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Chapter 110


CHAPTER 110
The Indictment.

The judges took their places in the midst of the most
profound silence; the jury took their seats; M. de
Villefort, the object of unusual attention, and we had
almost said of general admiration, sat in the arm-chair and
cast a tranquil glance around him. Every one looked with
astonishment on that grave and severe face, whose calm
expression personal griefs had been unable to disturb, and
the aspect of a man who was a stranger to all human emotions
excited something very like terror.

"Gendarmes," said the president, "lead in the accused."

At these words the public attention became more intense, and
all eyes were turned towards the door through which
Benedetto was to enter. The door soon opened and the accused
appeared. The same impression was experienced by all
present, and no one was deceived by the expression of his
countenance. His features bore no sign of that deep emotion
which stops the beating of the heart and blanches the cheek.
His hands, gracefully placed, one upon his hat, the other in
the opening of his white waistcoat, were not at all
tremulous; his eye was calm and even brilliant. Scarcely had
he entered the hall when he glanced at the whole body of
magistrates and assistants; his eye rested longer on the
president, and still more so on the king's attorney. By the
side of Andrea was stationed the lawyer who was to conduct
his defence, and who had been appointed by the court, for
Andrea disdained to pay any attention to those details, to
which he appeared to attach no importance. The lawyer was a
young man with light hair whose face expressed a hundred
times more emotion than that which characterized the
prisoner.

The president called for the indictment, revised as we know,
by the clever and implacable pen of Villefort. During the
reading of this, which was long, the public attention was
continually drawn towards Andrea, who bore the inspection
with Spartan unconcern. Villefort had never been so concise
and eloquent. The crime was depicted in the most vivid
colors; the former life of the prisoner, his transformation,
a review of his life from the earliest period, were set
forth with all the talent that a knowledge of human life
could furnish to a mind like that of the procureur.
Benedetto was thus forever condemned in public opinion
before the sentence of the law could be pronounced. Andrea
paid no attention to the successive charges which were
brought against him. M. de Villefort, who examined him
attentively, and who no doubt practiced upon him all the
psychological studies he was accustomed to use, in vain
endeavored to make him lower his eyes, notwithstanding the
depth and profundity of his gaze. At length the reading of
the indictment was ended.

"Accused," said the president, "your name and surname?"
Andrea arose. "Excuse me, Mr. President," he said, in a
clear voice, "but I see you are going to adopt a course of
questions through which I cannot follow you. I have an idea,
which I will explain by and by, of making an exception to
the usual form of accusation. Allow me, then, if you please,
to answer in different order, or I will not do so at all."
The astonished president looked at the jury, who in turn
looked at Villefort. The whole assembly manifested great
surprise, but Andrea appeared quite unmoved. "Your age?"
said the president; "will you answer that question?"

"I will answer that question, as well as the rest, Mr.
President, but in its turn."

"Your age?" repeated the president.

"I am twenty-one years old, or rather I shall be in a few
days, as I was born the night of the 27th of September,
1817." M. de Villefort, who was busy taking down some notes,
raised his head at the mention of this date. "Where were you
born?" continued the president.

"At Auteuil, near Paris." M. de Villefort a second time
raised his head, looked at Benedetto as if he had been
gazing at the head of Medusa, and became livid. As for
Benedetto, he gracefully wiped his lips with a fine cambric
pocket-handkerchief. "Your profession?"

"First I was a forger," answered Andrea, as calmly as
possible; "then I became a thief, and lately have become an
assassin." A murmur, or rather storm, of indignation burst
from all parts of the assembly. The judges themselves
appeared to be stupefied, and the jury manifested tokens of
disgust for cynicism so unexpected in a man of fashion. M.
de Villefort pressed his hand upon his brow, which, at first
pale, had become red and burning; then he suddenly arose and
looked around as though he had lost his senses -- he wanted
air.

"Are you looking for anything, Mr. Procureur?" asked
Benedetto, with his most ingratiating smile. M. de Villefort
answered nothing, but sat, or rather threw himself down
again upon his chair. "And now, prisoner, will you consent
to tell your name?" said the president. "The brutal
affectation with which you have enumerated and classified
your crimes calls for a severe reprimand on the part of the
court, both in the name of morality, and for the respect due
to humanity. You appear to consider this a point of honor,
and it may be for this reason, that you have delayed
acknowledging your name. You wished it to be preceded by all
these titles."

