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Chapter 58


CHAPTER 58
M. Noirtier de Villefort.

We will now relate what was passing in the house of the
king's attorney after the departure of Madame Danglars and
her daughter, and during the time of the conversation
between Maximilian and Valentine, which we have just
detailed. M. de Villefort entered his father's room,
followed by Madame de Villefort. Both of the visitors, after
saluting the old man and speaking to Barrois, a faithful
servant, who had been twenty-five years in his service, took
their places on either side of the paralytic.

M. Noirtier was sitting in an arm-chair, which moved upon
casters, in which he was wheeled into the room in the
morning, and in the same way drawn out again at night. He
was placed before a large glass, which reflected the whole
apartment, and so, without any attempt to move, which would
have been impossible, he could see all who entered the room
and everything which was going on around him. M. Noirtier,
although almost as immovable as a corpse, looked at the
newcomers with a quick and intelligent expression,
perceiving at once, by their ceremonious courtesy, that they
were come on business of an unexpected and official
character. Sight and hearing were the only senses remaining,
and they, like two solitary sparks, remained to animate the
miserable body which seemed fit for nothing but the grave;
it was only, however, by means of one of these senses that
he could reveal the thoughts and feelings that still
occupied his mind, and the look by which he gave expression
to his inner life was like the distant gleam of a candle
which a traveller sees by night across some desert place,
and knows that a living being dwells beyond the silence and
obscurity. Noirtier's hair was long and white, and flowed
over his shoulders; while in his eyes, shaded by thick black
lashes, was concentrated, as it often happens with an organ
which is used to the exclusion of the others, all the
activity, address, force, and intelligence which were
formerly diffused over his whole body; and so although the
movement of the arm, the sound of the voice, and the agility
of the body, were wanting, the speaking eye sufficed for
all. He commanded with it; it was the medium through which
his thanks were conveyed. In short, his whole appearance
produced on the mind the impression of a corpse with living
eyes, and nothing could be more startling than to observe
the expression of anger or joy suddenly lighting up these
organs, while the rest of the rigid and marble-like features
were utterly deprived of the power of participation. Three
persons only could understand this language of the poor
paralytic; these were Villefort, Valentine, and the old
servant of whom we have already spoken. But as Villefort saw
his father but seldom, and then only when absolutely
obliged, and as he never took any pains to please or gratify
him when he was there, all the old man's happiness was
centred in his granddaughter. Valentine, by means of her
love, her patience, and her devotion, had learned to read in
Noirtier's look all the varied feelings which were passing
in his mind. To this dumb language, which was so
unintelligible to others, she answered by throwing her whole
soul into the expression of her countenance, and in this
manner were the conversations sustained between the blooming
girl and the helpless invalid, whose body could scarcely be
called a living one, but who, nevertheless, possessed a fund
of knowledge and penetration, united with a will as powerful
as ever although clogged by a body rendered utterly
incapable of obeying its impulses. Valentine had solved the
problem, and was able easily to understand his thoughts, and
to convey her own in return, and, through her untiring and
devoted assiduity, it was seldom that, in the ordinary
transactions of every-day life, she failed to anticipate the
wishes of the living, thinking mind, or the wants of the
almost inanimate body. As to the servant, he had, as we have
said, been with his master for five and twenty years,
therefore he knew all his habits, and it was seldom that
Noirtier found it necessary to ask for anything, so prompt
was he in administering to all the necessities of the
invalid. Villefort did not need the help of either Valentine
or the domestic in order to carry on with his father the
strange conversation which he was about to begin. As we have
said, he perfectly understood the old man's vocabulary, and
if he did not use it more often, it was only indifference
and ennui which prevented him from so doing. He therefore
allowed Valentine to go into the garden, sent away Barrois,
and after having seated himself at his father's right hand,
while Madame de Villefort placed herself on the left, he
addressed him thus: --

"I trust you will not be displeased, sir, that Valentine has
not come with us, or that I dismissed Barrois, for our
conference will be one which could not with propriety be
carried on in the presence of either. Madame de Villefort
and I have a communication to make to you."

