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Chapter 51
Pyramus and Thisbe.

About two-thirds of the way along the Faubourg Saint-Honore,
and in the rear of one of the most imposing mansions in this
rich neighborhood, where the various houses vie with each
other for elegance of design and magnificence of
construction, extended a large garden, where the
wide-spreading chestnut-trees raised their heads high above
the walls in a solid rampart, and with the coming of every
spring scattered a shower of delicate pink and white
blossoms into the large stone vases that stood upon the two
square pilasters of a curiously wrought iron gate, that
dated from the time of Louis XII. This noble entrance,
however, in spite of its striking appearance and the
graceful effect of the geraniums planted in the two vases,
as they waved their variegated leaves in the wind and
charmed the eye with their scarlet bloom, had fallen into
utter disuse. The proprietors of the mansion had many years
before thought it best to confine themselves to the
possession of the house itself, with its thickly planted
court-yard, opening into the Faubourg Saint-Honore, and to
the garden shut in by this gate, which formerly communicated
with a fine kitchen-garden of about an acre. For the demon
of speculation drew a line, or in other words projected a
street, at the farther side of the kitchen-garden. The
street was laid out, a name was chosen and posted up on an
iron plate, but before construction was begun, it occurred
to the possessor of the property that a handsome sum might
be obtained for the ground then devoted to fruits and
vegetables, by building along the line of the proposed
street, and so making it a branch of communication with the
Faubourg Saint-Honore itself, one of the most important
thoroughfares in the city of Paris.

In matters of speculation, however, though "man proposes,"
"money disposes." From some such difficulty the newly named
street died almost in birth, and the purchaser of the
kitchen-garden, having paid a high price for it, and being
quite unable to find any one willing to take his bargain off
his hands without a considerable loss, yet still clinging to
the belief that at some future day he should obtain a sum
for it that would repay him, not only for his past outlay,
but also the interest upon the capital locked up in his new
acquisition, contented himself with letting the ground
temporarily to some market-gardeners, at a yearly rental of
500 francs. And so, as we have said, the iron gate leading
into the kitchen-garden had been closed up and left to the
rust, which bade fair before long to eat off its hinges,
while to prevent the ignoble glances of the diggers and
delvers of the ground from presuming to sully the
aristocratic enclosure belonging to the mansion, the gate
had been boarded up to a height of six feet. True, the
planks were not so closely adjusted but that a hasty peep
might be obtained through their interstices; but the strict
decorum and rigid propriety of the inhabitants of the house
left no grounds for apprehending that advantage would be
taken of that circumstance.

Horticulture seemed, however, to have been abandoned in the
deserted kitchen-garden; and where cabbages, carrots,
radishes, pease, and melons had once flourished, a scanty
crop of lucerne alone bore evidence of its being deemed
worthy of cultivation. A small, low door gave egress from
the walled space we have been describing into the projected
street, the ground having been abandoned as unproductive by
its various renters, and had now fallen so completely in
general estimation as to return not even the one-half per
cent it had originally paid. Towards the house the
chestnut-trees we have before mentioned rose high above the
wall, without in any way affecting the growth of other
luxuriant shrubs and flowers that eagerly dressed forward to
fill up the vacant spaces, as though asserting their right
to enjoy the boon of light and air. At one corner, where the
foliage became so thick as almost to shut out day, a large
stone bench and sundry rustic seats indicated that this
sheltered spot was either in general favor or particular use
by some inhabitant of the house, which was faintly
discernible through the dense mass of verdure that partially
concealed it, though situated but a hundred paces off.

