About two-thirds of the way along the Faubourg Saint-Honore, and in the rea_f one of the most imposing mansions in this rich neighborhood, where th_arious houses vie with each other for elegance of design and magnificence o_onstruction, extended a large garden, where the wide-spreading chestnut-tree_aised their heads high above the walls in a solid rampart, and with th_oming of every spring scattered a shower of delicate pink and white blossom_nto the large stone vases that stood upon the two square pilasters of _uriously wrought iron gate, that dated from the time of Louis XII. This nobl_ntrance, however, in spite of its striking appearance and the graceful effec_f the geraniums planted in the two vases, as they waved their variegate_eaves in the wind and charmed the eye with their scarlet bloom, had falle_nto utter disuse. The proprietors of the mansion had many years befor_hought it best to confine themselves to the possession of the house itself, with its thickly planted court-yard, opening into the Faubourg Saint-Honore, and to the garden shut in by this gate, which formerly communicated with _ine kitchen-garden of about an acre. For the demon of speculation drew _ine, or in other words projected a street, at the farther side of th_itchen-garden. The street was laid out, a name was chosen and posted up on a_ron plate, but before construction was begun, it occurred to the possessor o_he property that a handsome sum might be obtained for the ground then devote_o fruits and vegetables, by building along the line of the proposed street, and so making it a branch of communication with the Faubourg Saint-Honor_tself, one of the most important thoroughfares in the city of Paris.
In matters of speculation, however, though "man proposes," "money disposes."
From some such difficulty the newly named street died almost in birth, and th_urchaser of the kitchen-garden, having paid a high price for it, and bein_uite unable to find any one willing to take his bargain off his hands withou_ considerable loss, yet still clinging to the belief that at some future da_e should obtain a sum for it that would repay him, not only for his pas_utlay, but also the interest upon the capital locked up in his ne_cquisition, contented himself with letting the ground temporarily to som_arket-gardeners, at a yearly rental of 500 francs. And so, as we have said, the iron gate leading into the kitchen-garden had been closed up and left t_he rust, which bade fair before long to eat off its hinges, while to preven_he ignoble glances of the diggers and delvers of the ground from presuming t_ully the aristocratic enclosure belonging to the mansion, the gate had bee_oarded up to a height of six feet. True, the planks were not so closel_djusted but that a hasty peep might be obtained through their interstices; but the strict decorum and rigid propriety of the inhabitants of the hous_eft no grounds for apprehending that advantage would be taken of tha_ircumstance.
Horticulture seemed, however, to have been abandoned in the deserted kitchen- garden; and where cabbages, carrots, radishes, pease, and melons had onc_lourished, a scanty crop of lucerne alone bore evidence of its being deeme_orthy of cultivation. A small, low door gave egress from the walled space w_ave been describing into the projected street, the ground having bee_bandoned as unproductive by its various renters, and had now fallen s_ompletely in general estimation as to return not even the one-half per cen_t had originally paid. Towards the house the chestnut-trees we have befor_entioned rose high above the wall, without in any way affecting the growth o_ther luxuriant shrubs and flowers that eagerly dressed forward to fill up th_acant spaces, as though asserting their right to enjoy the boon of light an_ir. At one corner, where the foliage became so thick as almost to shut ou_ay, a large stone bench and sundry rustic seats indicated that this sheltere_pot was either in general favor or particular use by some inhabitant of th_ouse, which was faintly discernible through the dense mass of verdure tha_artially concealed it, though situated but a hundred paces off.
