M. and Madame de Villefort found on their return that the Count of Mont_risto, who had come to visit them in their absence, had been ushered into th_rawing-room, and was still awaiting them there. Madame de Villefort, who ha_ot yet sufficiently recovered from her late emotion to allow of he_ntertaining visitors so immediately, retired to her bedroom, while th_rocureur, who could better depend upon himself, proceeded at once to th_alon. Although M. de Villefort flattered himself that, to all outward view, he had completely masked the feelings which were passing in his mind, he di_ot know that the cloud was still lowering on his brow, so much so that th_ount, whose smile was radiant, immediately noticed his sombre and thoughtfu_ir. "Ma foi," said Monte Cristo, after the first compliments were over, "wha_s the matter with you, M. de Villefort? Have I arrived at the moment when yo_ere drawing up an indictment for a capital crime?" Villefort tried to smile.
"No, count," he replied, "I am the only victim in this case. It is I who los_y cause, and it is ill-luck, obstinacy, and folly which have caused it to b_ecided against me."
"To what do you refer?" said Monte Cristo with well-feigned interest. "Hav_ou really met with some great misfortune?"
"Oh, no, monsieur," said Villefort with a bitter smile; "it is only a loss o_oney which I have sustained — nothing worth mentioning, I assure you."
"True," said Monte Cristo, "the loss of a sum of money becomes almos_mmaterial with a fortune such as you possess, and to one of your philosophi_pirit."
"It is not so much the loss of the money that vexes me," said Villefort,
"though, after all, 900,000 francs are worth regretting; but I am the mor_nnoyed with this fate, chance, or whatever you please to call the power whic_as destroyed my hopes and my fortune, and may blast the prospects of my chil_lso, as it is all occasioned by an old man relapsed into second childhood."
"What do you say?" said the count; "900,000 francs? It is indeed a sum whic_ight be regretted even by a philosopher. And who is the cause of all thi_nnoyance?"
"My father, as I told you."
"M. Noirtier? But I thought you told me he had become entirely paralyzed, an_hat all his faculties were completely destroyed?"
"Yes, his bodily faculties, for he can neither move nor speak, nevertheless h_hinks, acts, and wills in the manner I have described. I left him about fiv_inutes ago, and he is now occupied in dictating his will to two notaries."
"But to do this he must have spoken?"
"He has done better than that — he has made himself understood."
"How was such a thing possible?"
"By the help of his eyes, which are still full of life, and, as you perceive, possess the power of inflicting mortal injury."
"My dear," said Madame de Villefort, who had just entered the room, "perhap_ou exaggerate the evil."
"Good-morning, madame," said the count, bowing. Madame de Villefor_cknowledged the salutation with one of her most gracious smiles. "What i_his that M. de Villefort has been telling me?" demanded Monte Cristo "an_hat incomprehensible misfortune" —
"Incomprehensible is not the word," interrupted the procureur, shrugging hi_houlders. "It is an old man's caprice."
"And is there no means of making him revoke his decision?"
"Yes," said Madame de Villefort; "and it is still entirely in the power of m_usband to cause the will, which is now in prejudice of Valentine, to b_ltered in her favor." The count, who perceived that M. and Madame d_illefort were beginning to speak in parables, appeared to pay no attention t_he conversation, and feigned to be busily engaged in watching Edward, who wa_ischievously pouring some ink into the bird's water-glass. "My dear," sai_illefort, in answer to his wife, "you know I have never been accustomed t_lay the patriarch in my family, nor have I ever considered that the fate of _niverse was to be decided by my nod. Nevertheless, it is necessary that m_ill should be respected in my family, and that the folly of an old man an_he caprice of a child should not be allowed to overturn a project which _ave entertained for so many years. The Baron d'Epinay was my friend, as yo_now, and an alliance with his son is the most suitable thing that coul_ossibly be arranged."
"Do you think," said Madame de Villefort, "that Valentine is in league wit_im? She has always been opposed to this marriage, and I should not be at al_urprised if what we have just seen and heard is nothing but the execution o_ plan concerted between them."
"Madame," said Villefort, "believe me, a fortune of 900,000 francs is not s_asily renounced."
"She could, nevertheless, make up her mind to renounce the world, sir, sinc_t is only about a year ago that she herself proposed entering a convent."
"Never mind," replied Villefort; "I say that this marriage shall b_onsummated."
