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The Count of Monte Cristo

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Chapter 106. Dividing the Proceeds


The apartment on the first floor of the house in the Rue Saint-Germain-des-Prés, where Albert de Morcerf had selected a home for his mother, was let to a very mysterious person. This was a man whose face the concierge himself had never seen, for in the winter his chin was buried in one of the large red handkerchiefs worn by gentlemen’s coachmen on a cold night, and in the summer he made a point of always blowing his nose just as he approached the door. Contrary to custom, this gentleman had not been watched, for as the report ran that he was a person of high rank, and one who would allow no impertinent interference, his incognito was strictly respected.

His visits were tolerably regular, though occasionally he appeared a little before or after his time, but generally, both in summer and winter, he took possession of his apartment about four o’clock, though he never spent the night there. At half-past three in the winter the fire was lighted by the discreet servant, who had the superintendence of the little apartment, and in the summer ices were placed on the table at the same hour. At four o’clock, as we have already stated, the mysterious personage arrived.

Twenty minutes afterwards a carriage stopped at the house, a lady alighted in a black or dark blue dress, and always thickly veiled; she passed like a shadow through the lodge, and ran upstairs without a sound escaping under the touch of her light foot. No one ever asked her where she was going. Her face, therefore, like that of the gentleman, was perfectly unknown to the two concierges, who were perhaps unequalled throughout the capital for discretion. We need not say she stopped at the first floor. Then she tapped in a peculiar manner at a door, which after being opened to admit her was again fastened, and curiosity penetrated no farther. They used the same precautions in leaving as in entering the house. The lady always left first, and as soon as she had stepped into her carriage, it drove away, sometimes towards the right hand, sometimes to the left; then about twenty minutes afterwards the gentleman would also leave, buried in his cravat or concealed by his handkerchief.

The day after Monte Cristo had called upon Danglars, the mysterious lodger entered at ten o’clock in the morning instead of four in the afternoon. Almost directly afterwards, without the usual interval of time, a cab arrived, and the veiled lady ran hastily upstairs. The door opened, but before it could be closed, the lady exclaimed:

“Oh, Lucien—oh, my friend!”

The concierge therefore heard for the first time that the lodger’s name was Lucien; still, as he was the very perfection of a door-keeper, he made up his mind not to tell his wife.

“Well, what is the matter, my dear?” asked the gentleman whose name the lady’s agitation revealed; “tell me what is the matter.”

“Oh, Lucien, can I confide in you?”

“Of course, you know you can do so. But what can be the matter? Your note of this morning has completely bewildered me. This precipitation—this unusual appointment. Come, ease me of my anxiety, or else frighten me at once.”

“Lucien, a great event has happened!” said the lady, glancing inquiringly at Lucien,—“M. Danglars left last night!”

“Left?—M. Danglars left? Where has he gone?”

“I do not know.”

“What do you mean? Has he gone intending not to return?”

“Undoubtedly;—at ten o’clock at night his horses took him to the barrier of Charenton; there a post-chaise was waiting for him—he entered it with his valet de chambre, saying that he was going to Fontainebleau.”

“Then what did you mean——”

“Stay—he left a letter for me.”

“A letter?”

“Yes; read it.”

And the baroness took from her pocket a letter which she gave to Debray. Debray paused a moment before reading, as if trying to guess its contents, or perhaps while making up his mind how to act, whatever it might contain. No doubt his ideas were arranged in a few minutes, for he began reading the letter which caused so much uneasiness in the heart of the baroness, and which ran as follows:

“‘Madame and most faithful wife.’”

Debray mechanically stopped and looked at the baroness, whose face became covered with blushes.

“Read,” she said.

Debray continued:

“‘When you receive this, you will no longer have a husband. Oh, you need not be alarmed, you will only have lost him as you have lost your daughter; I mean that I shall be travelling on one of the thirty or forty roads leading out of France. I owe you some explanations for my conduct, and as you are a woman that can perfectly understand me, I will give them. Listen, then. I received this morning five millions which I paid away; almost directly afterwards another demand for the same sum was presented to me; I put this creditor off till tomorrow and I intend leaving today, to escape that tomorrow, which would be rather too unpleasant for me to endure. You understand this, do you not, my most precious wife? I say you understand this, because you are as conversant with my affairs as I am; indeed, I think you understand them better, since I am ignorant of what has become of a considerable portion of my fortune, once very tolerable, while I am sure, madame, that you know perfectly well. For women have infallible instincts; they can even explain the marvellous by an algebraic calculation they have invented; but I, who only understand my own figures, know nothing more than that one day these figures deceived me. Have you admired the rapidity of my fall? Have you been slightly dazzled at the sudden fusion of my ingots? I confess I have seen nothing but the fire; let us hope you have found some gold among the ashes. With this consoling idea, I leave you, madame, and most prudent wife, without any conscientious reproach for abandoning you; you have friends left, and the ashes I have already mentioned, and above all the liberty I hasten to restore to you. And here, madame, I must add another word of explanation. So long as I hoped you were working for the good of our house and for the fortune of our daughter, I philosophically closed my eyes; but as you have transformed that house into a vast ruin I will not be the foundation of another man’s fortune. You were rich when I married you, but little respected. Excuse me for speaking so very candidly, but as this is intended only for ourselves, I do not see why I should weigh my words. I have augmented our fortune, and it has continued to increase during the last fifteen years, till extraordinary and unexpected catastrophes have suddenly overturned it,—without any fault of mine, I can honestly declare. You, madame, have only sought to increase your own, and I am convinced that you have succeeded. I leave you, therefore, as I took you,—rich, but little respected. Adieu! I also intend from this time to work on my own account. Accept my acknowledgments for the example you have set me, and which I intend following.

“‘Your very devoted husband,

“‘Baron Danglars.’”

The baroness had watched Debray while he read this long and painful letter, and saw him, notwithstanding his self-control, change color once or twice. When he had ended the perusal, he folded the letter and resumed his pensive attitude.

“Well?” asked Madame Danglars, with an anxiety easy to be understood.

“Well, madame?” unhesitatingly repeated Debray.

“With what ideas does that letter inspire you?”

“Oh, it is simple enough, madame; it inspires me with the idea that M. Danglars has left suspiciously.”

“Certainly; but is this all you have to say to me?”

“I do not understand you,” said Debray with freezing coldness.

“He is gone! Gone, never to return!”

“Oh, madame, do not think that!”

“I tell you he will never return. I know his character; he is inflexible in any resolutions formed for his own interests. If he could have made any use of me, he would have taken me with him; he leaves me in Paris, as our separation will conduce to his benefit;—therefore he has gone, and I am free forever,” added Madame Danglars, in the same supplicating tone.

Debray, instead of answering, allowed her to remain in an attitude of nervous inquiry.

“Well?” she said at length, “do you not answer me?”

“I have but one question to ask you,—what do you intend to do?”

