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Chapter 74


CHAPTER 74
The Villefort Family Vault.

Two days after, a considerable crowd was assembled, towards
ten o'clock in the morning, around the door of M. de
Villefort's house, and a long file of mourning-coaches and
private carriages extended along the Faubourg Saint-Honore
and the Rue de la Pepiniere. Among them was one of a very
singular form, which appeared to have come from a distance.
It was a kind of covered wagon, painted black, and was one
of the first to arrive. Inquiry was made, and it was
ascertained that, by a strange coincidence, this carriage
contained the corpse of the Marquis de Saint-Meran, and that
those who had come thinking to attend one funeral would
follow two. Their number was great. The Marquis de
Saint-Meran, one of the most zealous and faithful
dignitaries of Louis XVIII. and King Charles X., had
preserved a great number of friends, and these, added to the
personages whom the usages of society gave Villefort a claim
on, formed a considerable body.

Due information was given to the authorities, and permission
obtained that the two funerals should take place at the same
time. A second hearse, decked with the same funereal pomp,
was brought to M. de Villefort's door, and the coffin
removed into it from the post-wagon. The two bodies were to
be interred in the cemetery of Pere-la-Chaise, where M. de
Villefort had long since had a tomb prepared for the
reception of his family. The remains of poor Renee were
already deposited there, and now, after ten years of
separation, her father and mother were to be reunited with
her. The Parisians, always curious, always affected by
funereal display, looked on with religious silence while the
splendid procession accompanied to their last abode two of
the number of the old aristocracy -- the greatest protectors
of commerce and sincere devotees to their principles. In one
of the mourning-coaches Beauchamp, Debray, and
Chateau-Renaud were talking of the very sudden death of the
marchioness. "I saw Madame de Saint-Meran only last year at
Marseilles, when I was coming back from Algiers," said
Chateau-Renaud; "she looked like a woman destined to live to
be a hundred years old, from her apparent sound health and
great activity of mind and body. How old was she?"

"Franz assured me," replied Albert, "that she was sixty-six
years old. But she has not died of old age, but of grief; it
appears that since the death of the marquis, which affected
her very deeply, she has not completely recovered her
reason."

"But of what disease, then, did she die?" asked Debray.

"It is said to have been a congestion of the brain, or
apoplexy, which is the same thing, is it not?"

"Nearly."

"It is difficult to believe that it was apoplexy," said
Beauchamp. "Madame de Saint-Meran, whom I once saw, was
short, of slender form, and of a much more nervous than
sanguine temperament; grief could hardly produce apoplexy in
such a constitution as that of Madame de Saint-Meran."

"At any rate," said Albert, "whatever disease or doctor may
have killed her, M. de Villefort, or rather, Mademoiselle
Valentine, -- or, still rather, our friend Franz, inherits a
magnificent fortune, amounting, I believe, to 80,000 livres
per annum."

"And this fortune will be doubled at the death of the old
Jacobin, Noirtier."

"That is a tenacious old grandfather," said Beauchamp.
"Tenacem propositi virum. I think he must have made an
agreement with death to outlive all his heirs, and he
appears likely to succeed. He resembles the old
Conventionalist of '93, who said to Napoleon, in 1814, `You
bend because your empire is a young stem, weakened by rapid
growth. Take the Republic for a tutor; let us return with
renewed strength to the battle-field, and I promise you
500,000 soldiers, another Marengo, and a second Austerlitz.
Ideas do not become extinct, sire; they slumber sometimes,
but only revive the stronger before they sleep entirely.'
Ideas and men appeared the same to him. One thing only
puzzles me, namely, how Franz d'Epinay will like a
grandfather who cannot be separated from his wife. But where
is Franz?"

"In the first carriage, with M. de Villefort, who considers
him already as one of the family."

Such was the conversation in almost all the carriages; these
two sudden deaths, so quickly following each other,
astonished every one, but no one suspected the terrible
secret which M. d'Avrigny had communicated, in his nocturnal
walk to M. de Villefort. They arrived in about an hour at
the cemetery; the weather was mild, but dull, and in harmony
with the funeral ceremony. Among the groups which flocked
towards the family vault, Chateau-Renaud recognized Morrel,
who had come alone in a cabriolet, and walked silently along
the path bordered with yew-trees. "You here?" said
Chateau-Renaud, passing his arms through the young
captain's; "are you a friend of Villefort's? How is it that
I have never met you at his house?"

