No sooner had Villefort left the salon, than he assumed the
grave air of a man who holds the balance of life and death
in his hands. Now, in spite of the mobility of his
countenance, the command of which, like a finished actor, he
had carefully studied before the glass, it was by no means
easy for him to assume an air of judicial severity. Except
the recollection of the line of politics his father had
adopted, and which might interfere, unless he acted with the
greatest prudence, with his own career, Gerard de Villefort
was as happy as a man could be. Already rich, he held a high
official situation, though only twenty-seven. He was about
to marry a young and charming woman, whom he loved, not
passionately, but reasonably, as became a deputy attorney of
the king; and besides her personal attractions, which were
very great, Mademoiselle de Saint-Meran's family possessed
considerable political influence, which they would, of
course, exert in his favor. The dowry of his wife amounted
to fifty thousand crowns, and he had, besides, the prospect
of seeing her fortune increased to half a million at her
father's death. These considerations naturally gave
Villefort a feeling of such complete felicity that his mind
was fairly dazzled in its contemplation.
At the door he met the commissary of police, who was waiting
for him. The sight of this officer recalled Villefort from
the third heaven to earth; he composed his face, as we have
before described, and said, "I have read the letter, sir,
and you have acted rightly in arresting this man; now inform
me what you have discovered concerning him and the
"We know nothing as yet of the conspiracy, monsieur; all the
papers found have been sealed up and placed on your desk.
The prisoner himself is named Edmond Dantes, mate on board
the three-master the Pharaon, trading in cotton with
Alexandria and Smyrna, and belonging to Morrel & Son, of
"Before he entered the merchant service, had he ever served
in the marines?"
"Oh, no, monsieur, he is very young."
"Nineteen or twenty at the most."
At this moment, and as Villefort had arrived at the corner
of the Rue des Conseils, a man, who seemed to have been
waiting for him, approached; it was M. Morrel.
"Ah, M. de Villefort," cried he, "I am delighted to see you.
Some of your people have committed the strangest mistake --
they have just arrested Edmond Dantes, mate of my vessel."
"I know it, monsieur," replied Villefort, "and I am now
going to examine him."
"Oh," said Morrel, carried away by his friendship, "you do
not know him, and I do. He is the most estimable, the most
trustworthy creature in the world, and I will venture to
say, there is not a better seaman in all the merchant
service. Oh, M. de Villefort, I beseech your indulgence for
Villefort, as we have seen, belonged to the aristocratic
party at Marseilles, Morrel to the plebeian; the first was a
royalist, the other suspected of Bonapartism. Villefort
looked disdainfully at Morrel, and replied, --
"You are aware, monsieur, that a man may be estimable and
trustworthy in private life, and the best seaman in the
merchant service, and yet be, politically speaking, a great
criminal. Is it not true?"
The magistrate laid emphasis on these words, as if he wished
to apply them to the owner himself, while his eyes seemed to
plunge into the heart of one who, interceding for another,
had himself need of indulgence. Morrel reddened, for his own
conscience was not quite clear on politics; besides, what
Dantes had told him of his interview with the grand-marshal,
and what the emperor had said to him, embarrassed him. He
replied, however, --
"I entreat you, M. de Villefort, be, as you always are, kind
and equitable, and give him back to us soon." This give us
sounded revolutionary in the deputy's ears.
"Ah, ah," murmured he, "is Dantes then a member of some
Carbonari society, that his protector thus employs the
collective form? He was, if I recollect, arrested in a
tavern, in company with a great many others." Then he added,
"Monsieur, you may rest assured I shall perform my duty
impartially, and that if he be innocent you shall not have
appealed to me in vain; should he, however, be guilty, in
this present epoch, impunity would furnish a dangerous
example, and I must do my duty."
As he had now arrived at the door of his own house, which
adjoined the Palais de Justice, he entered, after having,
coldly saluted the shipowner, who stood, as if petrified, on
the spot where Villefort had left him. The ante-chamber was
full of police agents and gendarmes, in the midst of whom,
carefully watched, but calm and smiling, stood the prisoner.
Villefort traversed the ante-chamber, cast a side glance at
Dantes, and taking a packet which a gendarme offered him,
disappeared, saying, "Bring in the prisoner."
