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Chapter 100
The Apparition.

As the procureur had told Madame Danglars, Valentine was not
yet recovered. Bowed down with fatigue, she was indeed
confined to her bed; and it was in her own room, and from
the lips of Madame de Villefort, that she heard all the
strange events we have related, -- we mean the flight of
Eugenie and the arrest of Andrea Cavalcanti, or rather
Benedetto, together with the accusation of murder pronounced
against him. But Valentine was so weak that this recital
scarcely produced the same effect it would have done had she
been in her usual state of health. Indeed, her brain was
only the seat of vague ideas, and confused forms, mingled
with strange fancies, alone presented themselves before her
eyes.

During the daytime Valentine's perceptions remained
tolerably clear, owing to the constant presence of M.
Noirtier, who caused himself to be carried to his
granddaughter's room, and watched her with his paternal
tenderness; Villefort also, on his return from the law
courts, frequently passed an hour or two with his father and
child. At six o'clock Villefort retired to his study, at
eight M. d'Avrigny himself arrived, bringing the night
draught prepared for the young girl, and then M. Noirtier
was carried away. A nurse of the doctor's choice succeeded
them, and never left till about ten or eleven o'clock, when
Valentine was asleep. As she went down-stairs she gave the
keys of Valentine's room to M. de Villefort, so that no one
could reach the sick-room excepting through that of Madame
de Villefort and little Edward.

Every morning Morrel called on Noirtier to receive news of
Valentine, and, extraordinary as it seemed, each day found
him less uneasy. Certainly, though Valentine still labored
under dreadful nervous excitement, she was better; and
moreover, Monte Cristo had told him when, half distracted,
he had rushed to the count's house, that if she were not
dead in two hours she would be saved. Now four days had
elapsed, and Valentine still lived.

The nervous excitement of which we speak pursued Valentine
even in her sleep, or rather in that state of somnolence
which succeeded her waking hours; it was then, in the
silence of night, in the dim light shed from the alabaster
lamp on the chimney-piece, that she saw the shadows pass and
repass which hover over the bed of sickness, and fan the
fever with their trembling wings. First she fancied she saw
her stepmother threatening her, then Morrel stretched his
arms towards her; sometimes mere strangers, like the Count
of Monte Cristo came to visit her; even the very furniture,
in these moments of delirium, seemed to move, and this state
lasted till about three o'clock in the morning, when a deep,
heavy slumber overcame the young girl, from which she did
not awake till daylight. On the evening of the day on which
Valentine had learned of the flight of Eugenie and the
arrest of Benedetto, -- Villefort having retired as well as
Noirtier and d'Avrigny, -- her thoughts wandered in a
confused maze, alternately reviewing her own situation and
the events she had just heard.

Eleven o'clock had struck. The nurse, having placed the
beverage prepared by the doctor within reach of the patient,
and locked the door, was listening with terror to the
comments of the servants in the kitchen, and storing her
memory with all the horrible stories which had for some
months past amused the occupants of the ante-chambers in the
house of the king's attorney. Meanwhile an unexpected scene
was passing in the room which had been so carefully locked.
Ten minutes had elapsed since the nurse had left; Valentine,
who for the last hour had been suffering from the fever
which returned nightly, incapable of controlling her ideas,
was forced to yield to the excitement which exhausted itself
in producing and reproducing a succession and recurrence of
the same fancies and images. The night-lamp threw out
countless rays, each resolving itself into some strange form
to her disordered imagination, when suddenly by its
flickering light Valentine thought she saw the door of her
library, which was in the recess by the chimney-piece, open
slowly, though she in vain listened for the sound of the
hinges on which it turned.

At any other time Valentine would have seized the silken
bell-pull and summoned assistance, but nothing astonished
her in her present situation. Her reason told her that all
the visions she beheld were but the children of her
imagination, and the conviction was strengthened by the fact
that in the morning no traces remained of the nocturnal
phantoms, who disappeared with the coming of daylight. From
behind the door a human figure appeared, but the girl was
too familiar with such apparitions to be alarmed, and
therefore only stared, hoping to recognize Morrel. The
figure advanced towards the bed and appeared to listen with
profound attention. At this moment a ray of light glanced
across the face of the midnight visitor.

