It was really the Count of Monte Cristo who had just arrived
at Madame de Villefort's for the purpose of returning the
procureur's visit, and at his name, as may be easily
imagined, the whole house was in confusion. Madame de
Villefort, who was alone in her drawing-room when the count
was announced, desired that her son might be brought thither
instantly to renew his thanks to the count; and Edward, who
heard this great personage talked of for two whole days,
made all possible haste to come to him, not from obedience
to his mother, or out of any feeling of gratitude to the
count, but from sheer curiosity, and that some chance remark
might give him the opportunity for making one of the
impertinent speeches which made his mother say, -- "Oh, that
naughty child! But I can't be severe with him, he is really
After the usual civilities, the count inquired after M. de
Villefort. "My husband dines with the chancellor," replied
the young lady; "he has just gone, and I am sure he'll be
exceedingly sorry not to have had the pleasure of seeing you
before he went." Two visitors who were there when the count
arrived, having gazed at him with all their eyes, retired
after that reasonable delay which politeness admits and
curiosity requires. "What is your sister Valentine doing?"
inquired Madame de Villefort of Edward; "tell some one to
bid her come here, that I may have the honor of introducing
her to the count."
"You have a daughter, then, madame?" inquired the count;
"very young, I presume?"
"The daughter of M. de Villefort by his first marriage,"
replied the young wife, "a fine well-grown girl."
"But melancholy," interrupted Master Edward, snatching the
feathers out of the tail of a splendid parroquet that was
screaming on its gilded perch, in order to make a plume for
his hat. Madame de Villefort merely cried, -- "Be still,
Edward!" She then added, -- "This young madcap is, however,
very nearly right, and merely re-echoes what he has heard me
say with pain a hundred times; for Mademoiselle de Villefort
is, in spite of all we can do to rouse her, of a melancholy
disposition and taciturn habit, which frequently injure the
effect of her beauty. But what detains her? Go, Edward, and
"Because they are looking for her where she is not to be
"And where are they looking for her?"
"With grandpapa Noirtier."
"And do you think she is not there?"
"No, no, no, no, no, she is not there," replied Edward,
singing his words.
"And where is she, then? If you know, why don't you tell?"
"She is under the big chestnut-tree," replied the spoiled
brat, as he gave, in spite of his mother's commands, live
flies to the parrot, which seemed keenly to relish such
fare. Madame de Villefort stretched out her hand to ring,
intending to direct her waiting-maid to the spot where she
would find Valentine, when the young lady herself entered
the apartment. She appeared much dejected; and any person
who considered her attentively might have observed the
traces of recent tears in her eyes.
Valentine, whom we have in the rapid march of our narrative
presented to our readers without formally introducing her,
was a tall and graceful girl of nineteen, with bright
chestnut hair, deep blue eyes, and that reposeful air of
quiet distinction which characterized her mother. Her white
and slender fingers, her pearly neck, her cheeks tinted with
varying hues reminded one of the lovely Englishwomen who
have been so poetically compared in their manner to the
gracefulness of a swan. She entered the apartment, and
seeing near her stepmother the stranger of whom she had
already heard so much, saluted him without any girlish
awkwardness, or even lowering her eyes, and with an elegance
that redoubled the count's attention. He rose to return the
salutation. "Mademoiselle de Villefort, my daughter-in-law,"
said Madame de Villefort to Monte Cristo, leaning back on
her sofa and motioning towards Valentine with her hand. "And
M. de Monte Cristo, King of China, Emperor of Cochin-China,"
said the young imp, looking slyly towards his sister.
Madame de Villefort at this really did turn pale, and was
very nearly angry with this household plague, who answered
to the name of Edward; but the count, on the contrary,
smiled, and appeared to look at the boy complacently, which
caused the maternal heart to bound again with joy and
"But, madame," replied the count, continuing the
conversation, and looking by turns at Madame de Villefort
and Valentine, "have I not already had the honor of meeting
yourself and mademoiselle before? I could not help thinking
so just now; the idea came over my mind, and as mademoiselle
entered the sight of her was an additional ray of light
thrown on a confused remembrance; excuse the remark."
