THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO
yourself during the Reign of Terror, and had well-nigh lost
his head on the same scaffold on which your father
"True," replied the marquise, without wincing in the slightest
degree at the tragic remembrance thus called up; "but bear in
mind, if you please, that our respective parents underwent
persecution and proscription from diametrically opposite
principles; in proof of which I may remark, that while my
family remained among the stanchest adherents of the exiled
princes, your father lost no time in joining the new
government; and that while the Citizen Noirtier was a
Girondin, the Count Noirtier became a senator."
"Dear mother," interposed Renee, "you know very well it
was agreed that all these disagreeable reminiscences should
forever be laid aside."
"Suffer me, also, madame," replied Villefort, "to add my
earnest request to Mademoiselle de Saint-Meran's, that you
will kindly allow the veil of oblivion to cover and conceal the
past. What avails recrimination over matters wholly past
recall? For my own part, I have laid aside even the name of
my father, and altogether disown his political principles. He
was -- nay, probably may still be -- a Bonapartist, and is
called Noirtier; I, on the contrary, am a stanch royalist, and
style myself de Villefort. Let what may remain of
revolutionary sap exhaust itself and die away with the old
trunk, and condescend only to regard the young shoot which
has started up at a distance from the parent tree, without
having the power, any more than the wish, to separate
entirely from the stock from which it sprung."
"Bravo, Villefort!" cried the marquis; "excellently well said!
Come, now, I have hopes of obtaining what I have been for
years endeavoring to persuade the marquise to promise;
namely, a perfect amnesty and forgetfulness of the past."
"With all my heart," replied the marquise; "let the past be
forever forgotten. I promise you it affords me as little
pleasure to revive it as it does you. All I ask is, that Villefort
will be firm and inflexible for the future in his political
principles. Remember, also, Villefort, that we have pledged
ourselves to his majesty for your fealty and strict loyalty, and
that at our recommendation the king consented to forget the
past, as I do" (and here she extended to him her hand) -- "as I
now do at your entreaty. But bear in mind, that should there
fall in your way any one guilty of conspiring against the
government, you will be so much the more bound to visit
the offence with rigorous punishment, as it is known you
belong to a suspected family."
"Alas, madame," returned Villefort, "my profession, as well
as the times in which we live, compels me to be severe. I
have already successfully conducted several public
prosecutions, and brought the offenders to merited
punishment. But we have not done with the thing yet."
"Do you, indeed, think so?" inquired the marquise.
"I am, at least, fearful of it. Napoleon, in the Island of Elba, is
too near France, and his proximity keeps up the hopes of his
partisans. Marseilles is filled with half-pay officers, who are
daily, under one frivolous pretext or other, getting up
quarrels with the royalists; from hence arise continual and
fatal duels among the higher classes of persons, and
assassinations in the lower."
"You have heard, perhaps," said the Comte de Salvieux, one
of M. de Saint-Meran's oldest friends, and chamberlain to the
Comte d'Artois, "that the Holy Alliance purpose removing
him from thence?"
"Yes; they were talking about it when we left Paris," said M.
de Saint-Meran; "and where is it decided to transfer him?"
"To Saint Helena."
"For heaven's sake, where is that?" asked the marquise.
"An island situated on the other side of the equator, at least
two thousand leagues from here," replied the count.
"So much the better. As Villefort observes, it is a great act of
folly to have left such a man between Corsica, where he was
born, and Naples, of which his brother-in-law is king, and
face to face with Italy, the sovereignty of which he coveted
for his son."
"Unfortunately," said Villefort, "there are the treaties of 1814,
and we cannot molest Napoleon without breaking those
"Oh, well, we shall find some way out of it," responded M.
de Salvieux. "There wasn't any trouble over treaties when it
was a question of shooting the poor Duc d'Enghien."