“I was going to ask you,” replied the baroness with a beating heart.

“Ah, then, you wish to ask advice of me?”

“Yes; I do wish to ask your advice,” said Madame Danglars with anxious expectation.

“Then if you wish to take my advice,” said the young man coldly, “I would recommend you to travel.”

“To travel!” she murmured.

“Certainly; as M. Danglars says, you are rich, and perfectly free. In my opinion, a withdrawal from Paris is absolutely necessary after the double catastrophe of Mademoiselle Danglars’ broken contract and M. Danglars’ disappearance. The world will think you abandoned and poor, for the wife of a bankrupt would never be forgiven, were she to keep up an appearance of opulence. You have only to remain in Paris for about a fortnight, telling the world you are abandoned, and relating the details of this desertion to your best friends, who will soon spread the report. Then you can quit your house, leaving your jewels and giving up your jointure, and everyone’s mouth will be filled with praises of your disinterestedness. They will know you are deserted, and think you also poor, for I alone know your real financial position, and am quite ready to give up my accounts as an honest partner.”

The dread with which the pale and motionless baroness listened to this, was equalled by the calm indifference with which Debray had spoken.

“Deserted?” she repeated; “ah, yes, I am, indeed, deserted! You are right, sir, and no one can doubt my position.”

These were the only words that this proud and violently enamoured woman could utter in response to Debray.

“But then you are rich,—very rich, indeed,” continued Debray, taking out some papers from his pocket-book, which he spread upon the table. Madame Danglars did not see them; she was engaged in stilling the beatings of her heart, and restraining the tears which were ready to gush forth. At length a sense of dignity prevailed, and if she did not entirely master her agitation, she at least succeeded in preventing the fall of a single tear.

“Madame,” said Debray, “it is nearly six months since we have been associated. You furnished a principal of 100,000 francs. Our partnership began in the month of April. In May we commenced operations, and in the course of the month gained 450,000 francs. In June the profit amounted to 900,000. In July we added 1,700,000 francs,—it was, you know, the month of the Spanish bonds. In August we lost 300,000 francs at the beginning of the month, but on the 13th we made up for it, and we now find that our accounts, reckoning from the first day of partnership up to yesterday, when I closed them, showed a capital of 2,400,000 francs, that is, 1,200,000 for each of us. Now, madame,” said Debray, delivering up his accounts in the methodical manner of a stockbroker, “there are still 80,000 francs, the interest of this money, in my hands.”

“But,” said the baroness, “I thought you never put the money out to interest.”

“Excuse me, madame,” said Debray coldly, “I had your permission to do so, and I have made use of it. There are, then, 40,000 francs for your share, besides the 100,000 you furnished me to begin with, making in all 1,340,000 francs for your portion. Now, madame, I took the precaution of drawing out your money the day before yesterday; it is not long ago, you see, and I was in continual expectation of being called on to deliver up my accounts. There is your money,—half in bank-notes, the other half in checks payable to bearer. I say there, for as I did not consider my house safe enough, or lawyers sufficiently discreet, and as landed property carries evidence with it, and moreover since you have no right to possess anything independent of your husband, I have kept this sum, now your whole fortune, in a chest concealed under that closet, and for greater security I myself concealed it there.

“Now, madame,” continued Debray, first opening the closet, then the chest;—“now, madame, here are 800 notes of 1,000 francs each, resembling, as you see, a large book bound in iron; to this I add a certificate in the funds of 25,000 francs; then, for the odd cash, making I think about 110,000 francs, here is a check upon my banker, who, not being M. Danglars, will pay you the amount, you may rest assured.”

Madame Danglars mechanically took the check, the bond, and the heap of bank-notes. This enormous fortune made no great appearance on the table. Madame Danglars, with tearless eyes, but with her breast heaving with concealed emotion, placed the bank-notes in her bag, put the certificate and check into her pocket-book, and then, standing pale and mute, awaited one kind word of consolation.

But she waited in vain.

“Now, madame,” said Debray, “you have a splendid fortune, an income of about 60,000 livres a year, which is enormous for a woman who cannot keep an establishment here for a year, at least. You will be able to indulge all your fancies; besides, should you find your income insufficient, you can, for the sake of the past, madame, make use of mine; and I am ready to offer you all I possess, on loan.”

“Thank you, sir—thank you,” replied the baroness; “you forget that what you have just paid me is much more than a poor woman requires, who intends for some time, at least, to retire from the world.”

Debray was, for a moment, surprised, but immediately recovering himself, he bowed with an air which seemed to say, “As you please, madame.”

Madame Danglars had until then, perhaps, hoped for something; but when she saw the careless bow of Debray, and the glance by which it was accompanied, together with his significant silence, she raised her head, and without passion or violence or even hesitation, ran downstairs, disdaining to address a last farewell to one who could thus part from her.

“Bah,” said Debray, when she had left, “these are fine projects! She will remain at home, read novels, and speculate at cards, since she can no longer do so on the Bourse.”

Then taking up his account book, he cancelled with the greatest care all the entries of the amounts he had just paid away.

“I have 1,060,000 francs remaining,” he said. “What a pity Mademoiselle de Villefort is dead! She suited me in every respect, and I would have married her.”

And he calmly waited until the twenty minutes had elapsed after Madame Danglars’ departure before he left the house. During this time he occupied himself in making figures, with his watch by his side.

Asmodeus—that diabolical personage, who would have been created by every fertile imagination if Le Sage had not acquired the priority in his great masterpiece—would have enjoyed a singular spectacle, if he had lifted up the roof of the little house in the Rue Saint-Germain-des-Prés, while Debray was casting up his figures.

Above the room in which Debray had been dividing two millions and a half with Madame Danglars was another, inhabited by persons who have played too prominent a part in the incidents we have related for their appearance not to create some interest.

Mercédès and Albert were in that room.

Mercédès was much changed within the last few days; not that even in her days of fortune she had ever dressed with the magnificent display which makes us no longer able to recognize a woman when she appears in a plain and simple attire; nor indeed, had she fallen into that state of depression where it is impossible to conceal the garb of misery; no, the change in Mercédès was that her eye no longer sparkled, her lips no longer smiled, and there was now a hesitation in uttering the words which formerly sprang so fluently from her ready wit.

It was not poverty which had broken her spirit; it was not a want of courage which rendered her poverty burdensome. Mercédès, although deposed from the exalted position she had occupied, lost in the sphere she had now chosen, like a person passing from a room splendidly lighted into utter darkness, appeared like a queen, fallen from her palace to a hovel, and who, reduced to strict necessity, could neither become reconciled to the earthen vessels she was herself forced to place upon the table, nor to the humble pallet which had become her bed.

The beautiful Catalane and noble countess had lost both her proud glance and charming smile, because she saw nothing but misery around her; the walls were hung with one of the gray papers which economical landlords choose as not likely to show the dirt; the floor was uncarpeted; the furniture attracted the attention to the poor attempt at luxury; indeed, everything offended eyes accustomed to refinement and elegance.

