In one of the aristocratic mansions built by Puget in the Rue du Grand Cour_pposite the Medusa fountain, a second marriage feast was being celebrated, almost at the same hour with the nuptial repast given by Dantes. In this case, however, although the occasion of the entertainment was similar, the compan_as strikingly dissimilar. Instead of a rude mixture of sailors, soldiers, an_hose belonging to the humblest grade of life, the present assembly wa_omposed of the very flower of Marseilles society, — magistrates who ha_esigned their office during the usurper's reign; officers who had deserte_rom the imperial army and joined forces with Conde; and younger members o_amilies, brought up to hate and execrate the man whom five years of exil_ould convert into a martyr, and fifteen of restoration elevate to the rank o_ god.
The guests were still at table, and the heated and energetic conversation tha_revailed betrayed the violent and vindictive passions that then agitated eac_weller of the South, where unhappily, for five centuries religious strife ha_ong given increased bitterness to the violence of party feeling.
The emperor, now king of the petty Island of Elba, after having held sovereig_way over one-half of the world, counting as his subjects a small populatio_f five or six thousand souls, — after having been accustomed to hear the
"Vive Napoleons" of a hundred and twenty millions of human beings, uttered i_en different languages, — was looked upon here as a ruined man, separate_orever from any fresh connection with France or claim to her throne.
The magistrates freely discussed their political views; the military part o_he company talked unreservedly of Moscow and Leipsic, while the wome_ommented on the divorce of Josephine. It was not over the downfall of th_an, but over the defeat of the Napoleonic idea, that they rejoiced, and i_his they foresaw for themselves the bright and cheering prospect of _evivified political existence.
An old man, decorated with the cross of Saint Louis, now rose and proposed th_ealth of King Louis XVIII. It was the Marquis de Saint-Meran. This toast, recalling at once the patient exile of Hartwell and the peace-loving King o_rance, excited universal enthusiasm; glasses were elevated in the air _'Anglais, and the ladies, snatching their bouquets from their fair bosoms, strewed the table with their floral treasures. In a word, an almost poetica_ervor prevailed.
"Ah," said the Marquise de Saint-Meran, a woman with a stern, forbidding eye, though still noble and distinguished in appearance, despite her fifty years —
"ah, these revolutionists, who have driven us from those very possessions the_fterwards purchased for a mere trifle during the Reign of Terror, would b_ompelled to own, were they here, that all true devotion was on our side, since we were content to follow the fortunes of a falling monarch, while they, on the contrary, made their fortune by worshipping the rising sun; yes, yes, they could not help admitting that the king, for whom we sacrificed rank, wealth, and station was truly our `Louis the well-beloved,' while thei_retched usurper his been, and ever will be, to them their evil genius, their `Napoleon the accursed.' Am I not right, Villefort?"
"I beg your pardon, madame. I really must pray you to excuse me, but — i_ruth — I was not attending to the conversation."
"Marquise, marquise!" interposed the old nobleman who had proposed the toast,
"let the young people alone; let me tell you, on one's wedding day there ar_ore agreeable subjects of conversation than dry politics."
"Never mind, dearest mother," said a young and lovely girl, with a profusio_f light brown hair, and eyes that seemed to float in liquid crystal, "'ti_ll my fault for seizing upon M. de Villefort, so as to prevent his listenin_o what you said. But there — now take him — he is your own for as long as yo_ike. M. Villefort, I beg to remind you my mother speaks to you."
"If the marquise will deign to repeat the words I but imperfectly caught, _hall be delighted to answer," said M. de Villefort.
"Never mind, Renee," replied the marquise, with a look of tenderness tha_eemed out of keeping with her harsh dry features; but, however all othe_eelings may be withered in a woman's nature, there is always one brigh_miling spot in the desert of her heart, and that is the shrine of materna_ove. "I forgive you. What I was saying, Villefort, was, that the Bonapartist_ad not our sincerity, enthusiasm, or devotion."
"They had, however, what supplied the place of those fine qualities," replie_he young man, "and that was fanaticism. Napoleon is the Mahomet of the West, and is worshipped by his commonplace but ambitions followers, not only as _eader and lawgiver, but also as the personification of equality."
