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- The Count of Monte Cristo - 200/309 -
"This is, indeed, a house of mourning," said Valentine; "speak, Maximilian, although the cup of sorrow seems already full."
"Dear Valentine," said Morrel, endeavoring to conceal his own emotion, "listen, I entreat you; what I am about to say is very serious. When are you to be married?"
"I will tell you all," said Valentine; "from you I have nothing to conceal. This morning the subject was introduced, and my dear grandmother, on whom I depended as my only support, not only declared herself favorable to it, but is so anxious for it, that they only await the arrival of M. d'Epinay, and the following day the contract will be signed." A deep sigh escaped the young man, who gazed long and mournfully at her he loved. "Alas," replied he, "it is dreadful thus to hear my condemnation from your own lips. The sentence is passed, and, in a few hours, will be executed; it must be so, and I will not endeavor to prevent it. But, since you say nothing remains but for M. d'Epinay to arrive that the contract may be signed, and the following day you will be his, to-morrow you will be engaged to M. d'Epinay, for he came this morning to Paris." Valentine uttered a cry.
"I was at the house of Monte Cristo an hour since," said Morrel; "we were speaking, he of the sorrow your family had experienced, and I of your grief, when a carriage rolled into the court-yard. Never, till then, had I placed any confidence in presentiments, but now I cannot help believing them, Valentine. At the sound of that carriage I shuddered; soon I heard steps on the staircase, which terrified me as much as the footsteps of the commander did Don Juan. The door at last opened; Albert de Morcerf entered first, and I began to hope my fears were vain, when, after him, another young man advanced, and the count exclaimed -- `Ah, here is the Baron Franz d'Epinay!' I summoned all my strength and courage to my support. Perhaps I turned pale and trembled, but certainly I smiled; and five minutes after I left, without having heard one word that had passed."
"Poor Maximilian!" murmured Valentine.
"Valentine, the time has arrived when you must answer me. And remember my life depends on your answer. What do you intend doing?" Valentine held down her head; she was overwhelmed.
"Listen," said Morrel; "it is not the first time you have contemplated our present position, which is a serious and urgent one; I do not think it is a moment to give way to useless sorrow; leave that for those who like to suffer at their leisure and indulge their grief in secret. There are such in the world, and God will doubtless reward them in heaven for their resignation on earth, but those who mean to contend must not lose one precious moment, but must return immediately the blow which fortune strikes. Do you intend to struggle against our ill-fortune? Tell me, Valentine for it is that I came to know."
Valentine trembled, and looked at him with amazement. The idea of resisting her father, her grandmother, and all the family, had never occurred to her. "What do you say, Maximilian?" asked Valentine. "What do you mean by a struggle? Oh, it would be a sacrilege. What? I resist my father's order, and my dying grandmother's wish? Impossible!" Morrel started. "You are too noble not to understand me, and you understand me so well that you already yield, dear Maximilian. No, no; I shall need all my strength to struggle with myself and support my grief in secret, as you say. But to grieve my father -- to disturb my grandmother's last moments -- never!"
"You are right," said Morrel, calmly.
"In what a tone you speak!" cried Valentine.
"I speak as one who admires you, mademoiselle."
"Mademoiselle," cried Valentine; "mademoiselle! Oh, selfish man, -- he sees me in despair, and pretends he cannot understand me!"
"You mistake -- I understand you perfectly. You will not oppose M. Villefort, you will not displease the marchioness, and to-morrow you will sign the contract which will bind you to your husband."
"But, mon Dieu, tell me, how can I do otherwise?"
"Do not appeal to me, mademoiselle; I shall be a bad judge in such a case; my selfishness will blind me," replied Morrel, whose low voice and clinched hands announced his growing desperation.
"What would you have proposed, Maximilian, had you found me willing to accede?"
"It is not for me to say."
"You are wrong; you must advise me what to do."
"Do you seriously ask my advice, Valentine?"
"Certainly, dear Maximilian, for if it is good, I will follow it; you know my devotion to you."
"Valentine," said Morrel pushing aside a loose plank, "give me your hand in token of forgiveness of my anger; my senses are confused, and during the last hour the most extravagant thoughts have passed through my brain. Oh, if you refuse my advice" --
"What do you advise?" said Valentine, raising her eyes to heaven and sighing. "I am free," replied Maximilian, "and rich enough to support you. I swear to make you my lawful wife before my lips even shall have approached your forehead."
"You make me tremble!" said the young girl.
"Follow me," said Morrel; "I will take you to my sister, who is worthy also to be yours. We will embark for Algiers, for England, for America, or, if your prefer it, retire to the country and only return to Paris when our friends have reconciled your family." Valentine shook her head. "I feared it, Maximilian," said she; "it is the counsel of a madman, and I should be more mad than you, did I not stop you at once with the word `Impossible, impossible!'"
"You will then submit to what fate decrees for you without even attempting to contend with it?" said Morrel sorrowfully. "Yes, -- if I die!"
"Well, Valentine," resumed Maximilian, "I can only say again that you are right. Truly, it is I who am mad, and you prove to me that passion blinds the most well-meaning. I appreciate your calm reasoning. It is then understood that to-morrow you will be irrevocably promised to M. Franz d'Epinay, not only by that theatrical formality invented to heighten the effect of a comedy called the signature of the contract, but your own will?"
"Again you drive me to despair, Maximilian," said Valentine, "again you plunge the dagger into the wound! What would you do, tell me, if your sister listened to such a proposition?"
"Mademoiselle," replied Morrel with a bitter smile, "I am selfish -- you have already said so -- and as a selfish man I think not of what others would do in my situation, but of what I intend doing myself. I think only that I have known you not a whole year. From the day I first saw you, all my hopes of happiness have been in securing your affection. One day you acknowledged that you loved me, and since that day my hope of future happiness has rested on obtaining you, for to gain you would be life to me. Now, I think no more; I say only that fortune has turned against me -- I had thought to gain heaven, and now I have lost it. It is an every-day occurrence for a gambler to lose not only what he possesses but also what he has not." Morrel pronounced these words with perfect calmness; Valentine looked at him a moment with her large, scrutinizing eyes, endeavoring not to let Morrel discover the grief which struggled in her heart. "But, in a word, what are you going to do?" asked she.
"I am going to have the honor of taking my leave of you, mademoiselle, solemnly assuring you that I wish your life may be so calm, so happy, and so fully occupied, that there may be no place for me even in your memory."
"Oh!" murmured Valentine.
"Adieu, Valentine, adieu!" said Morrel, bowing.
"Where are you going?" cried the young girl, extending her hand through the opening, and seizing Maximilian by his coat, for she understood from her own agitated feelings that her lover's calmness could not be real; "where are you going?"
"I am going, that I may not bring fresh trouble into your family: and to set an example which every honest and devoted man, situated as I am, may follow."
"Before you leave me, tell me what you are going to do, Maximilian." The young man smiled sorrowfully. "Speak, speak!" said Valentine; "I entreat you."
"Has your resolution changed, Valentine?"
"It cannot change, unhappy man; you know it must not!" cried the young girl. "Then adieu, Valentine!" Valentine shook the gate with a strength of which she could not have been supposed to be possessed, as Morrel was going away, and passing both her hands through the opening, she clasped and wrung them. "I must know what you mean to do!" said she. "Where are you going?"
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