We may easily conceive where Morrel's appointment was. On leaving Monte Crist_e walked slowly towards Villefort's; we say slowly, for Morrel had more tha_alf an hour to spare to go five hundred steps, but he had hastened to tak_eave of Monte Cristo because he wished to be alone with his thoughts. He kne_is time well — the hour when Valentine was giving Noirtier his breakfast, an_as sure not to be disturbed in the performance of this pious duty. Noirtie_nd Valentine had given him leave to go twice a week, and he was now availin_imself of that permission. He had arrived; Valentine was expecting him.
Uneasy and almost crazed, she seized his hand and led him to her grandfather.
This uneasiness, amounting almost to frenzy, arose from the report Morcerf'_dventure had made in the world, for the affair at the opera was generall_nown. No one at Villefort's doubted that a duel would ensue from it.
Valentine, with her woman's instinct, guessed that Morrel would be Mont_risto's second, and from the young man's well-known courage and his grea_ffection for the count, she feared that he would not content himself with th_assive part assigned to him. We may easily understand how eagerly th_articulars were asked for, given, and received; and Morrel could read a_ndescribable joy in the eyes of his beloved, when she knew that th_ermination of this affair was as happy as it was unexpected.
"Now," said Valentine, motioning to Morrel to sit down near her grandfather, while she took her seat on his footstool, — "now let us talk about our ow_ffairs. You know, Maximilian, grandpapa once thought of leaving this house, and taking an apartment away from M. de Villefort's."
"Yes," said Maximilian, "I recollect the project, of which I highly approved."
"Well," said Valentine, "you may approve again, for grandpapa is agai_hinking of it."
"Bravo," said Maximilian.
"And do you know," said Valentine, "what reason grandpapa gives for leavin_his house." Noirtier looked at Valentine to impose silence, but she did no_otice him; her looks, her eyes, her smile, were all for Morrel.
"Oh, whatever may be M. Noirtier's reason," answered Morrel, "I can readil_elieve it to be a good one."
"An excellent one," said Valentine. "He pretends the air of the Faubourg St.
Honore is not good for me."
"Indeed?" said Morrel; "in that M. Noirtier may be right; you have not seeme_o be well for the last fortnight."
"Not very," said Valentine. "And grandpapa has become my physician, and I hav_he greatest confidence in him, because he knows everything."
"Do you then really suffer?" asked Morrel quickly.
"Oh, it must not be called suffering; I feel a general uneasiness, that i_ll. I have lost my appetite, and my stomach feels as if it were struggling t_et accustomed to something." Noirtier did not lose a word of what Valentin_aid. "And what treatment do you adopt for this singular complaint?"
"A very simple one," said Valentine. "I swallow every morning a spoonful o_he mixture prepared for my grandfather. When I say one spoonful, I began b_ne — now I take four. Grandpapa says it is a panacea." Valentine smiled, bu_t was evident that she suffered.
Maximilian, in his devotedness, gazed silently at her. She was very beautiful, but her usual pallor had increased; her eyes were more brilliant than ever, and her hands, which were generally white like mother-of-pearl, now mor_esembled wax, to which time was adding a yellowish hue. From Valentine th_oung man looked towards Noirtier. The latter watched with strange and dee_nterest the young girl, absorbed by her affection, and he also, like Morrel, followed those traces of inward suffering which was so little perceptible to _ommon observer that they escaped the notice of every one but the grandfathe_nd the lover.
"But," said Morrel, "I thought this mixture, of which you now take fou_poonfuls, was prepared for M. Noirtier?"
"I know it is very bitter," said Valentine; "so bitter, that all I drin_fterwards appears to have the same taste." Noirtier looked inquiringly at hi_randdaughter. "Yes, grandpapa," said Valentine; "it is so. Just now, before _ame down to you, I drank a glass of sugared water; I left half, because i_eemed so bitter." Noirtier turned pale, and made a sign that he wished t_peak. Valentine rose to fetch the dictionary. Noirtier watched her wit_vident anguish. In fact, the blood was rushing to the young girl's hea_lready, her cheeks were becoming red. "Oh," cried she, without losing any o_er cheerfulness, "this is singular! I can't see! Did the sun shine in m_yes?" And she leaned against the window.
"The sun is not shining," said Morrel, more alarmed by Noirtier's expressio_han by Valentine's indisposition. He ran towards her. The young girl smiled.
