Summary and Analysis
Chapters 27-38 - The Secret of Benedetto's Birth
At home, Monte Cristo visits Haydée, his soft and beautiful slave girl; he reminds her that they are in Paris now. Therefore, she is free to dress as a Westerner, meet other people, especially other men, and fall in love if she pleases — but Haydée says that she will never find a more handsome man than the Count. She loves only him, and she will never, ever leave him. Minutes later, Monte Cristo alights at the residence of Monsieur Morrel's daughter, Julie, who is now Madame Emmanuel Herbault; young Maximilien Morrel, we learn, also lives here. Inside, Monte Cristo notices a red silk purse, lying on a black velvet cushion inside a hollow crystal globe, alongside a handsome diamond in another crystal globe. (This is the diamond which Monte Cristo secretly presented for Julie's dowry.)
Maximilien and his sister relate the history of their strange and wonderous good fortune; their "angel," as they call the mysterious person who is responsible for all their material magnificence, is an Englishman representing the firm of Thomson and French of Rome.
Monte Cristo half-teases them that perhaps he knows their "angel"; the mysterious man might be a certain Lord Wilmore, who is known to perform deeds of immense, anonymous generosity. His whereabouts, however, are unknown. Maximilien then says that Morrel, their father, told them that he was convinced that their secret benefactor was none other than Edmond Dantès. The Count suddenly grows deathly pale, hurriedly pays his compliments to the Herbaults, then excuses himself. Afterward, Julie remarks that she is absolutely sure that she has heard the Count's voice before.
The Count arrives at the Villefort residence ostensibly to repay Villefort's visit, but he learns that Villefort is dining with the chancellor, and so he decides to spend the time visiting with Villefort's wife, his teenage daughter Valentine, and his son Edouard. Edouard is mutilating a beautiful picture album until his mother snatches it from him, and Valentine stays only briefly, but for the few moments that Monte Cristo sees her, he is very impressed with her gracious and forthright manner.
When Monte Cristo and Madame de Villefort are alone, he reminds her that they spoke together once before; they were in Italy, and because Monte Cristo had used his knowledge of chemistry to cure a hotelkeeper of jaundice, he acquired an instant reputation as a "great doctor." Madame de Villefort questions Monte Cristo closely about medicines and poisons. She reveals to us — and to Monte Cristo — that she herself knows a great deal about poisons. And before Monte Cristo leaves, she has managed, she thinks innocently, to make him promise to send her some of his potent liquid which he used to rouse Edouard after he fainted during the "run-away accident." Monte Cristo warns Madame de Villefort that "one drop restores life . . . but five or six drops kill." The next day, she receives the potion.
Several days later, when Albert (Merédès' son) and Debray (Madame Danglars' lover) call on Monte Cristo, they immediately notice that the Count's house on the Champs Elysées has already acquired the palatial air of Monte Cristo himself. Albert has come for a specific reason: He wants to talk to Monte Cristo about his expected engagement to Eugénie, the elder daughter of Danglars. Eugénie is, Albert confesses, "too rich for me." Such wealth, he says, frightens him. His mother (Mercédès) is also against his marrying Eugénie. But his father (Fernand) is hoping that Albert will marry Eugénie. Meanwhile, Monte Cristo seems strangely agitated; he speaks of the Danglars' fabulous wealth, and suddenly Albert suggests to Debray that since he is the minister's secretary, he could teach an invaluable lesson to the speculating-prone Madame Danglars — an especially good lesson if she is soon to be Albert's mother-in-law. Albert suggests that Debray drop a fabricated rumor about a certain political situation that will make certain stocks a wise investment; then, next day, Beauchamps, the journalist, can publish a refutation of that rumor, and the stocks would collapse, and Madame Danglars will lose a good deal of money. Several "doses of this medicine" will make the woman "more cautious." Albert (but not Monte Cristo) is totally oblivious to Debray's deep embarrassment. (If Debray were to do this, of course, he would be betraying his mistress and, as we will find out later, he would be creating financial disaster for himself because Madame Danglars splits her "winnings" with Debray.) Not surprisingly, Debray cuts his visit to Monte Cristo short.
