The Count of Monte Cristo – Day 266 of 400

Chapter 74. The Villefort Family Vault.

Two days after, a considerable crowd was assembled, towards ten o’clock in the morning, around the door of M. de Villefort’s house, and a long file of mourning-coaches and private carriages extended along the Faubourg Saint-Honore and the Rue de la Pepiniere. Among them was one of a very singular form, which appeared to have come from a distance. It was a kind of covered wagon, painted black, and was one of the first to arrive. Inquiry was made, and it was ascertained that, by a strange coincidence, this carriage contained the corpse of the Marquis de Saint-Meran, and that those who had come thinking to attend one funeral would follow two. Their number was great. The Marquis de Saint-Meran, one of the most zealous and faithful dignitaries of Louis XVIII. and King Charles X., had preserved a great number of friends, and these, added to the personages whom the usages of society gave Villefort a claim on, formed a considerable body.

Due information was given to the authorities, and permission obtained that the two funerals should take place at the same time. A second hearse, decked with the same funereal pomp, was brought to M. de Villefort’s door, and the coffin removed into it from the post-wagon. The two bodies were to be interred in the cemetery of Pere-la-Chaise, where M. de Villefort had long since had a tomb prepared for the reception of his family. The remains of poor Renee were already deposited there, and now, after ten years of separation, her father and mother were to be reunited with her. The Parisians, always curious, always affected by funereal display, looked on with religious silence while the splendid procession accompanied to their last abode two of the number of the old aristocracy—the greatest protectors of commerce and sincere devotees to their principles. In one of the mourning-coaches Beauchamp, Debray, and Chateau-Renaud were talking of the very sudden death of the marchioness. “I saw Madame de Saint-Meran only last year at Marseilles, when I was coming back from Algiers,” said Chateau-Renaud; “she looked like a woman destined to live to be a hundred years old, from her apparent sound health and great activity of mind and body. How old was she?”

“Franz assured me,” replied Albert, “that she was sixty-six years old. But she has not died of old age, but of grief; it appears that since the death of the marquis, which affected her very deeply, she has not completely recovered her reason.”

“But of what disease, then, did she die?” asked Debray.

“It is said to have been a congestion of the brain, or apoplexy, which is the same thing, is it not?”

“Nearly.”

“It is difficult to believe that it was apoplexy,” said Beauchamp. “Madame de Saint-Meran, whom I once saw, was short, of slender form, and of a much more nervous than sanguine temperament; grief could hardly produce apoplexy in such a constitution as that of Madame de Saint-Meran.”

“At any rate,” said Albert, “whatever disease or doctor may have killed her, M. de Villefort, or rather, Mademoiselle Valentine,—or, still rather, our friend Franz, inherits a magnificent fortune, amounting, I believe, to 80,000 livres per annum.”

“And this fortune will be doubled at the death of the old Jacobin, Noirtier.”

“That is a tenacious old grandfather,” said Beauchamp. “Tenacem propositi virum. I think he must have made an agreement with death to outlive all his heirs, and he appears likely to succeed. He resembles the old Conventionalist of ’93, who said to Napoleon, in 1814, ‘You bend because your empire is a young stem, weakened by rapid growth. Take the Republic for a tutor; let us return with renewed strength to the battle-field, and I promise you 500,000 soldiers, another Marengo, and a second Austerlitz. Ideas do not become extinct, sire; they slumber sometimes, but only revive the stronger before they sleep entirely.’ Ideas and men appeared the same to him. One thing only puzzles me, namely, how Franz d’Epinay will like a grandfather who cannot be separated from his wife. But where is Franz?”

“In the first carriage, with M. de Villefort, who considers him already as one of the family.”

Such was the conversation in almost all the carriages; these two sudden deaths, so quickly following each other, astonished every one, but no one suspected the terrible secret which M. d’Avrigny had communicated, in his nocturnal walk to M. de Villefort. They arrived in about an hour at the cemetery; the weather was mild, but dull, and in harmony with the funeral ceremony. Among the groups which flocked towards the family vault, Chateau-Renaud recognized Morrel, who had come alone in a cabriolet, and walked silently along the path bordered with yew-trees. “You here?” said Chateau-Renaud, passing his arms through the young captain’s; “are you a friend of Villefort’s? How is it that I have never met you at his house?”

“I am no acquaintance of M. de Villefort’s.” answered Morrel, “but I was of Madame de Saint-Meran.” Albert came up to them at this moment with Franz.

“The time and place are but ill-suited for an introduction.” said Albert; “but we are not superstitious. M. Morrel, allow me to present to you M. Franz d’Epinay, a delightful travelling companion, with whom I made the tour of Italy. My dear Franz, M. Maximilian Morrel, an excellent friend I have acquired in your absence, and whose name you will hear me mention every time I make any allusion to affection, wit, or amiability.” Morrel hesitated for a moment; he feared it would be hypocritical to accost in a friendly manner the man whom he was tacitly opposing, but his oath and the gravity of the circumstances recurred to his memory; he struggled to conceal his emotion and bowed to Franz. “Mademoiselle de Villefort is in deep sorrow, is she not?” said Debray to Franz.

“Extremely,” replied he; “she looked so pale this morning, I scarcely knew her.” These apparently simple words pierced Morrel to the heart. This man had seen Valentine, and spoken to her! The young and high-spirited officer required all his strength of mind to resist breaking his oath. He took the arm of Chateau-Renaud, and turned towards the vault, where the attendants had already placed the two coffins. “This is a magnificent habitation,” said Beauchamp, looking towards the mausoleum; “a summer and winter palace. You will, in turn, enter it, my dear d’Epinay, for you will soon be numbered as one of the family. I, as a philosopher, should like a little country-house, a cottage down there under the trees, without so many free-stones over my poor body. In dying, I will say to those around me what Voltaire wrote to Piron: ‘Eo rus, and all will be over.’ But come, Franz, take courage, your wife is an heiress.”

“Indeed, Beauchamp, you are unbearable. Politics has made you laugh at everything, and political men have made you disbelieve everything. But when you have the honor of associating with ordinary men, and the pleasure of leaving politics for a moment, try to find your affectionate heart, which you leave with your stick when you go to the Chamber.”

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