"I am no acquaintance of M. de Villefort's." answered
Morrel, "but I was of Madame de Saint-Meran." Albert came up
to them at this moment with Franz.

"The time and place are but ill-suited for an introduction."
said Albert; "but we are not superstitious. M. Morrel, allow
me to present to you M. Franz d'Epinay, a delightful
travelling companion, with whom I made the tour of Italy. My
dear Franz, M. Maximilian Morrel, an excellent friend I have
acquired in your absence, and whose name you will hear me
mention every time I make any allusion to affection, wit, or
amiability." Morrel hesitated for a moment; he feared it
would be hypocritical to accost in a friendly manner the man
whom he was tacitly opposing, but his oath and the gravity
of the circumstances recurred to his memory; he struggled to
conceal his emotion and bowed to Franz. "Mademoiselle de
Villefort is in deep sorrow, is she not?" said Debray to
Franz.

"Extremely," replied he; "she looked so pale this morning, I
scarcely knew her." These apparently simple words pierced
Morrel to the heart. This man had seen Valentine, and spoken
to her! The young and high-spirited officer required all his
strength of mind to resist breaking his oath. He took the
arm of Chateau-Renaud, and turned towards the vault, where
the attendants had already placed the two coffins. "This is
a magnificent habitation," said Beauchamp, looking towards
the mausoleum; "a summer and winter palace. You will, in
turn, enter it, my dear d'Epinay, for you will soon be
numbered as one of the family. I, as a philosopher, should
like a little country-house, a cottage down there under the
trees, without so many free-stones over my poor body. In
dying, I will say to those around me what Voltaire wrote to
Piron: `Eo rus, and all will be over.' But come, Franz, take
courage, your wife is an heiress."

"Indeed, Beauchamp, you are unbearable. Politics has made
you laugh at everything, and political men have made you
disbelieve everything. But when you have the honor of
associating with ordinary men, and the pleasure of leaving
politics for a moment, try to find your affectionate heart,
which you leave with your stick when you go to the Chamber."

"But tell me," said Beauchamp, "what is life? Is it not a
hall in Death's anteroom?"

"I am prejudiced against Beauchamp," said Albert, drawing
Franz away, and leaving the former to finish his
philosophical dissertation with Debray. The Villefort vault
formed a square of white stones, about twenty feet high; an
interior partition separated the two families, and each
apartment had its entrance door. Here were not, as in other
tombs, ignoble drawers, one above another, where thrift
bestows its dead and labels them like specimens in a museum;
all that was visible within the bronze gates was a
gloomy-looking room, separated by a wall from the vault
itself. The two doors before mentioned were in the middle of
this wall, and enclosed the Villefort and Saint-Meran
coffins. There grief might freely expend itself without
being disturbed by the trifling loungers who came from a
picnic party to visit Pere-la-Chaise, or by lovers who make
it their rendezvous.

The two coffins were placed on trestles previously prepared
for their reception in the right-hand crypt belonging to the
Saint-Meran family. Villefort, Franz, and a few near
relatives alone entered the sanctuary.

As the religious ceremonies had all been performed at the
door, and there was no address given, the party all
separated; Chateau-Renaud, Albert, and Morrel, went one way,
and Debray and Beauchamp the other. Franz remained with M.
de Villefort; at the gate of the cemetery Morrel made an
excuse to wait; he saw Franz and M. de Villefort get into
the same mourning coach, and thought this meeting forboded
evil. He then returned to Paris, and although in the same
carriage with Chateau-Renaud and Albert, he did not hear one
word of their conversation. As Franz was about to take leave
of M. de Villefort, "When shall I see you again?" said the
latter.

"At what time you please, sir," replied Franz.

"As soon as possible."

"I am at your command, sir; shall we return together?"

"If not unpleasant to you."