Noirtier's face remained perfectly passive during this long
preamble, while, on the contrary, Villefort's eye was
endeavoring to penetrate into the inmost recesses of the old
man's heart.

"This communication," continued the procureur, in that cold
and decisive tone which seemed at once to preclude all
discussion, "will, we are sure, meet with your approbation."
The eye of the invalid still retained that vacancy of
expression which prevented his son from obtaining any
knowledge of the feelings which were passing in his mind; he
listened, nothing more. "Sir," resumed Villefort, "we are
thinking of marrying Valentine." Had the old man's face been
moulded in wax it could not have shown less emotion at this
news than was now to be traced there. "The marriage will
take place in less than three months," said Villefort.
Noirtier's eye still retained its inanimate expression.

Madame de Villefort now took her part in the conversation
and added, -- "We thought this news would possess an
interest for you, sir, who have always entertained a great
affection for Valentine; it therefore only now remains for
us to tell you the name of the young man for whom she is
destined. It is one of the most desirable connections which
could possibly be formed; he possesses fortune, a high rank
in society, and every personal qualification likely to
render Valentine supremely happy, -- his name, moreover,
cannot be wholly unknown to you. It is M. Franz de Quesnel,
Baron d'Epinay."

While his wife was speaking, Villefort had narrowly watched
the old man's countenance. When Madame de Villefort
pronounced the name of Franz, the pupil of M. Noirtier's eye
began to dilate, and his eyelids trembled with the same
movement that may be perceived on the lips of an individual
about to speak, and he darted a lightning glance at Madame
de Villefort and his son. The procureur, who knew the
political hatred which had formerly existed between M.
Noirtier and the elder d'Epinay, well understood the
agitation and anger which the announcement had produced;
but, feigning not to perceive either, he immediately resumed
the narrative begun by his wife. "Sir," said he, "you are
aware that Valentine is about to enter her nineteenth year,
which renders it important that she should lose no time in
forming a suitable alliance. Nevertheless, you have not been
forgotten in our plans, and we have fully ascertained
beforehand that Valentine's future husband will consent, not
to live in this house, for that might not be pleasant for
the young people, but that you should live with them; so
that you and Valentine, who are so attached to each other,
would not be separated, and you would be able to pursue
exactly the same course of life which you have hitherto
done, and thus, instead of losing, you will be a gainer by
the change, as it will secure to you two children instead of
one, to watch over and comfort you."

Noirtier's look was furious; it was very evident that
something desperate was passing in the old man's mind, for a
cry of anger and grief rose in his throat, and not being
able to find vent in utterance, appeared almost to choke
him, for his face and lips turned quite purple with the
struggle. Villefort quietly opened a window, saying, "It is
very warm, and the heat affects M. Noirtier." He then
returned to his place, but did not sit down. "This
marriage," added Madame de Villefort, "is quite agreeable to
the wishes of M. d'Epinay and his family; besides, he had no
relations nearer than an uncle and aunt, his mother having
died at his birth, and his father having been assassinated
in 1815, that is to say, when he was but two years old; it
naturally followed that the child was permitted to choose
his own pursuits, and he has, therefore, seldom acknowledged
any other authority but that of his own will."

"That assassination was a mysterious affair," said
Villefort, "and the perpetrators have hitherto escaped
detection, although suspicion has fallen on the head of more
than one person." Noirtier made such an effort that his lips
expanded into a smile.

"Now," continued Villefort, "those to whom the guilt really
belongs, by whom the crime was committed, on whose heads the
justice of man may probably descend here, and the certain
judgment of God hereafter, would rejoice in the opportunity
thus afforded of bestowing such a peace-offering as
Valentine on the son of him whose life they so ruthlessly
destroyed." Noirtier had succeeded in mastering his emotion
more than could have been deemed possible with such an
enfeebled and shattered frame. "Yes, I understand," was the
reply contained in his look; and this look expressed a
feeling of strong indignation, mixed with profound contempt.
Villefort fully understood his father's meaning, and
answered by a slight shrug of his shoulders. He then
motioned to his wife to take leave. "Now sir," said Madame
de Villefort, "I must bid you farewell. Would you like me to
send Edward to you for a short time?"

