Meet us on:
 
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "The last time anybody made a list of the top hundred character attributes of New Yorkers, common sense snuck in at number 79."
     

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Chapter 51

    • Rate it:
    • Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 28 ratings
    • 49 Favorites on Read Print
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 51
    Previous Chapter
    CHAPTER 51
    Pyramus and Thisbe.

    About two-thirds of the way along the Faubourg Saint-Honore,
    and in the rear of one of the most imposing mansions in this
    rich neighborhood, where the various houses vie with each
    other for elegance of design and magnificence of
    construction, extended a large garden, where the
    wide-spreading chestnut-trees raised their heads high above
    the walls in a solid rampart, and with the coming of every
    spring scattered a shower of delicate pink and white
    blossoms into the large stone vases that stood upon the two
    square pilasters of a curiously wrought iron gate, that
    dated from the time of Louis XII. This noble entrance,
    however, in spite of its striking appearance and the
    graceful effect of the geraniums planted in the two vases,
    as they waved their variegated leaves in the wind and
    charmed the eye with their scarlet bloom, had fallen into
    utter disuse. The proprietors of the mansion had many years
    before thought it best to confine themselves to the
    possession of the house itself, with its thickly planted
    court-yard, opening into the Faubourg Saint-Honore, and to
    the garden shut in by this gate, which formerly communicated
    with a fine kitchen-garden of about an acre. For the demon
    of speculation drew a line, or in other words projected a
    street, at the farther side of the kitchen-garden. The
    street was laid out, a name was chosen and posted up on an
    iron plate, but before construction was begun, it occurred
    to the possessor of the property that a handsome sum might
    be obtained for the ground then devoted to fruits and
    vegetables, by building along the line of the proposed
    street, and so making it a branch of communication with the
    Faubourg Saint-Honore itself, one of the most important
    thoroughfares in the city of Paris.

    In matters of speculation, however, though "man proposes,"
    "money disposes." From some such difficulty the newly named
    street died almost in birth, and the purchaser of the
    kitchen-garden, having paid a high price for it, and being
    quite unable to find any one willing to take his bargain off
    his hands without a considerable loss, yet still clinging to
    the belief that at some future day he should obtain a sum
    for it that would repay him, not only for his past outlay,
    but also the interest upon the capital locked up in his new
    acquisition, contented himself with letting the ground
    temporarily to some market-gardeners, at a yearly rental of
    500 francs. And so, as we have said, the iron gate leading
    into the kitchen-garden had been closed up and left to the
    rust, which bade fair before long to eat off its hinges,
    while to prevent the ignoble glances of the diggers and
    delvers of the ground from presuming to sully the
    aristocratic enclosure belonging to the mansion, the gate
    had been boarded up to a height of six feet. True, the
    planks were not so closely adjusted but that a hasty peep
    might be obtained through their interstices; but the strict
    decorum and rigid propriety of the inhabitants of the house
    left no grounds for apprehending that advantage would be
    taken of that circumstance.

    Horticulture seemed, however, to have been abandoned in the
    deserted kitchen-garden; and where cabbages, carrots,
    radishes, pease, and melons had once flourished, a scanty
    crop of lucerne alone bore evidence of its being deemed
    worthy of cultivation. A small, low door gave egress from
    the walled space we have been describing into the projected
    street, the ground having been abandoned as unproductive by
    its various renters, and had now fallen so completely in
    general estimation as to return not even the one-half per
    cent it had originally paid. Towards the house the
    chestnut-trees we have before mentioned rose high above the
    wall, without in any way affecting the growth of other
    luxuriant shrubs and flowers that eagerly dressed forward to
    fill up the vacant spaces, as though asserting their right
    to enjoy the boon of light and air. At one corner, where the
    foliage became so thick as almost to shut out day, a large
    stone bench and sundry rustic seats indicated that this
    sheltered spot was either in general favor or particular use
    by some inhabitant of the house, which was faintly
    discernible through the dense mass of verdure that partially
    concealed it, though situated but a hundred paces off.

