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    Chapter 7

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    Chapter 7
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    CHAPTER 7
    The Examination.

    No sooner had Villefort left the salon, than he assumed the
    grave air of a man who holds the balance of life and death
    in his hands. Now, in spite of the mobility of his
    countenance, the command of which, like a finished actor, he
    had carefully studied before the glass, it was by no means
    easy for him to assume an air of judicial severity. Except
    the recollection of the line of politics his father had
    adopted, and which might interfere, unless he acted with the
    greatest prudence, with his own career, Gerard de Villefort
    was as happy as a man could be. Already rich, he held a high
    official situation, though only twenty-seven. He was about
    to marry a young and charming woman, whom he loved, not
    passionately, but reasonably, as became a deputy attorney of
    the king; and besides her personal attractions, which were
    very great, Mademoiselle de Saint-Meran's family possessed
    considerable political influence, which they would, of
    course, exert in his favor. The dowry of his wife amounted
    to fifty thousand crowns, and he had, besides, the prospect
    of seeing her fortune increased to half a million at her
    father's death. These considerations naturally gave
    Villefort a feeling of such complete felicity that his mind
    was fairly dazzled in its contemplation.

    At the door he met the commissary of police, who was waiting
    for him. The sight of this officer recalled Villefort from
    the third heaven to earth; he composed his face, as we have
    before described, and said, "I have read the letter, sir,
    and you have acted rightly in arresting this man; now inform
    me what you have discovered concerning him and the
    conspiracy."

    "We know nothing as yet of the conspiracy, monsieur; all the
    papers found have been sealed up and placed on your desk.
    The prisoner himself is named Edmond Dantes, mate on board
    the three-master the Pharaon, trading in cotton with
    Alexandria and Smyrna, and belonging to Morrel & Son, of
    Marseilles."

    "Before he entered the merchant service, had he ever served
    in the marines?"

    "Oh, no, monsieur, he is very young."

    "How old?"

    "Nineteen or twenty at the most."

    At this moment, and as Villefort had arrived at the corner
    of the Rue des Conseils, a man, who seemed to have been
    waiting for him, approached; it was M. Morrel.

    "Ah, M. de Villefort," cried he, "I am delighted to see you.
    Some of your people have committed the strangest mistake --
    they have just arrested Edmond Dantes, mate of my vessel."

    "I know it, monsieur," replied Villefort, "and I am now
    going to examine him."

    "Oh," said Morrel, carried away by his friendship, "you do
    not know him, and I do. He is the most estimable, the most
    trustworthy creature in the world, and I will venture to
    say, there is not a better seaman in all the merchant
    service. Oh, M. de Villefort, I beseech your indulgence for
    him."

    Villefort, as we have seen, belonged to the aristocratic
    party at Marseilles, Morrel to the plebeian; the first was a
    royalist, the other suspected of Bonapartism. Villefort
    looked disdainfully at Morrel, and replied, --

    "You are aware, monsieur, that a man may be estimable and
    trustworthy in private life, and the best seaman in the
    merchant service, and yet be, politically speaking, a great
    criminal. Is it not true?"

    The magistrate laid emphasis on these words, as if he wished
    to apply them to the owner himself, while his eyes seemed to
    plunge into the heart of one who, interceding for another,
    had himself need of indulgence. Morrel reddened, for his own
    conscience was not quite clear on politics; besides, what
    Dantes had told him of his interview with the grand-marshal,
    and what the emperor had said to him, embarrassed him. He
    replied, however, --

    "I entreat you, M. de Villefort, be, as you always are, kind
    and equitable, and give him back to us soon." This give us
    sounded revolutionary in the deputy's ears.

    "Ah, ah," murmured he, "is Dantes then a member of some
    Carbonari society, that his protector thus employs the
    collective form? He was, if I recollect, arrested in a
    tavern, in company with a great many others." Then he added,
    "Monsieur, you may rest assured I shall perform my duty
    impartially, and that if he be innocent you shall not have
    appealed to me in vain; should he, however, be guilty, in
    this present epoch, impunity would furnish a dangerous
    example, and I must do my duty."

    As he had now arrived at the door of his own house, which
    adjoined the Palais de Justice, he entered, after having,
    coldly saluted the shipowner, who stood, as if petrified, on
    the spot where Villefort had left him. The ante-chamber was
    full of police agents and gendarmes, in the midst of whom,
    carefully watched, but calm and smiling, stood the prisoner.
    Villefort traversed the ante-chamber, cast a side glance at
    Dantes, and taking a packet which a gendarme offered him,
    disappeared, saying, "Bring in the prisoner."