"Cheer up," said she to Noirtier. "Do not be alarmed, Maximilian; it i_othing, and has already passed away. But listen! Do I not hear a carriage i_he court-yard?" She opened Noirtier's door, ran to a window in the passage, and returned hastily. "Yes," said she, "it is Madame Danglars and he_aughter, who have come to call on us. Good-by; — I must run away, for the_ould send here for me, or, rather, farewell till I see you again. Stay wit_randpapa, Maximilian; I promise you not to persuade them to stay."
Morrel watched her as she left the room; he heard her ascend the littl_taircase which led both to Madame de Villefort's apartments and to hers. A_oon as she was gone, Noirtier made a sign to Morrel to take the dictionary.
Morrel obeyed; guided by Valentine, he had learned how to understand the ol_an quickly. Accustomed, however, as he was to the work, he had to repeat mos_f the letters of the alphabet and to find every word in the dictionary, s_hat it was ten minutes before the thought of the old man was translated b_hese words, "Fetch the glass of water and the decanter from Valentine'_oom."
Morrel rang immediately for the servant who had taken Barrois's situation, an_n Noirtier's name gave that order. The servant soon returned. The decante_nd the glass were completely empty. Noirtier made a sign that he wished t_peak. "Why are the glass and decanter empty?" asked he; "Valentine said sh_nly drank half the glassful." The translation of this new question occupie_nother five minutes. "I do not know," said the servant, "but the housemaid i_n Mademoiselle Valentine's room: perhaps she has emptied them."
"Ask her," said Morrel, translating Noirtier's thought this time by his look.
The servant went out, but returned almost immediately. "Mademoiselle Valentin_assed through the room to go to Madame de Villefort's," said he; "and i_assing, as she was thirsty, she drank what remained in the glass; as for th_ecanter, Master Edward had emptied that to make a pond for his ducks."
Noirtier raised his eyes to heaven, as a gambler does who stakes his all o_ne stroke. From that moment the old man's eyes were fixed on the door, an_id not quit it.
It was indeed Madame Danglars and her daughter whom Valentine had seen; the_ad been ushered into Madame de Villefort's room, who had said she woul_eceive them there. That is why Valentine passed through her room, which wa_n a level with Valentine's, and only separated from it by Edward's. The tw_adies entered the drawing-room with that sort of official stiffness whic_reludes a formal communication. Among worldly people manner is contagious.
Madame de Villefort received them with equal solemnity. Valentine entered a_his moment, and the formalities were resumed. "My dear friend," said th_aroness, while the two young people were shaking hands, "I and Eugenie ar_ome to be the first to announce to you the approaching marriage of m_aughter with Prince Cavalcanti." Danglars kept up the title of prince. Th_opular banker found that it answered better than count. "Allow me to presen_ou my sincere congratulations," replied Madame de Villefort. "Princ_avalcanti appears to be a young man of rare qualities."
"Listen," said the baroness, smiling; "speaking to you as a friend I can sa_hat the prince does not yet appear all he will be. He has about him a littl_f that foreign manner by which French persons recognize, at first sight, th_talian or German nobleman. Besides, he gives evidence of great kindness o_isposition, much keenness of wit, and as to suitability, M. Danglars assure_e that his fortune is majestic — that is his word."
"And then," said Eugenie, while turning over the leaves of Madame d_illefort's album, "add that you have taken a great fancy to the young man."
"And," said Madame de Villefort, "I need not ask you if you share that fancy."
"I?" replied Eugenie with her usual candor. "Oh, not the least in the world, madame! My wish was not to confine myself to domestic cares, or the caprice_f any man, but to be an artist, and consequently free in heart, in person, and in thought." Eugenie pronounced these words with so firm a tone that th_olor mounted to Valentine's cheeks. The timid girl could not understand tha_igorous nature which appeared to have none of the timidities of woman.
"At any rate," said she, "since I am to be married whether I will or not, _ught to be thankful to providence for having released me from my engagemen_ith M. Albert de Morcerf, or I should this day have been the wife of _ishonored man."
"It is true," said the baroness, with that strange simplicity sometimes me_ith among fashionable ladies, and of which plebeian intercourse can neve_ntirely deprive them, — "it is very true that had not the Morcerfs hesitated, my daughter would have married Monsieur Albert. The general depended much o_t; he even came to force M. Danglars. We have had a narrow escape."
"But," said Valentine, timidly, "does all the father's shame revert upon th_on? Monsieur Albert appears to me quite innocent of the treason charge_gainst the general."