Madame de Morcerf had lived there since leaving her house; the continual silence of the spot oppressed her; still, seeing that Albert continually watched her countenance to judge the state of her feelings, she constrained herself to assume a monotonous smile of the lips alone, which, contrasted with the sweet and beaming expression that usually shone from her eyes, seemed like “moonlight on a statue,”—yielding light without warmth.

Albert, too, was ill at ease; the remains of luxury prevented him from sinking into his actual position. If he wished to go out without gloves, his hands appeared too white; if he wished to walk through the town, his boots seemed too highly polished. Yet these two noble and intelligent creatures, united by the indissoluble ties of maternal and filial love, had succeeded in tacitly understanding one another, and economizing their stores, and Albert had been able to tell his mother without extorting a change of countenance:

“Mother, we have no more money.”

Mercédès had never known misery; she had often, in her youth, spoken of poverty, but between want and necessity, those synonymous words, there is a wide difference.

Amongst the Catalans, Mercédès wished for a thousand things, but still she never really wanted any. So long as the nets were good, they caught fish; and so long as they sold their fish, they were able to buy twine for new nets. And then, shut out from friendship, having but one affection, which could not be mixed up with her ordinary pursuits, she thought of herself—of no one but herself. Upon the little she earned she lived as well as she could; now there were two to be supported, and nothing to live upon.

Winter approached. Mercédès had no fire in that cold and naked room—she, who was accustomed to stoves which heated the house from the hall to the boudoir; she had not even one little flower—she whose apartment had been a conservatory of costly exotics. But she had her son. Hitherto the excitement of fulfilling a duty had sustained them. Excitement, like enthusiasm, sometimes renders us unconscious to the things of earth. But the excitement had calmed down, and they felt themselves obliged to descend from dreams to reality; after having exhausted the ideal, they found they must talk of the actual.

“Mother,” exclaimed Albert, just as Madame Danglars was descending the stairs, “let us reckon our riches, if you please; I want capital to build my plans upon.”

“Capital—nothing!” replied Mercédès with a mournful smile.

“No, mother,—capital 3,000 francs. And I have an idea of our leading a delightful life upon this 3,000 francs.”

“Child!” sighed Mercédès.

“Alas, dear mother,” said the young man, “I have unhappily spent too much of your money not to know the value of it. These 3,000 francs are enormous, and I intend building upon this foundation a miraculous certainty for the future.”

“You say this, my dear boy; but do you think we ought to accept these 3,000 francs?” said Mercédès, coloring.

“I think so,” answered Albert in a firm tone. “We will accept them the more readily, since we have them not here; you know they are buried in the garden of the little house in the Allées de Meilhan, at Marseilles. With 200 francs we can reach Marseilles.”

“With 200 francs?—are you sure, Albert?”

“Oh, as for that, I have made inquiries respecting the diligences and steamboats, and my calculations are made. You will take your place in the coupé to Châlons. You see, mother, I treat you handsomely for thirty-five francs.”

Albert then took a pen, and wrote:

                                                         Frs.
  Coupé, thirty-five francs.............................. 35.
  From Châlons to Lyons you will go on by the steamboat..  6.
  From Lyons to Avignon (still by steamboat)............. 16.
  From Avignon to Marseilles, seven francs...............  7.
  Expenses on the road, about fifty francs............... 50.
  Total................................................. 114 frs.
“Let us put down 120,” added Albert, smiling. “You see I am generous, am I not, mother?”

“But you, my poor child?”

“I? do you not see that I reserve eighty francs for myself? A young man does not require luxuries; besides, I know what travelling is.”

“With a post-chaise and valet de chambre?”

“Any way, mother.”

“Well, be it so. But these 200 francs?”

“Here they are, and 200 more besides. See, I have sold my watch for 100 francs, and the guard and seals for 300. How fortunate that the ornaments were worth more than the watch. Still the same story of superfluities! Now I think we are rich, since instead of the 114 francs we require for the journey we find ourselves in possession of 250.”

“But we owe something in this house?”

“Thirty francs; but I pay that out of my 150 francs,—that is understood,—and as I require only eighty francs for my journey, you see I am overwhelmed with luxury. But that is not all. What do you say to this, mother?”

And Albert took out of a little pocket-book with golden clasps, a remnant of his old fancies, or perhaps a tender souvenir from one of the mysterious and veiled ladies who used to knock at his little door,—Albert took out of this pocket-book a note of 1,000 francs.

“What is this?” asked Mercédès.

“A thousand francs.”

“But whence have you obtained them?”

“Listen to me, mother, and do not yield too much to agitation.” And Albert, rising, kissed his mother on both cheeks, then stood looking at her. “You cannot imagine, mother, how beautiful I think you!” said the young man, impressed with a profound feeling of filial love. “You are, indeed, the most beautiful and most noble woman I ever saw!”

“Dear child!” said Mercédès, endeavoring in vain to restrain a tear which glistened in the corner of her eye. “Indeed, you only wanted misfortune to change my love for you to admiration. I am not unhappy while I possess my son!”

“Ah, just so,” said Albert; “here begins the trial. Do you know the decision we have come to, mother?”

“Have we come to any?”

“Yes; it is decided that you are to live at Marseilles, and that I am to leave for Africa, where I will earn for myself the right to use the name I now bear, instead of the one I have thrown aside.” Mercédès sighed. “Well, mother, I yesterday engaged myself as substitute in the Spahis,”[25] added the young man, lowering his eyes with a certain feeling of shame, for even he was unconscious of the sublimity of his self-abasement. “I thought my body was my own, and that I might sell it. I yesterday took the place of another. I sold myself for more than I thought I was worth,” he added, attempting to smile; “I fetched 2,000 francs.”

“Then these 1,000 francs——” said Mercédès, shuddering.

“Are the half of the sum, mother; the other will be paid in a year.”

Mercédès raised her eyes to heaven with an expression it would be impossible to describe, and tears, which had hitherto been restrained, now yielded to her emotion, and ran down her cheeks.

“The price of his blood!” she murmured.

“Yes, if I am killed,” said Albert, laughing. “But I assure you, mother, I have a strong intention of defending my person, and I never felt half so strong an inclination to live as I do now.”

“Merciful Heavens!”

“Besides, mother, why should you make up your mind that I am to be killed? Has Lamoricière, that Ney of the South, been killed? Has Changarnier been killed? Has Bedeau been killed? Has Morrel, whom we know, been killed? Think of your joy, mother, when you see me return with an embroidered uniform! I declare, I expect to look magnificent in it, and chose that regiment only from vanity.”

Mercédès sighed while endeavoring to smile; the devoted mother felt that she ought not to allow the whole weight of the sacrifice to fall upon her son.

“Well, now you understand, mother!” continued Albert; “here are more than 4,000 francs settled on you; upon these you can live at least two years.”