"I do not think it likely, sir; Mademoiselle de Villefort is
not very fond of society, and we very seldom go out," said
the young lady.
"Then it was not in society that I met with mademoiselle or
yourself, madame, or this charming little merry boy.
Besides, the Parisian world is entirely unknown to me, for,
as I believe I told you, I have been in Paris but very few
days. No, -- but, perhaps, you will permit me to call to
mind -- stay!" The Count placed his hand on his brow as if
to collect his thoughts. "No -- it was somewhere -- away
from here -- it was -- I do not know -- but it appears that
this recollection is connected with a lovely sky and some
religious fete; mademoiselle was holding flowers in her
hand, the interesting boy was chasing a beautiful peacock in
a garden, and you, madame, were under the trellis of some
arbor. Pray come to my aid, madame; do not these
circumstances appeal to your memory?"
"No, indeed," replied Madame de Villefort; "and yet it
appears to me, sir, that if I had met you anywhere, the
recollection of you must have been imprinted on my memory."
"Perhaps the count saw us in Italy," said Valentine timidly.
"Yes, in Italy; it was in Italy most probably," replied
Monte Cristo; "you have travelled then in Italy,
"Yes; madame and I were there two years ago. The doctors,
anxious for my lungs, had prescribed the air of Naples. We
went by Bologna, Perugia, and Rome."
"Ah, yes -- true, mademoiselle," exclaimed Monte Cristo as
if this simple explanation was sufficient to revive the
recollection he sought. "It was at Perugia on Corpus Christi
Day, in the garden of the Hotel des Postes, when chance
brought us together; you, Madame de Villefort, and her son;
I now remember having had the honor of meeting you."
"I perfectly well remember Perugia, sir, and the Hotel des
Postes, and the festival of which you speak," said Madame de
Villefort, "but in vain do I tax my memory, of whose
treachery I am ashamed, for I really do not recall to mind
that I ever had the pleasure of seeing you before."
"It is strange, but neither do I recollect meeting with
you," observed Valentine, raising her beautiful eyes to the
"But I remember it perfectly," interposed the darling
"I will assist your memory, madame," continued the count;
"the day had been burning hot; you were waiting for horses,
which were delayed in consequence of the festival.
Mademoiselle was walking in the shade of the garden, and
your son disappeared in pursuit of the peacock."
"And I caught it, mamma, don't you remember?" interposed
Edward, "and I pulled three such beautiful feathers out of
"You, madame, remained under the arbor; do you not remember,
that while you were seated on a stone bench, and while, as I
told you, Mademoiselle de Villefort and your young son were
absent, you conversed for a considerable time with
"Yes, in truth, yes," answered the young lady, turning very
red, "I do remember conversing with a person wrapped in a
long woollen mantle; he was a medical man, I think."
"Precisely so, madame; this man was myself; for a fortnight
I had been at that hotel, during which period I had cured my
valet de chambre of a fever, and my landlord of the
jaundice, so that I really acquired a reputation as a
skilful physician. We discoursed a long time, madame, on
different subjects; of Perugino, of Raffaelle, of manners,
customs, of the famous aquatofana, of which they had told
you, I think you said, that certain individuals in Perugia
had preserved the secret."
"Yes, true," replied Madame de Villefort, somewhat uneasily,
"I remember now."
"I do not recollect now all the various subjects of which we
discoursed, madame," continued the count with perfect
calmness; "but I perfectly remember that, falling into the
error which others had entertained respecting me, you
consulted me as to the health of Mademoiselle de Villefort."
"Yes, really, sir, you were in fact a medical man," said
Madame de Villefort, "since you had cured the sick."
