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- The Count of Monte Cristo - 270/309 -
Villefort would stifle the affair; he had only to turn his eyes on one side, and allow Andrea to fly, and follow up the crime under that shadow of guilt called contempt of court. And after this reasoning she slept easily.
At nine o'clock next morning she arose, and without ringing for her maid or giving the least sign of her activity, she dressed herself in the same simple style as on the previous night; then running down-stairs, she left the hotel, walked to the Rue de Provence, called a cab, and drove to M. de Villefort's house. For the last month this wretched house had presented the gloomy appearance of a lazaretto infected with the plague. Some of the apartments were closed within and without; the shutters were only opened to admit a minute's air, showing the scared face of a footman, and immediately afterwards the window would be closed, like a gravestone falling on a sepulchre, and the neighbors would say to each other in a low voice, "Will there be another funeral to-day at the procureur's house?" Madame Danglars involuntarily shuddered at the desolate aspect of the mansion; descending from the cab, she approached the door with trembling knees, and rang the bell. Three times did the bell ring with a dull, heavy sound, seeming to participate, in the general sadness, before the concierge appeared and peeped through the door, which he opened just wide enough to allow his words to be heard. He saw a lady, a fashionable, elegantly dressed lady, and yet the door remained almost closed.
"Do you intend opening the door?" said the baroness.
"First, madame, who are you?"
"Who am I? You know me well enough."
"We no longer know any one, madame."
"You must be mad, my friend," said the baroness.
"Where do you come from?"
"Oh, this is too much!"
"Madame, these are my orders; excuse me. Your name?"
"The baroness Danglars; you have seen me twenty times."
"Possibly, madame. And now, what do you want?"
"Oh, how extraordinary! I shall complain to M. de Villefort of the impertinence of his servants."
"Madame, this is precaution, not impertinence; no one enters here without an order from M. d'Avrigny, or without speaking to the procureur."
"Well, I have business with the procureur."
"Is it pressing business?"
"You can imagine so, since I have not even brought my carriage out yet. But enough of this -- here is my card, take it to your master."
"Madame will await my return?"
"Yes; go." The concierge closed the door, leaving Madame Danglars in the street. She had not long to wait; directly afterwards the door was opened wide enough to admit her, and when she had passed through, it was again shut. Without losing sight of her for an instant, the concierge took a whistle from his pocket as soon as they entered the court, and blew it. The valet de chambre appeared on the door-steps. "You will excuse this poor fellow, madame," he said, as he preceded the baroness, "but his orders are precise, and M. de Villefort begged me to tell you that he could not act otherwise."
In the court showing his merchandise, was a tradesman who had been admitted with the same precautions. The baroness ascended the steps; she felt herself strongly infected with the sadness which seemed to magnify her own, and still guided by the valet de chambre, who never lost sight of her for an instant, she was introduced to the magistrate's study. Preoccupied as Madame Danglars had been with the object of her visit, the treatment she had received from these underlings appeared to her so insulting, that she began by complaining of it. But Villefort, raising his head, bowed down by grief, looked up at her with so sad a smile that her complaints died upon her lips. "Forgive my servants," he said, "for a terror I cannot blame them for; from being suspected they have become suspicious."
Madame Danglars had often heard of the terror to which the magistrate alluded, but without the evidence of her own eyesight she could never have believed that the sentiment had been carried so far. "You too, then, are unhappy?" she said. "Yes, madame," replied the magistrate.
"Then you pity me!"
"And you understand what brings me here?"
"You wish to speak to me about the circumstance which has just happened?"
"Yes, sir, -- a fearful misfortune."
"You mean a mischance."
"A mischance?" repeated the baroness.
"Alas, madame," said the procureur with his imperturbable calmness of manner, "I consider those alone misfortunes which are irreparable."
"And do you suppose this will be forgotten?"
"Everything will be forgotten, madame," said Villefort. "Your daughter will be married to-morrow, if not to-day -- in a week, if not to-morrow; and I do not think you can regret the intended husband of your daughter."
Madame Danglars gazed on Villefort, stupefied to find him so almost insultingly calm. "Am I come to a friend?" she asked in a tone full of mournful dignity. "You know that you are, madame," said Villefort, whose pale cheeks became slightly flushed as he gave her the assurance. And truly this assurance carried him back to different events from those now occupying the baroness and him. "Well, then, be more affectionate, my dear Villefort," said the baroness. "Speak to me not as a magistrate, but as a friend; and when I am in bitter anguish of spirit, do not tell me that I ought to be gay." Villefort bowed. "When I hear misfortunes named, madame," he said, "I have within the last few months contracted the bad habit of thinking of my own, and then I cannot help drawing up an egotistical parallel in my mind. That is the reason that by the side of my misfortunes yours appear to me mere mischances; that is why my dreadful position makes yours appear enviable. But this annoys you; let us change the subject. You were saying, madame" --
"I came to ask you, my friend," said the baroness, "what will be done with this impostor?"
"Impostor," repeated Villefort; "certainly, madame, you appear to extenuate some cases, and exaggerate others. Impostor, indeed! -- M. Andrea Cavalcanti, or rather M. Benedetto, is nothing more nor less than an assassin!"
"Sir, I do not deny the justice of your correction, but the more severely you arm yourself against that unfortunate man, the more deeply will you strike our family. Come, forget him for a moment, and instead of pursuing him let him go."
"You are too late, madame; the orders are issued."
"Well, should he be arrested -- do they think they will arrest him?"
"I hope so."
"If they should arrest him (I know that sometimes prisoners afford means of escape), will you leave him in prison?" -- The procureur shook his head. "At least keep him there till my daughter be married."
"Impossible, madame; justice has its formalities."
"What, even for me?" said the baroness, half jesting, half in earnest. "For all, even for myself among the rest," replied Villefort.
"Ah," exclaimed the baroness, without expressing the ideas which the exclamation betrayed. Villefort looked at her with that piercing glance which reads the secrets of the heart. "Yes, I know what you mean," he said; "you refer to the terrible rumors spread abroad in the world, that the deaths which have kept me in mourning for the last three months, and from which Valentine has only escaped by a miracle, have not happened by natural means."
"I was not thinking of that," replied Madame Danglars quickly. "Yes, you were thinking of it, and with justice. You could not help thinking of it, and saying to yourself, `you, who pursue crime so vindictively, answer now, why are there unpunished crimes in your dwelling?'" The baroness became pale. "You were saying this, were you not?"
"Well, I own it."
"I will answer you."
Villefort drew his armchair nearer to Madame Danglars; then resting both hands upon his desk he said in a voice more hollow than usual: "There are crimes which remain unpunished because the criminals are unknown, and we might strike the innocent instead of the guilty; but when the culprits are
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