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The Count of Monte Cristo

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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-Méran 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’Épinay, 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’Épinay to arrive that the contract may be signed, and the following day you will be his, tomorrow you will be engaged to M. d’Épinay, 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 courtyard. 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’Épinay!’ 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 tomorrow 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 clenched 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, Morrel, 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 tomorrow you will be irrevocably promised to M. Franz d’Épinay, 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, wiping 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-Méran insist that M. d’Épinay should be called tomorrow 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?”

“Yes.”

“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-Philippe-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.

“Your betrothed,

“Valentine de Villefort.”

“P.S.—My poor grandmother gets worse and worse; yesterday her fever amounted to delirium; today 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-Méran 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-Méran, 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-Philippe-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-Méran’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-Méran 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-Méran has fallen a victim?”

“I did. Madame de Saint-Méran had three successive attacks, at intervals of some minutes, each one more serious than the former. When you arrived, Madame de Saint-Méran 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-Méran, 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-Méran 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?”

“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 anyone besides me seen Madame de Saint-Méran?”

“No.”

“Has anything been sent for from a chemist’s that I have not examined?”

“Nothing.”

“Had Madame de Saint-Méran any enemies?”

“Not to my knowledge.”

“Would her death affect anyone’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 anyone; 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-Méran a dose prepared for his master?”

“For my father?”

“Yes.”

“But how could a dose prepared for M. Noirtier poison Madame de Saint-Méran?”

“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-Méran, 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-Méran, 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 anyone 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 anyone. 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 someone; stay.”

“But if anyone 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’Épinay?” 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 upstairs. He stopped a moment in the anteroom, as if hesitating whether to turn to his own apartment or into Madame de Saint-Méran’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?”

“Yes.”

“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.

[Illustration: Morrel and Noirtier]
“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.

“Yes.”

“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?”

“Yes.”

“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 anyone, 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?”

“No.”

“You do not sanction our project?”

“No.”

“There is another way,” said Morrel. The old man’s interrogative eye said, “Which?”

“I will go,” continued Maximilian, “I will seek M. Franz d’Épinay—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?”

“Yes.”

“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-Méran’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.”

“Yes.”

“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?”

“No.”

“Do you prefer I should seek M. d’Épinay?”

“No.”

“Whence then will come the help we need—from chance?” resumed Morrel.

“No.”

“From you?”

“Yes.”

“You thoroughly understand me, sir? Pardon my eagerness, for my life depends on your answer. Will our help come from you?”

“Yes.”

“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 armchair, 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.

“Yes.”

“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.

“Shall I swear to you, sir?” asked Maximilian.

“Yes,” said the paralytic with the same solemnity. Morrel understood that the old man attached great importance to an oath. He extended his hand.

“I swear to you, on my honor,” said he, “to await your decision respecting the course I am to pursue with M. d’Épinay.”

“That is right,” said the old man.

“Now,” said Morrel, “do you wish me to retire?”

“Yes.”

“Without seeing Mademoiselle Valentine?”

“Yes.”

Morrel made a sign that he was ready to obey. “But,” said he, “first allow me to embrace you as your daughter did just now.” Noirtier’s expression could not be understood. The young man pressed his lips on the same spot, on the old man’s forehead, where Valentine’s had been. Then he bowed a second time and retired.

He found outside the door the old servant, to whom Valentine had given directions. Morrel was conducted along a dark passage, which led to a little door opening on the garden, soon found the spot where he had entered, with the assistance of the shrubs gained the top of the wall, and by his ladder was in an instant in the clover-field where his cabriolet was still waiting for him. He got in it, and thoroughly wearied by so many emotions, arrived about midnight in the Rue Meslay, threw himself on his bed and slept soundly.


Chapter 74. The Villefort Family Vault


Two days after, a considerable crowd was assembled, towards ten o’clock in the morning, around the door of M. de Villefort’s house, and a long file of mourning-coaches and private carriages extended along the Faubourg Saint-Honoré and the Rue de la Pépinière. Among them was one of a very singular form, which appeared to have come from a distance. It was a kind of covered wagon, painted black, and was one of the first to arrive. Inquiry was made, and it was ascertained that, by a strange coincidence, this carriage contained the corpse of the Marquis de Saint-Méran, and that those who had come thinking to attend one funeral would follow two. Their number was great. The Marquis de Saint-Méran, one of the most zealous and faithful dignitaries of Louis XVIII. and King Charles X., had preserved a great number of friends, and these, added to the personages whom the usages of society gave Villefort a claim on, formed a considerable body.

Due information was given to the authorities, and permission obtained that the two funerals should take place at the same time. A second hearse, decked with the same funereal pomp, was brought to M. de Villefort’s door, and the coffin removed into it from the post-wagon. The two bodies were to be interred in the cemetery of Père-Lachaise, where M. de Villefort had long since had a tomb prepared for the reception of his family. The remains of poor Renée were already deposited there, and now, after ten years of separation, her father and mother were to be reunited with her.

