We remember that the Abbe Busoni remained alone with
Noirtier in the chamber of death, and that the old man and
the priest were the sole guardians of the young girl's body.
Perhaps it was the Christian exhortations of the abbe,
perhaps his kind charity, perhaps his persuasive words,
which had restored the courage of Noirtier, for ever since
he had conversed with the priest his violent despair had
yielded to a calm resignation which surprised all who knew
his excessive affection for Valentine. M. de Villefort had
not seen his father since the morning of the death. The
whole establishment had been changed; another valet was
engaged for himself, a new servant for Noirtier, two women
had entered Madame de Villefort's service, -- in fact,
everywhere, to the concierge and coachmen, new faces were
presented to the different masters of the house, thus
widening the division which had always existed between the
members of the same family.
The assizes, also, were about to begin, and Villefort, shut
up in his room, exerted himself with feverish anxiety in
drawing up the case against the murderer of Caderousse. This
affair, like all those in which the Count of Monte Cristo
had interfered, caused a great sensation in Paris. The
proofs were certainly not convincing, since they rested upon
a few words written by an escaped galley-slave on his
death-bed, and who might have been actuated by hatred or
revenge in accusing his companion. But the mind of the
procureur was made up; he felt assured that Benedetto was
guilty, and he hoped by his skill in conducting this
aggravated case to flatter his self-love, which was about
the only vulnerable point left in his frozen heart.
The case was therefore prepared owing to the incessant labor
of Villefort, who wished it to be the first on the list in
the coming assizes. He had been obliged to seclude himself
more than ever, to evade the enormous number of applications
presented to him for the purpose of obtaining tickets of
admission to the court on the day of trial. And then so
short a time had elapsed since the death of poor Valentine,
and the gloom which overshadowed the house was so recent,
that no one wondered to see the father so absorbed in his
professional duties, which were the only means he had of
dissipating his grief.
Once only had Villefort seen his father; it was the day
after that upon which Bertuccio had paid his second visit to
Benedetto, when the latter was to learn his father's name.
The magistrate, harassed and fatigued, had descended to the
garden of his house, and in a gloomy mood, similar to that
in which Tarquin lopped off the tallest poppies, he began
knocking off with his cane the long and dying branches of
the rose-trees, which, placed along the avenue, seemed like
the spectres of the brilliant flowers which had bloomed in
the past season. More than once he had reached that part of
the garden where the famous boarded gate stood overlooking
the deserted enclosure, always returning by the same path,
to begin his walk again, at the same pace and with the same
gesture, when he accidentally turned his eyes towards the
house, whence he heard the noisy play of his son, who had
returned from school to spend the Sunday and Monday with his
mother. While doing so, he observed M. Noirtier at one of
the open windows, where the old man had been placed that he
might enjoy the last rays of the sun which yet yielded some
heat, and was now shining upon the dying flowers and red
leaves of the creeper which twined around the balcony.
The eye of the old man was riveted upon a spot which
Villefort could scarcely distinguish. His glance was so full
of hate, of ferocity, and savage impatience, that Villefort
turned out of the path he had been pursuing, to see upon
what person this dark look was directed. Then he saw beneath
a thick clump of linden-trees, which were nearly divested of
foliage, Madame de Villefort sitting with a book in her
hand, the perusal of which she frequently interrupted to
smile upon her son, or to throw back his elastic ball, which
he obstinately threw from the drawing-room into the garden.
Villefort became pale; he understood the old man's meaning.
Noirtier continued to look at the same object, but suddenly
his glance was transferred from the wife to the husband, and
Villefort himself had to submit to the searching
investigation of eyes, which, while changing their direction
and even their language, had lost none of their menacing
expression. Madame de Villefort, unconscious of the passions
that exhausted their fire over her head, at that moment held
her son's ball, and was making signs to him to reclaim it
with a kiss. Edward begged for a long while, the maternal
kiss probably not offering sufficient recompense for the
trouble he must take to obtain it; however at length he
decided, leaped out of the window into a cluster of
heliotropes and daisies, and ran to his mother, his forehead
streaming with perspiration. Madame de Villefort wiped his
forehead, pressed her lips upon it, and sent him back with
the ball in one hand and some bonbons in the other.