"Notwithstanding your father's wishes to the contrary?" said Madame d_illefort, selecting a new point of attack. "That is a serious thing." Mont_risto, who pretended not to be listening, heard however, every word that wa_aid. "Madame," replied Villefort "I can truly say that I have alway_ntertained a high respect for my father, because, to the natural feeling o_elationship was added the consciousness of his moral superiority. The name o_ather is sacred in two senses; he should be reverenced as the author of ou_eing and as a master whom we ought to obey. But, under the presen_ircumstances, I am justified in doubting the wisdom of an old man who, because he hated the father, vents his anger on the son. It would b_idiculous in me to regulate my conduct by such caprices. I shall stil_ontinue to preserve the same respect toward M. Noirtier; I will suffer, without complaint, the pecuniary deprivation to which he has subjected me; bu_ shall remain firm in my determination, and the world shall see which part_as reason on his side. Consequently I shall marry my daughter to the Baro_ranz d'Epinay, because I consider it would be a proper and eligible match fo_er to make, and, in short, because I choose to bestow my daughter's hand o_homever I please."
"What?" said the count, the approbation of whose eye Villefort had frequentl_olicited during this speech. "What? Do you say that M. Noirtier disinherit_ademoiselle de Villefort because she is going to marry M. le Baron Fran_'Epinay?"
"Yes, sir, that is the reason," said Villefort, shrugging his shoulders.
"The apparent reason, at least," said Madame de Villefort.
"The real reason, madame, I can assure you; I know my father."
"But I want to know in what way M. d'Epinay can have displeased your fathe_ore than any other person?"
"I believe I know M. Franz d'Epinay," said the count; "is he not the son o_eneral de Quesnel, who was created Baron d'Epinay by Charles X.?"
"The same," said Villefort.
"Well, but he is a charming young man, according to my ideas."
"He is, which makes me believe that it is only an excuse of M. Noirtier t_revent his granddaughter marrying; old men are always so selfish in thei_ffection," said Madame de Villefort.
"But," said Monte Cristo "do you not know any cause for this hatred?"
"Ah, ma foi, who is to know?"
"Perhaps it is some political difference?"
"My father and the Baron d'Epinay lived in the stormy times of which I onl_aw the ending," said Villefort.
"Was not your father a Bonapartist?" asked Monte Cristo; "I think I remembe_hat you told me something of that kind."
"My father has been a Jacobin more than anything else," said Villefort, carried by his emotion beyond the bounds of prudence; "and the senator's robe, which Napoleon cast on his shoulders, only served to disguise the old ma_ithout in any degree changing him. When my father conspired, it was not fo_he emperor, it was against the Bourbons; for M. Noirtier possessed thi_eculiarity, he never projected any Utopian schemes which could never b_ealized, but strove for possibilities, and he applied to the realization o_hese possibilities the terrible theories of The Mountain, — theories tha_ever shrank from any means that were deemed necessary to bring about th_esired result."
"Well," said Monte Cristo, "it is just as I thought; it was politics whic_rought Noirtier and M. d'Epinay into personal contact. Although Genera_'Epinay served under Napoleon, did he not still retain royalist sentiments?
And was he not the person who was assassinated one evening on leaving _onapartist meeting to which he had been invited on the supposition that h_avored the cause of the emperor?" Villefort looked at the count almost wit_error. "Am I mistaken, then?" said Monte Cristo.
"No, sir, the facts were precisely what you have stated," said Madame d_illefort; "and it was to prevent the renewal of old feuds that M. d_illefort formed the idea of uniting in the bonds of affection the tw_hildren of these inveterate enemies."
"It was a sublime and charitable thought," said Monte Cristo, "and the whol_orld should applaud it. It would be noble to see Mademoiselle Noirtier d_illefort assuming the title of Madame Franz d'Epinay." Villefort shuddere_nd looked at Monte Cristo as if he wished to read in his countenance the rea_eelings which had dictated the words he had just uttered. But the coun_ompletely baffled the procureur, and prevented him from discovering anythin_eneath the never-varying smile he was so constantly in the habit of assuming.
"Although," said Villefort, "it will be a serious thing for Valentine to los_er grandfather's fortune, I do not think that M. d'Epinay will be frightene_t this pecuniary loss. He will, perhaps, hold me in greater esteem than th_oney itself, seeing that I sacrifice everything in order to keep my word wit_im. Besides, he knows that Valentine is rich in right of her mother, and tha_he will, in all probability, inherit the fortune of M. and Madame de Saint- Meran, her mother's parents, who both love her tenderly."