"It is not he," she murmured, and waited, in the assurance
that this was but a dream, for the man to disappear or
assume some other form. Still, she felt her pulse, and
finding it throb violently she remembered that the best
method of dispelling such illusions was to drink, for a
draught of the beverage prepared by the doctor to allay her
fever seemed to cause a reaction of the brain, and for a
short time she suffered less. Valentine therefore reached
her hand towards the glass, but as soon as her trembling arm
left the bed the apparition advanced more quickly towards
her, and approached the young girl so closely that she
fancied she heard his breath, and felt the pressure of his
hand.

This time the illusion, or rather the reality, surpassed
anything Valentine had before experienced; she began to
believe herself really alive and awake, and the belief that
her reason was this time not deceived made her shudder. The
pressure she felt was evidently intended to arrest her arm,
and she slowly withdrew it. Then the figure, from whom she
could not detach her eyes, and who appeared more protecting
than menacing, took the glass, and walking towards the
night-light held it up, as if to test its transparency. This
did not seem sufficient; the man, or rather the ghost -- for
he trod so softly that no sound was heard -- then poured out
about a spoonful into the glass, and drank it. Valentine
witnessed this scene with a sentiment of stupefaction. Every
minute she had expected that it would vanish and give place
to another vision; but the man, instead of dissolving like a
shadow, again approached her, and said in an agitated voice,
"Now you may drink."

Valentine shuddered. It was the first time one of these
visions had ever addressed her in a living voice, and she
was about to utter an exclamation. The man placed his finger
on her lips. "The Count of Monte Cristo!" she murmured.

It was easy to see that no doubt now remained in the young
girl's mind as to the reality of the scene; her eyes started
with terror, her hands trembled, and she rapidly drew the
bedclothes closer to her. Still, the presence of Monte
Cristo at such an hour, his mysterious, fanciful, and
extraordinary entrance into her room through the wall, might
well seem impossibilities to her shattered reason. "Do not
call any one -- do not be alarmed," said the Count; "do not
let a shade of suspicion or uneasiness remain in your
breast; the man standing before you, Valentine (for this
time it is no ghost), is nothing more than the tenderest
father and the most respectful friend you could dream of."

Valentine could not reply; the voice which indicated the
real presence of a being in the room, alarmed her so much
that she feared to utter a syllable; still the expression of
her eyes seemed to inquire, "If your intentions are pure,
why are you here?" The count's marvellous sagacity
understood all that was passing in the young girl's mind.

"Listen to me," he said, "or, rather, look upon me; look at
my face, paler even than usual, and my eyes, red with
weariness -- for four days I have not closed them, for I
have been constantly watching you, to protect and preserve
you for Maximilian." The blood mounted rapidly to the cheeks
of Valentine, for the name just announced by the count
dispelled all the fear with which his presence had inspired
her. "Maximilian!" she exclaimed, and so sweet did the sound
appear to her, that she repeated it -- "Maximilian! -- has
he then owned all to you?"

"Everything. He told me your life was his, and I have
promised him that you shall live."

"You have promised him that I shall live?"

"Yes."

"But, sir, you spoke of vigilance and protection. Are you a
doctor?"

"Yes; the best you could have at the present time, believe
me."

"But you say you have watched?" said Valentine uneasily;
"where have you been? -- I have not seen you." The count
extended his hand towards the library. "I was hidden behind
that door," he said, "which leads into the next house, which
I have rented." Valentine turned her eyes away, and, with an
indignant expression of pride and modest fear, exclaimed:
"Sir, I think you have been guilty of an unparalleled
intrusion, and that what you call protection is more like an
insult."

"Valentine," he answered, "during my long watch over you,
all I have observed has been what people visited you, what
nourishment was prepared, and what beverage was served;
then, when the latter appeared dangerous to me, I entered,
as I have now done, and substituted, in the place of the
poison, a healthful draught; which, instead of producing the
death intended, caused life to circulate in your veins."

