The judges took their places in the midst of the most profound silence; th_ury took their seats; M. de Villefort, the object of unusual attention, an_e had almost said of general admiration, sat in the arm-chair and cast _ranquil glance around him. Every one looked with astonishment on that grav_nd severe face, whose calm expression personal griefs had been unable t_isturb, and the aspect of a man who was a stranger to all human emotion_xcited something very like terror.
"Gendarmes," said the president, "lead in the accused."
At these words the public attention became more intense, and all eyes wer_urned towards the door through which Benedetto was to enter. The door soo_pened and the accused appeared. The same impression was experienced by al_resent, and no one was deceived by the expression of his countenance. Hi_eatures bore no sign of that deep emotion which stops the beating of th_eart and blanches the cheek. His hands, gracefully placed, one upon his hat, the other in the opening of his white waistcoat, were not at all tremulous; his eye was calm and even brilliant. Scarcely had he entered the hall when h_lanced at the whole body of magistrates and assistants; his eye rested longe_n the president, and still more so on the king's attorney. By the side o_ndrea was stationed the lawyer who was to conduct his defence, and who ha_een appointed by the court, for Andrea disdained to pay any attention t_hose details, to which he appeared to attach no importance. The lawyer was _oung man with light hair whose face expressed a hundred times more emotio_han that which characterized the prisoner.
The president called for the indictment, revised as we know, by the clever an_mplacable pen of Villefort. During the reading of this, which was long, th_ublic attention was continually drawn towards Andrea, who bore the inspectio_ith Spartan unconcern. Villefort had never been so concise and eloquent. Th_rime was depicted in the most vivid colors; the former life of the prisoner, his transformation, a review of his life from the earliest period, were se_orth with all the talent that a knowledge of human life could furnish to _ind like that of the procureur. Benedetto was thus forever condemned i_ublic opinion before the sentence of the law could be pronounced. Andrea pai_o attention to the successive charges which were brought against him. M. d_illefort, who examined him attentively, and who no doubt practiced upon hi_ll the psychological studies he was accustomed to use, in vain endeavored t_ake him lower his eyes, notwithstanding the depth and profundity of his gaze.
At length the reading of the indictment was ended.
"Accused," said the president, "your name and surname?" Andrea arose. "Excus_e, Mr. President," he said, in a clear voice, "but I see you are going t_dopt a course of questions through which I cannot follow you. I have an idea, which I will explain by and by, of making an exception to the usual form o_ccusation. Allow me, then, if you please, to answer in different order, or _ill not do so at all." The astonished president looked at the jury, who i_urn looked at Villefort. The whole assembly manifested great surprise, bu_ndrea appeared quite unmoved. "Your age?" said the president; "will yo_nswer that question?"
"I will answer that question, as well as the rest, Mr. President, but in it_urn."
"Your age?" repeated the president.
"I am twenty-one years old, or rather I shall be in a few days, as I was bor_he night of the 27th of September, 1817." M. de Villefort, who was bus_aking down some notes, raised his head at the mention of this date. "Wher_ere you born?" continued the president.
"At Auteuil, near Paris." M. de Villefort a second time raised his head, looked at Benedetto as if he had been gazing at the head of Medusa, and becam_ivid. As for Benedetto, he gracefully wiped his lips with a fine cambri_ocket-handkerchief. "Your profession?"
"First I was a forger," answered Andrea, as calmly as possible; "then I becam_ thief, and lately have become an assassin." A murmur, or rather storm, o_ndignation burst from all parts of the assembly. The judges themselve_ppeared to be stupefied, and the jury manifested tokens of disgust fo_ynicism so unexpected in a man of fashion. M. de Villefort pressed his han_pon his brow, which, at first pale, had become red and burning; then h_uddenly arose and looked around as though he had lost his senses — he wante_ir.
"Are you looking for anything, Mr. Procureur?" asked Benedetto, with his mos_ngratiating smile. M. de Villefort answered nothing, but sat, or rather thre_imself down again upon his chair. "And now, prisoner, will you consent t_ell your name?" said the president. "The brutal affectation with which yo_ave enumerated and classified your crimes calls for a severe reprimand on th_art of the court, both in the name of morality, and for the respect due t_umanity. You appear to consider this a point of honor, and it may be for thi_eason, that you have delayed acknowledging your name. You wished it to b_receded by all these titles."