    Rapid as had been Villefort's glance, it had served to give
    him an idea of the man he was about to interrogate. He had
    recognized intelligence in the high forehead, courage in the
    dark eye and bent brow, and frankness in the thick lips that
    showed a set of pearly teeth. Villefort's first impression
    was favorable; but he had been so often warned to mistrust
    first impulses, that he applied the maxim to the impression,
    forgetting the difference between the two words. He stifled,
    therefore, the feelings of compassion that were rising,
    composed his features, and sat down, grim and sombre, at his
    desk. An instant after Dantes entered. He was pale, but calm
    and collected, and saluting his judge with easy politeness,
    looked round for a seat, as if he had been in M. Morrel's
    salon. It was then that he encountered for the first time
    Villefort's look, -- that look peculiar to the magistrate,
    who, while seeming to read the thoughts of others, betrays
    nothing of his own.

    "Who and what are you?" demanded Villefort, turning over a
    pile of papers, containing information relative to the
    prisoner, that a police agent had given to him on his entry,
    and that, already, in an hour's time, had swelled to
    voluminous proportions, thanks to the corrupt espionage of
    which "the accused" is always made the victim.

    "My name is Edmond Dantes," replied the young man calmly; "I
    am mate of the Pharaon, belonging to Messrs. Morrel & Son."

    "Your age?" continued Villefort.

    "Nineteen," returned Dantes.

    "What were you doing at the moment you were arrested?"

    "I was at the festival of my marriage, monsieur," said the
    young man, his voice slightly tremulous, so great was the
    contrast between that happy moment and the painful ceremony
    he was now undergoing; so great was the contrast between the
    sombre aspect of M. de Villefort and the radiant face of
    Mercedes.

    "You were at the festival of your marriage?" said the
    deputy, shuddering in spite of himself.

    "Yes, monsieur; I am on the point of marrying a young girl I
    have been attached to for three years." Villefort, impassive
    as he was, was struck with this coincidence; and the
    tremulous voice of Dantes, surprised in the midst of his
    happiness, struck a sympathetic chord in his own bosom -- he
    also was on the point of being married, and he was summoned
    from his own happiness to destroy that of another. "This
    philosophic reflection," thought he, "will make a great
    sensation at M. de Saint-Meran's;" and he arranged mentally,
    while Dantes awaited further questions, the antithesis by
    which orators often create a reputation for eloquence. When
    this speech was arranged, Villefort turned to Dantes.

    "Go on, sir," said he.

    "What would you have me say?"

    "Give all the information in your power."

    "Tell me on which point you desire information, and I will
    tell all I know; only," added he, with a smile, "I warn you
    I know very little."

    "Have you served under the usurper?"

    "I was about to be mustered into the Royal Marines when he
    fell."

    "It is reported your political opinions are extreme," said
    Villefort, who had never heard anything of the kind, but was
    not sorry to make this inquiry, as if it were an accusation.

    "My political opinions!" replied Dantes. "Alas, sir, I never
    had any opinions. I am hardly nineteen; I know nothing; I
    have no part to play. If I obtain the situation I desire, I
    shall owe it to M. Morrel. Thus all my opinions -- I will
    not say public, but private -- are confined to these three
    sentiment, -- I love my father, I respect M. Morrel, and I
    adore Mercedes. This, sir, is all I can tell you, and you
    see how uninteresting it is." As Dantes spoke, Villefort
    gazed at his ingenuous and open countenance, and recollected
    the words of Renee, who, without knowing who the culprit
    was, had besought his indulgence for him. With the deputy's
    knowledge of crime and criminals, every word the young man
    uttered convinced him more and more of his innocence. This
    lad, for he was scarcely a man, -- simple, natural, eloquent
    with that eloquence of the heart never found when sought
    for; full of affection for everybody, because he was happy,
    and because happiness renders even the wicked good --
    extended his affection even to his judge, spite of
    Villefort's severe look and stern accent. Dantes seemed full
    of kindness.

    "Pardieu," said Villefort, "he is a noble fellow. I hope I
    shall gain Renee's favor easily by obeying the first command
    she ever imposed on me. I shall have at least a pressure of
    the hand in public, and a sweet kiss in private." Full of
    this idea, Villefort's face became so joyous, that when he
    turned to Dantes, the latter, who had watched the change on
    his physiognomy, was smiling also.

    "Sir," said Villefort, "have you any enemies, at least, that
    you know."

    "I have enemies?" replied Dantes; "my position is not
    sufficiently elevated for that. As for my disposition, that
    is, perhaps, somewhat too hasty; but I have striven to
    repress it. I have had ten or twelve sailors under me, and
    if you question them, they will tell you that they love and
    respect me, not as a father, for I am too young, but as an
    elder brother."

