand? Well, before dying, I wish to see my son-in-law. I wish to tell him to make my child happy; I wish to read in his eyes whether he intends to obey me;—in fact, I will know him—I will!" continued the old lady, with a fearful expression, "that I may rise from the depths of my grave to find him, if he should not fulfil his duty!"
"Madame," said Villefort, "you must lay aside these exalted ideas, which almost assume the appearance of madness. The dead, once buried in their graves, rise no more."
"And I tell you, sir, that you are mistaken. This night I have had a fearful sleep. It seemed as though my soul were already hovering over my body, my eyes, which I tried to open, closed against my will, and what will appear impossible above all to you, sir, I saw, with my eyes shut, in the spot where you are now standing, issuing from that corner where there is a door leading into Madame Villefort's dressing-room—I saw, I tell you, silently enter, a white figure." Valentine screamed. "It was the fever that disturbed you, madame," said Villefort.
"Doubt, if you please, but I am sure of what I say. I saw a white figure, and as if to prevent my discrediting the testimony of only one of my senses, I heard my glass removed—the same which is there now on the table."
"Oh, dear mother, it was a dream."
"So little was it a dream, that I stretched my hand towards the bell; but when I did so, the shade disappeared; my maid then entered with a light."
"But she saw no one?"
"Phantoms are visible to those only who ought to see them. It was the soul of my husband!—Well, if my husband's soul can come to me, why should not my soul reappear to guard my granddaughter? the tie is even more direct, it seems to me."
"Oh, madame," said Villefort, deeply affected, in spite of himself, "do not yield to those gloomy thoughts; you will long live with us, happy, loved, and honored, and we will make you forget"—
"Never, never, never," said the marchioness. "When does M. d'Epinay return?"
"We expect him every moment."
"It is well. As soon as he arrives inform me. We must be expeditious. And then I also wish to see a notary, that I may be assured that all our property returns to Valentine."
"Ah, grandmamma," murmured Valentine, pressing her lips on the burning brow, "do you wish to kill me? Oh, how feverish you are; we must not send for a notary, but for a doctor."
"A doctor?" said she, shrugging her shoulders, "I am not ill; I am thirsty—that is all."
"What are you drinking, dear grandmamma?"
"The same as usual, my dear, my glass is there on the table—give it to me, Valentine." Valentine poured the orangeade into a glass and gave it to her grandmother with a certain degree of dread, for it was the same glass she fancied that had been touched by the spectre. The marchioness drained the glass at a single draught, and then turned on her pillow, repeating,—"The notary, the notary!"
M. de Villefort left the room, and Valentine seated herself at the bedside of her grandmother. The poor child appeared herself to require the doctor she had recommended to her aged relative. A bright spot burned in either cheek, her respiration was short and difficult, and her pulse beat with feverish excitement. She was thinking of the despair of Maximilian, when he should be informed that Madame de Saint-Meran, instead of being an ally, was unconsciously acting as his enemy. More than once she thought of revealing all to her grandmother, and she would not have hesitated a moment, if Maximilian Morrel had been named Albert de Morcerf or Raoul de Chateau-Renaud; but Morrel was of plebeian extraction, and Valentine knew how the haughty Marquise de Saint-Meran despised all who were not noble. Her secret had each time been repressed when she was about to reveal it, by the sad conviction that it would be useless to do so; for, were it once discovered by her father and mother, all would be lost. Two hours passed thus; Madame de Saint-Meran was in a feverish sleep, and the notary had arrived. Though his coming was announced in a very low tone, Madame de Saint-Meran arose from her pillow. "The notary!" she exclaimed, "let him come in."
The notary, who was at the door, immediately entered. "Go, Valentine," said Madame de Saint-Meran, "and leave me with this gentleman."
"Leave me—go!" The young girl kissed her grandmother, and left with her handkerchief to her eyes; at the door she found the valet de chambre, who told her that the doctor was waiting in the dining-room. Valentine instantly ran down. The doctor was a friend of the family, and at the same time one of the cleverest men of the day, and very fond of Valentine, whose birth he had witnessed. He had himself a daughter about her age, but whose life was one continued source of anxiety and fear to him from her mother having been consumptive.
"Oh," said Valentine, "we have been waiting for you with such impatience, dear M. d'Avrigny. But, first of all, how are Madeleine and Antoinette?" Madeleine was the daughter of M. d'Avrigny, and Antoinette his niece. M. d'Avrigny smiled sadly. "Antoinette is very well," he said, "and Madeleine tolerably so. But you sent for me, my dear child. It is not your father or Madame de Villefort who is ill. As for you, although we doctors cannot divest our patients of nerves, I fancy you have no further need of me than to recommend you not to allow your imagination to take too wide a field." Valentine colored. M. d'Avrigny carried the science of divination almost to a miraculous extent, for he was one of the physicians who always work upon the body through the mind. "No," she replied, "it is for my poor grandmother. You know the calamity that has happened to us, do you not?"
"I know nothing." said M. d'Avrigny.
"Alas," said Valentine, restraining her tears, "my grandfather is dead."
"M. de Saint-Meran?"
"From an apoplectic stroke."
"An apoplectic stroke?" repeated the doctor.
"Yes, and my poor grandmother fancies that her husband, whom she never left, has called her, and that she must go and join him. Oh, M. d'Avrigny, I beseech you, do something for her!"
"Where is she?"
"In her room with the notary."
"And M. Noirtier?"
"Just as he was, his mind perfectly clear, but the same incapability of moving or speaking."
"And the same love for you—eh, my dear child?"
"Yes," said Valentine, "he was very fond of me."
"Who does not love you?" Valentine smiled sadly. "What are your grandmother's symptoms?"
"An extreme nervous excitement and a strangely agitated sleep; she fancied this morning in her sleep that her soul was hovering above her body, which she at the same time watched. It must have been delirium; she fancies, too, that she saw a phantom enter her chamber and even heard the noise it made on touching her glass."
"It is singular," said the doctor; "I was not aware that Madame de Saint-Meran was subject to such hallucinations."
"It is the first time I ever saw her in this condition," said Valentine; "and this morning she frightened me so that I thought her mad; and my father, who you know is a strong-minded man, himself appeared deeply impressed."