    Whoever had selected this retired portion of the grounds as
    the boundary of a walk, or as a place for meditation, was
    abundantly justified in the choice by the absence of all
    glare, the cool, refreshing shade, the screen it afforded
    from the scorching rays of the sun, that found no entrance
    there even during the burning days of hottest summer, the
    incessant and melodious warbling of birds, and the entire
    removal from either the noise of the street or the bustle of
    the mansion. On the evening of one of the warmest days
    spring had yet bestowed on the inhabitants of Paris, might
    be seen negligently thrown upon the stone bench, a book, a
    parasol, and a work-basket, from which hung a partly
    embroidered cambric handkerchief, while at a little distance
    from these articles was a young woman, standing close to the
    iron gate, endeavoring to discern something on the other
    side by means of the openings in the planks, -- the
    earnestness of her attitude and the fixed gaze with which
    she seemed to seek the object of her wishes, proving how
    much her feelings were interested in the matter. At that
    instant the little side-gate leading from the waste ground
    to the street was noiselessly opened, and a tall, powerful
    young man appeared. He was dressed in a common gray blouse
    and velvet cap, but his carefully arranged hair, beard and
    mustache, all of the richest and glossiest black, ill
    accorded with his plebeian attire. After casting a rapid
    glance around him, in order to assure himself that he was
    unobserved, he entered by the small gate, and, carefully
    closing and securing it after him, proceeded with a hurried
    step towards the barrier.

    At the sight of him she expected, though probably not in
    such a costume, the young woman started in terror, and was
    about to make a hasty retreat. But the eye of love had
    already seen, even through the narrow chinks of the wooden
    palisades, the movement of the white robe, and observed the
    fluttering of the blue sash. Pressing his lips close to the
    planks, he exclaimed, "Don't be alarmed, Valentine -- it is
    I!" Again the timid girl found courage to return to the
    gate, saying, as she did so, "And why do you come so late
    to-day? It is almost dinner-time, and I had to use no little
    diplomacy to get rid of my watchful mother-in-law, my
    too-devoted maid, and my troublesome brother, who is always
    teasing me about coming to work at my embroidery, which I am
    in a fair way never to get done. So pray excuse yourself as
    well as you can for having made me wait, and, after that,
    tell me why I see you in a dress so singular that at first I
    did not recognize you."

    "Dearest Valentine," said the young man, "the difference
    between our respective stations makes me fear to offend you
    by speaking of my love, but yet I cannot find myself in your
    presence without longing to pour forth my soul, and tell you
    how fondly I adore you. If it be but to carry away with me
    the recollection of such sweet moments, I could even thank
    you for chiding me, for it leaves me a gleam of hope, that
    if you did not expect me (and that indeed would be worse
    than vanity to suppose), at least I was in your thoughts.
    You asked me the cause of my being late, and why I come
    disguised. I will candidly explain the reason of both, and I
    trust to your goodness to pardon me. I have chosen a trade."

    "A trade? Oh, Maximilian, how can you jest at a time when we
    have such deep cause for uneasiness?"

    "Heaven keep me from jesting with that which is far dearer
    to me than life itself! But listen to me, Valentine, and I
    will tell you all about it. I became weary of ranging fields
    and scaling walls, and seriously alarmed at the idea
    suggested by you, that if caught hovering about here your
    father would very likely have me sent to prison as a thief.
    That would compromise the honor of the French army, to say
    nothing of the fact that the continual presence of a captain
    of Spahis in a place where no warlike projects could be
    supposed to account for it might well create surprise; so I
    have become a gardener, and, consequently, adopted the
    costume of my calling."

    "What excessive nonsense you talk, Maximilian!"

    "Nonsense? Pray do not call what I consider the wisest
    action of my life by such a name. Consider, by becoming a
    gardener I effectually screen our meetings from all
    suspicion or danger."

    "I beseech of you, Maximilian, to cease trifling, and tell
    me what you really mean."

