Chapter 111 Expiation
the density of the crowd, M. de Villefort saw it open before him. There is
something so awe-inspiring in great afflictions that even in the worst
times the first emotion of a crowd has generally been to sympathize with
the sufferer in a great catastrophe. Many people have been assassinated in
a tumult, but even criminals have rarely been insulted during trial. Thus
Villefort passed through the mass of spectators and officers of the Palais,
and withdrew. Though he had acknowledged his guilt, he was protected by
his grief. There are some situations which men understand by instinct, but
which reason is powerless to explain; in such cases the greatest poet is
he who gives utterance to the most natural and vehement outburst of
sorrow. Those who hear the bitter cry are as much impressed as if they
listened to an entire poem, and when the sufferer is sincere they are
right in regarding his outburst as sublime.
would be difficult to describe the state of stupor in which Villefort left
the Palais. Every pulse beat with feverish excitement, every nerve was
strained, every vein swollen, and every part of his body seemed to suffer
distinctly from the rest, thus multiplying his agony a thousand-fold. He
made his way along the corridors through force of habit; he threw aside
his magisterial robe, not out of deference to etiquette, but because it
was an unbearable burden, a veritable garb of Nessus, insatiate in
torture. Having staggered as far as the Rue Dauphiné,
he perceived his carriage, awoke his sleeping coachman by opening the door
himself, threw himself on the cushions, and pointed towards the Faubourg
the carriage drove on. The weight of his fallen fortunes seemed suddenly
to crush him; he could not foresee the consequences; he could not
contemplate the future with the indifference of the hardened criminal who
merely faces a contingency already familiar. God was still in his heart.
"God," he murmured, not knowing what he
said,--"God--God!" Behind the event that had overwhelmed him he
saw the hand of God. The carriage rolled rapidly onward. Villefort, while
turning restlessly on the cushions, felt something press against him. He
put out his hand to remove the object; it was a fan which Madame de
Villefort had left in the carriage; this fan awakened a recollection which
darted through his mind like lightning. He thought of his wife.
he exclaimed, as though a redhot iron were piercing his heart. During the
last hour his own crime had alone been presented to his mind; now another
object, not less terrible, suddenly presented itself. His wife! He had
just acted the inexorable judge with her, he had condemned her to death,
and she, crushed by remorse, struck with terror, covered with the shame
inspired by the eloquence of his irreproachable virtue,--she, a poor, weak
woman, without help or the power of defending herself against his absolute
and supreme will,--she might at that very moment, perhaps, be preparing to
die! An hour had elapsed since her condemnation; at that moment,
doubtless, she was recalling all her crimes to her memory; she was asking
pardon for her sins; perhaps she was even writing a letter imploring
forgiveness from her virtuous husband--a forgiveness she was purchasing
with her death! Villefort again groaned with anguish and despair.
"Ah," he exclaimed, "that woman became criminal only from
associating with me! I carried the infection of crime with me, and she has
caught it as she would the typhus fever, the cholera, the plague! And yet
I have punished her--I have dared to tell her--I have--'Repent and die!'
But no, she must not die; she shall live, and with me. We will flee from
Paris and go as far as the earth reaches. I told her of the scaffold; oh,
heavens, I forgot that it awaits me also! How could I pronounce that word?
Yes, we will fly; I will confess all to her,--I will tell her daily that I
also have committed a crime!--Oh, what an alliance--the tiger and the
serpent; worthy wife of such as I am! She must live that my infamy may
diminish hers." And Villefort dashed open the window in front of the
faster!" he cried, in a tone which electrified the coachman. The
horses, impelled by fear, flew towards the house.
yes," repeated Villefort, as he approached his home--"yes, that
woman must live; she must repent, and educate my son, the sole survivor,
with the exception of the indestructible old man, of the wreck of my
house. She loves him; it was for his sake she has committed these crimes.
We ought never to despair of softening the heart of a mother who loves her
child. She will repent, and no one will know that she has been guilty. The
events which have taken place in my house, though they now occupy the
public mind, will be forgotten in time, or if, indeed, a few enemies
should persist in remembering them, why then I will add them to my list of
crimes. What will it signify if one, two, or three more are added? My wife
and child shall escape from this gulf, carrying treasures with them; she
will live and may yet be happy, since her child, in whom all her love is
centred, will be with her. I shall have performed a good action, and my
heart will be lighter." And the procureur breathed more freely than
he had done for some time.
carriage stopped at the door of the house. Villefort leaped out of the
carriage, and saw that his servants were surprised at his early return; he
could read no other expression on their features. Neither of them spoke to
him; they merely stood aside to let him pass by, as usual, nothing more.
