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The Count of Monte Cristo

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Chapter 58. M. Noirtier de Villefort


We will now relate what was passing in the house of the king’s attorney after the departure of Madame Danglars and her daughter, and during the time of the conversation between Maximilian and Valentine, which we have just detailed.

M. de Villefort entered his father’s room, followed by Madame de Villefort. Both of the visitors, after saluting the old man and speaking to Barrois, a faithful servant, who had been twenty-five years in his service, took their places on either side of the paralytic.

M. Noirtier was sitting in an armchair, which moved upon casters, in which he was wheeled into the room in the morning, and in the same way drawn out again at night. He was placed before a large glass, which reflected the whole apartment, and so, without any attempt to move, which would have been impossible, he could see all who entered the room and everything which was going on around him. M. Noirtier, although almost as immovable as a corpse, looked at the new-comers with a quick and intelligent expression, perceiving at once, by their ceremonious courtesy, that they were come on business of an unexpected and official character.

Sight and hearing were the only senses remaining, and they, like two solitary sparks, remained to animate the miserable body which seemed fit for nothing but the grave; it was only, however, by means of one of these senses that he could reveal the thoughts and feelings that still occupied his mind, and the look by which he gave expression to his inner life was like the distant gleam of a candle which a traveller sees by night across some desert place, and knows that a living being dwells beyond the silence and obscurity.

Noirtier’s hair was long and white, and flowed over his shoulders; while in his eyes, shaded by thick black lashes, was concentrated, as it often happens with an organ which is used to the exclusion of the others, all the activity, address, force, and intelligence which were formerly diffused over his whole body; and so although the movement of the arm, the sound of the voice, and the agility of the body, were wanting, the speaking eye sufficed for all. He commanded with it; it was the medium through which his thanks were conveyed. In short, his whole appearance produced on the mind the impression of a corpse with living eyes, and nothing could be more startling than to observe the expression of anger or joy suddenly lighting up these organs, while the rest of the rigid and marble-like features were utterly deprived of the power of participation. Three persons only could understand this language of the poor paralytic; these were Villefort, Valentine, and the old servant of whom we have already spoken. But as Villefort saw his father but seldom, and then only when absolutely obliged, and as he never took any pains to please or gratify him when he was there, all the old man’s happiness was centred in his granddaughter. Valentine, by means of her love, her patience, and her devotion, had learned to read in Noirtier’s look all the varied feelings which were passing in his mind. To this dumb language, which was so unintelligible to others, she answered by throwing her whole soul into the expression of her countenance, and in this manner were the conversations sustained between the blooming girl and the helpless invalid, whose body could scarcely be called a living one, but who, nevertheless, possessed a fund of knowledge and penetration, united with a will as powerful as ever although clogged by a body rendered utterly incapable of obeying its impulses.

Valentine had solved the problem, and was able easily to understand his thoughts, and to convey her own in return, and, through her untiring and devoted assiduity, it was seldom that, in the ordinary transactions of every-day life, she failed to anticipate the wishes of the living, thinking mind, or the wants of the almost inanimate body.

As to the servant, he had, as we have said, been with his master for five-and-twenty years, therefore he knew all his habits, and it was seldom that Noirtier found it necessary to ask for anything, so prompt was he in administering to all the necessities of the invalid.

Villefort did not need the help of either Valentine or the domestic in order to carry on with his father the strange conversation which he was about to begin. As we have said, he perfectly understood the old man’s vocabulary, and if he did not use it more often, it was only indifference and ennui which prevented him from so doing. He therefore allowed Valentine to go into the garden, sent away Barrois, and after having seated himself at his father’s right hand, while Madame de Villefort placed herself on the left, he addressed him thus:

“I trust you will not be displeased, sir, that Valentine has not come with us, or that I dismissed Barrois, for our conference will be one which could not with propriety be carried on in the presence of either. Madame de Villefort and I have a communication to make to you.”

Noirtier’s face remained perfectly passive during this long preamble, while, on the contrary, Villefort’s eye was endeavoring to penetrate into the inmost recesses of the old man’s heart.

“This communication,” continued the procureur, in that cold and decisive tone which seemed at once to preclude all discussion, “will, we are sure, meet with your approbation.”

The eye of the invalid still retained that vacancy of expression which prevented his son from obtaining any knowledge of the feelings which were passing in his mind; he listened, nothing more.

“Sir,” resumed Villefort, “we are thinking of marrying Valentine.” Had the old man’s face been moulded in wax it could not have shown less emotion at this news than was now to be traced there. “The marriage will take place in less than three months,” said Villefort.

Noirtier’s eye still retained its inanimate expression.

Madame de Villefort now took her part in the conversation and added:

“We thought this news would possess an interest for you, sir, who have always entertained a great affection for Valentine; it therefore only now remains for us to tell you the name of the young man for whom she is destined. It is one of the most desirable connections which could possibly be formed; he possesses fortune, a high rank in society, and every personal qualification likely to render Valentine supremely happy,—his name, moreover, cannot be wholly unknown to you. It is M. Franz de Quesnel, Baron d’Épinay.”

While his wife was speaking, Villefort had narrowly watched the old man’s countenance. When Madame de Villefort pronounced the name of Franz, the pupil of M. Noirtier’s eye began to dilate, and his eyelids trembled with the same movement that may be perceived on the lips of an individual about to speak, and he darted a lightning glance at Madame de Villefort and his son. The procureur, who knew the political hatred which had formerly existed between M. Noirtier and the elder d’Épinay, well understood the agitation and anger which the announcement had produced; but, feigning not to perceive either, he immediately resumed the narrative begun by his wife.

“Sir,” said he, “you are aware that Valentine is about to enter her nineteenth year, which renders it important that she should lose no time in forming a suitable alliance. Nevertheless, you have not been forgotten in our plans, and we have fully ascertained beforehand that Valentine’s future husband will consent, not to live in this house, for that might not be pleasant for the young people, but that you should live with them; so that you and Valentine, who are so attached to each other, would not be separated, and you would be able to pursue exactly the same course of life which you have hitherto done, and thus, instead of losing, you will be a gainer by the change, as it will secure to you two children instead of one, to watch over and comfort you.”

