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    Chapter 101

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    Chapter 101
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    CHAPTER 101
    Locusta.

    Valentine was alone; two other clocks, slower than that of
    Saint-Philippe du Roule, struck the hour of midnight from
    different directions, and excepting the rumbling of a few
    carriages all was silent. Then Valentine's attention was
    engrossed by the clock in her room, which marked the
    seconds. She began counting them, remarking that they were
    much slower than the beatings of her heart; and still she
    doubted, -- the inoffensive Valentine could not imagine that
    any one should desire her death. Why should they? To what
    end? What had she done to excite the malice of an enemy?
    There was no fear of her falling asleep. One terrible idea
    pressed upon her mind, -- that some one existed in the world
    who had attempted to assassinate her, and who was about to
    endeavor to do so again. Supposing this person, wearied at
    the inefficacy of the poison, should, as Monte Cristo
    intimated, have recourse to steel! -- What if the count
    should have no time to run to her rescue! -- What if her
    last moments were approaching, and she should never again
    see Morrel! When this terrible chain of ideas presented
    itself, Valentine was nearly persuaded to ring the bell, and
    call for help. But through the door she fancied she saw the
    luminous eye of the count -- that eye which lived in her
    memory, and the recollection overwhelmed her with so much
    shame that she asked herself whether any amount of gratitude
    could ever repay his adventurous and devoted friendship.

    Twenty minutes, twenty tedious minutes, passed thus, then
    ten more, and at last the clock struck the half-flour. Just
    then the sound of finger-nails slightly grating against the
    door of the library informed Valentine that the count was
    still watching, and recommended her to do the same; at the
    same time, on the opposite side, that is towards Edward's
    room, Valentine fancied that she heard the creaking of the
    floor; she listened attentively, holding her breath till she
    was nearly suffocated; the lock turned, and the door slowly
    opened. Valentine had raised herself upon her elbow, and had
    scarcely time to throw herself down on the bed and shade her
    eyes with her arm; then, trembling, agitated, and her heart
    beating with indescribable terror, she awaited the event.

    Some one approached the bed and drew back the curtains.
    Valentine summoned every effort, and breathed with that
    regular respiration which announces tranquil sleep.
    "Valentine!" said a low voice. Still silent: Valentine had
    promised not to awake. Then everything was still, excepting
    that Valentine heard the almost noiseless sound of some
    liquid being poured into the glass she had just emptied.
    Then she ventured to open her eyelids, and glance over her
    extended arm. She saw a woman in a white dressing-gown
    pouring a liquor from a phial into her glass. During this
    short time Valentine must have held her breath, or moved in
    some slight degree, for the woman, disturbed, stopped and
    leaned over the bed, in order the better to ascertain
    whether Valentine slept -- it was Madame de Villefort.

    On recognizing her step-mother, Valentine could not repress
    a shudder, which caused a vibration in the bed. Madame de
    Villefort instantly stepped back close to the wall, and
    there, shaded by the bed-curtains, she silently and
    attentively watched the slightest movement of Valentine. The
    latter recollected the terrible caution of Monte Cristo; she
    fancied that the hand not holding the phial clasped a long
    sharp knife. Then collecting all her remaining strength, she
    forced herself to close her eyes; but this simple operation
    upon the most delicate organs of our frame, generally so
    easy to accomplish, became almost impossible at this moment,
    so much did curiosity struggle to retain the eyelid open and
    learn the truth. Madame de Villefort, however, reassured by
    the silence, which was alone disturbed by the regular
    breathing of Valentine, again extended her hand, and half
    hidden by the curtains succeeded in emptying the contents of
    the phial into the glass. Then she retired so gently that
    Valentine did not know she had left the room. She only
    witnessed the withdrawal of the arm -- the fair round arm of
    a woman but twenty-five years old, and who yet spread death
    around her.

    It is impossible to describe the sensations experienced by
    Valentine during the minute and a half Madame de Villefort
    remained in the room. The grating against the library-door
    aroused the young girl from the stupor in which she was
    plunged, and which almost amounted to insensibility. She
    raised her head with an effort. The noiseless door again
    turned on its hinges, and the Count of Monte Cristo
    reappeared. "Well," said he, "do you still doubt?"

    "Oh," murmured the young girl.

    "Have you seen?"

    "Alas!"

    "Did you recognize?" Valentine groaned. "Oh, yes;" she said,
    "I saw, but I cannot believe!"

    "Would you rather die, then, and cause Maximilian's death?"

    "Oh," repeated the young girl, almost bewildered, "can I not
    leave the house? -- can I not escape?"

    "Valentine, the hand which now threatens you will pursue you
    everywhere; your servants will be seduced with gold, and
    death will be offered to you disguised in every shape. You
    will find it in the water you drink from the spring, in the
    fruit you pluck from the tree."

    "But did you not say that my kind grandfather's precaution
    had neutralized the poison?"

    "Yes, but not against a strong dose; the poison will be
    changed, and the quantity increased." He took the glass and
    raised it to his lips. "It is already done," he said;
    "brucine is no longer employed, but a simple narcotic! I can
    recognize the flavor of the alcohol in which it has been
    dissolved. If you had taken what Madame de Villefort has
    poured into your glass, Valentine -- Valentine -- you would
    have been doomed!"