"Moliere or Beaumarchais would reply to you, madame, that it
was precisely because I was not, that I had cured my
patients; for myself, I am content to say to you that I have
studied chemistry and the natural sciences somewhat deeply,
but still only as an amateur, you understand." -- At this
moment the clock struck six. "It is six o'clock," said
Madame de Villefort, evidently agitated. "Valentine, will
you not go and see if your grandpapa will have his dinner?"
Valentine rose, and saluting the count, left the apartment
"Oh, madame," said the count, when Valentine had left the
room, "was it on my account that you sent Mademoiselle de
"By no means," replied the young lady quickly; "but this is
the hour when we usually give M. Noirtier the unwelcome meal
that sustains his pitiful existence. You are aware, sir, of
the deplorable condition of my husband's father?"
"Yes, madame, M. de Villefort spoke of it to me -- a
paralysis, I think."
"Alas, yes; the poor old gentleman is entirely helpless; the
mind alone is still active in this human machine, and that
is faint and flickering, like the light of a lamp about to
expire. But excuse me, sir, for talking of our domestic
misfortunes; I interrupted you at the moment when you were
telling me that you were a skilful chemist."
"No, madame, I did not say as much as that," replied the
count with a smile; "quite the contrary. I have studied
chemistry because, having determined to live in eastern
climates I have been desirous of following the example of
"Mithridates rex Ponticus," said the young scamp, as he tore
some beautiful portraits out of a splendid album, "the
individual who took cream in his cup of poison every morning
"Edward, you naughty boy," exclaimed Madame de Villefort,
snatching the mutilated book from the urchin's grasp, "you
are positively past bearing; you really disturb the
conversation; go, leave us, and join your sister Valentine
in dear grandpapa Noirtier's room."
"The album," said Edward sulkily.
"What do you mean? -- the album!"
"I want the album."
"How dare you tear out the drawings?"
"Oh, it amuses me."
"Go -- go at once."
"I won't go unless you give me the album," said the boy,
seating himself doggedly in an arm-chair, according to his
habit of never giving way.
"Take it, then, and pray disturb us no longer," said Madame
de Villefort, giving the album to Edward, who then went
towards the door, led by his mother. The count followed her
with his eyes.
"Let us see if she shuts the door after him," he muttered.
Madame de Villefort closed the door carefully after the
child, the count appearing not to notice her; then casting a
scrutinizing glance around the chamber, the young wife
returned to her chair, in which she seated herself. "Allow
me to observe, madame," said the count, with that kind tone
he could assume so well, "you are really very severe with
that dear clever child."
"Oh, sometimes severity is quite necessary," replied Madame
de Villefort, with all a mother's real firmness.
"It was his Cornelius Nepos that Master Edward was repeating
when he referred to King Mithridates," continued the count,
"and you interrupted him in a quotation which proves that
his tutor has by no means neglected him, for your son is
really advanced for his years."
"The fact is, count," answered the mother, agreeably
flattered, "he has great aptitude, and learns all that is
set before him. He has but one fault, he is somewhat wilful;
but really, on referring for the moment to what he said, do
you truly believe that Mithridates used these precautions,
and that these precautions were efficacious?"
"I think so, madame, because I myself have made use of them,
that I might not be poisoned at Naples, at Palermo, and at
Smyrna -- that is to say, on three several occasions when,
but for these precautions, I must have lost my life."
"And your precautions were successful?"
"Yes, I remember now your mentioning to me at Perugia
something of this sort."
"Indeed?" said the count with an air of surprise, remarkably
well counterfeited; "I really did not remember."
"I inquired of you if poisons acted equally, and with the
same effect, on men of the North as on men of the South; and
you answered me that the cold and sluggish habits of the
North did not present the same aptitude as the rich and
energetic temperaments of the natives of the South."
"And that is the case," observed Monte Cristo. "I have seen
Russians devour, without being visibly inconvenienced,
vegetable substances which would infallibly have killed a
Neapolitan or an Arab."
"And you really believe the result would be still more sure
with us than in the East, and in the midst of our fogs and
rains a man would habituate himself more easily than in a
warm latitude to this progressive absorption of poison?"