Villefort, drawn by an irresistible attraction, like that of
the bird to the serpent, walked towards the house. As he
approached it, Noirtier's gaze followed him, and his eyes
appeared of such a fiery brightness that Villefort felt them
pierce to the depths of his heart. In that earnest look
might be read a deep reproach, as well as a terrible menace.
Then Noirtier raised his eyes to heaven, as though to remind
his son of a forgotten oath. "It is well, sir," replied
Villefort from below, -- "it is well; have patience but one
day longer; what I have said I will do." Noirtier seemed to
be calmed by these words, and turned his eyes with
indifference to the other side. Villefort violently
unbuttoned his great-coat, which seemed to strangle him, and
passing his livid hand across his forehead, entered his
The night was cold and still; the family had all retired to
rest but Villefort, who alone remained up, and worked till
five o'clock in the morning, reviewing the last
interrogatories made the night before by the examining
magistrates, compiling the depositions of the witnesses, and
putting the finishing stroke to the deed of accusation,
which was one of the most energetic and best conceived of
any he had yet delivered.
The next day, Monday, was the first sitting of the assizes.
The morning dawned dull and gloomy, and Villefort saw the
dim gray light shine upon the lines he had traced in red
ink. The magistrate had slept for a short time while the
lamp sent forth its final struggles; its flickerings awoke
him, and he found his fingers as damp and purple as though
they had been dipped in blood. He opened the window; a
bright yellow streak crossed the sky, and seemed to divide
in half the poplars, which stood out in black relief on the
horizon. In the clover-fields beyond the chestnut-trees, a
lark was mounting up to heaven, while pouring out her clear
morning song. The damps of the dew bathed the head of
Villefort, and refreshed his memory. "To-day," he said with
an effort, -- "to-day the man who holds the blade of justice
must strike wherever there is guilt." Involuntarily his eyes
wandered towards the window of Noirtier's room, where he had
seen him the preceding night. The curtain was drawn, and yet
the image of his father was so vivid to his mind that he
addressed the closed window as though it had been open, and
as if through the opening he had beheld the menacing old
man. "Yes," he murmured, -- "yes, be satisfied."
His head dropped upon his chest, and in this position he
paced his study; then he threw himself, dressed as he was,
upon a sofa, less to sleep than to rest his limbs, cramped
with cold and study. By degrees every one awoke. Villefort,
from his study, heard the successive noises which accompany
the life of a house, -- the opening and shutting of doors,
the ringing of Madame de Villefort's bell, to summon the
waiting-maid, mingled with the first shouts of the child,
who rose full of the enjoyment of his age. Villefort also
rang; his new valet brought him the papers, and with them a
cup of chocolate.
"What are you bringing me?" said he.
"A cup of chocolate."
"I did not ask for it. Who has paid me this attention?"
"My mistress, sir. She said you would have to speak a great
deal in the murder case, and that you should take something
to keep up your strength;" and the valet placed the cup on
the table nearest to the sofa, which was, like all the rest,
covered with papers. The valet then left the room. Villefort
looked for an instant with a gloomy expression, then,
suddenly, taking it up with a nervous motion, he swallowed
its contents at one draught. It might have been thought that
he hoped the beverage would be mortal, and that he sought
for death to deliver him from a duty which he would rather
die than fulfil. He then rose, and paced his room with a
smile it would have been terrible to witness. The chocolate
was inoffensive, for M. de Villefort felt no effects. The
breakfast-hour arrived, but M. de Villefort was not at
table. The valet re-entered.
"Madame de Villefort wishes to remind you, sir," he said,
"that eleven o'clock has just struck, and that the trial
commences at twelve."
"Well," said Villefort, "what then?"
"Madame de Villefort is dressed; she is quite ready, and
wishes to know if she is to accompany you, sir?"
"To the Palais."
"What to do?"
"My mistress wishes much to be present at the trial."
"Ah," said Villefort, with a startling accent; "does she
wish that?" -- The man drew back and said, "If you wish to
go alone, sir, I will go and tell my mistress." Villefort
remained silent for a moment, and dented his pale cheeks
with his nails. "Tell your mistress," he at length answered,
"that I wish to speak to her, and I beg she will wait for me
in her own room."
"Then come to dress and shave me."