Rapid as had been Villefort's glance, it had served to give
him an idea of the man he was about to interrogate. He had
recognized intelligence in the high forehead, courage in the
dark eye and bent brow, and frankness in the thick lips that
showed a set of pearly teeth. Villefort's first impression
was favorable; but he had been so often warned to mistrust
first impulses, that he applied the maxim to the impression,
forgetting the difference between the two words. He stifled,
therefore, the feelings of compassion that were rising,
composed his features, and sat down, grim and sombre, at his
desk. An instant after Dantes entered. He was pale, but calm
and collected, and saluting his judge with easy politeness,
looked round for a seat, as if he had been in M. Morrel's
salon. It was then that he encountered for the first time
Villefort's look, -- that look peculiar to the magistrate,
who, while seeming to read the thoughts of others, betrays
nothing of his own.
"Who and what are you?" demanded Villefort, turning over a
pile of papers, containing information relative to the
prisoner, that a police agent had given to him on his entry,
and that, already, in an hour's time, had swelled to
voluminous proportions, thanks to the corrupt espionage of
which "the accused" is always made the victim.
"My name is Edmond Dantes," replied the young man calmly; "I
am mate of the Pharaon, belonging to Messrs. Morrel & Son."
"Your age?" continued Villefort.
"Nineteen," returned Dantes.
"What were you doing at the moment you were arrested?"
"I was at the festival of my marriage, monsieur," said the
young man, his voice slightly tremulous, so great was the
contrast between that happy moment and the painful ceremony
he was now undergoing; so great was the contrast between the
sombre aspect of M. de Villefort and the radiant face of
"You were at the festival of your marriage?" said the
deputy, shuddering in spite of himself.
"Yes, monsieur; I am on the point of marrying a young girl I
have been attached to for three years." Villefort, impassive
as he was, was struck with this coincidence; and the
tremulous voice of Dantes, surprised in the midst of his
happiness, struck a sympathetic chord in his own bosom -- he
also was on the point of being married, and he was summoned
from his own happiness to destroy that of another. "This
philosophic reflection," thought he, "will make a great
sensation at M. de Saint-Meran's;" and he arranged mentally,
while Dantes awaited further questions, the antithesis by
which orators often create a reputation for eloquence. When
this speech was arranged, Villefort turned to Dantes.
"Go on, sir," said he.
"What would you have me say?"
"Give all the information in your power."
"Tell me on which point you desire information, and I will
tell all I know; only," added he, with a smile, "I warn you
I know very little."
"Have you served under the usurper?"
"I was about to be mustered into the Royal Marines when he
"It is reported your political opinions are extreme," said
Villefort, who had never heard anything of the kind, but was
not sorry to make this inquiry, as if it were an accusation.
"My political opinions!" replied Dantes. "Alas, sir, I never
had any opinions. I am hardly nineteen; I know nothing; I
have no part to play. If I obtain the situation I desire, I
shall owe it to M. Morrel. Thus all my opinions -- I will
not say public, but private -- are confined to these three
sentiment, -- I love my father, I respect M. Morrel, and I
adore Mercedes. This, sir, is all I can tell you, and you
see how uninteresting it is." As Dantes spoke, Villefort
gazed at his ingenuous and open countenance, and recollected
the words of Renee, who, without knowing who the culprit
was, had besought his indulgence for him. With the deputy's
knowledge of crime and criminals, every word the young man
uttered convinced him more and more of his innocence. This
lad, for he was scarcely a man, -- simple, natural, eloquent
with that eloquence of the heart never found when sought
for; full of affection for everybody, because he was happy,
and because happiness renders even the wicked good --
extended his affection even to his judge, spite of
Villefort's severe look and stern accent. Dantes seemed full
"Pardieu," said Villefort, "he is a noble fellow. I hope I
shall gain Renee's favor easily by obeying the first command
she ever imposed on me. I shall have at least a pressure of
the hand in public, and a sweet kiss in private." Full of
this idea, Villefort's face became so joyous, that when he
turned to Dantes, the latter, who had watched the change on
his physiognomy, was smiling also.
"Sir," said Villefort, "have you any enemies, at least, that
"I have enemies?" replied Dantes; "my position is not
sufficiently elevated for that. As for my disposition, that
is, perhaps, somewhat too hasty; but I have striven to
repress it. I have had ten or twelve sailors under me, and
if you question them, they will tell you that they love and
respect me, not as a father, for I am too young, but as an
"But you may have excited jealousy. You are about to become
captain at nineteen -- an elevated post; you are about to
marry a pretty girl, who loves you; and these two pieces of
good fortune may have excited the envy of some one."