    "But," exclaimed the young girl, "why am I thus pursued?"

    "Why? -- are you so kind -- so good -- so unsuspicious of
    ill, that you cannot understand, Valentine?"

    "No, I have never injured her."

    "But you are rich, Valentine; you have 200,000 livres a
    year, and you prevent her son from enjoying these 200,000
    livres."

    "How so? The fortune is not her gift, but is inherited from
    my relations."

    "Certainly; and that is why M. and Madame de Saint-Meran
    have died; that is why M. Noirtier was sentenced the day he
    made you his heir; that is why you, in your turn, are to die
    -- it is because your father would inherit your property,
    and your brother, his only son, succeed to his."

    "Edward? Poor child! Are all these crimes committed on his
    account?"

    "Ah, then you at length understand?"

    "Heaven grant that this may not be visited upon him!"

    "Valentine, you are an angel!"

    "But why is my grandfather allowed to live?"

    "It was considered, that you dead, the fortune would
    naturally revert to your brother, unless he were
    disinherited; and besides, the crime appearing useless, it
    would be folly to commit it."

    "And is it possible that this frightful combination of
    crimes has been invented by a woman?"

    "Do you recollect in the arbor of the Hotel des Postes, at
    Perugia, seeing a man in a brown cloak, whom your stepmother
    was questioning upon aqua tofana? Well, ever since then, the
    infernal project has been ripening in her brain."

    "Ah, then, indeed, sir," said the sweet girl, bathed in
    tears, "I see that I am condemned to die!"

    "No, Valentine, for I have foreseen all their plots; no,
    your enemy is conquered since we know her, and you will
    live, Valentine -- live to be happy yourself, and to confer
    happiness upon a noble heart; but to insure this you must
    rely on me."

    "Command me, sir -- what am I to do?"

    "You must blindly take what I give you."

    "Alas, were it only for my own sake, I should prefer to
    die!"

    "You must not confide in any one -- not even in your
    father."

    "My father is not engaged in this fearful plot, is he, sir?"
    asked Valentine, clasping her hands.

    "No; and yet your father, a man accustomed to judicial
    accusations, ought to have known that all these deaths have
    not happened naturally; it is he who should have watched
    over you -- he should have occupied my place -- he should
    have emptied that glass -- he should have risen against the
    assassin. Spectre against spectre!" he murmured in a low
    voice, as he concluded his sentence.

    "Sir," said Valentine, "I will do all I can to live. for
    there are two beings whose existence depends upon mine -- my
    grandfather and Maximilian."

    "I will watch over them as I have over you."

    "Well, sir, do as you will with me;" and then she added, in
    a low voice, "oh, heavens, what will befall me?"

    "Whatever may happen, Valentine, do not be alarmed; though
    you suffer; though you lose sight, hearing, consciousness,
    fear nothing; though you should awake and be ignorant where
    you are, still do not fear; even though you should find
    yourself in a sepulchral vault or coffin. Reassure yourself,
    then, and say to yourself: 'At this moment, a friend, a
    father, who lives for my happiness and that of Maximilian,
    watches over me!'"

    "Alas, alas, what a fearful extremity!"

    "Valentine, would you rather denounce your stepmother?"

    "I would rather die a hundred times -- oh, yes, die!"

    "No, you will not die; but will you promise me, whatever
    happens, that you will not complain, but hope?"

    "I will think of Maximilian!"

    "You are my own darling child, Valentine! I alone can save
    you, and I will." Valentine in the extremity of her terror
    joined her hands, -- for she felt that the moment had
    arrived to ask for courage, -- and began to pray, and while
    uttering little more than incoherent words, she forgot that
    her white shoulders had no other covering than her long
    hair, and that the pulsations of her heart could he seen
    through the lace of her nightdress. Monte Cristo gently laid
    his hand on the young girl's arm, drew the velvet coverlet
    close to her throat, and said with a paternal smile, -- "My
    child, believe in my devotion to you as you believe in the
    goodness of providence and the love of Maximilian."

    Then he drew from his waistcoat-pocket the little emerald
    box, raised the golden lid, and took from it a pastille
    about the size of a pea, which he placed in her hand. She
    took it, and looked attentively on the count; there was an
    expression on the face of her intrepid protector which
    commanded her veneration. She evidently interrogated him by
    her look. "Yes," said he. Valentine carried the pastille to
    her mouth, and swallowed it. "And now, my dear child, adieu
    for the present. I will try and gain a little sleep, for you
    are saved."

    "Go," said Valentine, "whatever happens, I promise you not
    to fear."

    Monte Cristo for some time kept his eyes fixed on the young
    girl, who gradually fell asleep, yielding to the effects of
    the narcotic the count had given her. Then he took the
    glass, emptied three parts of the contents in the fireplace,
    that it might be supposed Valentine had taken it, and
    replaced it on the table; then he disappeared, after
    throwing a farewell glance on Valentine, who slept with the
    confidence and innocence of an angel.
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