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Chapter 103


CHAPTER 103
Maximilian.

Villefort rose, half ashamed of being surprised in such a
paroxysm of grief. The terrible office he had held for
twenty-five years had succeeded in making him more or less
than man. His glance, at first wandering, fixed itself upon
Morrel. "Who are you, sir," he asked, "that forget that this
is not the manner to enter a house stricken with death? Go,
sir, go!" But Morrel remained motionless; he could not
detach his eyes from that disordered bed, and the pale
corpse of the young girl who was lying on it. "Go! -- do you
hear?" said Villefort, while d'Avrigny advanced to lead
Morrel out. Maximilian stared for a moment at the corpse,
gazed all around the room, then upon the two men; he opened
his mouth to speak, but finding it impossible to give
utterance to the innumerable ideas that occupied his brain,
he went out, thrusting his hands through his hair in such a
manner that Villefort and d'Avrigny, for a moment diverted
from the engrossing topic, exchanged glances, which seemed
to say, -- "He is mad!"

But in less than five minutes the staircase groaned beneath
an extraordinary weight. Morrel was seen carrying, with
superhuman strength, the arm-chair containing Noirtier
up-stairs. When he reached the landing he placed the
arm-chair on the floor and rapidly rolled it into
Valentine's room. This could only have been accomplished by
means of unnatural strength supplied by powerful excitement.
But the most fearful spectacle was Noirtier being pushed
towards the bed, his face expressing all his meaning, and
his eyes supplying the want of every other faculty. That
pale face and flaming glance appeared to Villefort like a
frightful apparition. Each time he had been brought into
contact with his father, something terrible had happened.
"See what they have done!" cried Morrel, with one hand
leaning on the back of the chair, and the other extended
towards Valentine. "See, my father, see!"

Villefort drew back and looked with astonishment on the
young man, who, almost a stranger to him, called Noirtier
his father. At this moment the whole soul of the old man
seemed centred in his eyes which became bloodshot; the veins
of the throat swelled; his cheeks and temples became purple,
as though he was struck with epilepsy; nothing was wanting
to complete this but the utterance of a cry. And the cry
issued from his pores, if we may thus speak -- a cry
frightful in its silence. D'Avrigny rushed towards the old
man and made him inhale a powerful restorative.

"Sir," cried Morrel, seizing the moist hand of the
paralytic, "they ask me who I am, and what right I have to
be here. Oh, you know it, tell them, tell them!" And the
young man's voice was choked by sobs. As for the old man,
his chest heaved with his panting respiration. One could
have thought that he was undergoing the agonies preceding
death. At length, happier than the young man, who sobbed
without weeping, tears glistened in the eyes of Noirtier.
"Tell them," said Morrel in a hoarse voice, "tell them that
I am her betrothed. Tell them she was my beloved, my noble
girl, my only blessing in the world. Tell them -- oh, tell
them, that corpse belongs to me!"

The young man overwhelmed by the weight of his anguish, fell
heavily on his knees before the bed, which his fingers
grasped with convulsive energy. D'Avrigny, unable to bear
the sight of this touching emotion, turned away; and
Villefort, without seeking any further explanation, and
attracted towards him by the irresistible magnetism which
draws us towards those who have loved the people for whom we
mourn, extended his hand towards the young man. But Morrel
saw nothing; he had grasped the hand of Valentine, and
unable to weep vented his agony in groans as he bit the
sheets. For some time nothing was heard in that chamber but
sobs, exclamations, and prayers. At length Villefort, the
most composed of all, spoke: "Sir," said he to Maximilian,
"you say you loved Valentine, that you were betrothed to
her. I knew nothing of this engagement, of this love, yet I,
her father, forgive you, for I see that your grief is real
and deep; and besides my own sorrow is too great for anger
to find a place in my heart. But you see that the angel whom
you hoped for has left this earth -- she has nothing more to
do with the adoration of men. Take a last farewell, sir, of
her sad remains; take the hand you expected to possess once
more within your own, and then separate yourself from her
forever. Valentine now requires only the ministrations of
the priest."

