Villefort rose, half ashamed of being surprised in such a paroxysm of grief.
The terrible office he had held for twenty-five years had succeeded in makin_im more or less than man. His glance, at first wandering, fixed itself upo_orrel. "Who are you, sir," he asked, "that forget that this is not the manne_o enter a house stricken with death? Go, sir, go!" But Morrel remaine_otionless; he could not detach his eyes from that disordered bed, and th_ale corpse of the young girl who was lying on it. "Go! — do you hear?" sai_illefort, while d'Avrigny advanced to lead Morrel out. Maximilian stared fo_ moment at the corpse, gazed all around the room, then upon the two men; h_pened his mouth to speak, but finding it impossible to give utterance to th_nnumerable ideas that occupied his brain, he went out, thrusting his hand_hrough his hair in such a manner that Villefort and d'Avrigny, for a momen_iverted from the engrossing topic, exchanged glances, which seemed to say, —
"He is mad!"
But in less than five minutes the staircase groaned beneath an extraordinar_eight. Morrel was seen carrying, with superhuman strength, the arm-chai_ontaining Noirtier up-stairs. When he reached the landing he placed the arm- chair on the floor and rapidly rolled it into Valentine's room. This coul_nly have been accomplished by means of unnatural strength supplied b_owerful excitement. But the most fearful spectacle was Noirtier being pushe_owards the bed, his face expressing all his meaning, and his eyes supplyin_he want of every other faculty. That pale face and flaming glance appeared t_illefort like a frightful apparition. Each time he had been brought int_ontact with his father, something terrible had happened. "See what they hav_one!" cried Morrel, with one hand leaning on the back of the chair, and th_ther extended towards Valentine. "See, my father, see!"
Villefort drew back and looked with astonishment on the young man, who, almos_ stranger to him, called Noirtier his father. At this moment the whole sou_f the old man seemed centred in his eyes which became bloodshot; the veins o_he throat swelled; his cheeks and temples became purple, as though he wa_truck with epilepsy; nothing was wanting to complete this but the utteranc_f a cry. And the cry issued from his pores, if we may thus speak — a cr_rightful in its silence. D'Avrigny rushed towards the old man and made hi_nhale a powerful restorative.
"Sir," cried Morrel, seizing the moist hand of the paralytic, "they ask me wh_ am, and what right I have to be here. Oh, you know it, tell them, tel_hem!" And the young man's voice was choked by sobs. As for the old man, hi_hest heaved with his panting respiration. One could have thought that he wa_ndergoing the agonies preceding death. At length, happier than the young man, who sobbed without weeping, tears glistened in the eyes of Noirtier. "Tel_hem," said Morrel in a hoarse voice, "tell them that I am her betrothed. Tel_hem she was my beloved, my noble girl, my only blessing in the world. Tel_hem — oh, tell them, that corpse belongs to me!"
The young man overwhelmed by the weight of his anguish, fell heavily on hi_nees before the bed, which his fingers grasped with convulsive energy.
D'Avrigny, unable to bear the sight of this touching emotion, turned away; an_illefort, without seeking any further explanation, and attracted towards hi_y the irresistible magnetism which draws us towards those who have loved th_eople for whom we mourn, extended his hand towards the young man. But Morre_aw nothing; he had grasped the hand of Valentine, and unable to weep vente_is agony in groans as he bit the sheets. For some time nothing was heard i_hat chamber but sobs, exclamations, and prayers. At length Villefort, th_ost composed of all, spoke: "Sir," said he to Maximilian, "you say you love_alentine, that you were betrothed to her. I knew nothing of this engagement, of this love, yet I, her father, forgive you, for I see that your grief i_eal and deep; and besides my own sorrow is too great for anger to find _lace in my heart. But you see that the angel whom you hoped for has left thi_arth — she has nothing more to do with the adoration of men. Take a las_arewell, sir, of her sad remains; take the hand you expected to possess onc_ore within your own, and then separate yourself from her forever. Valentin_ow requires only the ministrations of the priest."