"He!" cried the marquise: "Napoleon the type of equality! For mercy's sake, then, what would you call Robespierre? Come, come, do not strip the latter o_is just rights to bestow them on the Corsican, who, to my mind, has usurpe_uite enough."
"Nay, madame; I would place each of these heroes on his right pedestal — tha_f Robespierre on his scaffold in the Place Louis Quinze; that of Napoleon o_he column of the Place Vendome. The only difference consists in the opposit_haracter of the equality advocated by these two men; one is the equality tha_levates, the other is the equality that degrades; one brings a king withi_each of the guillotine, the other elevates the people to a level with th_hrone. Observe," said Villefort, smiling, "I do not mean to deny that bot_hese men were revolutionary scoundrels, and that the 9th Thermidor and th_th of April, in the year 1814, were lucky days for France, worthy of bein_ratefully remembered by every friend to monarchy and civil order; and tha_xplains how it comes to pass that, fallen, as I trust he is forever, Napoleo_as still retained a train of parasitical satellites. Still, marquise, it ha_een so with other usurpers — Cromwell, for instance, who was not half so ba_s Napoleon, had his partisans and advocates."
"Do you know, Villefort, that you are talking in a most dreadfull_evolutionary strain? But I excuse it, it is impossible to expect the son of _irondin to be free from a small spice of the old leaven." A deep crimso_uffused the countenance of Villefort.
"'Tis true, madame," answered he, "that my father was a Girondin, but he wa_ot among the number of those who voted for the king's death; he was an equa_ufferer with yourself during the Reign of Terror, and had well-nigh lost hi_ead on the same scaffold on which your father perished."
"True," replied the marquise, without wincing in the slightest degree at th_ragic remembrance thus called up; "but bear in mind, if you please, that ou_espective parents underwent persecution and proscription from diametricall_pposite principles; in proof of which I may remark, that while my famil_emained among the stanchest adherents of the exiled princes, your father los_o time in joining the new government; and that while the Citizen Noirtier wa_ Girondin, the Count Noirtier became a senator."
"Dear mother," interposed Renee, "you know very well it was agreed that al_hese disagreeable reminiscences should forever be laid aside."
"Suffer me, also, madame," replied Villefort, "to add my earnest request t_ademoiselle de Saint-Meran's, that you will kindly allow the veil of oblivio_o cover and conceal the past. What avails recrimination over matters wholl_ast recall? For my own part, I have laid aside even the name of my father, and altogether disown his political principles. He was — nay, probably ma_till be — a Bonapartist, and is called Noirtier; I, on the contrary, am _tanch royalist, and style myself de Villefort. Let what may remain o_evolutionary sap exhaust itself and die away with the old trunk, an_ondescend only to regard the young shoot which has started up at a distanc_rom the parent tree, without having the power, any more than the wish, t_eparate entirely from the stock from which it sprung."
"Bravo, Villefort!" cried the marquis; "excellently well said! Come, now, _ave hopes of obtaining what I have been for years endeavoring to persuade th_arquise to promise; namely, a perfect amnesty and forgetfulness of the past."
"With all my heart," replied the marquise; "let the past be forever forgotten.
I promise you it affords me as little pleasure to revive it as it does you.
All I ask is, that Villefort will be firm and inflexible for the future in hi_olitical principles. Remember, also, Villefort, that we have pledge_urselves to his majesty for your fealty and strict loyalty, and that at ou_ecommendation the king consented to forget the past, as I do" (and here sh_xtended to him her hand) — "as I now do at your entreaty. But bear in mind, that should there fall in your way any one guilty of conspiring against th_overnment, you will be so much the more bound to visit the offence wit_igorous punishment, as it is known you belong to a suspected family."
"Alas, madame," returned Villefort, "my profession, as well as the times i_hich we live, compels me to be severe. I have already successfully conducte_everal public prosecutions, and brought the offenders to merited punishment.
But we have not done with the thing yet."
"Do you, indeed, think so?" inquired the marquise.
"I am, at least, fearful of it. Napoleon, in the Island of Elba, is too nea_rance, and his proximity keeps up the hopes of his partisans. Marseilles i_illed with half-pay officers, who are daily, under one frivolous pretext o_ther, getting up quarrels with the royalists; from hence arise continual an_atal duels among the higher classes of persons, and assassinations in th_ower."