As he passed by M. Noirtier's room, he perceived two figures through the
half-open door; but he experienced no curiosity to know who was visiting
his father: anxiety carried him on further.
he said, as he ascended the stairs leading to his wife's room,
"nothing is changed here." He then closed the door of the
landing. "No one must disturb us," he said; "I must speak
freely to her, accuse myself, and say"--he approached the door,
touched the crystal handle, which yielded to his hand. "Not
locked," he cried; "that is well." And he entered the
little room in which Edward slept; for though the child went to school
during the day, his mother could not allow him to be separated from her at
night. With a single glance Villefort's eye ran through the room.
"Not here," he said; "doubtless she is in her
bedroom." He rushed towards the door, found it bolted, and stopped,
shuddering. "Hélo?se!" he cried. He fancied
he heard the sound of a piece of furniture being removed. "Hélo?se!" he repeated.
is there?" answered the voice of her he sought. He thought that voice
more feeble than usual.
the door!" cried Villefort. "Open; it is I." But
notwithstanding this request, notwithstanding the tone of anguish in which
it was uttered, the door remained closed. Villefort burst it open with a
violent blow. At the entrance of the room which led to her boudoir, Madame
de Villefort was standing erect, pale, her features contracted, and her
eyes glaring horribly. "Hélo?se, Hélo?se!" he said, "what
is the matter? Speak!" The young woman extended her stiff white hands
towards him. "It is done, monsieur," she said with a rattling
noise which seemed to tear her throat. "What more do you want?"
and she fell full length on the floor. Villefort ran to her and seized her
hand, which convulsively clasped a crystal bottle with a golden stopper.
Madame de Villefort was dead. Villefort, maddened with horror, stepped
back to the threshhold of the door, fixing his eyes on the corpse:
"My son!" he exclaimed suddenly, "where is my son?--Edward,
Edward!" and he rushed out of the room, still crying, "Edward,
Edward!" The name was pronounced in such a tone of anguish that the
servants ran up.
is my son?" asked Villefort; "let him be removed from the house,
that he may not see"--
Edward is not down-stairs, sir," replied the valet.
he must be playing in the garden; go and see."
sir; Madame de Villefort sent for him half an hour ago; he went into her
room, and has not been down-stairs since." A cold perspiration burst
out on Villefort's brow; his legs trembled, and his thoughts flew about
madly in his brain like the wheels of a disordered watch. "In Madame
de Villefort's room?" he murmured and slowly returned, with one hand
wiping his forehead, and with the other supporting himself against the
wall. To enter the room he must again see the body of his unfortunate
wife. To call Edward he must reawaken the echo of that room which now
appeared like a sepulchre; to speak seemed like violating the silence of
the tomb. His tongue was paralyzed in his mouth.
he stammered--"Edward!" The child did not answer. Where, then,
could he be, if he had entered his mother's room and not since returned?
He stepped forward. The corpse of Madame de Villefort was stretched across
the doorway leading to the room in which Edward must be; those glaring
eyes seemed to watch over the threshold, and the lips bore the stamp of a
terrible and mysterious irony. Through the open door was visible a portion
of the boudoir, containing an upright piano and a blue satin couch.
Villefort stepped forward two or three paces, and beheld his child
lying--no doubt asleep--on the sofa. The unhappy man uttered an
exclamation of joy; a ray of light seemed to penetrate the abyss of
despair and darkness. He had only to step over the corpse, enter the
boudoir, take the child in his arms, and flee far, far away.
was no longer the civilized man; he was a tiger hurt unto death, gnashing
his teeth in his wound. He no longer feared realities, but phantoms. He
leaped over the corpse as if it had been a burning brazier. He took the
child in his arms, embraced him, shook him, called him, but the child made
no response. He pressed his burning lips to the cheeks, but they were icy
cold and pale; he felt the stiffened limbs; he pressed his hand upon the
heart, but it no longer beat,--the child was dead. A folded paper fell
from Edward's breast. Villefort, thunderstruck, fell upon his knees; the
child dropped from his arms, and rolled on the floor by the side of its
mother. He picked up the paper, and, recognizing his wife's writing, ran
his eyes rapidly over its contents; it ran as follows:--
know that I was a good mother, since it was for my son's sake I became
criminal. A good mother cannot depart without her son."
could not believe his eyes,--he could not believe his reason; he dragged
himself towards the child's body, and examined it as a lioness
contemplates its dead cub. Then a piercing cry escaped from his breast,
and he cried, "Still the hand of God." The presence of the two
victims alarmed him; he could not bear solitude shared only by two
corpses. Until then he had been sustained by rage, by his strength of
mind, by despair, by the supreme agony which led the Titans to scale the
heavens, and Ajax to defy the gods. He now arose, his head bowed beneath
the weight of grief, and, shaking his damp, dishevelled hair, he who had
never felt compassion for any one determined to seek his father, that he
might have some one to whom he could relate his misfortunes,--some one by
whose side he might weep. He descended the little staircase with which we
are acquainted, and entered Noirtier's room. The old man appeared to be
listening attentively and as affectionately as his infirmities would allow
to the Abbé
Busoni, who looked cold and calm, as usual. Villefort, perceiving the abbé, passed his hand across his
brow. He recollected the call he had made upon him after the dinner at
Auteuil, and then the visit the abbé
had himself paid to his house on the day of Valentine's death. "You
here, sir!" he exclaimed; "do you, then, never appear but to act
as an escort to death?"
