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    Chapter 73

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    Chapter 73
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    CHAPTER 73
    The Promise.

    It was, indeed, Maximilian Morrel, who had passed a wretched
    existence since the previous day. With the instinct peculiar
    to lovers he had anticipated after the return of Madame de
    Saint-Meran and the death of the marquis, that something
    would occur at M. de Villefort's in connection with his
    attachment for Valentine. His presentiments were realized,
    as we shall see, and his uneasy forebodings had goaded him
    pale and trembling to the gate under the chestnut-trees.
    Valentine was ignorant of the cause of this sorrow and
    anxiety, and as it was not his accustomed hour for visiting
    her, she had gone to the spot simply by accident or perhaps
    through sympathy. Morrel called her, and she ran to the
    gate. "You here at this hour?" said she. "Yes, my poor
    girl," replied Morrel; "I come to bring and to hear bad
    tidings."

    "This is, indeed, a house of mourning," said Valentine;
    "speak, Maximilian, although the cup of sorrow seems already
    full."

    "Dear Valentine," said Morrel, endeavoring to conceal his
    own emotion, "listen, I entreat you; what I am about to say
    is very serious. When are you to be married?"

    "I will tell you all," said Valentine; "from you I have
    nothing to conceal. This morning the subject was introduced,
    and my dear grandmother, on whom I depended as my only
    support, not only declared herself favorable to it, but is
    so anxious for it, that they only await the arrival of M.
    d'Epinay, and the following day the contract will be
    signed." A deep sigh escaped the young man, who gazed long
    and mournfully at her he loved. "Alas," replied he, "it is
    dreadful thus to hear my condemnation from your own lips.
    The sentence is passed, and, in a few hours, will be
    executed; it must be so, and I will not endeavor to prevent
    it. But, since you say nothing remains but for M. d'Epinay
    to arrive that the contract may be signed, and the following
    day you will be his, to-morrow you will be engaged to M.
    d'Epinay, for he came this morning to Paris." Valentine
    uttered a cry.

    "I was at the house of Monte Cristo an hour since," said
    Morrel; "we were speaking, he of the sorrow your family had
    experienced, and I of your grief, when a carriage rolled
    into the court-yard. Never, till then, had I placed any
    confidence in presentiments, but now I cannot help believing
    them, Valentine. At the sound of that carriage I shuddered;
    soon I heard steps on the staircase, which terrified me as
    much as the footsteps of the commander did Don Juan. The
    door at last opened; Albert de Morcerf entered first, and I
    began to hope my fears were vain, when, after him, another
    young man advanced, and the count exclaimed -- 'Ah, here is
    the Baron Franz d'Epinay!' I summoned all my strength and
    courage to my support. Perhaps I turned pale and trembled,
    but certainly I smiled; and five minutes after I left,
    without having heard one word that had passed."

    "Poor Maximilian!" murmured Valentine.

    "Valentine, the time has arrived when you must answer me.
    And remember my life depends on your answer. What do you
    intend doing?" Valentine held down her head; she was
    overwhelmed.

    "Listen," said Morrel; "it is not the first time you have
    contemplated our present position, which is a serious and
    urgent one; I do not think it is a moment to give way to
    useless sorrow; leave that for those who like to suffer at
    their leisure and indulge their grief in secret. There are
    such in the world, and God will doubtless reward them in
    heaven for their resignation on earth, but those who mean to
    contend must not lose one precious moment, but must return
    immediately the blow which fortune strikes. Do you intend to
    struggle against our ill-fortune? Tell me, Valentine for it
    is that I came to know."

    Valentine trembled, and looked at him with amazement. The
    idea of resisting her father, her grandmother, and all the
    family, had never occurred to her. "What do you say,
    Maximilian?" asked Valentine. "What do you mean by a
    struggle? Oh, it would be a sacrilege. What? I resist my
    father's order, and my dying grandmother's wish?
    Impossible!" Morrel started. "You are too noble not to
    understand me, and you understand me so well that you
    already yield, dear Maximilian. No, no; I shall need all my
    strength to struggle with myself and support my grief in
    secret, as you say. But to grieve my father -- to disturb my
    grandmother's last moments -- never!"

    "You are right," said Morrel, calmly.

    "In what a tone you speak!" cried Valentine.

    "I speak as one who admires you, mademoiselle."

    "Mademoiselle," cried Valentine; "mademoiselle! Oh, selfish
    man, -- he sees me in despair, and pretends he cannot
    understand me!"

    "You mistake -- I understand you perfectly. You will not
    oppose M. Villefort, you will not displease the marchioness,
    and to-morrow you will sign the contract which will bind you
    to your husband."

    "But, mon Dieu, tell me, how can I do otherwise?"

    "Do not appeal to me, mademoiselle; I shall be a bad judge
    in such a case; my selfishness will blind me," replied
    Morrel, whose low voice and clinched hands announced his
    growing desperation.

    "What would you have proposed, Maximilian, had you found me
    willing to accede?"

    "It is not for me to say."

    "You are wrong; you must advise me what to do."

    "Do you seriously ask my advice, Valentine?"

    "Certainly, dear Maximilian, for if it is good, I will
    follow it; you know my devotion to you."

    "Valentine," said Morrel pushing aside a loose plank, "give
    me your hand in token of forgiveness of my anger; my senses
    are confused, and during the last hour the most extravagant
    thoughts have passed through my brain. Oh, if you refuse my
    advice" --

    "What do you advise?" said Valentine, raising her eyes to
    heaven and sighing. "I am free," replied Maximilian, "and
    rich enough to support you. I swear to make you my lawful
    wife before my lips even shall have approached your
    forehead."

    "You make me tremble!" said the young girl.

    "Follow me," said Morrel; "I will take you to my sister, who
    is worthy also to be yours. We will embark for Algiers, for
    England, for America, or, if your prefer it, retire to the
    country and only return to Paris when our friends have
    reconciled your family." Valentine shook her head. "I feared
    it, Maximilian," said she; "it is the counsel of a madman,
    and I should be more mad than you, did I not stop you at
    once with the word 'Impossible, impossible!'"

