Summary and Analysis
Chapters 39-44 - Death by Poisoning
When Danglars saw his wife leaving in her carriage — without Debray — he never suspected that she was leaving to meet her old lover, Villefort. Of course, however, she never suspected the extent of the bad news which Villefort would have for her. Villefort tells her very straightforwardly that they are both in extremely serious trouble. He reminds her that Monte Cristo mentioned a baby's skeleton having been unearthed. That would have been impossible, Villefort says, because while he was burying the newborn baby, he was stabbed by a Corsican and left for dead. Afterward, he was critically ill for three months, but when he was able to travel, he returned to Auteuil and dug up the entire garden area, searching for the makeshift casket. There was no casket nor was there a baby's corpse. Someone dug it up and is now waiting to make them both pay for their crime.
Madame Danglars screams: "You buried my child alive!" Villefort loathes these accusations and tries to frighten her. Perhaps she talked in her sleep . . . perhaps she is to blame. Whatever the reason for their present predicament, someone now knows about them both. "We are lost," he says. But he vows to discover who Monte Cristo is and why he lied about the baby's corpse being "accidentally" discovered — when indeed it was not.
Later, after Madame de Villefort and Valentine leave for a ball, Villefort shuts himself in his study. But before he has time to work at his papers, his former mother-in-law arrives. Her husband, Saint-Méran, has just died. The old lady is so distraught that Villefort has her put to bed, where she falls into a feverish sleep. When she rouses, she questions Villefort closely about Valentine's upcoming marriage. She is surprised that Franz, Valentine's fiancé, does not object to marrying the granddaughter of a fervent Bonapartist. After all, she says, Franz's father was assassinated only a few days before Napoleon returned from exile in Elba. Villefort tries to dismiss the old lady's worries; Franz, he says, was "only a child" when all that took place. Old Madame Saint-Méran, however, urges Villefort to marry his daughter to Franz as soon as possible. She says that she is certain that she is going to die. Last night, she saw a white "form" do something with her orangeade glass. And abruptly, she asks for the glass and empties it in a long, single swallow. An hour later, the old lady is dead.
Villefort is hysterical at the attending doctor's cross-examination. The old woman could not have died of poison, as the doctor states. Why would anyone want to poison her? Her sole heiress is Valentine — and Valentine is absolutely incapable of murder. But the doctor is certain not only that murder was committed, but that the poison used was brucine, a red liquid which he has been administering in very small doses to Villefort's father. One drop of that potion is a medicine; several drops are deadly poison.
Meanwhile, Valentine takes her beloved Maximilien to meet her grandfather old Noirtier. He obviously approves of the young man as a husband for Valentine, but signals for them to wait, instead of eloping.
He has plans for them.
Two days later, Monsieur and Madame de Saint-Méran are buried in a vault beside Renée, Valentine's mother. Then Villefort makes immediate plans for his daughter's marriage to Franz d'Epinay. The formal papers are ready to be signed when a message arrives from Villefort's father, old Noirtier. He wishes to see Franz immediately. So Franz, Valentine, and Villefort all hurry to the old man's room. There, by means of eye signals, a secret packet of old papers, tied in a black ribbon, is brought forth from Noirtier's desk. Franz is directed to read the papers.
He cries out when he sees that they are dated on the very day that his father was assassinated. There was, he reads, a secret club of Bonapartists during Louis XVIII's reign. Unfortunately, it was erroneously believed that Franz's father was a secret Bonapartist, and thus he was blindfolded one day and taken to one of the secret meetings of the Bonapartists. Among the matters discussed were the details of Bonaparte's return, including the mention of a certain letter carried on Morrel's ship, the Pharaon (the ship on which we first met Edmond Dantés. This "message" was also the message which Danglars used to indict Dantès and send him to prison for fourteen long, torturous years).
When Franz's father could no longer listen to plans for overthrowing the king's government, he spoke out loudly and said that his loyalty would always be to Louis — never to Bonaparte. Thus he was blindfolded again and was taken away and forced to fight a fair duel with old Noirtier, who killed him honorably. D'Epinay's death was no assassination.
Franz sinks lifelessly into a chair. The grandfather of his fiancée killed his own father! Villefort opens the door and flees in order not to choke the life out of his mute old father, who has just ruined Valentine's chance for marrying the wealthy Franz d'Epinay.
But Valentine, happy and frightened at the same time, kisses her grandfather and goes to the iron grill to speak of what has happened to her beloved Maximilien. "We're saved," she tells him, but she states that she will not reveal the full story until she is his wife.