"Certainly; it being at the same time perfectly understood
that he should have been duly fortified against the poison
to which he had not been accustomed."
"Yes, I understand that; and how would you habituate
yourself, for instance, or rather, how did you habituate
yourself to it?"
"Oh, very easily. Suppose you knew beforehand the poison
that would be made use of against you; suppose the poison
was, for instance, brucine" --
"Brucine is extracted from the false angostura* is it not?"
inquired Madame de Villefort.
"Precisely, madame," replied Monte Cristo; "but I perceive I
have not much to teach you. Allow me to compliment you on
your knowledge; such learning is very rare among ladies."
* Brucoea ferruginea.
"Oh, I am aware of that," said Madame de Villefort; "but I
have a passion for the occult sciences, which speak to the
imagination like poetry, and are reducible to figures, like
an algebraic equation; but go on, I beg of you; what you say
interests me to the greatest degree."
"Well," replied Monte Cristo "suppose, then, that this
poison was brucine, and you were to take a milligramme the
first day, two milligrammes the second day, and so on. Well,
at the end of ten days you would have taken a centigramme,
at the end of twenty days, increasing another milligramme,
you would have taken three hundred centigrammes; that is to
say, a dose which you would support without inconvenience,
and which would be very dangerous for any other person who
had not taken the same precautions as yourself. Well, then,
at the end of a month, when drinking water from the same
carafe, you would kill the person who drank with you,
without your perceiving, otherwise than from slight
inconvenience, that there was any poisonous substance
mingled with this water."
"Do you know any other counter-poisons?"
"I do not."
"I have often read, and read again, the history of
Mithridates," said Madame de Villefort in a tone of
reflection, "and had always considered it a fable."
"No, madame, contrary to most history, it is true; but what
you tell me, madame, what you inquire of me, is not the
result of a chance query, for two years ago you asked me the
same questions, and said then, that for a very long time
this history of Mithridates had occupied your mind."
"True, sir. The two favorite studies of my youth were botany
and mineralogy, and subsequently, when I learned that the
use of simples frequently explained the whole history of a
people, and the entire life of individuals in the East, as
flowers betoken and symbolize a love affair, I have
regretted that I was not a man, that I might have been a
Flamel, a Fontana, or a Cabanis."
"And the more, madame," said Monte Cristo, "as the Orientals
do not confine themselves, as did Mithridates, to make a
cuirass of his poisons, but they also made them a dagger.
Science becomes, in their hands, not only a defensive
weapon, but still more frequently an offensive one; the one
serves against all their physical sufferings, the other
against all their enemies. With opium, belladonna, brucaea,
snake-wood, and the cherry-laurel, they put to sleep all who
stand in their way. There is not one of those women,
Egyptian, Turkish, or Greek, whom here you call `good
women,' who do not know how, by means of chemistry, to
stupefy a doctor, and in psychology to amaze a confessor."
"Really," said Madame de Villefort, whose eyes sparkled with
strange fire at this conversation.
"Oh, yes, indeed, madame," continued Monte Cristo, "the
secret dramas of the East begin with a love philtre and end
with a death potion -- begin with paradise and end with --
hell. There are as many elixirs of every kind as there are
caprices and peculiarities in the physical and moral nature
of humanity; and I will say further -- the art of these
chemists is capable with the utmost precision to accommodate
and proportion the remedy and the bane to yearnings for love
or desires for vengeance."
"But, sir," remarked the young woman, "these Eastern
societies, in the midst of which you have passed a portion
of your existence, are as fantastic as the tales that come
from their strange land. A man can easily be put out of the
way there, then; it is, indeed, the Bagdad and Bassora of
the `Thousand and One Nights.' The sultans and viziers who
rule over society there, and who constitute what in France
we call the government, are really Haroun-al-Raschids and
Giaffars, who not only pardon a poisoner, but even make him
a prime minister, if his crime has been an ingenious one,
and who, under such circumstances, have the whole story
written in letters of gold, to divert their hours of
idleness and ennui."
