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Chapter 102


CHAPTER 102
Valentine.

The night-light continued to burn on the chimney-piece,
exhausting the last drops of oil which floated on the
surface of the water. The globe of the lamp appeared of a
reddish hue, and the flame, brightening before it expired,
threw out the last flickerings which in an inanimate object
have been so often compared with the convulsions of a human
creature in its final agonies. A dull and dismal light was
shed over the bedclothes and curtains surrounding the young
girl. All noise in the streets had ceased, and the silence
was frightful. It was then that the door of Edward's room
opened, and a head we have before noticed appeared in the
glass opposite; it was Madame de Villefort, who came to
witness the effects of the drink she had prepared. She
stopped in the doorway, listened for a moment to the
flickering of the lamp, the only sound in that deserted
room, and then advanced to the table to see if Valentine's
glass were empty. It was still about a quarter full, as we
before stated. Madame de Villefort emptied the contents into
the ashes, which she disturbed that they might the more
readily absorb the liquid; then she carefully rinsed the
glass, and wiping it with her handkerchief replaced it on
the table.

If any one could have looked into the room just then he
would have noticed the hesitation with which Madame de
Villefort approached the bed and looked fixedly on
Valentine. The dim light, the profound silence, and the
gloomy thoughts inspired by the hour, and still more by her
own conscience, all combined to produce a sensation of fear;
the poisoner was terrified at the contemplation of her own
work. At length she rallied, drew aside the curtain, and
leaning over the pillow gazed intently on Valentine. The
young girl no longer breathed, no breath issued through the
half-closed teeth; the white lips no longer quivered -- the
eyes were suffused with a bluish vapor, and the long black
lashes rested on a cheek white as wax. Madame de Villefort
gazed upon the face so expressive even in its stillness;
then she ventured to raise the coverlet and press her hand
upon the young girl's heart. It was cold and motionless. She
only felt the pulsation in her own fingers, and withdrew her
hand with a shudder. One arm was hanging out of the bed;
from shoulder to elbow it was moulded after the arms of
Germain Pillon's "Graces,"* but the fore-arm seemed to be
slightly distorted by convulsion, and the hand, so
delicately formed, was resting with stiff outstretched
fingers on the framework of the bed. The nails, too, were
turning blue.

* Germain Pillon was a famous French sculptor (1535-1598).
His best known work is "The Three Graces," now in the
Louvre.

Madame de Villefort had no longer any doubt; all was over --
she had consummated the last terrible work she had to
accomplish. There was no more to do in the room, so the
poisoner retired stealthily, as though fearing to hear the
sound of her own footsteps; but as she withdrew she still
held aside the curtain, absorbed in the irresistible
attraction always exerted by the picture of death, so long
as it is merely mysterious and does not excite disgust. Just
then the lamp again flickered; the noise startled Madame de
Villefort, who shuddered and dropped the curtain.
Immediately afterwards the light expired, and the room was
plunged in frightful obscurity, while the clock at that
minute struck half-past four. Overpowered with agitation,
the poisoner succeeded in groping her way to the door, and
reached her room in an agony of fear.

The darkness lasted two hours longer; then by degrees a cold
light crept through the Venetian blinds, until at length it
revealed the objects in the room. About this time the
nurse's cough was heard on the stairs and the woman entered
the room with a cup in her hand. To the tender eye of a
father or a lover, the first glance would have sufficed to
reveal Valentine's condition; but to this hireling,
Valentine only appeared to sleep. "Good," she exclaimed,
approaching the table, "she has taken part of her draught;
the glass is three-quarters empty."

Then she went to the fireplace and lit the fire, and
although she had just left her bed, she could not resist the
temptation offered by Valentine's sleep, so she threw
herself into an arm-chair to snatch a little more rest. The
clock striking eight awoke her. Astonished at the prolonged
slumber of the patient, and frightened to see that the arm
was still hanging out of the bed, she advanced towards
Valentine, and for the first time noticed the white lips.
She tried to replace the arm, but it moved with a frightful
rigidity which could not deceive a sick-nurse. She screamed
aloud; then running to the door exclaimed, -- "Help, help!"

"What is the matter?" asked M. d'Avrigny, at the foot of the
stairs, it being the hour he usually visited her.

"What is it?" asked Villefort, rushing from his room.
"Doctor, do you hear them call for help?"

"Yes, yes; let us hasten up; it was in Valentine's room."
But before the doctor and the father could reach the room,
the servants who were on the same floor had entered, and
seeing Valentine pale and motionless on her bed, they lifted
up their hands towards heaven and stood transfixed, as
though struck by lightening. "Call Madame de Villefort! --
wake Madame de Villefort!" cried the procureur from the door
of his chamber, which apparently he scarcely dared to leave.
But instead of obeying him, the servants stood watching M.
d'Avrigny, who ran to Valentine, and raised her in his arms.
"What? -- this one, too?" he exclaimed. "Oh, where will be
the end?" Villefort rushed into the room. "What are you
saying, doctor?" he exclaimed, raising his hands to heaven.

"I say that Valentine is dead!" replied d'Avrigny, in a
voice terrible in its solemn calm.