The Parisians, always curious, always affected by funereal display, looked on with religious silence while the splendid procession accompanied to their last abode two of the number of the old aristocracy—the greatest protectors of commerce and sincere devotees to their principles.

In one of the mourning-coaches Beauchamp, Debray, and Château-Renaud were talking of the very sudden death of the marchioness.

“I saw Madame de Saint-Méran only last year at Marseilles, when I was coming back from Algiers,” said Château-Renaud; “she looked like a woman destined to live to be a hundred years old, from her apparent sound health and great activity of mind and body. How old was she?”

“Franz assured me,” replied Albert, “that she was sixty-six years old. But she has not died of old age, but of grief; it appears that since the death of the marquis, which affected her very deeply, she has not completely recovered her reason.”

“But of what disease, then, did she die?” asked Debray.

“It is said to have been a congestion of the brain, or apoplexy, which is the same thing, is it not?”

“Nearly.”

“It is difficult to believe that it was apoplexy,” said Beauchamp. “Madame de Saint-Méran, whom I once saw, was short, of slender form, and of a much more nervous than sanguine temperament; grief could hardly produce apoplexy in such a constitution as that of Madame de Saint-Méran.”

“At any rate,” said Albert, “whatever disease or doctor may have killed her, M. de Villefort, or rather, Mademoiselle Valentine,—or, still rather, our friend Franz, inherits a magnificent fortune, amounting, I believe, to 80,000 livres per annum.”

“And this fortune will be doubled at the death of the old Jacobin, Noirtier.”

“That is a tenacious old grandfather,” said Beauchamp. “Tenacem propositi virum. I think he must have made an agreement with death to outlive all his heirs, and he appears likely to succeed. He resembles the old Conventionalist of ’93, who said to Napoleon, in 1814, ‘You bend because your empire is a young stem, weakened by rapid growth. Take the Republic for a tutor; let us return with renewed strength to the battle-field, and I promise you 500,000 soldiers, another Marengo, and a second Austerlitz. Ideas do not become extinct, sire; they slumber sometimes, but only revive the stronger before they sleep entirely.’”

“Ideas and men appeared the same to him,” said Albert. “One thing only puzzles me, namely, how Franz d’Épinay will like a grandfather who cannot be separated from his wife. But where is Franz?”

“In the first carriage, with M. de Villefort, who considers him already as one of the family.”

Such was the conversation in almost all the carriages; these two sudden deaths, so quickly following each other, astonished everyone, but no one suspected the terrible secret which M. d’Avrigny had communicated, in his nocturnal walk to M. de Villefort. They arrived in about an hour at the cemetery; the weather was mild, but dull, and in harmony with the funeral ceremony. Among the groups which flocked towards the family vault, Château-Renaud recognized Morrel, who had come alone in a cabriolet, and walked silently along the path bordered with yew-trees.

“You here?” said Château-Renaud, passing his arms through the young captain’s; “are you a friend of Villefort’s? How is it that I have never met you at his house?”

“I am no acquaintance of M. de Villefort’s,” answered Morrel, “but I was of Madame de Saint-Méran.” Albert came up to them at this moment with Franz.

“The time and place are but ill-suited for an introduction.” said Albert; “but we are not superstitious. M. Morrel, allow me to present to you M. Franz d’Épinay, a delightful travelling companion, with whom I made the tour of Italy. My dear Franz, M. Maximilian Morrel, an excellent friend I have acquired in your absence, and whose name you will hear me mention every time I make any allusion to affection, wit, or amiability.”

Morrel hesitated for a moment; he feared it would be hypocritical to accost in a friendly manner the man whom he was tacitly opposing, but his oath and the gravity of the circumstances recurred to his memory; he struggled to conceal his emotion and bowed to Franz.

“Mademoiselle de Villefort is in deep sorrow, is she not?” said Debray to Franz.

“Extremely,” replied he; “she looked so pale this morning, I scarcely knew her.”

These apparently simple words pierced Morrel to the heart. This man had seen Valentine, and spoken to her! The young and high-spirited officer required all his strength of mind to resist breaking his oath. He took the arm of Château-Renaud, and turned towards the vault, where the attendants had already placed the two coffins.

“This is a magnificent habitation,” said Beauchamp, looking towards the mausoleum; “a summer and winter palace. You will, in turn, enter it, my dear d’Épinay, for you will soon be numbered as one of the family. I, as a philosopher, should like a little country-house, a cottage down there under the trees, without so many free-stones over my poor body. In dying, I will say to those around me what Voltaire wrote to Piron: ‘Eo rus, and all will be over.’ But come, Franz, take courage, your wife is an heiress.”