Noirtier’s look was furious; it was very evident that something desperate was passing in the old man’s mind, for a cry of anger and grief rose in his throat, and not being able to find vent in utterance, appeared almost to choke him, for his face and lips turned quite purple with the struggle. Villefort quietly opened a window, saying, “It is very warm, and the heat affects M. Noirtier.” He then returned to his place, but did not sit down.

“This marriage,” added Madame de Villefort, “is quite agreeable to the wishes of M. d’Épinay and his family; besides, he had no relations nearer than an uncle and aunt, his mother having died at his birth, and his father having been assassinated in 1815, that is to say, when he was but two years old; it naturally followed that the child was permitted to choose his own pursuits, and he has, therefore, seldom acknowledged any other authority but that of his own will.”

“That assassination was a mysterious affair,” said Villefort, “and the perpetrators have hitherto escaped detection, although suspicion has fallen on the head of more than one person.”

Noirtier made such an effort that his lips expanded into a smile.

“Now,” continued Villefort, “those to whom the guilt really belongs, by whom the crime was committed, on whose heads the justice of man may probably descend here, and the certain judgment of God hereafter, would rejoice in the opportunity thus afforded of bestowing such a peace-offering as Valentine on the son of him whose life they so ruthlessly destroyed.” Noirtier had succeeded in mastering his emotion more than could have been deemed possible with such an enfeebled and shattered frame.

“Yes, I understand,” was the reply contained in his look; and this look expressed a feeling of strong indignation, mixed with profound contempt. Villefort fully understood his father’s meaning, and answered by a slight shrug of his shoulders. He then motioned to his wife to take leave.

“Now sir,” said Madame de Villefort, “I must bid you farewell. Would you like me to send Edward to you for a short time?”

It had been agreed that the old man should express his approbation by closing his eyes, his refusal by winking them several times, and if he had some desire or feeling to express, he raised them to heaven. If he wanted Valentine, he closed his right eye only, and if Barrois, the left. At Madame de Villefort’s proposition he instantly winked his eyes.

Provoked by a complete refusal, she bit her lip and said, “Then shall I send Valentine to you?” The old man closed his eyes eagerly, thereby intimating that such was his wish.

M. and Madame de Villefort bowed and left the room, giving orders that Valentine should be summoned to her grandfather’s presence, and feeling sure that she would have much to do to restore calmness to the perturbed spirit of the invalid. Valentine, with a color still heightened by emotion, entered the room just after her parents had quitted it. One look was sufficient to tell her that her grandfather was suffering, and that there was much on his mind which he was wishing to communicate to her.

“Dear grandpapa,” cried she, “what has happened? They have vexed you, and you are angry?”

The paralytic closed his eyes in token of assent.

“Who has displeased you? Is it my father?”

“No.”

“Madame de Villefort?”

“No.”

“Me?” The former sign was repeated.

“Are you displeased with me?” cried Valentine in astonishment. M. Noirtier again closed his eyes.

“And what have I done, dear grandpapa, that you should be angry with me?” cried Valentine.

There was no answer, and she continued:

“I have not seen you all day. Has anyone been speaking to you against me?”

“Yes,” said the old man’s look, with eagerness.

“Let me think a moment. I do assure you, grandpapa—Ah—M. and Madame de Villefort have just left this room, have they not?”

“Yes.”

“And it was they who told you something which made you angry? What was it then? May I go and ask them, that I may have the opportunity of making my peace with you?”

“No, no,” said Noirtier’s look.

“Ah, you frighten me. What can they have said?” and she again tried to think what it could be.

“Ah, I know,” said she, lowering her voice and going close to the old man. “They have been speaking of my marriage,—have they not?”

“Yes,” replied the angry look.

“I understand; you are displeased at the silence I have preserved on the subject. The reason of it was, that they had insisted on my keeping the matter a secret, and begged me not to tell you anything of it. They did not even acquaint me with their intentions, and I only discovered them by chance, that is why I have been so reserved with you, dear grandpapa. Pray forgive me.”

But there was no look calculated to reassure her; all it seemed to say was, “It is not only your reserve which afflicts me.”

“What is it, then?” asked the young girl. “Perhaps you think I shall abandon you, dear grandpapa, and that I shall forget you when I am married?”

“No.”

“They told you, then, that M. d’Épinay consented to our all living together?”

“Yes.”

“Then why are you still vexed and grieved?” The old man’s eyes beamed with an expression of gentle affection.

“Yes, I understand,” said Valentine; “it is because you love me.” The old man assented.

“And you are afraid I shall be unhappy?”

“Yes.”

“You do not like M. Franz?” The eyes repeated several times, “No, no, no.”

“Then you are vexed with the engagement?”

“Yes.”

“Well, listen,” said Valentine, throwing herself on her knees, and putting her arm round her grandfather’s neck, “I am vexed, too, for I do not love M. Franz d’Épinay.”

An expression of intense joy illumined the old man’s eyes.

“When I wished to retire into a convent, you remember how angry you were with me?” A tear trembled in the eye of the invalid. “Well,” continued Valentine, “the reason of my proposing it was that I might escape this hateful marriage, which drives me to despair.” Noirtier’s breathing came thick and short.

“Then the idea of this marriage really grieves you too? Ah, if you could but help me—if we could both together defeat their plan! But you are unable to oppose them,—you, whose mind is so quick, and whose will is so firm are nevertheless, as weak and unequal to the contest as I am myself. Alas, you, who would have been such a powerful protector to me in the days of your health and strength, can now only sympathize in my joys and sorrows, without being able to take any active part in them. However, this is much, and calls for gratitude and Heaven has not taken away all my blessings when it leaves me your sympathy and kindness.”

At these words there appeared in Noirtier’s eye an expression of such deep meaning that the young girl thought she could read these words there: “You are mistaken; I can still do much for you.”

“Do you think you can help me, dear grandpapa?” said Valentine.