"And who are fully as well worth loving and tending as M. Noirtier," sai_adame de Villefort; "besides, they are to come to Paris in about a month, an_alentine, after the affront she has received, need not consider it necessar_o continue to bury herself alive by being shut up with M. Noirtier." Th_ount listened with satisfaction to this tale of wounded self-love an_efeated ambition. "But it seems to me," said Monte Cristo, "and I must begi_y asking your pardon for what I am about to say, that if M. Noirtie_isinherits Mademoiselle de Villefort because she is going to marry a ma_hose father he detested, he cannot have the same cause of complaint agains_his dear Edward."
"True," said Madame de Villefort, with an intonation of voice which it i_mpossible to describe; "is it not unjust — shamefully unjust? Poor Edward i_s much M. Noirtier's grandchild as Valentine, and yet, if she had not bee_oing to marry M. Franz, M. Noirtier would have left her all his money; an_upposing Valentine to be disinherited by her grandfather, she will still b_hree times richer than he." The count listened and said no more. "Count,"
said Villefort, "we will not entertain you any longer with our famil_isfortunes. It is true that my patrimony will go to endow charitabl_nstitutions, and my father will have deprived me of my lawful inheritanc_ithout any reason for doing so, but I shall have the satisfaction of knowin_hat I have acted like a man of sense and feeling. M. d'Epinay, to whom I ha_romised the interest of this sum, shall receive it, even if I endure the mos_ruel privations."
"However," said Madame de Villefort, returning to the one idea whic_ncessantly occupied her mind, "perhaps it would be better to explain thi_nlucky affair to M. d'Epinay, in order to give him the opportunity of himsel_enouncing his claim to the hand of Mademoiselle de Villefort."
"Ah, that would be a great pity," said Villefort.
"A great pity," said Monte Cristo.
"Undoubtedly," said Villefort, moderating the tones of his voice, "a marriag_nce concerted and then broken off, throws a sort of discredit on a youn_ady; then again, the old reports, which I was so anxious to put an end to, will instantly gain ground. No, it will all go well; M. d'Epinay, if he is a_onorable man, will consider himself more than ever pledged to Mademoiselle d_illefort, unless he were actuated by a decided feeling of avarice, but tha_s impossible."
"I agree with M. de Villefort," said Monte Cristo, fixing his eyes on Madam_e Villefort; "and if I were sufficiently intimate with him to allow of givin_y advice, I would persuade him, since I have been told M. d'Epinay is comin_ack, to settle this affair at once beyond all possibility of revocation. _ill answer for the success of a project which will reflect so much honor o_. de Villefort." The procureur arose, delighted with the proposition, but hi_ife slightly changed color. "Well, that is all that I wanted, and I will b_uided by a counsellor such as you are," said he, extending his hand to Mont_risto. "Therefore let every one here look upon what has passed to-day as i_t had not happened, and as though we had never thought of such a thing as _hange in our original plans."
"Sir," said the count, "the world, unjust as it is, will be pleased with you_esolution; your friends will be proud of you, and M. d'Epinay, even if h_ook Mademoiselle de Villefort without any dowry, which he will not do, woul_e delighted with the idea of entering a family which could make suc_acrifices in order to keep a promise and fulfil a duty." At the conclusion o_hese words, the count rose to depart. "Are you going to leave us, count?"
said Madame de Villefort.
"I am sorry to say I must do so, madame, I only came to remind you of you_romise for Saturday."
"Did you fear that we should forget it?"
"You are very good, madame, but M. de Villefort has so many important an_rgent occupations."
"My husband has given me his word, sir," said Madame de Villefort; "you hav_ust seen him resolve to keep it when he has everything to lose, and surel_here is more reason for his doing so where he has everything to gain."
"And," said Villefort, "is it at your house in the Champs-Elysees that yo_eceive your visitors?"
"No," said Monte Cristo, "which is precisely the reason which renders you_indness more meritorious, — it is in the country."
"In the country?"
"Where is it, then? Near Paris, is it not?"
"Very near, only half a league from the Barriers, — it is at Auteuil."
"At Auteuil?" said Villefort; "true, Madame de Villefort told me you lived a_uteuil, since it was to your house that she was taken. And in what part o_uteuil do you reside?"
"Rue de la Fontaine."
"Rue de la Fontaine!" exclaimed Villefort in an agitated tone; "at wha_umber?"
"Then," cried Villefort, "was it you who bought M. de Saint-Meran's house!"
"Did it belong to M. de Saint-Meran?" demanded Monte Cristo.
"Yes," replied Madame de Villefort; "and, would you believe it, count" —
"You think this house pretty, do you not?"
"I think it charming."
"Well, my husband would never live in it."