“Indeed, Beauchamp, you are unbearable. Politics has made you laugh at everything, and political men have made you disbelieve everything. But when you have the honor of associating with ordinary men, and the pleasure of leaving politics for a moment, try to find your affectionate heart, which you leave with your stick when you go to the Chamber.”

“But tell me,” said Beauchamp, “what is life? Is it not a halt in Death’s anteroom?”

“I am prejudiced against Beauchamp,” said Albert, drawing Franz away, and leaving the former to finish his philosophical dissertation with Debray.

The Villefort vault formed a square of white stones, about twenty feet high; an interior partition separated the two families, and each apartment had its entrance door. Here were not, as in other tombs, ignoble drawers, one above another, where thrift bestows its dead and labels them like specimens in a museum; all that was visible within the bronze gates was a gloomy-looking room, separated by a wall from the vault itself. The two doors before mentioned were in the middle of this wall, and enclosed the Villefort and Saint-Méran coffins. There grief might freely expend itself without being disturbed by the trifling loungers who came from a picnic party to visit Père-Lachaise, or by lovers who make it their rendezvous.

The two coffins were placed on trestles previously prepared for their reception in the right-hand crypt belonging to the Saint-Méran family. Villefort, Franz, and a few near relatives alone entered the sanctuary.

As the religious ceremonies had all been performed at the door, and there was no address given, the party all separated; Château-Renaud, Albert, and Morrel, went one way, and Debray and Beauchamp the other. Franz remained with M. de Villefort; at the gate of the cemetery Morrel made an excuse to wait; he saw Franz and M. de Villefort get into the same mourning-coach, and thought this meeting forboded evil. He then returned to Paris, and although in the same carriage with Château-Renaud and Albert, he did not hear one word of their conversation.

As Franz was about to take leave of M. de Villefort, “When shall I see you again?” said the latter.

“At what time you please, sir,” replied Franz.

“As soon as possible.”

“I am at your command, sir; shall we return together?”

“If not unpleasant to you.”

“On the contrary, I shall feel much pleasure.”

Thus, the future father and son-in-law stepped into the same carriage, and Morrel, seeing them pass, became uneasy. Villefort and Franz returned to the Faubourg Saint-Honoré. The procureur, without going to see either his wife or his daughter, went at once to his study, and, offering the young man a chair:

“M. d’Épinay,” said he, “allow me to remind you at this moment,—which is perhaps not so ill-chosen as at first sight may appear, for obedience to the wishes of the departed is the first offering which should be made at their tomb,—allow me then to remind you of the wish expressed by Madame de Saint-Méran on her death-bed, that Valentine’s wedding might not be deferred. You know the affairs of the deceased are in perfect order, and her will bequeaths to Valentine the entire property of the Saint-Méran family; the notary showed me the documents yesterday, which will enable us to draw up the contract immediately. You may call on the notary, M. Deschamps, Place Beauveau, Faubourg Saint-Honoré, and you have my authority to inspect those deeds.”

“Sir,” replied M. d’Épinay, “it is not, perhaps, the moment for Mademoiselle Valentine, who is in deep distress, to think of a husband; indeed, I fear——”

“Valentine will have no greater pleasure than that of fulfilling her grandmother’s last injunctions; there will be no obstacle from that quarter, I assure you.”

“In that case,” replied Franz, “as I shall raise none, you may make arrangements when you please; I have pledged my word, and shall feel pleasure and happiness in adhering to it.”

“Then,” said Villefort, “nothing further is required. The contract was to have been signed three days since; we shall find it all ready, and can sign it today.”

“But the mourning?” said Franz, hesitating.

“Don’t be uneasy on that score,” replied Villefort; “no ceremony will be neglected in my house. Mademoiselle de Villefort may retire during the prescribed three months to her estate of Saint-Méran; I say hers, for she inherits it today. There, after a few days, if you like, the civil marriage shall be celebrated without pomp or ceremony. Madame de Saint-Méran wished her daughter should be married there. When that is over, you, sir, can return to Paris, while your wife passes the time of her mourning with her mother-in-law.”

“As you please, sir,” said Franz.

“Then,” replied M. de Villefort, “have the kindness to wait half an hour; Valentine shall come down into the drawing-room. I will send for M. Deschamps; we will read and sign the contract before we separate, and this evening Madame de Villefort shall accompany Valentine to her estate, where we will rejoin them in a week.”

“Sir,” said Franz, “I have one request to make.”

“What is it?”

“I wish Albert de Morcerf and Raoul de Château-Renaud to be present at this signature; you know they are my witnesses.”

“Half an hour will suffice to apprise them; will you go for them yourself, or shall you send?”

“I prefer going, sir.”