    "Simply, that having ascertained that the piece of ground on
    which I stand was to let, I made application for it, was
    readily accepted by the proprietor, and am now master of
    this fine crop of lucerne. Think of that, Valentine! There
    is nothing now to prevent my building myself a little hut on
    my plantation, and residing not twenty yards from you. Only
    imagine what happiness that would afford me. I can scarcely
    contain myself at the bare idea. Such felicity seems above
    all price -- as a thing impossible and unattainable. But
    would you believe that I purchase all this delight, joy, and
    happiness, for which I would cheerfully have surrendered ten
    years of my life, at the small cost of 500 francs per annum,
    paid quarterly? Henceforth we have nothing to fear. I am on
    my own ground, and have an undoubted right to place a ladder
    against the wall, and to look over when I please, without
    having any apprehensions of being taken off by the police as
    a suspicious character. I may also enjoy the precious
    privilege of assuring you of my fond, faithful, and
    unalterable affection, whenever you visit your favorite
    bower, unless, indeed, it offends your pride to listen to
    professions of love from the lips of a poor workingman, clad
    in a blouse and cap." A faint cry of mingled pleasure and
    surprise escaped from the lips of Valentine, who almost
    instantly said, in a saddened tone, as though some envious
    cloud darkened the joy which illumined her heart, "Alas, no,
    Maximilian, this must not be, for many reasons. We should
    presume too much on our own strength, and, like others,
    perhaps, be led astray by our blind confidence in each
    other's prudence."

    "How can you for an instant entertain so unworthy a thought,
    dear Valentine? Have I not, from the first blessed hour of
    our acquaintance, schooled all my words and actions to your
    sentiments and ideas? And you have, I am sure, the fullest
    confidence in my honor. When you spoke to me of experiencing
    a vague and indefinite sense of coming danger, I placed
    myself blindly and devotedly at your service, asking no
    other reward than the pleasure of being useful to you; and
    have I ever since, by word or look, given you cause of
    regret for having selected me from the numbers that would
    willingly have sacrificed their lives for you? You told me,
    my dear Valentine, that you were engaged to M. d'Epinay, and
    that your father was resolved upon completing the match, and
    that from his will there was no appeal, as M. de Villefort
    was never known to change a determination once formed. I
    kept in the background, as you wished, and waited, not for
    the decision of your heart or my own, but hoping that
    providence would graciously interpose in our behalf, and
    order events in our favor. But what cared I for delays or
    difficulties, Valentine, as long as you confessed that you
    loved me, and took pity on me? If you will only repeat that
    avowal now and then, I can endure anything."

    "Ah, Maximilian, that is the very thing that makes you so
    bold, and which renders me at once so happy and unhappy,
    that I frequently ask myself whether it is better for me to
    endure the harshness of my mother-in-law, and her blind
    preference for her own child, or to be, as I now am,
    insensible to any pleasure save such as I find in these
    meetings, so fraught with danger to both."

    "I will not admit that word," returned the young man; "it is
    at once cruel and unjust. Is it possible to find a more
    submissive slave than myself? You have permitted me to
    converse with you from time to time, Valentine, but
    forbidden my ever following you in your walks or elsewhere
    -- have I not obeyed? And since I found means to enter this
    enclosure to exchange a few words with you through this gate
    -- to be close to you without really seeing you -- have I
    ever asked so much as to touch the hem of your gown or tried
    to pass this barrier which is but a trifle to one of my
    youth and strength? Never has a complaint or a murmur
    escaped me. I have been bound by my promises as rigidly as
    any knight of olden times. Come, come, dearest Valentine,
    confess that what I say is true, lest I be tempted to call
    you unjust."

    "It is true," said Valentine, as she passed the end of her
    slender fingers through a small opening in the planks, and
    permitted Maximilian to press his lips to them, "and you are
    a true and faithful friend; but still you acted from motives
    of self-interest, my dear Maximilian, for you well knew that
    from the moment in which you had manifested an opposite
    spirit all would have been ended between us. You promised to
    bestow on me the friendly affection of a brother. For I have
    no friend but yourself upon earth, who am neglected and
    forgotten by my father, harassed and persecuted by my
    mother-in-law, and left to the sole companionship of a
    paralyzed and speechless old man, whose withered hand can no
    longer press mine, and who can speak to me with the eye
    alone, although there still lingers in his heart the warmest
    tenderness for his poor grandchild. Oh, how bitter a fate is
    mine, to serve either as a victim or an enemy to all who are
    stronger than myself, while my only friend and supporter is
    a living corpse! Indeed, indeed, Maximilian, I am very
    miserable, and if you love me it must be out of pity."