“Yes.” Noirtier raised his eyes, it was the sign agreed on between him and Valentine when he wanted anything.

“What is it you want, dear grandpapa?” said Valentine, and she endeavored to recall to mind all the things which he would be likely to need; and as the ideas presented themselves to her mind, she repeated them aloud, then,—finding that all her efforts elicited nothing but a constant “No,”—she said, “Come, since this plan does not answer, I will have recourse to another.”

She then recited all the letters of the alphabet from A down to N. When she arrived at that letter the paralytic made her understand that she had spoken the initial letter of the thing he wanted.

“Ah,” said Valentine, “the thing you desire begins with the letter N; it is with N that we have to do, then. Well, let me see, what can you want that begins with N? Na—Ne—Ni—No——”

“Yes, yes, yes,” said the old man’s eye.

“Ah, it is No, then?”

“Yes.”

Valentine fetched a dictionary, which she placed on a desk before Noirtier; she opened it, and, seeing that the old man’s eye was thoroughly fixed on its pages, she ran her finger quickly up and down the columns. During the six years which had passed since Noirtier first fell into this sad state, Valentine’s powers of invention had been too often put to the test not to render her expert in devising expedients for gaining a knowledge of his wishes, and the constant practice had so perfected her in the art that she guessed the old man’s meaning as quickly as if he himself had been able to seek for what he wanted. At the word Notary, Noirtier made a sign to her to stop.

“Notary,” said she, “do you want a notary, dear grandpapa?” The old man again signified that it was a notary he desired.

“You would wish a notary to be sent for then?” said Valentine.

“Yes.”

“Shall my father be informed of your wish?”

“Yes.”

“Do you wish the notary to be sent for immediately?”

“Yes.”

“Then they shall go for him directly, dear grandpapa. Is that all you want?”

“Yes.” Valentine rang the bell, and ordered the servant to tell Monsieur or Madame de Villefort that they were requested to come to M. Noirtier’s room.

“Are you satisfied now?” inquired Valentine.

“Yes.”

“I am sure you are; it is not very difficult to discover that.” And the young girl smiled on her grandfather, as if he had been a child. M. de Villefort entered, followed by Barrois.

“What do you want me for, sir?” demanded he of the paralytic.

“Sir,” said Valentine, “my grandfather wishes for a notary.” At this strange and unexpected demand M. de Villefort and his father exchanged looks.

“Yes,” motioned the latter, with a firmness which seemed to declare that with the help of Valentine and his old servant, who both knew what his wishes were, he was quite prepared to maintain the contest.

“Do you wish for a notary?” asked Villefort.

“Yes.”

“What to do?”

Noirtier made no answer.

“What do you want with a notary?” again repeated Villefort. The invalid’s eye remained fixed, by which expression he intended to intimate that his resolution was unalterable.

“Is it to do us some ill turn? Do you think it is worth while?” said Villefort.

“Still,” said Barrois, with the freedom and fidelity of an old servant, “if M. Noirtier asks for a notary, I suppose he really wishes for a notary; therefore I shall go at once and fetch one.” Barrois acknowledged no master but Noirtier, and never allowed his desires in any way to be contradicted.

“Yes, I do want a notary,” motioned the old man, shutting his eyes with a look of defiance, which seemed to say, “and I should like to see the person who dares to refuse my request.”

“You shall have a notary, as you absolutely wish for one, sir,” said Villefort; “but I shall explain to him your state of health, and make excuses for you, for the scene cannot fail of being a most ridiculous one.”

“Never mind that,” said Barrois; “I shall go and fetch a notary, nevertheless.” And the old servant departed triumphantly on his mission.


Chapter 59. The Will


As soon as Barrois had left the room, Noirtier looked at Valentine with a malicious expression that said many things. The young girl perfectly understood the look, and so did Villefort, for his countenance became clouded, and he knitted his eyebrows angrily. He took a seat, and quietly awaited the arrival of the notary. Noirtier saw him seat himself with an appearance of perfect indifference, at the same time giving a side look at Valentine, which made her understand that she also was to remain in the room. Three-quarters of an hour after, Barrois returned, bringing the notary with him.

“Sir,” said Villefort, after the first salutations were over, “you were sent for by M. Noirtier, whom you see here. All his limbs have become completely paralysed, he has lost his voice also, and we ourselves find much trouble in endeavoring to catch some fragments of his meaning.”

Noirtier cast an appealing look on Valentine, which look was at once so earnest and imperative, that she answered immediately.

“Sir,” said she, “I perfectly understand my grandfather’s meaning at all times.”

“That is quite true,” said Barrois; “and that is what I told the gentleman as we walked along.”

“Permit me,” said the notary, turning first to Villefort and then to Valentine—“permit me to state that the case in question is just one of those in which a public officer like myself cannot proceed to act without thereby incurring a dangerous responsibility. The first thing necessary to render an act valid is, that the notary should be thoroughly convinced that he has faithfully interpreted the will and wishes of the person dictating the act. Now I cannot be sure of the approbation or disapprobation of a client who cannot speak, and as the object of his desire or his repugnance cannot be clearly proved to me, on account of his want of speech, my services here would be quite useless, and cannot be legally exercised.”

The notary then prepared to retire. An imperceptible smile of triumph was expressed on the lips of the procureur. Noirtier looked at Valentine with an expression so full of grief, that she arrested the departure of the notary.

“Sir,” said she, “the language which I speak with my grandfather may be easily learnt, and I can teach you in a few minutes, to understand it almost as well as I can myself. Will you tell me what you require, in order to set your conscience quite at ease on the subject?”

“In order to render an act valid, I must be certain of the approbation or disapprobation of my client. Illness of body would not affect the validity of the deed, but sanity of mind is absolutely requisite.”

“Well, sir, by the help of two signs, with which I will acquaint you presently, you may ascertain with perfect certainty that my grandfather is still in the full possession of all his mental faculties. M. Noirtier, being deprived of voice and motion, is accustomed to convey his meaning by closing his eyes when he wishes to signify ‘yes,’ and to wink when he means ‘no.’ You now know quite enough to enable you to converse with M. Noirtier;—try.”