“I shall expect you, then, in half an hour, baron, and Valentine will be ready.”

Franz bowed and left the room. Scarcely had the door closed, when M. de Villefort sent to tell Valentine to be ready in the drawing-room in half an hour, as he expected the notary and M. d’Épinay and his witnesses. The news caused a great sensation throughout the house; Madame de Villefort would not believe it, and Valentine was thunderstruck. She looked around for help, and would have gone down to her grandfather’s room, but on the stairs she met M. de Villefort, who took her arm and led her into the drawing-room. In the anteroom, Valentine met Barrois, and looked despairingly at the old servant. A moment later, Madame de Villefort entered the drawing-room with her little Edward. It was evident that she had shared the grief of the family, for she was pale and looked fatigued. She sat down, took Edward on her knees, and from time to time pressed this child, on whom her affections appeared centred, almost convulsively to her bosom.

Two carriages were soon heard to enter the courtyard. One was the notary’s; the other, that of Franz and his friends. In a moment the whole party was assembled. Valentine was so pale one might trace the blue veins from her temples, round her eyes and down her cheeks. Franz was deeply affected. Château-Renaud and Albert looked at each other with amazement; the ceremony which was just concluded had not appeared more sorrowful than did that which was about to begin. Madame de Villefort had placed herself in the shadow behind a velvet curtain, and as she constantly bent over her child, it was difficult to read the expression of her face. M. de Villefort was, as usual, unmoved.

The notary, after having, according to the customary method, arranged the papers on the table, taken his place in an armchair, and raised his spectacles, turned towards Franz:

“Are you M. Franz de Quesnel, baron d’Épinay?” asked he, although he knew it perfectly.

“Yes, sir,” replied Franz. The notary bowed.

“I have, then, to inform you, sir, at the request of M. de Villefort, that your projected marriage with Mademoiselle de Villefort has changed the feeling of M. Noirtier towards his grandchild, and that he disinherits her entirely of the fortune he would have left her. Let me hasten to add,” continued he, “that the testator, having only the right to alienate a part of his fortune, and having alienated it all, the will will not bear scrutiny, and is declared null and void.”

“Yes.” said Villefort; “but I warn M. d’Épinay, that during my life-time my father’s will shall never be questioned, my position forbidding any doubt to be entertained.”

“Sir,” said Franz, “I regret much that such a question has been raised in the presence of Mademoiselle Valentine; I have never inquired the amount of her fortune, which, however limited it may be, exceeds mine. My family has sought consideration in this alliance with M. de Villefort; all I seek is happiness.”

Valentine imperceptibly thanked him, while two silent tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Besides, sir,” said Villefort, addressing himself to his future son-in-law, “excepting the loss of a portion of your hopes, this unexpected will need not personally wound you; M. Noirtier’s weakness of mind sufficiently explains it. It is not because Mademoiselle Valentine is going to marry you that he is angry, but because she will marry, a union with any other would have caused him the same sorrow. Old age is selfish, sir, and Mademoiselle de Villefort has been a faithful companion to M. Noirtier, which she cannot be when she becomes the Baroness d’Épinay. My father’s melancholy state prevents our speaking to him on any subjects, which the weakness of his mind would incapacitate him from understanding, and I am perfectly convinced that at the present time, although, he knows that his granddaughter is going to be married, M. Noirtier has even forgotten the name of his intended grandson.” M. de Villefort had scarcely said this, when the door opened, and Barrois appeared.

“Gentlemen,” said he, in a tone strangely firm for a servant speaking to his masters under such solemn circumstances,—“gentlemen, M. Noirtier de Villefort wishes to speak immediately to M. Franz de Quesnel, baron d’Épinay.” He, as well as the notary, that there might be no mistake in the person, gave all his titles to the bridegroom elect.

Villefort started, Madame de Villefort let her son slip from her knees, Valentine rose, pale and dumb as a statue. Albert and Château-Renaud exchanged a second look, more full of amazement than the first. The notary looked at Villefort.

“It is impossible,” said the procureur. “M. d’Épinay cannot leave the drawing-room at present.”

“It is at this moment,” replied Barrois with the same firmness, “that M. Noirtier, my master, wishes to speak on important subjects to M. Franz d’Épinay.”

“Grandpapa Noirtier can speak now, then,” said Edward, with his habitual quickness. However, his remark did not make Madame de Villefort even smile, so much was every mind engaged, and so solemn was the situation.

“Tell M. Nortier,” resumed Villefort, “that what he demands is impossible.”

“Then, M. Nortier gives notice to these gentlemen,” replied Barrois, “that he will give orders to be carried to the drawing-room.”

Astonishment was at its height. Something like a smile was perceptible on Madame de Villefort’s countenance. Valentine instinctively raised her eyes, as if to thank heaven.

