The Count of Monte Cristo – Day 374 of 400

The next day, Monday, was the first sitting of the assizes. The morning dawned dull and gloomy, and Villefort saw the dim gray light shine upon the lines he had traced in red ink. The magistrate had slept for a short time while the lamp sent forth its final struggles; its flickerings awoke him, and he found his fingers as damp and purple as though they had been dipped in blood. He opened the window; a bright yellow streak crossed the sky, and seemed to divide in half the poplars, which stood out in black relief on the horizon. In the clover-fields beyond the chestnut-trees, a lark was mounting up to heaven, while pouring out her clear morning song. The damps of the dew bathed the head of Villefort, and refreshed his memory. “To-day,” he said with an effort,—“to-day the man who holds the blade of justice must strike wherever there is guilt.” Involuntarily his eyes wandered towards the window of Noirtier’s room, where he had seen him the preceding night. The curtain was drawn, and yet the image of his father was so vivid to his mind that he addressed the closed window as though it had been open, and as if through the opening he had beheld the menacing old man. “Yes,” he murmured,—“yes, be satisfied.”

His head dropped upon his chest, and in this position he paced his study; then he threw himself, dressed as he was, upon a sofa, less to sleep than to rest his limbs, cramped with cold and study. By degrees every one awoke. Villefort, from his study, heard the successive noises which accompany the life of a house,—the opening and shutting of doors, the ringing of Madame de Villefort’s bell, to summon the waiting-maid, mingled with the first shouts of the child, who rose full of the enjoyment of his age. Villefort also rang; his new valet brought him the papers, and with them a cup of chocolate.

“What are you bringing me?” said he.

“A cup of chocolate.”

“I did not ask for it. Who has paid me this attention?”

“My mistress, sir. She said you would have to speak a great deal in the murder case, and that you should take something to keep up your strength;” and the valet placed the cup on the table nearest to the sofa, which was, like all the rest, covered with papers. The valet then left the room. Villefort looked for an instant with a gloomy expression, then, suddenly, taking it up with a nervous motion, he swallowed its contents at one draught. It might have been thought that he hoped the beverage would be mortal, and that he sought for death to deliver him from a duty which he would rather die than fulfil. He then rose, and paced his room with a smile it would have been terrible to witness. The chocolate was inoffensive, for M. de Villefort felt no effects. The breakfast-hour arrived, but M. de Villefort was not at table. The valet re-entered.

“Madame de Villefort wishes to remind you, sir,” he said, “that eleven o’clock has just struck, and that the trial commences at twelve.”

“Well,” said Villefort, “what then?”

“Madame de Villefort is dressed; she is quite ready, and wishes to know if she is to accompany you, sir?”

“Where to?”

“To the Palais.”

“What to do?”

“My mistress wishes much to be present at the trial.”

“Ah,” said Villefort, with a startling accent; “does she wish that?”—The man drew back and said, “If you wish to go alone, sir, I will go and tell my mistress.” Villefort remained silent for a moment, and dented his pale cheeks with his nails. “Tell your mistress,” he at length answered, “that I wish to speak to her, and I beg she will wait for me in her own room.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then come to dress and shave me.”

“Directly, sir.” The valet re-appeared almost instantly, and, having shaved his master, assisted him to dress entirely in black. When he had finished, he said,—

“My mistress said she should expect you, sir, as soon as you had finished dressing.”

“I am going to her.” And Villefort, with his papers under his arm and hat in hand, directed his steps toward the apartment of his wife. At the door he paused for a moment to wipe his damp, pale brow. He then entered the room. Madame de Villefort was sitting on an ottoman and impatiently turning over the leaves of some newspapers and pamphlets which young Edward, by way of amusing himself, was tearing to pieces before his mother could finish reading them. She was dressed to go out, her bonnet was placed beside her on a chair, and her gloves were on her hands.

“Ah, here you are, monsieur,” she said in her naturally calm voice; “but how pale you are! Have you been working all night? Why did you not come down to breakfast? Well, will you take me, or shall I take Edward?” Madame de Villefort had multiplied her questions in order to gain one answer, but to all her inquiries M. de Villefort remained mute and cold as a statue. “Edward,” said Villefort, fixing an imperious glance on the child, “go and play in the drawing-room, my dear; I wish to speak to your mamma.” Madame de Villefort shuddered at the sight of that cold countenance, that resolute tone, and the awfully strange preliminaries. Edward raised his head, looked at his mother, and then, finding that she did not confirm the order, began cutting off the heads of his leaden soldiers.

“Edward,” cried M. de Villefort, so harshly that the child started up from the floor, “do you hear me?—Go!” The child, unaccustomed to such treatment, arose, pale and trembling; it would be difficult to say whether his emotion were caused by fear or passion. His father went up to him, took him in his arms, and kissed his forehead. “Go,” he said: “go, my child.” Edward ran out. M. de Villefort went to the door, which he closed behind the child, and bolted. “Dear me!” said the young woman, endeavoring to read her husband’s inmost thoughts, while a smile passed over her countenance which froze the impassibility of Villefort; “what is the matter?”

“Madame, where do you keep the poison you generally use?” said the magistrate, without any introduction, placing himself between his wife and the door.

Madame de Villefort must have experienced something of the sensation of a bird which, looking up, sees the murderous trap closing over its head. A hoarse, broken tone, which was neither a cry nor a sigh, escaped from her, while she became deadly pale. “Monsieur,” she said, “I—I do not understand you.” And, in her first paroxysm of terror, she had raised herself from the sofa, in the next, stronger very likely than the other, she fell down again on the cushions. “I asked you,” continued Villefort, in a perfectly calm tone, “where you conceal the poison by the aid of which you have killed my father-in-law, M. de Saint-Meran, my mother-in-law, Madame de Saint-Meran, Barrois, and my daughter Valentine.”

“Ah, sir,” exclaimed Madame de Villefort, clasping her hands, “what do you say?”

“It is not for you to interrogate, but to answer.”

“Is it to the judge or to the husband?” stammered Madame de Villefort. “To the judge—to the judge, madame!” It was terrible to behold the frightful pallor of that woman, the anguish of her look, the trembling of her whole frame. “Ah, sir,” she muttered, “ah, sir,” and this was all.

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