    "You will then submit to what fate decrees for you without
    even attempting to contend with it?" said Morrel
    sorrowfully. "Yes, -- if I die!"

    "Well, Valentine," resumed Maximilian, "I can only say again
    that you are right. Truly, it is I who am mad, and you prove
    to me that passion blinds the most well-meaning. I
    appreciate your calm reasoning. It is then understood that
    to-morrow you will be irrevocably promised to M. Franz
    d'Epinay, not only by that theatrical formality invented to
    heighten the effect of a comedy called the signature of the
    contract, but your own will?"

    "Again you drive me to despair, Maximilian," said Valentine,
    "again you plunge the dagger into the wound! What would you
    do, tell me, if your sister listened to such a proposition?"

    "Mademoiselle," replied Morrel with a bitter smile, "I am
    selfish -- you have already said so -- and as a selfish man
    I think not of what others would do in my situation, but of
    what I intend doing myself. I think only that I have known
    you not a whole year. From the day I first saw you, all my
    hopes of happiness have been in securing your affection. One
    day you acknowledged that you loved me, and since that day
    my hope of future happiness has rested on obtaining you, for
    to gain you would be life to me. Now, I think no more; I say
    only that fortune has turned against me -- I had thought to
    gain heaven, and now I have lost it. It is an every-day
    occurrence for a gambler to lose not only what he possesses
    but also what he has not." Morrel pronounced these words
    with perfect calmness; Valentine looked at him a moment with
    her large, scrutinizing eyes, endeavoring not to let Morrel
    discover the grief which struggled in her heart. "But, in a
    word, what are you going to do?" asked she.

    "I am going to have the honor of taking my leave of you,
    mademoiselle, solemnly assuring you that I wish your life
    may be so calm, so happy, and so fully occupied, that there
    may be no place for me even in your memory."

    "Oh!" murmured Valentine.

    "Adieu, Valentine, adieu!" said Morrel, bowing.

    "Where are you going?" cried the young girl, extending her
    hand through the opening, and seizing Maximilian by his
    coat, for she understood from her own agitated feelings that
    her lover's calmness could not be real; "where are you
    going?"

    "I am going, that I may not bring fresh trouble into your
    family: and to set an example which every honest and devoted
    man, situated as I am, may follow."

    "Before you leave me, tell me what you are going to do,
    Maximilian." The young man smiled sorrowfully. "Speak,
    speak!" said Valentine; "I entreat you."

    "Has your resolution changed, Valentine?"

    "It cannot change, unhappy man; you know it must not!" cried
    the young girl. "Then adieu, Valentine!" Valentine shook the
    gate with a strength of which she could not have been
    supposed to be possessed, as Morrel was going away, and
    passing both her hands through the opening, she clasped and
    wrung them. "I must know what you mean to do!" said she.
    "Where are you going?"

    "Oh, fear not," said Maximilian, stopping at a short
    distance, "I do not intend to render another man responsible
    for the rigorous fate reserved for me. Another might
    threaten to seek M. Franz, to provoke him, and to fight with
    him; all that would be folly. What has M. Franz to do with
    it? He saw me this morning for the first time, and has
    already forgotten he has seen me. He did not even know I
    existed when it was arranged by your two families that you
    should be united. I have no enmity against M. Franz, and
    promise you the punishment shall not fall on him."

    "On whom, then! -- on me?"

    "On you? Valentine! Oh, heaven forbid! Woman is sacred; the
    woman one loves is holy."

    "On yourself, then, unhappy man; on yourself?"

    "I am the only guilty person, am I not?' said Maximilian.

    "Maximilian!" said Valentine, "Maximilian, come back, I
    entreat you!" He drew near with his sweet smile, and but for
    his paleness one might have thought him in his usual happy
    mood. "Listen, my dear, my adored Valentine," said he in his
    melodious and grave tone; "those who, like us, have never
    had a thought for which we need blush before the world, such
    may read each other's hearts. I never was romantic, and am
    no melancholy hero. I imitate neither Manfred nor Anthony;
    but without words, protestations, or vows, my life has
    entwined itself with yours; you leave me, and you are right
    in doing so, -- I repeat it, you are right; but in losing
    you, I lose my life.

    "The moment you leave me, Valentine, I am alone in the
    world. My sister is happily married; her husband is only my
    brother-in-law, that is, a man whom the ties of social life
    alone attach to me; no one then longer needs my useless
    life. This is what I shall do; I will wait until the very
    moment you are married, for I will not lose the shadow of
    one of those unexpected chances which are sometimes reserved
    for us, since M. Franz may, after all, die before that time,
    a thunderbolt may fall even on the altar as you approach it,
    -- nothing appears impossible to one condemned to die, and
    miracles appear quite reasonable when his escape from death
    is concerned. I will, then, wait until the last moment, and
    when my misery is certain, irremediable, hopeless, I will
    write a confidential letter to my brother-in-law, another to
    the prefect of police, to acquaint them with my intention,
    and at the corner of some wood, on the brink of some abyss,
    on the bank of some river, I will put an end to my
    existence, as certainly as I am the son of the most honest
    man who ever lived in France."

    Valentine trembled convulsively; she loosened her hold of
    the gate, her arms fell by her side, and two large tears
    rolled down her cheeks. The young man stood before her,
    sorrowful and resolute. "Oh, for pity's sake," said she,
    "you will live, will you not?"

    "No, on my honor," said Maximilian; "but that will not
    affect you. You have done your duty, and your conscience
    will be at rest." Valentine fell on her knees, and pressed
    her almost bursting heart. "Maximilian," said she,
    "Maximilian, my friend, my brother on earth, my true husband
    in heaven, I entreat you, do as I do, live in suffering;
    perhaps we may one day be united."

    "Adieu, Valentine," repeated Morrel.