“Pray go, Valentine,” said; M. de Villefort, “and see what this new fancy of your grandfather’s is.” Valentine rose quickly, and was hastening joyfully towards the door, when M. de Villefort altered his intention.

“Stop,” said he; “I will go with you.”

“Excuse me, sir,” said Franz, “since M. Noirtier sent for me, I am ready to attend to his wish; besides, I shall be happy to pay my respects to him, not having yet had the honor of doing so.”

“Pray, sir,” said Villefort with marked uneasiness, “do not disturb yourself.”

“Forgive me, sir,” said Franz in a resolute tone. “I would not lose this opportunity of proving to M. Noirtier how wrong it would be of him to encourage feelings of dislike to me, which I am determined to conquer, whatever they may be, by my devotion.”

And without listening to Villefort he arose, and followed Valentine, who was running downstairs with the joy of a shipwrecked mariner who finds a rock to cling to. M. de Villefort followed them. Château-Renaud and Morcerf exchanged a third look of still increasing wonder.


Chapter 75. A Signed Statement


Noirtier was prepared to receive them, dressed in black, and installed in his armchair. When the three persons he expected had entered, he looked at the door, which his valet immediately closed.

“Listen,” whispered Villefort to Valentine, who could not conceal her joy; “if M. Noirtier wishes to communicate anything which would delay your marriage, I forbid you to understand him.”

Valentine blushed, but did not answer. Villefort, approached Noirtier.

“Here is M. Franz d’Épinay,” said he; “you requested to see him. We have all wished for this interview, and I trust it will convince you how ill-formed are your objections to Valentine’s marriage.”

Noirtier answered only by a look which made Villefort’s blood run cold. He motioned to Valentine to approach. In a moment, thanks to her habit of conversing with her grandfather, she understood that he asked for a key. Then his eye was fixed on the drawer of a small chest between the windows. She opened the drawer, and found a key; and, understanding that was what he wanted, again watched his eyes, which turned toward an old secretaire which had been neglected for many years and was supposed to contain nothing but useless documents.

“Shall I open the secretaire?” asked Valentine.

“Yes,” said the old man.

“And the drawers?”

“Yes.”

“Those at the side?”

“No.”

“The middle one?”

“Yes.”

Valentine opened it and drew out a bundle of papers. “Is that what you wish for?” asked she.

“No.”

She took successively all the other papers out till the drawer was empty. “But there are no more,” said she. Noirtier’s eye was fixed on the dictionary.

“Yes, I understand, grandfather,” said the young girl.

She pointed to each letter of the alphabet. At the letter S the old man stopped her. She opened, and found the word “secret.”

“Ah! is there a secret spring?” said Valentine.

“Yes,” said Noirtier.

“And who knows it?” Noirtier looked at the door where the servant had gone out.

“Barrois?” said she.

“Yes.”

“Shall I call him?”

“Yes.”

Valentine went to the door, and called Barrois. Villefort’s impatience during this scene made the perspiration roll from his forehead, and Franz was stupefied. The old servant came.

“Barrois,” said Valentine, “my grandfather has told me to open that drawer in the secretaire, but there is a secret spring in it, which you know—will you open it?”

Barrois looked at the old man. “Obey,” said Noirtier’s intelligent eye. Barrois touched a spring, the false bottom came out, and they saw a bundle of papers tied with a black string.

“Is that what you wish for?” said Barrois.

“Yes.”

“Shall I give these papers to M. de Villefort?”

“No.”

“To Mademoiselle Valentine?”

“No.”

“To M. Franz d’Épinay?”

“Yes.”

Franz, astonished, advanced a step. “To me, sir?” said he.

“Yes.”

Franz took them from Barrois and casting a glance at the cover, read:

“‘To be given, after my death, to General Durand, who shall bequeath the packet to his son, with an injunction to preserve it as containing an important document.’

“Well, sir,” asked Franz, “what do you wish me to do with this paper?”

“To preserve it, sealed up as it is, doubtless,” said the procureur.

“No,” replied Noirtier eagerly.

“Do you wish him to read it?” said Valentine.

“Yes,” replied the old man.

“You understand, baron, my grandfather wishes you to read this paper,” said Valentine.

“Then let us sit down,” said Villefort impatiently, “for it will take some time.”

“Sit down,” said the old man. Villefort took a chair, but Valentine remained standing by her father’s side, and Franz before him, holding the mysterious paper in his hand. “Read,” said the old man. Franz untied it, and in the midst of the most profound silence read:

“‘Extract of the report of a meeting of the Bonapartist Club in the Rue Saint-Jacques, held February 5th, 1815.’”

Franz stopped. “February 5th, 1815!” said he; “it is the day my father was murdered.” Valentine and Villefort were dumb; the eye of the old man alone seemed to say clearly, “Go on.”