"We will go and see," said the doctor; "what you tell me seems very strange." The notary here descended, and Valentine was informed that her grandmother was alone. "Go upstairs," she said to the doctor.
"Oh, I dare not—she forbade my sending for you; and, as you say, I am myself agitated, feverish and out of sorts. I will go and take a turn in the garden to recover myself." The doctor pressed Valentine's hand, and while he visited her grandmother, she descended the steps. We need not say which portion of the garden was her favorite walk. After remaining for a short time in the parterre surrounding the house, and gathering a rose to place in her waist or hair, she turned into the dark avenue which led to the bench; then from the bench she went to the gate. As usual, Valentine strolled for a short time among her flowers, but without gathering them. The mourning in her heart forbade her assuming this simple ornament, though she had not yet had time to put on the outward semblance of woe. She then turned towards the avenue. As she advanced she fancied she heard a voice speaking her name. She stopped astonished, then the voice reached her ear more distinctly, and she recognized it to be that of Maximilian.
Chapter 73. The Promise.
It was, indeed, Maximilian Morrel, who had passed a wretched existence since the previous day. With the instinct peculiar to lovers he had anticipated after the return of Madame de Saint-Meran and the death of the marquis, that something would occur at M. de Villefort's in connection with his attachment for Valentine. His presentiments were realized, as we shall see, and his uneasy forebodings had goaded him pale and trembling to the gate under the chestnut-trees. Valentine was ignorant of the cause of this sorrow and anxiety, and as it was not his accustomed hour for visiting her, she had gone to the spot simply by accident or perhaps through sympathy. Morrel called her, and she ran to the gate. "You here at this hour?" said she. "Yes, my poor girl," replied Morrel; "I come to bring and to hear bad tidings."
"This is, indeed, a house of mourning," said Valentine; "speak, Maximilian, although the cup of sorrow seems already full."
"Dear Valentine," said Morrel, endeavoring to conceal his own emotion, "listen, I entreat you; what I am about to say is very serious. When are you to be married?"
"I will tell you all," said Valentine; "from you I have nothing to conceal. This morning the subject was introduced, and my dear grandmother, on whom I depended as my only support, not only declared herself favorable to it, but is so anxious for it, that they only await the arrival of M. d'Epinay, and the following day the contract will be signed." A deep sigh escaped the young man, who gazed long and mournfully at her he loved. "Alas," replied he, "it is dreadful thus to hear my condemnation from your own lips. The sentence is passed, and, in a few hours, will be executed; it must be so, and I will not endeavor to prevent it. But, since you say nothing remains but for M. d'Epinay to arrive that the contract may be signed, and the following day you will be his, to-morrow you will be engaged to M. d'Epinay, for he came this morning to Paris." Valentine uttered a cry.
"I was at the house of Monte Cristo an hour since," said Morrel; "we were speaking, he of the sorrow your family had experienced, and I of your grief, when a carriage rolled into the court-yard. Never, till then, had I placed any confidence in presentiments, but now I cannot help believing them, Valentine. At the sound of that carriage I shuddered; soon I heard steps on the staircase, which terrified me as much as the footsteps of the commander did Don Juan. The door at last opened; Albert de Morcerf entered first, and I began to hope my fears were vain, when, after him, another young man advanced, and the count exclaimed—'Ah, here is the Baron Franz d'Epinay!' I summoned all my strength and courage to my support. Perhaps I turned pale and trembled, but certainly I smiled; and five minutes after I left, without having heard one word that had passed."
"Poor Maximilian!" murmured Valentine.
"Valentine, the time has arrived when you must answer me. And remember my life depends on your answer. What do you intend doing?" Valentine held down her head; she was overwhelmed.
"Listen," said Morrel; "it is not the first time you have contemplated our present position, which is a serious and urgent one; I do not think it is a moment to give way to useless sorrow; leave that for those who like to suffer at their leisure and indulge their grief in secret. There are such in the world, and God will doubtless reward them in heaven for their resignation on earth, but those who mean to contend must not lose one precious moment, but must return immediately the blow which fortune strikes. Do you intend to struggle against our ill-fortune? Tell me, Valentine for it is that I came to know."
Valentine trembled, and looked at him with amazement. The idea of resisting her father, her grandmother, and all the family, had never occurred to her. "What do you say, Maximilian?" asked Valentine. "What do you mean by a struggle? Oh, it would be a sacrilege. What? I resist my father's order, and my dying grandmother's wish? Impossible!" Morrel started. "You are too noble not to understand me, and you understand me so well that you already yield, dear Maximilian. No, no; I shall need all my strength to struggle with myself and support my grief in secret, as you say. But to grieve my father—to disturb my grandmother's last moments—never!"
"You are right," said Morrel, calmly.
"In what a tone you speak!" cried Valentine.
"I speak as one who admires you, mademoiselle."
"Mademoiselle," cried Valentine; "mademoiselle! Oh, selfish man,—he sees me in despair, and pretends he cannot understand me!"
"You mistake—I understand you perfectly. You will not oppose M. Villefort, you will not displease the marchioness, and to-morrow you will sign the contract which will bind you to your husband."
"But, mon Dieu, tell me, how can I do otherwise?"
"Do not appeal to me, mademoiselle; I shall be a bad judge in such a case; my selfishness will blind me," replied Morrel, whose low voice and clinched hands announced his growing desperation.
"What would you have proposed, Maximilian, had you found me willing to accede?"
"It is not for me to say."
"You are wrong; you must advise me what to do."
"Do you seriously ask my advice, Valentine?"
"Certainly, dear Maximilian, for if it is good, I will follow it; you know my devotion to you."
"Valentine," said Morrel pushing aside a loose plank, "give me your hand in token of forgiveness of my anger; my senses are confused, and during the last hour the most extravagant thoughts have passed through my brain. Oh, if you refuse my advice"—
"What do you advise?" said Valentine, raising her eyes to heaven and sighing. "I am free," replied Maximilian, "and rich enough to support you. I swear to make you my lawful wife before my lips even shall have approached your forehead."
"You make me tremble!" said the young girl.
"Follow me," said Morrel; "I will take you to my sister, who is worthy also to be yours. We will embark for Algiers, for England, for America, or, if you prefer it, retire to the country and only return to Paris when our friends have reconciled your family." Valentine shook her head. "I feared it, Maximilian," said she; "it is the counsel of a madman, and I should be more mad than you, did I not stop you at once with the word 'Impossible, impossible!'"