"Excuse me," said the implacable young girl, "Monsieur Albert claims and wel_eserves his share. It appears that after having challenged M. de Monte Crist_t the Opera yesterday, he apologized on the ground to-day."
"Impossible," said Madame de Villefort.
"Ah, my dear friend," said Madame Danglars, with the same simplicity we befor_oticed, "it is a fact. I heard it from M. Debray, who was present at th_xplanation." Valentine also knew the truth, but she did not answer. A singl_ord had reminded her that Morrel was expecting her in M. Noirtier's room.
Deeply engaged with a sort of inward contemplation, Valentine had ceased for _oment to join in the conversation. She would, indeed, have found i_mpossible to repeat what had been said the last few minutes, when suddenl_adame Danglars' hand, pressed on her arm, aroused her from her lethargy.
"What is it?" said she, starting at Madame Danglars' touch as she would hav_one from an electric shock. "It is, my dear Valentine," said the baroness,
"that you are, doubtless, suffering."
"I?" said the young girl, passing her hand across her burning forehead.
"Yes, look at yourself in that glass; you have turned pale and then re_uccessively, three or four times in one minute."
"Indeed," cried Eugenie, "you are very pale!"
"Oh, do not be alarmed; I have been so for many days." Artless as she was, th_oung girl knew that this was an opportunity to leave, and besides, Madame d_illefort came to her assistance. "Retire, Valentine," said she; "you ar_eally suffering, and these ladies will excuse you; drink a glass of pur_ater, it will restore you." Valentine kissed Eugenie, bowed to Madam_anglars, who had already risen to take her leave, and went out. "That poo_hild," said Madame de Villefort when Valentine was gone, "she makes me ver_neasy, and I should not be astonished if she had some serious illness."
Meanwhile, Valentine, in a sort of excitement which she could not quit_nderstand, had crossed Edward's room without noticing some trick of th_hild, and through her own had reached the little staircase. She was withi_hree steps of the bottom; she already heard Morrel's voice, when suddenly _loud passed over her eyes, her stiffened foot missed the step, her hands ha_o power to hold the baluster, and falling against the wall she lost he_alance wholly and toppled to the floor. Morrel bounded to the door, opene_t, and found Valentine stretched out at the bottom of the stairs. Quick as _lash, he raised her in his arms and placed her in a chair. Valentine opene_er eyes.
"Oh, what a clumsy thing I am," said she with feverish volubility; "I don'_now my way. I forgot there were three more steps before the landing."
"You have hurt yourself, perhaps," said Morrel. "What can I do for you, Valentine?" Valentine looked around her; she saw the deepest terror depicte_n Noirtier's eyes. "Don't worry, dear grandpapa," said she, endeavoring t_mile; "it is nothing — it is nothing; I was giddy, that is all."
"Another attack of giddiness," said Morrel, clasping his hands. "Oh, attend t_t, Valentine, I entreat you."
"But no," said Valentine, — "no, I tell you it is all past, and it wa_othing. Now, let me tell you some news; Eugenie is to be married in a week, and in three days there is to be a grand feast, a betrothal festival. We ar_ll invited, my father, Madame de Villefort, and I — at least, I understood i_o."
"When will it be our turn to think of these things? Oh, Valentine, you wh_ave so much influence over your grandpapa, try to make him answer — Soon."
"And do you," said Valentine, "depend on me to stimulate the tardiness an_rouse the memory of grandpapa?"
"Yes," cried Morrel, "make haste. So long as you are not mine, Valentine, _hall always think I may lose you."
"Oh," replied Valentine with a convulsive movement, "oh, indeed, Maximilian, you are too timid for an officer, for a soldier who, they say, never know_ear. Ah, ha, ha!" she burst into a forced and melancholy laugh, her arm_tiffened and twisted, her head fell back on her chair, and she remaine_otionless. The cry of terror which was stopped on Noirtier's lips, seemed t_tart from his eyes. Morrel understood it; he knew he must call assistance.
The young man rang the bell violently; the housemaid who had been i_ademoiselle Valentine's room, and the servant who had replaced Barrois, ra_n at the same moment. Valentine was so pale, so cold, so inanimate tha_ithout listening to what was said to them they were seized with the fea_hich pervaded that house, and they flew into the passage crying for help.
Madame Danglars and Eugenie were going out at that moment; they heard th_ause of the disturbance. "I told you so!" exclaimed Madame de Villefort.