“Do you think so?” said Mercédès.

These words were uttered in so mournful a tone that their real meaning did not escape Albert; he felt his heart beat, and taking his mother’s hand within his own he said, tenderly:

“Yes, you will live!”

“I shall live!—then you will not leave me, Albert?”

“Mother, I must go,” said Albert in a firm, calm voice; “you love me too well to wish me to remain useless and idle with you; besides, I have signed.”

“You will obey your own wish and the will of Heaven!”

“Not my own wish, mother, but reason—necessity. Are we not two despairing creatures? What is life to you?—Nothing. What is life to me?—Very little without you, mother; for believe me, but for you I should have ceased to live on the day I doubted my father and renounced his name. Well, I will live, if you promise me still to hope; and if you grant me the care of your future prospects, you will redouble my strength. Then I will go to the governor of Algeria; he has a royal heart, and is essentially a soldier; I will tell him my gloomy story. I will beg him to turn his eyes now and then towards me, and if he keep his word and interest himself for me, in six months I shall be an officer, or dead. If I am an officer, your fortune is certain, for I shall have money enough for both, and, moreover, a name we shall both be proud of, since it will be our own. If I am killed—well then mother, you can also die, and there will be an end of our misfortunes.”

“It is well,” replied Mercédès, with her eloquent glance; “you are right, my love; let us prove to those who are watching our actions that we are worthy of compassion.”

“But let us not yield to gloomy apprehensions,” said the young man; “I assure you we are, or rather we shall be, very happy. You are a woman at once full of spirit and resignation; I have become simple in my tastes, and am without passion, I hope. Once in service, I shall be rich—once in M. Dantès’ house, you will be at rest. Let us strive, I beseech you,—let us strive to be cheerful.”

“Yes, let us strive, for you ought to live, and to be happy, Albert.”

“And so our division is made, mother,” said the young man, affecting ease of mind. “We can now part; come, I shall engage your passage.”

“And you, my dear boy?”

“I shall stay here for a few days longer; we must accustom ourselves to parting. I want recommendations and some information relative to Africa. I will join you again at Marseilles.”

“Well, be it so—let us part,” said Mercédès, folding around her shoulders the only shawl she had taken away, and which accidentally happened to be a valuable black cashmere. Albert gathered up his papers hastily, rang the bell to pay the thirty francs he owed to the landlord, and offering his arm to his mother, they descended the stairs.

Someone was walking down before them, and this person, hearing the rustling of a silk dress, turned around. “Debray!” muttered Albert.

“You, Morcerf?” replied the secretary, resting on the stairs. Curiosity had vanquished the desire of preserving his incognito, and he was recognized. It was, indeed, strange in this unknown spot to find the young man whose misfortunes had made so much noise in Paris.

“Morcerf!” repeated Debray. Then noticing in the dim light the still youthful and veiled figure of Madame de Morcerf:

“Pardon me,” he added with a smile, “I leave you, Albert.” Albert understood his thoughts.

“Mother,” he said, turning towards Mercédès, “this is M. Debray, secretary of the Minister for the Interior, once a friend of mine.”

“How once?” stammered Debray; “what do you mean?”

“I say so, M. Debray, because I have no friends now, and I ought not to have any. I thank you for having recognized me, sir.” Debray stepped forward, and cordially pressed the hand of his interlocutor.

“Believe me, dear Albert,” he said, with all the emotion he was capable of feeling,—“believe me, I feel deeply for your misfortunes, and if in any way I can serve you, I am yours.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Albert, smiling. “In the midst of our misfortunes, we are still rich enough not to require assistance from anyone. We are leaving Paris, and when our journey is paid, we shall have 5,000 francs left.”

The blood mounted to the temples of Debray, who held a million in his pocket-book, and unimaginative as he was he could not help reflecting that the same house had contained two women, one of whom, justly dishonored, had left it poor with 1,500,000 francs under her cloak, while the other, unjustly stricken, but sublime in her misfortune, was yet rich with a few deniers. This parallel disturbed his usual politeness, the philosophy he witnessed appalled him, he muttered a few words of general civility and ran downstairs.

That day the minister’s clerks and the subordinates had a great deal to put up with from his ill-humor. But that same night, he found himself the possessor of a fine house, situated on the Boulevard de la Madeleine, and an income of 50,000 livres.

The next day, just as Debray was signing the deed, that is about five o’clock in the afternoon, Madame de Morcerf, after having affectionately embraced her son, entered the coupé of the diligence, which closed upon her.

A man was hidden in Lafitte’s banking-house, behind one of the little arched windows which are placed above each desk; he saw Mercédès enter the diligence, and he also saw Albert withdraw. Then he passed his hand across his forehead, which was clouded with doubt.

“Alas,” he exclaimed, “how can I restore the happiness I have taken away from these poor innocent creatures? God help me!”


Chapter 107. The Lions’ Den


One division of La Force, in which the most dangerous and desperate prisoners are confined, is called the court of Saint-Bernard. The prisoners, in their expressive language, have named it the “Lions’ Den,” probably because the captives possess teeth which frequently gnaw the bars, and sometimes the keepers also. It is a prison within a prison; the walls are double the thickness of the rest. The gratings are every day carefully examined by jailers, whose herculean proportions and cold pitiless expression prove them to have been chosen to reign over their subjects for their superior activity and intelligence.

The courtyard of this quarter is enclosed by enormous walls, over which the sun glances obliquely, when it deigns to penetrate into this gulf of moral and physical deformity. On this paved yard are to be seen,—pacing to and fro from morning till night, pale, careworn, and haggard, like so many shadows,—the men whom justice holds beneath the steel she is sharpening. There, crouched against the side of the wall which attracts and retains the most heat, they may be seen sometimes talking to one another, but more frequently alone, watching the door, which sometimes opens to call forth one from the gloomy assemblage, or to throw in another outcast from society.

The court of Saint-Bernard has its own particular apartment for the reception of guests; it is a long rectangle, divided by two upright gratings placed at a distance of three feet from one another to prevent a visitor from shaking hands with or passing anything to the prisoners. It is a wretched, damp, nay, even horrible spot, more especially when we consider the agonizing conferences which have taken place between those iron bars. And yet, frightful though this spot may be, it is looked upon as a kind of paradise by the men whose days are numbered; it is so rare for them to leave the Lions’ Den for any other place than the barrier Saint-Jacques, the galleys! or solitary confinement.

In the court which we have attempted to describe, and from which a damp vapor was rising, a young man with his hands in his pockets, who had excited much curiosity among the inhabitants of the “Den,” might be seen walking. The cut of his clothes would have made him pass for an elegant man, if those clothes had not been torn to shreds; still they did not show signs of wear, and the fine cloth, beneath the careful hands of the prisoner, soon recovered its gloss in the parts which were still perfect, for the wearer tried his best to make it assume the appearance of a new coat. He bestowed the same attention upon the cambric front of a shirt, which had considerably changed in color since his entrance into the prison, and he polished his varnished boots with the corner of a handkerchief embroidered with initials surmounted by a coronet.