"You will then submit to what fate decrees for you without even attempting to contend with it?" said Morrel sorrowfully. "Yes,—if I die!"
"Well, Valentine," resumed Maximilian, "I can only say again that you are right. Truly, it is I who am mad, and you prove to me that passion blinds the most well-meaning. I appreciate your calm reasoning. It is then understood that to-morrow you will be irrevocably promised to M. Franz d'Epinay, not only by that theatrical formality invented to heighten the effect of a comedy called the signature of the contract, but your own will?"
"Again you drive me to despair, Maximilian," said Valentine, "again you plunge the dagger into the wound! What would you do, tell me, if your sister listened to such a proposition?"
"Mademoiselle," replied Morrel with a bitter smile, "I am selfish—you have already said so—and as a selfish man I think not of what others would do in my situation, but of what I intend doing myself. I think only that I have known you not a whole year. From the day I first saw you, all my hopes of happiness have been in securing your affection. One day you acknowledged that you loved me, and since that day my hope of future happiness has rested on obtaining you, for to gain you would be life to me. Now, I think no more; I say only that fortune has turned against me—I had thought to gain heaven, and now I have lost it. It is an every-day occurrence for a gambler to lose not only what he possesses but also what he has not." Morrel pronounced these words with perfect calmness; Valentine looked at him a moment with her large, scrutinizing eyes, endeavoring not to let Morrel discover the grief which struggled in her heart. "But, in a word, what are you going to do?" asked she.
"I am going to have the honor of taking my leave of you, mademoiselle, solemnly assuring you that I wish your life may be so calm, so happy, and so fully occupied, that there may be no place for me even in your memory."
"Oh!" murmured Valentine.
"Adieu, Valentine, adieu!" said Morrel, bowing.
"Where are you going?" cried the young girl, extending her hand through the opening, and seizing Maximilian by his coat, for she understood from her own agitated feelings that her lover's calmness could not be real; "where are you going?"
"I am going, that I may not bring fresh trouble into your family: and to set an example which every honest and devoted man, situated as I am, may follow."
"Before you leave me, tell me what you are going to do, Maximilian." The young man smiled sorrowfully. "Speak, speak!" said Valentine; "I entreat you."
"Has your resolution changed, Valentine?"
"It cannot change, unhappy man; you know it must not!" cried the young girl. "Then adieu, Valentine!" Valentine shook the gate with a strength of which she could not have been supposed to be possessed, as Morrel was going away, and passing both her hands through the opening, she clasped and wrung them. "I must know what you mean to do!" said she. "Where are you going?"
"Oh, fear not," said Maximilian, stopping at a short distance, "I do not intend to render another man responsible for the rigorous fate reserved for me. Another might threaten to seek M. Franz, to provoke him, and to fight with him; all that would be folly. What has M. Franz to do with it? He saw me this morning for the first time, and has already forgotten he has seen me. He did not even know I existed when it was arranged by your two families that you should be united. I have no enmity against M. Franz, and promise you the punishment shall not fall on him."
"On whom, then!—on me?"
"On you? Valentine! Oh, heaven forbid! Woman is sacred; the woman one loves is holy."
"On yourself, then, unhappy man; on yourself?"
"I am the only guilty person, am I not?" said Maximilian.
"Maximilian!" said Valentine, "Maximilian, come back, I entreat you!" He drew near with his sweet smile, and but for his paleness one might have thought him in his usual happy mood. "Listen, my dear, my adored Valentine," said he in his melodious and grave tone; "those who, like us, have never had a thought for which we need blush before the world, such may read each other's hearts. I never was romantic, and am no melancholy hero. I imitate neither Manfred nor Anthony; but without words, protestations, or vows, my life has entwined itself with yours; you leave me, and you are right in doing so,—I repeat it, you are right; but in losing you, I lose my life.
"The moment you leave me, Valentine, I am alone in the world. My sister is happily married; her husband is only my brother-in-law, that is, a man whom the ties of social life alone attach to me; no one then longer needs my useless life. This is what I shall do; I will wait until the very moment you are married, for I will not lose the shadow of one of those unexpected chances which are sometimes reserved for us, since M. Franz may, after all, die before that time, a thunderbolt may fall even on the altar as you approach it,—nothing appears impossible to one condemned to die, and miracles appear quite reasonable when his escape from death is concerned. I will, then, wait until the last moment, and when my misery is certain, irremediable, hopeless, I will write a confidential letter to my brother-in-law, another to the prefect of police, to acquaint them with my intention, and at the corner of some wood, on the brink of some abyss, on the bank of some river, I will put an end to my existence, as certainly as I am the son of the most honest man who ever lived in France."
Valentine trembled convulsively; she loosened her hold of the gate, her arms fell by her side, and two large tears rolled down her cheeks. The young man stood before her, sorrowful and resolute. "Oh, for pity's sake," said she, "you will live, will you not?"
"No, on my honor," said Maximilian; "but that will not affect you. You have done your duty, and your conscience will be at rest." Valentine fell on her knees, and pressed her almost bursting heart. "Maximilian," said she, "Maximilian, my friend, my brother on earth, my true husband in heaven, I entreat you, do as I do, live in suffering; perhaps we may one day be united."
"Adieu, Valentine," repeated Morrel.
"My God," said Valentine, raising both her hands to heaven with a sublime expression, "I have done my utmost to remain a submissive daughter; I have begged, entreated, implored; he has regarded neither my prayers, my entreaties, nor my tears. It is done," cried she, willing away her tears, and resuming her firmness, "I am resolved not to die of remorse, but rather of shame. Live, Maximilian, and I will be yours. Say when shall it be? Speak, command, I will obey." Morrel, who had already gone some few steps away, again returned, and pale with joy extended both hands towards Valentine through the opening. "Valentine," said he, "dear Valentine, you must not speak thus—rather let me die. Why should I obtain you by violence, if our love is mutual? Is it from mere humanity you bid me live? I would then rather die."
"Truly," murmured Valentine, "who on this earth cares for me, if he does not? Who has consoled me in my sorrow but he? On whom do my hopes rest? On whom does my bleeding heart repose? On him, on him, always on him! Yes, you are right, Maximilian, I will follow you. I will leave the paternal home, I will give up all. Oh, ungrateful girl that I am," cried Valentine, sobbing, "I will give up all, even my dear old grandfather, whom I had nearly forgotten."