    "But you may have excited jealousy. You are about to become
    captain at nineteen -- an elevated post; you are about to
    marry a pretty girl, who loves you; and these two pieces of
    good fortune may have excited the envy of some one."

    "You are right; you know men better than I do, and what you
    say may possibly be the case, I confess; but if such persons
    are among my acquaintances I prefer not to know it, because
    then I should be forced to hate them."

    "You are wrong; you should always strive to see clearly
    around you. You seem a worthy young man; I will depart from
    the strict line of my duty to aid you in discovering the
    author of this accusation. Here is the paper; do you know
    the writing?" As he spoke, Villefort drew the letter from
    his pocket, and presented it to Dantes. Dantes read it. A
    cloud passed over his brow as he said, --

    "No, monsieur, I do not know the writing, and yet it is
    tolerably plain. Whoever did it writes well. I am very
    fortunate," added he, looking gratefully at Villefort, "to
    be examined by such a man as you; for this envious person is
    a real enemy." And by the rapid glance that the young man's
    eyes shot forth, Villefort saw how much energy lay hid
    beneath this mildness.

    "Now," said the deputy, "answer me frankly, not as a
    prisoner to a judge, but as one man to another who takes an
    interest in him, what truth is there in the accusation
    contained in this anonymous letter?" And Villefort threw
    disdainfully on his desk the letter Dantes had just given
    back to him.

    "None at all. I will tell you the real facts. I swear by my
    honor as a sailor, by my love for Mercedes, by the life of
    my father" --

    "Speak, monsieur," said Villefort. Then, internally, "If
    Renee could see me, I hope she would be satisfied, and would
    no longer call me a decapitator."

    "Well, when we quitted Naples, Captain Leclere was attacked
    with a brain fever. As we had no doctor on board, and he was
    so anxious to arrive at Elba, that he would not touch at any
    other port, his disorder rose to such a height, that at the
    end of the third day, feeling he was dying, he called me to
    him. 'My dear Dantes,' said he, 'swear to perform what I am
    going to tell you, for it is a matter of the deepest
    importance.'

    "'I swear, captain,' replied I.

    "'Well, as after my death the command devolves on you as
    mate, assume the command, and bear up for the Island of
    Elba, disembark at Porto-Ferrajo, ask for the grand-marshal,
    give him this letter -- perhaps they will give you another
    letter, and charge you with a commission. You will
    accomplish what I was to have done, and derive all the honor
    and profit from it.'

    "'I will do it, captain; but perhaps I shall not be admitted
    to the grand marshal's presence as easily as you expect?'

    "'Here is a ring that will obtain audience of him, and
    remove every difficulty,' said the captain. At these words
    he gave me a ring. It was time -- two hours after he was
    delirious; the next day he died."

    "And what did you do then?"

    "What I ought to have done, and what every one would have
    done in my place. Everywhere the last requests of a dying
    man are sacred; but with a sailor the last requests of his
    superior are commands. I sailed for the Island of Elba,
    where I arrived the next day; I ordered everybody to remain
    on board, and went on shore alone. As I had expected, I
    found some difficulty in obtaining access to the
    grand-marshal; but I sent the ring I had received from the
    captain to him, and was instantly admitted. He questioned me
    concerning Captain Leclere's death; and, as the latter had
    told me, gave me a letter to carry on to a person in Paris.
    I undertook it because it was what my captain had bade me
    do. I landed here, regulated the affairs of the vessel, and
    hastened to visit my affianced bride, whom I found more
    lovely than ever. Thanks to M. Morrel, all the forms were
    got over; in a word I was, as I told you, at my
    marriage-feast; and I should have been married in an hour,
    and to-morrow I intended to start for Paris, had I not been
    arrested on this charge which you as well as I now see to be
    unjust."

    "Ah," said Villefort, "this seems to me the truth. If you
    have been culpable, it was imprudence, and this imprudence
    was in obedience to the orders of your captain. Give up this
    letter you have brought from Elba, and pass your word you
    will appear should you be required, and go and rejoin your
    friends.

    "I am free, then, sir?" cried Dantes joyfully.

    "Yes; but first give me this letter."

    "You have it already, for it was taken from me with some
    others which I see in that packet."

    "Stop a moment," said the deputy, as Dantes took his hat and
    gloves. "To whom is it addressed?"

    "To Monsieur Noirtier, Rue Coq-Heron, Paris." Had a
    thunderbolt fallen into the room, Villefort could not have
    been more stupefied. He sank into his seat, and hastily
    turning over the packet, drew forth the fatal letter, at
    which he glanced with an expression of terror.