    "Valentine," replied the young man, deeply affected, "I will
    not say you are all I love in the world, for I dearly prize
    my sister and brother-in-law; but my affection for them is
    calm and tranquil, in no manner resembling what I feel for
    you. When I think of you my heart beats fast, the blood
    burns in my veins, and I can hardly breathe; but I solemnly
    promise you to restrain all this ardor, this fervor and
    intensity of feeling, until you yourself shall require me to
    render them available in serving or assisting you. M. Franz
    is not expected to return home for a year to come, I am
    told; in that time many favorable and unforeseen chances may
    befriend us. Let us, then, hope for the best; hope is so
    sweet a comforter. Meanwhile, Valentine, while reproaching
    me with selfishness, think a little what you have been to me
    -- the beautiful but cold resemblance of a marble Venus.
    What promise of future reward have you made me for all the
    submission and obedience I have evinced? -- none whatever.
    What granted me? -- scarcely more. You tell me of M. Franz
    d'Epinay, your betrothed lover, and you shrink from the idea
    of being his wife; but tell me, Valentine, is there no other
    sorrow in your heart? You see me devoted to you, body and
    soul, my life and each warm drop that circles round my heart
    are consecrated to your service; you know full well that my
    existence is bound up in yours -- that were I to lose you I
    would not outlive the hour of such crushing misery; yet you
    speak with calmness of the prospect of your being the wife
    of another! Oh, Valentine, were I in your place, and did I
    feel conscious, as you do, of being worshipped, adored, with
    such a love as mine, a hundred times at least should I have
    passed my hand between these iron bars, and said, 'Take this
    hand, dearest Maximilian, and believe that, living or dead,
    I am yours -- yours only, and forever!'" The poor girl made
    no reply, but her lover could plainly hear her sobs and
    tears. A rapid change took place in the young man's
    feelings. "Dearest, dearest Valentine," exclaimed he,
    "forgive me if I have offended you, and forget the words I
    spoke if they have unwittingly caused you pain."

    "No, Maximilian, I am not offended," answered she, "but do
    you not see what a poor, helpless being I am, almost a
    stranger and an outcast in my father's house, where even he
    is seldom seen; whose will has been thwarted, and spirits
    broken, from the age of ten years, beneath the iron rod so
    sternly held over me; oppressed, mortified, and persecuted,
    day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, no person has
    cared for, even observed my sufferings, nor have I ever
    breathed one word on the subject save to yourself. Outwardly
    and in the eyes of the world, I am surrounded by kindness
    and affection; but the reverse is the case. The general
    remark is, 'Oh, it cannot be expected that one of so stern a
    character as M. Villefort could lavish the tenderness some
    fathers do on their daughters. What though she has lost her
    own mother at a tender age, she has had the happiness to
    find a second mother in Madame de Villefort.' The world,
    however, is mistaken; my father abandons me from utter
    indifference, while my mother-in-law detests me with a
    hatred so much the more terrible because it is veiled
    beneath a continual smile."

    "Hate you, sweet Valentine," exclaimed the young man; "how
    is it possible for any one to do that?"

    "Alas," replied the weeping girl, "I am obliged to own that
    my mother-in-law's aversion to me arises from a very natural
    source -- her overweening love for her own child, my brother
    Edward."

    "But why should it?"

    "I do not know; but, though unwilling to introduce money
    matters into our present conversation, I will just say this
    much -- that her extreme dislike to me has its origin there;
    and I much fear she envies me the fortune I enjoy in right
    of my mother, and which will be more than doubled at the
    death of M. and Mme. de Saint-Meran, whose sole heiress I
    am. Madame de Villefort has nothing of her own, and hates me
    for being so richly endowed. Alas, how gladly would I
    exchange the half of this wealth for the happiness of at
    least sharing my father's love. God knows, I would prefer
    sacrificing the whole, so that it would obtain me a happy
    and affectionate home."

    "Poor Valentine!"

    "I seem to myself as though living a life of bondage, yet at
    the same time am so conscious of my own weakness that I fear
    to break the restraint in which I am held, lest I fall
    utterly helpless. Then, too, my father is not a person whose
    orders may be infringed with impunity; protected as he is by
    his high position and firmly established reputation for
    talent and unswerving integrity, no one could oppose him; he
    is all-powerful even with the king; he would crush you at a
    word. Dear Maximilian, believe me when I assure you that if
    I do not attempt to resist my father's commands it is more
    on your account than my own."