Some of the inmates of the “Lions’ Den” were watching the operations of the prisoner’s toilet with considerable interest.

“See, the prince is pluming himself,” said one of the thieves.

“He’s a fine looking fellow,” said another; “if he had only a comb and hair-grease, he’d take the shine off the gentlemen in white kids.”

“His coat looks nearly new, and his boots are brilliant. It is pleasant to have such well-dressed brethren; and those gendarmes behaved shamefully. What jealousy; to tear such clothes!”

“He looks like a big-bug,” said another; “dresses in fine style. And, then, to be here so young! Oh, what larks!”

Meanwhile the object of this hideous admiration approached the wicket, against which one of the keepers was leaning.

“Come, sir,” he said, “lend me twenty francs; you will soon be paid; you run no risks with me. Remember, I have relations who possess more millions than you have deniers. Come, I beseech you, lend me twenty francs, so that I may buy a dressing-gown; it is intolerable always to be in a coat and boots! And what a coat, sir, for a prince of the Cavalcanti!”

The keeper turned his back, and shrugged his shoulders; he did not even laugh at what would have caused anyone else to do so; he had heard so many utter the same things,—indeed, he heard nothing else.

“Come,” said Andrea, “you are a man void of compassion; I’ll have you turned out.”

This made the keeper turn around, and he burst into a loud laugh. The prisoners then approached and formed a circle.

“I tell you that with that wretched sum,” continued Andrea, “I could obtain a coat, and a room in which to receive the illustrious visitor I am daily expecting.”

“Of course—of course,” said the prisoners;—“anyone can see he’s a gentleman!”

“Well, then, lend him the twenty francs,” said the keeper, leaning on the other shoulder; “surely you will not refuse a comrade!”

“I am no comrade of these people,” said the young man, proudly, “you have no right to insult me thus.”

The thieves looked at one another with low murmurs, and a storm gathered over the head of the aristocratic prisoner, raised less by his own words than by the manner of the keeper. The latter, sure of quelling the tempest when the waves became too violent, allowed them to rise to a certain pitch that he might be revenged on the importunate Andrea, and besides it would afford him some recreation during the long day.

The thieves had already approached Andrea, some screaming, “La savate—La savate!”[26] a cruel operation, which consists in cuffing a comrade who may have fallen into disgrace, not with an old shoe, but with an iron-heeled one. Others proposed the anguille, another kind of recreation, in which a handkerchief is filled with sand, pebbles, and two-sous pieces, when they have them, which the wretches beat like a flail over the head and shoulders of the unhappy sufferer.

“Let us horsewhip the fine gentleman!” said others.

But Andrea, turning towards them, winked his eyes, rolled his tongue around his cheeks, and smacked his lips in a manner equivalent to a hundred words among the bandits when forced to be silent. It was a Masonic sign Caderousse had taught him. He was immediately recognized as one of them; the handkerchief was thrown down, and the iron-heeled shoe replaced on the foot of the wretch to whom it belonged.

Some voices were heard to say that the gentleman was right; that he intended to be civil, in his way, and that they would set the example of liberty of conscience,—and the mob retired. The keeper was so stupefied at this scene that he took Andrea by the hands and began examining his person, attributing the sudden submission of the inmates of the Lions’ Den to something more substantial than mere fascination.

Andrea made no resistance, although he protested against it. Suddenly a voice was heard at the wicket.

“Benedetto!” exclaimed an inspector. The keeper relaxed his hold.

“I am called,” said Andrea.

“To the visitors’ room!” said the same voice.

“You see someone pays me a visit. Ah, my dear sir, you will see whether a Cavalcanti is to be treated like a common person!”

And Andrea, gliding through the court like a black shadow, rushed out through the wicket, leaving his comrades, and even the keeper, lost in wonder. Certainly a call to the visitors’ room had scarcely astonished Andrea less than themselves, for the wily youth, instead of making use of his privilege of waiting to be claimed on his entry into La Force, had maintained a rigid silence.

“Everything,” he said, “proves me to be under the protection of some powerful person,—this sudden fortune, the facility with which I have overcome all obstacles, an unexpected family and an illustrious name awarded to me, gold showered down upon me, and the most splendid alliances about to be entered into. An unhappy lapse of fortune and the absence of my protector have cast me down, certainly, but not forever. The hand which has retreated for a while will be again stretched forth to save me at the very moment when I shall think myself sinking into the abyss. Why should I risk an imprudent step? It might alienate my protector. He has two means of extricating me from this dilemma,—the one by a mysterious escape, managed through bribery; the other by buying off my judges with gold. I will say and do nothing until I am convinced that he has quite abandoned me, and then——”

Andrea had formed a plan which was tolerably clever. The unfortunate youth was intrepid in the attack, and rude in the defence. He had borne with the public prison, and with privations of all sorts; still, by degrees nature, or rather custom, had prevailed, and he suffered from being naked, dirty, and hungry. It was at this moment of discomfort that the inspector’s voice called him to the visiting-room. Andrea felt his heart leap with joy. It was too soon for a visit from the examining magistrate, and too late for one from the director of the prison, or the doctor; it must, then, be the visitor he hoped for. Behind the grating of the room into which Andrea had been led, he saw, while his eyes dilated with surprise, the dark and intelligent face of M. Bertuccio, who was also gazing with sad astonishment upon the iron bars, the bolted doors, and the shadow which moved behind the other grating.

“Ah,” said Andrea, deeply affected.

“Good morning, Benedetto,” said Bertuccio, with his deep, hollow voice.

“You—you?” said the young man, looking fearfully around him.

“Do you not recognize me, unhappy child?”

“Silence,—be silent!” said Andrea, who knew the delicate sense of hearing possessed by the walls; “for Heaven’s sake, do not speak so loud!”

“You wish to speak with me alone, do you not?” said Bertuccio.

“Oh, yes.”

“That is well.”

And Bertuccio, feeling in his pocket, signed to a keeper whom he saw through the window of the wicket.

“Read?” he said.

“What is that?” asked Andrea.

“An order to conduct you to a room, and to leave you there to talk to me.”

“Oh,” cried Andrea, leaping with joy. Then he mentally added,—“Still my unknown protector! I am not forgotten. They wish for secrecy, since we are to converse in a private room. I understand, Bertuccio has been sent by my protector.”

The keeper spoke for a moment with an official, then opened the iron gates and conducted Andrea to a room on the first floor. The room was whitewashed, as is the custom in prisons, but it looked quite brilliant to a prisoner, though a stove, a bed, a chair, and a table formed the whole of its sumptuous furniture. Bertuccio sat down upon the chair, Andrea threw himself upon the bed; the keeper retired.

“Now,” said the steward, “what have you to tell me?”

