Chapter 108 The Judge
REMEMBER that the Abb¨¦ 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 abb¨¦, 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 conci¨¨rge
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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 study.
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.
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,
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
are you bringing me?" said he.
cup of chocolate."
did not ask for it. Who has paid me this attention?"
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.
de Villefort wishes to remind you, sir," he said, "that eleven
o'clock has just struck, and that the trial commences at twelve."
said Villefort, "what then?"
de Villefort is dressed; she is quite ready, and wishes to know if she is
to accompany you, sir?"
mistress wishes much to be present at the trial."
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."
come to dress and shave me."
sir." The valet re-appeared almost instantly, and, having shaved his
master, assisted him to dress entirely in black. When he had finished, he
mistress said she should expect you, sir, as soon as you had finished
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.
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.
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?"
where do you keep the poison you generally use?" said the magistrate,
without any introduction, placing himself between his wife and the door.
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-M¨¦ran,
my mother-in-law, Madame de Saint-M¨¦ran, Barrois, and my daughter
sir," exclaimed Madame de Villefort, clasping her hands, "what
do you say?"
is not for you to interrogate, but to answer."
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.
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-M¨¦ran,
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."
young woman hid her face in her hands. "Oh, sir," she stammered,
"I beseech you, do not believe appearances."
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?"
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.
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
punishment?" exclaimed Madame de Villefort, "the punishment,
monsieur? Twice you have pronounced that word!"
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 the scaffold."
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."
madame, it will be a laudable action on your part, and I will thank you
will thank me--for what?"
what you have just said."
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
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
I do not wish, madame, is that you should perish on the scaffold. Do you
understand?" asked Villefort.
mercy, mercy, monsieur!"
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?'"
pardon me, sir; let me live!"
is cowardly," said Villefort.
that I am your wife!"
are a poisoner."
the name of heaven!"
the name of the love you once bore me!"
the name of our child! Ah, for the sake of our child, let me live!"
no, no, I tell you; one day, if I allow you to live, you will perhaps kill
him, as you have the others!"
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 conci¨¨rgerie."
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 struck Madame de Villefort like the executioner's knife. She
fainted. The procureur went out, after having double-locked the door.