If the Count of Monte Cristo had been for a long time
familiar with the ways of Parisian society, he would have
appreciated better the significance of the step which M. de
Villefort had taken. Standing well at court, whether the
king regnant was of the older or younger branch, whether the
government was doctrinaire liberal, or conservative; looked
upon by all as a man of talent, since those who have never
experienced a political check are generally so regarded;
hated by many, but warmly supported by others, without being
really liked by anybody, M. de Villefort held a high
position in the magistracy, and maintained his eminence like
a Harlay or a Mole. His drawing-room, under the regenerating
influence of a young wife and a daughter by his first
marriage, scarcely eighteen, was still one of the
well-regulated Paris salons where the worship of traditional
customs and the observance of rigid etiquette were carefully
maintained. A freezing politeness, a strict fidelity to
government principles, a profound contempt for theories and
theorists, a deep-seated hatred of ideality, -- these were
the elements of private and public life displayed by M. de
He was not only a magistrate, he was almost a diplomatist.
His relations with the former court, of which he always
spoke with dignity and respect, made him respected by the
new one, and he knew so many things, that not only was he
always carefully considered, but sometimes consulted.
Perhaps this would not have been so had it been possible to
get rid of M. de Villefort; but, like the feudal barons who
rebelled against their sovereign, he dwelt in an impregnable
fortress. This fortress was his post as king's attorney, all
the advantages of which he exploited with marvellous skill,
and which he would not have resigned but to be made deputy,
and thus to replace neutrality by opposition. Ordinarily M.
de Villefort made and returned very few visits. His wife
visited for him, and this was the received thing in the
world, where the weighty and multifarious occupations of the
magistrate were accepted as an excuse for what was really
only calculated pride, a manifestation of professed
superiority -- in fact, the application of the axiom,
"Pretend to think well of yourself, and the world will think
well of you," an axiom a hundred times more useful in
society nowadays than that of the Greeks, "Know thyself," a
knowledge for which, in our days, we have substituted the
less difficult and more advantageous science of knowing
To his friends M. de Villefort was a powerful protector; to
his enemies, he was a silent, but bitter opponent; for those
who were neither the one nor the other, he was a statue of
the law-made man. He had a haughty bearing, a look either
steady and impenetrable or insolently piercing and
inquisitorial. Four successive revolutions had built and
cemented the pedestal upon which his fortune was based. M.
de Villefort had the reputation of being the least curious
and the least wearisome man in France. He gave a ball every
year, at which he appeared for a quarter of an hour only, --
that is to say, five and forty minutes less than the king is
visible at his balls. He was never seen at the theatres, at
concerts, or in any place of public resort. Occasionally,
but seldom, he played at whist, and then care was taken to
select partners worthy of him -- sometimes they were
ambassadors, sometimes archbishops, or sometimes a prince,
or a president, or some dowager duchess. Such was the man
whose carriage had just now stopped before the Count of
Monte Cristo's door. The valet de chambre announced M. de
Villefort at the moment when the count, leaning over a large
table, was tracing on a map the route from St. Petersburg to
The procureur entered with the same grave and measured step
he would have employed in entering a court of justice. He
was the same man, or rather the development of the same man,
whom we have heretofore seen as assistant attorney at
Marseilles. Nature, according to her way, had made no
deviation in the path he had marked out for himself. From
being slender he had now become meagre; once pale, he was
now yellow; his deep-set eyes were hollow, and the gold
spectacles shielding his eyes seemed to be an integral
portion of his face. He dressed entirely in black, with the
exception of his white tie, and his funeral appearance was
only mitigated by the slight line of red ribbon which passed
almost imperceptibly through his button-hole, and appeared
like a streak of blood traced with a delicate brush.
Although master of himself, Monte Cristo, scrutinized with
irrepressible curiosity the magistrate whose salute he
returned, and who, distrustful by habit, and especially
incredulous as to social prodigies, was much more despised
to look upon "the noble stranger," as Monte Cristo was
already called, as an adventurer in search of new fields, or
an escaped criminal, rather than as a prince of the Holy
See, or a sultan of the Thousand and One Nights.