“And you?” said Andrea.

“You speak first.”

“Oh, no. You must have much to tell me, since you have come to seek me.”

“Well, be it so. You have continued your course of villany; you have robbed—you have assassinated.”

“Well, I should say! If you had me taken to a private room only to tell me this, you might have saved yourself the trouble. I know all these things. But there are some with which, on the contrary, I am not acquainted. Let us talk of those, if you please. Who sent you?”

“Come, come, you are going on quickly, M. Benedetto!”

“Yes, and to the point. Let us dispense with useless words. Who sends you?”

“No one.”

“How did you know I was in prison?”

“I recognized you, some time since, as the insolent dandy who so gracefully mounted his horse in the Champs-Élysées.”

“Oh, the Champs-Élysées? Ah, yes; we burn, as they say at the game of pincette. The Champs-Élysées? Come, let us talk a little about my father.”

“Who, then, am I?”

“You, sir?—you are my adopted father. But it was not you, I presume, who placed at my disposal 100,000 francs, which I spent in four or five months; it was not you who manufactured an Italian gentleman for my father; it was not you who introduced me into the world, and had me invited to a certain dinner at Auteuil, which I fancy I am eating at this moment, in company with the most distinguished people in Paris—amongst the rest with a certain procureur, whose acquaintance I did very wrong not to cultivate, for he would have been very useful to me just now;—it was not you, in fact, who bailed me for one or two millions, when the fatal discovery of my little secret took place. Come, speak, my worthy Corsican, speak!”

“What do you wish me to say?”

“I will help you. You were speaking of the Champs-Élysées just now, worthy foster-father.”

“Well?”

“Well, in the Champs-Élysées there resides a very rich gentleman.”

“At whose house you robbed and murdered, did you not?”

“I believe I did.”

“The Count of Monte Cristo?”

“’Tis you who have named him, as M. Racine says. Well, am I to rush into his arms, and strain him to my heart, crying, ‘My father, my father!’ like Monsieur Pixérécourt.”[27]

“Do not let us jest,” gravely replied Bertuccio, “and dare not to utter that name again as you have pronounced it.”

“Bah,” said Andrea, a little overcome, by the solemnity of Bertuccio’s manner, “why not?”

“Because the person who bears it is too highly favored by Heaven to be the father of such a wretch as you.”

“Oh, these are fine words.”

“And there will be fine doings, if you do not take care.”

“Menaces—I do not fear them. I will say——”

“Do you think you are engaged with a pygmy like yourself?” said Bertuccio, in so calm a tone, and with so steadfast a look, that Andrea was moved to the very soul. “Do you think you have to do with galley-slaves, or novices in the world? Benedetto, you are fallen into terrible hands; they are ready to open for you—make use of them. Do not play with the thunderbolt they have laid aside for a moment, but which they can take up again instantly, if you attempt to intercept their movements.”

“My father—I will know who my father is,” said the obstinate youth; “I will perish if I must, but I will know it. What does scandal signify to me? What possessions, what reputation, what ‘pull,’ as Beauchamp says,—have I? You great people always lose something by scandal, notwithstanding your millions. Come, who is my father?”

“I came to tell you.”

“Ah,” cried Benedetto, his eyes sparkling with joy. Just then the door opened, and the jailer, addressing himself to Bertuccio, said:

“Excuse me, sir, but the examining magistrate is waiting for the prisoner.”

“And so closes our interview,” said Andrea to the worthy steward; “I wish the troublesome fellow were at the devil!”

“I will return tomorrow,” said Bertuccio.

“Good! Gendarmes, I am at your service. Ah, sir, do leave a few crowns for me at the gate that I may have some things I am in need of!”

“It shall be done,” replied Bertuccio.

Andrea extended his hand; Bertuccio kept his own in his pocket, and merely jingled a few pieces of money.

“That’s what I mean,” said Andrea, endeavoring to smile, quite overcome by the strange tranquillity of Bertuccio.

“Can I be deceived?” he murmured, as he stepped into the oblong and grated vehicle which they call “the salad basket.”

“Never mind, we shall see! Tomorrow, then!” he added, turning towards Bertuccio.

“Tomorrow!” replied the steward.


Chapter 108. The Judge


We remember that the Abbé Busoni remained alone with Noirtier in the chamber of death, and that the old man and the priest were the sole guardians of the young girl’s body. Perhaps it was the Christian exhortations of the abbé, perhaps his kind charity, perhaps his persuasive words, which had restored the courage of Noirtier, for ever since he had conversed with the priest his violent despair had yielded to a calm resignation which surprised all who knew his excessive affection for Valentine.

M. de Villefort had not seen his father since the morning of the death. The whole establishment had been changed; another valet was engaged for himself, a new servant for Noirtier, two women had entered Madame de Villefort’s service,—in fact, everywhere, to the concierge and coachmen, new faces were presented to the different masters of the house, thus widening the division which had always existed between the members of the same family. The assizes, also, were about to begin, and Villefort, shut up in his room, exerted himself with feverish anxiety in drawing up the case against the murderer of Caderousse. This affair, like all those in which the Count of Monte Cristo had interfered, caused a great sensation in Paris. The proofs were certainly not convincing, since they rested upon a few words written by an escaped galley-slave on his death-bed, and who might have been actuated by hatred or revenge in accusing his companion. But the mind of the procureur was made up; he felt assured that Benedetto was guilty, and he hoped by his skill in conducting this aggravated case to flatter his self-love, which was about the only vulnerable point left in his frozen heart.

The case was therefore prepared owing to the incessant labor of Villefort, who wished it to be the first on the list in the coming assizes. He had been obliged to seclude himself more than ever, to evade the enormous number of applications presented to him for the purpose of obtaining tickets of admission to the court on the day of trial. And then so short a time had elapsed since the death of poor Valentine, and the gloom which overshadowed the house was so recent, that no one wondered to see the father so absorbed in his professional duties, which were the only means he had of dissipating his grief.

Once only had Villefort seen his father; it was the day after that upon which Bertuccio had paid his second visit to Benedetto, when the latter was to learn his father’s name. The magistrate, harassed and fatigued, had descended to the garden of his house, and in a gloomy mood, similar to that in which Tarquin lopped off the tallest poppies, he began knocking off with his cane the long and dying branches of the rose-trees, which, placed along the avenue, seemed like the spectres of the brilliant flowers which had bloomed in the past season.

More than once he had reached that part of the garden where the famous boarded gate stood overlooking the deserted enclosure, always returning by the same path, to begin his walk again, at the same pace and with the same gesture, when he accidentally turned his eyes towards the house, whence he heard the noisy play of his son, who had returned from school to spend the Sunday and Monday with his mother.

While doing so, he observed M. Noirtier at one of the open windows, where the old man had been placed that he might enjoy the last rays of the sun which yet yielded some heat, and was now shining upon the dying flowers and red leaves of the creeper which twined around the balcony.