Noirtier gave Valentine such a look of tenderness and gratitude that it was comprehended even by the notary himself.

“You have heard and understood what your granddaughter has been saying, sir, have you?” asked the notary. Noirtier closed his eyes.

“And you approve of what she said—that is to say, you declare that the signs which she mentioned are really those by means of which you are accustomed to convey your thoughts?”

“Yes.”

“It was you who sent for me?”

“Yes.”

“To make your will?”

“Yes.”

“And you do not wish me to go away without fulfilling your original intentions?” The old man winked violently.

“Well, sir,” said the young girl, “do you understand now, and is your conscience perfectly at rest on the subject?”

But before the notary could answer, Villefort had drawn him aside.

“Sir,” said he, “do you suppose for a moment that a man can sustain a physical shock, such as M. Noirtier has received, without any detriment to his mental faculties?”

“It is not exactly that, sir,” said the notary, “which makes me uneasy, but the difficulty will be in wording his thoughts and intentions, so as to be able to get his answers.”

“You must see that to be an utter impossibility,” said Villefort. Valentine and the old man heard this conversation, and Noirtier fixed his eye so earnestly on Valentine that she felt bound to answer to the look.

“Sir,” said she, “that need not make you uneasy, however difficult it may at first sight appear to be. I can discover and explain to you my grandfather’s thoughts, so as to put an end to all your doubts and fears on the subject. I have now been six years with M. Noirtier, and let him tell you if ever once, during that time, he has entertained a thought which he was unable to make me understand.”

“No,” signed the old man.

“Let us try what we can do, then,” said the notary. “You accept this young lady as your interpreter, M. Noirtier?”

“Yes.”

“Well, sir, what do you require of me, and what document is it that you wish to be drawn up?”

Valentine named all the letters of the alphabet until she came to W. At this letter the eloquent eye of Noirtier gave her notice that she was to stop.

“It is very evident that it is the letter W which M. Noirtier wants,” said the notary.

“Wait,” said Valentine; and, turning to her grandfather, she repeated, “Wa—We—Wi——” The old man stopped her at the last syllable. Valentine then took the dictionary, and the notary watched her while she turned over the pages.

She passed her finger slowly down the columns, and when she came to the word “Will,” M. Noirtier’s eye bade her stop.

“Will,” said the notary; “it is very evident that M. Noirtier is desirous of making his will.”

“Yes, yes, yes,” motioned the invalid.

“Really, sir, you must allow that this is most extraordinary,” said the astonished notary, turning to M. de Villefort.

“Yes,” said the procureur, “and I think the will promises to be yet more extraordinary, for I cannot see how it is to be drawn up without the intervention of Valentine, and she may, perhaps, be considered as too much interested in its contents to allow of her being a suitable interpreter of the obscure and ill-defined wishes of her grandfather.”

“No, no, no,” replied the eye of the paralytic.

“What?” said Villefort, “do you mean to say that Valentine is not interested in your will?”

“No.”

“Sir,” said the notary, whose interest had been greatly excited, and who had resolved on publishing far and wide the account of this extraordinary and picturesque scene, “what appeared so impossible to me an hour ago, has now become quite easy and practicable, and this may be a perfectly valid will, provided it be read in the presence of seven witnesses, approved by the testator, and sealed by the notary in the presence of the witnesses. As to the time, it will not require very much more than the generality of wills. There are certain forms necessary to be gone through, and which are always the same. As to the details, the greater part will be furnished afterwards by the state in which we find the affairs of the testator, and by yourself, who, having had the management of them, can doubtless give full information on the subject. But besides all this, in order that the instrument may not be contested, I am anxious to give it the greatest possible authenticity, therefore, one of my colleagues will help me, and, contrary to custom, will assist in the dictation of the testament. Are you satisfied, sir?” continued the notary, addressing the old man.

“Yes,” looked the invalid, his eye beaming with delight at the ready interpretation of his meaning.

“What is he going to do?” thought Villefort, whose position demanded much reserve, but who was longing to know what his father’s intentions were. He left the room to give orders for another notary to be sent, but Barrois, who had heard all that passed, had guessed his master’s wishes, and had already gone to fetch one. The procureur then told his wife to come up. In the course of a quarter of an hour everyone had assembled in the chamber of the paralytic; the second notary had also arrived.

A few words sufficed for a mutual understanding between the two officers of the law. They read to Noirtier the formal copy of a will, in order to give him an idea of the terms in which such documents are generally couched; then, in order to test the capacity of the testator, the first notary said, turning towards him:

“When an individual makes his will, it is generally in favor or in prejudice of some person.”

“Yes.”

“Have you an exact idea of the amount of your fortune?”

“Yes.”

“I will name to you several sums which will increase by gradation; you will stop me when I reach the one representing the amount of your own possessions?”

“Yes.”

There was a kind of solemnity in this interrogation. Never had the struggle between mind and matter been more apparent than now, and if it was not a sublime, it was, at least, a curious spectacle. They had formed a circle round the invalid; the second notary was sitting at a table, prepared for writing, and his colleague was standing before the testator in the act of interrogating him on the subject to which we have alluded.

“Your fortune exceeds 300,000 francs, does it not?” asked he. Noirtier made a sign that it did.

“Do you possess 400,000 francs?” inquired the notary. Noirtier’s eye remained immovable.

“500,000?” The same expression continued.

“600,000—700,000—800,000—900,000?”

Noirtier stopped him at the last-named sum.

“You are then in possession of 900,000 francs?” asked the notary.

“Yes.”

“In landed property?”

“No.”

“In stock?”

“Yes.”

“The stock is in your own hands?”

The look which M. Noirtier cast on Barrois showed that there was something wanting which he knew where to find. The old servant left the room, and presently returned, bringing with him a small casket.

“Do you permit us to open this casket?” asked the notary. Noirtier gave his assent.