"You are right; you know men better than I do, and what you
say may possibly be the case, I confess; but if such persons
are among my acquaintances I prefer not to know it, because
then I should be forced to hate them."
"You are wrong; you should always strive to see clearly
around you. You seem a worthy young man; I will depart from
the strict line of my duty to aid you in discovering the
author of this accusation. Here is the paper; do you know
the writing?" As he spoke, Villefort drew the letter from
his pocket, and presented it to Dantes. Dantes read it. A
cloud passed over his brow as he said, --
"No, monsieur, I do not know the writing, and yet it is
tolerably plain. Whoever did it writes well. I am very
fortunate," added he, looking gratefully at Villefort, "to
be examined by such a man as you; for this envious person is
a real enemy." And by the rapid glance that the young man's
eyes shot forth, Villefort saw how much energy lay hid
beneath this mildness.
"Now," said the deputy, "answer me frankly, not as a
prisoner to a judge, but as one man to another who takes an
interest in him, what truth is there in the accusation
contained in this anonymous letter?" And Villefort threw
disdainfully on his desk the letter Dantes had just given
back to him.
"None at all. I will tell you the real facts. I swear by my
honor as a sailor, by my love for Mercedes, by the life of
my father" --
"Speak, monsieur," said Villefort. Then, internally, "If
Renee could see me, I hope she would be satisfied, and would
no longer call me a decapitator."
"Well, when we quitted Naples, Captain Leclere was attacked
with a brain fever. As we had no doctor on board, and he was
so anxious to arrive at Elba, that he would not touch at any
other port, his disorder rose to such a height, that at the
end of the third day, feeling he was dying, he called me to
him. `My dear Dantes,' said he, `swear to perform what I am
going to tell you, for it is a matter of the deepest
"`I swear, captain,' replied I.
"`Well, as after my death the command devolves on you as
mate, assume the command, and bear up for the Island of
Elba, disembark at Porto-Ferrajo, ask for the grand-marshal,
give him this letter -- perhaps they will give you another
letter, and charge you with a commission. You will
accomplish what I was to have done, and derive all the honor
and profit from it.'
"`I will do it, captain; but perhaps I shall not be admitted
to the grand marshal's presence as easily as you expect?'
"`Here is a ring that will obtain audience of him, and
remove every difficulty,' said the captain. At these words
he gave me a ring. It was time -- two hours after he was
delirious; the next day he died."
"And what did you do then?"
"What I ought to have done, and what every one would have
done in my place. Everywhere the last requests of a dying
man are sacred; but with a sailor the last requests of his
superior are commands. I sailed for the Island of Elba,
where I arrived the next day; I ordered everybody to remain
on board, and went on shore alone. As I had expected, I
found some difficulty in obtaining access to the
grand-marshal; but I sent the ring I had received from the
captain to him, and was instantly admitted. He questioned me
concerning Captain Leclere's death; and, as the latter had
told me, gave me a letter to carry on to a person in Paris.
I undertook it because it was what my captain had bade me
do. I landed here, regulated the affairs of the vessel, and
hastened to visit my affianced bride, whom I found more
lovely than ever. Thanks to M. Morrel, all the forms were
got over; in a word I was, as I told you, at my
marriage-feast; and I should have been married in an hour,
and to-morrow I intended to start for Paris, had I not been
arrested on this charge which you as well as I now see to be
"Ah," said Villefort, "this seems to me the truth. If you
have been culpable, it was imprudence, and this imprudence
was in obedience to the orders of your captain. Give up this
letter you have brought from Elba, and pass your word you
will appear should you be required, and go and rejoin your
"I am free, then, sir?" cried Dantes joyfully.
"Yes; but first give me this letter."
"You have it already, for it was taken from me with some
others which I see in that packet."
"Stop a moment," said the deputy, as Dantes took his hat and
gloves. "To whom is it addressed?"
"To Monsieur Noirtier, Rue Coq-Heron, Paris." Had a
thunderbolt fallen into the room, Villefort could not have
been more stupefied. He sank into his seat, and hastily
turning over the packet, drew forth the fatal letter, at
which he glanced with an expression of terror.