“But it was on leaving this club,” said he, “my father disappeared.”

Noirtier’s eye continued to say, “Read.” He resumed:—

“‘The undersigned Louis-Jacques Beaurepaire, lieutenant-colonel of artillery, Étienne Duchampy, general of brigade, and Claude Lecharpal, keeper of woods and forests, declare, that on the 4th of February, a letter arrived from the Island of Elba, recommending to the kindness and the confidence of the Bonapartist Club, General Flavien de Quesnel, who having served the emperor from 1804 to 1814 was supposed to be devoted to the interests of the Napoleon dynasty, notwithstanding the title of baron which Louis XVIII. had just granted to him with his estate of Épinay.

“‘A note was in consequence addressed to General de Quesnel, begging him to be present at the meeting next day, the 5th. The note indicated neither the street nor the number of the house where the meeting was to be held; it bore no signature, but it announced to the general that someone would call for him if he would be ready at nine o’clock. The meetings were always held from that time till midnight. At nine o’clock the president of the club presented himself; the general was ready, the president informed him that one of the conditions of his introduction was that he should be eternally ignorant of the place of meeting, and that he would allow his eyes to be bandaged, swearing that he would not endeavor to take off the bandage. General de Quesnel accepted the condition, and promised on his honor not to seek to discover the road they took. The general’s carriage was ready, but the president told him it was impossible for him to use it, since it was useless to blindfold the master if the coachman knew through what streets he went. “What must be done then?” asked the general.—“I have my carriage here,” said the president.

“‘“Have you, then, so much confidence in your servant that you can intrust him with a secret you will not allow me to know?”

“‘“Our coachman is a member of the club,” said the president; “we shall be driven by a State-Councillor.”

“‘“Then we run another risk,” said the general, laughing, “that of being upset.” We insert this joke to prove that the general was not in the least compelled to attend the meeting, but that he came willingly. When they were seated in the carriage the president reminded the general of his promise to allow his eyes to be bandaged, to which he made no opposition. On the road the president thought he saw the general make an attempt to remove the handkerchief, and reminded him of his oath. “Sure enough,” said the general. The carriage stopped at an alley leading out of the Rue Saint-Jacques. The general alighted, leaning on the arm of the president, of whose dignity he was not aware, considering him simply as a member of the club; they went through the alley, mounted a flight of stairs, and entered the assembly-room.

“‘The deliberations had already begun. The members, apprised of the sort of presentation which was to be made that evening, were all in attendance. When in the middle of the room the general was invited to remove his bandage, he did so immediately, and was surprised to see so many well-known faces in a society of whose existence he had till then been ignorant. They questioned him as to his sentiments, but he contented himself with answering, that the letters from the Island of Elba ought to have informed them——’”

Franz interrupted himself by saying, “My father was a royalist; they need not have asked his sentiments, which were well known.”

“And hence,” said Villefort, “arose my affection for your father, my dear M. Franz. Opinions held in common are a ready bond of union.”

“Read again,” said the old man.

Franz continued:

“‘The president then sought to make him speak more explicitly, but M. de Quesnel replied that he wished first to know what they wanted with him. He was then informed of the contents of the letter from the Island of Elba, in which he was recommended to the club as a man who would be likely to advance the interests of their party. One paragraph spoke of the return of Bonaparte and promised another letter and further details, on the arrival of the Pharaon belonging to the shipbuilder Morrel, of Marseilles, whose captain was entirely devoted to the emperor. During all this time, the general, on whom they thought to have relied as on a brother, manifested evidently signs of discontent and repugnance. When the reading was finished, he remained silent, with knitted brows.

“‘“Well,” asked the president, “what do you say to this letter, general?”

“‘“I say that it is too soon after declaring myself for Louis XVIII. to break my vow in behalf of the ex-emperor.” This answer was too clear to permit of any mistake as to his sentiments. “General,” said the president, “we acknowledge no King Louis XVIII., or an ex-emperor, but his majesty the emperor and king, driven from France, which is his kingdom, by violence and treason.”

“‘“Excuse me, gentlemen,” said the general; “you may not acknowledge Louis XVIII., but I do, as he has made me a baron and a field-marshal, and I shall never forget that for these two titles I am indebted to his happy return to France.”

“‘“Sir,” said the president, rising with gravity, “be careful what you say; your words clearly show us that they are deceived concerning you in the Island of Elba, and have deceived us! The communication has been made to you in consequence of the confidence placed in you, and which does you honor. Now we discover our error; a title and promotion attach you to the government we wish to overturn. We will not constrain you to help us; we enroll no one against his conscience, but we will compel you to act generously, even if you are not disposed to do so.”