"It is quite wonderful, Mr. President, how entirely you have
read my thoughts," said Benedetto, in his softest voice and
most polite manner. "This is, indeed, the reason why I
begged you to alter the order of the questions." The public
astonishment had reached its height. There was no longer any
deceit or bravado in the manner of the accused. The audience
felt that a startling revelation was to follow this ominous
prelude.

"Well," said the president; "your name?"

"I cannot tell you my name, since I do not know it; but I
know my father's, and can tell it to you."

A painful giddiness overwhelmed Villefort; great drops of
acrid sweat fell from his face upon the papers which he held
in his convulsed hand.

"Repeat your father's name," said the president. Not a
whisper, not a breath, was heard in that vast assembly;
every one waited anxiously.

"My father is king's attorney," replied Andrea calmly.

"King's attorney?" said the president, stupefied, and
without noticing the agitation which spread over the face of
M. de Villefort; "king's attorney?"

"Yes; and if you wish to know his name, I will tell it, --
he is named Villefort." The explosion, which had been so
long restrained from a feeling of respect to the court of
justice, now burst forth like thunder from the breasts of
all present; the court itself did not seek to restrain the
feelings of the audience. The exclamations, the insults
addressed to Benedetto, who remained perfectly unconcerned,
the energetic gestures, the movement of the gendarmes, the
sneers of the scum of the crowd always sure to rise to the
surface in case of any disturbance -- all this lasted five
minutes, before the door-keepers and magistrates were able
to restore silence. In the midst of this tumult the voice of
the president was heard to exclaim, -- "Are you playing with
justice, accused, and do you dare set your fellow-citizens
an example of disorder which even in these times his never
been equalled?"

Several persons hurried up to M. de Villefort, who sat half
bowed over in his chair, offering him consolation,
encouragement, and protestations of zeal and sympathy. Order
was re-established in the hall, except that a few people
still moved about and whispered to one another. A lady, it
was said, had just fainted; they had supplied her with a
smelling-bottle, and she had recovered. During the scene of
tumult, Andrea had turned his smiling face towards the
assembly; then, leaning with one hand on the oaken rail of
the dock, in the most graceful attitude possible, he said:
"Gentlemen, I assure you I had no idea of insulting the
court, or of making a useless disturbance in the presence of
this honorable assembly. They ask my age; I tell it. They
ask where I was born; I answer. They ask my name, I cannot
give it, since my parents abandoned me. But though I cannot
give my own name, not possessing one, I can tell them my
father's. Now I repeat, my father is named M. de Villefort,
and I am ready to prove it."

There was an energy, a conviction, and a sincerity in the
manner of the young man, which silenced the tumult. All eyes
were turned for a moment towards the procureur, who sat as
motionless as though a thunderbolt had changed him into a
corpse. "Gentlemen," said Andrea, commanding silence by his
voice and manner; "I owe you the proofs and explanations of
what I have said."

"But," said the irritated president, "you called yourself
Benedetto, declared yourself an orphan, and claimed Corsica
as your country."

"I said anything I pleased, in order that the solemn
declaration I have just made should not be withheld, which
otherwise would certainly have been the case. I now repeat
that I was born at Auteuil on the night of the 27th of
September, 1817, and that I am the son of the procureur, M.
de Villefort. Do you wish for any further details? I will
give them. I was born in No. 28, Rue de la Fontaine, in a
room hung with red damask; my father took me in his arms,
telling my mother I was dead, wrapped me in a napkin marked
with an H and an N, and carried me into a garden, where he
buried me alive."

A shudder ran through the assembly when they saw that the
confidence of the prisoner increased in proportion to the
terror of M. de Villefort. "But how have you become
acquainted with all these details?" asked the president.

"I will tell you, Mr. President. A man who had sworn
vengeance against my father, and had long watched his
opportunity to kill him, had introduced himself that night
into the garden in which my father buried me. He was
concealed in a thicket; he saw my father bury something in
the ground, and stabbed him; then thinking the deposit might
contain some treasure he turned up the ground, and found me
still living. The man carried me to the foundling asylum,
where I was registered under the number 37. Three months
afterwards, a woman travelled from Rogliano to Paris to
fetch me, and having claimed me as her son, carried me away.
Thus, you see, though born in Paris, I was brought up in
Corsica."