    "My God," said Valentine, raising both her hands to heaven
    with a sublime expression, "I have done my utmost to remain
    a submissive daughter; I have begged, entreated, implored;
    he has regarded neither my prayers, my entreaties, nor my
    tears. It is done," cried she, willing away her tears, and
    resuming her firmness, "I am resolved not to die of remorse,
    but rather of shame. Live, Maximilian, and I will be yours.
    Say when shall it be? Speak, command, I will obey." Morrel,
    who had already gone some few steps away, again returned,
    and pale with joy extended both hands towards Valentine
    through the opening. "Valentine," said he, "dear Valentine,
    you must not speak thus -- rather let me die. Why should I
    obtain you by violence, if our love is mutual? Is it from
    mere humanity you bid me live? I would then rather die."

    "Truly," murmured Valentine, "who on this earth cares for
    me, if he does not? Who has consoled me in my sorrow but he?
    On whom do my hopes rest? On whom does my bleeding heart
    repose? On him, on him, always on him! Yes, you are right,
    Maximilian, I will follow you. I will leave the paternal
    home, I will give up all. Oh, ungrateful girl that I am,"
    cried Valentine, sobbing, "I will give up all, even my dear
    old grandfather, whom I had nearly forgotten."

    "No," said Maximilian, "you shall not leave him. M. Noirtier
    has evinced, you say, a kind feeling towards me. Well,
    before you leave, tell him all; his consent would be your
    justification in God's sight. As soon as we are married, he
    shall come and live with us, instead of one child, he shall
    have two. You have told me how you talk to him and how he
    answers you; I shall very soon learn that language by signs,
    Valentine, and I promise you solemnly, that instead of
    despair, it is happiness that awaits us."

    "Oh, see, Maximilian, see the power you have over me, you
    almost make me believe you; and yet, what you tell me is
    madness, for my father will curse me -- he is inflexible --
    he will never pardon me. Now listen to me, Maximilian; if by
    artifice, by entreaty, by accident -- in short, if by any
    means I can delay this marriage, will you wait?"

    "Yes, I promise you, as faithfully as you have promised me
    that this horrible marriage shall not take place, and that
    if you are dragged before a magistrate or a priest, you will
    refuse."

    "I promise you by all that is most sacred to me in the
    world, namely, by my mother."

    "We will wait, then," said Morrel.

    "Yes, we will wait," replied Valentine, who revived at these
    words; "there are so many things which may save unhappy
    beings such as we are."

    "I rely on you, Valentine," said Morrel; "all you do will be
    well done; only if they disregard your prayers, if your
    father and Madame de Saint-Meran insist that M. d'Epinay
    should be called to-morrow to sign the contract" --

    "Then you have my promise, Maximilian."

    "Instead of signing" --

    "I will go to you, and we will fly; but from this moment
    until then, let us not tempt providence, let us not see each
    other. It is a miracle, it is a providence that we have not
    been discovered. If we were surprised, if it were known that
    we met thus, we should have no further resource."

    "You are right, Valentine; but how shall I ascertain?"

    "From the notary, M. Deschamps."

    "I know him."

    "And for myself -- I will write to you, depend on me. I
    dread this marriage, Maximilian, as much as you."

    "Thank you, my adored Valentine, thank you; that is enough.
    When once I know the hour, I will hasten to this spot, you
    can easily get over this fence with my assistance, a
    carriage will await us at the gate, in which you will
    accompany me to my sister's; there living, retired or
    mingling in society, as you wish, we shall be enabled to use
    our power to resist oppression, and not suffer ourselves to
    be put to death like sheep, which only defend themselves by
    sighs."

    "Yes," said Valentine, "I will now acknowledge you are
    right, Maximilian; and now are you satisfied with your
    betrothal?" said the young girl sorrowfully.

    "My adored Valentine, words cannot express one half of my
    satisfaction." Valentine had approached, or rather, had
    placed her lips so near the fence, that they nearly touched
    those of Morrel, which were pressed against the other side
    of the cold and inexorable barrier. "Adieu, then, till we
    meet again," said Valentine, tearing herself away. "I shall
    hear from you?"

    "Yes."

    "Thanks, thanks, dear love, adieu!" The sound of a kiss was
    heard, and Valentine fled through the avenue. Morrel
    listened to catch the last sound of her dress brushing the
    branches, and of her footstep on the gravel, then raised his
    eyes with an ineffable smile of thankfulness to heaven for
    being permitted to be thus loved, and then also disappeared.
    The young man returned home and waited all the evening and
    all the next day without getting any message. It was only on
    the following day, at about ten o'clock in the morning, as
    he was starting to call on M. Deschamps, the notary, that he
    received from the postman a small billet, which he knew to
    be from Valentine, although he had not before seen her
    writing. It was to this effect: --

    Tears, entreaties, prayers, have availed me nothing.
    Yesterday, for two hours, I was at the church of
    Saint-Phillippe du Roule, and for two hours I prayed most
    fervently. Heaven is as inflexible as man, and the signature
    of the contract is fixed for this evening at nine o'clock. I
    have but one promise and but one heart to give; that promise
    is pledged to you, that heart is also yours. This evening,
    then, at a quarter to nine at the gate.

    Your betrothed,

    Valentine de Villefort.

    P.S. -- My poor grandmother gets worse and worse; yesterday
    her fever amounted to delirium; to-day her delirium is
    almost madness. You will be very kind to me, will you not,
    Morrel, to make me forget my sorrow in leaving her thus? I
    think it is kept a secret from grandpapa Noirtier, that the
    contract is to be signed this evening.

    Morrel went also to the notary, who confirmed the news that
    the contract was to be signed that evening. Then he went to
    call on Monte Cristo and heard still more. Franz had been to
    announce the ceremony, and Madame de Villefort had also
    written to beg the count to excuse her not inviting him; the
    death of M. de Saint-Meran and the dangerous illness of his
    widow would cast a gloom over the meeting which she would
    regret should be shared by the count whom she wished every
    happiness. The day before Franz had been presented to Madame
    de Saint-Meran, who had left her bed to receive him, but had
    been obliged to return to it immediately after. It is easy
    to suppose that Morrel's agitation would not escape the
    count's penetrating eye. Monte Cristo was more affectionate
    than ever, -- indeed, his manner was so kind that several
    times Morrel was on the point of telling him all. But he
    recalled the promise he had made to Valentine, and kept his
    secret.

