Our readers must now allow us to transport them again to the enclosur_urrounding M. de Villefort's house, and, behind the gate, half screened fro_iew by the large chestnut-trees, which on all sides spread their luxurian_ranches, we shall find some people of our acquaintance. This time Maximilia_as the first to arrive. He was intently watching for a shadow to appear amon_he trees, and awaiting with anxiety the sound of a light step on the grave_alk. At length, the long-desired sound was heard, and instead of one figure, as he had expected, he perceived that two were approaching him. The delay ha_een occasioned by a visit from Madame Danglars and Eugenie, which had bee_rolonged beyond the time at which Valentine was expected. That she might no_ppear to fail in her promise to Maximilian, she proposed to Mademoisell_anglars that they should take a walk in the garden, being anxious to sho_hat the delay, which was doubtless a cause of vexation to him, was no_ccasioned by any neglect on her part. The young man, with the intuitiv_erception of a lover, quickly understood the circumstances in which she wa_nvoluntarily placed, and he was comforted. Besides, although she avoide_oming within speaking distance, Valentine arranged so that Maximilian coul_ee her pass and repass, and each time she went by, she managed, unperceive_y her companion, to cast an expressive look at the young man, which seemed t_ay, "Have patience! You see it is not my fault." And Maximilian was patient, and employed himself in mentally contrasting the two girls, — one fair, wit_oft languishing eyes, a figure gracefully bending like a weeping willow; th_ther a brunette, with a fierce and haughty expression, and as straight as _oplar. It is unnecessary to state that, in the eyes of the young man, Valentine did not suffer by the contrast. In about half an hour the girls wen_way, and Maximilian understood that Mademoiselle Danglars' visit had at las_ome to an end. In a few minutes Valentine re-entered the garden alone. Fo_ear that any one should be observing her return, she walked slowly; an_nstead of immediately directing her steps towards the gate, she seate_erself on a bench, and, carefully casting her eyes around, to convinc_erself that she was not watched, she presently arose, and proceeded quickl_o join Maximilian.
"Good-evening, Valentine," said a well-known voice.
"Good-evening, Maximilian; I know I have kept you waiting, but you saw th_ause of my delay."
"Yes, I recognized Mademoiselle Danglars. I was not aware that you were s_ntimate with her."
"Who told you we were intimate, Maximilian?"
"No one, but you appeared to be so. From the manner in which you walked an_alked together, one would have thought you were two school-girls telling you_ecrets to each other."
"We were having a confidential conversation," returned Valentine; "she wa_wning to me her repugnance to the marriage with M. de Morcerf; and I, on th_ther hand, was confessing to her how wretched it made me to think of marryin_. d'Epinay."
"That will account to you for the unreserved manner which you observed betwee_e and Eugenie, as in speaking of the man whom I could not love, my thought_nvoluntarily reverted to him on whom my affections were fixed."
"Ah, how good you are to say so, Valentine! You possess a quality which ca_ever belong to Mademoiselle Danglars. It is that indefinable charm which i_o a woman what perfume is to the flower and flavor to the fruit, for th_eauty of either is not the only quality we seek."
"It is your love which makes you look upon everything in that light."
"No, Valentine, I assure you such is not the case. I was observing you bot_hen you were walking in the garden, and, on my honor, without at all wishin_o depreciate the beauty of Mademoiselle Danglars, I cannot understand how an_an can really love her."
"The fact is, Maximilian, that I was there, and my presence had the effect o_endering you unjust in your comparison."
"No; but tell me — it is a question of simple curiosity, and which wa_uggested by certain ideas passing in my mind relative to Mademoisell_anglars" —
"I dare say it is something disparaging which you are going to say. It onl_roves how little indulgence we may expect from your sex," interrupte_alentine.
"You cannot, at least, deny that you are very harsh judges of each other."
"If we are so, it is because we generally judge under the influence o_xcitement. But return to your question."
"Does Mademoiselle Danglars object to this marriage with M. de Morcerf o_ccount of loving another?"
"I told you I was not on terms of strict intimacy with Eugenie."
"Yes, but girls tell each other secrets without being particularly intimate; own, now, that you did question her on the subject. Ah, I see you ar_miling."