"Well," said the marquise, "it seems probable that, by the aid
of the Holy Alliance, we shall be rid of Napoleon; and we
must trust to the vigilance of M. de Villefort to purify
Marseilles of his partisans. Tbe king is either a king or no
king; if he be acknowledged as sovereign of France, he
should be upheld in peace and tranquillity; and this can best
be effected by employing the most inflexible agents to put
down every attempt at conspiracy -- 'tis the best and surest
means of preventing mischief."
"Unfortunately, madame," answered Villefort, "the strong
arm of the law is not called upon to interfere until the evil
has taken place."
"Then all he has got to do is to endeavor to repair it."
"Nay, madame, the law is frequently powerless to effect this;
all it can do is to avenge the wrong done."
"Oh, M. de Villefort," cried a beautiful young creature,
daughter to the Comte de Salvieux, and the cherished friend
of Mademoiselle de Saint-Meran, "do try and get up some
famous trial while we are at Marseilles. I never was in a
law-court; I am told it is so very amusing!"
"Amusing, certainly," replied the young man, "inasmuch as,
instead of shedding tears as at the fictitious tale of woe
produced at a theatre, you behold in a law-court a case of
real and genuine distress -- a drama of life. The prisoner
whom you there see pale, agitated, and alarmed, instead of --
as is the case when a curtain falls on a tragedy -- going home
to sup peacefully with his family, and then retiring to rest,
that he may recommence his mimic woes on the morrow, --
is removed from your sight merely to be reconducted to his
prison and delivered up to the executioner. I leave you to
judge how far your nerves are calculated to bear you
through such a scene. Of this, however, be assured, that
should any favorable opportunity present itself, I will not
fail to offer you the choice of being present."
"For shame, M. de Villefort!" said Renee, becoming quite
pale; "don't you see how you are frightening us? -- and yet
"What would you have? 'Tis like a duel. I have already
recorded sentence of death, five or six times, against the
movers of political conspiracies, and who can say how many
daggers may be ready sharpened, and only waiting a
favorable opportunity to be buried in my heart?"
"Gracious heavens, M. de Villefort," said Renee, becoming
more and more terrified; "you surely are not in earnest."
"Indeed I am," replied the young magistrate with a smile;
"and in the interesting trial that young lady is anxious to
witness, the case would only be still more aggravated.
Suppose, for instance, the prisoner, as is more than probable,
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to have served under Napoleon -- well, can you expect for an
instant, that one accustomed, at the word of his commander,
to rush fearlessly on the very bayonets of his foe, will scruple
more to drive a stiletto into the heart of one he knows to be
his personal enemy, than to slaughter his fellow-creatures,
merely because bidden to do so by one he is bound to obey?
Besides, one requires the excitement of being hateful in the
eyes of the accused, in order to lash one's self into a state of
sufficient vehemence and power. I would not choose to see
the man against whom I pleaded smile, as though in
mockery of my words. No; my pride is to see the accused
pale, agitated, and as though beaten out of all composure by
the fire of my eloquence." Renee uttered a smothered
"Bravo!" cried one of the guests; "that is what I call talking to
"Just the person we require at a time like the present," said a
"What a splendid business that last case of yours was, my
dear Villefort!" remarked a third; "I mean the trial of the man
for murdering his father. Upon my word, you killed him ere
the executioner had laid his hand upon him."
"Oh, as for parricides, and such dreadful people as that,"
interposed Renee, "it matters very little what is done to them;
but as regards poor unfortunate creatures whose only crime
consists in having mixed themselves up in political
"Why, that is the very worst offence they could possibly
commit; for, don't you see, Renee, the king is the father of his
people, and he who shall plot or contrive aught against the
life and safety of the parent of thirty-two millions of souls, is
a parricide upon a fearfully great scale?"
"I don't know anything about that," replied Renee; "but, M.
de Villefort, you have promised me -- have you not? --
always to show mercy to those I plead for."
"Make yourself quite easy on that point," answered Villefort,
with one of his sweetest smiles; "you and I will always
consult upon our verdicts."