"Sir," said Villefort, in the squeaky tone assumed by
magistrates in their oratorical periods, and of which they
cannot, or will not, divest themselves in society, "sir, the
signal service which you yesterday rendered to my wife and
son has made it a duty for me to offer you my thanks. I have
come, therefore, to discharge this duty, and to express to
you my overwhelming gratitude." And as he said this, the
"eye severe" of the magistrate had lost nothing of its
habitual arrogance. He spoke in a voice of the
procureur-general, with the rigid inflexibility of neck and
shoulders which caused his flatterers to say (as we have
before observed) that he was the living statue of the law.
"Monsieur," replied the count, with a chilling air, "I am
very happy to have been the means of preserving a son to his
mother, for they say that the sentiment of maternity is the
most holy of all; and the good fortune which occurred to me,
monsieur, might have enabled you to dispense with a duty
which, in its discharge, confers an undoubtedly great honor;
for I am aware that M. de Villefort is not usually lavish of
the favor which he now bestows on me, -- a favor which,
however estimable, is unequal to the satisfaction which I
have in my own consciousness." Villefort, astonished at this
reply, which he by no means expected, started like a soldier
who feels the blow levelled at him over the armor he wears,
and a curl of his disdainful lip indicated that from that
moment he noted in the tablets of his brain that the Count
of Monte Cristo was by no means a highly bred gentleman. He
glanced around. in order to seize on something on which the
conversation might turn, and seemed to fall easily on a
topic. He saw the map which Monte Cristo had been examining
when he entered, and said, "You seem geographically engaged,
sir? It is a rich study for you, who, as I learn, have seen
as many lands as are delineated on this map."
"Yes, sir," replied the count; "l have sought to make of the
human race, taken in the mass, what you practice every day
on individuals -- a physiological study. I have believed it
was much easier to descend from the whole to a part than to
ascend from a part to the whole. It is an algebraic axiom,
which makes us proceed from a known to an unknown quantity,
and not from an unknown to a known; but sit down, sir, I beg
Monte Cristo pointed to a chair, which the procureur was
obliged to take the trouble to move forwards himself, while
the count merely fell back into his own, on which he had
been kneeling when M. Villefort entered. Thus the count was
halfway turned towards his visitor, having his back towards
the window, his elbow resting on the geographical chart
which furnished the theme of conversation for the moment, --
a conversation which assumed, as in the case of the
interviews with Danglars and Morcerf, a turn analogous to
the persons, if not to the situation. "Ah, you
philosophize," replied Villefort, after a moment's silence,
during which, like a wrestler who encounters a powerful
opponent, he took breath; "well, sir, really, if, like you,
I had nothing else to do, I should seek a more amusing
"Why, in truth, sir," was Monte Cristo's reply, "man is but
an ugly caterpillar for him who studies him through a solar
microscope; but you said, I think, that I had nothing else
to do. Now, really, let me ask, sir, have you? -- do you
believe you have anything to do? or to speak in plain terms,
do you really think that what you do deserves being called
Villefort's astonishment redoubled at this second thrust so
forcibly made by his strange adversary. It was a long time
since the magistrate had heard a paradox so strong, or
rather, to say the truth more exactly, it was the first time
he had ever heard of it. The procureur exerted himself to
reply. "Sir," he responded, "you are a stranger, and I
believe you say yourself that a portion of your life has
been spent in Oriental countries, so you are not aware how
human justice, so expeditions in barbarous countries, takes
with us a prudent and well-studied course."
"Oh, yes -- yes, I do, sir; it is the pede claudo of the
ancients. I know all that, for it is with the justice of all
countries especially that I have occupied myself -- it is
with the criminal procedure of all nations that I have
compared natural justice, and I must say, sir, that it is
the law of primitive nations, that is, the law of
retaliation, that I have most frequently found to be
according to the law of God."
"If this law were adopted, sir," said the procureur, "it
would greatly simplify our legal codes, and in that case the
magistrates would not (as you just observed) have much to
"It may, perhaps, come to this in time," observed Monte
Cristo; "you know that human inventions march from the
complex to the simple, and simplicity is always perfection."
"In the meanwhile," continued the magistrate, "our codes are
in full force, with all their contradictory enactments
derived from Gallic customs, Roman laws, and Frank usages;
the knowledge of all which, you will agree, is not to be
acquired without extended labor; it needs tedious study to
acquire this knowledge, and, when acquired, a strong power
of brain to retain it."