"If you are already aware of the conversation that passed, the woode_artition which interposed between us and you has proved but a sligh_ecurity."
"Come, what did she say?"
"She told me that she loved no one," said Valentine; "that she disliked th_dea of being married; that she would infinitely prefer leading an independen_nd unfettered life; and that she almost wished her father might lose hi_ortune, that she might become an artist, like her friend, Mademoiselle Louis_'Armilly."
"Ah, you see" —
"Well, what does that prove?" asked Valentine.
"Nothing," replied Maximilian.
"Then why did you smile?"
"Why, you know very well that you are reflecting on yourself, Valentine."
"Do you want me to go away?"
"Ah, no, no. But do not let us lose time; you are the subject on which I wis_o speak."
"True, we must be quick, for we have scarcely ten minutes more to pas_ogether."
"Ma foi," said Maximilian, in consternation.
"Yes, you are right; I am but a poor friend to you. What a life I cause you t_ead, poor Maximilian, you who are formed for happiness! I bitterly reproac_yself, I assure you."
"Well, what does it signify, Valentine, so long as I am satisfied, and fee_hat even this long and painful suspense is amply repaid by five minutes o_our society, or two words from your lips? And I have also a deep convictio_hat heaven would not have created two hearts, harmonizing as ours do, an_lmost miraculously brought us together, to separate us at last."
"Those are kind and cheering words. You must hope for us both, Maximilian; that will make me at least partly happy."
"But why must you leave me so soon?"
"I do not know particulars. I can only tell you that Madame de Villefort sen_o request my presence, as she had a communication to make on which a part o_y fortune depended. Let them take my fortune, I am already too rich; and, perhaps, when they have taken it, they will leave me in peace and quietness.
You would love me as much if I were poor, would you not, Maximilian?"
"Oh, I shall always love you. What should I care for either riches or poverty, if my Valentine was near me, and I felt certain that no one could deprive m_f her? But do you not fear that this communication may relate to you_arriage?"
"I do not think that is the case."
"However it may be, Valentine, you must not be alarmed. I assure you that, a_ong as I live, I shall never love any one else!"
"You think to reassure me when you say that, Maximilian."
"Pardon me, you are right. I am a brute. But I was going to tell you that _et M. de Morcerf the other day."
"Monsieur Franz is his friend, you know."
"Monsieur de Morcerf has received a letter from Franz, announcing hi_mmediate return." Valentine turned pale, and leaned her hand against th_ate. "Ah heavens, if it were that! But no, the communication would not com_hrough Madame de Villefort."
"Because — I scarcely know why — but it has appeared as if Madame de Villefor_ecretly objected to the marriage, although she did not choose openly t_ppose it."
"Is it so? Then I feel as if I could adore Madame de Villefort."
"Do not be in such a hurry to do that," said Valentine, with a sad smile.
"If she objects to your marrying M. d'Epinay, she would be all the more likel_o listen to any other proposition."
"No, Maximilian, it is not suitors to which Madame de Villefort objects, it i_arriage itself."
"Marriage? If she dislikes that so much, why did she ever marry herself?"
"You do not understand me, Maximilian. About a year ago, I talked of retirin_o a convent. Madame de Villefort, in spite of all the remarks which sh_onsidered it her duty to make, secretly approved of the proposition, m_ather consented to it at her instigation, and it was only on account of m_oor grandfather that I finally abandoned the project. You can form no idea o_he expression of that old man's eye when he looks at me, the only person i_he world whom he loves, and, I had almost said, by whom he is beloved i_eturn. When he learned my resolution, I shall never forget the reproachfu_ook which he cast on me, and the tears of utter despair which chased eac_ther down his lifeless cheeks. Ah, Maximilian, I experienced, at that moment, such remorse for my intention, that, throwing myself at his feet, I exclaimed, — `Forgive me, pray forgive me, my dear grandfather; they may do what the_ill with me, I will never leave you.' When I had ceased speaking, h_hankfully raised his eyes to heaven, but without uttering a word. Ah, Maximilian, I may have much to suffer, but I feel as if my grandfather's loo_t that moment would more than compensate for all."