Whoever had selected this retired portion of the grounds as
the boundary of a walk, or as a place for meditation, was
abundantly justified in the choice by the absence of all
glare, the cool, refreshing shade, the screen it afforded
from the scorching rays of the sun, that found no entrance
there even during the burning days of hottest summer, the
incessant and melodious warbling of birds, and the entire
removal from either the noise of the street or the bustle of
the mansion. On the evening of one of the warmest days
spring had yet bestowed on the inhabitants of Paris, might
be seen negligently thrown upon the stone bench, a book, a
parasol, and a work-basket, from which hung a partly
embroidered cambric handkerchief, while at a little distance
from these articles was a young woman, standing close to the
iron gate, endeavoring to discern something on the other
side by means of the openings in the planks, -- the
earnestness of her attitude and the fixed gaze with which
she seemed to seek the object of her wishes, proving how
much her feelings were interested in the matter. At that
instant the little side-gate leading from the waste ground
to the street was noiselessly opened, and a tall, powerful
young man appeared. He was dressed in a common gray blouse
and velvet cap, but his carefully arranged hair, beard and
mustache, all of the richest and glossiest black, ill
accorded with his plebeian attire. After casting a rapid
glance around him, in order to assure himself that he was
unobserved, he entered by the small gate, and, carefully
closing and securing it after him, proceeded with a hurried
step towards the barrier.

At the sight of him she expected, though probably not in
such a costume, the young woman started in terror, and was
about to make a hasty retreat. But the eye of love had
already seen, even through the narrow chinks of the wooden
palisades, the movement of the white robe, and observed the
fluttering of the blue sash. Pressing his lips close to the
planks, he exclaimed, "Don't be alarmed, Valentine -- it is
I!" Again the timid girl found courage to return to the
gate, saying, as she did so, "And why do you come so late
to-day? It is almost dinner-time, and I had to use no little
diplomacy to get rid of my watchful mother-in-law, my
too-devoted maid, and my troublesome brother, who is always
teasing me about coming to work at my embroidery, which I am
in a fair way never to get done. So pray excuse yourself as
well as you can for having made me wait, and, after that,
tell me why I see you in a dress so singular that at first I
did not recognize you."

"Dearest Valentine," said the young man, "the difference
between our respective stations makes me fear to offend you
by speaking of my love, but yet I cannot find myself in your
presence without longing to pour forth my soul, and tell you
how fondly I adore you. If it be but to carry away with me
the recollection of such sweet moments, I could even thank
you for chiding me, for it leaves me a gleam of hope, that
if you did not expect me (and that indeed would be worse
than vanity to suppose), at least I was in your thoughts.
You asked me the cause of my being late, and why I come
disguised. I will candidly explain the reason of both, and I
trust to your goodness to pardon me. I have chosen a trade."

"A trade? Oh, Maximilian, how can you jest at a time when we
have such deep cause for uneasiness?"

"Heaven keep me from jesting with that which is far dearer
to me than life itself! But listen to me, Valentine, and I
will tell you all about it. I became weary of ranging fields
and scaling walls, and seriously alarmed at the idea
suggested by you, that if caught hovering about here your
father would very likely have me sent to prison as a thief.
That would compromise the honor of the French army, to say
nothing of the fact that the continual presence of a captain
of Spahis in a place where no warlike projects could be
supposed to account for it might well create surprise; so I
have become a gardener, and, consequently, adopted the
costume of my calling."

"What excessive nonsense you talk, Maximilian!"

"Nonsense? Pray do not call what I consider the wisest
action of my life by such a name. Consider, by becoming a
gardener I effectually screen our meetings from all
suspicion or danger."

"I beseech of you, Maximilian, to cease trifling, and tell
me what you really mean."