    The young man read Valentine's letter twenty times in the
    course of the day. It was her first, and on what an
    occasion! Each time he read it he renewed his vow to make
    her happy. How great is the power of a woman who has made so
    courageous a resolution! What devotion does she deserve from
    him for whom she has sacrificed everything! How ought she
    really to be supremely loved! She becomes at once a queen
    and a wife, and it is impossible to thank and love her
    sufficiently. Morrel longed intensely for the moment when he
    should hear Valentine say, "Here I am, Maximilian; come and
    help me." He had arranged everything for her escape; two
    ladders were hidden in the clover-field; a cabriolet was
    ordered for Maximilian alone, without a servant, without
    lights; at the turning of the first street they would light
    the lamps, as it would be foolish to attract the notice of
    the police by too many precautions. Occasionally he
    shuddered; he thought of the moment when, from the top of
    that wall, he should protect the descent of his dear
    Valentine, pressing in his arms for the first time her of
    whom he had yet only kissed the delicate hand.

    When the afternoon arrived and he felt that the hour was
    drawing near, he wished for solitude, his agitation was
    extreme; a simple question from a friend would have
    irritated him. He shut himself in his room, and tried to
    read, but his eye glanced over the page without
    understanding a word, and he threw away the book, and for
    the second time sat down to sketch his plan, the ladders and
    the fence. At length the hour drew near. Never did a man
    deeply in love allow the clocks to go on peacefully. Morrel
    tormented his so effectually that they struck eight at
    half-past six. He then said, "It is time to start; the
    signature was indeed fixed to take place at nine o'clock,
    but perhaps Valentine will not wait for that. Consequently,
    Morrel, having left the Rue Meslay at half-past eight by his
    timepiece, entered the clover-field while the clock of
    Saint-Phillippe du Roule was striking eight. The horse and
    cabriolet were concealed behind a small ruin, where Morrel
    had often waited.

    The night gradually drew on, and the foliage in the garden
    assumed a deeper hue. Then Morrel came out from his
    hiding-place with a beating heart, and looked through the
    small opening in the gate; there was yet no one to be seen.
    The clock struck half-past eight, and still another
    half-hour was passed in waiting, while Morrel walked to and
    fro, and gazed more and more frequently through the opening.
    The garden became darker still, but in the darkness he
    looked in vain for the white dress, and in the silence he
    vainly listened for the sound of footsteps. The house, which
    was discernible through the trees, remained in darkness, and
    gave no indication that so important an event as the
    signature of a marriage-contract was going on. Morrel looked
    at his watch, which wanted a quarter to ten; but soon the
    same clock he had already heard strike two or three times
    rectified the error by striking half-past nine.

    This was already half an hour past the time Valentine had
    fixed. It was a terrible moment for the young man. The
    slightest rustling of the foliage, the least whistling of
    the wind, attracted his attention, and drew the perspiration
    to his brow; then he tremblingly fixed his ladder, and, not
    to lose a moment, placed his foot on the first step. Amidst
    all these alternations of hope and fear, the clock struck
    ten. "It is impossible," said Maximilian, "that the signing
    of a contract should occupy so long a time without
    unexpected interruptions. I have weighed all the chances,
    calculated the time required for all the forms; something
    must have happened." And then he walked rapidly to and fro,
    and pressed his burning forehead against the fence. Had
    Valentine fainted? or had she been discovered and stopped in
    her flight? These were the only obstacles which appeared
    possible to the young man.

    The idea that her strength had failed her in attempting to
    escape, and that she had fainted in one of the paths, was
    the one that most impressed itself upon his mind. "In that
    case," said he, "I should lose her, and by my own fault." He
    dwelt on this idea for a moment, then it appeared reality.
    He even thought he could perceive something on the ground at
    a distance; he ventured to call, and it seemed to him that
    the wind wafted back an almost inarticulate sigh. At last
    the half-hour struck. It was impossible to wait longer, his
    temples throbbed violently, his eyes were growing dim; he
    passed one leg over the wall, and in a moment leaped down on
    the other side. He was on Villefort's premises -- had
    arrived there by scaling the wall. What might be the
    consequences? However, he had not ventured thus far to draw
    back. He followed a short distance close under the wall,
    then crossed a path, hid entered a clump of trees. In a
    moment he had passed through them, and could see the house
    distinctly. Then Morrel saw that he had been right in
    believing that the house was not illuminated. Instead of
    lights at every window, as is customary on days of ceremony,
    he saw only a gray mass, which was veiled also by a cloud,
    which at that moment obscured the moon's feeble light. A
    light moved rapidly from time to time past three windows of
    the second floor. These three windows were in Madame de
    Saint-Meran's room. Another remained motionless behind some
    red curtains which were in Madame de Villefort's bedroom.
    Morrel guessed all this. So many times, in order to follow
    Valentine in thought at every hour in the day, had he made
    her describe the whole house, that without having seen it he
    knew it all.

    This darkness and silence alarmed Morrel still more than
    Valentine's absence had done. Almost mad with grief, and
    determined to venture everything in order to see Valentine
    once more, and be certain of the misfortune he feared,
    Morrel gained the edge of the clump of trees, and was going
    to pass as quickly as possible through the flower-garden,
    when the sound of a voice, still at some distance, but which
    was borne upon the wind, reached him.

    At this sound, as he was already partially exposed to view,
    he stepped back and concealed himself completely, remaining
    perfectly motionless. He had formed his resolution. If it
    was Valentine alone, he would speak as she passed; if she
    was accompanied, and he could not speak, still he should see
    her, and know that she was safe; if they were strangers, he
    would listen to their conversation, and might understand
    something of this hitherto incomprehensible mystery. The
    moon had just then escaped from behind the cloud which had
    concealed it, and Morrel saw Villefort come out upon the
    steps, followed by a gentleman in black. They descended, and
    advanced towards the clump of trees, and Morrel soon
    recognized the other gentleman as Doctor d'Avrigny.

    The young man, seeing them approach, drew back mechanically,
    until he found himself stopped by a sycamore-tree in the
    centre of the clump; there he was compelled to remain. Soon
    the two gentlemen stopped also.