"Indeed?" returned Monte Cristo, "that is a prejudice on your part, M. d_illefort, for which I am quite at a loss to account."
"I do not like Auteuil, sir," said the procureur, making an evident effort t_ppear calm.
"But I hope you will not carry your antipathy so far as to deprive me of th_leasure of your company, sir," said Monte Cristo.
"No, count, — I hope — I assure you I shall do my best," stammered Villefort.
"Oh," said Monte Cristo, "I allow of no excuse. On Saturday, at six o'clock. _hall be expecting you, and if you fail to come, I shall think — for how do _now to the contrary? — that this house, which his remained uninhabited fo_wenty years, must have some gloomy tradition or dreadful legend connecte_ith it."
"I will come, count, — I will be sure to come," said Villefort eagerly.
"Thank you," said Monte Cristo; "now you must permit me to take my leave o_ou."
"You said before that you were obliged to leave us, monsieur," said Madame d_illefort, "and you were about to tell us why when your attention was calle_o some other subject."
"Indeed madame," said Monte Cristo: "I scarcely know if I dare tell you wher_ am going."
"Nonsense; say on."
"Well, then, it is to see a thing on which I have sometimes mused for hour_ogether."
"What is it?"
"A telegraph. So now I have told my secret."
"A telegraph?" repeated Madame de Villefort.
"Yes, a telegraph. I had often seen one placed at the end of a road on _illock, and in the light of the sun its black arms, bending in ever_irection, always reminded me of the claws of an immense beetle, and I assur_ou it was never without emotion that I gazed on it, for I could not hel_hinking how wonderful it was that these various signs should be made t_leave the air with such precision as to convey to the distance of thre_undred leagues the ideas and wishes of a man sitting at a table at one end o_he line to another man similarly placed at the opposite extremity, and al_his effected by a simple act of volition on the part of the sender of th_essage. I began to think of genii, sylphs, gnomes, in short, of all th_inisters of the occult sciences, until I laughed aloud at the freaks of m_wn imagination. Now, it never occurred to me to wish for a nearer inspectio_f these large insects, with their long black claws, for I always feared t_ind under their stone wings some little human genius fagged to death wit_abals, factions, and government intrigues. But one fine day I learned tha_he mover of this telegraph was only a poor wretch, hired for twelve hundre_rancs a year, and employed all day, not in studying the heavens like a_stronomer, or in gazing on the water like an angler, or even in enjoying th_rivilege of observing the country around him, but all his monotonous life wa_assed in watching his white-bellied, black-clawed fellow insect, four or fiv_eagues distant from him. At length I felt a desire to study this livin_hrysalis more closely, and to endeavor to understand the secret part playe_y these insect-actors when they occupy themselves simply with pullin_ifferent pieces of string."
"And are you going there?"
"What telegraph do you intend visiting? that of the home department, or of th_bservatory?"
"Oh, no; I should find there people who would force me to understand things o_hich I would prefer to remain ignorant, and who would try to explain to me, in spite of myself, a mystery which even they do not understand. Ma foi, _hould wish to keep my illusions concerning insects unimpaired; it is quit_nough to have those dissipated which I had formed of my fellow-creatures. _hall, therefore, not visit either of these telegraphs, but one in the ope_ountry where I shall find a good-natured simpleton, who knows no more tha_he machine he is employed to work."
"You are a singular man," said Villefort.
"What line would you advise me to study?"
"The one that is most in use just at this time."
"The Spanish one, you mean, I suppose?"
"Yes; should you like a letter to the minister that they might explain to you"
"No," said Monte Cristo; "since, as I told you before, I do not wish t_omprehend it. The moment I understand it there will no longer exist _elegraph for me; it will he nothing more than a sign from M. Duchatel, o_rom M. Montalivet, transmitted to the prefect of Bayonne, mystified by tw_reek words, tele, graphein. It is the insect with black claws, and the awfu_ord which I wish to retain in my imagination in all its purity and all it_mportance."
"Go then; for in the course of two hours it will be dark, and you will not b_ble to see anything."
"Ma foi, you frighten me. Which is the nearest way? Bayonne?"
"Yes; the road to Bayonne."
"And afterwards the road to Chatillon?"
"By the tower of Montlhery, you mean?"
"Thank you. Good-by. On Saturday I will tell you my impressions concerning th_elegraph." At the door the count was met by the two notaries, who had jus_ompleted the act which was to disinherit Valentine, and who were leavin_nder the conviction of having done a thing which could not fail of redoundin_onsiderably to their credit.