turned around, and, perceiving the excitement depicted on the magistrate's
face, the savage lustre of his eyes, he understood that the revelation had
been made at the assizes; but beyond this he was ignorant. "I came to
pray over the body of your daughter."
now why are you here?"
come to tell you that you have sufficiently repaid your debt, and that
from this moment I will pray to God to forgive you, as I do."
heavens!" exclaimed Villefort, stepping back fearfully, "surely
that is not the voice of the Abbé
threw off his wig, shook his head, and his hair, no longer confined, fell
in black masses around his manly face.
is the face of the Count of Monte Cristo!" exclaimed the procureur,
with a haggard expression.
are not exactly right, M. Procureur; you must go farther back."
voice, that voice!--where did I first hear it?"
heard it for the first time at Marseilles, twenty-three years ago, the day
of your marriage with Mademoiselle de Saint-Méran. Refer to your papers."
are not Busoni?--you are not Monte Cristo? Oh, heavens--you are, then,
some secret, implacable, and mortal enemy! I must have wronged you in some
way at Marseilles. Oh, woe to me!"
you are now on the right path," said the count, crossing his arms
over his broad chest; "search--search!"
what have I done to you?" exclaimed Villefort, whose mind was
balancing between reason and insanity, in that cloud which is neither a
dream nor reality; "what have I done to you? Tell me, then!
condemned me to a horrible, tedious death; you killed my father; you
deprived me of liberty, of love, and happiness."
are you, then? Who are you?"
am the spectre of a wretch you buried in the dungeons of the Chateau d'If.
God gave that spectre the form of the Count of Monte Cristo when he at
length issued from his tomb, enriched him with gold and diamonds, and led
him to you!"
I recognize you--I recognize you!" exclaimed the king's attorney;
am Edmond Dantès!"
are Edmond Dantès,"
cried Villefort, seizing the count by the wrist; "then come
here!" And up the stairs he dragged Monte Cristo; who, ignorant of
what had happened, followed him in astonishment, foreseeing some new
catastrophe. "There, Edmond Dantès!"
he said, pointing to the bodies of his wife and child, "see, are you
well avenged?" Monte Cristo became pale at this horrible sight; he
felt that he had passed beyond the bounds of vengeance, and that he could
no longer say, "God is for and with me." With an expression of
indescribable anguish he threw himself upon the body of the child,
reopened its eyes, felt its pulse, and then rushed with him into
Valentine's room, of which he double-locked the door. "My
child," cried Villefort, "he carries away the body of my child!
Oh, curses, woe, death to you!" and he tried to follow Monte Cristo;
but as though in a dream he was transfixed to the spot,--his eyes glared
as though they were starting through the sockets; he griped the flesh on
his chest until his nails were stained with blood; the veins of his
temples swelled and boiled as though they would burst their narrow
boundary, and deluge his brain with living fire. This lasted several
minutes, until the frightful overturn of reason was accomplished; then
uttering a loud cry followed by a burst of laughter, he rushed down the
quarter of an hour afterwards the door of Valentine's room opened, and
Monte Cristo reappeared. Pale, with a dull eye and heavy heart, all the
noble features of that face, usually so calm and serene, were overcast by
grief. In his arms he held the child, whom no skill had been able to
recall to life. Bending on one knee, he placed it reverently by the side
of its mother, with its head upon her breast. Then, rising, he went out,
and meeting a servant on the stairs, he asked, "Where is M. de
servant, instead of answering, pointed to the garden. Monte Cristo ran
down the steps, and advancing towards the spot designated beheld Villefort,
encircled by his servants, with a spade in his hand, and digging the earth
with fury. "It is not here!" he cried. "It is not
here!" And then he moved farther on, and began again to dig.
Cristo approached him, and said in a low voice, with an expression almost
humble, "Sir, you have indeed lost a son; but"--
interrupted him; he had neither listened nor heard. "Oh, I will find
it," he cried; "you may pretend he is not here, but I will find
him, though I dig forever!" Monte Cristo drew back in horror.
"Oh," he said, "he is mad!" And as though he feared
that the walls of the accursed house would crumble around him, he rushed
into the street, for the first time doubting whether he had the right to
do as he had done. "Oh, enough of this,--enough of this," he
cried; "let me save the last." On entering his house, he met
Morrel, who wandered about like a ghost awaiting the heavenly mandate for
return to the tomb. "Prepare yourself, Maximilian," he said with
a smile; "we leave Paris to-morrow."
you nothing more to do there?" asked Morrel.
replied Monte Cristo; "God grant I may not have done too much
next day they indeed left, accompanied only by Baptistin. Haidée had taken away Ali, and
Bertuccio remained with Noirtier.