Afterward, Monte Cristo proposes to Albert that perhaps he, Monte Cristo, should have a dinner party and invite the Villeforts and the Danglars — but not the Morcerfs. That way, Monte Cristo can spare Albert's mother (Mercédès) the pain of seeing her son with Danglars' daughter, Eugénie. "I wish to avoid that [pain to Mercédès] at all costs," Monte Cristo tells Albert. Albert, of course, is extremely grateful and says that he will tell his mother about Monte Cristo's thoughtfulness. Meanwhile, Albert will arrange matters so that it will be impossible for him and his family to dine with Monte Cristo — because of a "previous commitment." The Count then tells Albert that he is going to meet with a Major Cavalcanti and assist Cavalcanti's son, Andrea (in actuality, this is Villefort's and Madame Danglars' bastard son, Benedetto), to make his entrance into Parisian society. Albert jokes, yet seriously, that Monte Cristo should also assist Andrea to make the acquaintance of Eugénie. (Remember, however, that Eugénie is Andrea's — Benedetto's — half-sister; they share the same father, Villefort.)
That night at seven, Major Cavalcanti meets with the Count, and it is immediately clear that Cavalcanti is an imposter whom Monte Cristo is grooming for a "role," for which he is being paid an enormous sum. Monte Cristo furnishes him a birth certificate for his "son" Andrea, as well as a trunk of suitable clothing for himself. Then Monte Cristo introduces Cavalcanti to his "son," a tall blond man with flashing black eyes and a red beard. The two men agree that they must play their parts well. Monte Cristo then instructs his two "actors" to be at his house on Saturday for a dinner party. The secret web of revenge that Monte Cristo is weaving is clearly well planned, because he is preparing a series of slow and extremely painful acts of revenge upon his enemies.
We now eavesdrop on the Villefort home, where Maximilien Morrel is at a grilled iron gate. Rendezvousing with Valentine Villefort, he learns how unhappy she will be if she is forced to marry Franz d'Epinay; Maximilien vows that he will love no one else but Valentine — no matter what happens. Then, hearing voices, Valentine returns to the house where her grandfather (Monsieur Noirtier, the Bonapartist, now a paralyzed mute) is revising his will with commands from his eyes. Two notaries have been summoned. The old man's fortune, we learn, is large, almost a million francs, all of which he intends to leave to the poor — if Valentine marries Franz. Villefort (a royalist, as opposed to a Bonapartist) is furious with his father, but he knows that the old man is not only politically stubborn; he is stubborn by nature, and so he instructs the notaries to make the will according to Noirtier's wishes.
Leaving his father's room, Villefort learns that he and his wife have a guest: the Count of Monte Cristo, who reminds them that he expects them for dinner on Saturday at his country home in Auteuil. Villefort pales at that word, and even more so when Monte Cristo tells them that his "country home" once belonged to the Saint-Mérans (Villefort's former in-laws); Villefort, remember, used this house as a rendezvous site with the present Madame Danglars; in addition, Villefort believes that he buried their newborn baby alive in what is now Monte Cristo's garden. This is the house, then, where Benedetto — "Andrea Cavalcanti" — was born.
That Saturday, Monte Cristo's guests arrive — Maximilien Morrel, Lucien Debray (Madame Danglars' lover), the Danglars (the Baron, looking extremely pale and dreamy; he speaks to a cactus, and it pricks him), the "Cavalcantis" (father and son, resplendent in new finery), and the Villeforts (Monsieur Villefort is "visibly agitated").
Privately, Bertuccio (Monte Cristo's steward) excitedly tells his master that Madame Danglars is the pregnant woman whom he saw having a rendezvous with Villefort — the man whom Bertuccio was positive that he killed! The Count explains to his steward that Bertuccio's knife lodged between the wrong ribs. Then Bertuccio spies young Cavalcanti — and realizes that the young man is Benedetto, the child who was such a menace to Bertuccio's late sister-in-law!
Bertuccio staggers back to the dining room, scarcely believing his eyes, but he is able to serve dinner. And over the many opulent and exotic dishes, Monte Cristo tells his guests of the strange history of the house. Villefort begins drinking rapidly, particularly when Monte Cristo asks them all to view a "peculiar bedroom," where one's imagination might conjure up a dark night when someone might carry away some sinister burden." At these words, Madame Danglars half-faints and asks for no more stories. Monte Cristo suggests, instead, that perhaps this room could just as well have been a bedroom for a wondrous birth! At this, Madame Danglars groans and faints. (Remember that she gave birth to Benedetto — that is, Andrea Cavalcanti — in this room and that Villefort stole away to bury the infant alive.) Villefort cries out that Madame Danglars is ill and should be taken to her carriage.