    "Ah, my dear doctor," said the procureur, "heaven declares
    itself against my house! What a dreadful death -- what a
    blow! Seek not to console me; alas, nothing can alleviate so
    great a sorrow -- the wound is too deep and too fresh! Dead,
    dead!" The cold sweat sprang to the young man's brow, and
    his teeth chattered. Who could be dead in that house, which
    Villefort himself had called accursed? "My dear M. de
    Villefort," replied the doctor, with a tone which redoubled
    the terror of the young man, "I have not led you here to
    console you; on the contrary" --

    "What can you mean?" asked the procureur, alarmed.

    "I mean that behind the misfortune which has just happened
    to you, there is another, perhaps, still greater."

    "Can it be possible?" murmured Villefort, clasping his
    hands. "What are you going to tell me?"

    "Are we quite alone, my friend?"

    "Yes, quite; but why all these precautions?"

    "Because I have a terrible secret to communicate to you,"
    said the doctor. "Let us sit down."

    Villefort fell, rather than seated himself The doctor stood
    before him, with one hand placed on his shoulder. Morrel,
    horrified, supported his head with one hand, and with the
    other pressed his heart, lest its beatings should be heard.
    "Dead, dead!" repeated he within himself; and he felt as if
    he were also dying.

    "Speak, doctor -- I am listening," said Villefort; "strike
    -- I am prepared for everything!"

    "Madame de Saint-Meran was, doubtless, advancing in years,
    but she enjoyed excellent health." Morrel began again to
    breathe freely, which he had not done during the last ten
    minutes.

    "Grief has consumed her," said Villefort -- "yes, grief,
    doctor! After living forty years with the marquis" --

    "It is not grief, my dear Villefort," said the doctor;
    "grief may kill, although it rarely does, and never in a
    day, never in an hour, never in ten minutes." Villefort
    answered nothing, he simply raised his head, which had been
    cast down before, and looked at the doctor with amazement.

    "Were you present during the last struggle?" asked M.
    d'Avrigny.

    "I was," replied the procureur; "you begged me not to
    leave."

    "Did you notice the symptoms of the disease to which Madame
    de Saint-Meran has fallen a victim?"

    "I did. Madame de Saint-Meran had three successive attacks,
    at intervals of some minutes, each one more serious than the
    former. When you arrived, Madame de Saint-Meran had already
    been panting for breath some minutes; she then had a fit,
    which I took to be simply a nervous attack, and it was only
    when I saw her raise herself in the bed, and her limbs and
    neck appear stiffened, that I became really alarmed. Then I
    understood from your countenance there was more to fear than
    I had thought. This crisis past, I endeavored to catch your
    eye, but could not. You held her hand -- you were feeling
    her pulse -- and the second fit came on before you had
    turned towards me. This was more terrible than the first;
    the same nervous movements were repeated, and the mouth
    contracted and turned purple."

    "And at the third she expired."

    "At the end of the first attack I discovered symptoms of
    tetanus; you confirmed my opinion."

    "Yes, before others," replied the doctor; "but now we are
    alone" --

    "What are you going to say? Oh, spare me!"

    "That the symptoms of tetanus and poisoning by vegetable
    substances are the same." M. de Villefort started from his
    seat, then in a moment fell down again, silent and
    motionless. Morrel knew not if he were dreaming or awake.
    "Listen, said the doctor; "I know the full importance of the
    statement I have just made, and the disposition of the man
    to whom I have made it."

    "Do you speak to me as a magistrate or as a friend?" asked
    Villefort.

    "As a friend, and only as a friend, at this moment. The
    similarity in the symptoms of tetanus and poisoning by
    vegetable substances is so great, that were I obliged to
    affirm by oath what I have now stated, I should hesitate; I
    therefore repeat to you, I speak not to a magistrate, but to
    a friend. And to that friend I say. 'During the
    three-quarters of an hour that the struggle continued, I
    watched the convulsions and the death of Madame de
    Saint-Meran, and am thoroughly convinced that not only did
    her death proceed from poison, but I could also specify the
    poison.'"

    "Can it be possible?"

    "The symptoms are marked, do you see? -- sleep broken by
    nervous spasms, excitation of the brain, torpor of the nerve
    centres. Madame de Saint-Meran succumbed to a powerful dose
    of brucine or of strychnine, which by some mistake, perhaps,
    has been given to her." Villefort seized the doctor's hand.
    "Oh, it is impossible," said he, "I must be dreaming! It is
    frightful to hear such things from such a man as you! Tell
    me, I entreat you, my dear doctor, that you may be
    deceived."

    "Doubtless I may, but" --

    "But?"

    "But I do not think so."

    "Have pity on me doctor! So many dreadful things have
    happened to me lately that I am on the verge of madness."

    "Has any one besides me seen Madame de Saint-Meran?"

    "No."

    "Has anything been sent for from a chemist's that I have not
    examined?"

    "Nothing."

    "Had Madame de Saint-Meran any enemies?"

    "Not to my knowledge."

    "Would her death affect any one's interest?"

    "It could not indeed, my daughter is her only heiress --
    Valentine alone. Oh, if such a thought could present itself,
    I would stab myself to punish my heart for having for one
    instant harbored it."

    "Indeed, my dear friend," said M. d'Avrigny, "I would not
    accuse any one; I speak only of an accident, you understand,
    -- of a mistake, -- but whether accident or mistake, the
    fact is there; it is on my conscience and compels me to
    speak aloud to you. Make inquiry."

    "Of whom? -- how? -- of what?"

    "May not Barrois, the old servant, have made a mistake, and
    have given Madame de Saint-Meran a dose prepared for his
    master?"

    "For my father?"

    "Yes."

    "But how could a dose prepared for M. Noirtier poison Madame
    de Saint-Meran?"

    "Nothing is more simple. You know poisons become remedies in
    certain diseases, of which paralysis is one. For instance,
    having tried every other remedy to restore movement and
    speech to M. Noirtier, I resolved to try one last means, and
    for three months I have been giving him brucine; so that in
    the last dose I ordered for him there were six grains. This
    quantity, which is perfectly safe to administer to the
    paralyzed frame of M. Noirtier, which has become gradually
    accustomed to it, would be sufficient to kill another
    person."