M. de Villefort staggered and buried his head in the bed. On
the exclamation of the doctor and the cry of the father, the
servants all fled with muttered imprecations; they were
heard running down the stairs and through the long passages,
then there was a rush in the court, afterwards all was
still; they had, one and all, deserted the accursed house.
Just then, Madame de Villefort, in the act of slipping on
her dressing-gown, threw aside the drapery and for a moment
stood motionless, as though interrogating the occupants of
the room, while she endeavored to call up some rebellious
tears. On a sudden she stepped, or rather bounded, with
outstretched arms, towards the table. She saw d'Avrigny
curiously examining the glass, which she felt certain of
having emptied during the night. It was now a third full,
just as it was when she threw the contents into the ashes.
The spectre of Valentine rising before the poisoner would
have alarmed her less. It was, indeed, the same color as the
draught she had poured into the glass, and which Valentine
had drank; it was indeed the poison, which could not deceive
M. d'Avrigny, which he now examined so closely; it was
doubtless a miracle from heaven, that, notwithstanding her
precautions, there should be some trace, some proof
remaining to reveal the crime. While Madame de Villefort
remained rooted to the spot like a statue of terror, and
Villefort, with his head hidden in the bedclothes, saw
nothing around him, d'Avrigny approached the window, that he
might the better examine the contents of the glass, and
dipping the tip of his finger in, tasted it. "Ah," he
exclaimed, "it is no longer brucine that is used; let me see
what it is!"

Then he ran to one of the cupboards in Valentine's room,
which had been transformed into a medicine closet, and
taking from its silver case a small bottle of nitric acid,
dropped a little of it into the liquor, which immediately
changed to a blood-red color. "Ah," exclaimed d'Avrigny, in
a voice in which the horror of a judge unveiling the truth
was mingled with the delight of a student making a
discovery. Madame de Villefort was overpowered, her eyes
first flashed and then swam, she staggered towards the door
and disappeared. Directly afterwards the distant sound of a
heavy weight falling on the ground was heard, but no one
paid any attention to it; the nurse was engaged in watching
the chemical analysis, and Villefort was still absorbed in
grief. M. d'Avrigny alone had followed Madame de Villefort
with his eyes, and watched her hurried retreat. He lifted up
the drapery over the entrance to Edward's room, and his eye
reaching as far as Madame de Villefort's apartment, he
beheld her extended lifeless on the floor. "Go to the
assistance of Madame de Villefort," he said to the nurse.
"Madame de Villefort is ill."

"But Mademoiselle de Villefort " -- stammered the nurse.

"Mademoiselle de Villefort no longer requires help," said
d'Avrigny, "since she is dead."

"Dead, -- dead!" groaned forth Villefort, in a paroxysm of
grief, which was the more terrible from the novelty of the
sensation in the iron heart of that man.

"Dead!" repeated a third voice. "Who said Valentine was
dead?"

The two men turned round, and saw Morrel standing at the
door, pale and terror-stricken. This is what had happened.
At the usual time, Morrel had presented himself at the
little door leading to Noirtier's room. Contrary to custom,
the door was open, and having no occasion to ring he
entered. He waited for a moment in the hall and called for a
servant to conduct him to M. Noirtier; but no one answered,
the servants having, as we know, deserted the house. Morrel
had no particular reason for uneasiness; Monte Cristo had
promised him that Valentine should live, and so far he had
always fulfilled his word. Every night the count had given
him news, which was the next morning confirmed by Noirtier.
Still this extraordinary silence appeared strange to him,
and he called a second and third time; still no answer. Then
he determined to go up. Noirtier's room was opened, like all
the rest. The first thing he saw was the old man sitting in
his arm-chair in his usual place, but his eyes expressed
alarm, which was confirmed by the pallor which overspread
his features.

"How are you, sir?" asked Morrel, with a sickness of heart.

"Well," answered the old man, by closing his eyes; but his
appearance manifested increasing uneasiness.

"You are thoughtful, sir," continued Morrel; "you want
something; shall I call one of the servants?"

"Yes," replied Noirtier.

Morrel pulled the bell, but though he nearly broke the cord
no one answered. He turned towards Noirtier; the pallor and
anguish expressed on his countenance momentarily increased.

"Oh," exclaimed Morrel, "why do they not come? Is any one
ill in the house?" The eyes of Noirtier seemed as though
they would start from their sockets. "What is the matter?
You alarm me. Valentine? Valentine?"

"Yes, yes," signed Noirtier. Maximilian tried to speak, but
he could articulate nothing; he staggered, and supported
himself against the wainscot. Then he pointed to the door.

"Yes, yes, yes!" continued the old man. Maximilian rushed up
the little staircase, while Noirtier's eyes seemed to say,
-- "Quicker, quicker!"

In a minute the young man darted through several rooms, till
at length he reached Valentine's. There was no occasion to
push the door, it was wide open. A sob was the only sound he
heard. He saw as though in a mist, a black figure kneeling
and buried in a confused mass of white drapery. A terrible
fear transfixed him. It was then he heard a voice exclaim
"Valentine is dead!" and another voice which, like an echo
repeated, -- "Dead, -- dead!"


Alexandre Dumas pere