Whoever had selected this retired portion of the grounds as the boundary of _alk, or as a place for meditation, was abundantly justified in the choice b_he absence of all glare, the cool, refreshing shade, the screen it afforde_rom the scorching rays of the sun, that found no entrance there even durin_he burning days of hottest summer, the incessant and melodious warbling o_irds, and the entire removal from either the noise of the street or th_ustle of the mansion. On the evening of one of the warmest days spring ha_et bestowed on the inhabitants of Paris, might be seen negligently throw_pon the stone bench, a book, a parasol, and a work-basket, from which hung _artly embroidered cambric handkerchief, while at a little distance from thes_rticles was a young woman, standing close to the iron gate, endeavoring t_iscern something on the other side by means of the openings in the planks, — the earnestness of her attitude and the fixed gaze with which she seemed t_eek the object of her wishes, proving how much her feelings were intereste_n the matter. At that instant the little side-gate leading from the wast_round to the street was noiselessly opened, and a tall, powerful young ma_ppeared. He was dressed in a common gray blouse and velvet cap, but hi_arefully arranged hair, beard and mustache, all of the richest and glossies_lack, ill accorded with his plebeian attire. After casting a rapid glanc_round him, in order to assure himself that he was unobserved, he entered b_he small gate, and, carefully closing and securing it after him, proceede_ith a hurried step towards the barrier.
At the sight of him she expected, though probably not in such a costume, th_oung woman started in terror, and was about to make a hasty retreat. But th_ye of love had already seen, even through the narrow chinks of the woode_alisades, the movement of the white robe, and observed the fluttering of th_lue sash. Pressing his lips close to the planks, he exclaimed, "Don't b_larmed, Valentine — it is I!" Again the timid girl found courage to return t_he gate, saying, as she did so, "And why do you come so late to-day? It i_lmost dinner-time, and I had to use no little diplomacy to get rid of m_atchful mother-in-law, my too-devoted maid, and my troublesome brother, wh_s always teasing me about coming to work at my embroidery, which I am in _air way never to get done. So pray excuse yourself as well as you can fo_aving made me wait, and, after that, tell me why I see you in a dress s_ingular that at first I did not recognize you."
"Dearest Valentine," said the young man, "the difference between ou_espective stations makes me fear to offend you by speaking of my love, bu_et I cannot find myself in your presence without longing to pour forth m_oul, and tell you how fondly I adore you. If it be but to carry away with m_he recollection of such sweet moments, I could even thank you for chiding me, for it leaves me a gleam of hope, that if you did not expect me (and tha_ndeed would be worse than vanity to suppose), at least I was in you_houghts. You asked me the cause of my being late, and why I come disguised. _ill candidly explain the reason of both, and I trust to your goodness t_ardon me. I have chosen a trade."
"A trade? Oh, Maximilian, how can you jest at a time when we have such dee_ause for uneasiness?"
"Heaven keep me from jesting with that which is far dearer to me than lif_tself! But listen to me, Valentine, and I will tell you all about it. _ecame weary of ranging fields and scaling walls, and seriously alarmed at th_dea suggested by you, that if caught hovering about here your father woul_ery likely have me sent to prison as a thief. That would compromise the hono_f the French army, to say nothing of the fact that the continual presence o_ captain of Spahis in a place where no warlike projects could be supposed t_ccount for it might well create surprise; so I have become a gardener, and, consequently, adopted the costume of my calling."
"What excessive nonsense you talk, Maximilian!"
"Nonsense? Pray do not call what I consider the wisest action of my life b_uch a name. Consider, by becoming a gardener I effectually screen ou_eetings from all suspicion or danger."
"I beseech of you, Maximilian, to cease trifling, and tell me what you reall_ean."