"It is quite wonderful, Mr. President, how entirely you have read m_houghts," said Benedetto, in his softest voice and most polite manner. "Thi_s, indeed, the reason why I begged you to alter the order of the questions."
The public astonishment had reached its height. There was no longer any decei_r bravado in the manner of the accused. The audience felt that a startlin_evelation was to follow this ominous prelude.
"Well," said the president; "your name?"
"I cannot tell you my name, since I do not know it; but I know my father's, and can tell it to you."
A painful giddiness overwhelmed Villefort; great drops of acrid sweat fel_rom his face upon the papers which he held in his convulsed hand.
"Repeat your father's name," said the president. Not a whisper, not a breath, was heard in that vast assembly; every one waited anxiously.
"My father is king's attorney," replied Andrea calmly.
"King's attorney?" said the president, stupefied, and without noticing th_gitation which spread over the face of M. de Villefort; "king's attorney?"
"Yes; and if you wish to know his name, I will tell it, — he is name_illefort." The explosion, which had been so long restrained from a feeling o_espect to the court of justice, now burst forth like thunder from the breast_f all present; the court itself did not seek to restrain the feelings of th_udience. The exclamations, the insults addressed to Benedetto, who remaine_erfectly unconcerned, the energetic gestures, the movement of the gendarmes, the sneers of the scum of the crowd always sure to rise to the surface in cas_f any disturbance — all this lasted five minutes, before the door-keepers an_agistrates were able to restore silence. In the midst of this tumult th_oice of the president was heard to exclaim, — "Are you playing with justice, accused, and do you dare set your fellow-citizens an example of disorder whic_ven in these times has never been equalled?"
Several persons hurried up to M. de Villefort, who sat half bowed over in hi_hair, offering him consolation, encouragement, and protestations of zeal an_ympathy. Order was re-established in the hall, except that a few people stil_oved about and whispered to one another. A lady, it was said, had jus_ainted; they had supplied her with a smelling-bottle, and she had recovered.
During the scene of tumult, Andrea had turned his smiling face towards th_ssembly; then, leaning with one hand on the oaken rail of the dock, in th_ost graceful attitude possible, he said: "Gentlemen, I assure you I had n_dea of insulting the court, or of making a useless disturbance in th_resence of this honorable assembly. They ask my age; I tell it. They as_here I was born; I answer. They ask my name, I cannot give it, since m_arents abandoned me. But though I cannot give my own name, not possessin_ne, I can tell them my father's. Now I repeat, my father is named M. d_illefort, and I am ready to prove it."
There was an energy, a conviction, and a sincerity in the manner of the youn_an, which silenced the tumult. All eyes were turned for a moment towards th_rocureur, who sat as motionless as though a thunderbolt had changed him int_ corpse. "Gentlemen," said Andrea, commanding silence by his voice an_anner; "I owe you the proofs and explanations of what I have said."
"But," said the irritated president, "you called yourself Benedetto, declare_ourself an orphan, and claimed Corsica as your country."
"I said anything I pleased, in order that the solemn declaration I have jus_ade should not be withheld, which otherwise would certainly have been th_ase. I now repeat that I was born at Auteuil on the night of the 27th o_eptember, 1817, and that I am the son of the procureur, M. de Villefort. D_ou wish for any further details? I will give them. I was born in No. 28, Ru_e la Fontaine, in a room hung with red damask; my father took me in his arms, telling my mother I was dead, wrapped me in a napkin marked with an H and a_, and carried me into a garden, where he buried me alive."
A shudder ran through the assembly when they saw that the confidence of th_risoner increased in proportion to the terror of M. de Villefort. "But ho_ave you become acquainted with all these details?" asked the president.
"I will tell you, Mr. President. A man who had sworn vengeance against m_ather, and had long watched his opportunity to kill him, had introduce_imself that night into the garden in which my father buried me. He wa_oncealed in a thicket; he saw my father bury something in the ground, an_tabbed him; then thinking the deposit might contain some treasure he turne_p the ground, and found me still living. The man carried me to the foundlin_sylum, where I was registered under the number 37. Three months afterwards, _oman travelled from Rogliano to Paris to fetch me, and having claimed me a_er son, carried me away. Thus, you see, though born in Paris, I was brough_p in Corsica."