"Simply, that having ascertained that the piece of ground on
which I stand was to let, I made application for it, was
readily accepted by the proprietor, and am now master of
this fine crop of lucerne. Think of that, Valentine! There
is nothing now to prevent my building myself a little hut on
my plantation, and residing not twenty yards from you. Only
imagine what happiness that would afford me. I can scarcely
contain myself at the bare idea. Such felicity seems above
all price -- as a thing impossible and unattainable. But
would you believe that I purchase all this delight, joy, and
happiness, for which I would cheerfully have surrendered ten
years of my life, at the small cost of 500 francs per annum,
paid quarterly? Henceforth we have nothing to fear. I am on
my own ground, and have an undoubted right to place a ladder
against the wall, and to look over when I please, without
having any apprehensions of being taken off by the police as
a suspicious character. I may also enjoy the precious
privilege of assuring you of my fond, faithful, and
unalterable affection, whenever you visit your favorite
bower, unless, indeed, it offends your pride to listen to
professions of love from the lips of a poor workingman, clad
in a blouse and cap." A faint cry of mingled pleasure and
surprise escaped from the lips of Valentine, who almost
instantly said, in a saddened tone, as though some envious
cloud darkened the joy which illumined her heart, "Alas, no,
Maximilian, this must not be, for many reasons. We should
presume too much on our own strength, and, like others,
perhaps, be led astray by our blind confidence in each
other's prudence."

"How can you for an instant entertain so unworthy a thought,
dear Valentine? Have I not, from the first blessed hour of
our acquaintance, schooled all my words and actions to your
sentiments and ideas? And you have, I am sure, the fullest
confidence in my honor. When you spoke to me of experiencing
a vague and indefinite sense of coming danger, I placed
myself blindly and devotedly at your service, asking no
other reward than the pleasure of being useful to you; and
have I ever since, by word or look, given you cause of
regret for having selected me from the numbers that would
willingly have sacrificed their lives for you? You told me,
my dear Valentine, that you were engaged to M. d'Epinay, and
that your father was resolved upon completing the match, and
that from his will there was no appeal, as M. de Villefort
was never known to change a determination once formed. I
kept in the background, as you wished, and waited, not for
the decision of your heart or my own, but hoping that
providence would graciously interpose in our behalf, and
order events in our favor. But what cared I for delays or
difficulties, Valentine, as long as you confessed that you
loved me, and took pity on me? If you will only repeat that
avowal now and then, I can endure anything."

"Ah, Maximilian, that is the very thing that makes you so
bold, and which renders me at once so happy and unhappy,
that I frequently ask myself whether it is better for me to
endure the harshness of my mother-in-law, and her blind
preference for her own child, or to be, as I now am,
insensible to any pleasure save such as I find in these
meetings, so fraught with danger to both."

"I will not admit that word," returned the young man; "it is
at once cruel and unjust. Is it possible to find a more
submissive slave than myself? You have permitted me to
converse with you from time to time, Valentine, but
forbidden my ever following you in your walks or elsewhere
-- have I not obeyed? And since I found means to enter this
enclosure to exchange a few words with you through this gate
-- to be close to you without really seeing you -- have I
ever asked so much as to touch the hem of your gown or tried
to pass this barrier which is but a trifle to one of my
youth and strength? Never has a complaint or a murmur
escaped me. I have been bound by my promises as rigidly as
any knight of olden times. Come, come, dearest Valentine,
confess that what I say is true, lest I be tempted to call
you unjust."

"It is true," said Valentine, as she passed the end of her
slender fingers through a small opening in the planks, and
permitted Maximilian to press his lips to them, "and you are
a true and faithful friend; but still you acted from motives
of self-interest, my dear Maximilian, for you well knew that
from the moment in which you had manifested an opposite
spirit all would have been ended between us. You promised to
bestow on me the friendly affection of a brother. For I have
no friend but yourself upon earth, who am neglected and
forgotten by my father, harassed and persecuted by my
mother-in-law, and left to the sole companionship of a
paralyzed and speechless old man, whose withered hand can no
longer press mine, and who can speak to me with the eye
alone, although there still lingers in his heart the warmest
tenderness for his poor grandchild. Oh, how bitter a fate is
mine, to serve either as a victim or an enemy to all who are
stronger than myself, while my only friend and supporter is
a living corpse! Indeed, indeed, Maximilian, I am very
miserable, and if you love me it must be out of pity."

