The Count of Monte Cristo – Day 261 of 400

The night gradually drew on, and the foliage in the garden assumed a deeper hue. Then Morrel came out from his hiding-place with a beating heart, and looked through the small opening in the gate; there was yet no one to be seen. The clock struck half-past eight, and still another half-hour was passed in waiting, while Morrel walked to and fro, and gazed more and more frequently through the opening. The garden became darker still, but in the darkness he looked in vain for the white dress, and in the silence he vainly listened for the sound of footsteps. The house, which was discernible through the trees, remained in darkness, and gave no indication that so important an event as the signature of a marriage-contract was going on. Morrel looked at his watch, which wanted a quarter to ten; but soon the same clock he had already heard strike two or three times rectified the error by striking half-past nine.

This was already half an hour past the time Valentine had fixed. It was a terrible moment for the young man. The slightest rustling of the foliage, the least whistling of the wind, attracted his attention, and drew the perspiration to his brow; then he tremblingly fixed his ladder, and, not to lose a moment, placed his foot on the first step. Amidst all these alternations of hope and fear, the clock struck ten. “It is impossible,” said Maximilian, “that the signing of a contract should occupy so long a time without unexpected interruptions. I have weighed all the chances, calculated the time required for all the forms; something must have happened.” And then he walked rapidly to and fro, and pressed his burning forehead against the fence. Had Valentine fainted? or had she been discovered and stopped in her flight? These were the only obstacles which appeared possible to the young man.

The idea that her strength had failed her in attempting to escape, and that she had fainted in one of the paths, was the one that most impressed itself upon his mind. “In that case,” said he, “I should lose her, and by my own fault.” He dwelt on this idea for a moment, then it appeared reality. He even thought he could perceive something on the ground at a distance; he ventured to call, and it seemed to him that the wind wafted back an almost inarticulate sigh. At last the half-hour struck. It was impossible to wait longer, his temples throbbed violently, his eyes were growing dim; he passed one leg over the wall, and in a moment leaped down on the other side. He was on Villefort’s premises—had arrived there by scaling the wall. What might be the consequences? However, he had not ventured thus far to draw back. He followed a short distance close under the wall, then crossed a path, entered a clump of trees. In a moment he had passed through them, and could see the house distinctly. Then Morrel saw that he had been right in believing that the house was not illuminated. Instead of lights at every window, as is customary on days of ceremony, he saw only a gray mass, which was veiled also by a cloud, which at that moment obscured the moon’s feeble light. A light moved rapidly from time to time past three windows of the second floor. These three windows were in Madame de Saint-Meran’s room. Another remained motionless behind some red curtains which were in Madame de Villefort’s bedroom. Morrel guessed all this. So many times, in order to follow Valentine in thought at every hour in the day, had he made her describe the whole house, that without having seen it he knew it all.

This darkness and silence alarmed Morrel still more than Valentine’s absence had done. Almost mad with grief, and determined to venture everything in order to see Valentine once more, and be certain of the misfortune he feared, Morrel gained the edge of the clump of trees, and was going to pass as quickly as possible through the flower-garden, when the sound of a voice, still at some distance, but which was borne upon the wind, reached him.

At this sound, as he was already partially exposed to view, he stepped back and concealed himself completely, remaining perfectly motionless. He had formed his resolution. If it was Valentine alone, he would speak as she passed; if she was accompanied, and he could not speak, still he should see her, and know that she was safe; if they were strangers, he would listen to their conversation, and might understand something of this hitherto incomprehensible mystery. The moon had just then escaped from behind the cloud which had concealed it, and Morrel saw Villefort come out upon the steps, followed by a gentleman in black. They descended, and advanced towards the clump of trees, and Morrel soon recognized the other gentleman as Doctor d’Avrigny.

The young man, seeing them approach, drew back mechanically, until he found himself stopped by a sycamore-tree in the centre of the clump; there he was compelled to remain. Soon the two gentlemen stopped also.

“Ah, my dear doctor,” said the procureur, “heaven declares itself against my house! What a dreadful death—what a blow! Seek not to console me; alas, nothing can alleviate so great a sorrow—the wound is too deep and too fresh! Dead, dead!” The cold sweat sprang to the young man’s brow, and his teeth chattered. Who could be dead in that house, which Villefort himself had called accursed? “My dear M. de Villefort,” replied the doctor, with a tone which redoubled the terror of the young man, “I have not led you here to console you; on the contrary”—

“What can you mean?” asked the procureur, alarmed.

“I mean that behind the misfortune which has just happened to you, there is another, perhaps, still greater.”

“Can it be possible?” murmured Villefort, clasping his hands. “What are you going to tell me?”

“Are we quite alone, my friend?”

“Yes, quite; but why all these precautions?”

“Because I have a terrible secret to communicate to you,” said the doctor. “Let us sit down.”

Villefort fell, rather than seated himself. The doctor stood before him, with one hand placed on his shoulder. Morrel, horrified, supported his head with one hand, and with the other pressed his heart, lest its beatings should be heard. “Dead, dead!” repeated he within himself; and he felt as if he were also dying.

“Speak, doctor—I am listening,” said Villefort; “strike—I am prepared for everything!”

“Madame de Saint-Meran was, doubtless, advancing in years, but she enjoyed excellent health.” Morrel began again to breathe freely, which he had not done during the last ten minutes.

“Grief has consumed her,” said Villefort—“yes, grief, doctor! After living forty years with the marquis”—

“It is not grief, my dear Villefort,” said the doctor; “grief may kill, although it rarely does, and never in a day, never in an hour, never in ten minutes.” Villefort answered nothing, he simply raised his head, which had been cast down before, and looked at the doctor with amazement.

“Were you present during the last struggle?” asked M. d’Avrigny.

“I was,” replied the procureur; “you begged me not to leave.”

“Did you notice the symptoms of the disease to which Madame de Saint-Meran has fallen a victim?”

“I did. Madame de Saint-Meran had three successive attacks, at intervals of some minutes, each one more serious than the former. When you arrived, Madame de Saint-Meran had already been panting for breath some minutes; she then had a fit, which I took to be simply a nervous attack, and it was only when I saw her raise herself in the bed, and her limbs and neck appear stiffened, that I became really alarmed. Then I understood from your countenance there was more to fear than I had thought. This crisis past, I endeavored to catch your eye, but could not. You held her hand—you were feeling her pulse—and the second fit came on before you had turned towards me. This was more terrible than the first; the same nervous movements were repeated, and the mouth contracted and turned purple.”

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