"You have heard, perhaps," said the Comte de Salvieux, one of M. de Saint- Meran's oldest friends, and chamberlain to the Comte d'Artois, "that the Hol_lliance purpose removing him from thence?"
"Yes; they were talking about it when we left Paris," said M. de Saint-Meran;
"and where is it decided to transfer him?"
"To Saint Helena."
"For heaven's sake, where is that?" asked the marquise.
"An island situated on the other side of the equator, at least two thousan_eagues from here," replied the count.
"So much the better. As Villefort observes, it is a great act of folly to hav_eft such a man between Corsica, where he was born, and Naples, of which hi_rother-in-law is king, and face to face with Italy, the sovereignty of whic_e coveted for his son."
"Unfortunately," said Villefort, "there are the treaties of 1814, and w_annot molest Napoleon without breaking those compacts."
"Oh, well, we shall find some way out of it," responded M. de Salvieux. "Ther_asn't any trouble over treaties when it was a question of shooting the poo_uc d'Enghien."
"Well," said the marquise, "it seems probable that, by the aid of the Hol_lliance, we shall be rid of Napoleon; and we must trust to the vigilance o_. de Villefort to purify Marseilles of his partisans. The king is either _ing or no king; if he be acknowledged as sovereign of France, he should b_pheld in peace and tranquillity; and this can best be effected by employin_he most inflexible agents to put down every attempt at conspiracy — 'tis th_est and surest means of preventing mischief."
"Unfortunately, madame," answered Villefort, "the strong arm of the law is no_alled upon to interfere until the evil has taken place."
"Then all he has got to do is to endeavor to repair it."
"Nay, madame, the law is frequently powerless to effect this; all it can do i_o avenge the wrong done."
"Oh, M. de Villefort," cried a beautiful young creature, daughter to the Comt_e Salvieux, and the cherished friend of Mademoiselle de Saint-Meran, "do tr_nd get up some famous trial while we are at Marseilles. I never was in a law- court; I am told it is so very amusing!"
"Amusing, certainly," replied the young man, "inasmuch as, instead of sheddin_ears as at the fictitious tale of woe produced at a theatre, you behold in _aw-court a case of real and genuine distress — a drama of life. The prisone_hom you there see pale, agitated, and alarmed, instead of — as is the cas_hen a curtain falls on a tragedy — going home to sup peacefully with hi_amily, and then retiring to rest, that he may recommence his mimic woes o_he morrow, — is removed from your sight merely to be reconducted to hi_rison and delivered up to the executioner. I leave you to judge how far you_erves are calculated to bear you through such a scene. Of this, however, b_ssured, that should any favorable opportunity present itself, I will not fai_o offer you the choice of being present."
"For shame, M. de Villefort!" said Renee, becoming quite pale; "don't you se_ow you are frightening us? — and yet you laugh."
"What would you have? 'Tis like a duel. I have already recorded sentence o_eath, five or six times, against the movers of political conspiracies, an_ho can say how many daggers may be ready sharpened, and only waiting _avorable opportunity to be buried in my heart?"
"Gracious heavens, M. de Villefort," said Renee, becoming more and mor_errified; "you surely are not in earnest."
"Indeed I am," replied the young magistrate with a smile; "and in th_nteresting trial that young lady is anxious to witness, the case would onl_e still more aggravated. Suppose, for instance, the prisoner, as is more tha_robable, to have served under Napoleon — well, can you expect for an instant, that one accustomed, at the word of his commander, to rush fearlessly on th_ery bayonets of his foe, will scruple more to drive a stiletto into the hear_f one he knows to be his personal enemy, than to slaughter his fellow- creatures, merely because bidden to do so by one he is bound to obey? Besides, one requires the excitement of being hateful in the eyes of the accused, i_rder to lash one's self into a state of sufficient vehemence and power. _ould not choose to see the man against whom I pleaded smile, as though i_ockery of my words. No; my pride is to see the accused pale, agitated, and a_hough beaten out of all composure by the fire of my eloquence." Renee uttere_ smothered exclamation.
"Bravo!" cried one of the guests; "that is what I call talking to som_urpose."
"Just the person we require at a time like the present," said a second.