"Valentine," replied the young man, deeply affected, "I will
not say you are all I love in the world, for I dearly prize
my sister and brother-in-law; but my affection for them is
calm and tranquil, in no manner resembling what I feel for
you. When I think of you my heart beats fast, the blood
burns in my veins, and I can hardly breathe; but I solemnly
promise you to restrain all this ardor, this fervor and
intensity of feeling, until you yourself shall require me to
render them available in serving or assisting you. M. Franz
is not expected to return home for a year to come, I am
told; in that time many favorable and unforeseen chances may
befriend us. Let us, then, hope for the best; hope is so
sweet a comforter. Meanwhile, Valentine, while reproaching
me with selfishness, think a little what you have been to me
-- the beautiful but cold resemblance of a marble Venus.
What promise of future reward have you made me for all the
submission and obedience I have evinced? -- none whatever.
What granted me? -- scarcely more. You tell me of M. Franz
d'Epinay, your betrothed lover, and you shrink from the idea
of being his wife; but tell me, Valentine, is there no other
sorrow in your heart? You see me devoted to you, body and
soul, my life and each warm drop that circles round my heart
are consecrated to your service; you know full well that my
existence is bound up in yours -- that were I to lose you I
would not outlive the hour of such crushing misery; yet you
speak with calmness of the prospect of your being the wife
of another! Oh, Valentine, were I in your place, and did I
feel conscious, as you do, of being worshipped, adored, with
such a love as mine, a hundred times at least should I have
passed my hand between these iron bars, and said, `Take this
hand, dearest Maximilian, and believe that, living or dead,
I am yours -- yours only, and forever!'" The poor girl made
no reply, but her lover could plainly hear her sobs and
tears. A rapid change took place in the young man's
feelings. "Dearest, dearest Valentine," exclaimed he,
"forgive me if I have offended you, and forget the words I
spoke if they have unwittingly caused you pain."

"No, Maximilian, I am not offended," answered she, "but do
you not see what a poor, helpless being I am, almost a
stranger and an outcast in my father's house, where even he
is seldom seen; whose will has been thwarted, and spirits
broken, from the age of ten years, beneath the iron rod so
sternly held over me; oppressed, mortified, and persecuted,
day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, no person has
cared for, even observed my sufferings, nor have I ever
breathed one word on the subject save to yourself. Outwardly
and in the eyes of the world, I am surrounded by kindness
and affection; but the reverse is the case. The general
remark is, `Oh, it cannot be expected that one of so stern a
character as M. Villefort could lavish the tenderness some
fathers do on their daughters. What though she has lost her
own mother at a tender age, she has had the happiness to
find a second mother in Madame de Villefort.' The world,
however, is mistaken; my father abandons me from utter
indifference, while my mother-in-law detests me with a
hatred so much the more terrible because it is veiled
beneath a continual smile."

"Hate you, sweet Valentine," exclaimed the young man; "how
is it possible for any one to do that?"

"Alas," replied the weeping girl, "I am obliged to own that
my mother-in-law's aversion to me arises from a very natural
source -- her overweening love for her own child, my brother

"But why should it?"

"I do not know; but, though unwilling to introduce money
matters into our present conversation, I will just say this
much -- that her extreme dislike to me has its origin there;
and I much fear she envies me the fortune I enjoy in right
of my mother, and which will be more than doubled at the
death of M. and Mme. de Saint-Meran, whose sole heiress I
am. Madame de Villefort has nothing of her own, and hates me
for being so richly endowed. Alas, how gladly would I
exchange the half of this wealth for the happiness of at
least sharing my father's love. God knows, I would prefer
sacrificing the whole, so that it would obtain me a happy
and affectionate home."

"Poor Valentine!"

"I seem to myself as though living a life of bondage, yet at
the same time am so conscious of my own weakness that I fear
to break the restraint in which I am held, lest I fall
utterly helpless. Then, too, my father is not a person whose
orders may be infringed with impunity; protected as he is by
his high position and firmly established reputation for
talent and unswerving integrity, no one could oppose him; he
is all-powerful even with the king; he would crush you at a
word. Dear Maximilian, believe me when I assure you that if
I do not attempt to resist my father's commands it is more
on your account than my own."