"Poison -- death!" exclaimed Valentine, half believing
herself under the influence of some feverish hallucination;
"what are you saying, sir?"

"Hush, my child," said Monte Cristo, again placing his
finger upon her lips, "I did say poison and death. But drink
some of this;" and the count took a bottle from his pocket,
containing a red liquid, of which he poured a few drops into
the glass. "Drink this, and then take nothing more
to-night." Valentine stretched out her hand, but scarcely
had she touched the glass when she drew back in fear. Monte
Cristo took the glass, drank half its contents, and then
presented it to Valentine, who smiled and swallowed the
rest. "Oh, yes," she exclaimed, "I recognize the flavor of
my nocturnal beverage which refreshed me so much, and seemed
to ease my aching brain. Thank you, sir, thank you!"

"This is how you have lived during the last four nights,
Valentine," said the count. "But, oh, how I passed that
time! Oh, the wretched hours I have endured -- the torture
to which I have submitted when I saw the deadly poison
poured into your glass, and how I trembled lest you should
drink it before I could find time to throw it away!"

"Sir," said Valentine, at the height of her terror, "you say
you endured tortures when you saw the deadly poison poured
into my glass; but if you saw this, you must also have seen
the person who poured it?"

"Yes." Valentine raised herself in bed, and drew over her
chest, which appeared whiter than snow, the embroidered
cambric, still moist with the cold dews of delirium, to
which were now added those of terror. "You saw the person?"
repeated the young girl. "Yes," repeated the count.

"What you tell me is horrible, sir. You wish to make me
believe something too dreadful. What? -- attempt to murder
me in my father's house, in my room, on my bed of sickness?
Oh, leave me, sir; you are tempting me -- you make me doubt
the goodness of providence -- it is impossible, it cannot
be!"

"Are you the first that this hand has stricken? Have you not
seen M. de Saint-Meran, Madame de Saint-Meran, Barrois, all
fall? would not M. Noirtier also have fallen a victim, had
not the treatment he has been pursuing for the last three
years neutralized the effects of the poison?"

"Oh, heaven," said Valentine; "is this the reason why
grandpapa has made me share all his beverages during the
last month?"

"And have they all tasted of a slightly bitter flavor, like
that of dried orange-peel?"

"Oh, yes, yes!"

"Then that explains all," said Monte Cristo. "Your
grandfather knows, then, that a poisoner lives here; perhaps
he even suspects the person. He has been fortifying you, his
beloved child, against the fatal effects of the poison,
which has failed because your system was already impregnated
with it. But even this would have availed little against a
more deadly medium of death employed four days ago, which is
generally but too fatal."

"But who, then, is this assassin, this murderer?"

"Let me also ask you a question. Have you never seen any one
enter your room at night?"

"Oh, yes; I have frequently seen shadows pass close to me,
approach, and disappear; but I took them for visions raised
by my feverish imagination, and indeed when you entered I
thought I was under the influence of delirium."

"Then you do not know who it is that attempts your life?"

"No," said Valentine; "who could desire my death?"

"You shall know it now, then," said Monte Cristo, listening.

"How do you mean?" said Valentine, looking anxiously around.

"Because you are not feverish or delirious to-night, but
thoroughly awake; midnight is striking, which is the hour
murderers choose."

"Oh, heavens," exclaimed Valentine, wiping off the drops
which ran down her forehead. Midnight struck slowly and
sadly; every hour seemed to strike with leaden weight upon
the heart of the poor girl. "Valentine," said the count,
"summon up all your courage; still the beatings of your
heart; do not let a sound escape you, and feign to be
asleep; then you will see." Valentine seized the count's
hand. "I think I hear a noise," she said; "leave me."

"Good-by, for the present," replied the count, walking upon
tiptoe towards the library door, and smiling with an
expression so sad and paternal that the young girl's heart
was filled with gratitude. Before closing the door he turned
around once more, and said, "Not a movement -- not a word;
let them think you asleep, or perhaps you may be killed
before I have the power of helping you." And with this
fearful injunction the count disappeared through the door,
which noiselessly closed after him.



The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Category:
General Fiction
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