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- The Count of Monte Cristo - 290/309 -
"Can 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.
"I 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 guilty!"
"The punishment?" exclaimed Madame de Villefort, "the punishment, monsieur? Twice you have pronounced that word!"
"Certainly. 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."
"No, 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."
"No, no -- oh, no!"
"Well, madame, it will be a laudable action on your part, and I will thank you for it!"
"You will thank me -- for what?"
"For what you have just said."
"What 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 foaming.
"Have 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 that!"
"What I do not wish, madame, is that you should perish on the scaffold. Do you understand?" asked Villefort.
"Oh, mercy, mercy, monsieur!"
"What 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?'"
"Oh, pardon me, sir; let me live!"
"She is cowardly," said Villefort.
"Reflect that I am your wife!"
"You are a poisoner."
"In the name of heaven!"
"In the name of the love you once bore me!"
"In the name of our child! Ah, for the sake of our child, let me live!"
"No, no, no, I tell you; one day, if I allow you to live, you will perhaps kill him, as you have the others!"
"I? -- I 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 conciergerie." Madame 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, madame, farewell!" That farewell struck Madame de Villefort like the executioner's knife. She fainted. The procureur went out, after having double-locked the door.
Chapter 109 The Assizes.
The Benedetto affair, as it was called at the Palais, and by people in general, had produced a tremendous sensation. Frequenting the Cafe de Paris, the Boulevard de Gand, and the Bois de Boulogne, during his brief career of splendor, the false Cavalcanti had formed a host of acquaintances. The papers had related his various adventures, both as the man of fashion and the galley-slave; and as every one who had been personally acquainted with Prince Andrea Cavalcanti experienced a lively curiosity in his fate, they all determined to spare no trouble in endeavoring to witness the trial of M. Benedetto for the murder of his comrade in chains. In the eyes of many, Benedetto appeared, if not a victim to, at least an instance of, the fallibility of the law. M. Cavalcanti, his father, had been seen in Paris, and it was expected that he would re-appear to claim the illustrious outcast. Many, also, who were not aware of the circumstances attending his withdrawal from Paris, were struck with the worthy appearance, the gentlemanly bearing, and the knowledge of the world displayed by the old patrician, who certainly played the nobleman very well, so long as he said nothing, and made no arithmetical calculations. As for the accused himself, many remembered him as being so amiable, so handsome, and so liberal, that they chose to think him the victim of some conspiracy, since in this world large fortunes frequently excite the malevolence and jealousy of some unknown enemy. Every one, therefore, ran to the court; some to witness the sight, others to comment upon it. From seven o'clock in the morning a crowd was stationed at the iron gates, and an hour before the trial commenced the hall was full of the privileged. Before the entrance of the magistrates, and indeed frequently afterwards, a court of justice, on days when some especial trial is to take place, resembles a drawing-room where many persons recognize each other and converse if they can do so without losing their seats; or, if they are separated by too great a number of lawyers, communicate by signs.
It was one of the magnificent autumn days which make amends for a short summer; the clouds which M. de Villefort had perceived at sunrise had all disappeared as if by magic, and one of the softest and most brilliant days of September shone forth in all its splendor.
Beauchamp, one of the kings of the press, and therefore claiming the right of a throne everywhere, was eying everybody through his monocle. He perceived Chateau-Renaud and Debray, who had just gained the good graces of a sergeant-at-arms, and who had persuaded the latter to let them stand before, instead of behind him, as they ought to have done. The worthy sergeant had recognized the minister's secretary and the millionnaire, and, by way of paying extra attention to his noble neighbors, promised to keep their places while they paid a visit to Beauchamp.
"Well," said Beauchamp, "we shall see our friend!"
"Yes, indeed!" replied Debray. "That worthy prince. Deuce take those Italian princes!"
"A man, too, who could boast of Dante for a genealogist, and could reckon back to the `Divine Comedy.'"
"A nobility of the rope!" said Chateau-Renaud phlegmatically.
"He will be condemned, will he not?" asked Debray of Beauchamp.
"My dear fellow, I think we should ask you that question; you know such news much better than we do. Did you see the president at the minister's last night?"
"What did he say?"
"Something which will surprise you."
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