"Directly, sir." The valet re-appeared almost instantly,
and, having shaved his master, assisted him to dress
entirely in black. When he had finished, he said, --
"My mistress said she should expect you, sir, as soon as you
had finished dressing."
"I am going to her." And Villefort, with his papers under
his arm and hat in hand, directed his steps toward the
apartment of his wife. At the door he paused for a moment to
wipe his damp, pale brow. He then entered the room. Madame
de Villefort was sitting on an ottoman and impatiently
turning over the leaves of some newspapers and pamphlets
which young Edward, by way of amusing himself, was tearing
to pieces before his mother could finish reading them. She
was dressed to go out, her bonnet was placed beside her on a
chair, and her gloves were on her hands.
"Ah, here you are, monsieur," she said in her naturally calm
voice; "but how pale you are! Have you been working all
night? Why did you not come down to breakfast? Well, will
you take me, or shall I take Edward?" Madame de Villefort
had multiplied her questions in order to gain one answer,
but to all her inquiries M. de Villefort remained mute and
cold as a statue. "Edward," said Villefort, fixing an
imperious glance on the child, "go and play in the
drawing-room, my dear; I wish to speak to your mamma."
Madame de Villefort shuddered at the sight of that cold
countenance, that resolute tone, and the awfully strange
preliminaries. Edward raised his head, looked at his mother,
and then, finding that she did not confirm the order, began
cutting off the heads of his leaden soldiers.
"Edward," cried M. de Villefort, so harshly that the child
started up from the floor, "do you hear me? -- Go!" The
child, unaccustomed to such treatment, arose, pale and
trembling; it would be difficult to say whether his emotion
were caused by fear or passion. His father went up to him,
took him in his arms, and kissed his forehead. "Go," he
said: "go, my child." Edward ran out. M. de Villefort went
to the door, which he closed behind the child, and bolted.
"Dear me!" said the young woman, endeavoring to read her
husband's inmost thoughts, while a smile passed over her
countenance which froze the impassibility of Villefort;
"what is the matter?"
"Madame, where do you keep the poison you generally use?"
said the magistrate, without any introduction, placing
himself between his wife and the door.
Madame de Villefort must have experienced something of the
sensation of a bird which, looking up, sees the murderous
trap closing over its head. A hoarse, broken tone, which was
neither a cry nor a sigh, escaped from her, while she became
deadly pale. "Monsieur," she said, "I -- I do not understand
you." And, in her first paroxysm of terror, she had raised
herself from the sofa, in the next, stronger very likely
than the other, she fell down again on the cushions. "I
asked you," continued Villefort, in a perfectly calm tone,
"where you conceal the poison by the aid of which you have
killed my father-in-law, M. de Saint-Meran, my
mother-in-law, Madame de Saint-Meran, Barrois, and my
"Ah, sir," exclaimed Madame de Villefort, clasping her
hands, "what do you say?"
"It is not for you to interrogate, but to answer."
"Is it to the judge or to the husband?" stammered Madame de
Villefort. "To the judge -- to the judge, madame!" It was
terrible to behold the frightful pallor of that woman, the
anguish of her look, the trembling of her whole frame. "Ah,
sir," she muttered, "ah, sir," and this was all.
"You do not answer, madame!" exclaimed the terrible
interrogator. Then he added, with a smile yet more terrible
than his anger, "It is true, then; you do not deny it!" She
moved forward. "And you cannot deny it!" added Villefort,
extending his hand toward her, as though to seize her in the
name of justice. "You have accomplished these different
crimes with impudent address, but which could only deceive
those whose affections for you blinded them. Since the death
of Madame de Saint-Meran, I have known that a poisoner lived
in my house. M. d'Avrigny warned me of it. After the death
of Barrois my suspicions were directed towards an angel, --
those suspicions which, even when there is no crime, are
always alive in my heart; but after the death of Valentine,
there has been no doubt in my mind, madame, and not only in
mine, but in those of others; thus your crime, known by two
persons, suspected by many, will soon become public, and, as
I told you just now, you no longer speak to the husband, but
to the judge."
The young woman hid her face in her hands. "Oh, sir," she
stammered, "I beseech you, do not believe appearances."
"Are you, then, a coward?" cried Villefort, in a
contemptuous voice. "But I have always observed that
poisoners were cowards. Can you be a coward, -- you who have
had the courage to witness the death of two old men and a
young girl murdered by you?"