"You are mistaken, sir," exclaimed Morrel, raising himself
on one knee, his heart pierced by a more acute pang than any
he had yet felt -- "you are mistaken; Valentine, dying as
she has, not only requires a priest, but an avenger. You, M.
de Villefort, send for the priest; I will be the avenger."

"What do you mean, sir?" asked Villefort, trembling at the
new idea inspired by the delirium of Morrel.

"I tell you, sir, that two persons exist in you; the father
has mourned sufficiently, now let the procureur fulfil his
office."

The eyes of Noirtier glistened, and d'Avrigny approached.

"Gentlemen," said Morrel, reading all that passed through
the minds of the witnesses to the scene, "I know what I am
saying, and you know as well as I do what I am about to say
-- Valentine has been assassinated!" Villefort hung his
head, d'Avrigny approached nearer, and Noirtier said "Yes"
with his eyes. "Now, sir," continued Morrel, "in these days
no one can disappear by violent means without some inquiries
being made as to the cause of her disappearance, even were
she not a young, beautiful, and adorable creature like
Valentine. Mr. Procureur," said Morrel with increasing
vehemence, "no mercy is allowed; I denounce the crime; it is
your place to seek the assassin." The young man's implacable
eyes interrogated Villefort, who, on his side, glanced from
Noirtier to d'Avrigny. But instead of finding sympathy in
the eyes of the doctor and his father, he only saw an
expression as inflexible as that of Maximilian. "Yes,"
indicated the old man.

"Assuredly," said d'Avrigny.

"Sir," said Villefort, striving to struggle against this
triple force and his own emotion, -- "sir, you are deceived;
no one commits crimes here. I am stricken by fate. It is
horrible, indeed, but no one assassinates."

The eyes of Noirtier lighted up with rage, and d'Avrigny
prepared to speak. Morrel, however, extended his arm, and
commanded silence. "And I say that murders are committed
here," said Morrel, whose voice, though lower in tone, lost
none of its terrible distinctness: "I tell you that this is
the fourth victim within the last four months. I tell you,
Valentine's life was attempted by poison four days ago,
though she escaped, owing to the precautions of M. Noirtier.
I tell you that the dose has been double, the poison
changed, and that this time it has succeeded. I tell you
that you know these things as well as I do, since this
gentleman has forewarned you, both as a doctor and as a
friend."

"Oh, you rave, sir," exclaimed Villefort, in vain
endeavoring to escape the net in which he was taken.

"I rave?" said Morrel; "well, then, I appeal to M. d'Avrigny
himself. Ask him, sir, if he recollects the words he uttered
in the garden of this house on the night of Madame de
Saint-Meran's death. You thought yourselves alone, and
talked about that tragical death, and the fatality you
mentioned then is the same which has caused the murder of
Valentine." Villefort and d'Avrigny exchanged looks. "Yes,
yes," continued Morrel; "recall the scene, for the words you
thought were only given to silence and solitude fell into my
ears. Certainly, after witnessing the culpable indolence
manifested by M. de Villefort towards his own relations, I
ought to have denounced him to the authorities; then I
should not have been an accomplice to thy death, as I now
am, sweet, beloved Valentine; but the accomplice shall
become the avenger. This fourth murder is apparent to all,
and if thy father abandon thee, Valentine, it is I, and I
swear it, that shall pursue the assassin." And this time, as
though nature had at least taken compassion on the vigorous
frame, nearly bursting with its own strength, the words of
Morrel were stifled in his throat; his breast heaved; the
tears, so long rebellious, gushed from his eyes; and he
threw himself weeping on his knees by the side of the bed.

Then d'Avrigny spoke. "And I, too," he exclaimed in a low
voice, "I unite with M. Morrel in demanding justice for
crime; my blood boils at the idea of having encouraged a
murderer by my cowardly concession."