Instead, Monte Cristo takes her to another bedroom, administers a drop of his potent red liquid, and she regains consciousness. Then Monte Cristo tells them all that a crime was indeed committed in this house and that one of his workmen unearthed a wooden box containing the skeleton of a newborn baby. Madame Danglars and Villefort both tremble visibly. Cavalcanti remarks that in his country, the criminals would have had their heads cut off. Villefort makes a comment, but only barely, in a voice "scarcely human." Then Monte Cristo reminds his guests that they must return to their coffee. Villefort whispers to Madame Danglars that she must meet him tomorrow at his office.
Shortly afterward, the guests begin to depart. And as Andrea Cavalcanti is about to climb into his carriage, he is stopped by a bearded, ragged man with glittering eyes and teeth as sharp and white as a wolf's — it is Caderousse, and he addresses Andrea by his real name, Benedetto. Andrea quickly ushers Caderousse into his cab and tells the driver that the two men need to talk in private. Then, as Andrea drives away, Caderousse reminds him that he used to share his soup and beans with Andrea in prison; now he expects the same from Andrea, or Benedetto! Moreover, he needs money now, and so Andrea gives it to him, of course, but he touches his pistol meanwhile. And Caderousse, in turn, fingers his long Spanish knife. It is a stand-off, and so Andrea agrees to take Caderousse into Paris. When they are on the outskirts of the inner city, Caderousse snatches Andrea's hat, grabs his groom's overcoat, and leaps out of the cab, vanishing down a side street.
When the Danglars arrive home, young Debray tries to comfort Madame Danglars, but Monsieur Danglars abruptly sends him home so that he can rail at his wife in private because of her speculation debts — which have also cost Danglars a small fortune. He knows that Madame Danglars gambles with her "allowance" and then splits the profits with Debray. Now Danglars wants Debray to pay him the exact amount that Danglars has lost. Danglars names Debray outright as his wife's lover, and he accuses his wife of taking some very bad financial advice from Debray. But it was advice which Danglars followed also. He announces to his wife that he knows about all of her lovers — from Villefort to Debray — and he has never complained before, but heretofore, none of them cost him money. Now, Debray has caused him to lose an enormous amount of money; he will no longer be silent, and Debray must pay up. If Debray goes bankrupt, then he can leave Paris — as all bankrupts do. Danglars leaves then, and his wife collapses, in utter disbelief of all of the disasters that have suddenly enveloped her.
Next day, Danglars notes that young Debray's carriage does not arrive when it usually does, and that "by coincidence," his wife leaves in her carriage. Mid-afternoon, Danglars drives to Monte Cristo's residence on the Champs Elysées. He tells the Count about a series of financial disasters that have befallen him, and then he asks what he should do about a new problem — Cavalcanti's request for credit. The Count changes the subject. He suggests that young Andrea Cavalcanti has been brought to Paris to find a wife to share his immense fortune. Danglars intimates that he would be willing to speculate with his daughter's (Eugénie's) future if she weren't "unofficially" engaged to Albert (Mercédès' son). Monte Cristo then asks about Albert's father's past (Fernand's past, that is), and Danglars recalls a dark, mysterious "secret" concerning the "Ali Pasha affair." Monte Cristo urges Danglars to solve this mystery — especially if this man might someday be Eugénie's father-in-law, and Danglars agrees to do so — and to tell Monte Cristo if he learns, perchance, "some scandalous piece of news."
The middle portion of the novel deals with many diverse matters. Mainly, we are concerned with the Count's involving his enemies in one way or another with their eventual downfall. The first two chapters deal with the Count's relationship with his "slave," Haydée, and his deep, fatherly affection for her and her deep devotion to him as a man. Likewise, Monte Cristo pays a visit to the grown children of Monsieur Morrel, the shipowner, the Count's first benefactor. At Julie's house, where Maximilien lives, Monte Cristo hears that both Julie and Maximilien long to discover the name of their family's secret benefactor and that their father died believing that their benefactor was Edmond Dantès.