There was a moment's silence, during which one could have
fancied the hall empty, so profound was the stillness.
"Proceed," said the president.

"Certainly, I might have lived happily amongst those good
people, who adored me, but my perverse disposition prevailed
over the virtues which my adopted mother endeavored to
instil into my heart. I increased in wickedness till I
committed crime. One day when I cursed providence for making
me so wicked, and ordaining me to such a fate, my adopted
father said to me, `Do not blaspheme, unhappy child, the
crime is that of your father, not yours, -- of your father,
who consigned you to hell if you died, and to misery if a
miracle preserved you alive.' After that I ceased to
blaspheme, but I cursed my father. That is why I have
uttered the words for which you blame me; that is why I have
filled this whole assembly with horror. If I have committed
an additional crime, punish me, but if you will allow that
ever since the day of my birth my fate has been sad, bitter,
and lamentable, then pity me."

"But your mother?" asked the president.

"My mother thought me dead; she is not guilty. I did not
even wish to know her name, nor do I know it." Just then a
piercing cry, ending in a sob, burst from the centre of the
crowd, who encircled the lady who had before fainted, and
who now fell into a violent fit of hysterics. She was
carried out of the hall, the thick veil which concealed her
face dropped off, and Madame Danglars was recognized.
Notwithstanding his shattered nerves, the ringing sensation
in his ears, and the madness which turned his brain,
Villefort rose as he perceived her. "The proofs, the
proofs!" said the president; "remember this tissue of
horrors must be supported by the clearest proofs "

"The proofs?" said Benedetto, laughing; "do you want
proofs?"

"Yes."

"Well, then, look at M. de Villefort, and then ask me for
proofs."

Every one turned towards the procureur, who, unable to bear
the universal gaze now riveted on him alone, advanced
staggering into the midst of the tribunal, with his hair
dishevelled and his face indented with the mark of his
nails. The whole assembly uttered a long murmur of
astonishment. "Father," said Benedetto, "I am asked for
proofs, do you wish me to give them?"

"No, no, it is useless," stammered M. de Villefort in a
hoarse voice; "no, it is useless!"

"How useless?" cried the president, "what do you mean?"

"I mean that I feel it impossible to struggle against this
deadly weight which crushes me. Gentlemen, I know I am in
the hands of an avenging God! We need no proofs; everything
relating to this young man is true." A dull, gloomy silence,
like that which precedes some awful phenomenon of nature,
pervaded the assembly, who shuddered in dismay. "What, M. de
Villefort," cried the president, "do you yield to an
hallucination? What, are you no longer in possession of your
senses? This strange, unexpected, terrible accusation has
disordered your reason. Come, recover."

The procureur dropped his head; his teeth chattered like
those of a man under a violent attack of fever, and yet he
was deadly pale.

"I am in possession of all my senses, sir," he said; "my
body alone suffers, as you may suppose. I acknowledge myself
guilty of all the young man has brought against me, and from
this hour hold myself under the authority of the procureur
who will succeed me."

And as he spoke these words with a hoarse, choking voice, he
staggered towards the door, which was mechanically opened by
a door-keeper. The whole assembly were dumb with
astonishment at the revelation and confession which had
produced a catastrophe so different from that which had been
expected during the last fortnight by the Parisian world.

"Well," said Beauchamp, "let them now say that drama is
unnatural!"

"Ma foi!" said Chateau-Renaud, "I would rather end my career
like M. de Morcerf; a pistol-shot seems quite delightful
compared with this catastrophe."

"And moreover, it kills," said Beauchamp.

"And to think that I had an idea of marrying his daughter,"
said Debray. "She did well to die, poor girl!"

"The sitting is adjourned, gentlemen," said the president;
"fresh inquiries will be made, and the case will be tried
next session by another magistrate." As for Andrea, who was
calm and more interesting than ever, he left the hall,
escorted by gendarmes, who involuntarily paid him some
attention. "Well, what do you think of this, my fine
fellow?" asked Debray of the sergeant-at-arms, slipping a
louis into his hand. "There will be extenuating
circumstances," he replied.


Alexandre Dumas pere