"What a splendid business that last case of yours was, my dear Villefort!"
remarked a third; "I mean the trial of the man for murdering his father. Upo_y word, you killed him ere the executioner had laid his hand upon him."
"Oh, as for parricides, and such dreadful people as that," interposed Renee,
"it matters very little what is done to them; but as regards poor unfortunat_reatures whose only crime consists in having mixed themselves up in politica_ntrigues" —
"Why, that is the very worst offence they could possibly commit; for, don'_ou see, Renee, the king is the father of his people, and he who shall plot o_ontrive aught against the life and safety of the parent of thirty-tw_illions of souls, is a parricide upon a fearfully great scale?"
"I don't know anything about that," replied Renee; "but, M. de Villefort, yo_ave promised me — have you not? — always to show mercy to those I plead for."
"Make yourself quite easy on that point," answered Villefort, with one of hi_weetest smiles; "you and I will always consult upon our verdicts."
"My love," said the marquise, "attend to your doves, your lap-dogs, an_mbroidery, but do not meddle with what you do not understand. Nowadays th_ilitary profession is in abeyance and the magisterial robe is the badge o_onor. There is a wise Latin proverb that is very much in point."
"Cedant arma togae," said Villefort with a bow.
"I cannot speak Latin," responded the marquise.
"Well," said Renee, "I cannot help regretting you had not chosen some othe_rofession than your own — a physician, for instance. Do you know I alway_elt a shudder at the idea of even a destroying angel?"
"Dear, good Renee," whispered Villefort, as he gazed with unutterabl_enderness on the lovely speaker.
"Let us hope, my child," cried the marquis, "that M. de Villefort may prov_he moral and political physician of this province; if so, he will hav_chieved a noble work."
"And one which will go far to efface the recollection of his father'_onduct," added the incorrigible marquise.
"Madame," replied Villefort, with a mournful smile, "I have already had th_onor to observe that my father has — at least, I hope so — abjured his pas_rrors, and that he is, at the present moment, a firm and zealous friend t_eligion and order — a better royalist, possibly, than his son; for he has t_tone for past dereliction, while I have no other impulse than warm, decide_reference and conviction." Having made this well-turned speech, Villefor_ooked carefully around to mark the effect of his oratory, much as he woul_ave done had he been addressing the bench in open court.
"Do you know, my dear Villefort," cried the Comte de Salvieux, "that i_xactly what I myself said the other day at the Tuileries, when questioned b_is majesty's principal chamberlain touching the singularity of an allianc_etween the son of a Girondin and the daughter of an officer of the Duc d_onde; and I assure you he seemed fully to comprehend that this mode o_econciling political differences was based upon sound and excellen_rinciples. Then the king, who, without our suspecting it, had overheard ou_onversation, interrupted us by saying, `Villefort' — observe that the kin_id not pronounce the word Noirtier, but, on the contrary, placed considerabl_mphasis on that of Villefort — `Villefort,' said his majesty, `is a young ma_f great judgment and discretion, who will be sure to make a figure in hi_rofession; I like him much, and it gave me great pleasure to hear that he wa_bout to become the son-in-law of the Marquis and Marquise de Saint-Meran. _hould myself have recommended the match, had not the noble marqui_nticipated my wishes by requesting my consent to it.'"
"Is it possible the king could have condescended so far as to express himsel_o favorably of me?" asked the enraptured Villefort.
"I give you his very words; and if the marquis chooses to be candid, he wil_onfess that they perfectly agree with what his majesty said to him, when h_ent six months ago to consult him upon the subject of your espousing hi_aughter."
"That is true," answered the marquis.
"How much do I owe this gracious prince! What is there I would not do t_vince my earnest gratitude!"
"That is right," cried the marquise. "I love to see you thus. Now, then, wer_ conspirator to fall into your hands, he would be most welcome."
"For my part, dear mother." interposed Renee, "I trust your wishes will no_rosper, and that Providence will only permit petty offenders, poor debtors, and miserable cheats to fall into M. de Villefort's hands, — then I shall b_ontented."
"Just the same as though you prayed that a physician might only be called upo_o prescribe for headaches, measles, and the stings of wasps, or any othe_light affection of the epidermis. If you wish to see me the king's attorney, you must desire for me some of those violent and dangerous diseases from th_ure of which so much honor redounds to the physician."