"Can you be a coward?" continued Villefort, with increasing
excitement, "you, who could count, one by one, the minutes
of four death agonies? You, who have arranged your infernal
plans, and removed the beverages with a talent and precision
almost miraculous? Have you, then, who have calculated
everything with such nicety, have you forgotten to calculate
one thing -- I mean where the revelation of your crimes will
lead you to? Oh, it is impossible -- you must have saved
some surer, more subtle and deadly poison than any other,
that you might escape the punishment that you deserve. You
have done this -- I hope so, at least." Madame de Villefort
stretched out her hands, and fell on her knees.
"I understand," he said, "you confess; but a confession made
to the judges, a confession made at the last moment,
extorted when the crime cannot be denied, diminishes not the
punishment inflicted on the guilty!"
"The punishment?" exclaimed Madame de Villefort, "the
punishment, monsieur? Twice you have pronounced that word!"
"Certainly. Did you hope to escape it because you were four
times guilty? Did you think the punishment would be withheld
because you are the wife of him who pronounces it? -- No,
madame, no; the scaffold awaits the poisoner, whoever she
may be, unless, as I just said, the poisoner has taken the
precaution of keeping for herself a few drops of her
deadliest potion." Madame de Villefort uttered a wild cry,
and a hideous and uncontrollable terror spread over her
distorted features. "Oh, do not fear the scaffold, madame,"
said the magistrate; "I will not dishonor you, since that
would be dishonor to myself; no, if you have heard me
distinctly, you will understand that you are not to die on
"No, I do not understand; what do you mean?" stammered the
unhappy woman, completely overwhelmed. "I mean that the wife
of the first magistrate in the capital shall not, by her
infamy, soil an unblemished name; that she shall not, with
one blow, dishonor her husband and her child."
"No, no -- oh, no!"
"Well, madame, it will be a laudable action on your part,
and I will thank you for it!"
"You will thank me -- for what?"
"For what you have just said."
"What did I say? Oh, my brain whirls; I no longer understand
anything. Oh, my God, my God!" And she rose, with her hair
dishevelled, and her lips foaming.
"Have you answered the question I put to you on entering the
room? -- where do you keep the poison you generally use,
madame?" Madame de Villefort raised her arms to heaven, and
convulsively struck one hand against the other. "No, no,"
she vociferated, "no, you cannot wish that!"
"What I do not wish, madame, is that you should perish on
the scaffold. Do you understand?" asked Villefort.
"Oh, mercy, mercy, monsieur!"
"What I require is, that justice be done. I am on the earth
to punish, madame," he added, with a flaming glance; "any
other woman, were it the queen herself, I would send to the
executioner; but to you I shall be merciful. To you I will
say, `Have you not, madame, put aside some of the surest,
deadliest, most speedy poison?'"
"Oh, pardon me, sir; let me live!"
"She is cowardly," said Villefort.
"Reflect that I am your wife!"
"You are a poisoner."
"In the name of heaven!"
"In the name of the love you once bore me!"
"In the name of our child! Ah, for the sake of our child,
let me live!"
"No, no, no, I tell you; one day, if I allow you to live,
you will perhaps kill him, as you have the others!"
"I? -- I kill my boy?" cried the distracted mother, rushing
toward Villefort; "I kill my son? Ha, ha, ha!" and a
frightful, demoniac laugh finished the sentence, which was
lost in a hoarse rattle. Madame de Villefort fell at her
husband's feet. He approached her. "Think of it, madame," he
said; "if, on my return, justice his not been satisfied, I
will denounce you with my own mouth, and arrest you with my
own hands!" She listened, panting, overwhelmed, crushed; her
eye alone lived, and glared horribly. "Do you understand
me?" he said. "I am going down there to pronounce the
sentence of death against a murderer. If I find you alive on
my return, you shall sleep to-night in the conciergerie."
Madame de Villefort sighed; her nerves gave way, and she
sunk on the carpet. The king's attorney seemed to experience
a sensation of pity; he looked upon her less severely, and,
bowing to her, said slowly, "Farewell, madame, farewell!"
That farewell struck Madame de Villefort like the
executioner's knife. She fainted. The procureur went out,
after having double-locked the door.