    "My dear doctor, there is no communication between M.
    Noirtier's apartment and that of Madame de Saint-Meran, and
    Barrois never entered my mother-in-law's room. In short,
    doctor although I know you to be the most conscientious man
    in the world, and although I place the utmost reliance in
    you, I want, notwithstanding my conviction, to believe this
    axiom, errare humanum est."

    "Is there one of my brethren in whom you have equal
    confidence with myself?"

    "Why do you ask me that? -- what do you wish?"

    "Send for him; I will tell him what I have seen, and we will
    consult together, and examine the body."

    "And you will find traces of poison?"

    "No, I did not say of poison, but we can prove what was the
    state of the body; we shall discover the cause of her sudden
    death, and we shall say, 'Dear Villefort, if this thing has
    been caused by negligence, watch over your servants; if from
    hatred, watch your enemies.'"

    "What do you propose to me, d'Avrigny?" said Villefort in
    despair; "so soon as another is admitted into our secret, an
    inquest will become necessary; and an inquest in my house --
    impossible! Still," continued the procureur, looking at the
    doctor with uneasiness, "if you wish it -- if you demand it,
    why then it shall be done. But, doctor, you see me already
    so grieved -- how can I introduce into my house so much
    scandal, after so much sorrow? My wife and my daughter would
    die of it! And I, doctor -- you know a man does not arrive
    at the post I occupy -- one has not been king's attorney
    twenty-five years without having amassed a tolerable number
    of enemies; mine are numerous. Let this affair be talked of,
    it will be a triumph for them, which will make them rejoice,
    and cover me with shame. Pardon me, doctor, these worldly
    ideas; were you a priest I should not dare tell you that,
    but you are a man, and you know mankind. Doctor, pray recall
    your words; you have said nothing, have you?"

    "My dear M. de Villefort," replied the doctor, "my first
    duty is to humanity. I would have saved Madame de
    Saint-Meran, if science could have done it; but she is dead
    and my duty regards the living. Let us bury this terrible
    secret in the deepest recesses of our hearts; I am willing,
    if any one should suspect this, that my silence on the
    subject should be imputed to my ignorance. Meanwhile, sir,
    watch always -- watch carefully, for perhaps the evil may
    not stop here. And when you have found the culprit, if you
    find him, I will say to you, 'You are a magistrate, do as
    you will!'"

    "I thank you, doctor," said Villefort with indescribable
    joy; "I never had a better friend than you." And, as if he
    feared Doctor d'Avrigny would recall his promise, he hurried
    him towards the house.

    When they were gone, Morrel ventured out from under the
    trees, and the moon shone upon his face, which was so pale
    it might have been taken for that of a ghost. "I am
    manifestly protected in a most wonderful, but most terrible
    manner," said he; "but Valentine, poor girl, how will she
    bear so much sorrow?"

    As he thought thus, he looked alternately at the window with
    red curtains and the three windows with white curtains. The
    light had almost disappeared from the former; doubtless
    Madame de Villefort had just put out her lamp, and the
    nightlamp alone reflected its dull light on the window. At
    the extremity of the building, on the contrary, he saw one
    of the three windows open. A wax-light placed on the
    mantle-piece threw some of its pale rays without, and a
    shadow was seen for one moment on the balcony. Morrel
    shuddered; he thought he heard a sob.

    It cannot be wondered at that his mind, generally so
    courageous, but now disturbed by the two strongest human
    passions, love and fear, was weakened even to the indulgence
    of superstitious thoughts. Although it was impossible that
    Valentine should see him, hidden as he was, he thought he
    heard the shadow at the window call him; his disturbed mind
    told him so. This double error became an irresistible
    reality, and by one of the incomprehensible transports of
    youth, he bounded from his hiding-place, and with two
    strides, at the risk of being seen, at the risk of alarming
    Valentine, at the risk of being discovered by some
    exclamation which might escape the young girl, he crossed
    the flower-garden, which by the light of the moon resembled
    a large white lake, and having passed the rows of
    orange-trees which extended in front of the house, he
    reached the step, ran quickly up and pushed the door, which
    opened without offering any resistance. Valentine had not
    seen him. Her eyes, raised towards heaven, were watching a
    silvery cloud gliding over the azure, its form that of a
    shadow mounting towards heaven. Her poetic and excited mind
    pictured it as the soul of her grandmother.

    Meanwhile, Morrel had traversed the anteroom and found the
    staircase, which, being carpeted, prevented his approach
    being heard, and he had regained that degree of confidence
    that the presence of M. de Villefort even would not have
    alarmed him. He was quite prepared for any such encounter.
    He would at once approach Valentine's father and acknowledge
    all, begging Villefort to pardon and sanction the love which
    united two fond and loving hearts. Morrel was mad. Happily
    he did not meet any one. Now, especially, did he find the
    description Valentine had given of the interior of the house
    useful to him; he arrived safely at the top of the
    staircase, and while he was feeling his way, a sob indicated
    the direction he was to take. He turned back, a door partly
    open enabled him to see his road, and to hear the voice of
    one in sorrow. He pushed the door open and entered. At the
    other end of the room, under a white sheet which covered it,
    lay the corpse, still more alarming to Morrel since the
    account he had so unexpectedly overheard. By its side, on
    her knees, and with her head buried in the cushion of an
    easy-chair, was Valentine, trembling and sobbing, her hands
    extended above her head, clasped and stiff. She had turned
    from the window, which remained open, and was praying in
    accents that would have affected the most unfeeling; her
    words were rapid, incoherent, unintelligible, for the
    burning weight of grief almost stopped her utterance. The
    moon shining through the open blinds made the lamp appear to
    burn paler, and cast a sepulchral hue over the whole scene.
    Morrel could not resist this; he was not exemplary for
    piety, he was not easily impressed, but Valentine suffering,
    weeping, wringing her hands before him, was more than he
    could bear in silence. He sighed, and whispered a name, and
    the head bathed in tears and pressed on the velvet cushion
    of the chair -- a head like that of a Magdalen by Correggio
    -- was raised and turned towards him. Valentine perceived
    him without betraying the least surprise. A heart
    overwhelmed with one great grief is insensible to minor
    emotions. Morrel held out his hand to her. Valentine, as her
    only apology for not having met him, pointed to the corpse
    under the sheet, and began to sob again. Neither dared for
    some time to speak in that room. They hesitated to break the
    silence which death seemed to impose; at length Valentine
    ventured.

