The Count of Monte Cristo – Day 355 of 400

“But,” exclaimed the young girl, “why am I thus pursued?”

“Why?—are you so kind—so good—so unsuspicious of ill, that you cannot understand, Valentine?”

“No, I have never injured her.”

“But you are rich, Valentine; you have 200,000 livres a year, and you prevent her son from enjoying these 200,000. livres.”

“How so? The fortune is not her gift, but is inherited from my relations.”

“Certainly; and that is why M. and Madame de Saint-Meran have died; that is why M. Noirtier was sentenced the day he made you his heir; that is why you, in your turn, are to die—it is because your father would inherit your property, and your brother, his only son, succeed to his.”

“Edward? Poor child! Are all these crimes committed on his account?”

“Ah, then you at length understand?”

“Heaven grant that this may not be visited upon him!”

“Valentine, you are an angel!”

“But why is my grandfather allowed to live?”

“It was considered, that you dead, the fortune would naturally revert to your brother, unless he were disinherited; and besides, the crime appearing useless, it would be folly to commit it.”

“And is it possible that this frightful combination of crimes has been invented by a woman?”

“Do you recollect in the arbor of the Hotel des Postes, at Perugia, seeing a man in a brown cloak, whom your stepmother was questioning upon aqua tofana? Well, ever since then, the infernal project has been ripening in her brain.”

“Ah, then, indeed, sir,” said the sweet girl, bathed in tears, “I see that I am condemned to die!”

“No, Valentine, for I have foreseen all their plots; no, your enemy is conquered since we know her, and you will live, Valentine—live to be happy yourself, and to confer happiness upon a noble heart; but to insure this you must rely on me.”

“Command me, sir—what am I to do?”

“You must blindly take what I give you.”

“Alas, were it only for my own sake, I should prefer to die!”

“You must not confide in any one—not even in your father.”

“My father is not engaged in this fearful plot, is he, sir?” asked Valentine, clasping her hands.

“No; and yet your father, a man accustomed to judicial accusations, ought to have known that all these deaths have not happened naturally; it is he who should have watched over you—he should have occupied my place—he should have emptied that glass—he should have risen against the assassin. Spectre against spectre!” he murmured in a low voice, as he concluded his sentence.

“Sir,” said Valentine, “I will do all I can to live, for there are two beings whose existence depends upon mine—my grandfather and Maximilian.”

“I will watch over them as I have over you.”

“Well, sir, do as you will with me;” and then she added, in a low voice, “oh, heavens, what will befall me?”

“Whatever may happen, Valentine, do not be alarmed; though you suffer; though you lose sight, hearing, consciousness, fear nothing; though you should awake and be ignorant where you are, still do not fear; even though you should find yourself in a sepulchral vault or coffin. Reassure yourself, then, and say to yourself: ‘At this moment, a friend, a father, who lives for my happiness and that of Maximilian, watches over me!'”

“Alas, alas, what a fearful extremity!”

“Valentine, would you rather denounce your stepmother?”

“I would rather die a hundred times—oh, yes, die!”

“No, you will not die; but will you promise me, whatever happens, that you will not complain, but hope?”

“I will think of Maximilian!”

“You are my own darling child, Valentine! I alone can save you, and I will.” Valentine in the extremity of her terror joined her hands,—for she felt that the moment had arrived to ask for courage,—and began to pray, and while uttering little more than incoherent words, she forgot that her white shoulders had no other covering than her long hair, and that the pulsations of her heart could be seen through the lace of her nightdress. Monte Cristo gently laid his hand on the young girl’s arm, drew the velvet coverlet close to her throat, and said with a paternal smile,—“My child, believe in my devotion to you as you believe in the goodness of providence and the love of Maximilian.”

Then he drew from his waistcoat-pocket the little emerald box, raised the golden lid, and took from it a pastille about the size of a pea, which he placed in her hand. She took it, and looked attentively on the count; there was an expression on the face of her intrepid protector which commanded her veneration. She evidently interrogated him by her look. “Yes,” said he. Valentine carried the pastille to her mouth, and swallowed it. “And now, my dear child, adieu for the present. I will try and gain a little sleep, for you are saved.”

“Go,” said Valentine, “whatever happens, I promise you not to fear.”

Monte Cristo for some time kept his eyes fixed on the young girl, who gradually fell asleep, yielding to the effects of the narcotic the count had given her. Then he took the glass, emptied three parts of the contents in the fireplace, that it might be supposed Valentine had taken it, and replaced it on the table; then he disappeared, after throwing a farewell glance on Valentine, who slept with the confidence and innocence of an angel.

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