Monte Cristo then visits the Villefort residence, and he is received as the "savior" of Villefort's wife and son. Monte Cristo reminds Madame de Villefort that they once met in Perugia (Italy), when the Count was healing a servant and a hotelkeeper, and he reveals his knowledge of medicinal herbs, especially poisonous ones. And while the Count is explaining how one drop of his liquid brought her son back to life, but that a few more drops would have killed him, Madame de Villefort's curiosity is aroused out of all proportion to the discussion; she wants some of Monte Cristo's "medicine" (poison) for her own use. At the end of their conversation, the Count acknowledges that he's convinced that "the seed I have sown has not fallen on barren ground." This is a part of his plan for slow revenge. Significantly, Madame de Villefort will prove to be the ultimate villainess of this novel; she will deliberately poison three people and will attempt to poison even her own stepdaughter.
The Count's revenge becomes more complicated when he includes Benedetto in his scheme. Benedetto is the illegitimate son of Villefort and Madame Danglars, and Monte Cristo is paying Benedetto to pretend to be the extremely wealthy son of an Italian nobleman because ultimately, the Count will intrigue Baron Danglars into arranging a marriage between Benedetto (alias Andrea Cavalcanti) and Danglars' daughter, who is (unbeknownst to Andrea) Benedetto's half-sister. Throughout this novel, we must always remember that the Count wants his revenge to be slow and deliberate; an immediate or quick revenge would not do justice to the suffering which he himself has undergone.
We also learn that Maximilien Morrel, the son of the Count's first employer, and Valentine de Villefort, the daughter of the Count's worst enemy, are in love with each other. And furthermore, we discover that while Maximilien feels that the Count is especially favorable in his cause, Valentine, on the contrary, feels a dislike for the Count because she senses that he has completely ignored her and her plans in order to use her in some way. (This is not found in some of the abridged editions.) Both feelings are indeed true. The Count will take no interest in Valentine until he discovers that Maximilien is deeply in love with her, and then he will leave no stone uncovered to help her.
Monsieur Noirtier is introduced in these chapters. We first heard of him when Edmond Dantès was supposed to deliver a letter to him (allegedly from Napoleon) and was arrested by Villefort for carrying that letter. Now, years later, Noirtier is paralyzed, and when he discovers that his beloved granddaughter is about to be forced by her parents into a marriage with Franz d'Epinay, the old man is horrified because we discover later that Noirtier was the person who killed Franz's father years ago in a political duel. Noirtier is also aware, even though he is paralyzed, that Valentine is being used by Madame de Villefort because of Valentine's wealth, and therefore, Noirtier decides to cut her out of his will for her own protection. Shortly, his fears will be proven to be entirely correct as we see that Madame Villefort tries to poison Valentine so that Valentine's money will revert to her father, who will leave everything to his son.
Coincidences abound in Romantic novels, so the readers should not be surprised to discover that Caderousse, who now reappears in the plot, was an old cellmate of young Benedetto. Their relationship will lead directly to the death of Caderousse because of Caderousse's extreme greed.
The Count continues his plan of exacting slow and deliberate punishment for those guilty of causing him such extreme torment and suffering. Thus, he gives the party at his chateau in Auteuil, fully aware of the horrors perpetrated there by Villefort and the Baroness Danglars. As he shows them the rooms and projects stories about one of the rooms, he is actually describing the birth of the infant child that the Baroness had by Villefort, and when he mentions how the workmen discovered the bones of an infant child buried in the garden, he is of course referring to the child of the Baroness and Villefort. His punishment is directed toward both the Baroness Danglars and Villefort, and the reader should repress all sympathy for these two people — for they are guilty of bearing an illegitimate child and then of attempting to kill it by burying it alive.
The Count further involves Danglars in financial intrigues by using his loyal friend Jacopo (the person who saved the Count from drowning alongside the smuggling ship) to borrow large sums from Danglars and thus having established excellent credit, to borrow a million francs and then disappear. At the end of this section, the Count causes further dissension by revealing to Danglars the means whereby he can obtain damaging information about Morcerf's activities during his Greek campaigns in Yanini, the campaigns which allowed him to become so immensely wealthy and powerful. By the end of this section, therefore, the Count has set into motion many different techniques by which his enemies will all be entrapped.