"Dear Valentine, you are a perfect angel, and I am sure I do not know what I — sabring right and left among the Bedouins — can have done to merit your bein_evealed to me, unless, indeed, heaven took into consideration the fact tha_he victims of my sword were infidels. But tell me what interest Madame d_illefort can have in your remaining unmarried?"
"Did I not tell you just now that I was rich, Maximilian — too rich? I posses_early 50,000 livres in right of my mother; my grandfather and my grandmother, the Marquis and Marquise de Saint-Meran, will leave me as much, and M.
Noirtier evidently intends making me his heir. My brother Edward, who inherit_othing from his mother, will, therefore, be poor in comparison with me. Now, if I had taken the veil, all this fortune would have descended to my father, and, in reversion, to his son."
"Ah, how strange it seems that such a young and beautiful woman should be s_varicious."
"It is not for herself that she is so, but for her son, and what you regard a_ vice becomes almost a virtue when looked at in the light of maternal love."
"But could you not compromise matters, and give up a portion of your fortun_o her son?"
"How could I make such a proposition, especially to a woman who alway_rofesses to be so entirely disinterested?"
"Valentine, I have always regarded our love in the light of something sacred; consequently, I have covered it with the veil of respect, and hid it in th_nnermost recesses of my soul. No human being, not even my sister, is aware o_ts existence. Valentine, will you permit me to make a confidant of a frien_nd reveal to him the love I bear you?"
Valentine started. "A friend, Maximilian; and who is this friend? I tremble t_ive my permission."
"Listen, Valentine. Have you never experienced for any one that sudden an_rresistible sympathy which made you feel as if the object of it had been you_ld and familiar friend, though, in reality, it was the first time you ha_ver met? Nay, further, have you never endeavored to recall the time, place, and circumstances of your former intercourse, and failing in this attempt, have almost believed that your spirits must have held converse with each othe_n some state of being anterior to the present, and that you are only no_ccupied in a reminiscence of the past?"
"Well, that is precisely the feeling which I experienced when I first saw tha_xtraordinary man."
"Extraordinary, did you say?"
"You have known him for some time, then?"
"Scarcely longer than eight or ten days."
"And do you call a man your friend whom you have only known for eight or te_ays? Ah, Maximilian, I had hoped you set a higher value on the title o_riend."
"Your logic is most powerful, Valentine, but say what you will, I can neve_enounce the sentiment which has instinctively taken possession of my mind. _eel as if it were ordained that this man should be associated with all th_ood which the future may have in store for me, and sometimes it really seem_s if his eye was able to see what was to come, and his hand endowed with th_ower of directing events according to his own will."
"He must be a prophet, then," said Valentine, smiling.
"Indeed," said Maximilian, "I have often been almost tempted to attribute t_im the gift of prophecy; at all events, he has a wonderful power o_oretelling any future good."
"Ah," said Valentine in a mournful tone, "do let me see this man, Maximilian; he may tell me whether I shall ever be loved sufficiently to make amends fo_ll I have suffered."
"My poor girl, you know him already."
"I know him?"
"Yes; it was he who saved the life of your step-mother and her son."
"The Count of Monte Cristo?"
"Ah," cried Valentine, "he is too much the friend of Madame de Villefort eve_o be mine."
"The friend of Madame de Villefort! It cannot be; surely, Valentine, you ar_istaken?"
"No, indeed, I am not; for I assure you, his power over our household i_lmost unlimited. Courted by my step-mother, who regards him as the epitome o_uman wisdom; admired by my father, who says he has never before heard suc_ublime ideas so eloquently expressed; idolized by Edward, who, notwithstanding his fear of the count's large black eyes, runs to meet him th_oment he arrives, and opens his hand, in which he is sure to find som_elightful present, — M. de Monte Cristo appears to exert a mysterious an_lmost uncontrollable influence over all the members of our family."
"If such be the case, my dear Valentine, you must yourself have felt, or a_ll events will soon feel, the effects of his presence. He meets Albert d_orcerf in Italy — it is to rescue him from the hands of the banditti; h_ntroduces himself to Madame Danglars — it is that he may give her a roya_resent; your step-mother and her son pass before his door — it is that hi_ubian may save them from destruction. This man evidently possesses the powe_f influencing events, both as regards men and things. I never saw more simpl_astes united to greater magnificence. His smile is so sweet when he addresse_e, that I forget it ever can be bitter to others. Ah, Valentine, tell me, i_e ever looked on you with one of those sweet smiles? if so, depend on it, yo_ill be happy."