"By no means, madame; the fanciful exists no longer in the
East. There, disguised under other names, and concealed
under other costumes, are police agents, magistrates,
attorneys-general, and bailiffs. They hang, behead, and
impale their criminals in the most agreeable possible
manner; but some of these, like clever rogues, have
contrived to escape human justice, and succeed in their
fraudulent enterprises by cunning stratagems. Amongst us a
simpleton, possessed by the demon of hate or cupidity, who
has an enemy to destroy, or some near relation to dispose
of, goes straight to the grocer's or druggist's, gives a
false name, which leads more easily to his detection than
his real one, and under the pretext that the rats prevent
him from sleeping, purchases five or six grammes of arsenic
-- if he is really a cunning fellow, he goes to five or six
different druggists or grocers, and thereby becomes only
five or six times more easily traced; -- then, when he has
acquired his specific, he administers duly to his enemy, or
near kinsman, a dose of arsenic which would make a mammoth
or mastodon burst, and which, without rhyme or reason, makes
his victim utter groans which alarm the entire neighborhood.
Then arrive a crowd of policemen and constables. They fetch
a doctor, who opens the dead body, and collects from the
entrails and stomach a quantity of arsenic in a spoon. Next
day a hundred newspapers relate the fact, with the names of
the victim and the murderer. The same evening the grocer or
grocers, druggist or druggists, come and say, `It was I who
sold the arsenic to the gentleman;' and rather than not
recognize the guilty purchaser, they will recognize twenty.
Then the foolish criminal is taken, imprisoned,
interrogated, confronted, confounded, condemned, and cut off
by hemp or steel; or if she be a woman of any consideration,
they lock her up for life. This is the way in which you
Northerns understand chemistry, madame. Desrues was,
however, I must confess, more skilful."
"What would you have, sir?" said the lady, laughing; "we do
what we can. All the world has not the secret of the Medicis
or the Borgias."
"Now," replied the count, shrugging his shoulders, "shall I
tell you the cause of all these stupidities? It is because,
at your theatres, by what at least I could judge by reading
the pieces they play, they see persons swallow the contents
of a phial, or suck the button of a ring, and fall dead
instantly. Five minutes afterwards the curtain falls, and
the spectators depart. They are ignorant of the consequences
of the murder; they see neither the police commissary with
his badge of office, nor the corporal with his four men; and
so the poor fools believe that the whole thing is as easy as
lying. But go a little way from France -- go either to
Aleppo or Cairo, or only to Naples or Rome, and you will see
people passing by you in the streets -- people erect,
smiling, and fresh-colored, of whom Asmodeus, if you were
holding on by the skirt of his mantle, would say, `That man
was poisoned three weeks ago; he will be a dead man in a
"Then," remarked Madame de Villefort, "they have again
discovered the secret of the famous aquatofana that they
said was lost at Perugia."
"Ah, but madame, does mankind ever lose anything? The arts
change about and make a tour of the world; things take a
different name, and the vulgar do not follow them -- that is
all; but there is always the same result. Poisons act
particularly on some organ or another -- one on the stomach,
another on the brain, another on the intestines. Well, the
poison brings on a cough, the cough an inflammation of the
lungs, or some other complaint catalogued in the book of
science, which, however, by no means precludes it from being
decidedly mortal; and if it were not, would be sure to
become so, thanks to the remedies applied by foolish
doctors, who are generally bad chemists, and which will act
in favor of or against the malady, as you please; and then
there is a human being killed according to all the rules of
art and skill, and of whom justice learns nothing, as was
said by a terrible chemist of my acquaintance, the worthy
Abbe Adelmonte of Taormina, in Sicily, who has studied these
national phenomena very profoundly."
"It is quite frightful, but deeply interesting," said the
young lady, motionless with attention. "I thought, I must
confess, that these tales, were inventions of the Middle
"Yes, no doubt, but improved upon by ours. What is the use
of time, rewards of merit, medals, crosses, Monthyon prizes,
if they do not lead society towards more complete
perfection? Yet man will never be perfect until he learns to
create and destroy; he does know how to destroy, and that is
half the battle."
