The Count of Monte Cristo – Day 215 of 400

Chapter 57. In the Lucerne Patch.

Our readers must now allow us to transport them again to the enclosure surrounding M. de Villefort’s house, and, behind the gate, half screened from view by the large chestnut-trees, which on all sides spread their luxuriant branches, we shall find some people of our acquaintance. This time Maximilian was the first to arrive. He was intently watching for a shadow to appear among the trees, and awaiting with anxiety the sound of a light step on the gravel walk. 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 had been occasioned by a visit from Madame Danglars and Eugenie, which had been prolonged beyond the time at which Valentine was expected. That she might not appear to fail in her promise to Maximilian, she proposed to Mademoiselle Danglars that they should take a walk in the garden, being anxious to show that the delay, which was doubtless a cause of vexation to him, was not occasioned by any neglect on her part. The young man, with the intuitive perception of a lover, quickly understood the circumstances in which she was involuntarily placed, and he was comforted. Besides, although she avoided coming within speaking distance, Valentine arranged so that Maximilian could see her pass and repass, and each time she went by, she managed, unperceived by her companion, to cast an expressive look at the young man, which seemed to say, “Have patience! You see it is not my fault.” And Maximilian was patient, and employed himself in mentally contrasting the two girls,—one fair, with soft languishing eyes, a figure gracefully bending like a weeping willow; the other a brunette, with a fierce and haughty expression, and as straight as a poplar. 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 went away, and Maximilian understood that Mademoiselle Danglars’ visit had at last come to an end. In a few minutes Valentine re-entered the garden alone. For fear that any one should be observing her return, she walked slowly; and instead of immediately directing her steps towards the gate, she seated herself on a bench, and, carefully casting her eyes around, to convince herself that she was not watched, she presently arose, and proceeded quickly to join Maximilian.

“Good-evening, Valentine,” said a well-known voice.

“Good-evening, Maximilian; I know I have kept you waiting, but you saw the cause of my delay.”

“Yes, I recognized Mademoiselle Danglars. I was not aware that you were so intimate with her.”

“Who told you we were intimate, Maximilian?”

“No one, but you appeared to be so. From the manner in which you walked and talked together, one would have thought you were two school-girls telling your secrets to each other.”

“We were having a confidential conversation,” returned Valentine; “she was owning to me her repugnance to the marriage with M. de Morcerf; and I, on the other hand, was confessing to her how wretched it made me to think of marrying M. d’Epinay.”

“Dear Valentine!”

“That will account to you for the unreserved manner which you observed between me and Eugenie, as in speaking of the man whom I could not love, my thoughts involuntarily reverted to him on whom my affections were fixed.”

“Ah, how good you are to say so, Valentine! You possess a quality which can never belong to Mademoiselle Danglars. It is that indefinable charm which is to a woman what perfume is to the flower and flavor to the fruit, for the beauty 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 both when you were walking in the garden, and, on my honor, without at all wishing to depreciate the beauty of Mademoiselle Danglars, I cannot understand how any man can really love her.”

“The fact is, Maximilian, that I was there, and my presence had the effect of rendering you unjust in your comparison.”

“No; but tell me—it is a question of simple curiosity, and which was suggested by certain ideas passing in my mind relative to Mademoiselle Danglars”—

“I dare say it is something disparaging which you are going to say. It only proves how little indulgence we may expect from your sex,” interrupted Valentine.

“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 of excitement. But return to your question.”

“Does Mademoiselle Danglars object to this marriage with M. de Morcerf on account 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 are smiling.”

“If you are already aware of the conversation that passed, the wooden partition which interposed between us and you has proved but a slight security.”

“Come, what did she say?”

“She told me that she loved no one,” said Valentine; “that she disliked the idea of being married; that she would infinitely prefer leading an independent and unfettered life; and that she almost wished her father might lose his fortune, that she might become an artist, like her friend, Mademoiselle Louise d’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 wish to speak.”

“True, we must be quick, for we have scarcely ten minutes more to pass together.”

“Ma foi,” said Maximilian, in consternation.

“Yes, you are right; I am but a poor friend to you. What a life I cause you to lead, poor Maximilian, you who are formed for happiness! I bitterly reproach myself, I assure you.”

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