    "But why, Valentine, do you persist in anticipating the
    worst, -- why picture so gloomy a future?"

    "Because I judge it from the past."

    "Still, consider that although I may not be, strictly
    speaking, what is termed an illustrious match for you, I am,
    for many reasons, not altogether so much beneath your
    alliance. The days when such distinctions were so nicely
    weighed and considered no longer exist in France, and the
    first families of the monarchy have intermarried with those
    of the empire. The aristocracy of the lance has allied
    itself with the nobility of the cannon. Now I belong to this
    last-named class; and certainly my prospects of military
    preferment are most encouraging as well as certain. My
    fortune, though small, is free and unfettered, and the
    memory of my late father is respected in our country,
    Valentine, as that of the most upright and honorable
    merchant of the city; I say our country, because you were
    born not far from Marseilles."

    "Don't speak of Marseilles, I beg of you, Maximilian; that
    one word brings back my mother to my recollection -- my
    angel mother, who died too soon for myself and all who knew
    her; but who, after watching over her child during the brief
    period allotted to her in this world, now, I fondly hope,
    watches from her home in heaven. Oh, if my mother were still
    living, there would be nothing to fear, Maximilian, for I
    would tell her that I loved you, and she would protect us."

    "I fear, Valentine," replied the lover, "that were she
    living I should never have had the happiness of knowing you;
    you would then have been too happy to have stooped from your
    grandeur to bestow a thought on me."

    "Now it is you who are unjust, Maximilian," cried Valentine;
    "but there is one thing I wish to know."

    "And what is that?" inquired the young man, perceiving that
    Valentine hesitated.

    "Tell me truly, Maximilian, whether in former days, when our
    fathers dwelt at Marseilles, there was ever any
    misunderstanding between them?"

    "Not that I am aware of," replied the young man, "unless,
    indeed, any ill-feeling might have arisen from their being
    of opposite parties -- your father was, as you know, a
    zealous partisan of the Bourbons, while mine was wholly
    devoted to the emperor; there could not possibly be any
    other difference between them. But why do you ask?"

    "I will tell you," replied the young girl, "for it is but
    right you should know. Well, on the day when your
    appointment as an officer of the Legion of honor was
    announced in the papers, we were all sitting with my
    grandfather, M. Noirtier; M. Danglars was there also -- you
    recollect M. Danglars, do you not, Maximilian, the banker,
    whose horses ran away with my mother-in-law and little
    brother, and very nearly killed them? While the rest of the
    company were discussing the approaching marriage of
    Mademoiselle Danglars, I was reading the paper to my
    grandfather; but when I came to the paragraph about you,
    although I had done nothing else but read it over to myself
    all the morning (you know you had told me all about it the
    previous evening), I felt so happy, and yet so nervous, at
    the idea of speaking your name aloud, and before so many
    people, that I really think I should have passed it over,
    but for the fear that my doing so might create suspicions as
    to the cause of my silence; so I summoned up all my courage,
    and read it as firmly and as steadily as I could."

    "Dear Valentine!"

    "Well, would you believe it? directly my father caught the
    sound of your name he turned round quite hastily, and, like
    a poor silly thing, I was so persuaded that every one must
    be as much affected as myself by the utterance of your name,
    that I was not surprised to see my father start, and almost
    tremble; but I even thought (though that surely must have
    been a mistake) that M. Danglars trembled too."

    "'Morrel, Morrel,' cried my father, 'stop a bit;' then
    knitting his brows into a deep frown, he added, 'surely this
    cannot be one of the Morrel family who lived at Marseilles,
    and gave us so much trouble from their violent Bonapartism
    -- I mean about the year 1815.' -- 'Yes,' replied M.
    Danglars, 'I believe he is the son of the old shipowner.'"

    "Indeed," answered Maximilian; "and what did your father say
    then, Valentine?"

    "Oh, such a dreadful thing, that I don't dare to tell you."

    "Always tell me everything," said Maximilian with a smile.