"So," added Madame de Villefort, constantly returning to her
object, "the poisons of the Borgias, the Medicis, the Renes,
the Ruggieris, and later, probably, that of Baron de Trenck,
whose story has been so misused by modern drama and romance"
"Were objects of art, madame, and nothing more," replied the
count. "Do you suppose that the real savant addresses
himself stupidly to the mere individual? By no means.
Science loves eccentricities, leaps and bounds, trials of
strength, fancies, if I may be allowed so to term them.
Thus, for instance, the excellent Abbe Adelmonte, of whom I
spoke just now, made in this way some marvellous
"Yes; I will mention one to you. He had a remarkably fine
garden, full of vegetables, flowers, and fruit. From amongst
these vegetables he selected the most simple -- a cabbage,
for instance. For three days he watered this cabbage with a
distillation of arsenic; on the third, the cabbage began to
droop and turn yellow. At that moment he cut it. In the eyes
of everybody it seemed fit for table, and preserved its
wholesome appearance. It was only poisoned to the Abbe
Adelmonte. He then took the cabbage to the room where he had
rabbits -- for the Abbe Adelmonte had a collection of
rabbits, cats, and guinea-pigs, fully as fine as his
collection of vegetables, flowers, and fruit. Well, the Abbe
Adelmonte took a rabbit, and made it eat a leaf of the
cabbage. The rabbit died. What magistrate would find, or
even venture to insinuate, anything against this? What
procureur has ever ventured to draw up an accusation against
M. Magendie or M. Flourens, in consequence of the rabbits,
cats, and guinea-pigs they have killed? -- not one. So,
then, the rabbit dies, and justice takes no notice. This
rabbit dead, the Abbe Adelmonte has its entrails taken out
by his cook and thrown on the dunghill; on this dunghill is
a hen, who, pecking these intestines, is in her turn taken
ill, and dies next day. At the moment when she is struggling
in the convulsions of death, a vulture is flying by (there
are a good many vultures in Adelmonte's country); this bird
darts on the dead fowl, and carries it away to a rock, where
it dines off its prey. Three days afterwards, this poor
vulture, which has been very much indisposed since that
dinner, suddenly feels very giddy while flying aloft in the
clouds, and falls heavily into a fish-pond. The pike, eels,
and carp eat greedily always, as everybody knows -- well,
they feast on the vulture. Now suppose that next day, one of
these eels, or pike, or carp, poisoned at the fourth remove,
is served up at your table. Well, then, your guest will be
poisoned at the fifth remove, and die, at the end of eight
or ten days, of pains in the intestines, sickness, or
abscess of the pylorus. The doctors open the body and say
with an air of profound learning, `The subject his died of a
tumor on the liver, or of typhoid fever!'"
"But," remarked Madame de Villefort, "all these
circumstances which you link thus to one another may be
broken by the least accident; the vulture may not see the
fowl, or may fall a hundred yards from the fish-pond."
"Ah, that is where the art comes in. To be a great chemist
in the East, one must direct chance; and this is to be
achieved." -- Madame de Villefort was in deep thought, yet
listened attentively. "But," she exclaimed, suddenly,
"arsenic is indelible, indestructible; in whatsoever way it
is absorbed, it will be found again in the body of the
victim from the moment when it has been taken in sufficient
quantity to cause death."
"Precisely so," cried Monte Cristo -- "precisely so; and
this is what I said to my worthy Adelmonte. He reflected,
smiled, and replied to me by a Sicilian proverb, which I
believe is also a French proverb, `My son, the world was not
made in a day -- but in seven. Return on Sunday.' On the
Sunday following I did return to him. Instead of having
watered his cabbage with arsenic, he had watered it this
time with a solution of salts, having their basis in
strychnine, strychnos colubrina, as the learned term it.