"I agree with you entirely, sir; but all that even you know
with respect to the French code, I know, not only in
reference to that code, but as regards the codes of all
nations. The English, Turkish, Japanese, Hindu laws, are as
familiar to me as the French laws, and thus I was right,
when I said to you, that relatively (you know that
everything is relative, sir) -- that relatively to what I
have done, you have very little to do; but that relatively
to all I have learned, you have yet a great deal to learn."
"But with what motive have you learned all this?" inquired
Villefort, in astonishment. Monte Cristo smiled. "Really,
sir," he observed, "I see that in spite of the reputation
which you have acquired as a superior man, you look at
everything from the material and vulgar view of society,
beginning with man, and ending with man -- that is to say,
in the most restricted, most narrow view which it is
possible for human understanding to embrace."
"Pray, sir, explain yourself," said Villefort, more and more
astonished, "I really do -- not -- understand you --
"I say, sir, that with the eyes fixed on the social
organization of nations, you see only the springs of the
machine, and lose sight of the sublime workman who makes
them act; I say that you do not recognize before you and
around you any but those office-holders whose commissions
have been signed by a minister or king; and that the men
whom God has put above those office-holders, ministers, and
kings, by giving them a mission to follow out, instead of a
post to fill -- I say that they escape your narrow, limited
field of observation. It is thus that human weakness fails,
from its debilitated and imperfect organs. Tobias took the
angel who restored him to light for an ordinary young man.
The nations took Attila, who was doomed to destroy them, for
a conqueror similar to other conquerors, and it was
necessary for both to reveal their missions, that they might
be known and acknowledged; one was compelled to say, `I am
the angel of the Lord'; and the other, `I am the hammer of
God,' in order that the divine essence in both might be
"Then," said Villefort, more and more amazed, and really
supposing he was speaking to a mystic or a madman, "you
consider yourself as one of those extraordinary beings whom
you have mentioned?"
"And why not?" said Monte Cristo coldly.
"Your pardon, sir," replied Villefort, quite astounded, "but
you will excuse me if, when I presented myself to you, I was
unaware that I should meet with a person whose knowledge and
understanding so far surpass the usual knowledge and
understanding of men. It is not usual with us corrupted
wretches of civilization to find gentlemen like yourself,
possessors, as you are, of immense fortune -- at least, so
it is said -- and I beg you to observe that I do not
inquire, I merely repeat; -- it is not usual, I say, for
such privileged and wealthy beings to waste their time in
speculations on the state of society, in philosophical
reveries, intended at best to console those whom fate has
disinherited from the goods of this world."
"Really, sir," retorted the count, "have you attained the
eminent situation in which you are, without having admitted,
or even without having met with exceptions? and do you never
use your eyes, which must have acquired so much finesse and
certainty, to divine, at a glance, the kind of man by whom
you are confronted? Should not a magistrate be not merely
the best administrator of the law, but the most crafty
expounder of the chicanery of his profession, a steel probe
to search hearts, a touchstone to try the gold which in each
soul is mingled with more or less of alloy?"
"Sir," said Villefort, "upon my word, you overcome me. I
really never heard a person speak as you do."
"Because you remain eternally encircled in a round of
general conditions, and have never dared to raise your wings
into those upper spheres which God has peopled with
invisible or exceptional beings."
"And you allow then, sir, that spheres exist, and that these
marked and invisible beings mingle amongst us?"
"Why should they not? Can you see the air you breathe, and
yet without which you could not for a moment exist?"
"Then we do not see those beings to whom you allude?"
"Yes, we do; you see them whenever God pleases to allow them
to assume a material form. You touch them, come in contact
with them, speak to them, and they reply to you."
"Ah," said Villefort, smiling, "I confess I should like to
be warned when one of these beings is in contact with me."
"You have been served as you desire, monsieur, for you were
warned just now, and I now again warn you."
"Then you yourself are one of these marked beings?"
"Yes, monsieur, I believe so; for until now, no man has
found himself in a position similar to mine. The dominions
of kings are limited either by mountains or rivers, or a
change of manners, or an alteration of language. My kingdom
is bounded only by the world, for I am not an Italian, or a
Frenchman, or a Hindu, or an American, or a Spaniard -- I am
a cosmopolite. No country can say it saw my birth. God alone
knows what country will see me die. I adopt all customs,
speak all languages. You believe me to be a Frenchman, for I
speak French with the same facility and purity as yourself.