“‘“You would call acting generously, knowing your conspiracy and not informing against you, that is what I should call becoming your accomplice. You see I am more candid than you.”’”

“Ah, my father!” said Franz, interrupting himself. “I understand now why they murdered him.” Valentine could not help casting one glance towards the young man, whose filial enthusiasm it was delightful to behold. Villefort walked to and fro behind them. Noirtier watched the expression of each one, and preserved his dignified and commanding attitude. Franz returned to the manuscript, and continued:

“‘“Sir,” said the president, “you have been invited to join this assembly—you were not forced here; it was proposed to you to come blindfolded—you accepted. When you complied with this twofold request you well knew we did not wish to secure the throne of Louis XVIII., or we should not take so much care to avoid the vigilance of the police. It would be conceding too much to allow you to put on a mask to aid you in the discovery of our secret, and then to remove it that you may ruin those who have confided in you. No, no, you must first say if you declare yourself for the king of a day who now reigns, or for his majesty the emperor.”

“‘“I am a royalist,” replied the general; “I have taken the oath of allegiance to Louis XVIII., and I will adhere to it.” These words were followed by a general murmur, and it was evident that several of the members were discussing the propriety of making the general repent of his rashness.

“‘The president again arose, and having imposed silence, said,—“Sir, you are too serious and too sensible a man not to understand the consequences of our present situation, and your candor has already dictated to us the conditions which remain for us to offer you.” The general, putting his hand on his sword, exclaimed,—“If you talk of honor, do not begin by disavowing its laws, and impose nothing by violence.”

“‘“And you, sir,” continued the president, with a calmness still more terrible than the general’s anger, “I advise you not to touch your sword.” The general looked around him with slight uneasiness; however he did not yield, but calling up all his fortitude, said,—“I will not swear.”

“‘“Then you must die,” replied the president calmly. M. d’Épinay became very pale; he looked round him a second time, several members of the club were whispering, and getting their arms from under their cloaks. “General,” said the president, “do not alarm yourself; you are among men of honor who will use every means to convince you before resorting to the last extremity, but as you have said, you are among conspirators, you are in possession of our secret, and you must restore it to us.” A significant silence followed these words, and as the general did not reply,—“Close the doors,” said the president to the door-keeper.

“‘The same deadly silence succeeded these words. Then the general advanced, and making a violent effort to control his feelings,—“I have a son,” said he, “and I ought to think of him, finding myself among assassins.”

“‘“General,” said the chief of the assembly, “one man may insult fifty—it is the privilege of weakness. But he does wrong to use his privilege. Follow my advice, swear, and do not insult.” The general, again daunted by the superiority of the chief, hesitated a moment; then advancing to the president’s desk,—“What is the form, said he.

“‘“It is this:—‘I swear by my honor not to reveal to anyone what I have seen and heard on the 5th of February, 1815, between nine and ten o’clock in the evening; and I plead guilty of death should I ever violate this oath.’” The general appeared to be affected by a nervous tremor, which prevented his answering for some moments; then, overcoming his manifest repugnance, he pronounced the required oath, but in so low a tone as to be scarcely audible to the majority of the members, who insisted on his repeating it clearly and distinctly, which he did.

“‘“Now am I at liberty to retire?” said the general. The president rose, appointed three members to accompany him, and got into the carriage with the general after bandaging his eyes. One of those three members was the coachman who had driven them there. The other members silently dispersed. “Where do you wish to be taken?” asked the president.—“Anywhere out of your presence,” replied M. d’Épinay. “Beware, sir,” replied the president, “you are no longer in the assembly, and have only to do with individuals; do not insult them unless you wish to be held responsible.” But instead of listening, M. d’Épinay went on,—“You are still as brave in your carriage as in your assembly because you are still four against one.” The president stopped the coach. They were at that part of the Quai des Ormes where the steps lead down to the river. “Why do you stop here?” asked d’Épinay.

“‘“Because, sir,” said the president, “you have insulted a man, and that man will not go one step farther without demanding honorable reparation.”

“‘“Another method of assassination?” said the general, shrugging his shoulders.

“‘“Make no noise, sir, unless you wish me to consider you as one of the men of whom you spoke just now as cowards, who take their weakness for a shield. You are alone, one alone shall answer you; you have a sword by your side, I have one in my cane; you have no witness, one of these gentlemen will serve you. Now, if you please, remove your bandage.” The general tore the handkerchief from his eyes. “At last,” said he, “I shall know with whom I have to do.” They opened the door and the four men alighted.’”

Franz again interrupted himself, and wiped the cold drops from his brow; there was something awful in hearing the son read aloud in trembling pallor these details of his father’s death, which had hitherto been a mystery. Valentine clasped her hands as if in prayer. Noirtier looked at Villefort with an almost sublime expression of contempt and pride.