"M. Noirtier, Rue Coq-Heron, No. 13," murmured he, growing
"Yes," said Dantes; "do you know him?"
"No," replied Villefort; "a faithful servant of the king
does not know conspirators."
"It is a conspiracy, then?" asked Dantes, who after
believing himself free, now began to feel a tenfold alarm.
"I have, however, already told you, sir, I was entirely
ignorant of the contents of the letter."
"Yes; but you knew the name of the person to whom it was
addressed," said Villefort.
"I was forced to read the address to know to whom to give
"Have you shown this letter to any one?" asked Villefort,
becoming still more pale.
"To no one, on my honor."
"Everybody is ignorant that you are the bearer of a letter
from the Island of Elba, and addressed to M. Noirtier?"
"Everybody, except the person who gave it to me."
"And that was too much, far too much," murmured Villefort.
Villefort's brow darkened more and more, his white lips and
clinched teeth filled Dantes with apprehension. After
reading the letter, Villefort covered his face with his
"Oh," said Dantes timidly, "what is the matter?" Villefort
made no answer, but raised his head at the expiration of a
few seconds, and again perused the letter.
"And you say that you are ignorant of the contents of this
"I give you my word of honor, sir," said Dantes; "but what
is the matter? You are ill -- shall I ring for assistance?
-- shall I call?"
"No," said Villefort, rising hastily; "stay where you are.
It is for me to give orders here, and not you."
"Monsieur," replied Dantes proudly, "it was only to summon
assistance for you."
"I want none; it was a temporary indisposition. Attend to
yourself; answer me." Dantes waited, expecting a question,
but in vain. Villefort fell back on his chair, passed his
hand over his brow, moist with perspiration, and, for the
third time, read the letter.
"Oh, if he knows the contents of this!" murmured he, "and
that Noirtier is the father of Villefort, I am lost!" And he
fixed his eyes upon Edmond as if he would have penetrated
"Oh, it is impossible to doubt it," cried he, suddenly.
"In heaven's name!" cried the unhappy young man, "if you
doubt me, question me; I will answer you." Villefort made a
violent effort, and in a tone he strove to render firm, --
"Sir," said he, "I am no longer able, as I had hoped, to
restore you immediately to liberty; before doing so, I must
consult the trial justice; what my own feeling is you
"Oh, monsieur," cried Dantes, "you have been rather a friend
than a judge."
"Well, I must detain you some time longer, but I will strive
to make it as short as possible. The principal charge
against you is this letter, and you see" -- Villefort
approached the fire, cast it in, and waited until it was
"You see, I destroy it?"
"Oh," exclaimed Dantes, "you are goodness itself."
"Listen," continued Villefort; "you can now have confidence
in me after what I have done."
"Oh, command, and I will obey."
"Listen; this is not a command, but advice I give you."
"Speak, and I will follow your advice."
"I shall detain you until this evening in the Palais de
Justice. Should any one else interrogate you, say to him
what you have said to me, but do not breathe a word of this
"I promise." It was Villefort who seemed to entreat, and the
prisoner who reassured him.
"You see," continued he, glancing toward the grate, where
fragments of burnt paper fluttered in the flames, "the
letter is destroyed; you and I alone know of its existence;
should you, therefore, be questioned, deny all knowledge of
it -- deny it boldly, and you are saved."
"Be satisfied; I will deny it."
"It was the only letter you had?"
"I swear it."
Villefort rang. A police agent entered. Villefort whispered
some words in his ear, to which the officer replied by a
motion of his head.
"Follow him," said Villefort to Dantes. Dantes saluted
Villefort and retired. Hardly had the door closed when
Villefort threw himself half-fainting into a chair.
"Alas, alas," murmured he, "if the procureur himself had
been at Marseilles I should have been ruined. This accursed
letter would have destroyed all my hopes. Oh, my father,
must your past career always interfere with my successes?"
Suddenly a light passed over his face, a smile played round
his set mouth, and his haggard eyes were fixed in thought.
"This will do," said he, "and from this letter, which might
have ruined me, I will make my fortune. Now to the work I
have in hand." And after having assured himself that the
prisoner was gone, the deputy procureur hastened to the
house of his betrothed.