"No," said Maximilian, "you shall not leave him. M. Noirtier has evinced, you say, a kind feeling towards me. Well, before you leave, tell him all; his consent would be your justification in God's sight. As soon as we are married, he shall come and live with us, instead of one child, he shall have two. You have told me how you talk to him and how he answers you; I shall very soon learn that language by signs, Valentine, and I promise you solemnly, that instead of despair, it is happiness that awaits us."
"Oh, see, Maximilian, see the power you have over me, you almost make me believe you; and yet, what you tell me is madness, for my father will curse me—he is inflexible—he will never pardon me. Now listen to me, Maximilian; if by artifice, by entreaty, by accident—in short, if by any means I can delay this marriage, will you wait?"
"Yes, I promise you, as faithfully as you have promised me that this horrible marriage shall not take place, and that if you are dragged before a magistrate or a priest, you will refuse."
"I promise you by all that is most sacred to me in the world, namely, by my mother."
"We will wait, then," said Morrel.
"Yes, we will wait," replied Valentine, who revived at these words; "there are so many things which may save unhappy beings such as we are."
"I rely on you, Valentine," said Morrel; "all you do will be well done; only if they disregard your prayers, if your father and Madame de Saint-Meran insist that M. d'Epinay should be called to-morrow to sign the contract"—
"Then you have my promise, Maximilian."
"Instead of signing"—
"I will go to you, and we will fly; but from this moment until then, let us not tempt providence, let us not see each other. It is a miracle, it is a providence that we have not been discovered. If we were surprised, if it were known that we met thus, we should have no further resource."
"You are right, Valentine; but how shall I ascertain?"
"From the notary, M. Deschamps."
"I know him."
"And for myself—I will write to you, depend on me. I dread this marriage, Maximilian, as much as you."
"Thank you, my adored Valentine, thank you; that is enough. When once I know the hour, I will hasten to this spot, you can easily get over this fence with my assistance, a carriage will await us at the gate, in which you will accompany me to my sister's; there living, retired or mingling in society, as you wish, we shall be enabled to use our power to resist oppression, and not suffer ourselves to be put to death like sheep, which only defend themselves by sighs."
"Yes," said Valentine, "I will now acknowledge you are right, Maximilian; and now are you satisfied with your betrothal?" said the young girl sorrowfully.
"My adored Valentine, words cannot express one half of my satisfaction." Valentine had approached, or rather, had placed her lips so near the fence, that they nearly touched those of Morrel, which were pressed against the other side of the cold and inexorable barrier. "Adieu, then, till we meet again," said Valentine, tearing herself away. "I shall hear from you?"
"Thanks, thanks, dear love, adieu!" The sound of a kiss was heard, and Valentine fled through the avenue. Morrel listened to catch the last sound of her dress brushing the branches, and of her footstep on the gravel, then raised his eyes with an ineffable smile of thankfulness to heaven for being permitted to be thus loved, and then also disappeared. The young man returned home and waited all the evening and all the next day without getting any message. It was only on the following day, at about ten o'clock in the morning, as he was starting to call on M. Deschamps, the notary, that he received from the postman a small billet, which he knew to be from Valentine, although he had not before seen her writing. It was to this effect:—
Tears, entreaties, prayers, have availed me nothing. Yesterday, for two hours, I was at the church of Saint-Phillippe du Roule, and for two hours I prayed most fervently. Heaven is as inflexible as man, and the signature of the contract is fixed for this evening at nine o'clock. I have but one promise and but one heart to give; that promise is pledged to you, that heart is also yours. This evening, then, at a quarter to nine at the gate.
Valentine de Villefort.
P.S.—My poor grandmother gets worse and worse; yesterday her fever amounted to delirium; to-day her delirium is almost madness. You will be very kind to me, will you not, Morrel, to make me forget my sorrow in leaving her thus? I think it is kept a secret from grandpapa Noirtier, that the contract is to be signed this evening.
Morrel went also to the notary, who confirmed the news that the contract was to be signed that evening. Then he went to call on Monte Cristo and heard still more. Franz had been to announce the ceremony, and Madame de Villefort had also written to beg the count to excuse her not inviting him; the death of M. de Saint-Meran and the dangerous illness of his widow would cast a gloom over the meeting which she would regret should be shared by the count whom she wished every happiness. The day before Franz had been presented to Madame de Saint-Meran, who had left her bed to receive him, but had been obliged to return to it immediately after. It is easy to suppose that Morrel's agitation would not escape the count's penetrating eye. Monte Cristo was more affectionate than ever,—indeed, his manner was so kind that several times Morrel was on the point of telling him all. But he recalled the promise he had made to Valentine, and kept his secret.
The young man read Valentine's letter twenty times in the course of the day. It was her first, and on what an occasion! Each time he read it he renewed his vow to make her happy. How great is the power of a woman who has made so courageous a resolution! What devotion does she deserve from him for whom she has sacrificed everything! How ought she really to be supremely loved! She becomes at once a queen and a wife, and it is impossible to thank and love her sufficiently. Morrel longed intensely for the moment when he should hear Valentine say, "Here I am, Maximilian; come and help me." He had arranged everything for her escape; two ladders were hidden in the clover-field; a cabriolet was ordered for Maximilian alone, without a servant, without lights; at the turning of the first street they would light the lamps, as it would be foolish to attract the notice of the police by too many precautions. Occasionally he shuddered; he thought of the moment when, from the top of that wall, he should protect the descent of his dear Valentine, pressing in his arms for the first time her of whom he had yet only kissed the delicate hand.
When the afternoon arrived and he felt that the hour was drawing near, he wished for solitude, his agitation was extreme; a simple question from a friend would have irritated him. He shut himself in his room, and tried to read, but his eye glanced over the page without understanding a word, and he threw away the book, and for the second time sat down to sketch his plan, the ladders and the fence. At length the hour drew near. Never did a man deeply in love allow the clocks to go on peacefully. Morrel tormented his so effectually that they struck eight at half-past six. He then said, "It is time to start; the signature was indeed fixed to take place at nine o'clock, but perhaps Valentine will not wait for that." Consequently, Morrel, having left the Rue Meslay at half-past eight by his timepiece, entered the clover-field while the clock of Saint-Phillippe du Roule was striking eight. The horse and cabriolet were concealed behind a small ruin, where Morrel had often waited.