"You are mistaken, sir," exclaimed Morrel, raising himself on one knee, hi_eart pierced by a more acute pang than any he had yet felt — "you ar_istaken; Valentine, dying as she has, not only requires a priest, but a_venger. You, M. de Villefort, send for the priest; I will be the avenger."
"What do you mean, sir?" asked Villefort, trembling at the new idea inspire_y the delirium of Morrel.
"I tell you, sir, that two persons exist in you; the father has mourne_ufficiently, now let the procureur fulfil his office."
The eyes of Noirtier glistened, and d'Avrigny approached.
"Gentlemen," said Morrel, reading all that passed through the minds of th_itnesses to the scene, "I know what I am saying, and you know as well as I d_hat I am about to say — Valentine has been assassinated!" Villefort hung hi_ead, d'Avrigny approached nearer, and Noirtier said "Yes" with his eyes.
"Now, sir," continued Morrel, "in these days no one can disappear by violen_eans without some inquiries being made as to the cause of her disappearance, even were she not a young, beautiful, and adorable creature like Valentine.
Mr. Procureur," said Morrel with increasing vehemence, "no mercy is allowed; _enounce the crime; it is your place to seek the assassin." The young man'_mplacable eyes interrogated Villefort, who, on his side, glanced fro_oirtier to d'Avrigny. But instead of finding sympathy in the eyes of th_octor and his father, he only saw an expression as inflexible as that o_aximilian. "Yes," indicated the old man.
"Assuredly," said d'Avrigny.
"Sir," said Villefort, striving to struggle against this triple force and hi_wn emotion, — "sir, you are deceived; no one commits crimes here. I a_tricken by fate. It is horrible, indeed, but no one assassinates."
The eyes of Noirtier lighted up with rage, and d'Avrigny prepared to speak.
Morrel, however, extended his arm, and commanded silence. "And I say tha_urders are committed here," said Morrel, whose voice, though lower in tone, lost none of its terrible distinctness: "I tell you that this is the fourt_ictim within the last four months. I tell you, Valentine's life was attempte_y poison four days ago, though she escaped, owing to the precautions of M.
Noirtier. I tell you that the dose has been double, the poison changed, an_hat this time it has succeeded. I tell you that you know these things as wel_s I do, since this gentleman has forewarned you, both as a doctor and as _riend."
"Oh, you rave, sir," exclaimed Villefort, in vain endeavoring to escape th_et in which he was taken.
"I rave?" said Morrel; "well, then, I appeal to M. d'Avrigny himself. Ask him, sir, if he recollects the words he uttered in the garden of this house on th_ight of Madame de Saint-Meran's death. You thought yourselves alone, an_alked about that tragical death, and the fatality you mentioned then is th_ame which has caused the murder of Valentine." Villefort and d'Avrign_xchanged looks. "Yes, yes," continued Morrel; "recall the scene, for th_ords you thought were only given to silence and solitude fell into my ears.
Certainly, after witnessing the culpable indolence manifested by M. d_illefort towards his own relations, I ought to have denounced him to th_uthorities; then I should not have been an accomplice to thy death, as I no_m, sweet, beloved Valentine; but the accomplice shall become the avenger.
This fourth murder is apparent to all, and if thy father abandon thee, Valentine, it is I, and I swear it, that shall pursue the assassin." And thi_ime, as though nature had at least taken compassion on the vigorous frame, nearly bursting with its own strength, the words of Morrel were stifled in hi_hroat; his breast heaved; the tears, so long rebellious, gushed from hi_yes; and he threw himself weeping on his knees by the side of the bed.
Then d'Avrigny spoke. "And I, too," he exclaimed in a low voice, "I unite wit_. Morrel in demanding justice for crime; my blood boils at the idea of havin_ncouraged a murderer by my cowardly concession."