Next day, Monsieur Noirtier has a new will made up, leaving Valentine his entire fortune. Valentine will soon be a very rich woman, with three hundred thousand francs a year.
Meanwhile, just as Valentine is planning for her marriage to Maximilien, another proposed marriage is being shattered. Morcerf (Fernand) comes to discuss his son's upcoming marriage to Eugénie Danglars with Danglars. Danglars tells Morcerf that "certain new circumstances have arisen"; Eugénie will not marry Albert. Morcerf proudly bites his lip at Danglars' arrogance. He asks for an explanation. "Be grateful that I don't give you one," snarls Danglars.
For a very short time, Maximilien is a very happy man. He is so very much in love with Valentine that he is scarcely able to believe in his happiness, expecially as he listens to Valentine tell him about the details of her future plans. Her grandfather has given her and Maximilien his blessing and, in eighteen months, Valentine will be of legal age and can marry Maximilien.
Just then, Valentine notices that Noirtier's old servant, Barrois, who has been standing in the background, is looking very tired. She offers him a glass of lemonade from her grandfather's tray. Gratefully, he empties the glass. In a few moments, he begins to stagger and his facial muscles begin to twitch violently. "Call the doctor," cries Valentine. D'Avrigny comes at once. Barrois rallies briefly, but then he is seized with an attack even more intense than the first one. The doctor discovers that Barrois has drunk some of the lemonade meant for Noirtier, and after Barrois falls dead with a loud cry, d'Avrigny reminds Villefort that the Saint-Mérans also died suddenly — and, moreover, that Madame Saint-Méran died of brucine poisoning, the same poison that has just now killed Barrois. Villefort cries out. But d'Avrigny says that he knows the symptoms of brucine poisoning very well. He performs a colored paper test and proves that brucine was indeed used.
"Death is in my house!" moans the public prosecutor. The doctor corrects him. "Murder is in your house," he says. Only the fact that Noirtier was taking graduated doses of brucine saved him, the doctor states. By accident, Noirtier was immune. But clearly, d'Avrigny believes that the poison was meant for Noirtier — and the evidence points to Valentine because she prepared the lemonade and would gain all of Noirtier's fortune if he were dead.
Villefort is furious with the doctor, but d'Avrigny is unmoved. He simply washes his hands of the Villeforts. If Villefort harbors criminals, or murderers, in his home, he wants nothing more to do with the family. He bids Villefort a final goodbye.
This section continues the involvements which began earlier — that is, the complications before the plot begins to resolve itself. For example, the Count's plan to slowly become involved with his enemies in order to manipulate matters so that they, the enemies, begin to suffer has already been extremely effective. Madame Danglars meets with Villefort the next day in order to relive some of the horrors that they had originally perpetrated when Villefort tried to bury their son alive. But Villefort is even more concerned now because he knows that the Count did not discover the body of an infant; after Villefort recovered from the stab wounds, he returned to the garden and dug up the entire area, and he has lived all these years with the knowledge that his and Madame Danglars' son is alive somewhere in this world. Madame Danglars is horrified that Villefort would sink so low as to try to bury their child alive, and the grisly irony will soon be made clear when their son (once, supposedly dead) becomes unofficially engaged to Eugénie Danglars, his half-sister.
With the deaths of the Marquis de Saint-Méran and then of the Marquise de Saint-Méran, evil in the Villefort household is beginning to assert itself. In both deaths, Doctor d'Avrigny suspects the use of poison — brucine — which the Count of Monte Cristo had talked about earlier to Madame Héloise de Villefort and had obliged her by sending her some. But in both deaths, it was Valentine who unknowingly administered the fatal potion, and finally, with the death of Barrois, it seems frighteningly clear to Doctor d'Avrigny that once again, Valentine is involved, because she brought the drink to her grandfather, old Noirtier, and Barrois accidentally drank it. All of the circumstantial evidence points to Valentine as the culprit in the deaths of these three old people. The doctor believes that the poison was intended for Villefort's father so that Valentine could inherit all of her maternal and paternal grandparents' monies. This causes Villefort to undergo deep and desperate grief — but not nearly so deep and desperate as Edmond Dantès underwent during his fourteen years of imprisonment.
Since Valentine is in love with Maximilien Morrel, but is honorably engaged to young Franz d'Epinay, there must be a way to honorably break the engagement. To do so, Noirtier reveals through some old documents that date back to 1815 that it was he who, for political reasons, killed Franz's father in an honorable duel over a difference in political philosophy. Thus, when Franz sends a letter breaking off the engagement, this is another blow, another bit of suffering for Villefort. The Count of Monte Cristo's desire for long and slow revenge is gradually being effected.