The Count of Monte Cristo – Day 253 of 400

“On the contrary,” replied the count, “did you not hear her declare that we were friends?” They re-entered the drawing-room, which Valentine and Madame de Villefort had just quitted. It is perhaps needless to add that Morrel departed almost at the same time.

Chapter 72. Madame de Saint-Meran.

A gloomy scene had indeed just passed at the house of M. de Villefort. After the ladies had departed for the ball, whither all the entreaties of Madame de Villefort had failed in persuading him to accompany them, the procureur had shut himself up in his study, according to his custom, with a heap of papers calculated to alarm any one else, but which generally scarcely satisfied his inordinate desires. But this time the papers were a mere matter of form. Villefort had secluded himself, not to study, but to reflect; and with the door locked and orders given that he should not be disturbed excepting for important business, he sat down in his arm-chair and began to ponder over the events, the remembrance of which had during the last eight days filled his mind with so many gloomy thoughts and bitter recollections. Then, instead of plunging into the mass of documents piled before him, he opened the drawer of his desk, touched a spring, and drew out a parcel of cherished memoranda, amongst which he had carefully arranged, in characters only known to himself, the names of all those who, either in his political career, in money matters, at the bar, or in his mysterious love affairs, had become his enemies.

Their number was formidable, now that he had begun to fear, and yet these names, powerful though they were, had often caused him to smile with the same kind of satisfaction experienced by a traveller who from the summit of a mountain beholds at his feet the craggy eminences, the almost impassable paths, and the fearful chasms, through which he has so perilously climbed. When he had run over all these names in his memory, again read and studied them, commenting meanwhile upon his lists, he shook his head.

“No,” he murmured, “none of my enemies would have waited so patiently and laboriously for so long a space of time, that they might now come and crush me with this secret. Sometimes, as Hamlet says—

      'Foul deeds will rise,
      Tho' all the earth o'erwhelm them to men's eyes;'

but, like a phosphoric light, they rise but to mislead. The story has been told by the Corsican to some priest, who in his turn has repeated it. M. de Monte Cristo may have heard it, and to enlighten himself—but why should he wish to enlighten himself upon the subject?” asked Villefort, after a moment’s reflection, “what interest can this M. de Monte Cristo or M. Zaccone,—son of a shipowner of Malta, discoverer of a mine in Thessaly, now visiting Paris for the first time,—what interest, I say, can he take in discovering a gloomy, mysterious, and useless fact like this? However, among all the incoherent details given to me by the Abbe Busoni and by Lord Wilmore, by that friend and that enemy, one thing appears certain and clear in my opinion—that in no period, in no case, in no circumstance, could there have been any contact between him and me.”

But Villefort uttered words which even he himself did not believe. He dreaded not so much the revelation, for he could reply to or deny its truth;—he cared little for that mene, tekel, upharsin, which appeared suddenly in letters of blood upon the wall;—but what he was really anxious for was to discover whose hand had traced them. While he was endeavoring to calm his fears,—and instead of dwelling upon the political future that had so often been the subject of his ambitious dreams, was imagining a future limited to the enjoyments of home, in fear of awakening the enemy that had so long slept,—the noise of a carriage sounded in the yard, then he heard the steps of an aged person ascending the stairs, followed by tears and lamentations, such as servants always give vent to when they wish to appear interested in their master’s grief. He drew back the bolt of his door, and almost directly an old lady entered, unannounced, carrying her shawl on her arm, and her bonnet in her hand. The white hair was thrown back from her yellow forehead, and her eyes, already sunken by the furrows of age, now almost disappeared beneath the eyelids swollen with grief. “Oh, sir,” she said; “oh, sir, what a misfortune! I shall die of it; oh, yes, I shall certainly die of it!”

And then, falling upon the chair nearest the door, she burst into a paroxysm of sobs. The servants, standing in the doorway, not daring to approach nearer, were looking at Noirtier’s old servant, who had heard the noise from his master’s room, and run there also, remaining behind the others. Villefort rose, and ran towards his mother-in-law, for it was she.

“Why, what can have happened?” he exclaimed, “what has thus disturbed you? Is M. de Saint-Meran with you?”

“M. de Saint-Meran is dead,” answered the old marchioness, without preface and without expression; she appeared to be stupefied. Villefort drew back, and clasping his hands together, exclaimed—“Dead!—so suddenly?”

“A week ago,” continued Madame de Saint-Meran, “we went out together in the carriage after dinner. M. de Saint-Meran had been unwell for some days; still, the idea of seeing our dear Valentine again inspired him with courage, and notwithstanding his illness he would leave. At six leagues from Marseilles, after having eaten some of the lozenges he is accustomed to take, he fell into such a deep sleep, that it appeared to me unnatural; still I hesitated to wake him, although I fancied that his face was flushed, and that the veins of his temples throbbed more violently than usual. However, as it became dark, and I could no longer see, I fell asleep; I was soon aroused by a piercing shriek, as from a person suffering in his dreams, and he suddenly threw his head back violently. I called the valet, I stopped the postilion, I spoke to M. de Saint-Meran, I applied my smelling-salts; but all was over, and I arrived at Aix by the side of a corpse.” Villefort stood with his mouth half open, quite stupefied.

“Of course you sent for a doctor?”

“Immediately; but, as I have told you, it was too late.”

“Yes; but then he could tell of what complaint the poor marquis had died.”

“Oh, yes, sir, he told me; it appears to have been an apoplectic stroke.”

“And what did you do then?”

“M. de Saint-Meran had always expressed a desire, in case his death happened during his absence from Paris, that his body might be brought to the family vault. I had him put into a leaden coffin, and I am preceding him by a few days.”

“Oh, my poor mother,” said Villefort, “to have such duties to perform at your age after such a blow!”

“God has supported me through all; and then, my dear marquis, he would certainly have done everything for me that I performed for him. It is true that since I left him, I seem to have lost my senses. I cannot cry; at my age they say that we have no more tears,—still I think that when one is in trouble one should have the power of weeping. Where is Valentine, sir? It is on her account I am here; I wish to see Valentine.” Villefort thought it would be terrible to reply that Valentine was at a ball; so he only said that she had gone out with her step-mother, and that she should be fetched. “This instant, sir—this instant, I beseech you!” said the old lady. Villefort placed the arm of Madame de Saint-Meran within his own, and conducted her to his apartment. “Rest yourself, mother,” he said.

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