"Oh, merciful heavens!" murmured Villefort. Morrel raised
his head, and reading the eyes of the old man, which gleamed
with unnatural lustre, -- "Stay," he said, "M. Noirtier
wishes to speak."

"Yes," indicated Noirtier, with an expression the more
terrible, from all his faculties being centred in his
glance.

"Do you know the assassin?" asked Morrel.

"Yes," replied Noirtier.

"And will you direct us?" exclaimed the young man. "Listen,
M. d'Avrigny, listen!" Noirtier looked upon Morrel with one
of those melancholy smiles which had so often made Valentine
happy, and thus fixed his attention. Then, having riveted
the eyes of his interlocutor on his own, he glanced towards
the door.

"Do you wish me to leave?" said Morrel, sadly.

"Yes," replied Noirtier.

"Alas, alas, sir, have pity on me!"

The old man's eyes remained fixed on the door.

"May I, at least, return?" asked Morrel.

"Yes."

"Must I leave alone?"

"No."

"Whom am I to take with me? The procureur?"

"No."

"The doctor?"

"Yes."

"You wish to remain alone with M. de Villefort?"

"Yes."

"But can he understand you?"

"Yes."

"Oh," said Villefort, inexpressibly delighted to think that
the inquiries were to be made by him alone, -- "oh, be
satisfied, I can understand my father." D'Avrigny took the
young man's arm, and led him out of the room. A more than
deathlike silence then reigned in the house. At the end of a
quarter of an hour a faltering footstep was heard, and
Villefort appeared at the door of the apartment where
d'Avrigny and Morrel had been staying, one absorbed in
meditation, the other in grief. "You can come," he said, and
led them back to Noirtier. Morrel looked attentively on
Villefort. His face was livid, large drops rolled down his
face, and in his fingers he held the fragments of a quill
pen which he had torn to atoms.

"Gentlemen," he said in a hoarse voice, "give me your word
of honor that this horrible secret shall forever remain
buried amongst ourselves!" The two men drew back.

"I entreat you." -- continued Villefort.

"But," said Morrel, "the culprit -- the murderer -- the
assassin."

"Do not alarm yourself, sir; justice will be done," said
Villefort. "My father has revealed the culprit's name; my
father thirsts for revenge as much as you do, yet even he
conjures you as I do to keep this secret. Do you not,
father?"

"Yes," resolutely replied Noirtier. Morrel suffered an
exclamation of horror and surprise to escape him. "Oh, sir,"
said Villefort, arresting Maximilian by the arm, "if my
father, the inflexible man, makes this request, it is
because he knows, be assured, that Valentine will be
terribly revenged. Is it not so, father?" The old man made a
sign in the affirmative. Villefort continued: "He knows me,
and I have pledged my word to him. Rest assured, gentlemen,
that within three days, in a less time than justice would
demand, the revenge I shall have taken for the murder of my
child will be such as to make the boldest heart tremble;"
and as he spoke these words he ground his teeth, and grasped
the old man's senseless hand.

"Will this promise be fulfilled, M. Noirtier?" asked Morrel,
while d'Avrigny looked inquiringly.

"Yes," replied Noirtier with an expression of sinister joy.

"Swear, then," said Villefort, joining the hands of Morrel
and d'Avrigny, "swear that you will spare the honor of my
house, and leave me to avenge my child." D'Avrigny turned
round and uttered a very feeble "Yes," but Morrel,
disengaging his hand, rushed to the bed, and after having
pressed the cold lips of Valentine with his own, hurriedly
left, uttering a long, deep groan of despair and anguish. We
have before stated that all the servants had fled. M. de
Villefort was therefore obliged to request M. d'Avrigny to
superintend all the arrangements consequent upon a death in
a large city, more especially a death under such suspicious
circumstances.