The night gradually drew on, and the foliage in the garden assumed a deeper hue. Then Morrel came out from his hiding-place with a beating heart, and looked through the small opening in the gate; there was yet no one to be seen. The clock struck half-past eight, and still another half-hour was passed in waiting, while Morrel walked to and fro, and gazed more and more frequently through the opening. The garden became darker still, but in the darkness he looked in vain for the white dress, and in the silence he vainly listened for the sound of footsteps. The house, which was discernible through the trees, remained in darkness, and gave no indication that so important an event as the signature of a marriage-contract was going on. Morrel looked at his watch, which wanted a quarter to ten; but soon the same clock he had already heard strike two or three times rectified the error by striking half-past nine.
This was already half an hour past the time Valentine had fixed. It was a terrible moment for the young man. The slightest rustling of the foliage, the least whistling of the wind, attracted his attention, and drew the perspiration to his brow; then he tremblingly fixed his ladder, and, not to lose a moment, placed his foot on the first step. Amidst all these alternations of hope and fear, the clock struck ten. "It is impossible," said Maximilian, "that the signing of a contract should occupy so long a time without unexpected interruptions. I have weighed all the chances, calculated the time required for all the forms; something must have happened." And then he walked rapidly to and fro, and pressed his burning forehead against the fence. Had Valentine fainted? or had she been discovered and stopped in her flight? These were the only obstacles which appeared possible to the young man.
The idea that her strength had failed her in attempting to escape, and that she had fainted in one of the paths, was the one that most impressed itself upon his mind. "In that case," said he, "I should lose her, and by my own fault." He dwelt on this idea for a moment, then it appeared reality. He even thought he could perceive something on the ground at a distance; he ventured to call, and it seemed to him that the wind wafted back an almost inarticulate sigh. At last the half-hour struck. It was impossible to wait longer, his temples throbbed violently, his eyes were growing dim; he passed one leg over the wall, and in a moment leaped down on the other side. He was on Villefort's premises—had arrived there by scaling the wall. What might be the consequences? However, he had not ventured thus far to draw back. He followed a short distance close under the wall, then crossed a path, hid entered a clump of trees. In a moment he had passed through them, and could see the house distinctly. Then Morrel saw that he had been right in believing that the house was not illuminated. Instead of lights at every window, as is customary on days of ceremony, he saw only a gray mass, which was veiled also by a cloud, which at that moment obscured the moon's feeble light. A light moved rapidly from time to time past three windows of the second floor. These three windows were in Madame de Saint-Meran's room. Another remained motionless behind some red curtains which were in Madame de Villefort's bedroom. Morrel guessed all this. So many times, in order to follow Valentine in thought at every hour in the day, had he made her describe the whole house, that without having seen it he knew it all.
This darkness and silence alarmed Morrel still more than Valentine's absence had done. Almost mad with grief, and determined to venture everything in order to see Valentine once more, and be certain of the misfortune he feared, Morrel gained the edge of the clump of trees, and was going to pass as quickly as possible through the flower-garden, when the sound of a voice, still at some distance, but which was borne upon the wind, reached him.
At this sound, as he was already partially exposed to view, he stepped back and concealed himself completely, remaining perfectly motionless. He had formed his resolution. If it was Valentine alone, he would speak as she passed; if she was accompanied, and he could not speak, still he should see her, and know that she was safe; if they were strangers, he would listen to their conversation, and might understand something of this hitherto incomprehensible mystery. The moon had just then escaped from behind the cloud which had concealed it, and Morrel saw Villefort come out upon the steps, followed by a gentleman in black. They descended, and advanced towards the clump of trees, and Morrel soon recognized the other gentleman as Doctor d'Avrigny.
The young man, seeing them approach, drew back mechanically, until he found himself stopped by a sycamore-tree in the centre of the clump; there he was compelled to remain. Soon the two gentlemen stopped also.
"Ah, my dear doctor," said the procureur, "heaven declares itself against my house! What a dreadful death—what a blow! Seek not to console me; alas, nothing can alleviate so great a sorrow—the wound is too deep and too fresh! Dead, dead!" The cold sweat sprang to the young man's brow, and his teeth chattered. Who could be dead in that house, which Villefort himself had called accursed? "My dear M. de Villefort," replied the doctor, with a tone which redoubled the terror of the young man, "I have not led you here to console you; on the contrary"—
"What can you mean?" asked the procureur, alarmed.
"I mean that behind the misfortune which has just happened to you, there is another, perhaps, still greater."
"Can it be possible?" murmured Villefort, clasping his hands. "What are you going to tell me?"
"Are we quite alone, my friend?"
"Yes, quite; but why all these precautions?"
"Because I have a terrible secret to communicate to you," said the doctor. "Let us sit down."
Villefort fell, rather than seated himself. The doctor stood before him, with one hand placed on his shoulder. Morrel, horrified, supported his head with one hand, and with the other pressed his heart, lest its beatings should be heard. "Dead, dead!" repeated he within himself; and he felt as if he were also dying.
"Speak, doctor—I am listening," said Villefort; "strike—I am prepared for everything!"
"Madame de Saint-Meran was, doubtless, advancing in years, but she enjoyed excellent health." Morrel began again to breathe freely, which he had not done during the last ten minutes.
"Grief has consumed her," said Villefort—"yes, grief, doctor! After living forty years with the marquis"—
"It is not grief, my dear Villefort," said the doctor; "grief may kill, although it rarely does, and never in a day, never in an hour, never in ten minutes." Villefort answered nothing, he simply raised his head, which had been cast down before, and looked at the doctor with amazement.
"Were you present during the last struggle?" asked M. d'Avrigny.
"I was," replied the procureur; "you begged me not to leave."
"Did you notice the symptoms of the disease to which Madame de Saint-Meran has fallen a victim?"