"On the contrary, I shall feel much pleasure." Thus, the
future father and son-in-law stepped into the same carriage,
and Morrel, seeing them pass, became uneasy. Villefort and
Franz returned to the Faubourg Saint-Honore. The procureur,
without going to see either his wife or his daughter, went
at once to his study, and, offering the young man a chair,
-- "M. d'Epinay," said he, "allow me to remind you at this
moment, -- which is perhaps not so ill-chosen as at first
sight may appear, for obedience to the wishes of the
departed is the first offering which should be made at their
tomb, -- allow me then to remind you of the wish expressed
by Madame de Saint-Meran on her death-bed, that Valentine's
wedding might not be deferred. You know the affairs of the
deceased are in perfect order, and her will bequeaths to
Valentine the entire property of the Saint-Meran family; the
notary showed me the documents yesterday, which will enable
us to draw up the contract immediately. You may call on the
notary, M. Deschamps, Place Beauveau, Faubourg Saint-Honore,
and you have my authority to inspect those deeds."

"Sir," replied M. d'Epinay, "it is not, perhaps, the moment
for Mademoiselle Valentine, who is in deep distress, to
think of a husband; indeed, I fear" --

"Valentine will have no greater pleasure than that of
fulfilling her grandmother's last injunctions; there will be
no obstacle from that quarter, I assure you."

"In that case," replied Franz, "as I shall raise none, you
may make arrangements when you please; I have pledged my
word, and shall feel pleasure and happiness in adhering to
it."

"Then," said Villefort, "nothing further is required. The
contract was to have been signed three days since; we shall
find it all ready, and can sign it to-day."

"But the mourning?" said Franz, hesitating.

"Don't be uneasy on that score," replied Villefort; "no
ceremony will be neglected in my house. Mademoiselle de
Villefort may retire during the prescribed three months to
her estate of Saint-Meran; I say hers, for she inherits it
to-day. There, after a few days, if you like, the civil
marriage shall be celebrated without pomp or ceremony.
Madame de Saint-Meran wished her daughter should be married
there. When that in over, you, sir, can return to Paris,
while your wife passes the time of her mourning with her
mother-in-law."

"As you please, sir," said Franz.

"Then," replied M. de Villefort, "have the kindness to wait
half an hour; Valentine shall come down into the
drawing-room. I will send for M. Deschamps; we will read and
sign the contract before we separate, and this evening
Madame de Villefort; shall accompany Valentine to her
estate, where we will rejoin them in a week."

"Sir," said Franz, "I have one request to make."

"What is it?"

"I wish Albert de Morcerf and Raoul de Chateau-Renaud to be
present at this signature; you know they are my witnesses."

"Half an hour will suffice to apprise them; will you go for
them yourself, or shall you send?"

"I prefer going, sir."

"I shall expect you, then, in half an hour, baron, and
Valentine will be ready." Franz bowed and left the room.
Scarcely had the door closed, when M. de Villefort sent to
tell Valentine to be ready in the drawing-room in half an
hour, as he expected the notary and M. d'Epinay and his
witnesses. The news caused a great sensation throughout the
house; Madame de Villefort would not believe it, and
Valentine was thunderstruck. She looked around for help, and
would have gone down to her grandfather's room, but on the
stairs she met M. de Villefort, who took her arm and led her
into the drawing-room. In the anteroom, Valentine met
Barrois, and looked despairingly at the old servant. A
moment later, Madame de Villefort entered the drawing-room
with her little Edward. It was evident that she had shared
the grief of the family, for she was pale and looked
fatigued. She sat down, took Edward on her knees, and from
time to time pressed this child, on whom her affections
appeared centred, almost convulsively to her bosom. Two
carriages were soon heard to enter the court yard. One was
the notary's; the other, that of Franz and his friends. In a
moment the whole party was assembled. Valentine was so pale
one might trace the blue veins from her temples, round her
eyes and down her cheeks. Franz was deeply affected.
Chateau-Renaud and Albert looked at each other with
amazement; the ceremony which was just concluded had not
appeared more sorrowful than did that which was about to
begin. Madame de Villefort had placed herself in the shadow
behind a velvet curtain, and as she constantly bent over her
child, it was difficult to read the expression of her face.
M. de Villefort was, as usual, unmoved.