It had been agreed that the old man should express his
approbation by closing his eyes, his refusal by winking them
several times, and if he had some desire or feeling to
express, he raised them to heaven. If he wanted Valentine,
he closed his right eye only, and if Barrois, the left. At
Madame de Villefort's proposition he instantly winked his
eyes. Provoked by a complete refusal, she bit her lip and
said, "Then shall I send Valentine to you?" The old man
closed his eyes eagerly, thereby intimating that such was
his wish. M. and Madame de Villefort bowed and left the
room, giving orders that Valentine should be summoned to her
grandfather's presence, and feeling sure that she would have
much to do to restore calmness to the perturbed spirit of
the invalid. Valentine, with a color still heightened by
emotion, entered the room just after her parents had quitted
it. One look was sufficient to tell her that her grandfather
was suffering, and that there was much on his mind which he
was wishing to communicate to her. "Dear grandpapa," cried
she, "what has happened? They have vexed you, and you are
angry?" The paralytic closed his eyes in token of assent.
"Who has displeased you? Is it my father?"

"No."

"Madame de Villefort?"

"No."

"Me?" The former sign was repeated. "Are you displeased with
me?" cried Valentine in astonishment. M. Noirtier again
closed his eyes. "And what have I done, dear grandpapa, that
you should be angry with me?" cried Valentine.

There was no answer, and she continued. "I have not seen you
all day. Has any one been speaking to you against me?"

"Yes," said the old man's look, with eagerness.

"Let me think a moment. I do assure you, grandpapa -- Ah --
M. and Madame de Villefort have just left this room, have
they not?"

"Yes."

"And it was they who told you something which made you
angry? What was it then? May I go and ask them, that I may
have the opportunity of making my peace with you?"

"No, no," said Noirtier's look.

"Ah, you frighten me. What can they have said?" and she
again tried to think what it could be.

"Ah, I know," said she, lowering her voice and going close
to the old man. "They have been speaking of my marriage, --
have they not?"

"Yes," replied the angry look.

"I understand; you are displeased at the silence I have
preserved on the subject. The reason of it was, that they
had insisted on my keeping the matter a secret, and begged
me not to tell you anything of it. They did not even
acquaint me with their intentions, and I only discovered
them by chance, that is why I have been so reserved with
you, dear grandpapa. Pray forgive me." But there was no look
calculated to reassure her; all it seemed to say was, "It is
not only your reserve which afflicts me."

"What is it, then?" asked the young girl. "Perhaps you think
I shall abandon you, dear grandpapa, and that I shall forget
you when I am married?"

"No."

"They told you, then, that M. d'Epinay consented to our all
living together?"

"Yes."

"Then why are you still vexed and grieved?" The old man's
eyes beamed with an expression of gentle affection. "Yes, I
understand," said Valentine; "it is because you love me."
The old man assented. "And you are afraid I shall be
unhappy?"

"Yes."

"You do not like M. Franz?" The eyes repeated several times,
"No, no, no."

"Then you are vexed with the engagement?"

"Yes."

"Well, listen," said Valentine, throwing herself on her
knees, and putting her arm round her grandfather's neck, "I
am vexed, too, for I do not love M. Franz d'Epinay." An
expression of intense joy illumined the old man's eyes.
"When I wished to retire into a convent, you remember how
angry you were with me?" A tear trembled in the eye of the
invalid. "Well," continued Valentine, "the reason of my
proposing it was that I might escape this hateful marriage,
which drives me to despair." Noirtier's breathing came thick
and short. "Then the idea of this marriage really grieves
you too? Ah, if you could but help me -- if we could both
together defeat their plan! But you are unable to oppose
them, -- you, whose mind is so quick, and whose will is so
firm are nevertheless, as weak and unequal to the contest as
I am myself. Alas, you, who would have been such a powerful
protector to me in the days of your health and strength, can
now only sympathize in my joys and sorrows, without being
able to take any active part in them. However, this is much,
and calls for gratitude and heaven has not taken away all my
blessings when it leaves me your sympathy and kindness."

