The Count of Monte Cristo – Day 28 of 400

“But you may have excited jealousy. You are about to become captain at nineteen—an elevated post; you are about to marry a pretty girl, who loves you; and these two pieces of good fortune may have excited the envy of some one.”

“You are right; you know men better than I do, and what you say may possibly be the case, I confess; but if such persons are among my acquaintances I prefer not to know it, because then I should be forced to hate them.”

“You are wrong; you should always strive to see clearly around you. You seem a worthy young man; I will depart from the strict line of my duty to aid you in discovering the author of this accusation. Here is the paper; do you know the writing?” As he spoke, Villefort drew the letter from his pocket, and presented it to Dantes. Dantes read it. A cloud passed over his brow as he said,—

“No, monsieur, I do not know the writing, and yet it is tolerably plain. Whoever did it writes well. I am very fortunate,” added he, looking gratefully at Villefort, “to be examined by such a man as you; for this envious person is a real enemy.” And by the rapid glance that the young man’s eyes shot forth, Villefort saw how much energy lay hid beneath this mildness.

“Now,” said the deputy, “answer me frankly, not as a prisoner to a judge, but as one man to another who takes an interest in him, what truth is there in the accusation contained in this anonymous letter?” And Villefort threw disdainfully on his desk the letter Dantes had just given back to him.

“None at all. I will tell you the real facts. I swear by my honor as a sailor, by my love for Mercedes, by the life of my father”—

“Speak, monsieur,” said Villefort. Then, internally, “If Renee could see me, I hope she would be satisfied, and would no longer call me a decapitator.”

“Well, when we quitted Naples, Captain Leclere was attacked with a brain fever. As we had no doctor on board, and he was so anxious to arrive at Elba, that he would not touch at any other port, his disorder rose to such a height, that at the end of the third day, feeling he was dying, he called me to him. ‘My dear Dantes,’ said he, ‘swear to perform what I am going to tell you, for it is a matter of the deepest importance.’

“‘I swear, captain,’ replied I.

“‘Well, as after my death the command devolves on you as mate, assume the command, and bear up for the Island of Elba, disembark at Porto-Ferrajo, ask for the grand-marshal, give him this letter—perhaps they will give you another letter, and charge you with a commission. You will accomplish what I was to have done, and derive all the honor and profit from it.’

“‘I will do it, captain; but perhaps I shall not be admitted to the grand marshal’s presence as easily as you expect?’

“‘Here is a ring that will obtain audience of him, and remove every difficulty,’ said the captain. At these words he gave me a ring. It was time—two hours after he was delirious; the next day he died.”

“And what did you do then?”

“What I ought to have done, and what every one would have done in my place. Everywhere the last requests of a dying man are sacred; but with a sailor the last requests of his superior are commands. I sailed for the Island of Elba, where I arrived the next day; I ordered everybody to remain on board, and went on shore alone. As I had expected, I found some difficulty in obtaining access to the grand-marshal; but I sent the ring I had received from the captain to him, and was instantly admitted. He questioned me concerning Captain Leclere’s death; and, as the latter had told me, gave me a letter to carry on to a person in Paris. I undertook it because it was what my captain had bade me do. I landed here, regulated the affairs of the vessel, and hastened to visit my affianced bride, whom I found more lovely than ever. Thanks to M. Morrel, all the forms were got over; in a word I was, as I told you, at my marriage-feast; and I should have been married in an hour, and to-morrow I intended to start for Paris, had I not been arrested on this charge which you as well as I now see to be unjust.”

“Ah,” said Villefort, “this seems to me the truth. If you have been culpable, it was imprudence, and this imprudence was in obedience to the orders of your captain. Give up this letter you have brought from Elba, and pass your word you will appear should you be required, and go and rejoin your friends.

“I am free, then, sir?” cried Dantes joyfully.

“Yes; but first give me this letter.”

“You have it already, for it was taken from me with some others which I see in that packet.”

“Stop a moment,” said the deputy, as Dantes took his hat and gloves. “To whom is it addressed?”

“To Monsieur Noirtier, Rue Coq-Heron, Paris.” Had a thunderbolt fallen into the room, Villefort could not have been more stupefied. He sank into his seat, and hastily turning over the packet, drew forth the fatal letter, at which he glanced with an expression of terror.

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