"My love," said the marquise, "attend to your doves, your
lap-dogs, and embroidery, but do not meddle with what you
do not understand. Nowadays the military profession is in
abeyance and the magisterial robe is the badge of honor.
There is a wise Latin proverb that is very much in point."
"Cedant arma togae," said Villefort with a bow.
"I cannot speak Latin," responded the marquise.
"Well," said Renee, "I cannot help regretting you had not
chosen some other profession than your own -- a physician,
for instance. Do you know I always felt a shudder at the idea
of even a destroying angel?"
"Dear, good Renee," whispered Villefort, as he gazed with
unutterable tenderness on the lovely speaker.
"Let us hope, my child," cried the marquis, "that M. de
Villefort may prove the moral and political physician of this
province; if so, he will have achieved a noble work."
"And one which will go far to efface the recollection of his
father's conduct," added the incorrigible marquise.
"Madame," replied Villefort, with a mournful smile, "I have
already had the honor to observe that my father has -- at
least, I hope so -- abjured his past errors, and that he is, at the
present moment, a firm and zealous friend to religion and
order -- a better royalist, possibly, than his son; for he has to
atone for past dereliction, while I have no other impulse than
warm, decided preference and conviction." Having made
this well-turned speech, Villefort looked carefully around to
mark the effect of his oratory, much as he would have done
had he been addressing the bench in open court.
"Do you know, my dear Villefort," cried the Comte de
Salvieux, "that is exactly what I myself said the other day at
the Tuileries, when questioned by his majesty's principal
chamberlain touching the singularity of an alliance between
the son of a Girondin and the daughter of an officer of the
Duc de Conde; and I assure you he seemed fully to
comprehend that this mode of reconciling political
differences was based upon sound and excellent principles.
Then the king, who, without our suspecting it, had
overheard our conversation, interrupted us by saying,
`Villefort' -- observe that the king did not pronounce the
word Noirtier, but, on the contrary, placed considerable
emphasis on that of Villefort -- `Villefort,' said his majesty, `is
a young man of great judgment and discretion, who will be
sure to make a figure in his profession; I like him much, and
it gave me great pleasure to hear that he was about to
become the son-in-law of the Marquis and Marquise de
Saint-Meran. I should myself have recommended the match,
had not the noble marquis anticipated my wishes by
requesting my consent to it.'"
"Is it possible the king could have condescended so far as to
express himself so favorably of me?" asked the enraptured
"I give you his very words; and if the marquis chooses to be
candid, he will confess that they perfectly agree with what
his majesty said to him, when he went six months ago to
consult him upon the subject of your espousing his
"That is true," answered the marquis.
"How much do I owe this gracious prince! What is there I
would not do to evince my earnest gratitude!"
"That is right," cried the marquise. "I love to see you thus.
Now, then, were a conspirator to fall into your hands, he
would be most welcome."
"For my part, dear mother." interposed Renee, "I trust your
wishes will not prosper, and that Providence will only
permit petty offenders, poor debtors, and miserable cheats to
fall into M. de Villefort's hands, -- then I shall be contented."
"Just the same as though you prayed that a physician might
only be called upon to prescribe for headaches, measles, and
the stings of wasps, or any other slight affection of the
epidermis. If you wish to see me the king's attorney, you
must desire for me some of those violent and dangerous
diseases from the cure of which so much honor redounds to
At this moment, and as though the utterance of Villefort's
wish had sufficed to effect its accomplishment, a servant
entered the room, and whispered a few words in his ear.
Villefort immediately rose from table and quitted the room
upon the plea of urgent business; he soon, however,
returned, his whole face beaming with delight. Renee
regarded him with fond affection; and certainly his
handsome features, lit up as they then were with more than
usual fire and animation, seemed formed to excite the
innocent admiration with which she gazed on her graceful
and intelligent lover.