"Simply, that having ascertained that the piece of ground on which I stand wa_o let, I made application for it, was readily accepted by the proprietor, an_m now master of this fine crop of lucerne. Think of that, Valentine! There i_othing now to prevent my building myself a little hut on my plantation, an_esiding not twenty yards from you. Only imagine what happiness that woul_fford me. I can scarcely contain myself at the bare idea. Such felicity seem_bove all price — as a thing impossible and unattainable. But would yo_elieve that I purchase all this delight, joy, and happiness, for which _ould cheerfully have surrendered ten years of my life, at the small cost o_00 francs per annum, paid quarterly? Henceforth we have nothing to fear. I a_n my own ground, and have an undoubted right to place a ladder against th_all, and to look over when I please, without having any apprehensions o_eing taken off by the police as a suspicious character. I may also enjoy th_recious privilege of assuring you of my fond, faithful, and unalterabl_ffection, whenever you visit your favorite bower, unless, indeed, it offend_our pride to listen to professions of love from the lips of a poo_orkingman, clad in a blouse and cap." A faint cry of mingled pleasure an_urprise escaped from the lips of Valentine, who almost instantly said, in _addened tone, as though some envious cloud darkened the joy which illumine_er heart, "Alas, no, Maximilian, this must not be, for many reasons. W_hould presume too much on our own strength, and, like others, perhaps, be le_stray by our blind confidence in each other's prudence."
"How can you for an instant entertain so unworthy a thought, dear Valentine?
Have I not, from the first blessed hour of our acquaintance, schooled all m_ords and actions to your sentiments and ideas? And you have, I am sure, th_ullest confidence in my honor. When you spoke to me of experiencing a vagu_nd indefinite sense of coming danger, I placed myself blindly and devotedl_t your service, asking no other reward than the pleasure of being useful t_ou; and have I ever since, by word or look, given you cause of regret fo_aving selected me from the numbers that would willingly have sacrificed thei_ives for you? You told me, my dear Valentine, that you were engaged to M.
d'Epinay, and that your father was resolved upon completing the match, an_hat from his will there was no appeal, as M. de Villefort was never known t_hange a determination once formed. I kept in the background, as you wished, and waited, not for the decision of your heart or my own, but hoping tha_rovidence would graciously interpose in our behalf, and order events in ou_avor. But what cared I for delays or difficulties, Valentine, as long as yo_onfessed that you loved me, and took pity on me? If you will only repeat tha_vowal now and then, I can endure anything."
"Ah, Maximilian, that is the very thing that makes you so bold, and whic_enders me at once so happy and unhappy, that I frequently ask myself whethe_t is better for me to endure the harshness of my mother-in-law, and her blin_reference for her own child, or to be, as I now am, insensible to an_leasure save such as I find in these meetings, so fraught with danger t_oth."
"I will not admit that word," returned the young man; "it is at once cruel an_njust. Is it possible to find a more submissive slave than myself? You hav_ermitted me to converse with you from time to time, Valentine, but forbidde_y ever following you in your walks or elsewhere — have I not obeyed? An_ince I found means to enter this enclosure to exchange a few words with yo_hrough this gate — to be close to you without really seeing you — have I eve_sked so much as to touch the hem of your gown or tried to pass this barrie_hich is but a trifle to one of my youth and strength? Never has a complain_r a murmur escaped me. I have been bound by my promises as rigidly as an_night of olden times. Come, come, dearest Valentine, confess that what I sa_s true, lest I be tempted to call you unjust."
"It is true," said Valentine, as she passed the end of her slender finger_hrough a small opening in the planks, and permitted Maximilian to press hi_ips to them, "and you are a true and faithful friend; but still you acte_rom motives of self-interest, my dear Maximilian, for you well knew that fro_he moment in which you had manifested an opposite spirit all would have bee_nded between us. You promised to bestow on me the friendly affection of _rother. For I have no friend but yourself upon earth, who am neglected an_orgotten by my father, harassed and persecuted by my mother-in-law, and lef_o the sole companionship of a paralyzed and speechless old man, whos_ithered hand can no longer press mine, and who can speak to me with the ey_lone, although there still lingers in his heart the warmest tenderness fo_is poor grandchild. Oh, how bitter a fate is mine, to serve either as _ictim or an enemy to all who are stronger than myself, while my only frien_nd supporter is a living corpse! Indeed, indeed, Maximilian, I am ver_iserable, and if you love me it must be out of pity."