The eye of the old man was riveted upon a spot which Villefort could scarcely distinguish. His glance was so full of hate, of ferocity, and savage impatience, that Villefort turned out of the path he had been pursuing, to see upon what person this dark look was directed.

Then he saw beneath a thick clump of linden-trees, which were nearly divested of foliage, Madame de Villefort sitting with a book in her hand, the perusal of which she frequently interrupted to smile upon her son, or to throw back his elastic ball, which he obstinately threw from the drawing-room into the garden.

Villefort became pale; he understood the old man’s meaning.

Noirtier continued to look at the same object, but suddenly his glance was transferred from the wife to the husband, and Villefort himself had to submit to the searching investigation of eyes, which, while changing their direction and even their language, had lost none of their menacing expression. Madame de Villefort, unconscious of the passions that exhausted their fire over her head, at that moment held her son’s ball, and was making signs to him to reclaim it with a kiss. Edward begged for a long while, the maternal kiss probably not offering sufficient recompense for the trouble he must take to obtain it; however at length he decided, leaped out of the window into a cluster of heliotropes and daisies, and ran to his mother, his forehead streaming with perspiration. Madame de Villefort wiped his forehead, pressed her lips upon it, and sent him back with the ball in one hand and some bonbons in the other.

Villefort, drawn by an irresistible attraction, like that of the bird to the serpent, walked towards the house. As he approached it, Noirtier’s gaze followed him, and his eyes appeared of such a fiery brightness that Villefort felt them pierce to the depths of his heart. In that earnest look might be read a deep reproach, as well as a terrible menace. Then Noirtier raised his eyes to heaven, as though to remind his son of a forgotten oath.

“It is well, sir,” replied Villefort from below,—“it is well; have patience but one day longer; what I have said I will do.”

Noirtier seemed to be calmed by these words, and turned his eyes with indifference to the other side. Villefort violently unbuttoned his greatcoat, which seemed to strangle him, and passing his livid hand across his forehead, entered his study.

The night was cold and still; the family had all retired to rest but Villefort, who alone remained up, and worked till five o’clock in the morning, reviewing the last interrogatories made the night before by the examining magistrates, compiling the depositions of the witnesses, and putting the finishing stroke to the deed of accusation, which was one of the most energetic and best conceived of any he had yet delivered.

The next day, Monday, was the first sitting of the assizes. The morning dawned dull and gloomy, and Villefort saw the dim gray light shine upon the lines he had traced in red ink. The magistrate had slept for a short time while the lamp sent forth its final struggles; its flickerings awoke him, and he found his fingers as damp and purple as though they had been dipped in blood.

He opened the window; a bright yellow streak crossed the sky, and seemed to divide in half the poplars, which stood out in black relief on the horizon. In the clover-fields beyond the chestnut-trees, a lark was mounting up to heaven, while pouring out her clear morning song. The damps of the dew bathed the head of Villefort, and refreshed his memory.

“Today,” he said with an effort,—“today the man who holds the blade of justice must strike wherever there is guilt.”

Involuntarily his eyes wandered towards the window of Noirtier’s room, where he had seen him the preceding night. The curtain was drawn, and yet the image of his father was so vivid to his mind that he addressed the closed window as though it had been open, and as if through the opening he had beheld the menacing old man.

“Yes,” he murmured,—“yes, be satisfied.”

His head dropped upon his chest, and in this position he paced his study; then he threw himself, dressed as he was, upon a sofa, less to sleep than to rest his limbs, cramped with cold and study. By degrees everyone awoke. Villefort, from his study, heard the successive noises which accompany the life of a house,—the opening and shutting of doors, the ringing of Madame de Villefort’s bell, to summon the waiting-maid, mingled with the first shouts of the child, who rose full of the enjoyment of his age. Villefort also rang; his new valet brought him the papers, and with them a cup of chocolate.

“What are you bringing me?” said he.

“A cup of chocolate.”

“I did not ask for it. Who has paid me this attention?”

“My mistress, sir. She said you would have to speak a great deal in the murder case, and that you should take something to keep up your strength;” and the valet placed the cup on the table nearest to the sofa, which was, like all the rest, covered with papers.

The valet then left the room. Villefort looked for an instant with a gloomy expression, then, suddenly, taking it up with a nervous motion, he swallowed its contents at one draught. It might have been thought that he hoped the beverage would be mortal, and that he sought for death to deliver him from a duty which he would rather die than fulfil. He then rose, and paced his room with a smile it would have been terrible to witness. The chocolate was inoffensive, for M. de Villefort felt no effects.

The breakfast-hour arrived, but M. de Villefort was not at table. The valet re-entered.

“Madame de Villefort wishes to remind you, sir,” he said, “that eleven o’clock has just struck, and that the trial commences at twelve.”

“Well,” said Villefort, “what then?”

“Madame de Villefort is dressed; she is quite ready, and wishes to know if she is to accompany you, sir?”

“Where to?”

“To the Palais.”

“What to do?”

“My mistress wishes much to be present at the trial.”

“Ah,” said Villefort, with a startling accent; “does she wish that?”

The servant drew back and said, “If you wish to go alone, sir, I will go and tell my mistress.”

Villefort remained silent for a moment, and dented his pale cheeks with his nails.

“Tell your mistress,” he at length answered, “that I wish to speak to her, and I beg she will wait for me in her own room.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then come to dress and shave me.”

“Directly, sir.”

The valet re-appeared almost instantly, and, having shaved his master, assisted him to dress entirely in black. When he had finished, he said:

“My mistress said she should expect you, sir, as soon as you had finished dressing.”

“I am going to her.”

And Villefort, with his papers under his arm and hat in hand, directed his steps toward the apartment of his wife.

At the door he paused for a moment to wipe his damp, pale brow. He then entered the room. Madame de Villefort was sitting on an ottoman and impatiently turning over the leaves of some newspapers and pamphlets which young Edward, by way of amusing himself, was tearing to pieces before his mother could finish reading them. She was dressed to go out, her bonnet was placed beside her on a chair, and her gloves were on her hands.

“Ah, here you are, monsieur,” she said in her naturally calm voice; “but how pale you are! Have you been working all night? Why did you not come down to breakfast? Well, will you take me, or shall I take Edward?”

Madame de Villefort had multiplied her questions in order to gain one answer, but to all her inquiries M. de Villefort remained mute and cold as a statue.

“Edward,” said Villefort, fixing an imperious glance on the child, “go and play in the drawing-room, my dear; I wish to speak to your mamma.”

Madame de Villefort shuddered at the sight of that cold countenance, that resolute tone, and the awfully strange preliminaries. Edward raised his head, looked at his mother, and then, finding that she did not confirm the order, began cutting off the heads of his leaden soldiers.

“Edward,” cried M. de Villefort, so harshly that the child started up from the floor, “do you hear me?—Go!”