"Oh, merciful heavens!" murmured Villefort. Morrel raised his head, an_eading the eyes of the old man, which gleamed with unnatural lustre, —
"Stay," he said, "M. Noirtier wishes to speak."
"Yes," indicated Noirtier, with an expression the more terrible, from all hi_aculties being centred in his glance.
"Do you know the assassin?" asked Morrel.
"Yes," replied Noirtier.
"And will you direct us?" exclaimed the young man. "Listen, M. d'Avrigny, listen!" Noirtier looked upon Morrel with one of those melancholy smiles whic_ad so often made Valentine happy, and thus fixed his attention. Then, havin_iveted the eyes of his interlocutor on his own, he glanced towards the door.
"Do you wish me to leave?" said Morrel, sadly.
"Yes," replied Noirtier.
"Alas, alas, sir, have pity on me!"
The old man's eyes remained fixed on the door.
"May I, at least, return?" asked Morrel.
"Must I leave alone?"
"Whom am I to take with me? The procureur?"
"You wish to remain alone with M. de Villefort?"
"But can he understand you?"
"Oh," said Villefort, inexpressibly delighted to think that the inquiries wer_o be made by him alone, — "oh, be satisfied, I can understand my father."
D'Avrigny took the young man's arm, and led him out of the room. A more tha_eathlike silence then reigned in the house. At the end of a quarter of a_our a faltering footstep was heard, and Villefort appeared at the door of th_partment where d'Avrigny and Morrel had been staying, one absorbed i_editation, the other in grief. "You can come," he said, and led them back t_oirtier. Morrel looked attentively on Villefort. His face was livid, larg_rops rolled down his face, and in his fingers he held the fragments of _uill pen which he had torn to atoms.
"Gentlemen," he said in a hoarse voice, "give me your word of honor that thi_orrible secret shall forever remain buried amongst ourselves!" The two me_rew back.
"I entreat you." — continued Villefort.
"But," said Morrel, "the culprit — the murderer — the assassin."
"Do not alarm yourself, sir; justice will be done," said Villefort. "My fathe_as revealed the culprit's name; my father thirsts for revenge as much as yo_o, yet even he conjures you as I do to keep this secret. Do you not, father?"
"Yes," resolutely replied Noirtier. Morrel suffered an exclamation of horro_nd surprise to escape him. "Oh, sir," said Villefort, arresting Maximilian b_he arm, "if my father, the inflexible man, makes this request, it is becaus_e knows, be assured, that Valentine will be terribly revenged. Is it not so, father?" The old man made a sign in the affirmative. Villefort continued: "H_nows me, and I have pledged my word to him. Rest assured, gentlemen, tha_ithin three days, in a less time than justice would demand, the revenge _hall have taken for the murder of my child will be such as to make th_oldest heart tremble;" and as he spoke these words he ground his teeth, an_rasped the old man's senseless hand.
"Will this promise be fulfilled, M. Noirtier?" asked Morrel, while d'Avrign_ooked inquiringly.
"Yes," replied Noirtier with an expression of sinister joy.
"Swear, then," said Villefort, joining the hands of Morrel and d'Avrigny,
"swear that you will spare the honor of my house, and leave me to avenge m_hild." D'Avrigny turned round and uttered a very feeble "Yes," but Morrel, disengaging his hand, rushed to the bed, and after having pressed the col_ips of Valentine with his own, hurriedly left, uttering a long, deep groan o_espair and anguish. We have before stated that all the servants had fled. M.
de Villefort was therefore obliged to request M. d'Avrigny to superintend al_he arrangements consequent upon a death in a large city, more especially _eath under such suspicious circumstances.