"I did. Madame de Saint-Meran had three successive attacks, at intervals of some minutes, each one more serious than the former. When you arrived, Madame de Saint-Meran had already been panting for breath some minutes; she then had a fit, which I took to be simply a nervous attack, and it was only when I saw her raise herself in the bed, and her limbs and neck appear stiffened, that I became really alarmed. Then I understood from your countenance there was more to fear than I had thought. This crisis past, I endeavored to catch your eye, but could not. You held her hand—you were feeling her pulse—and the second fit came on before you had turned towards me. This was more terrible than the first; the same nervous movements were repeated, and the mouth contracted and turned purple."
"And at the third she expired."
"At the end of the first attack I discovered symptoms of tetanus; you confirmed my opinion."
"Yes, before others," replied the doctor; "but now we are alone"—
"What are you going to say? Oh, spare me!"
"That the symptoms of tetanus and poisoning by vegetable substances are the same." M. de Villefort started from his seat, then in a moment fell down again, silent and motionless. Morrel knew not if he were dreaming or awake. "Listen," said the doctor; "I know the full importance of the statement I have just made, and the disposition of the man to whom I have made it."
"Do you speak to me as a magistrate or as a friend?" asked Villefort.
"As a friend, and only as a friend, at this moment. The similarity in the symptoms of tetanus and poisoning by vegetable substances is so great, that were I obliged to affirm by oath what I have now stated, I should hesitate; I therefore repeat to you, I speak not to a magistrate, but to a friend. And to that friend I say. 'During the three-quarters of an hour that the struggle continued, I watched the convulsions and the death of Madame de Saint-Meran, and am thoroughly convinced that not only did her death proceed from poison, but I could also specify the poison.'"
"Can it be possible?"
"The symptoms are marked, do you see?—sleep broken by nervous spasms, excitation of the brain, torpor of the nerve centres. Madame de Saint-Meran succumbed to a powerful dose of brucine or of strychnine, which by some mistake, perhaps, has been given to her." Villefort seized the doctor's hand. "Oh, it is impossible," said he, "I must be dreaming! It is frightful to hear such things from such a man as you! Tell me, I entreat you, my dear doctor, that you may be deceived."
"Doubtless I may, but"—
"But I do not think so."
"Have pity on me doctor! So many dreadful things have happened to me lately that I am on the verge of madness."
"Has any one besides me seen Madame de Saint-Meran?"
"Has anything been sent for from a chemist's that I have not examined?"
"Had Madame de Saint-Meran any enemies?"
"Not to my knowledge."
"Would her death affect any one's interest?"
"It could not indeed, my daughter is her only heiress—Valentine alone. Oh, if such a thought could present itself, I would stab myself to punish my heart for having for one instant harbored it."
"Indeed, my dear friend," said M. d'Avrigny, "I would not accuse any one; I speak only of an accident, you understand,—of a mistake,—but whether accident or mistake, the fact is there; it is on my conscience and compels me to speak aloud to you. Make inquiry."
"Of whom?—how?—of what?"
"May not Barrois, the old servant, have made a mistake, and have given Madame de Saint-Meran a dose prepared for his master?"
"For my father?"
"But how could a dose prepared for M. Noirtier poison Madame de Saint-Meran?"
"Nothing is more simple. You know poisons become remedies in certain diseases, of which paralysis is one. For instance, having tried every other remedy to restore movement and speech to M. Noirtier, I resolved to try one last means, and for three months I have been giving him brucine; so that in the last dose I ordered for him there were six grains. This quantity, which is perfectly safe to administer to the paralyzed frame of M. Noirtier, which has become gradually accustomed to it, would be sufficient to kill another person."
"My dear doctor, there is no communication between M. Noirtier's apartment and that of Madame de Saint-Meran, and Barrois never entered my mother-in-law's room. In short, doctor although I know you to be the most conscientious man in the world, and although I place the utmost reliance in you, I want, notwithstanding my conviction, to believe this axiom, errare humanum est."
"Is there one of my brethren in whom you have equal confidence with myself?"
"Why do you ask me that?—what do you wish?"
"Send for him; I will tell him what I have seen, and we will consult together, and examine the body."
"And you will find traces of poison?"
"No, I did not say of poison, but we can prove what was the state of the body; we shall discover the cause of her sudden death, and we shall say, 'Dear Villefort, if this thing has been caused by negligence, watch over your servants; if from hatred, watch your enemies.'"
"What do you propose to me, d'Avrigny?" said Villefort in despair; "so soon as another is admitted into our secret, an inquest will become necessary; and an inquest in my house—impossible! Still," continued the procureur, looking at the doctor with uneasiness, "if you wish it—if you demand it, why then it shall be done. But, doctor, you see me already so grieved—how can I introduce into my house so much scandal, after so much sorrow? My wife and my daughter would die of it! And I, doctor—you know a man does not arrive at the post I occupy—one has not been king's attorney twenty-five years without having amassed a tolerable number of enemies; mine are numerous. Let this affair be talked of, it will be a triumph for them, which will make them rejoice, and cover me with shame. Pardon me, doctor, these worldly ideas; were you a priest I should not dare tell you that, but you are a man, and you know mankind. Doctor, pray recall your words; you have said nothing, have you?"
"My dear M. de Villefort," replied the doctor, "my first duty is to humanity. I would have saved Madame de Saint-Meran, if science could have done it; but she is dead and my duty regards the living. Let us bury this terrible secret in the deepest recesses of our hearts; I am willing, if any one should suspect this, that my silence on the subject should be imputed to my ignorance. Meanwhile, sir, watch always—watch carefully, for perhaps the evil may not stop here. And when you have found the culprit, if you find him, I will say to you, 'You are a magistrate, do as you will!'"
"I thank you, doctor," said Villefort with indescribable joy; "I never had a better friend than you." And, as if he feared Doctor d'Avrigny would recall his promise, he hurried him towards the house.
When they were gone, Morrel ventured out from under the trees, and the moon shone upon his face, which was so pale it might have been taken for that of a ghost. "I am manifestly protected in a most wonderful, but most terrible manner," said he; "but Valentine, poor girl, how will she bear so much sorrow?"
As he thought thus, he looked alternately at the window with red curtains and the three windows with white curtains. The light had almost disappeared from the former; doubtless Madame de Villefort had just put out her lamp, and the nightlamp alone reflected its dull light on the window. At the extremity of the building, on the contrary, he saw one of the three windows open. A wax-light placed on the mantle-piece threw some of its pale rays without, and a shadow was seen for one moment on the balcony. Morrel shuddered; he thought he heard a sob.
