The Count of Monte Cristo – Day 381 of 400

“Edward!” he stammered—“Edward!” The child did not answer. Where, then, could he be, if he had entered his mother’s room and not since returned? He stepped forward. The corpse of Madame de Villefort was stretched across the doorway leading to the room in which Edward must be; those glaring eyes seemed to watch over the threshold, and the lips bore the stamp of a terrible and mysterious irony. Through the open door was visible a portion of the boudoir, containing an upright piano and a blue satin couch. Villefort stepped forward two or three paces, and beheld his child lying—no doubt asleep—on the sofa. The unhappy man uttered an exclamation of joy; a ray of light seemed to penetrate the abyss of despair and darkness. He had only to step over the corpse, enter the boudoir, take the child in his arms, and flee far, far away.

Villefort was no longer the civilized man; he was a tiger hurt unto death, gnashing his teeth in his wound. He no longer feared realities, but phantoms. He leaped over the corpse as if it had been a burning brazier. He took the child in his arms, embraced him, shook him, called him, but the child made no response. He pressed his burning lips to the cheeks, but they were icy cold and pale; he felt the stiffened limbs; he pressed his hand upon the heart, but it no longer beat,—the child was dead. A folded paper fell from Edward’s breast. Villefort, thunderstruck, fell upon his knees; the child dropped from his arms, and rolled on the floor by the side of its mother. He picked up the paper, and, recognizing his wife’s writing, ran his eyes rapidly over its contents; it ran as follows:—

“You know that I was a good mother, since it was for my son’s sake I became criminal. A good mother cannot depart without her son.”

Villefort could not believe his eyes,—he could not believe his reason; he dragged himself towards the child’s body, and examined it as a lioness contemplates its dead cub. Then a piercing cry escaped from his breast, and he cried, “Still the hand of God.” The presence of the two victims alarmed him; he could not bear solitude shared only by two corpses. Until then he had been sustained by rage, by his strength of mind, by despair, by the supreme agony which led the Titans to scale the heavens, and Ajax to defy the gods. He now arose, his head bowed beneath the weight of grief, and, shaking his damp, dishevelled hair, he who had never felt compassion for any one determined to seek his father, that he might have some one to whom he could relate his misfortunes,—some one by whose side he might weep. He descended the little staircase with which we are acquainted, and entered Noirtier’s room. The old man appeared to be listening attentively and as affectionately as his infirmities would allow to the Abbe Busoni, who looked cold and calm, as usual. Villefort, perceiving the abbe, passed his hand across his brow. He recollected the call he had made upon him after the dinner at Auteuil, and then the visit the abbe had himself paid to his house on the day of Valentine’s death. “You here, sir!” he exclaimed; “do you, then, never appear but to act as an escort to death?”

Busoni turned around, and, perceiving the excitement depicted on the magistrate’s face, the savage lustre of his eyes, he understood that the revelation had been made at the assizes; but beyond this he was ignorant. “I came to pray over the body of your daughter.”

“And now why are you here?”

“I come to tell you that you have sufficiently repaid your debt, and that from this moment I will pray to God to forgive you, as I do.”

“Good heavens!” exclaimed Villefort, stepping back fearfully, “surely that is not the voice of the Abbe Busoni!”

“No!” The abbe threw off his wig, shook his head, and his hair, no longer confined, fell in black masses around his manly face.

“It is the face of the Count of Monte Cristo!” exclaimed the procureur, with a haggard expression.

“You are not exactly right, M. Procureur; you must go farther back.”

“That voice, that voice!—where did I first hear it?”

“You heard it for the first time at Marseilles, twenty-three years ago, the day of your marriage with Mademoiselle de Saint-Meran. Refer to your papers.”

“You are not Busoni?—you are not Monte Cristo? Oh, heavens—you are, then, some secret, implacable, and mortal enemy! I must have wronged you in some way at Marseilles. Oh, woe to me!”

“Yes; you are now on the right path,” said the count, crossing his arms over his broad chest; “search—search!”

“But what have I done to you?” exclaimed Villefort, whose mind was balancing between reason and insanity, in that cloud which is neither a dream nor reality; “what have I done to you? Tell me, then! Speak!”

“You condemned me to a horrible, tedious death; you killed my father; you deprived me of liberty, of love, and happiness.”

“Who are you, then? Who are you?”

“I am the spectre of a wretch you buried in the dungeons of the Chateau d’If. God gave that spectre the form of the Count of Monte Cristo when he at length issued from his tomb, enriched him with gold and diamonds, and led him to you!”

“Ah, I recognize you—I recognize you!” exclaimed the king’s attorney; “you are”—

“I am Edmond Dantes!”

“You are Edmond Dantes,” cried Villefort, seizing the count by the wrist; “then come here!” And up the stairs he dragged Monte Cristo; who, ignorant of what had happened, followed him in astonishment, foreseeing some new catastrophe. “There, Edmond Dantes!” he said, pointing to the bodies of his wife and child, “see, are you well avenged?” Monte Cristo became pale at this horrible sight; he felt that he had passed beyond the bounds of vengeance, and that he could no longer say, “God is for and with me.” With an expression of indescribable anguish he threw himself upon the body of the child, reopened its eyes, felt its pulse, and then rushed with him into Valentine’s room, of which he double-locked the door. “My child,” cried Villefort, “he carries away the body of my child! Oh, curses, woe, death to you!” and he tried to follow Monte Cristo; but as though in a dream he was transfixed to the spot,—his eyes glared as though they were starting through the sockets; he griped the flesh on his chest until his nails were stained with blood; the veins of his temples swelled and boiled as though they would burst their narrow boundary, and deluge his brain with living fire. This lasted several minutes, until the frightful overturn of reason was accomplished; then uttering a loud cry followed by a burst of laughter, he rushed down the stairs.

A quarter of an hour afterwards the door of Valentine’s room opened, and Monte Cristo reappeared. Pale, with a dull eye and heavy heart, all the noble features of that face, usually so calm and serene, were overcast by grief. In his arms he held the child, whom no skill had been able to recall to life. Bending on one knee, he placed it reverently by the side of its mother, with its head upon her breast. Then, rising, he went out, and meeting a servant on the stairs, he asked, “Where is M. de Villefort?”

The servant, instead of answering, pointed to the garden. Monte Cristo ran down the steps, and advancing towards the spot designated beheld Villefort, encircled by his servants, with a spade in his hand, and digging the earth with fury. “It is not here!” he cried. “It is not here!” And then he moved farther on, and began again to dig.

Monte Cristo approached him, and said in a low voice, with an expression almost humble, “Sir, you have indeed lost a son; but”—

Villefort interrupted him; he had neither listened nor heard. “Oh, I will find it,” he cried; “you may pretend he is not here, but I will find him, though I dig forever!” Monte Cristo drew back in horror. “Oh,” he said, “he is mad!” And as though he feared that the walls of the accursed house would crumble around him, he rushed into the street, for the first time doubting whether he had the right to do as he had done. “Oh, enough of this,—enough of this,” he cried; “let me save the last.” On entering his house, he met Morrel, who wandered about like a ghost awaiting the heavenly mandate for return to the tomb. “Prepare yourself, Maximilian,” he said with a smile; “we leave Paris to-morrow.”

“Have you nothing more to do there?” asked Morrel.

“No,” replied Monte Cristo; “God grant I may not have done too much already.”

The next day they indeed left, accompanied only by Baptistin. Haidee had taken away Ali, and Bertuccio remained with Noirtier.

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