"Me?" said the young girl, "he never even glances at me; on the contrary, if _ccidentally cross his path, he appears rather to avoid me. Ah, he is no_enerous, neither does he possess that supernatural penetration which yo_ttribute to him, for if he did, he would have perceived that I was unhappy; and if he had been generous, seeing me sad and solitary, he would have use_is influence to my advantage, and since, as you say, he resembles the sun, h_ould have warmed my heart with one of his life-giving rays. You say he love_ou, Maximilian; how do you know that he does? All would pay deference to a_fficer like you, with a fierce mustache and a long sabre, but they think the_ay crush a poor weeping girl with impunity."
"Ah, Valentine, I assure you you are mistaken."
"If it were otherwise — if he treated me diplomatically — that is to say, lik_ man who wishes, by some means or other, to obtain a footing in the house, s_hat he may ultimately gain the power of dictating to its occupants — h_ould, if it had been but once, have honored me with the smile which you exto_o loudly; but no, he saw that I was unhappy, he understood that I could be o_o use to him, and therefore paid no attention to me whatever. Who knows bu_hat, in order to please Madame de Villefort and my father, he may no_ersecute me by every means in his power? It is not just that he shoul_espise me so, without any reason. Ah, forgive me," said Valentine, perceivin_he effect which her words were producing on Maximilian: "I have done wrong, for I have given utterance to thoughts concerning that man which I did no_ven know existed in my heart. I do not deny the influence of which you speak, or that I have not myself experienced it, but with me it has been productiv_f evil rather than good."
"Well, Valentine," said Morrel with a sigh, "we will not discuss the matte_urther. I will not make a confidant of him."
"Alas," said Valentine, "I see that I have given you pain. I can only say ho_incerely I ask pardon for having griefed you. But, indeed, I am no_rejudiced beyond the power of conviction. Tell me what this Count of Mont_risto has done for you."
"I own that your question embarrasses me, Valentine, for I cannot say that th_ount has rendered me any ostensible service. Still, as I have already tol_ou I have an instinctive affection for him, the source of which I canno_xplain to you. Has the sun done anything for me? No; he warms me with hi_ays, and it is by his light that I see you — nothing more. Has such and suc_ perfume done anything for me? No; its odor charms one of my senses — that i_ll I can say when I am asked why I praise it. My friendship for him is a_trange and unaccountable as his for me. A secret voice seems to whisper to m_hat there must be something more than chance in this unexpected reciprocit_f friendship. In his most simple actions, as well as in his most secre_houghts, I find a relation to my own. You will perhaps smile at me when _ell you that, ever since I have known this man, I have involuntaril_ntertained the idea that all the good fortune which his befallen m_riginated from him. However, I have managed to live thirty years without thi_rotection, you will say; but I will endeavor a little to illustrate m_eaning. He invited me to dine with him on Saturday, which was a very natura_hing for him to do. Well, what have I learned since? That your mother and M.
de Villefort are both coming to this dinner. I shall meet them there, and wh_nows what future advantages may result from the interview? This may appear t_ou to be no unusual combination of circumstances; nevertheless, I perceiv_ome hidden plot in the arrangement — something, in fact, more than i_pparent on a casual view of the subject. I believe that this singular man, who appears to fathom the motives of every one, has purposely arranged for m_o meet M. and Madame de Villefort, and sometimes, I confess, I have gone s_ar as to try to read in his eyes whether he was in possession of the secre_f our love."
"My good friend," said Valentine, "I should take you for a visionary, an_hould tremble for your reason, if I were always to hear you talk in a strai_imilar to this. Is it possible that you can see anything more than the meres_hance in this meeting? Pray reflect a little. My father, who never goes out, has several times been on the point of refusing this invitation; Madame d_illefort, on the contrary, is burning with the desire of seeing thi_xtraordinary nabob in his own house, therefore, she has with great difficult_revailed on my father to accompany her. No, no; it is as I have said, Maximilian, — there is no one in the world of whom I can ask help but yoursel_nd my grandfather, who is little better than a corpse."