"You were wishing just now," said Villefort, addressing her,
"that I were a doctor instead of a lawyer. Well, I at least
resemble the disciples of Esculapius in one thing -- that of
not being able to call a day my own, not even that of my
"And wherefore were you called away just now?" asked
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THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO
Mademoiselle de Saint-Meran, with an air of deep interest.
"For a very serious matter, which bids fair to make work for
"How dreadful!" exclaimed Renee, turning pale.
"Is it possible?" burst simultaneously from all who were near
enough to the magistrate to hear his words.
"Why, if my information prove correct, a sort of Bonaparte
conspiracy has just been discovered."
"Can I believe my ears?" cried the marquise.
"I will read you the letter containing the accusation, at least,"
said Villefort: --
"`The king's attorney is informed by a friend to the throne
and the religions institutions of his country, that one named
Edmond Dantes, mate of the ship Pharaon, this day arrived
from Smyrna, after having touched at Naples and
Porto-Ferrajo, has been the bearer of a letter from Murat to
the usurper, and again taken charge of another letter from
the usurper to the Bonapartist club in Paris. Ample
corroboration of this statement may be obtained by arresting
the above-mentioned Edmond Dantes, who either carries the
letter for Paris about with him, or has it at his father's abode.
Should it not be found in the possession of father or son,
then it will assuredly be discovered in the cabin belonging to
the said Dantes on board the Pharaon.'"
"But," said Renee, "this letter, which, after all, is but an
anonymous scrawl, is not even addressed to you, but to the
"True; but that gentleman being absent, his secretary, by his
orders, opened his letters; thinking this one of importance,
he sent for me, but not finding me, took upon himself to give
the necessary orders for arresting the accused party."
"Then the guilty person is absolutely in custody?" said the
"Nay, dear mother, say the accused person. You know we
cannot yet pronounce him guilty."
"He is in safe custody," answered Villefort; "and rely upon it,
if the letter is found, he will not be likely to be trusted
abroad again, unless he goes forth under the especial
protection of the headsman."
"And where is the unfortunate being?" asked Renee.
"He is at my house."
"Come, come, my friend," interrupted the marquise, "do not
neglect your duty to linger with us. You are the king's
servant, and must go wherever that service calls you."
"O Villefort!" cried Renee, clasping her hands, and looking
towards her lover with piteous earnestness, "be merciful on
this the day of our betrothal."
The young man passed round to the side of the table where
the fair pleader sat, and leaning over her chair said tenderly,
"To give you pleasure, my sweet Renee, I promise to show
all the lenity in my power; but if the charges brought against
this Bonapartist hero prove correct, why, then, you really
must give me leave to order his head to be cut off." Renee
"Never mind that foolish girl, Villefort," said the marquise.
"She will soon get over these things." So saying, Madame de
Saint-Meran extended her dry bony hand to Villefort, who,
while imprinting a son-in-law's respectful salute on it,
looked at Renee, as much as to say, "I must try and fancy 'tis
your dear hand I kiss, as it should have been."
"These are mournful auspices to accompany a betrothal,"
sighed poor Renee.
"Upon my word, child!" exclaimed the angry marquise,
"your folly exceeds all bounds. I should be glad to know
what connection there can possibly be between your sickly
sentimentality and the affairs of the state!"
"O mother!" murmured Renee.
"Nay, madame, I pray you pardon this little traitor. I promise
you that to make up for her want of loyalty, I will be most
inflexibly severe;" then casting an expressive glance at his
betrothed, which seemed to say, "Fear not, for your dear
sake my justice shall be tempered with mercy," and receiving
a sweet and approving smile in return, Villefort quitted the
Chapter 7 The Examination
o 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
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
"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 him."
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.
THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO
"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 Mercedes.
"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 of kindness.
"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 you
"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 elder
"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
"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
"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
"`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 unjust."
"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 still paler.
"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 hands.
"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
"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 his
"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 already know."
"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 entirely consumed.
"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 letter."
"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.
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