"But why, Valentine, do you persist in anticipating the
worst, -- why picture so gloomy a future?"

"Because I judge it from the past."

"Still, consider that although I may not be, strictly
speaking, what is termed an illustrious match for you, I am,
for many reasons, not altogether so much beneath your
alliance. The days when such distinctions were so nicely
weighed and considered no longer exist in France, and the
first families of the monarchy have intermarried with those
of the empire. The aristocracy of the lance has allied
itself with the nobility of the cannon. Now I belong to this
last-named class; and certainly my prospects of military
preferment are most encouraging as well as certain. My
fortune, though small, is free and unfettered, and the
memory of my late father is respected in our country,
Valentine, as that of the most upright and honorable
merchant of the city; I say our country, because you were
born not far from Marseilles."

"Don't speak of Marseilles, I beg of you, Maximilian; that
one word brings back my mother to my recollection -- my
angel mother, who died too soon for myself and all who knew
her; but who, after watching over her child during the brief
period allotted to her in this world, now, I fondly hope,
watches from her home in heaven. Oh, if my mother were still
living, there would be nothing to fear, Maximilian, for I
would tell her that I loved you, and she would protect us."

"I fear, Valentine," replied the lover, "that were she
living I should never have had the happiness of knowing you;
you would then have been too happy to have stooped from your
grandeur to bestow a thought on me."

"Now it is you who are unjust, Maximilian," cried Valentine;
"but there is one thing I wish to know."

"And what is that?" inquired the young man, perceiving that
Valentine hesitated.

"Tell me truly, Maximilian, whether in former days, when our
fathers dwelt at Marseilles, there was ever any
misunderstanding between them?"

"Not that I am aware of," replied the young man, "unless,
indeed, any ill-feeling might have arisen from their being
of opposite parties -- your father was, as you know, a
zealous partisan of the Bourbons, while mine was wholly
devoted to the emperor; there could not possibly be any
other difference between them. But why do you ask?"

"I will tell you," replied the young girl, "for it is but
right you should know. Well, on the day when your
appointment as an officer of the Legion of honor was
announced in the papers, we were all sitting with my
grandfather, M. Noirtier; M. Danglars was there also -- you
recollect M. Danglars, do you not, Maximilian, the banker,
whose horses ran away with my mother-in-law and little
brother, and very nearly killed them? While the rest of the
company were discussing the approaching marriage of
Mademoiselle Danglars, I was reading the paper to my
grandfather; but when I came to the paragraph about you,
although I had done nothing else but read it over to myself
all the morning (you know you had told me all about it the
previous evening), I felt so happy, and yet so nervous, at
the idea of speaking your name aloud, and before so many
people, that I really think I should have passed it over,
but for the fear that my doing so might create suspicions as
to the cause of my silence; so I summoned up all my courage,
and read it as firmly and as steadily as I could."

"Dear Valentine!"

"Well, would you believe it? directly my father caught the
sound of your name he turned round quite hastily, and, like
a poor silly thing, I was so persuaded that every one must
be as much affected as myself by the utterance of your name,
that I was not surprised to see my father start, and almost
tremble; but I even thought (though that surely must have
been a mistake) that M. Danglars trembled too."

"`Morrel, Morrel,' cried my father, `stop a bit;' then
knitting his brows into a deep frown, he added, `surely this
cannot be one of the Morrel family who lived at Marseilles,
and gave us so much trouble from their violent Bonapartism
-- I mean about the year 1815.' -- `Yes,' replied M.
Danglars, `I believe he is the son of the old shipowner.'"

"Indeed," answered Maximilian; "and what did your father say
then, Valentine?"

"Oh, such a dreadful thing, that I don't dare to tell you."