"Valentine," replied the young man, deeply affected, "I will not say you ar_ll I love in the world, for I dearly prize my sister and brother-in-law; bu_y affection for them is calm and tranquil, in no manner resembling what _eel for you. When I think of you my heart beats fast, the blood burns in m_eins, and I can hardly breathe; but I solemnly promise you to restrain al_his ardor, this fervor and intensity of feeling, until you yourself shal_equire me to render them available in serving or assisting you. M. Franz i_ot expected to return home for a year to come, I am told; in that time man_avorable and unforeseen chances may befriend us. Let us, then, hope for th_est; hope is so sweet a comforter. Meanwhile, Valentine, while reproaching m_ith selfishness, think a little what you have been to me — the beautiful bu_old resemblance of a marble Venus. What promise of future reward have yo_ade me for all the submission and obedience I have evinced? — none whatever.
What granted me? — scarcely more. You tell me of M. Franz d'Epinay, you_etrothed lover, and you shrink from the idea of being his wife; but tell me, Valentine, is there no other sorrow in your heart? You see me devoted to you, body and soul, my life and each warm drop that circles round my heart ar_onsecrated to your service; you know full well that my existence is bound u_n yours — that were I to lose you I would not outlive the hour of suc_rushing misery; yet you speak with calmness of the prospect of your being th_ife of another! Oh, Valentine, were I in your place, and did I fee_onscious, as you do, of being worshipped, adored, with such a love as mine, _undred times at least should I have passed my hand between these iron bars, and said, `Take this hand, dearest Maximilian, and believe that, living o_ead, I am yours — yours only, and forever!'" The poor girl made no reply, bu_er lover could plainly hear her sobs and tears. A rapid change took place i_he young man's feelings. "Dearest, dearest Valentine," exclaimed he, "forgiv_e if I have offended you, and forget the words I spoke if they hav_nwittingly caused you pain."
"No, Maximilian, I am not offended," answered she, "but do you not see what _oor, helpless being I am, almost a stranger and an outcast in my father'_ouse, where even he is seldom seen; whose will has been thwarted, and spirit_roken, from the age of ten years, beneath the iron rod so sternly held ove_e; oppressed, mortified, and persecuted, day by day, hour by hour, minute b_inute, no person has cared for, even observed my sufferings, nor have I eve_reathed one word on the subject save to yourself. Outwardly and in the eye_f the world, I am surrounded by kindness and affection; but the reverse i_he case. The general remark is, `Oh, it cannot be expected that one of s_tern a character as M. Villefort could lavish the tenderness some fathers d_n their daughters. What though she has lost her own mother at a tender age, she has had the happiness to find a second mother in Madame de Villefort.' Th_orld, however, is mistaken; my father abandons me from utter indifference, while my mother-in-law detests me with a hatred so much the more terribl_ecause it is veiled beneath a continual smile."
"Hate you, sweet Valentine," exclaimed the young man; "how is it possible fo_ny one to do that?"
"Alas," replied the weeping girl, "I am obliged to own that my mother-in-law'_version to me arises from a very natural source — her overweening love fo_er own child, my brother Edward."
"But why should it?"
"I do not know; but, though unwilling to introduce money matters into ou_resent conversation, I will just say this much — that her extreme dislike t_e has its origin there; and I much fear she envies me the fortune I enjoy i_ight of my mother, and which will be more than doubled at the death of M. an_me. de Saint-Meran, whose sole heiress I am. Madame de Villefort has nothin_f her own, and hates me for being so richly endowed. Alas, how gladly would _xchange the half of this wealth for the happiness of at least sharing m_ather's love. God knows, I would prefer sacrificing the whole, so that i_ould obtain me a happy and affectionate home."
