I have answered you a hundred times, Fernand, and really you must be your own enemy to ask me again . . . At least it was not I who ever encouraged you in that hope, Fernand . . . you cannot reproach me with the slightest coquetry. I have always said to you, I love you like a brother, do not ask from me more than sisterly affection, for my heart is another’s. Is not this true, Fernand?
As the story begins, Mercédès makes clear she is not in love with her cousin Fernand, even though their families wanted them to wed. She has never given Fernand any reason to hope that she will change her mind. While her words here demonstrate Mercédès’s morality and her loyalty to Dantès, they also show why Fernand feels he must take desperate action to win her hand.
Lovely as the Greeks of Cyprus or Chios, Mercédès boasted the same bright flashing eyes of dress, and ripe, round, coral lips. One more practiced in the arts of great cities would have hid her blushes beneath a veil, or, at least, have cast down her thickly fringed lashes, so as to have concealed the liquid lustre of her animated eyes; but, on the contrary, the delighted girl looked around her with a smile that seemed to invite all who saw her to behold, and beholding, to rejoice with her in her exceeding happiness.
As Mercédès and Dantès walk to their betrothal feast, the narrator describes young Mercédès’s innocence. She possesses all the beauty of fashionable ladies her age but none of the artifice. She feels too happy to think of behaving in the falsely modest style expected by societal norms. As an orphan, she hasn’t had the parental guidance on so-called proper behavior. Besides, the idea of being less than honest contradicts her nature. She wants to share her joy.
His devotion, and the compassion he showed for her misfortunes, produced the effect they always produce on noble minds: Mercédès had always had a sincere regard for Fernand, and this was now strengthened by gratitude. ‘My brother,’ said she as she placed his knapsack on his shoulders, ‘take care of yourself, for if you are killed I shall be alone in the world.’
Mercédès reveals to Fernand his importance to her as they part. After Dantès’s disappearance, Fernand receives a draft notice into the military. Mercédès feels saddened by the thought of losing Fernand, her cousin and only living relative, and being an honest person herself, she never suspects that Fernand might have had something to do with Dantès’s disappearance. Mercédès’s innocent appreciation for Fernand’s care will eventually allow her to marry him, if not love him as she loves Dantès.
Mercédès might have been a queen, sir, if the crown were to be placed on the heads of the liveliest and most intelligent. Fernand’s fortune already became greater, and she became greater with his growing fortune. She learned drawing, music, everything. Besides, I believe, between ourselves, she did this in order to distract her mind, that she might forget; and she only filled her head thus in order to alleviate the weight on her heart . . . She is rich, a countess, and yet— . . . Yet I am sure she is not happy.
Here, Caderousse describes what happened to Dantès’s friends after Dantès disappeared. Fernand made his fortune, married Mercédès, and brought her to Paris where he pretends to be a count. Mercédès’s natural talents bloomed with the assistance that money and position provide. But Caderousse believes that wealth failed to provide her with the comfort she desires. He implies that she still loves and grieves for Dantès, though she now hides her feelings from others.
[W]hen Monte Cristo turned around, she let fall her arm, which for some reason had been resting on the gilded door-post. She had been there some moments, and had overheard the last words of the visitor. The latter rose and bowed to the countess, who inclined herself without speaking. ‘Ah! Good heavens, madame!’ said the count, ‘are you unwell, or is it the heat of the room that affects you?’
Dantès, as the Count of Monte Cristo, encounters Mercédès for the first time since he disappeared. Mercédès interacts with the Count formally, thanking him for his protection of her son. However, as her physical reaction indicates, she recognizes Dantès. She fears what he has planned, and she feels terribly guilty that she did not wait for him. She has no idea of anyone else’s responsibility for his fate, so her guilt arises purely on her own behalf.
Mercédès lives, sir, and she remembers, for she alone recognized you when she saw you, and even before she saw you, by your voice, Edmond,— by the simple sound of your voice; and from that moment she has followed your steps, watched you, feared you, and she does not need to enquire what hand has dealt the blow which now strikes M. de Morcerf.
Here Mercédès reveals that she has known all along that the Count of Monte Cristo was her beloved Dantès. Unlike everyone else, she knows exactly who he is and has an accurate, though incomplete, understanding of his motivations. Though hitherto willing to pretend she didn’t recognize him, she now comes to him begging for mercy for her son’s life. She appeals to Edmond Dantès, the good man, rather than to Monte Cristo, the agent of vengeance.
Edmond, I swear to you by the head of that son for whom I entreat your pity,— Edmond, during ten years I have seen every night men balancing something shapeless and unknown at the top of a rock; for ten years I have heard each night a terrible cry which has woken me, shuddering and cold. And I, too, Edmond — oh, believe me— guilty as I was— oh, yes, I too have suffered much!
Mercédès reveals that she has nightmares of the very scenario in which Dantès left prison: thrown into the ocean from the Château d’If. Although she did not know what had happened to Dantès, her guilt at not waiting for him placed a vision of his fate into her unconscious mind. What she saw, interestingly, was his moment of escape. Her ten years of nightmares may thus have forewarned his eventual return and vengeance.
Monte Cristo approached her, and silently took her hand. ‘No,’ said she, withdrawing it gently, ‘no, my friend, do not touch me. You have spared me, yet of all those who have fallen under your vengeance I was the most guilty. They were influenced by hatred, by avarice, and by self-love; but I was base, and, for want of courage, acted against my judgement. Nay, do not press my hand, Edmond! You are thinking of some kind expression, I am sure, to console me, but do not bestow it on me, for I am no longer worthy of kindness.’
Mercédès believes that her shame and suffering after the ruin of her husband reflects no more than she deserves after her betrayal of Dantès. However, Dantès doesn’t agree. Originally, he felt no misgivings about taking Mercédès and Albert down in the same plot that ruined Fernand, but now he wants to help them restore their fortunes. Mercédès tries to turn down his help, but Dantès sees his assistance as his moral duty.