There was a moment's silence, during which one could have fancied the hal_mpty, so profound was the stillness. "Proceed," said the president.
"Certainly, I might have lived happily amongst those good people, who adore_e, but my perverse disposition prevailed over the virtues which my adopte_other endeavored to instil into my heart. I increased in wickedness till _ommitted crime. One day when I cursed providence for making me so wicked, an_rdaining me to such a fate, my adopted father said to me, `Do not blaspheme, unhappy child, the crime is that of your father, not yours, — of your father, who consigned you to hell if you died, and to misery if a miracle preserve_ou alive.' After that I ceased to blaspheme, but I cursed my father. That i_hy I have uttered the words for which you blame me; that is why I have fille_his whole assembly with horror. If I have committed an additional crime, punish me, but if you will allow that ever since the day of my birth my fat_as been sad, bitter, and lamentable, then pity me."
"But your mother?" asked the president.
"My mother thought me dead; she is not guilty. I did not even wish to know he_ame, nor do I know it." Just then a piercing cry, ending in a sob, burst fro_he centre of the crowd, who encircled the lady who had before fainted, an_ho now fell into a violent fit of hysterics. She was carried out of the hall, the thick veil which concealed her face dropped off, and Madame Danglars wa_ecognized. Notwithstanding his shattered nerves, the ringing sensation in hi_ars, and the madness which turned his brain, Villefort rose as he perceive_er. "The proofs, the proofs!" said the president; "remember this tissue o_orrors must be supported by the clearest proofs "
"The proofs?" said Benedetto, laughing; "do you want proofs?"
"Well, then, look at M. de Villefort, and then ask me for proofs."
Every one turned towards the procureur, who, unable to bear the universal gaz_ow riveted on him alone, advanced staggering into the midst of the tribunal, with his hair dishevelled and his face indented with the mark of his nails.
The whole assembly uttered a long murmur of astonishment. "Father," sai_enedetto, "I am asked for proofs, do you wish me to give them?"
"No, no, it is useless," stammered M. de Villefort in a hoarse voice; "no, i_s useless!"
"How useless?" cried the president, "what do you mean?"
"I mean that I feel it impossible to struggle against this deadly weight whic_rushes me. Gentlemen, I know I am in the hands of an avenging God! We need n_roofs; everything relating to this young man is true." A dull, gloom_ilence, like that which precedes some awful phenomenon of nature, pervade_he assembly, who shuddered in dismay. "What, M. de Villefort," cried th_resident, "do you yield to an hallucination? What, are you no longer i_ossession of your senses? This strange, unexpected, terrible accusation ha_isordered your reason. Come, recover."
The procureur dropped his head; his teeth chattered like those of a man unde_ violent attack of fever, and yet he was deadly pale.
"I am in possession of all my senses, sir," he said; "my body alone suffers, as you may suppose. I acknowledge myself guilty of all the young man ha_rought against me, and from this hour hold myself under the authority of th_rocureur who will succeed me."
And as he spoke these words with a hoarse, choking voice, he staggered toward_he door, which was mechanically opened by a door-keeper. The whole assembl_ere dumb with astonishment at the revelation and confession which ha_roduced a catastrophe so different from that which had been expected durin_he last fortnight by the Parisian world.
"Well," said Beauchamp, "let them now say that drama is unnatural!"
"Ma foi!" said Chateau-Renaud, "I would rather end my career like M. d_orcerf; a pistol-shot seems quite delightful compared with this catastrophe."
"And moreover, it kills," said Beauchamp.
"And to think that I had an idea of marrying his daughter," said Debray. "Sh_id well to die, poor girl!"
"The sitting is adjourned, gentlemen," said the president; "fresh inquirie_ill be made, and the case will be tried next session by another magistrate."
As for Andrea, who was calm and more interesting than ever, he left the hall, escorted by gendarmes, who involuntarily paid him some attention. "Well, wha_o you think of this, my fine fellow?" asked Debray of the sergeant-at-arms, slipping a louis into his hand. "There will be extenuating circumstances," h_eplied.