They opened it, and found 900,000 francs in bank scrip. The first notary handed over each note, as he examined it, to his colleague.

The total amount was found to be as M. Noirtier had stated.

“It is all as he has said; it is very evident that the mind still retains its full force and vigor.” Then, turning towards the paralytic, he said, “You possess, then, 900,000 francs of capital, which, according to the manner in which you have invested it, ought to bring in an income of about 40,000 livres?”

“Yes.”

“To whom do you desire to leave this fortune?”

“Oh!” said Madame de Villefort, “there is not much doubt on that subject. M. Noirtier tenderly loves his granddaughter, Mademoiselle de Villefort; it is she who has nursed and tended him for six years, and has, by her devoted attention, fully secured the affection, I had almost said the gratitude, of her grandfather, and it is but just that she should reap the fruit of her devotion.”

The eye of Noirtier clearly showed by its expression that he was not deceived by the false assent given by Madame de Villefort’s words and manner to the motives which she supposed him to entertain.

“Is it, then, to Mademoiselle Valentine de Villefort that you leave these 900,000 francs?” demanded the notary, thinking he had only to insert this clause, but waiting first for the assent of Noirtier, which it was necessary should be given before all the witnesses of this singular scene.

Valentine, when her name was made the subject of discussion, had stepped back, to escape unpleasant observation; her eyes were cast down, and she was crying. The old man looked at her for an instant with an expression of the deepest tenderness, then, turning towards the notary, he significantly winked his eye in token of dissent.

“What,” said the notary, “do you not intend making Mademoiselle Valentine de Villefort your residuary legatee?”

“No.”

“You are not making any mistake, are you?” said the notary; “you really mean to declare that such is not your intention?”

“No,” repeated Noirtier; “No.”

Valentine raised her head, struck dumb with astonishment. It was not so much the conviction that she was disinherited that caused her grief, but her total inability to account for the feelings which had provoked her grandfather to such an act. But Noirtier looked at her with so much affectionate tenderness that she exclaimed:

“Oh, grandpapa, I see now that it is only your fortune of which you deprive me; you still leave me the love which I have always enjoyed.”

“Ah, yes, most assuredly,” said the eyes of the paralytic, for he closed them with an expression which Valentine could not mistake.

“Thank you, thank you,” murmured she. The old man’s declaration that Valentine was not the destined inheritor of his fortune had excited the hopes of Madame de Villefort; she gradually approached the invalid, and said:

“Then, doubtless, dear M. Noirtier, you intend leaving your fortune to your grandson, Edward de Villefort?”

The winking of the eyes which answered this speech was most decided and terrible, and expressed a feeling almost amounting to hatred.

“No?” said the notary; “then, perhaps, it is to your son, M. de Villefort?”

“No.” The two notaries looked at each other in mute astonishment and inquiry as to what were the real intentions of the testator. Villefort and his wife both grew red, one from shame, the other from anger.

“What have we all done, then, dear grandpapa?” said Valentine; “you no longer seem to love any of us?”

The old man’s eyes passed rapidly from Villefort and his wife, and rested on Valentine with a look of unutterable fondness.

“Well,” said she; “if you love me, grandpapa, try and bring that love to bear upon your actions at this present moment. You know me well enough to be quite sure that I have never thought of your fortune; besides, they say I am already rich in right of my mother—too rich, even. Explain yourself, then.”

Noirtier fixed his intelligent eyes on Valentine’s hand.

“My hand?” said she.

“Yes.”

“Her hand!” exclaimed everyone.

“Oh, gentlemen, you see it is all useless, and that my father’s mind is really impaired,” said Villefort.

“Ah,” cried Valentine suddenly, “I understand. It is my marriage you mean, is it not, dear grandpapa?”

“Yes, yes, yes,” signed the paralytic, casting on Valentine a look of joyful gratitude for having guessed his meaning.

“You are angry with us all on account of this marriage, are you not?”

“Yes?”

“Really, this is too absurd,” said Villefort.

“Excuse me, sir,” replied the notary; “on the contrary, the meaning of M. Noirtier is quite evident to me, and I can quite easily connect the train of ideas passing in his mind.”

“You do not wish me to marry M. Franz d’Épinay?” observed Valentine.

“I do not wish it,” said the eye of her grandfather.

“And you disinherit your granddaughter,” continued the notary, “because she has contracted an engagement contrary to your wishes?”

“Yes.”

“So that, but for this marriage, she would have been your heir?”

“Yes.”

There was a profound silence. The two notaries were holding a consultation as to the best means of proceeding with the affair. Valentine was looking at her grandfather with a smile of intense gratitude, and Villefort was biting his lips with vexation, while Madame de Villefort could not succeed in repressing an inward feeling of joy, which, in spite of herself, appeared in her whole countenance.

“But,” said Villefort, who was the first to break the silence, “I consider that I am the best judge of the propriety of the marriage in question. I am the only person possessing the right to dispose of my daughter’s hand. It is my wish that she should marry M. Franz d’Épinay—and she shall marry him.”

Valentine sank weeping into a chair.

“Sir,” said the notary, “how do you intend disposing of your fortune in case Mademoiselle de Villefort still determines on marrying M. Franz?” The old man gave no answer.

“You will, of course, dispose of it in some way or other?”

“Yes.”

“In favor of some member of your family?”

“No.”

“Do you intend devoting it to charitable purposes, then?” pursued the notary.

“Yes.”

“But,” said the notary, “you are aware that the law does not allow a son to be entirely deprived of his patrimony?”

“Yes.”

“You only intend, then, to dispose of that part of your fortune which the law allows you to subtract from the inheritance of your son?” Noirtier made no answer.

“Do you still wish to dispose of all?”

“Yes.”

“But they will contest the will after your death?”

“No.”

“My father knows me,” replied Villefort; “he is quite sure that his wishes will be held sacred by me; besides, he understands that in my position I cannot plead against the poor.” The eye of Noirtier beamed with triumph.

“What do you decide on, sir?” asked the notary of Villefort.