Now, the cabbage had not the slightest appearance of disease
in the world, and the rabbit had not the smallest distrust;
yet, five minutes afterwards, the rabbit was dead. The fowl
pecked at the rabbit, and the next day was a dead hen. This
time we were the vultures; so we opened the bird, and this
time all special symptoms had disappeared, there were only
general symptoms. There was no peculiar indication in any
organ -- an excitement of the nervous system -- that was it;
a case of cerebral congestion -- nothing more. The fowl had
not been poisoned -- she had died of apoplexy. Apoplexy is a
rare disease among fowls, I believe, but very common among
men." Madame de Villefort appeared more and more thoughtful.
"It is very fortunate," she observed, "that such substances
could only be prepared by chemists; otherwise, all the world
would be poisoning each other."
"By chemists and persons who have a taste for chemistry,"
said Monte Cristo carelessly.
"And then," said Madame de Villefort, endeavoring by a
struggle, and with effort, to get away from her thoughts,
"however skilfully it is prepared, crime is always crime,
and if it avoid human scrutiny, it does not escape the eye
of God. The Orientals are stronger than we are in cases of
conscience, and, very prudently, have no hell -- that is the
"Really, madame, this is a scruple which naturally must
occur to a pure mind like yours, but which would easily
yield before sound reasoning. The bad side of human thought
will always be defined by the paradox of Jean Jacques
Rousseau, -- you remember, -- the mandarin who is killed
five hundred leagues off by raising the tip of the finger.
Man's whole life passes in doing these things, and his
intellect is exhausted by reflecting on them. You will find
very few persons who will go and brutally thrust a knife in
the heart of a fellow-creature, or will administer to him,
in order to remove him from the surface of the globe on
which we move with life and animation, that quantity of
arsenic of which we just now talked. Such a thing is really
out of rule -- eccentric or stupid. To attain such a point,
the blood must be heated to thirty-six degrees, the pulse
be, at least, at ninety, and the feelings excited beyond the
ordinary limit. But suppose one pass, as is permissible in
philology, from the word itself to its softened synonym,
then, instead of committing an ignoble assassination you
make an `elimination;' you merely and simply remove from
your path the individual who is in your way, and that
without shock or violence, without the display of the
sufferings which, in the case of becoming a punishment, make
a martyr of the victim, and a butcher, in every sense of the
word, of him who inflicts them. Then there will be no blood,
no groans, no convulsions, and above all, no consciousness
of that horrid and compromising moment of accomplishing the
act, -- then one escapes the clutch of the human law, which
says, `Do not disturb society!' This is the mode in which
they manage these things, and succeed in Eastern climes,
where there are grave and phlegmatic persons who care very
little for the questions of time in conjunctures of
"Yet conscience remains," remarked Madame de Villefort in an
agitated voice, and with a stifled sigh.
"Yes," answered Monte Cristo "happily, yes, conscience does
remain; and if it did not, how wretched we should be! After
every action requiring exertion, it is conscience that saves
us, for it supplies us with a thousand good excuses, of
which we alone are judges; and these reasons, howsoever
excellent in producing sleep, would avail us but very little
before a tribunal, when we were tried for our lives. Thus
Richard III., for instance, was marvellously served by his
conscience after the putting away of the two children of
Edward IV.; in fact, he could say, `These two children of a
cruel and persecuting king, who have inherited the vices of
their father, which I alone could perceive in their juvenile
propensities -- these two children are impediments in my way
of promoting the happiness of the English people, whose
unhappiness they (the children) would infallibly have
caused.' Thus was Lady Macbeth served by her conscience,
when she sought to give her son, and not her husband
(whatever Shakspeare may say), a throne. Ah, maternal love
is a great virtue, a powerful motive -- so powerful that it
excuses a multitude of things, even if, after Duncan's
death, Lady Macbeth had been at all pricked by her
Madame de Villefort listened with avidity to these appalling
maxims and horrible paradoxes, delivered by the count with
that ironical simplicity which was peculiar to him. After a
moment's silence, the lady inquired, "Do you know, my dear
count," she said, "that you are a very terrible reasoner,
and that you look at the world through a somewhat
distempered medium? Have you really measured the world by
scrutinies, or through alembics and crucibles? For you must
indeed be a great chemist, and the elixir you administered
to my son, which recalled him to life almost
"Oh, do not place any reliance on that, madame; one drop of
that elixir sufficed to recall life to a dying child, but
three drops would have impelled the blood into his lungs in
such a way as to have produced most violent palpitations;
six would have suspended his respiration, and caused syncope
more serious than that in which he was; ten would have
destroyed him. You know, madame, how suddenly I snatched him
from those phials which he so imprudently touched?"