Well, Ali, my Nubian, believes me to be an Arab; Bertuccio,
my steward, takes me for a Roman; Haidee, my slave, thinks
me a Greek. You may, therefore, comprehend, that being of no
country, asking no protection from any government,
acknowledging no man as my brother, not one of the scruples
that arrest the powerful, or the obstacles which paralyze
the weak, paralyzes or arrests me. I have only two
adversaries -- I will not say two conquerors, for with
perseverance I subdue even them, -- they are time and
distance. There is a third, and the most terrible -- that is
my condition as a mortal being. This alone can stop me in my
onward career, before I have attained the goal at which I
aim, for all the rest I have reduced to mathematical terms.
What men call the chances of fate -- namely, ruin, change,
circumstances -- I have fully anticipated, and if any of
these should overtake me, yet it will not overwhelm me.
Unless I die, I shall always be what I am, and therefore it
is that I utter the things you have never heard, even from
the mouths of kings -- for kings have need, and other
persons have fear of you. For who is there who does not say
to himself, in a society as incongruously organized as ours,
`Perhaps some day I shall have to do with the king's
"But can you not say that, sir? The moment you become an
inhabitant of France, you are naturally subjected to the
"I know it sir," replied Monte Cristo; "but when I visit a
country I begin to study, by all the means which are
available, the men from whom I may have anything to hope or
to fear, till I know them as well as, perhaps better than,
they know themselves. It follows from this, that the king's
attorney, be he who he may, with whom I should have to deal,
would assuredly be more embarrassed than I should."
"That is to say," replied Villefort with hesitation, "that
human nature being weak, every man, according to your creed,
has committed faults."
"Faults or crimes," responded Monte Cristo with a negligent
"And that you alone, amongst the men whom you do not
recognize as your brothers -- for you have said so,"
observed Villefort in a tone that faltered somewhat -- "you
alone are perfect."
"No, not perfect," was the count's reply; "only
impenetrable, that's all. But let us leave off this strain,
sir, if the tone of it is displeasing to you; I am no more
disturbed by your justice than are you by my second-sight."
"No, no, -- by no means," said Villefort, who was afraid of
seeming to abandon his ground. "No; by your brilliant and
almost sublime conversation you have elevated me above the
ordinary level; we no longer talk, we rise to dissertation.
But you know how the theologians in their collegiate chairs,
and philosophers in their controversies, occasionally say
cruel truths; let us suppose for the moment that we are
theologizing in a social way, or even philosophically, and I
will say to you, rude as it may seem, `My brother, you
sacrifice greatly to pride; you may be above others, but
above you there is God.'"
"Above us all, sir," was Monte Cristo's response, in a tone
and with an emphasis so deep that Villefort involuntarily
shuddered. "I have my pride for men -- serpents always ready
to threaten every one who would pass without crushing them
under foot. But I lay aside that pride before God, who has
taken me from nothing to make me what I am."
"Then, count, I admire you," said Villefort, who, for the
first time in this strange conversation, used the
aristocratic form to the unknown personage, whom, until now,
he had only called monsieur. "Yes, and I say to you, if you
are really strong, really superior, really pious, or
impenetrable, which you were right in saying amounts to the
same thing -- then be proud, sir, for that is the
characteristic of predominance. Yet you have unquestionably
"I have, sir."
"And what may it be?"
"I too, as happens to every man once in his life, have been
taken by Satan into the highest mountain in the earth, and
when there he showed me all the kingdoms of the world, and
as he said before, so said he to me, `Child of earth, what
wouldst thou have to make thee adore me?' I reflected long,
for a gnawing ambition had long preyed upon me, and then I
replied, `Listen, -- I have always heard of providence, and
yet I have never seen him, or anything that resembles him,
or which can make me believe that he exists. I wish to be
providence myself, for I feel that the most beautiful,
noblest, most sublime thing in the world, is to recompense
and punish.' Satan bowed his head, and groaned. `You
mistake,' he said, `providence does exist, only you have
never seen him, because the child of God is as invisible as
the parent. You have seen nothing that resembles him,
because he works by secret springs, and moves by hidden
ways. All I can do for you is to make you one of the agents
of that providence.' The bargain was concluded. I may
sacrifice my soul, but what matters it?" added Monte Cristo.
"If the thing were to do again, I would again do it."
Villefort looked at Monte Cristo with extreme amazement.