“Nothing, sir; it is a resolution which my father has taken and I know he never alters his mind. I am quite resigned. These 900,000 francs will go out of the family in order to enrich some hospital; but it is ridiculous thus to yield to the caprices of an old man, and I shall, therefore, act according to my conscience.”

Having said this, Villefort quitted the room with his wife, leaving his father at liberty to do as he pleased. The same day the will was made, the witnesses were brought, it was approved by the old man, sealed in the presence of all and given in charge to M. Deschamps, the family notary.


Chapter 60. The Telegraph


M. and Madame de Villefort found on their return that the Count of Monte Cristo, who had come to visit them in their absence, had been ushered into the drawing-room, and was still awaiting them there. Madame de Villefort, who had not yet sufficiently recovered from her late emotion to allow of her entertaining visitors so immediately, retired to her bedroom, while the procureur, who could better depend upon himself, proceeded at once to the salon.

Although M. de Villefort flattered himself that, to all outward view, he had completely masked the feelings which were passing in his mind, he did not know that the cloud was still lowering on his brow, so much so that the count, whose smile was radiant, immediately noticed his sombre and thoughtful air.

“Ma foi!” said Monte Cristo, after the first compliments were over, “what is the matter with you, M. de Villefort? Have I arrived at the moment when you were drawing up an indictment for a capital crime?”

Villefort tried to smile.

“No, count,” he replied, “I am the only victim in this case. It is I who lose my cause, and it is ill-luck, obstinacy, and folly which have caused it to be decided against me.”

“To what do you refer?” said Monte Cristo with well-feigned interest. “Have you really met with some great misfortune?”

“Oh, no, monsieur,” said Villefort with a bitter smile; “it is only a loss of money which I have sustained—nothing worth mentioning, I assure you.”

“True,” said Monte Cristo, “the loss of a sum of money becomes almost immaterial with a fortune such as you possess, and to one of your philosophic spirit.”

“It is not so much the loss of the money that vexes me,” said Villefort, “though, after all, 900,000 francs are worth regretting; but I am the more annoyed with this fate, chance, or whatever you please to call the power which has destroyed my hopes and my fortune, and may blast the prospects of my child also, as it is all occasioned by an old man relapsed into second childhood.”

“What do you say?” said the count; “900,000 francs? It is indeed a sum which might be regretted even by a philosopher. And who is the cause of all this annoyance?”

“My father, as I told you.”

“M. Noirtier? But I thought you told me he had become entirely paralyzed, and that all his faculties were completely destroyed?”

“Yes, his bodily faculties, for he can neither move nor speak, nevertheless he thinks, acts, and wills in the manner I have described. I left him about five minutes ago, and he is now occupied in dictating his will to two notaries.”

“But to do this he must have spoken?”

“He has done better than that—he has made himself understood.”

“How was such a thing possible?”

“By the help of his eyes, which are still full of life, and, as you perceive, possess the power of inflicting mortal injury.”

“My dear,” said Madame de Villefort, who had just entered the room, “perhaps you exaggerate the evil.”

“Good-morning, madame,” said the count, bowing.

Madame de Villefort acknowledged the salutation with one of her most gracious smiles.

“What is this that M. de Villefort has been telling me?” demanded Monte Cristo “and what incomprehensible misfortune——”

“Incomprehensible is the word!” interrupted the procureur, shrugging his shoulders. “It is an old man’s caprice!”

“And is there no means of making him revoke his decision?”

“Yes,” said Madame de Villefort; “and it is still entirely in the power of my husband to cause the will, which is now in prejudice of Valentine, to be altered in her favor.”

The count, who perceived that M. and Madame de Villefort were beginning to speak in parables, appeared to pay no attention to the conversation, and feigned to be busily engaged in watching Edward, who was mischievously pouring some ink into the bird’s water-glass.

“My dear,” said Villefort, in answer to his wife, “you know I have never been accustomed to play the patriarch in my family, nor have I ever considered that the fate of a universe was to be decided by my nod. Nevertheless, it is necessary that my will should be respected in my family, and that the folly of an old man and the caprice of a child should not be allowed to overturn a project which I have entertained for so many years. The Baron d’Épinay was my friend, as you know, and an alliance with his son is the most suitable thing that could possibly be arranged.”

“Do you think,” said Madame de Villefort, “that Valentine is in league with him? She has always been opposed to this marriage, and I should not be at all surprised if what we have just seen and heard is nothing but the execution of a plan concerted between them.”

“Madame,” said Villefort, “believe me, a fortune of 900,000 francs is not so easily renounced.”

“She could, nevertheless, make up her mind to renounce the world, sir, since it is only about a year ago that she herself proposed entering a convent.”

“Never mind,” replied Villefort; “I say that this marriage shall be consummated.”

“Notwithstanding your father’s wishes to the contrary?” said Madame de Villefort, selecting a new point of attack. “That is a serious thing.”

Monte Cristo, who pretended not to be listening, heard however, every word that was said.

“Madame,” replied Villefort “I can truly say that I have always entertained a high respect for my father, because, to the natural feeling of relationship was added the consciousness of his moral superiority. The name of father is sacred in two senses; he should be reverenced as the author of our being and as a master whom we ought to obey. But, under the present circumstances, I am justified in doubting the wisdom of an old man who, because he hated the father, vents his anger on the son. It would be ridiculous in me to regulate my conduct by such caprices. I shall still continue to preserve the same respect toward M. Noirtier; I will suffer, without complaint, the pecuniary deprivation to which he has subjected me; but I shall remain firm in my determination, and the world shall see which party has reason on his side. Consequently I shall marry my daughter to the Baron Franz d’Épinay, because I consider it would be a proper and eligible match for her to make, and, in short, because I choose to bestow my daughter’s hand on whomever I please.”

“What?” said the count, the approbation of whose eye Villefort had frequently solicited during this speech. “What? Do you say that M. Noirtier disinherits Mademoiselle de Villefort because she is going to marry M. le Baron Franz d’Épinay?”

“Yes, sir, that is the reason,” said Villefort, shrugging his shoulders.