At these words there appeared in Noirtier's eye an
expression of such deep meaning that the young girl thought
she could read these words there: "You are mistaken; I can
still do much for you."

"Do you think you can help me, dear grandpapa?" said
Valentine.

"Yes." Noirtier raised his eyes, it was the sign agreed on
between him and Valentine when he wanted anything.

"What is it you want, dear grandpapa?" said Valentine, and
she endeavored to recall to mind all the things which he
would be likely to need; and as the ideas presented
themselves to her mind, she repeated them aloud, then, --
finding that all her efforts elicited nothing but a constant
"No," -- she said, "Come, since this plan does not answer, I
will have recourse to another." She then recited all the
letters of the alphabet from A down to N. When she arrived
at that letter the paralytic made her understand that she
had spoken the initial letter of the thing he wanted. "Ah,"
said Valentine, "the thing you desire begins with the letter
N; it is with N that we have to do, then. Well, let me see,
what can you want that begins with N? Na -- Ne -- Ni -- No"
--

"Yes, yes, yes," said the old man's eye.

"Ah, it is No, then?"

"Yes." Valentine fetched a dictionary, which she placed on a
desk before Noirtier; she opened it, and, seeing that the
odd man's eye was thoroughly fixed on its pages, she ran her
finger quickly up and down the columns. During the six years
which had passed since Noirtier first fell into this sad
state, Valentine's powers of invention had been too often
put to the test not to render her expert in devising
expedients for gaining a knowledge of his wishes, and the
constant practice had so perfected her in the art that she
guessed the old man's meaning as quickly as if he himself
had been able to seek for what he wanted. At the word
"Notary," Noirtier made a sign to her to stop. "Notary,"
said she, "do you want a notary, dear grandpapa?" The old
man again signified that it was a notary he desired.

"You would wish a notary to be sent for then?" said
Valentine.

"Yes."

"Shall my father be informed of your wish?"

"Yes."

"Do you wish the notary to be sent for immediately?"

"Yes."

"Then they shall go for him directly, dear grandpapa. Is
that all you want?"

"Yes." Valentine rang the bell, and ordered the servant to
tell Monsieur or Madame de Villefort that they were
requested to come to M. Noirtier's room. "Are you satisfied
now?" inquired Valentine.

"Yes."

"I am sure you are; it is not very difficult to discover
that," -- and the young girl smiled on her grandfather, as
if he had been a child. M. de Villefort entered, followed by
Barrois. "What do you want me for, sir?" demanded he of the
paralytic.

"Sir," said Valentine, "my grandfather wishes for a notary."
At this strange and unexpected demand M. de Villefort and
his father exchanged looks. "Yes," motioned the latter, with
a firmness which seemed to declare that with the help of
Valentine and his old servant, who both knew what his wishes
were, he was quite prepared to maintain the contest. "Do you
wish for a notary?" asked Villefort.

"Yes."

"What to do?"

Noirtier made no answer. "What do you want with a notary?"
again repeated Villefort. The invalid's eye remained fixed,
by which expression he intended to intimate that his
resolution was unalterable. "Is it to do us some ill turn?
Do you think it is worth while?" said Villefort.

"Still," said Barrois, with the freedom and fidelity of an
old servant, "if M. Noirtier asks for a notary, I suppose he
really wishes for a notary; therefore I shall go at once and
fetch one." Barrois acknowledged no master but Noirtier, and
never allowed his desires in any way to be contradicted.

"Yes, I do want a notary," motioned the old man, shutting
his eyes with a look of defiance, which seemed to say, "and
I should like to see the person who dares to refuse my
request."

"You shall have a notary, as you absolutely wish for one,
sir," said Villefort; "but I shall explain to him your state
of health, and make excuses for you, for the scene cannot
fail of being a most ridiculous one."

"Never mind that," said Barrois; "I shall go and fetch a
notary, nevertheless," -- and the old servant departed
triumphantly on his mission.


Alexandre Dumas pere