Chapter 68: The Office of the Procureur du Roi

Madame Danglars visits Villefort’s office, cursing their terrible luck at having their past dredged up again. Villefort, however, swears that the situation has nothing to do with luck. Monte Cristo, he explains, could not have found the skeleton of their child because the man who stabbed Villefort—Bertuccio—stole the box with the corpse from Villefort. He deduces that the child must have still been alive; if it had been dead, Bertuccio would have shown its corpse to the police and had Villefort arrested for murder as soon as he realized Villefort was still alive.

Concluding that the child must in fact still be alive, Villefort and Madame Danglars understand that they are in much danger. The fact that Monte Cristo seems to know of their crime makes their situation even more perilous. Villefort promises Madame Danglars that he will discover who the Count of Monte Cristo really is and find out how he knows so much about their past.

Chapter 69: A Summer Ball

That same day, Albert de Morcerf visits Monte Cristo and invites him to his family’s ball.

Chapter 70: The Inquiry

Making inquiries through his police contacts, Villefort discovers that Monte Cristo has two old acquaintances living in Paris. The first is an Italian priest named Abbé Busoni, the other an English aristocrat named Lord Wilmore. Villefort sends the police commissioner to visit Busoni first. Busoni (Monte Cristo in disguise, of course) says that he has known Monte Cristo for decades and reveals that Monte Cristo is really the son of a rich Maltese shipbuilder. He mentions that Monte Cristo’s only enemy is Lord Wilmore.

Villefort visits Wilmore himself. Wilmore (again, Monte Cristo in disguise) claims that Monte Cristo is a speculator who made his vast fortune when he discovered a silver mine in the Middle East. When asked why Monte Cristo has purchased the house in Auteuil, Wilmore explains that Monte Cristo hopes to dig up a mineral spring in the area. Villefort is relieved by this information.

Chapter 71: The Ball

Monte Cristo is the center of attention at the Morcerfs’ ball. Mercédès notices that he refuses to eat or drink anything the entire evening.

Chapter 72: Bread and Salt

Mercédès draws Monte Cristo away from the crowd and tries to coax him into eating some fruit from the garden. She becomes agitated when he refuses, perhaps because she knows that it is an Arabian custom that those who have eaten together beneath the same roof are eternal friends. Monte Cristo and Mercédès discuss their past in a roundabout way, never explicitly acknowledging that either is aware of the other’s old identity. Monte Cristo promises that he considers Mercédès a friend. Villefort appears in search of his wife and daughter, bearing the terrible news that his former father-in-law, the Marquis de Saint Méran, is dead.

Chapter 73: Madame de Saint-Méran

That same night, the Marquise de Saint-Méran becomes sick, and the next morning she announces that she is going to die. She describes that during the night she saw a white figure approach her bed and heard it move the glass on her nightstand. The marquise yearns to see Valentine married before she dies and orders that the marriage contract be signed the day after Franz d’Epinay returns to France. Valentine longs to tell her grandmother that she loves another man but knows that her aristocratic grandmother would never allow her to marry a man from a family as common as Maximilian’s.

Chapter 74: The Promise

Valentine finds Maximilian waiting for her in the garden. He tells her that Franz has arrived in Paris and asks her to run away with him. After some coaxing, she agrees. That night, Maximilian waits for Valentine, armed with all they need for their escape, but she does not appear. Terrified that something has happened to her, he approaches the house and overhears a conversation between Villefort and a doctor. The marquise has died, and the doctor is convinced that she was poisoned with brucine.

The doctor suggests that the marquis and marquise might have accidentally been given a preparation intended for Noirtier, as Noirtier regularly takes brucine in small doses to alleviate his paralysis. Overcome with anxiety about Valentine’s well-being, Maximilian sneaks into the house and finds her. Valentine introduces Maximilian to her grandfather. Noirtier tells Maximilian that he has a secret plan to prevent Valentine from marrying Franz.

Chapter 75: The Villefort Family Vault

Immediately following the burial of the marquis and marquise, Franz d’Epinay comes to the Villefort home to sign the marriage contract. Just as they are about to sign, Barrois appears and says that Noirtier wishes to speak to Franz.

Chapter 76: A Signed Statement

Noirtier instructs Barrois to open a secret compartment in his desk and to hand Franz a stack of papers. The papers reveal that Noirtier killed Franz’s father in a duel. Villefort flees in shock.

Analysis: Chapters 68–76

With his vast resources and hidden identities, Monte Cristo is a plausible forerunner of the modern superhero, using his enormous gifts to fight crime and help the innocent. Additionally, he is able to go incognito instantly and effortlessly, merely by donning a simple disguise. Dressed as an Italian priest or an Englishman, no one recognizes him as the Count of Monte Cristo. In Chapter 70, his red wig and fake scar so convince Villefort that he is Lord Wilmore that Villefort does not even begin to suspect his true identity. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Monte Cristo’s disguises is that they fool even his closest companions. Bertuccio, for instance, never figures out that Monte Cristo and Abbé Busoni are the same person. Monte Cristo’s expert ability to disguise himself, along with his enormous strength and his seemingly inexhaustible knowledge, make him appear superhuman.

Monte Cristo can also be seen as a precursor to another popular modern figure, the detective. Monte Cristo meticulously assembles his enemies’ histories, collecting clues and evidence by slyly questioning his suspects and those close to them, wheedling out of them any information they can give. He cleverly manipulates those around him, pressuring his enemies to their breaking point—tempting Danglars into betrothing his daughter to Cavalcanti, for instance, and subtly influencing Madame de Villefort to begin her campaign of murders. Eventually, Monte Cristo brings to light heinous crimes that, if not for his sleuthing, might never be uncovered.

Unlike his real-life model, Piçaud, Monte Cristo does not stoop to criminal actions when taking revenge. Instead, what we see unfolding in these chapters is an elaborate plan to destroy his enemies by exposing their own past crimes. Moreover, Monte Cristo does not rely on the crimes his enemies committed against him long ago, but instead draws on far greater crimes they have committed against others in the intervening years. Danglars is ultimately punished for his cruel financial opportunism, Fernand Mondego for his betrayal of Ali Pacha, and Villefort for his merciless and hypocritical wielding of the law. Seen in this light, it is not Monte Cristo who is the undoing of these men; it is rather their own criminal or selfish actions that are their own undoings. This distinction raises Monte Cristo’s scheme from the level of petty revenge to the level of divine Providence. As we later see, he appeals to his enemies’ particular weaknesses in tempting them into ruin. It is Danglars’s greed, for instance, that draws him to Andrea Cavalcanti—an attraction that later becomes the final blow in his destruction. Villefort’s undoing, by contrast, is brought on by his strong, unbending ambition, which prevents him from permitting a criminal investigation to take place in his house, thereby allowing the murderer to remain at large, poised to strike again. Destroying each villain with his own weaknesses and his own crimes, Monte Cristo truly sets himself up as the dispenser of justice rather than just a petty man getting back at old enemies.

The revelation of the connection between Noirtier and Franz d’Epinay’s father casts Villefort in an even worse light than ever before. We know that Villefort is aware of this connection, as it is the very murder he and Noirtier discuss in Chapter 12, when Villefort warns his father that the police are after him. It is clear that Villefort wants the marriage to take place precisely because he thinks that it will guarantee that his father’s crime will never come to light. Once Franz is a member of the family no one would think to suspect Noirtier, and even if someone were to suspect Noirtier, surely Franz would not want to pursue such a line of inquiry. As always, Villefort is acting solely for the sake of his own ambition, sacrificing his daughter’s future and the feelings of an innocent stranger to his own goals.