"I seem to myself as though living a life of bondage, yet at the same time a_o conscious of my own weakness that I fear to break the restraint in which _m held, lest I fall utterly helpless. Then, too, my father is not a perso_hose orders may be infringed with impunity; protected as he is by his hig_osition and firmly established reputation for talent and unswervin_ntegrity, no one could oppose him; he is all-powerful even with the king; h_ould crush you at a word. Dear Maximilian, believe me when I assure you tha_f I do not attempt to resist my father's commands it is more on your accoun_han my own."
"But why, Valentine, do you persist in anticipating the worst, — why pictur_o gloomy a future?"
"Because I judge it from the past."
"Still, consider that although I may not be, strictly speaking, what is terme_n illustrious match for you, I am, for many reasons, not altogether so muc_eneath your alliance. The days when such distinctions were so nicely weighe_nd considered no longer exist in France, and the first families of th_onarchy have intermarried with those of the empire. The aristocracy of th_ance has allied itself with the nobility of the cannon. Now I belong to thi_ast-named class; and certainly my prospects of military preferment are mos_ncouraging as well as certain. My fortune, though small, is free an_nfettered, and the memory of my late father is respected in our country, Valentine, as that of the most upright and honorable merchant of the city; _ay our country, because you were born not far from Marseilles."
"Don't speak of Marseilles, I beg of you, Maximilian; that one word bring_ack my mother to my recollection — my angel mother, who died too soon fo_yself and all who knew her; but who, after watching over her child during th_rief period allotted to her in this world, now, I fondly hope, watches fro_er home in heaven. Oh, if my mother were still living, there would be nothin_o fear, Maximilian, for I would tell her that I loved you, and she woul_rotect us."
"I fear, Valentine," replied the lover, "that were she living I should neve_ave had the happiness of knowing you; you would then have been too happy t_ave stooped from your grandeur to bestow a thought on me."
"Now it is you who are unjust, Maximilian," cried Valentine; "but there is on_hing I wish to know."
"And what is that?" inquired the young man, perceiving that Valentin_esitated.
"Tell me truly, Maximilian, whether in former days, when our fathers dwelt a_arseilles, there was ever any misunderstanding between them?"
"Not that I am aware of," replied the young man, "unless, indeed, any ill- feeling might have arisen from their being of opposite parties — your fathe_as, as you know, a zealous partisan of the Bourbons, while mine was wholl_evoted to the emperor; there could not possibly be any other differenc_etween them. But why do you ask?"
"I will tell you," replied the young girl, "for it is but right you shoul_now. Well, on the day when your appointment as an officer of the Legion o_onor was announced in the papers, we were all sitting with my grandfather, M.
Noirtier; M. Danglars was there also — you recollect M. Danglars, do you not, Maximilian, the banker, whose horses ran away with my mother-in-law and littl_rother, and very nearly killed them? While the rest of the company wer_iscussing the approaching marriage of Mademoiselle Danglars, I was readin_he paper to my grandfather; but when I came to the paragraph about you, although I had done nothing else but read it over to myself all the morning (you know you had told me all about it the previous evening), I felt so happy, and yet so nervous, at the idea of speaking your name aloud, and before s_any people, that I really think I should have passed it over, but for th_ear that my doing so might create suspicions as to the cause of my silence; so I summoned up all my courage, and read it as firmly and as steadily as _ould."
"Well, would you believe it? directly my father caught the sound of your nam_e turned round quite hastily, and, like a poor silly thing, I was s_ersuaded that every one must be as much affected as myself by the utteranc_f your name, that I was not surprised to see my father start, and almos_remble; but I even thought (though that surely must have been a mistake) tha_. Danglars trembled too."
"`Morrel, Morrel,' cried my father, `stop a bit;' then knitting his brows int_ deep frown, he added, `surely this cannot be one of the Morrel family wh_ived at Marseilles, and gave us so much trouble from their violen_onapartism — I mean about the year 1815.' — `Yes,' replied M. Danglars, `_elieve he is the son of the old shipowner.'"
"Indeed," answered Maximilian; "and what did your father say then, Valentine?"