It was something terrible to witness the silent agony, the mute despair o_oirtier, whose tears silently rolled down his cheeks. Villefort retired t_is study, and d'Avrigny left to summon the doctor of the mayoralty, whos_ffice it is to examine bodies after decease, and who is expressly named "th_octor of the dead." M. Noirtier could not be persuaded to quit hi_randchild. At the end of a quarter of an hour M. d'Avrigny returned with hi_ssociate; they found the outer gate closed, and not a servant remaining i_he house; Villefort himself was obliged to open to them. But he stopped o_he landing; he had not the courage to again visit the death chamber. The tw_octors, therefore, entered the room alone. Noirtier was near the bed, pale, motionless, and silent as the corpse. The district doctor approached with th_ndifference of a man accustomed to spend half his time amongst the dead; h_hen lifted the sheet which was placed over the face, and just unclosed th_ips.
"Alas," said d'Avrigny, "she is indeed dead, poor child!"
"Yes," answered the doctor laconically, dropping the sheet he had raised.
Noirtier uttered a kind of hoarse, rattling sound; the old man's eye_parkled, and the good doctor understood that he wished to behold his child.
He therefore approached the bed, and while his companion was dipping th_ingers with which he had touched the lips of the corpse in chloride of lime, he uncovered the calm and pale face, which looked like that of a sleepin_ngel. A tear, which appeared in the old man's eye, expressed his thanks t_he doctor. The doctor of the dead then laid his permit on the corner of th_able, and having fulfilled his duty, was conducted out by d'Avrigny.
Villefort met them at the door of his study; having in a few words thanked th_istrict doctor, he turned to d'Avrigny, and said, — "And now the priest."
"Is there any particular priest you wish to pray with Valentine?" aske_'Avrigny.
"No." said Villefort; "fetch the nearest."
"The nearest," said the district doctor, "is a good Italian abbe, who live_ext door to you. Shall I call on him as I pass?"
"D'Avrigny," said Villefort, "be so kind, I beseech you, as to accompany thi_entleman. Here is the key of the door, so that you can go in and out as yo_lease; you will bring the priest with you, and will oblige me by introducin_im into my child's room."
"Do you wish to see him?"
"I only wish to be alone. You will excuse me, will you not? A priest ca_nderstand a father's grief." And M. de Villefort, giving the key t_'Avrigny, again bade farewell to the strange doctor, and retired to hi_tudy, where he began to work. For some temperaments work is a remedy for al_fflictions. As the doctors entered the street, they saw a man in a cassoc_tanding on the threshold of the next door. "This is the abbe of whom _poke," said the doctor to d'Avrigny. D'Avrigny accosted the priest. "Sir," h_aid, "are you disposed to confer a great obligation on an unhappy father wh_as just lost his daughter? I mean M. de Villefort, the king's attorney."
"Ah," said the priest, in a marked Italian accent; "yes, I have heard tha_eath is in that house."
"Then I need not tell you what kind of service he requires of you."
"I was about to offer myself, sir," said the priest; "it is our mission t_orestall our duties."
"It is a young girl."
"I know it, sir; the servants who fled from the house informed me. I also kno_hat her name is Valentine, and I have already prayed for her."
"Thank you, sir," said d'Avrigny; "since you have commenced your sacre_ffice, deign to continue it. Come and watch by the dead, and all the wretche_amily will be grateful to you."
"I am going, sir; and I do not hesitate to say that no prayers will be mor_ervent than mine." D'Avrigny took the priest's hand, and without meetin_illefort, who was engaged in his study, they reached Valentine's room, whic_n the following night was to be occupied by the undertakers. On entering th_oom, Noirtier's eyes met those of the abbe, and no doubt he read som_articular expression in them, for he remained in the room. D'Avrign_ecommended the attention of the priest to the living as well as to the dead, and the abbe promised to devote his prayers to Valentine and his attentions t_oirtier. In order, doubtless, that he might not be disturbed while fulfillin_is sacred mission, the priest rose as soon as d'Avrigny departed, and no_nly bolted the door through which the doctor had just left, but also tha_eading to Madame de Villefort's room.