"Always tell me everything," said Maximilian with a smile.

"`Ah,' continued my father, still frowning, `their idolized
emperor treated these madmen as they deserved; he called
them `food for powder,' which was precisely all they were
good for; and I am delighted to see that the present
government have adopted this salutary principle with all its
pristine vigor; if Algiers were good for nothing but to
furnish the means of carrying so admirable an idea into
practice, it would be an acquisition well worthy of
struggling to obtain. Though it certainly does cost France
somewhat dear to assert her rights in that uncivilized

"Brutal politics, I must confess." said Maximilian; "but
don't attach any serious importance, dear, to what your
father said. My father was not a bit behind yours in that
sort of talk. `Why,' said he, `does not the emperor, who has
devised so many clever and efficient modes of improving the
art of war, organize a regiment of lawyers, judges and legal
practitioners, sending them in the hottest fire the enemy
could maintain, and using them to save better men?' You see,
my dear, that for picturesque expression and generosity of
spirit there is not much to choose between the language of
either party. But what did M. Danglars say to this outburst
on the part of the procureur?"

"Oh, he laughed, and in that singular manner so peculiar to
himself -- half-malicious, half-ferocious; he almost
immediately got up and took his leave; then, for the first
time, I observed the agitation of my grandfather, and I must
tell you, Maximilian, that I am the only person capable of
discerning emotion in his paralyzed frame. And I suspected
that the conversation that had been carried on in his
presence (for they always say and do what they like before
the dear old man, without the smallest regard for his
feelings) had made a strong impression on his mind; for,
naturally enough, it must have pained him to hear the
emperor he so devotedly loved and served spoken of in that
depreciating manner."

"The name of M. Noirtier," interposed Maximilian, "is
celebrated throughout Europe; he was a statesman of high
standing, and you may or may not know, Valentine, that he
took a leading part in every Bonapartist conspiracy set on
foot during the restoration of the Bourbons."

"Oh, I have often heard whispers of things that seem to me
most strange -- the father a Bonapartist, the son a
Royalist; what can have been the reason of so singular a
difference in parties and politics? But to resume my story;
I turned towards my grandfather, as though to question him
as to the cause of his emotion; he looked expressively at
the newspaper I had been reading. `What is the matter, dear
grandfather?' said I, `are you pleased?' He gave me a sign
in the affirmative. `With what my father said just now?' He
returned a sign in the negative. `Perhaps you liked what M.
Danglars said?' Another sign in the negative. `Oh, then, you
were glad to hear that M. Morrel (I didn't dare to say
Maximilian) had been made an officer of the Legion of
Honor?' He signified assent; only think of the poor old
man's being so pleased to think that you, who were a perfect
stranger to him, had been made an officer of the Legion of
Honor! Perhaps it was a mere whim on his part, for he is
falling, they say, into second childhood, but I love him for
showing so much interest in you."

"How singular," murmured Maximilian; "your father hates me,
while your grandfather, on the contrary -- What strange
feelings are aroused by politics."

"Hush," cried Valentine, suddenly; "some one is coming!"
Maximilian leaped at one bound into his crop of lucerne,
which he began to pull up in the most ruthless way, under
the pretext of being occupied in weeding it.

"Mademoiselle, mademoiselle!" exclaimed a voice from behind
the trees. "Madame is searching for you everywhere; there is
a visitor in the drawing-room."

"A visitor?" inquired Valentine, much agitated; "who is it?"

"Some grand personage -- a prince I believe they said -- the
Count of Monte Cristo."

"I will come directly," cried Valentine aloud. The name of
Monte Cristo sent an electric shock through the young man on
the other side of the iron gate, to whom Valentine's "I am
coming" was the customary signal of farewell. "Now, then,"
said Maximilian, leaning on the handle of his spade, "I
would give a good deal to know how it comes about that the
Count of Monte Cristo is acquainted with M. de Villefort."

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
General Fiction
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