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    Chapter 74

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    Chapter 74
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    CHAPTER 74
    The Villefort Family Vault.

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

    Due information was given to the authorities, and permission
    obtained that the two funerals should take place at the same
    time. A second hearse, decked with the same funereal pomp,
    was brought to M. de Villefort's door, and the coffin
    removed into it from the post-wagon. The two bodies were to
    be interred in the cemetery of Pere-la-Chaise, where M. de
    Villefort had long since had a tomb prepared for the
    reception of his family. The remains of poor Renee were
    already deposited there, and now, after ten years of
    separation, her father and mother were to be reunited with
    her. The Parisians, always curious, always affected by
    funereal display, looked on with religious silence while the
    splendid procession accompanied to their last abode two of
    the number of the old aristocracy -- the greatest protectors
    of commerce and sincere devotees to their principles. In one
    of the mourning-coaches Beauchamp, Debray, and
    Chateau-Renaud were talking of the very sudden death of the
    marchioness. "I saw Madame de Saint-Meran only last year at
    Marseilles, when I was coming back from Algiers," said
    Chateau-Renaud; "she looked like a woman destined to live to
    be a hundred years old, from her apparent sound health and
    great activity of mind and body. How old was she?"

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

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

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

    "Nearly."

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

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

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

    "That is a tenacious old grandfather," said Beauchamp.
    "Tenacem propositi virum. I think he must have made an
    agreement with death to outlive all his heirs, and he
    appears likely to succeed. He resembles the old
    Conventionalist of '93, who said to Napoleon, in 1814, 'You
    bend because your empire is a young stem, weakened by rapid
    growth. Take the Republic for a tutor; let us return with
    renewed strength to the battle-field, and I promise you
    500,000 soldiers, another Marengo, and a second Austerlitz.
    Ideas do not become extinct, sire; they slumber sometimes,
    but only revive the stronger before they sleep entirely.'
    Ideas and men appeared the same to him. One thing only
    puzzles me, namely, how Franz d'Epinay will like a
    grandfather who cannot be separated from his wife. But where
    is Franz?"

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

    Such was the conversation in almost all the carriages; these
    two sudden deaths, so quickly following each other,
    astonished every one, but no one suspected the terrible
    secret which M. d'Avrigny had communicated, in his nocturnal
    walk to M. de Villefort. They arrived in about an hour at
    the cemetery; the weather was mild, but dull, and in harmony
    with the funeral ceremony. Among the groups which flocked
    towards the family vault, Chateau-Renaud recognized Morrel,
    who had come alone in a cabriolet, and walked silently along
    the path bordered with yew-trees. "You here?" said
    Chateau-Renaud, passing his arms through the young
    captain's; "are you a friend of Villefort's? How is it that
    I have never met you at his house?"

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

    "The time and place are but ill-suited for an introduction."
    said Albert; "but we are not superstitious. M. Morrel, allow
    me to present to you M. Franz d'Epinay, a delightful
    travelling companion, with whom I made the tour of Italy. My
    dear Franz, M. Maximilian Morrel, an excellent friend I have
    acquired in your absence, and whose name you will hear me
    mention every time I make any allusion to affection, wit, or
    amiability." Morrel hesitated for a moment; he feared it
    would be hypocritical to accost in a friendly manner the man
    whom he was tacitly opposing, but his oath and the gravity
    of the circumstances recurred to his memory; he struggled to
    conceal his emotion and bowed to Franz. "Mademoiselle de
    Villefort is in deep sorrow, is she not?" said Debray to
    Franz.