    "'Ah,' continued my father, still frowning, 'their idolized
    emperor treated these madmen as they deserved; he called
    them 'food for powder,' which was precisely all they were
    good for; and I am delighted to see that the present
    government have adopted this salutary principle with all its
    pristine vigor; if Algiers were good for nothing but to
    furnish the means of carrying so admirable an idea into
    practice, it would be an acquisition well worthy of
    struggling to obtain. Though it certainly does cost France
    somewhat dear to assert her rights in that uncivilized
    country.'"

    "Brutal politics, I must confess." said Maximilian; "but
    don't attach any serious importance, dear, to what your
    father said. My father was not a bit behind yours in that
    sort of talk. 'Why,' said he, 'does not the emperor, who has
    devised so many clever and efficient modes of improving the
    art of war, organize a regiment of lawyers, judges and legal
    practitioners, sending them in the hottest fire the enemy
    could maintain, and using them to save better men?' You see,
    my dear, that for picturesque expression and generosity of
    spirit there is not much to choose between the language of
    either party. But what did M. Danglars say to this outburst
    on the part of the procureur?"

    "Oh, he laughed, and in that singular manner so peculiar to
    himself -- half-malicious, half-ferocious; he almost
    immediately got up and took his leave; then, for the first
    time, I observed the agitation of my grandfather, and I must
    tell you, Maximilian, that I am the only person capable of
    discerning emotion in his paralyzed frame. And I suspected
    that the conversation that had been carried on in his
    presence (for they always say and do what they like before
    the dear old man, without the smallest regard for his
    feelings) had made a strong impression on his mind; for,
    naturally enough, it must have pained him to hear the
    emperor he so devotedly loved and served spoken of in that
    depreciating manner."

    "The name of M. Noirtier," interposed Maximilian, "is
    celebrated throughout Europe; he was a statesman of high
    standing, and you may or may not know, Valentine, that he
    took a leading part in every Bonapartist conspiracy set on
    foot during the restoration of the Bourbons."

    "Oh, I have often heard whispers of things that seem to me
    most strange -- the father a Bonapartist, the son a
    Royalist; what can have been the reason of so singular a
    difference in parties and politics? But to resume my story;
    I turned towards my grandfather, as though to question him
    as to the cause of his emotion; he looked expressively at
    the newspaper I had been reading. 'What is the matter, dear
    grandfather?' said I, 'are you pleased?' He gave me a sign
    in the affirmative. 'With what my father said just now?' He
    returned a sign in the negative. 'Perhaps you liked what M.
    Danglars said?' Another sign in the negative. 'Oh, then, you
    were glad to hear that M. Morrel (I didn't dare to say
    Maximilian) had been made an officer of the Legion of
    Honor?' He signified assent; only think of the poor old
    man's being so pleased to think that you, who were a perfect
    stranger to him, had been made an officer of the Legion of
    Honor! Perhaps it was a mere whim on his part, for he is
    falling, they say, into second childhood, but I love him for
    showing so much interest in you."

    "How singular," murmured Maximilian; "your father hates me,
    while your grandfather, on the contrary -- What strange
    feelings are aroused by politics."

    "Hush," cried Valentine, suddenly; "some one is coming!"
    Maximilian leaped at one bound into his crop of lucerne,
    which he began to pull up in the most ruthless way, under
    the pretext of being occupied in weeding it.

    "Mademoiselle, mademoiselle!" exclaimed a voice from behind
    the trees. "Madame is searching for you everywhere; there is
    a visitor in the drawing-room."

    "A visitor?" inquired Valentine, much agitated; "who is it?"

    "Some grand personage -- a prince I believe they said -- the
    Count of Monte Cristo."

    "I will come directly," cried Valentine aloud. The name of
    Monte Cristo sent an electric shock through the young man on
    the other side of the iron gate, to whom Valentine's "I am
    coming" was the customary signal of farewell. "Now, then,"
    said Maximilian, leaning on the handle of his spade, "I
    would give a good deal to know how it comes about that the
    Count of Monte Cristo is acquainted with M. de Villefort."
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 51
    Previous Chapter
    If you're writing a Alexandre Dumas pere essay and need some advice, post your Alexandre Dumas pere essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Finished
    Want to read
    Abandoned

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?