The notary, after having according to the customary method
arranged the papers on the table, taken his place in an
armchair, and raised his spectacles, turned towards Franz:

"Are you M. Franz de Quesnel, baron d'Epinay?" asked he,
although he knew it perfectly.

"Yes, sir," replied Franz. The notary bowed. "I have, then,
to inform you, sir, at the request of M. de Villefort, that
your projected marriage with Mademoiselle de Villefort has
changed the feeling of M. Noirtier towards his grandchild,
and that he disinherits her entirely of the fortune he would
have left her. Let me hasten to add," continued he, "that
the testator, having only the right to alienate a part of
his fortune, and having alienated it all, the will will not
bear scrutiny, and is declared null and void."

"Yes." said Villefort; "but I warn M. d'Epinay, that during
my life-time my father's will shall never be questioned, my
position forbidding any doubt to be entertained."

"Sir," said Franz, "I regret much that such a question has
been raised in the presence of Mademoiselle Valentine; I
have never inquired the amount of her fortune, which,
however limited it may be, exceeds mine. My family has
sought consideration in this alliance with M. de Villefort;
all I seek is happiness." Valentine imperceptibly thanked
him, while two silent tears rolled down her cheeks.
"Besides, sir," said Villefort, addressing himself to his
future son-in-law, "excepting the loss of a portion of your
hopes, this unexpected will need not personally wound you;
M. Noirtier's weakness of mind sufficiently explains it. It
is not because Mademoiselle Valentine is going to marry you
that he is angry, but because she will marry, a union with
any other would have caused him the same sorrow. Old age is
selfish, sir, and Mademoiselle de Villefort has been a
faithful companion to M. Noirtier, which she cannot be when
she becomes the Baroness d'Epinay. My father's melancholy
state prevents our speaking to him on any subjects, which
the weakness of his mind would incapacitate him from
understanding, and I am perfectly convinced that at the
present time, although, he knows that his granddaughter is
going to be married, M. Noirtier has even forgotten the name
of his intended grandson." M. de Villefort had scarcely said
this, when the door opened, and Barrois appeared.

"Gentlemen," said he, in a tone strangely firm for a servant
speaking to his masters under such solemn circumstances, --
"gentlemen, M. Noirtier de Villefort wishes to speak
immediately to M. Franz de Quesnel, baron d'Epinay;" he, as
well as the notary, that there might be no mistake in the
person, gave all his titles to the bride-groom elect.

Villefort started, Madame de Villefort let her son slip from
her knees, Valentine rose, pale and dumb as a statue. Albert
and Chateau-Renaud exchanged a second look, more full of
amazement than the first. The notary looked at Villefort.
"It is impossible," said the procureur. "M. d'Epinay cannot
leave the drawing-room at present."

"It is at this moment," replied Barrois with the same
firmness, "that M. Noirtier, my master, wishes to speak on
important subjects to M. Franz d'Epinay."

"Grandpapa Noirtier can speak now, then," said Edward, with
his habitual quickness. However, his remark did not make
Madame de Villefort even smile, so much was every mind
engaged, and so solemn was the situation. Astonishment was
at its height. Something like a smile was perceptible on
Madame de Villefort's countenance. Valentine instinctively
raised her eyes, as if to thank heaven.

"Pray go, Valentine," said; M. de Villefort, "and see what
this new fancy of your grandfather's is." Valentine rose
quickly, and was hastening joyfully towards the door, when
M. de Villefort altered his intention.

"Stop," said he; "I will go with you."

"Excuse me, sir," said Franz, "since M. Noirtier sent for
me, I am ready to attend to his wish; besides, I shall be
happy to pay my respects to him, not having yet had the
honor of doing so."

"Pray, sir," said Villefort with marked uneasiness, "do not
disturb yourself."

"Forgive me, sir," said Franz in a resolute tone. "I would
not lose this opportunity of proving to M. Noirtier how
wrong it would be of him to encourage feelings of dislike to
me, which I am determined to conquer, whatever they may be,
by my devotion." And without listening to Villefort he
arose, and followed Valentine, who was running down-stairs
with the joy of a shipwrecked mariner who finds a rock to
cling to. M. de Villefort followed them. Chateau-Renaud and
Morcerf exchanged a third look of still increasing wonder.


Alexandre Dumas pere