“The apparent reason, at least,” said Madame de Villefort.

“The real reason, madame, I can assure you; I know my father.”

“But I want to know in what way M. d’Épinay can have displeased your father more than any other person?”

“I believe I know M. Franz d’Épinay,” said the count; “is he not the son of General de Quesnel, who was created Baron d’Épinay by Charles X.?”

“The same,” said Villefort.

“Well, but he is a charming young man, according to my ideas.”

“He is, which makes me believe that it is only an excuse of M. Noirtier to prevent his granddaughter marrying; old men are always so selfish in their affection,” said Madame de Villefort.

“But,” said Monte Cristo “do you not know any cause for this hatred?”

“Ah, ma foi! who is to know?”

“Perhaps it is some political difference?”

“My father and the Baron d’Épinay lived in the stormy times of which I only saw the ending,” said Villefort.

“Was not your father a Bonapartist?” asked Monte Cristo; “I think I remember that you told me something of that kind.”

“My father has been a Jacobin more than anything else,” said Villefort, carried by his emotion beyond the bounds of prudence; “and the senator’s robe, which Napoleon cast on his shoulders, only served to disguise the old man without in any degree changing him. When my father conspired, it was not for the emperor, it was against the Bourbons; for M. Noirtier possessed this peculiarity, he never projected any Utopian schemes which could never be realized, but strove for possibilities, and he applied to the realization of these possibilities the terrible theories of The Mountain,—theories that never shrank from any means that were deemed necessary to bring about the desired result.”

“Well,” said Monte Cristo, “it is just as I thought; it was politics which brought Noirtier and M. d’Épinay into personal contact. Although General d’Épinay served under Napoleon, did he not still retain royalist sentiments? And was he not the person who was assassinated one evening on leaving a Bonapartist meeting to which he had been invited on the supposition that he favored the cause of the emperor?”

Villefort looked at the count almost with terror.

“Am I mistaken, then?” said Monte Cristo.

“No, sir, the facts were precisely what you have stated,” said Madame de Villefort; “and it was to prevent the renewal of old feuds that M. de Villefort formed the idea of uniting in the bonds of affection the two children of these inveterate enemies.”

“It was a sublime and charitable thought,” said Monte Cristo, “and the whole world should applaud it. It would be noble to see Mademoiselle Noirtier de Villefort assuming the title of Madame Franz d’Épinay.”

Villefort shuddered and looked at Monte Cristo as if he wished to read in his countenance the real feelings which had dictated the words he had just uttered. But the count completely baffled the procureur, and prevented him from discovering anything beneath the never-varying smile he was so constantly in the habit of assuming.

“Although,” said Villefort, “it will be a serious thing for Valentine to lose her grandfather’s fortune, I do not think that M. d’Épinay will be frightened at this pecuniary loss. He will, perhaps, hold me in greater esteem than the money itself, seeing that I sacrifice everything in order to keep my word with him. Besides, he knows that Valentine is rich in right of her mother, and that she will, in all probability, inherit the fortune of M. and Madame de Saint-Méran, her mother’s parents, who both love her tenderly.”

“And who are fully as well worth loving and tending as M. Noirtier,” said Madame de Villefort; “besides, they are to come to Paris in about a month, and Valentine, after the affront she has received, need not consider it necessary to continue to bury herself alive by being shut up with M. Noirtier.”

The count listened with satisfaction to this tale of wounded self-love and defeated ambition.

“But it seems to me,” said Monte Cristo, “and I must begin by asking your pardon for what I am about to say, that if M. Noirtier disinherits Mademoiselle de Villefort because she is going to marry a man whose father he detested, he cannot have the same cause of complaint against this dear Edward.”

“True,” said Madame de Villefort, with an intonation of voice which it is impossible to describe; “is it not unjust—shamefully unjust? Poor Edward is as much M. Noirtier’s grandchild as Valentine, and yet, if she had not been going to marry M. Franz, M. Noirtier would have left her all his money; and supposing Valentine to be disinherited by her grandfather, she will still be three times richer than he.”

The count listened and said no more.

“Count,” said Villefort, “we will not entertain you any longer with our family misfortunes. It is true that my patrimony will go to endow charitable institutions, and my father will have deprived me of my lawful inheritance without any reason for doing so, but I shall have the satisfaction of knowing that I have acted like a man of sense and feeling. M. d’Épinay, to whom I had promised the interest of this sum, shall receive it, even if I endure the most cruel privations.”

“However,” said Madame de Villefort, returning to the one idea which incessantly occupied her mind, “perhaps it would be better to explain this unlucky affair to M. d’Épinay, in order to give him the opportunity of himself renouncing his claim to the hand of Mademoiselle de Villefort.”

“Ah, that would be a great pity,” said Villefort.

“A great pity,” said Monte Cristo.

“Undoubtedly,” said Villefort, moderating the tones of his voice, “a marriage once concerted and then broken off, throws a sort of discredit on a young lady; then again, the old reports, which I was so anxious to put an end to, will instantly gain ground. No, it will all go well; M. d’Épinay, if he is an honorable man, will consider himself more than ever pledged to Mademoiselle de Villefort, unless he were actuated by a decided feeling of avarice, but that is impossible.”

“I agree with M. de Villefort,” said Monte Cristo, fixing his eyes on Madame de Villefort; “and if I were sufficiently intimate with him to allow of giving my advice, I would persuade him, since I have been told M. d’Épinay is coming back, to settle this affair at once beyond all possibility of revocation. I will answer for the success of a project which will reflect so much honor on M. de Villefort.”

The procureur arose, delighted with the proposition, but his wife slightly changed color.

“Well, that is all that I wanted, and I will be guided by a counsellor such as you are,” said he, extending his hand to Monte Cristo. “Therefore let everyone here look upon what has passed today as if it had not happened, and as though we had never thought of such a thing as a change in our original plans.”

“Sir,” said the count, “the world, unjust as it is, will be pleased with your resolution; your friends will be proud of you, and M. d’Épinay, even if he took Mademoiselle de Villefort without any dowry, which he will not do, would be delighted with the idea of entering a family which could make such sacrifices in order to keep a promise and fulfil a duty.”