    "My friend," said she, "how came you here? Alas, I would say
    you are welcome, had not death opened the way for you into
    this house."

    "Valentine," said Morrel with a trembling voice, "I had
    waited since half-past eight, and did not see you come; I
    became uneasy, leaped the wall, found my way through the
    garden, when voices conversing about the fatal event" --

    "What voices ?" asked Valentine. Morrel shuddered as he
    thought of the conversation of the doctor and M. de
    Villefort, and he thought he could see through the sheet the
    extended hands, the stiff neck, and the purple lips.

    "Your servants," said he, "who were repeating the whole of
    the sorrowful story; from them I learned it all."

    "But it was risking the failure of our plan to come up here,
    love."

    "Forgive me," replied Morrel; "I will go away."

    "No," said Valentine, "you might meet some one; stay."

    "But if any one should come here" --

    The young girl shook her head. "No one will come," said she;
    "do not fear, there is our safeguard," pointing to the bed.

    "But what has become of M. d'Epinay?" replied Morrel.

    "M. Franz arrived to sign the contract just as my dear
    grandmother was dying."

    "Alas," said Morrel with a feeling of selfish joy; for he
    thought this death would cause the wedding to be postponed
    indefinitely. "But what redoubles my sorrow," continued the
    young girl, as if this feeling was to receive its immediate
    punishment, "is that the poor old lady, on her death-bed,
    requested that the marriage might take place as soon as
    possible; she also, thinking to protect me, was acting
    against me."

    "Hark!" said Morrel. They both listened; steps were
    distinctly heard in the corridor and on the stairs.

    "It is my father, who has just left his study."

    "To accompany the doctor to the door," added Morrel.

    "How do you know it is the doctor?" asked Valentine,
    astonished.

    "I imagined it must be," said Morrel. Valentine looked at
    the young man; they heard the street door close, then M. de
    Villefort locked the garden door, and returned up-stairs. He
    stopped a moment in the anteroom, as if hesitating whether
    to turn to his own apartment or into Madame de
    Saint-Meran's; Morrel concealed himself behind a door;
    Valentine remained motionless, grief seeming to deprive her
    of all fear. M. de Villefort passed on to his own room.
    "Now," said Valentine, "you can neither go out by the front
    door nor by the garden." Morrel looked at her with
    astonishment. "There is but one way left you that is safe,"
    said she; "it is through my grandfather's room." She rose,
    "Come," she added. -- "Where?" asked Maximilian.

    "To my grandfather's room."

    "I in M. Noirtier's apartment?"

    "Yes."

    "Can you mean it, Valentine?"

    "I have long wished it; he is my only remaining friend and
    we both need his help, -- come."

    "Be careful, Valentine," said Morrel, hesitating to comply
    with the young girl's wishes; "I now see my error -- I acted
    like a madman in coming in here. Are you sure you are more
    reasonable?"

    "Yes," said Valentine; "and I have but one scruple, -- that
    of leaving my dear grandmother's remains, which I had
    undertaken to watch."

    "Valentine," said Morrel, "death is in itself sacred."

    "Yes," said Valentine; "besides, it will not be for long."
    She then crossed the corridor, and led the way down a narrow
    staircase to M. Noirtier's room; Morrel followed her on
    tiptoe; at the door they found the old servant. "Barrois,"
    said Valentine, "shut the door, and let no one come in." She
    passed first. Noirtier, seated in his chair, and listening
    to every sound, was watching the door; he saw Valentine, and
    his eye brightened. There was something grave and solemn in
    the approach of the young girl which struck the old man, and
    immediately his bright eye began to interrogate. "Dear
    grandfather." said she hurriedly, "you know poor grandmamma
    died an hour since, and now I have no friend in the world
    but you." His expressive eyes evinced the greatest
    tenderness. "To you alone, then, may I confide my sorrows
    and my hopes?" The paralytic motioned "Yes." Valentine took
    Maximilian's hand. "Look attentively, then, at this
    gentleman." The old man fixed his scrutinizing gaze with
    slight astonishment on Morrel. "It is M. Maximilian Morrel,"
    said she; "the son of that good merchant of Marseilles, whom
    you doubtless recollect."

    "Yes," said the old man. "He brings an irreproachable name,
    which Maximilian is likely to render glorious, since at
    thirty years of age he is a captain, an officer of the
    Legion of Honor." The old man signified that he recollected
    him. "Well, grandpapa," said Valentine, kneeling before him,
    and pointing to Maximilian, "I love him, and will be only
    his; were I compelled to marry another, I would destroy
    myself."

    The eyes of the paralytic expressed a multitude of
    tumultuous thoughts. "You like M. Maximilian Morrel, do you
    not, grandpapa?" asked Valentine.

    "Yes."

    "And you will protect us, who are your children, against the
    will of my father?" -- Noirtier cast an intelligent glance
    at Morrel, as if to say, "perhaps I may." Maximilian
    understood him.

    "Mademoiselle," said he, "you have a sacred duty to fulfil
    in your deceased grandmother's room, will you allow me the
    honor of a few minutes' conversation with M. Noirtier?"

    "That is it," said the old man's eye. Then he looked
    anxiously at Valentine.

    "Do you fear he will not understand?"

    "Yes."

    "Oh, we have so often spoken of you, that he knows exactly
    how I talk to you." Then turning to Maximilian, with an
    adorable smile; although shaded by sorrow, -- "He knows
    everything I know," said she.

    Valentine arose, placed a chair for Morrel, requested
    Barrois not to admit any one, and having tenderly embraced
    her grandfather, and sorrowfully taken leave of Morrel, she
    went away. To prove to Noirtier that he was in Valentine's
    confidence and knew all their secrets, Morrel took the
    dictionary, a pen, and some paper, and placed them all on a
    table where there was a light.