"Oh, such a dreadful thing, that I don't dare to tell you."
"Always tell me everything," said Maximilian with a smile.
"`Ah,' continued my father, still frowning, `their idolized emperor treate_hese madmen as they deserved; he called them `food for powder,' which wa_recisely all they were good for; and I am delighted to see that the presen_overnment have adopted this salutary principle with all its pristine vigor; if Algiers were good for nothing but to furnish the means of carrying s_dmirable an idea into practice, it would be an acquisition well worthy o_truggling to obtain. Though it certainly does cost France somewhat dear t_ssert her rights in that uncivilized country.'"
"Brutal politics, I must confess." said Maximilian; "but don't attach an_erious importance, dear, to what your father said. My father was not a bi_ehind yours in that sort of talk. `Why,' said he, `does not the emperor, wh_as devised so many clever and efficient modes of improving the art of war, organize a regiment of lawyers, judges and legal practitioners, sending the_n the hottest fire the enemy could maintain, and using them to save bette_en?' You see, my dear, that for picturesque expression and generosity o_pirit there is not much to choose between the language of either party. Bu_hat did M. Danglars say to this outburst on the part of the procureur?"
"Oh, he laughed, and in that singular manner so peculiar to himself — half- malicious, half-ferocious; he almost immediately got up and took his leave; then, for the first time, I observed the agitation of my grandfather, and _ust tell you, Maximilian, that I am the only person capable of discernin_motion in his paralyzed frame. And I suspected that the conversation that ha_een carried on in his presence (for they always say and do what they lik_efore the dear old man, without the smallest regard for his feelings) ha_ade a strong impression on his mind; for, naturally enough, it must hav_ained him to hear the emperor he so devotedly loved and served spoken of i_hat depreciating manner."
"The name of M. Noirtier," interposed Maximilian, "is celebrated throughou_urope; he was a statesman of high standing, and you may or may not know, Valentine, that he took a leading part in every Bonapartist conspiracy set o_oot during the restoration of the Bourbons."
"Oh, I have often heard whispers of things that seem to me most strange — th_ather a Bonapartist, the son a Royalist; what can have been the reason of s_ingular a difference in parties and politics? But to resume my story; _urned towards my grandfather, as though to question him as to the cause o_is emotion; he looked expressively at the newspaper I had been reading. `Wha_s the matter, dear grandfather?' said I, `are you pleased?' He gave me a sig_n the affirmative. `With what my father said just now?' He returned a sign i_he negative. `Perhaps you liked what M. Danglars said?' Another sign in th_egative. `Oh, then, you were glad to hear that M. Morrel (I didn't dare t_ay Maximilian) had been made an officer of the Legion of Honor?' He signifie_ssent; only think of the poor old man's being so pleased to think that you, who were a perfect stranger to him, had been made an officer of the Legion o_onor! Perhaps it was a mere whim on his part, for he is falling, they say, into second childhood, but I love him for showing so much interest in you."
"How singular," murmured Maximilian; "your father hates me, while you_randfather, on the contrary — What strange feelings are aroused by politics."
"Hush," cried Valentine, suddenly; "some one is coming!" Maximilian leaped a_ne bound into his crop of lucerne, which he began to pull up in the mos_uthless way, under the pretext of being occupied in weeding it.
"Mademoiselle, mademoiselle!" exclaimed a voice from behind the trees. "Madam_s searching for you everywhere; there is a visitor in the drawing-room."
"A visitor?" inquired Valentine, much agitated; "who is it?"
"Some grand personage — a prince I believe they said — the Count of Mont_risto."
"I will come directly," cried Valentine aloud. The name of Monte Cristo sen_n electric shock through the young man on the other side of the iron gate, t_hom Valentine's "I am coming" was the customary signal of farewell. "Now, then," said Maximilian, leaning on the handle of his spade, "I would give _ood deal to know how it comes about that the Count of Monte Cristo i_cquainted with M. de Villefort."