Franz continued:

“‘It was, as we said, the fifth of February. For three days the mercury had been five or six degrees below freezing and the steps were covered with ice. The general was stout and tall, the president offered him the side of the railing to assist him in getting down. The two witnesses followed. It was a dark night. The ground from the steps to the river was covered with snow and hoarfrost, the water of the river looked black and deep. One of the seconds went for a lantern in a coal-barge near, and by its light they examined the weapons. The president’s sword, which was simply, as he had said, one he carried in his cane, was five inches shorter than the general’s, and had no guard. The general proposed to cast lots for the swords, but the president said it was he who had given the provocation, and when he had given it he had supposed each would use his own arms. The witnesses endeavored to insist, but the president bade them be silent. The lantern was placed on the ground, the two adversaries took their stations, and the duel began. The light made the two swords appear like flashes of lightning; as for the men, they were scarcely perceptible, the darkness was so great.

“‘General d’Épinay passed for one of the best swordsmen in the army, but he was pressed so closely in the onset that he missed his aim and fell. The witnesses thought he was dead, but his adversary, who knew he had not struck him, offered him the assistance of his hand to rise. The circumstance irritated instead of calming the general, and he rushed on his adversary. But his opponent did not allow his guard to be broken. He received him on his sword and three times the general drew back on finding himself too closely engaged, and then returned to the charge. At the third he fell again. They thought he slipped, as at first, and the witnesses, seeing he did not move, approached and endeavored to raise him, but the one who passed his arm around the body found it was moistened with blood. The general, who had almost fainted, revived. “Ah,” said he, “they have sent some fencing-master to fight with me.” The president, without answering, approached the witness who held the lantern, and raising his sleeve, showed him two wounds he had received in his arm; then opening his coat, and unbuttoning his waistcoat, displayed his side, pierced with a third wound. Still he had not even uttered a sigh. General d’Épinay died five minutes after.’”

Franz read these last words in a voice so choked that they were hardly audible, and then stopped, passing his hand over his eyes as if to dispel a cloud; but after a moment’s silence, he continued:

“‘The president went up the steps, after pushing his sword into his cane; a track of blood on the snow marked his course. He had scarcely arrived at the top when he heard a heavy splash in the water—it was the general’s body, which the witnesses had just thrown into the river after ascertaining that he was dead. The general fell, then, in a loyal duel, and not in ambush as it might have been reported. In proof of this we have signed this paper to establish the truth of the facts, lest the moment should arrive when either of the actors in this terrible scene should be accused of premeditated murder or of infringement of the laws of honor.

“‘Signed, Beaurepaire, Duchampy, and Lecharpal.’”

When Franz had finished reading this account, so dreadful for a son; when Valentine, pale with emotion, had wiped away a tear; when Villefort, trembling, and crouched in a corner, had endeavored to lessen the storm by supplicating glances at the implacable old man,—

“Sir,” said d’Épinay to Noirtier, “since you are well acquainted with all these details, which are attested by honorable signatures,—since you appear to take some interest in me, although you have only manifested it hitherto by causing me sorrow, refuse me not one final satisfaction—tell me the name of the president of the club, that I may at least know who killed my father.”

Villefort mechanically felt for the handle of the door; Valentine, who understood sooner than anyone her grandfather’s answer, and who had often seen two scars upon his right arm, drew back a few steps.

“Mademoiselle,” said Franz, turning towards Valentine, “unite your efforts with mine to find out the name of the man who made me an orphan at two years of age.” Valentine remained dumb and motionless.

“Hold, sir,” said Villefort, “do not prolong this dreadful scene. The names have been purposely concealed; my father himself does not know who this president was, and if he knows, he cannot tell you; proper names are not in the dictionary.”

“Oh, misery,” cried Franz: “the only hope which sustained me and enabled me to read to the end was that of knowing, at least, the name of him who killed my father! Sir, sir,” cried he, turning to Noirtier, “do what you can—make me understand in some way!”

“Yes,” replied Noirtier.

“Oh, mademoiselle, mademoiselle!” cried Franz, “your grandfather says he can indicate the person. Help me,—lend me your assistance!”

Noirtier looked at the dictionary. Franz took it with a nervous trembling, and repeated the letters of the alphabet successively, until he came to M. At that letter the old man signified “Yes.”

“M,” repeated Franz. The young man’s finger, glided over the words, but at each one Noirtier answered by a negative sign. Valentine hid her head between her hands. At length, Franz arrived at the word MYSELF.

“Yes!”

“You!” cried Franz, whose hair stood on end; “you, M. Noirtier—you killed my father?”

“Yes!” replied Noirtier, fixing a majestic look on the young man. Franz fell powerless on a chair; Villefort opened the door and escaped, for the idea had entered his mind to stifle the little remaining life in the heart of this terrible old man.