The Count of Monte Cristo – Day 268 of 400

“Sir,” said Franz, “I have one request to make.”

“What is it?”

“I wish Albert de Morcerf and Raoul de Chateau-Renaud to be present at this signature; you know they are my witnesses.”

“Half an hour will suffice to apprise them; will you go for them yourself, or shall you send?”

“I prefer going, sir.”

“I shall expect you, then, in half an hour, baron, and Valentine will be ready.” Franz bowed and left the room. Scarcely had the door closed, when M. de Villefort sent to tell Valentine to be ready in the drawing-room in half an hour, as he expected the notary and M. d’Epinay and his witnesses. The news caused a great sensation throughout the house; Madame de Villefort would not believe it, and Valentine was thunderstruck. She looked around for help, and would have gone down to her grandfather’s room, but on the stairs she met M. de Villefort, who took her arm and led her into the drawing-room. In the anteroom, Valentine met Barrois, and looked despairingly at the old servant. A moment later, Madame de Villefort entered the drawing-room with her little Edward. It was evident that she had shared the grief of the family, for she was pale and looked fatigued. She sat down, took Edward on her knees, and from time to time pressed this child, on whom her affections appeared centred, almost convulsively to her bosom. Two carriages were soon heard to enter the court yard. One was the notary’s; the other, that of Franz and his friends. In a moment the whole party was assembled. Valentine was so pale one might trace the blue veins from her temples, round her eyes and down her cheeks. Franz was deeply affected. Chateau-Renaud and Albert looked at each other with amazement; the ceremony which was just concluded had not appeared more sorrowful than did that which was about to begin. Madame de Villefort had placed herself in the shadow behind a velvet curtain, and as she constantly bent over her child, it was difficult to read the expression of her face. M. de Villefort was, as usual, unmoved.

The notary, after having according to the customary method arranged the papers on the table, taken his place in an armchair, and raised his spectacles, turned towards Franz:

“Are you M. Franz de Quesnel, baron d’Epinay?” asked he, although he knew it perfectly.

“Yes, sir,” replied Franz. The notary bowed. “I have, then, to inform you, sir, at the request of M. de Villefort, that your projected marriage with Mademoiselle de Villefort has changed the feeling of M. Noirtier towards his grandchild, and that he disinherits her entirely of the fortune he would have left her. Let me hasten to add,” continued he, “that the testator, having only the right to alienate a part of his fortune, and having alienated it all, the will will not bear scrutiny, and is declared null and void.”

“Yes.” said Villefort; “but I warn M. d’Epinay, that during my life-time my father’s will shall never be questioned, my position forbidding any doubt to be entertained.”

“Sir,” said Franz, “I regret much that such a question has been raised in the presence of Mademoiselle Valentine; I have never inquired the amount of her fortune, which, however limited it may be, exceeds mine. My family has sought consideration in this alliance with M. de Villefort; all I seek is happiness.” Valentine imperceptibly thanked him, while two silent tears rolled down her cheeks. “Besides, sir,” said Villefort, addressing himself to his future son-in-law, “excepting the loss of a portion of your hopes, this unexpected will need not personally wound you; M. Noirtier’s weakness of mind sufficiently explains it. It is not because Mademoiselle Valentine is going to marry you that he is angry, but because she will marry, a union with any other would have caused him the same sorrow. Old age is selfish, sir, and Mademoiselle de Villefort has been a faithful companion to M. Noirtier, which she cannot be when she becomes the Baroness d’Epinay. My father’s melancholy state prevents our speaking to him on any subjects, which the weakness of his mind would incapacitate him from understanding, and I am perfectly convinced that at the present time, although, he knows that his granddaughter is going to be married, M. Noirtier has even forgotten the name of his intended grandson.” M. de Villefort had scarcely said this, when the door opened, and Barrois appeared.

“Gentlemen,” said he, in a tone strangely firm for a servant speaking to his masters under such solemn circumstances,—“gentlemen, M. Noirtier de Villefort wishes to speak immediately to M. Franz de Quesnel, baron d’Epinay;” he, as well as the notary, that there might be no mistake in the person, gave all his titles to the bride-groom elect.

Villefort started, Madame de Villefort let her son slip from her knees, Valentine rose, pale and dumb as a statue. Albert and Chateau-Renaud exchanged a second look, more full of amazement than the first. The notary looked at Villefort. “It is impossible,” said the procureur. “M. d’Epinay cannot leave the drawing-room at present.”

“It is at this moment,” replied Barrois with the same firmness, “that M. Noirtier, my master, wishes to speak on important subjects to M. Franz d’Epinay.”

“Grandpapa Noirtier can speak now, then,” said Edward, with his habitual quickness. However, his remark did not make Madame de Villefort even smile, so much was every mind engaged, and so solemn was the situation. Astonishment was at its height. Something like a smile was perceptible on Madame de Villefort’s countenance. Valentine instinctively raised her eyes, as if to thank heaven.

“Pray go, Valentine,” said; M. de Villefort, “and see what this new fancy of your grandfather’s is.” Valentine rose quickly, and was hastening joyfully towards the door, when M. de Villefort altered his intention.

“Stop,” said he; “I will go with you.”

“Excuse me, sir,” said Franz, “since M. Noirtier sent for me, I am ready to attend to his wish; besides, I shall be happy to pay my respects to him, not having yet had the honor of doing so.”

“Pray, sir,” said Villefort with marked uneasiness, “do not disturb yourself.”

“Forgive me, sir,” said Franz in a resolute tone. “I would not lose this opportunity of proving to M. Noirtier how wrong it would be of him to encourage feelings of dislike to me, which I am determined to conquer, whatever they may be, by my devotion.” And without listening to Villefort he arose, and followed Valentine, who was running down-stairs with the joy of a shipwrecked mariner who finds a rock to cling to. M. de Villefort followed them. Chateau-Renaud and Morcerf exchanged a third look of still increasing wonder.

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