The Count of Monte Cristo – Day 257 of 400

Chapter 73. The Promise.

It was, indeed, Maximilian Morrel, who had passed a wretched existence since the previous day. With the instinct peculiar to lovers he had anticipated after the return of Madame de Saint-Meran and the death of the marquis, that something would occur at M. de Villefort’s in connection with his attachment for Valentine. His presentiments were realized, as we shall see, and his uneasy forebodings had goaded him pale and trembling to the gate under the chestnut-trees. Valentine was ignorant of the cause of this sorrow and anxiety, and as it was not his accustomed hour for visiting her, she had gone to the spot simply by accident or perhaps through sympathy. Morrel called her, and she ran to the gate. “You here at this hour?” said she. “Yes, my poor girl,” replied Morrel; “I come to bring and to hear bad tidings.”

“This is, indeed, a house of mourning,” said Valentine; “speak, Maximilian, although the cup of sorrow seems already full.”

“Dear Valentine,” said Morrel, endeavoring to conceal his own emotion, “listen, I entreat you; what I am about to say is very serious. When are you to be married?”

“I will tell you all,” said Valentine; “from you I have nothing to conceal. This morning the subject was introduced, and my dear grandmother, on whom I depended as my only support, not only declared herself favorable to it, but is so anxious for it, that they only await the arrival of M. d’Epinay, and the following day the contract will be signed.” A deep sigh escaped the young man, who gazed long and mournfully at her he loved. “Alas,” replied he, “it is dreadful thus to hear my condemnation from your own lips. The sentence is passed, and, in a few hours, will be executed; it must be so, and I will not endeavor to prevent it. But, since you say nothing remains but for M. d’Epinay to arrive that the contract may be signed, and the following day you will be his, to-morrow you will be engaged to M. d’Epinay, for he came this morning to Paris.” Valentine uttered a cry.

“I was at the house of Monte Cristo an hour since,” said Morrel; “we were speaking, he of the sorrow your family had experienced, and I of your grief, when a carriage rolled into the court-yard. Never, till then, had I placed any confidence in presentiments, but now I cannot help believing them, Valentine. At the sound of that carriage I shuddered; soon I heard steps on the staircase, which terrified me as much as the footsteps of the commander did Don Juan. The door at last opened; Albert de Morcerf entered first, and I began to hope my fears were vain, when, after him, another young man advanced, and the count exclaimed—‘Ah, here is the Baron Franz d’Epinay!’ I summoned all my strength and courage to my support. Perhaps I turned pale and trembled, but certainly I smiled; and five minutes after I left, without having heard one word that had passed.”

“Poor Maximilian!” murmured Valentine.

“Valentine, the time has arrived when you must answer me. And remember my life depends on your answer. What do you intend doing?” Valentine held down her head; she was overwhelmed.

“Listen,” said Morrel; “it is not the first time you have contemplated our present position, which is a serious and urgent one; I do not think it is a moment to give way to useless sorrow; leave that for those who like to suffer at their leisure and indulge their grief in secret. There are such in the world, and God will doubtless reward them in heaven for their resignation on earth, but those who mean to contend must not lose one precious moment, but must return immediately the blow which fortune strikes. Do you intend to struggle against our ill-fortune? Tell me, Valentine for it is that I came to know.”

Valentine trembled, and looked at him with amazement. The idea of resisting her father, her grandmother, and all the family, had never occurred to her. “What do you say, Maximilian?” asked Valentine. “What do you mean by a struggle? Oh, it would be a sacrilege. What? I resist my father’s order, and my dying grandmother’s wish? Impossible!” Morrel started. “You are too noble not to understand me, and you understand me so well that you already yield, dear Maximilian. No, no; I shall need all my strength to struggle with myself and support my grief in secret, as you say. But to grieve my father—to disturb my grandmother’s last moments—never!”

“You are right,” said Morrel, calmly.

“In what a tone you speak!” cried Valentine.

“I speak as one who admires you, mademoiselle.”

“Mademoiselle,” cried Valentine; “mademoiselle! Oh, selfish man,—he sees me in despair, and pretends he cannot understand me!”

“You mistake—I understand you perfectly. You will not oppose M. Villefort, you will not displease the marchioness, and to-morrow you will sign the contract which will bind you to your husband.”

“But, mon Dieu, tell me, how can I do otherwise?”

“Do not appeal to me, mademoiselle; I shall be a bad judge in such a case; my selfishness will blind me,” replied Morrel, whose low voice and clinched hands announced his growing desperation.

“What would you have proposed, Maximilian, had you found me willing to accede?”

“It is not for me to say.”

“You are wrong; you must advise me what to do.”

“Do you seriously ask my advice, Valentine?”

“Certainly, dear Maximilian, for if it is good, I will follow it; you know my devotion to you.”

“Valentine,” said Morrel pushing aside a loose plank, “give me your hand in token of forgiveness of my anger; my senses are confused, and during the last hour the most extravagant thoughts have passed through my brain. Oh, if you refuse my advice”—

“What do you advise?” said Valentine, raising her eyes to heaven and sighing. “I am free,” replied Maximilian, “and rich enough to support you. I swear to make you my lawful wife before my lips even shall have approached your forehead.”

“You make me tremble!” said the young girl.

“Follow me,” said Morrel; “I will take you to my sister, who is worthy also to be yours. We will embark for Algiers, for England, for America, or, if you prefer it, retire to the country and only return to Paris when our friends have reconciled your family.” Valentine shook her head. “I feared it, Maximilian,” said she; “it is the counsel of a madman, and I should be more mad than you, did I not stop you at once with the word ‘Impossible, impossible!'”

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