    "But first," said Morrel, "allow me, sir, to tell you who I
    am, how much I love Mademoiselle Valentine, and what are my
    designs respecting her." Noirtier made a sign that he would
    listen.

    It was an imposing sight to witness this old man, apparently
    a mere useless burden, becoming the sole protector, support,
    and adviser of the lovers who were both young, beautiful,
    and strong. His remarkably noble and austere expression
    struck Morrel, who began his story with trembling. He
    related the manner in which he had become acquainted with
    Valentine, and how he had loved her, and that Valentine, in
    her solitude and her misfortune, had accepted the offer of
    his devotion. He told him his birth, his position, his
    fortune, and more than once, when he consulted the look of
    the paralytic, that look answered, "That is good, proceed."

    "And now," said Morrel, when he had finished the first part
    of his recital, "now I have told you of my love and my
    hopes, may I inform you of my intentions?"

    "Yes," signified the old man.

    "This was our resolution; a cabriolet was in waiting at the
    gate, in which I intended to carry off Valentine to my
    sister's house, to marry her, and to wait respectfully M. de
    Villefort's pardon."

    "No," said Noirtier.

    "We must not do so?"

    "No."

    "You do not sanction our project?"

    "No."

    "There is another way," said Morrel. The old man's
    interrogative eye said, "What?"

    "I will go," continued Maximilian, "I will seek M. Franz
    d'Epinay -- I am happy to be able to mention this in
    Mademoiselle de Villefort's absence -- and will conduct
    myself toward him so as to compel him to challenge me."
    Noirtier's look continued to interrogate. "You wish to know
    what I will do?"

    "Yes."

    "I will find him, as I told you. I will tell him the ties
    which bind me to Mademoiselle Valentine; if he be a sensible
    man, he will prove it by renouncing of his own accord the
    hand of his betrothed, and will secure my friendship, and
    love until death; if he refuse, either through interest or
    ridiculous pride, after I have proved to him that he would
    be forcing my wife from me, that Valentine loves me, and
    will have no other, I will fight with him, give him every
    advantage, and I shall kill him, or he will kill me; if I am
    victorious, he will not marry Valentine, and if I die, I am
    very sure Valentine will not marry him." Noirtier watched,
    with indescribable pleasure, this noble and sincere
    countenance, on which every sentiment his tongue uttered was
    depicted, adding by the expression of his fine features all
    that coloring adds to a sound and faithful drawing. Still,
    when Morrel had finished, he shut his eyes several times,
    which was his manner of saying "No."

    "No?" said Morrel; "you disapprove of this second project,
    as you did of the first?"

    "I do," signified the old man.

    "But what then must be done?" asked Morrel. "Madame de
    Saint-Meran's last request was, that the marriage might not
    be delayed; must I let things take their course?" Noirtier
    did not move. "I understand," said Morrel; "I am to wait."

    "Yes."

    "But delay may ruin our plan, sir," replied the young man.
    "Alone, Valentine has no power; she will be compelled to
    submit. I am here almost miraculously, and can scarcely hope
    for so good an opportunity to occur again. Believe me, there
    are only the two plans I have proposed to you; forgive my
    vanity, and tell me which you prefer. Do you authorize
    Mademoiselle Valentine to intrust herself to my honor?"

    "No."

    "Do you prefer I should seek M. d'Epinay?"

    "No."

    "Whence then will come the help we need -- from chance?"
    resumed Morrel.

    "No."

    "From you?"

    "Yes."

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

    "Yes."

    "You are sure of it?"

    "Yes." There was so much firmness in the look which gave
    this answer, no one could, at any rate, doubt his will, if
    they did his power. "Oh, thank you a thousand times! But
    how, unless a miracle should restore your speech, your
    gesture, your movement, how can you, chained to that
    arm-chair, dumb and motionless, oppose this marriage?" A
    smile lit up the old man's face, a strange smile of the eyes
    in a paralyzed face. "Then I must wait?" asked the young
    man.

    "Yes."

    "But the contract?" The same smile returned. "Will you
    assure me it shall not be signed?"

    "Yes," said Noirtier.

    "The contract shall not be signed!" cried Morrel. "Oh,
    pardon me, sir; I can scarcely realize so great a happiness.
    Will they not sign it?"

    "No," said the paralytic. Notwithstanding that assurance,
    Morrel still hesitated. This promise of an impotent old man
    was so strange that, instead of being the result of the
    power of his will, it might emanate from enfeebled organs.
    Is it not natural that the madman, ignorant of his folly,
    should attempt things beyond his power? The weak man talks
    of burdens he can raise, the timid of giants he can
    confront, the poor of treasures he spends, the most humble
    peasant, in the height of his pride, calls himself Jupiter.
    Whether Noirtier understood the young man's indecision, or
    whether he had not full confidence in his docility, he
    looked uneasily at him. "What do you wish, sir?" asked
    Morrel; "that I should renew my promise of remaining
    tranquil?" Noirtier's eye remained fixed and firm, as if to
    imply that a promise did not suffice; then it passed from
    his face to his hands.

    "Shall I swear to you, sir?" asked Maximilian.

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

    "I swear to you, on my honor," said he, "to await your
    decision respecting the course I am to pursue with M.
    d'Epinay."

    "That is right," said the old man.

    "Now," said Morrel, "do you wish me to retire?"

    "Yes."

    "Without seeing Mademoiselle Valentine?"

    "Yes."

    Morrel made a sign that he was ready to obey. "But," said
    he, "first allow me to embrace you as your daughter did just
    now." Noirtier's expression could not be understood. The
    young man pressed his lips on the same spot, on the old
    man's forehead, where Valentine's had been. Then he bowed a
    second time and retired. He found outside the door the old
    servant, to whom Valentine had given directions. Morrel was
    conducted along a dark passage, which led to a little door
    opening on the garden, soon found the spot where he had
    entered, with the assistance of the shrubs gained the top of
    the wall, and by his ladder was in an instant in the
    clover-field where his cabriolet was still waiting for him.
    He got in it, and thoroughly wearied by so many emotions,
    arrived about midnight in the Rue Meslay, threw himself on
    his bed and slept soundly.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 73
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