"Is it then so terrible a poison?"
"Oh, no. In the first place, let us agree that the word
poison does not exist, because in medicine use is made of
the most violent poisons, which become, according as they
are employed, most salutary remedies."
"What, then, is it?"
"A skilful preparation of my friend's the worthy Abbe
Adelmonte, who taught me the use of it."
"Oh," observed Madame de Villefort, "it must be an admirable
"Perfect, madame, as you have seen," replied the count; "and
I frequently make use of it -- with all possible prudence
though, be it observed," he added with a smile of
"Most assuredly," responded Madame de Villefort in the same
tone. "As for me, so nervous, and so subject to fainting
fits, I should require a Doctor Adelmonte to invent for me
some means of breathing freely and tranquillizing my mind,
in the fear I have of dying some fine day of suffocation. In
the meanwhile, as the thing is difficult to find in France,
and your abbe is not probably disposed to make a journey to
Paris on my account, I must continue to use Monsieur
Planche's anti-spasmodics; and mint and Hoffman's drops are
among my favorite remedies. Here are some lozenges which I
have made up on purpose; they are compounded doubly strong."
Monte Cristo opened the tortoise-shell box, which the lady
presented to him, and inhaled the odor of the lozenges with
the air of an amateur who thoroughly appreciated their
composition. "They are indeed exquisite," he said; "but as
they are necessarily submitted to the process of deglutition
-- a function which it is frequently impossible for a
fainting person to accomplish -- I prefer my own specific."
"Undoubtedly, and so should I prefer it, after the effects I
have seen produced; but of course it is a secret, and I am
not so indiscreet as to ask it of you."
"But I," said Monte Cristo, rising as he spoke -- "I am
gallant enough to offer it you."
"How kind you are."
"Only remember one thing -- a small dose is a remedy, a
large one is poison. One drop will restore life, as you have
seen; five or six will inevitably kill, and in a way the
more terrible inasmuch as, poured into a glass of wine, it
would not in the slightest degree affect its flavor. But I
say no more, madame; it is really as if I were prescribing
for you." The clock struck half-past six, and a lady was
announced, a friend of Madame de Villefort, who came to dine
"If I had had the honor of seeing you for the third or
fourth time, count, instead of only for the second," said
Madame de Villefort; "if I had had the honor of being your
friend, instead of only having the happiness of being under
an obligation to you, I should insist on detaining you to
dinner, and not allow myself to be daunted by a first
"A thousand thanks, madame," replied Monte Cristo "but I
have an engagement which I cannot break. I have promised to
escort to the Academie a Greek princess of my acquaintance
who has never seen your grand opera, and who relies on me to
conduct her thither."
"Adieu, then, sir, and do not forget the prescription."
"Ah, in truth, madame, to do that I must forget the hour's
conversation I have had with you, which is indeed
impossible." Monte Cristo bowed, and left the house. Madame
de Villefort remained immersed in thought. "He is a very
strange man," she said, "and in my opinion is himself the
Adelmonte he talks about." As to Monte Cristo the result had
surpassed his utmost expectations. "Good," said he, as he
went away; "this is a fruitful soil, and I feel certain that
the seed sown will not be cast on barren ground." Next
morning, faithful to his promise, he sent the prescription
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