It was something terrible to witness the silent agony, the
mute despair of Noirtier, whose tears silently rolled down
his cheeks. Villefort retired to his study, and d'Avrigny
left to summon the doctor of the mayoralty, whose office it
is to examine bodies after decease, and who is expressly
named "the doctor of the dead." M. Noirtier could not be
persuaded to quit his grandchild. At the end of a quarter of
an hour M. d'Avrigny returned with his associate; they found
the outer gate closed, and not a servant remaining in the
house; Villefort himself was obliged to open to them. But he
stopped on the landing; he had not the courage to again
visit the death chamber. The two doctors, therefore, entered
the room alone. Noirtier was near the bed, pale, motionless,
and silent as the corpse. The district doctor approached
with the indifference of a man accustomed to spend half his
time amongst the dead; he then lifted the sheet which was
placed over the face, and just unclosed the lips.

"Alas," said d'Avrigny, "she is indeed dead, poor child!"

"Yes," answered the doctor laconically, dropping the sheet
he had raised. Noirtier uttered a kind of hoarse, rattling
sound; the old man's eyes sparkled, and the good doctor
understood that he wished to behold his child. He therefore
approached the bed, and while his companion was dipping the
fingers with which he had touched the lips of the corpse in
chloride of lime, he uncovered the calm and pale face, which
looked like that of a sleeping angel. A tear, which appeared
in the old man's eye, expressed his thanks to the doctor.
The doctor of the dead then laid his permit on the corner of
the table, and having fulfilled his duty, was conducted out
by d'Avrigny. Villefort met them at the door of his study;
having in a few words thanked the district doctor, he turned
to d'Avrigny, and said, -- "And now the priest."

"Is there any particular priest you wish to pray with
Valentine?" asked d'Avrigny.

"No." said Villefort; "fetch the nearest."

"The nearest," said the district doctor, "is a good Italian
abbe, who lives next door to you. Shall I call on him as I
pass?"

"D'Avrigny," said Villefort, "be so kind, I beseech you, as
to accompany this gentleman. Here is the key of the door, so
that you can go in and out as you please; you will bring the
priest with you, and will oblige me by introducing him into
my child's room."

"Do you wish to see him?"

"I only wish to be alone. You will excuse me, will you not?
A priest can understand a father's grief." And M. de
Villefort, giving the key to d'Avrigny, again bade farewell
to the strange doctor, and retired to his study, where he
began to work. For some temperaments work is a remedy for
all afflictions. As the doctors entered the street, they saw
a man in a cassock standing on the threshold of the next
door. "This is the abbe of whom I spoke," said the doctor to
d'Avrigny. D'Avrigny accosted the priest. "Sir," he said,
"are you disposed to confer a great obligation on an unhappy
father who has just lost his daughter? I mean M. de
Villefort, the king's attorney."

"Ah," said the priest, in a marked Italian accent; "yes, I
have heard that death is in that house."

"Then I need not tell you what kind of service he requires
of you."

"I was about to offer myself, sir," said the priest; "it is
our mission to forestall our duties."

"It is a young girl."

"I know it, sir; the servants who fled from the house
informed me. I also know that her name is Valentine, and I
have already prayed for her."

"Thank you, sir," said d'Avrigny; "since you have commenced
your sacred office, deign to continue it. Come and watch by
the dead, and all the wretched family will be grateful to
you."

"I am going, sir; and I do not hesitate to say that no
prayers will be more fervent than mine." D'Avrigny took the
priest's hand, and without meeting Villefort, who was
engaged in his study, they reached Valentine's room, which
on the following night was to be occupied by the
undertakers. On entering the room, Noirtier's eyes met those
of the abbe, and no doubt he read some particular expression
in them, for he remained in the room. D'Avrigny recommended
the attention of the priest to the living as well as to the
dead, and the abbe promised to devote his prayers to
Valentine and his attentions to Noirtier. In order,
doubtless, that he might not be disturbed while fulfilling
his sacred mission, the priest rose as soon as d'Avrigny
departed, and not only bolted the door through which the
doctor had just left, but also that leading to Madame de
Villefort's room.


Alexandre Dumas pere