    "Extremely," replied he; "she looked so pale this morning, I
    scarcely knew her." These apparently simple words pierced
    Morrel to the heart. This man had seen Valentine, and spoken
    to her! The young and high-spirited officer required all his
    strength of mind to resist breaking his oath. He took the
    arm of Chateau-Renaud, and turned towards the vault, where
    the attendants had already placed the two coffins. "This is
    a magnificent habitation," said Beauchamp, looking towards
    the mausoleum; "a summer and winter palace. You will, in
    turn, enter it, my dear d'Epinay, for you will soon be
    numbered as one of the family. I, as a philosopher, should
    like a little country-house, a cottage down there under the
    trees, without so many free-stones over my poor body. In
    dying, I will say to those around me what Voltaire wrote to
    Piron: 'Eo rus, and all will be over.' But come, Franz, take
    courage, your wife is an heiress."

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

    "But tell me," said Beauchamp, "what is life? Is it not a
    hall in Death's anteroom?"

    "I am prejudiced against Beauchamp," said Albert, drawing
    Franz away, and leaving the former to finish his
    philosophical dissertation with Debray. The Villefort vault
    formed a square of white stones, about twenty feet high; an
    interior partition separated the two families, and each
    apartment had its entrance door. Here were not, as in other
    tombs, ignoble drawers, one above another, where thrift
    bestows its dead and labels them like specimens in a museum;
    all that was visible within the bronze gates was a
    gloomy-looking room, separated by a wall from the vault
    itself. The two doors before mentioned were in the middle of
    this wall, and enclosed the Villefort and Saint-Meran
    coffins. There grief might freely expend itself without
    being disturbed by the trifling loungers who came from a
    picnic party to visit Pere-la-Chaise, or by lovers who make
    it their rendezvous.

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

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

    "At what time you please, sir," replied Franz.

    "As soon as possible."

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

    "If not unpleasant to you."

    "On the contrary, I shall feel much pleasure." Thus, the
    future father and son-in-law stepped into the same carriage,
    and Morrel, seeing them pass, became uneasy. Villefort and
    Franz returned to the Faubourg Saint-Honore. The procureur,
    without going to see either his wife or his daughter, went
    at once to his study, and, offering the young man a chair,
    -- "M. d'Epinay," said he, "allow me to remind you at this
    moment, -- which is perhaps not so ill-chosen as at first
    sight may appear, for obedience to the wishes of the
    departed is the first offering which should be made at their
    tomb, -- allow me then to remind you of the wish expressed
    by Madame de Saint-Meran on her death-bed, that Valentine's
    wedding might not be deferred. You know the affairs of the
    deceased are in perfect order, and her will bequeaths to
    Valentine the entire property of the Saint-Meran family; the
    notary showed me the documents yesterday, which will enable
    us to draw up the contract immediately. You may call on the
    notary, M. Deschamps, Place Beauveau, Faubourg Saint-Honore,
    and you have my authority to inspect those deeds."

    "Sir," replied M. d'Epinay, "it is not, perhaps, the moment
    for Mademoiselle Valentine, who is in deep distress, to
    think of a husband; indeed, I fear" --

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

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

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

    "But the mourning?" said Franz, hesitating.

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

    "As you please, sir," said Franz.

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

    "Sir," said Franz, "I have one request to make."

    "What is it?"

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

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

    "I prefer going, sir."

    "I shall expect you, then, in half an hour, baron, and
    Valentine will be ready." Franz bowed and left the room.
    Scarcely had the door closed, when M. de Villefort sent to
    tell Valentine to be ready in the drawing-room in half an
    hour, as he expected the notary and M. d'Epinay and his
    witnesses. The news caused a great sensation throughout the
    house; Madame de Villefort would not believe it, and
    Valentine was thunderstruck. She looked around for help, and
    would have gone down to her grandfather's room, but on the
    stairs she met M. de Villefort, who took her arm and led her
    into the drawing-room. In the anteroom, Valentine met
    Barrois, and looked despairingly at the old servant. A
    moment later, Madame de Villefort entered the drawing-room
    with her little Edward. It was evident that she had shared
    the grief of the family, for she was pale and looked
    fatigued. She sat down, took Edward on her knees, and from
    time to time pressed this child, on whom her affections
    appeared centred, almost convulsively to her bosom. Two
    carriages were soon heard to enter the court yard. One was
    the notary's; the other, that of Franz and his friends. In a
    moment the whole party was assembled. Valentine was so pale
    one might trace the blue veins from her temples, round her
    eyes and down her cheeks. Franz was deeply affected.
    Chateau-Renaud and Albert looked at each other with
    amazement; the ceremony which was just concluded had not
    appeared more sorrowful than did that which was about to
    begin. Madame de Villefort had placed herself in the shadow
    behind a velvet curtain, and as she constantly bent over her
    child, it was difficult to read the expression of her face.
    M. de Villefort was, as usual, unmoved.