It cannot be wondered at that his mind, generally so courageous, but now disturbed by the two strongest human passions, love and fear, was weakened even to the indulgence of superstitious thoughts. Although it was impossible that Valentine should see him, hidden as he was, he thought he heard the shadow at the window call him; his disturbed mind told him so. This double error became an irresistible reality, and by one of the incomprehensible transports of youth, he bounded from his hiding-place, and with two strides, at the risk of being seen, at the risk of alarming Valentine, at the risk of being discovered by some exclamation which might escape the young girl, he crossed the flower-garden, which by the light of the moon resembled a large white lake, and having passed the rows of orange-trees which extended in front of the house, he reached the step, ran quickly up and pushed the door, which opened without offering any resistance. Valentine had not seen him. Her eyes, raised towards heaven, were watching a silvery cloud gliding over the azure, its form that of a shadow mounting towards heaven. Her poetic and excited mind pictured it as the soul of her grandmother.
Meanwhile, Morrel had traversed the anteroom and found the staircase, which, being carpeted, prevented his approach being heard, and he had regained that degree of confidence that the presence of M. de Villefort even would not have alarmed him. He was quite prepared for any such encounter. He would at once approach Valentine's father and acknowledge all, begging Villefort to pardon and sanction the love which united two fond and loving hearts. Morrel was mad. Happily he did not meet any one. Now, especially, did he find the description Valentine had given of the interior of the house useful to him; he arrived safely at the top of the staircase, and while he was feeling his way, a sob indicated the direction he was to take. He turned back, a door partly open enabled him to see his road, and to hear the voice of one in sorrow. He pushed the door open and entered. At the other end of the room, under a white sheet which covered it, lay the corpse, still more alarming to Morrel since the account he had so unexpectedly overheard. By its side, on her knees, and with her head buried in the cushion of an easy-chair, was Valentine, trembling and sobbing, her hands extended above her head, clasped and stiff. She had turned from the window, which remained open, and was praying in accents that would have affected the most unfeeling; her words were rapid, incoherent, unintelligible, for the burning weight of grief almost stopped her utterance. The moon shining through the open blinds made the lamp appear to burn paler, and cast a sepulchral hue over the whole scene. Morrel could not resist this; he was not exemplary for piety, he was not easily impressed, but Valentine suffering, weeping, wringing her hands before him, was more than he could bear in silence. He sighed, and whispered a name, and the head bathed in tears and pressed on the velvet cushion of the chair—a head like that of a Magdalen by Correggio—was raised and turned towards him. Valentine perceived him without betraying the least surprise. A heart overwhelmed with one great grief is insensible to minor emotions. Morrel held out his hand to her. Valentine, as her only apology for not having met him, pointed to the corpse under the sheet, and began to sob again. Neither dared for some time to speak in that room. They hesitated to break the silence which death seemed to impose; at length Valentine ventured.
"My friend," said she, "how came you here? Alas, I would say you are welcome, had not death opened the way for you into this house."
"Valentine," said Morrel with a trembling voice, "I had waited since half-past eight, and did not see you come; I became uneasy, leaped the wall, found my way through the garden, when voices conversing about the fatal event"—
"What voices?" asked Valentine. Morrel shuddered as he thought of the conversation of the doctor and M. de Villefort, and he thought he could see through the sheet the extended hands, the stiff neck, and the purple lips.
"Your servants," said he, "who were repeating the whole of the sorrowful story; from them I learned it all."
"But it was risking the failure of our plan to come up here, love."
"Forgive me," replied Morrel; "I will go away."
"No," said Valentine, "you might meet some one; stay."
"But if any one should come here"—
The young girl shook her head. "No one will come," said she; "do not fear, there is our safeguard," pointing to the bed.
"But what has become of M. d'Epinay?" replied Morrel.
"M. Franz arrived to sign the contract just as my dear grandmother was dying."
"Alas," said Morrel with a feeling of selfish joy; for he thought this death would cause the wedding to be postponed indefinitely. "But what redoubles my sorrow," continued the young girl, as if this feeling was to receive its immediate punishment, "is that the poor old lady, on her death-bed, requested that the marriage might take place as soon as possible; she also, thinking to protect me, was acting against me."
"Hark!" said Morrel. They both listened; steps were distinctly heard in the corridor and on the stairs.
"It is my father, who has just left his study."
"To accompany the doctor to the door," added Morrel.
"How do you know it is the doctor?" asked Valentine, astonished.
"I imagined it must be," said Morrel. Valentine looked at the young man; they heard the street door close, then M. de Villefort locked the garden door, and returned up-stairs. He stopped a moment in the anteroom, as if hesitating whether to turn to his own apartment or into Madame de Saint-Meran's; Morrel concealed himself behind a door; Valentine remained motionless, grief seeming to deprive her of all fear. M. de Villefort passed on to his own room. "Now," said Valentine, "you can neither go out by the front door nor by the garden." Morrel looked at her with astonishment. "There is but one way left you that is safe," said she; "it is through my grandfather's room." She rose, "Come," she added.—"Where?" asked Maximilian.
"To my grandfather's room."
"I in M. Noirtier's apartment?"
"Can you mean it, Valentine?"
"I have long wished it; he is my only remaining friend and we both need his help,—come."
"Be careful, Valentine," said Morrel, hesitating to comply with the young girl's wishes; "I now see my error—I acted like a madman in coming in here. Are you sure you are more reasonable?"
"Yes," said Valentine; "and I have but one scruple,—that of leaving my dear grandmother's remains, which I had undertaken to watch."
"Valentine," said Morrel, "death is in itself sacred."
"Yes," said Valentine; "besides, it will not be for long." She then crossed the corridor, and led the way down a narrow staircase to M. Noirtier's room; Morrel followed her on tiptoe; at the door they found the old servant. "Barrois," said Valentine, "shut the door, and let no one come in." She passed first. Noirtier, seated in his chair, and listening to every sound, was watching the door; he saw Valentine, and his eye brightened. There was something grave and solemn in the approach of the young girl which struck the old man, and immediately his bright eye began to interrogate. "Dear grandfather." said she hurriedly, "you know poor grandmamma died an hour since, and now I have no friend in the world but you." His expressive eyes evinced the greatest tenderness. "To you alone, then, may I confide my sorrows and my hopes?" The paralytic motioned "Yes." Valentine took Maximilian's hand. "Look attentively, then, at this gentleman." The old man fixed his scrutinizing gaze with slight astonishment on Morrel. "It is M. Maximilian Morrel," said she; "the son of that good merchant of Marseilles, whom you doubtless recollect."