"I see that you are right, logically speaking," said Maximilian; "but th_entle voice which usually has such power over me fails to convince me to- day."
"I feel the same as regards yourself." said Valentine; "and I own that, if yo_ave no stronger proof to give me" —
"I have another," replied Maximilian; "but I fear you will deem it even mor_bsurd than the first."
"So much the worse," said Valentine, smiling.
"It is, nevertheless, conclusive to my mind. My ten years of service have als_onfirmed my ideas on the subject of sudden inspirations, for I have severa_imes owed my life to a mysterious impulse which directed me to move at onc_ither to the right or to the left, in order to escape the ball which kille_he comrade fighting by my side, while it left me unharmed."
"Dear Maximilian, why not attribute your escape to my constant prayers fo_our safety? When you are away, I no longer pray for myself, but for you."
"Yes, since you have known me," said Morrel, smiling; "but that cannot appl_o the time previous to our acquaintance, Valentine."
"You are very provoking, and will not give me credit for anything; but let m_ear this second proof, which you yourself own to be absurd."
"Well, look through this opening, and you will see the beautiful new hors_hich I rode here."
"Ah, what a beautiful creature!" cried Valentine; "why did you not bring hi_lose to the gate, so that I could talk to him and pat him?"
"He is, as you see, a very valuable animal," said Maximilian. "You know tha_y means are limited, and that I am what would be designated a man of moderat_retensions. Well, I went to a horse dealer's, where I saw this magnificen_orse, which I have named Medeah. I asked the price; they told me it was 4,50_rancs. I was, therefore, obliged to give it up, as you may imagine, but I ow_ went away with rather a heavy heart, for the horse had looked at m_ffectionately, had rubbed his head against me and, when I mounted him, ha_ranced in the most delightful way imaginable, so that I was altogethe_ascinated with him. The same evening some friends of mine visited me, — M. d_hateau-Renaud, M. Debray, and five or six other choice spirits, whom you d_ot know, even by name. They proposed a game of bouillotte. I never play, fo_ am not rich enough to afford to lose, or sufficiently poor to desire t_ain. But I was at my own house, you understand, so there was nothing to b_one but to send for the cards, which I did.
"Just as they were sitting down to table, M. de Monte Cristo arrived. He too_is seat amongst them; they played, and I won. I am almost ashamed to say tha_y gains amounted to 5,000 francs. We separated at midnight. I could not defe_y pleasure, so I took a cabriolet and drove to the horse dealer's. Feveris_nd excited, I rang at the door. The person who opened it must have taken m_or a madman, for I rushed at once to the stable. Medeah was standing at th_ack, eating his hay. I immediately put on the saddle and bridle, to whic_peration he lent himself with the best grace possible; then, putting th_,500 francs into the hands of the astonished dealer, I proceeded to fulfil m_ntention of passing the night in riding in the Champs Elysees. As I rode b_he count's house I perceived a light in one of the windows, and fancied I sa_he shadow of his figure moving behind the curtain. Now, Valentine, I firml_elieve that he knew of my wish to possess this horse, and that he los_xpressly to give me the means of procuring him."
"My dear Maximilian, you are really too fanciful; you will not love even m_ong. A man who accustoms himself to live in such a world of poetry an_magination must find far too little excitement in a common, every-day sort o_ttachment such as ours. But they are calling me. Do you hear?"
"Ah, Valentine," said Maximilian, "give me but one finger through this openin_n the grating, one finger, the littlest finger of all, that I may have th_appiness of kissing it."
"Maximilian, we said we would be to each other as two voices, two shadows."
"As you will, Valentine."
"Shall you be happy if I do what you wish?"
"Oh, yes!" Valentine mounted on a bench, and passed not only her finger bu_er whole hand through the opening. Maximilian uttered a cry of delight, and, springing forwards, seized the hand extended towards him, and imprinted on i_ fervent and impassioned kiss. The little hand was then immediatel_ithdrawn, and the young man saw Valentine hurrying towards the house, a_hough she were almost terrified at her own sensations.