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

    "Are you M. Franz de Quesnel, baron d'Epinay?" asked he,
    although he knew it perfectly.

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

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

    "Sir," said Franz, "I regret much that such a question has
    been raised in the presence of Mademoiselle Valentine; I
    have never inquired the amount of her fortune, which,
    however limited it may be, exceeds mine. My family has
    sought consideration in this alliance with M. de Villefort;
    all I seek is happiness." Valentine imperceptibly thanked
    him, while two silent tears rolled down her cheeks.
    "Besides, sir," said Villefort, addressing himself to his
    future son-in-law, "excepting the loss of a portion of your
    hopes, this unexpected will need not personally wound you;
    M. Noirtier's weakness of mind sufficiently explains it. It
    is not because Mademoiselle Valentine is going to marry you
    that he is angry, but because she will marry, a union with
    any other would have caused him the same sorrow. Old age is
    selfish, sir, and Mademoiselle de Villefort has been a
    faithful companion to M. Noirtier, which she cannot be when
    she becomes the Baroness d'Epinay. My father's melancholy
    state prevents our speaking to him on any subjects, which
    the weakness of his mind would incapacitate him from
    understanding, and I am perfectly convinced that at the
    present time, although, he knows that his granddaughter is
    going to be married, M. Noirtier has even forgotten the name
    of his intended grandson." M. de Villefort had scarcely said
    this, when the door opened, and Barrois appeared.

    "Gentlemen," said he, in a tone strangely firm for a servant
    speaking to his masters under such solemn circumstances, --
    "gentlemen, M. Noirtier de Villefort wishes to speak
    immediately to M. Franz de Quesnel, baron d'Epinay;" he, as
    well as the notary, that there might be no mistake in the
    person, gave all his titles to the bride-groom elect.

    Villefort started, Madame de Villefort let her son slip from
    her knees, Valentine rose, pale and dumb as a statue. Albert
    and Chateau-Renaud exchanged a second look, more full of
    amazement than the first. The notary looked at Villefort.
    "It is impossible," said the procureur. "M. d'Epinay cannot
    leave the drawing-room at present."

    "It is at this moment," replied Barrois with the same
    firmness, "that M. Noirtier, my master, wishes to speak on
    important subjects to M. Franz d'Epinay."

    "Grandpapa Noirtier can speak now, then," said Edward, with
    his habitual quickness. However, his remark did not make
    Madame de Villefort even smile, so much was every mind
    engaged, and so solemn was the situation. Astonishment was
    at its height. Something like a smile was perceptible on
    Madame de Villefort's countenance. Valentine instinctively
    raised her eyes, as if to thank heaven.

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

    "Stop," said he; "I will go with you."

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

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

    "Forgive me, sir," said Franz in a resolute tone. "I would
    not lose this opportunity of proving to M. Noirtier how
    wrong it would be of him to encourage feelings of dislike to
    me, which I am determined to conquer, whatever they may be,
    by my devotion." And without listening to Villefort he
    arose, and followed Valentine, who was running down-stairs
    with the joy of a shipwrecked mariner who finds a rock to
    cling to. M. de Villefort followed them. Chateau-Renaud and
    Morcerf exchanged a third look of still increasing wonder.
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