"Count," he inquired, "have you any relations?"
"No, sir, I am alone in the world."
"So much the worse."
"Why?" asked Monte Cristo.
"Because then you might witness a spectacle calculated to
break down your pride. You say you fear nothing but death?"
"I did not say that I feared it; I only said that death
alone could check the execution of my plans."
"And old age?"
"My end will be achieved before I grow old."
"I have been nearly mad; and you know the axiom, -- non bis
in idem. It is an axiom of criminal law, and, consequently,
you understand its full application."
"Sir," continued Villefort, "there is something to fear
besides death, old age, and madness. For instance, there is
apoplexy -- that lightning-stroke which strikes but does not
destroy you, and yet which brings everything to an end. You
are still yourself as now, and yet you are yourself no
longer; you who, like Ariel, verge on the angelic, are but
an inert mass, which, like Caliban, verges on the brutal;
and this is called in human tongues, as I tell you, neither
more nor less than apoplexy. Come, if so you will, count,
and continue this conversation at my house, any day you may
be willing to see an adversary capable of understanding and
anxious to refute you, and I will show you my father, M.
Noirtier de Villefort, one of the most fiery Jacobins of the
French Revolution; that is to say, he had the most
remarkable audacity, seconded by a most powerful
organization -- a man who has not, perhaps, like yourself
seen all the kingdoms of the earth, but who has helped to
overturn one of the greatest; in fact, a man who believed
himself, like you, one of the envoys, not of God, but of a
supreme being; not of providence, but of fate. Well, sir,
the rupture of a blood-vessel on the lobe of the brain has
destroyed all this, not in a day, not in an hour, but in a
second. M. Noirtier, who, on the previous night, was the old
Jacobin, the old senator, the old Carbonaro, laughing at the
guillotine, the cannon, and the dagger -- M. Noirtier,
playing with revolutions -- M. Noirtier, for whom France was
a vast chess-board, from which pawns, rooks, knights, and
queens were to disappear, so that the king was checkmated --
M. Noirtier, the redoubtable, was the next morning `poor M.
Noirtier,' the helpless old man, at the tender mercies of
the weakest creature in the household, that is, his
grandchild, Valentine; a dumb and frozen carcass, in fact,
living painlessly on, that time may be given for his frame
to decompose without his consciousness of its decay."
"Alas, sir," said Monte Cristo "this spectacle is neither
strange to my eye nor my thought. I am something of a
physician, and have, like my fellows, sought more than once
for the soul in living and in dead matter; yet, like
providence, it has remained invisible to my eyes, although
present to my heart. A hundred writers since Socrates,
Seneca, St. Augustine, and Gall, have made, in verse and
prose, the comparison you have made, and yet I can well
understand that a father's sufferings may effect great
changes in the mind of a son. I will call on you, sir, since
you bid me contemplate, for the advantage of my pride, this
terrible spectacle, which must have been so great a source
of sorrow to your family."
"It would have been so unquestionably, had not God given me
so large a compensation. In contrast with the old man, who
is dragging his way to the tomb, are two children just
entering into life -- Valentine, the daughter by my first
wife -- Mademoiselle Renee de Saint-Meran -- and Edward, the
boy whose life you have this day saved."
"And what is your deduction from this compensation, sir?"
inquired Monte Cristo.
"My deduction is," replied Villefort, "that my father, led
away by his passions, has committed some fault unknown to
human justice, but marked by the justice of God. That God,
desirous in his mercy to punish but one person, has visited
this justice on him alone." Monte Cristo with a smile on his
lips, uttered in the depths of his soul a groan which would
have made Villefort fly had he but heard it. "Adieu, sir,"
said the magistrate, who had risen from his seat; "I leave
you, bearing a remembrance of you -- a remembrance of
esteem, which I hope will not be disagreeable to you when
you know me better; for I am not a man to bore my friends,
as you will learn. Besides, you have made an eternal friend
of Madame de Villefort." The count bowed, and contented
himself with seeing Villefort to the door of his cabinet,
the procureur being escorted to his carriage by two footmen,
who, on a signal from their master, followed him with every
mark of attention. When he had gone, Monte Cristo breathed a
profound sigh, and said, -- "Enough of this poison, let me
now seek the antidote." Then sounding his bell, he said to
Ali, who entered, "I am going to madam's chamber -- have the
carriage ready at one o'clock."