"Yes," said the old man. "He brings an irreproachable name, which Maximilian is likely to render glorious, since at thirty years of age he is a captain, an officer of the Legion of Honor." The old man signified that he recollected him. "Well, grandpapa," said Valentine, kneeling before him, and pointing to Maximilian, "I love him, and will be only his; were I compelled to marry another, I would destroy myself."
The eyes of the paralytic expressed a multitude of tumultuous thoughts. "You like M. Maximilian Morrel, do you not, grandpapa?" asked Valentine.
"And you will protect us, who are your children, against the will of my father?"—Noirtier cast an intelligent glance at Morrel, as if to say, "perhaps I may." Maximilian understood him.
"Mademoiselle," said he, "you have a sacred duty to fulfil in your deceased grandmother's room, will you allow me the honor of a few minutes' conversation with M. Noirtier?"
"That is it," said the old man's eye. Then he looked anxiously at Valentine.
"Do you fear he will not understand?"
"Oh, we have so often spoken of you, that he knows exactly how I talk to you." Then turning to Maximilian, with an adorable smile; although shaded by sorrow,—"He knows everything I know," said she.
Valentine arose, placed a chair for Morrel, requested Barrois not to admit any one, and having tenderly embraced her grandfather, and sorrowfully taken leave of Morrel, she went away. To prove to Noirtier that he was in Valentine's confidence and knew all their secrets, Morrel took the dictionary, a pen, and some paper, and placed them all on a table where there was a light.
"But first," said Morrel, "allow me, sir, to tell you who I am, how much I love Mademoiselle Valentine, and what are my designs respecting her." Noirtier made a sign that he would listen.
It was an imposing sight to witness this old man, apparently a mere useless burden, becoming the sole protector, support, and adviser of the lovers who were both young, beautiful, and strong. His remarkably noble and austere expression struck Morrel, who began his story with trembling. He related the manner in which he had become acquainted with Valentine, and how he had loved her, and that Valentine, in her solitude and her misfortune, had accepted the offer of his devotion. He told him his birth, his position, his fortune, and more than once, when he consulted the look of the paralytic, that look answered, "That is good, proceed."
"And now," said Morrel, when he had finished the first part of his recital, "now I have told you of my love and my hopes, may I inform you of my intentions?"
"Yes," signified the old man.
"This was our resolution; a cabriolet was in waiting at the gate, in which I intended to carry off Valentine to my sister's house, to marry her, and to wait respectfully M. de Villefort's pardon."
"No," said Noirtier.
"We must not do so?"
"You do not sanction our project?"
"There is another way," said Morrel. The old man's interrogative eye said, "What?"
"I will go," continued Maximilian, "I will seek M. Franz d'Epinay—I am happy to be able to mention this in Mademoiselle de Villefort's absence—and will conduct myself toward him so as to compel him to challenge me." Noirtier's look continued to interrogate. "You wish to know what I will do?"
"I will find him, as I told you. I will tell him the ties which bind me to Mademoiselle Valentine; if he be a sensible man, he will prove it by renouncing of his own accord the hand of his betrothed, and will secure my friendship, and love until death; if he refuse, either through interest or ridiculous pride, after I have proved to him that he would be forcing my wife from me, that Valentine loves me, and will have no other, I will fight with him, give him every advantage, and I shall kill him, or he will kill me; if I am victorious, he will not marry Valentine, and if I die, I am very sure Valentine will not marry him." Noirtier watched, with indescribable pleasure, this noble and sincere countenance, on which every sentiment his tongue uttered was depicted, adding by the expression of his fine features all that coloring adds to a sound and faithful drawing. Still, when Morrel had finished, he shut his eyes several times, which was his manner of saying "No."
"No?" said Morrel; "you disapprove of this second project, as you did of the first?"
"I do," signified the old man.
"But what then must be done?" asked Morrel. "Madame de Saint-Meran's last request was, that the marriage might not be delayed; must I let things take their course?" Noirtier did not move. "I understand," said Morrel; "I am to wait."
"But delay may ruin our plan, sir," replied the young man. "Alone, Valentine has no power; she will be compelled to submit. I am here almost miraculously, and can scarcely hope for so good an opportunity to occur again. Believe me, there are only the two plans I have proposed to you; forgive my vanity, and tell me which you prefer. Do you authorize Mademoiselle Valentine to intrust herself to my honor?"
"Do you prefer I should seek M. d'Epinay?"
"Whence then will come the help we need—from chance?" resumed Morrel.
"You thoroughly understand me, sir? Pardon my eagerness, for my life depends on your answer. Will our help come from you?"
"You are sure of it?"
"Yes." There was so much firmness in the look which gave this answer, no one could, at any rate, doubt his will, if they did his power. "Oh, thank you a thousand times! But how, unless a miracle should restore your speech, your gesture, your movement, how can you, chained to that arm-chair, dumb and motionless, oppose this marriage?" A smile lit up the old man's face, a strange smile of the eyes in a paralyzed face. "Then I must wait?" asked the young man.
"But the contract?" The same smile returned. "Will you assure me it shall not be signed?"
"Yes," said Noirtier.
"The contract shall not be signed!" cried Morrel. "Oh, pardon me, sir; I can scarcely realize so great a happiness. Will they not sign it?"
"No," said the paralytic. Notwithstanding that assurance, Morrel still hesitated. This promise of an impotent old man was so strange that, instead of being the result of the power of his will, it might emanate from enfeebled organs. Is it not natural that the madman, ignorant of his folly, should attempt things beyond his power? The weak man talks of burdens he can raise, the timid of giants he can confront, the poor of treasures he spends, the most humble peasant, in the height of his pride, calls himself Jupiter. Whether Noirtier understood the young man's indecision, or whether he had not full confidence in his docility, he looked uneasily at him. "What do you wish, sir?" asked Morrel; "that I should renew my promise of remaining tranquil?" Noirtier's eye remained fixed and firm, as if to imply that a promise did not suffice; then it passed from his face to his hands.