    "M. Noirtier, Rue Coq-Heron, No. 13," murmured he, growing
    still paler.

    "Yes," said Dantes; "do you know him?"

    "No," replied Villefort; "a faithful servant of the king
    does not know conspirators."

    "It is a conspiracy, then?" asked Dantes, who after
    believing himself free, now began to feel a tenfold alarm.
    "I have, however, already told you, sir, I was entirely
    ignorant of the contents of the letter."

    "Yes; but you knew the name of the person to whom it was
    addressed," said Villefort.

    "I was forced to read the address to know to whom to give
    it."

    "Have you shown this letter to any one?" asked Villefort,
    becoming still more pale.

    "To no one, on my honor."

    "Everybody is ignorant that you are the bearer of a letter
    from the Island of Elba, and addressed to M. Noirtier?"

    "Everybody, except the person who gave it to me."

    "And that was too much, far too much," murmured Villefort.
    Villefort's brow darkened more and more, his white lips and
    clinched teeth filled Dantes with apprehension. After
    reading the letter, Villefort covered his face with his
    hands.

    "Oh," said Dantes timidly, "what is the matter?" Villefort
    made no answer, but raised his head at the expiration of a
    few seconds, and again perused the letter.

    "And you say that you are ignorant of the contents of this
    letter?"

    "I give you my word of honor, sir," said Dantes; "but what
    is the matter? You are ill -- shall I ring for assistance?
    -- shall I call?"

    "No," said Villefort, rising hastily; "stay where you are.
    It is for me to give orders here, and not you."

    "Monsieur," replied Dantes proudly, "it was only to summon
    assistance for you."

    "I want none; it was a temporary indisposition. Attend to
    yourself; answer me." Dantes waited, expecting a question,
    but in vain. Villefort fell back on his chair, passed his
    hand over his brow, moist with perspiration, and, for the
    third time, read the letter.

    "Oh, if he knows the contents of this!" murmured he, "and
    that Noirtier is the father of Villefort, I am lost!" And he
    fixed his eyes upon Edmond as if he would have penetrated
    his thoughts.

    "Oh, it is impossible to doubt it," cried he, suddenly.

    "In heaven's name!" cried the unhappy young man, "if you
    doubt me, question me; I will answer you." Villefort made a
    violent effort, and in a tone he strove to render firm, --

    "Sir," said he, "I am no longer able, as I had hoped, to
    restore you immediately to liberty; before doing so, I must
    consult the trial justice; what my own feeling is you
    already know."

    "Oh, monsieur," cried Dantes, "you have been rather a friend
    than a judge."

    "Well, I must detain you some time longer, but I will strive
    to make it as short as possible. The principal charge
    against you is this letter, and you see" -- Villefort
    approached the fire, cast it in, and waited until it was
    entirely consumed.

    "You see, I destroy it?"

    "Oh," exclaimed Dantes, "you are goodness itself."

    "Listen," continued Villefort; "you can now have confidence
    in me after what I have done."

    "Oh, command, and I will obey."

    "Listen; this is not a command, but advice I give you."

    "Speak, and I will follow your advice."

    "I shall detain you until this evening in the Palais de
    Justice. Should any one else interrogate you, say to him
    what you have said to me, but do not breathe a word of this
    letter."

    "I promise." It was Villefort who seemed to entreat, and the
    prisoner who reassured him.

    "You see," continued he, glancing toward the grate, where
    fragments of burnt paper fluttered in the flames, "the
    letter is destroyed; you and I alone know of its existence;
    should you, therefore, be questioned, deny all knowledge of
    it -- deny it boldly, and you are saved."

    "Be satisfied; I will deny it."

    "It was the only letter you had?"

    "It was."

    "Swear it."

    "I swear it."

    Villefort rang. A police agent entered. Villefort whispered
    some words in his ear, to which the officer replied by a
    motion of his head.

    "Follow him," said Villefort to Dantes. Dantes saluted
    Villefort and retired. Hardly had the door closed when
    Villefort threw himself half-fainting into a chair.

    "Alas, alas," murmured he, "if the procureur himself had
    been at Marseilles I should have been ruined. This accursed
    letter would have destroyed all my hopes. Oh, my father,
    must your past career always interfere with my successes?"
    Suddenly a light passed over his face, a smile played round
    his set mouth, and his haggard eyes were fixed in thought.

    "This will do," said he, "and from this letter, which might
    have ruined me, I will make my fortune. Now to the work I
    have in hand." And after having assured himself that the
    prisoner was gone, the deputy procureur hastened to the
    house of his betrothed.
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