The child, unaccustomed to such treatment, arose, pale and trembling; it would be difficult to say whether his emotion were caused by fear or passion. His father went up to him, took him in his arms, and kissed his forehead.

“Go,” he said: “go, my child.” Edward ran out.

M. de Villefort went to the door, which he closed behind the child, and bolted.

“Dear me!” said the young woman, endeavoring to read her husband’s inmost thoughts, while a smile passed over her countenance which froze the impassibility of Villefort; “what is the matter?”

“Madame, where do you keep the poison you generally use?” said the magistrate, without any introduction, placing himself between his wife and the door.

Madame de Villefort must have experienced something of the sensation of a bird which, looking up, sees the murderous trap closing over its head.

A hoarse, broken tone, which was neither a cry nor a sigh, escaped from her, while she became deadly pale.

“Monsieur,” she said, “I—I do not understand you.”

And, in her first paroxysm of terror, she had raised herself from the sofa, in the next, stronger very likely than the other, she fell down again on the cushions.

“I asked you,” continued Villefort, in a perfectly calm tone, “where you conceal the poison by the aid of which you have killed my father-in-law, M. de Saint-Méran, my mother-in-law, Madame de Saint-Méran, Barrois, and my daughter Valentine.”

“Ah, sir,” exclaimed Madame de Villefort, clasping her hands, “what do you say?”

“It is not for you to interrogate, but to answer.”

“Is it to the judge or to the husband?” stammered Madame de Villefort.

“To the judge—to the judge, madame!” It was terrible to behold the frightful pallor of that woman, the anguish of her look, the trembling of her whole frame.

“Ah, sir,” she muttered, “ah, sir,” and this was all.

“You do not answer, madame!” exclaimed the terrible interrogator. Then he added, with a smile yet more terrible than his anger, “It is true, then; you do not deny it!” She moved forward. “And you cannot deny it!” added Villefort, extending his hand toward her, as though to seize her in the name of justice. “You have accomplished these different crimes with impudent address, but which could only deceive those whose affections for you blinded them. Since the death of Madame de Saint-Méran, I have known that a poisoner lived in my house. M. d’Avrigny warned me of it. After the death of Barrois my suspicions were directed towards an angel,—those suspicions which, even when there is no crime, are always alive in my heart; but after the death of Valentine, there has been no doubt in my mind, madame, and not only in mine, but in those of others; thus your crime, known by two persons, suspected by many, will soon become public, and, as I told you just now, you no longer speak to the husband, but to the judge.”

The young woman hid her face in her hands.

“Oh, sir,” she stammered, “I beseech you, do not believe appearances.”

“Are you, then, a coward?” cried Villefort, in a contemptuous voice. “But I have always observed that poisoners were cowards. Can you be a coward, you, who have had the courage to witness the death of two old men and a young girl murdered by you?”

“Sir! sir!”

“Can you be a coward?” continued Villefort, with increasing excitement, “you, who could count, one by one, the minutes of four death agonies? You, who have arranged your infernal plans, and removed the beverages with a talent and precision almost miraculous? Have you, then, who have calculated everything with such nicety, have you forgotten to calculate one thing—I mean where the revelation of your crimes will lead you to? Oh, it is impossible—you must have saved some surer, more subtle and deadly poison than any other, that you might escape the punishment that you deserve. You have done this—I hope so, at least.”

Madame de Villefort stretched out her hands, and fell on her knees.

“I understand,” he said, “you confess; but a confession made to the judges, a confession made at the last moment, extorted when the crime cannot be denied, diminishes not the punishment inflicted on the guilty!”

“The punishment?” exclaimed Madame de Villefort, “the punishment, monsieur? Twice you have pronounced that word!”

“Certainly. Did you hope to escape it because you were four times guilty? Did you think the punishment would be withheld because you are the wife of him who pronounces it?—No, madame, no; the scaffold awaits the poisoner, whoever she may be, unless, as I just said, the poisoner has taken the precaution of keeping for herself a few drops of her deadliest poison.”

Madame de Villefort uttered a wild cry, and a hideous and uncontrollable terror spread over her distorted features.

“Oh, do not fear the scaffold, madame,” said the magistrate; “I will not dishonor you, since that would be dishonor to myself; no, if you have heard me distinctly, you will understand that you are not to die on the scaffold.”

“No, I do not understand; what do you mean?” stammered the unhappy woman, completely overwhelmed.

“I mean that the wife of the first magistrate in the capital shall not, by her infamy, soil an unblemished name; that she shall not, with one blow, dishonor her husband and her child.”

“No, no—oh, no!”

“Well, madame, it will be a laudable action on your part, and I will thank you for it!”

“You will thank me—for what?”

“For what you have just said.”

“What did I say? Oh, my brain whirls; I no longer understand anything. Oh, my God, my God!”

And she rose, with her hair dishevelled, and her lips foaming.

“Have you answered the question I put to you on entering the room?—where do you keep the poison you generally use, madame?”

Madame de Villefort raised her arms to heaven, and convulsively struck one hand against the other.

“No, no,” she vociferated, “no, you cannot wish that!”

“What I do not wish, madame, is that you should perish on the scaffold. Do you understand?” asked Villefort.

“Oh, mercy, mercy, monsieur!”

“What I require is, that justice be done. I am on the earth to punish, madame,” he added, with a flaming glance; “any other woman, were it the queen herself, I would send to the executioner; but to you I shall be merciful. To you I will say, ‘Have you not, madame, put aside some of the surest, deadliest, most speedy poison?’”

“Oh, pardon me, sir; let me live!”

“She is cowardly,” said Villefort.

“Reflect that I am your wife!”

“You are a poisoner.”

“In the name of Heaven!”

“No!”

“In the name of the love you once bore me!”

“No, no!”

“In the name of our child! Ah, for the sake of our child, let me live!”

“No, no, no, I tell you; one day, if I allow you to live, you will perhaps kill him, as you have the others!”

“I?—I kill my boy?” cried the distracted mother, rushing toward Villefort; “I kill my son? Ha, ha, ha!” and a frightful, demoniac laugh finished the sentence, which was lost in a hoarse rattle.

Madame de Villefort fell at her husband’s feet. He approached her.

“Think of it, madame,” he said; “if, on my return, justice has not been satisfied, I will denounce you with my own mouth, and arrest you with my own hands!”

She listened, panting, overwhelmed, crushed; her eye alone lived, and glared horribly.

“Do you understand me?” he said. “I am going down there to pronounce the sentence of death against a murderer. If I find you alive on my return, you shall sleep tonight in the conciergerie.”

Madame de Villefort sighed; her nerves gave way, and she sunk on the carpet. The king’s attorney seemed to experience a sensation of pity; he looked upon her less severely, and, bowing to her, said slowly:

“Farewell, madame, farewell!”

That farewell struck Madame de Villefort like the executioner’s knife. She fainted. The procureur went out, after having double-locked the door.