At the conclusion of these words, the count rose to depart.

“Are you going to leave us, count?” said Madame de Villefort.

“I am sorry to say I must do so, madame, I only came to remind you of your promise for Saturday.”

“Did you fear that we should forget it?”

“You are very good, madame, but M. de Villefort has so many important and urgent occupations.”

“My husband has given me his word, sir,” said Madame de Villefort; “you have just seen him resolve to keep it when he has everything to lose, and surely there is more reason for his doing so where he has everything to gain.”

“And,” said Villefort, “is it at your house in the Champs-Élysées that you receive your visitors?”

“No,” said Monte Cristo, “which is precisely the reason which renders your kindness more meritorious,—it is in the country.”

“In the country?”

“Yes.”

“Where is it, then? Near Paris, is it not?”

“Very near, only half a league from the Barriers,—it is at Auteuil.”

“At Auteuil?” said Villefort; “true, Madame de Villefort told me you lived at Auteuil, since it was to your house that she was taken. And in what part of Auteuil do you reside?”

“Rue de la Fontaine.”

“Rue de la Fontaine!” exclaimed Villefort in an agitated tone; “at what number?”

“No. 28.”

“Then,” cried Villefort, “was it you who bought M. de Saint-Méran’s house!”

“Did it belong to M. de Saint-Méran?” demanded Monte Cristo.

“Yes,” replied Madame de Villefort; “and, would you believe it, count——”

“Believe what?”

“You think this house pretty, do you not?”

“I think it charming.”

“Well, my husband would never live in it.”

“Indeed?” returned Monte Cristo, “that is a prejudice on your part, M. de Villefort, for which I am quite at a loss to account.”

“I do not like Auteuil, sir,” said the procureur, making an evident effort to appear calm.

“But I hope you will not carry your antipathy so far as to deprive me of the pleasure of your company, sir,” said Monte Cristo.

“No, count,—I hope—I assure you I shall do my best,” stammered Villefort.

“Oh,” said Monte Cristo, “I allow of no excuse. On Saturday, at six o’clock. I shall be expecting you, and if you fail to come, I shall think—for how do I know to the contrary?—that this house, which has remained uninhabited for twenty years, must have some gloomy tradition or dreadful legend connected with it.”

“I will come, count,—I will be sure to come,” said Villefort eagerly.

“Thank you,” said Monte Cristo; “now you must permit me to take my leave of you.”

“You said before that you were obliged to leave us, monsieur,” said Madame de Villefort, “and you were about to tell us why when your attention was called to some other subject.”

“Indeed madame,” said Monte Cristo: “I scarcely know if I dare tell you where I am going.”

“Nonsense; say on.”

“Well, then, it is to see a thing on which I have sometimes mused for hours together.”

“What is it?”

“A telegraph. So now I have told my secret.”

“A telegraph?” repeated Madame de Villefort.

“Yes, a telegraph. I had often seen one placed at the end of a road on a hillock, and in the light of the sun its black arms, bending in every direction, always reminded me of the claws of an immense beetle, and I assure you it was never without emotion that I gazed on it, for I could not help thinking how wonderful it was that these various signs should be made to cleave the air with such precision as to convey to the distance of three hundred leagues the ideas and wishes of a man sitting at a table at one end of the line to another man similarly placed at the opposite extremity, and all this effected by a simple act of volition on the part of the sender of the message. I began to think of genii, sylphs, gnomes, in short, of all the ministers of the occult sciences, until I laughed aloud at the freaks of my own imagination. Now, it never occurred to me to wish for a nearer inspection of these large insects, with their long black claws, for I always feared to find under their stone wings some little human genius fagged to death with cabals, factions, and government intrigues. But one fine day I learned that the mover of this telegraph was only a poor wretch, hired for twelve hundred francs a year, and employed all day, not in studying the heavens like an astronomer, or in gazing on the water like an angler, or even in enjoying the privilege of observing the country around him, but all his monotonous life was passed in watching his white-bellied, black-clawed fellow insect, four or five leagues distant from him. At length I felt a desire to study this living chrysalis more closely, and to endeavor to understand the secret part played by these insect-actors when they occupy themselves simply with pulling different pieces of string.”

“And are you going there?”

“I am.”

“What telegraph do you intend visiting? that of the home department, or of the observatory?”

“Oh, no; I should find there people who would force me to understand things of which I would prefer to remain ignorant, and who would try to explain to me, in spite of myself, a mystery which even they do not understand. Ma foi! I should wish to keep my illusions concerning insects unimpaired; it is quite enough to have those dissipated which I had formed of my fellow-creatures. I shall, therefore, not visit either of these telegraphs, but one in the open country where I shall find a good-natured simpleton, who knows no more than the machine he is employed to work.”

“You are a singular man,” said Villefort.

“What line would you advise me to study?”

“The one that is most in use just at this time.”

“The Spanish one, you mean, I suppose?”

“Yes; should you like a letter to the minister that they might explain to you——”

“No,” said Monte Cristo; “since, as I told you before, I do not wish to comprehend it. The moment I understand it there will no longer exist a telegraph for me; it will be nothing more than a sign from M. Duchâtel, or from M. Montalivet, transmitted to the prefect of Bayonne, mystified by two Greek words, têle, graphein. It is the insect with black claws, and the awful word which I wish to retain in my imagination in all its purity and all its importance.”

“Go then; for in the course of two hours it will be dark, and you will not be able to see anything.”

“Ma foi! you frighten me. Which is the nearest way? Bayonne?”

“Yes; the road to Bayonne.”

“And afterwards the road to Châtillon?”

“Yes.”

“By the tower of Montlhéry, you mean?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you. Good-bye. On Saturday I will tell you my impressions concerning the telegraph.”

At the door the count was met by the two notaries, who had just completed the act which was to disinherit Valentine, and who were leaving under the conviction of having done a thing which could not fail of redounding considerably to their credit.