At this moment, and as though the utterance of Villefort's wish had suffice_o effect its accomplishment, a servant entered the room, and whispered a fe_ords in his ear. Villefort immediately rose from table and quitted the roo_pon the plea of urgent business; he soon, however, returned, his whole fac_eaming with delight. Renee regarded him with fond affection; and certainl_is handsome features, lit up as they then were with more than usual fire an_nimation, seemed formed to excite the innocent admiration with which sh_azed on her graceful and intelligent lover.
"You were wishing just now," said Villefort, addressing her, "that I were _octor instead of a lawyer. Well, I at least resemble the disciples o_sculapius in one thing — that of not being able to call a day my own, no_ven that of my betrothal."
"And wherefore were you called away just now?" asked Mademoiselle de Saint- Meran, with an air of deep interest.
"For a very serious matter, which bids fair to make work for the executioner."
"How dreadful!" exclaimed Renee, turning pale.
"Is it possible?" burst simultaneously from all who were near enough to th_agistrate to hear his words.
"Why, if my information prove correct, a sort of Bonaparte conspiracy has jus_een discovered."
"Can I believe my ears?" cried the marquise.
"I will read you the letter containing the accusation, at least," sai_illefort: —
"`The king's attorney is informed by a friend to the throne and the religion_nstitutions of his country, that one named Edmond Dantes, mate of the shi_haraon, this day arrived from Smyrna, after having touched at Naples an_orto-Ferrajo, has been the bearer of a letter from Murat to the usurper, an_gain taken charge of another letter from the usurper to the Bonapartist clu_n Paris. Ample corroboration of this statement may be obtained by arrestin_he above-mentioned Edmond Dantes, who either carries the letter for Pari_bout with him, or has it at his father's abode. Should it not be found in th_ossession of father or son, then it will assuredly be discovered in the cabi_elonging to the said Dantes on board the Pharaon.'"
"But," said Renee, "this letter, which, after all, is but an anonymous scrawl, is not even addressed to you, but to the king's attorney."
"True; but that gentleman being absent, his secretary, by his orders, opene_is letters; thinking this one of importance, he sent for me, but not findin_e, took upon himself to give the necessary orders for arresting the accuse_arty."
"Then the guilty person is absolutely in custody?" said the marquise.
"Nay, dear mother, say the accused person. You know we cannot yet pronounc_im guilty."
"He is in safe custody," answered Villefort; "and rely upon it, if the lette_s found, he will not be likely to be trusted abroad again, unless he goe_orth under the especial protection of the headsman."
"And where is the unfortunate being?" asked Renee.
"He is at my house."
"Come, come, my friend," interrupted the marquise, "do not neglect your dut_o linger with us. You are the king's servant, and must go wherever tha_ervice calls you."
"O Villefort!" cried Renee, clasping her hands, and looking towards her love_ith piteous earnestness, "be merciful on this the day of our betrothal."
The young man passed round to the side of the table where the fair pleade_at, and leaning over her chair said tenderly, —
"To give you pleasure, my sweet Renee, I promise to show all the lenity in m_ower; but if the charges brought against this Bonapartist hero prove correct, why, then, you really must give me leave to order his head to be cut off."
"Never mind that foolish girl, Villefort," said the marquise. "She will soo_et over these things." So saying, Madame de Saint-Meran extended her dry bon_and to Villefort, who, while imprinting a son-in-law's respectful salute o_t, looked at Renee, as much as to say, "I must try and fancy 'tis your dea_and I kiss, as it should have been."
"These are mournful auspices to accompany a betrothal," sighed poor Renee.
"Upon my word, child!" exclaimed the angry marquise, "your folly exceeds al_ounds. I should be glad to know what connection there can possibly be betwee_our sickly sentimentality and the affairs of the state!"
"O mother!" murmured Renee.
"Nay, madame, I pray you pardon this little traitor. I promise you that t_ake up for her want of loyalty, I will be most inflexibly severe;" the_asting an expressive glance at his betrothed, which seemed to say, "Fear not, for your dear sake my justice shall be tempered with mercy," and receiving _weet and approving smile in return, Villefort quitted the room.