After taking leave of Monte Cristo, Maximilian goes to see Valentine and Noirtier. He finds Valentine feeling ill and complaining that all drinks taste bitter to her. Their meeting is interrupted when Madame Danglars and Eugénie arrive, announcing that Eugénie will marry Andrea Cavalcanti in one week. Eugénie expresses her displeasure at being chained to a man rather than being allowed to live as an independent artist. Feeling progressively sicker, Valentine excuses herself and returns to Maximilian and Noirtier. While with them, she loses consciousness.
Maximilian runs to Monte Cristo and begs for help. Monte Cristo is indifferent to Valentine’s plight at first, but when he hears that Maximilian loves her, he promises that he will save her life. Back in the Villefort home, the doctor communicates with Noirtier, who seems to understand what has happened. Noirtier confirms that Valentine, like all the others, has been poisoned. The only reason she is still alive is because he has slowly been accustoming her to successively larger doses of brucine, knowing that she would be the next victim. As the doctor goes to examine Valentine, Monte Cristo rents the house next door to Villefort’s in the guise of the Abbé Busoni.
Earlier that day, Eugénie confronts Danglars and declares that she will not marry Andrea Cavalcanti. Danglars confides in her that he is on the brink of financial ruin and that he needs the three million francs that his daughter’s marriage with Cavalcanti will bring. Public knowledge that he will soon have this money at his disposal will be enough to restore his credit and allow him to borrow money in order to speculate in American railroads.
Eugénie agrees to go through with the signing of the marriage contract on the condition that her father merely use the report of the three million to restore his credit and not actually use any of Cavalcanti’s money. Eugénie hints that there is a dramatic reason for her request, but Danglars loses all curiosity once he is assured that she will sign the marriage contract and thus ensure the return of his credit.
Three days later, a large party at the Danglars’ residence celebrates the signing of the marriage contract. Just as the contract is being signed, Monte Cristo announces the existence of the letter written to Danglars by Caderousse. Monte Cristo claims that the letter has been found that very day in Caderousse’s vest and that it has since been given to Villefort. He does not reveal the content of the letter, but as he finishes speaking, two gendarmes appear, looking to arrest Cavalcanti. Andrea (Benedetto in disguise), however, has disappeared.
As the guests leave, Eugénie rushes to her room with Louise d’Armilly. The two women discuss their disdain for men and their plot to run away together to Italy by way of Belgium. Once in Italy, they plan to make a living from their music. They decide to leave that night. To prevent detection, Eugénie will dress as a man and pretend to be Louise’s brother. Though Louise is frightened, Eugénie is fearless and doubtless. She cuts her hair and triumphantly dons masculine clothes. The two women pile their possessions into a carriage and ride away.
As Eugénie flees Paris, so does Benedetto. He stops overnight at an inn in the town of Compiègne, but oversleeps and wakes up to find gendarmes milling around the hotel. Benedetto attempts to escape through the chimney of his room. Once on the roof, he must go down through another chimney, and he chooses the only one not emitting smoke. The room at the bottom of this chimney happens to be where Eugénie and Louise are staying. They give the alarm, and Benedetto is seized.
Madame Danglars approaches Villefort, and she requests that he not pursue the case against Andrea Cavalcanti. For the sake of her family’s dignity, Madame Danglars begs that Villefort simply make the affair go away. He rigidly refuses. At the end of their meeting, news comes that Cavalcanti has been arrested.
Valentine has been sick for four days. On the fourth night, she sees a figure approach her bed. It is Monte Cristo, who explains that he has been keeping constant watch over her from his window next door. Whenever Monte Cristo sees poison put into her glass he enters her room, as he has done just now, and replaces the deadly contents with curative ones. Monte Cristo advises Valentine to pretend that she is asleep, then watch and wait in order to see who is trying to kill her.
Valentine does as Monte Cristo says, and sees Madame de Villefort enter her room and pour poison into her glass. When Monte Cristo returns, Valentine expresses complete bafflement as to her stepmother’s motive. Monte Cristo explains that Madame de Villefort wants Valentine’s inheritance to go to Edward, Madame de Villefort’s son. The saintly Valentine’s first emotion is pity for Edward for having such ghastly crimes committed in his name. As Valentine is emotionally unable to denounce her stepmother, Monte Cristo hatches another plan to expose the murderess. He tells Valentine that no matter what happens she must trust him. He then gives her a tiny pill, which she swallows as he watches.
The news of Maximilian’s love for Valentine has a profound effect on Monte Cristo, setting the scene for an emotional rebirth that is completed several chapters later. In response to Maximilian’s admission, Monte Cristo “close[s] his eyes, as if dazzled by internal light.” This reference to an “internal light” suggests a sudden epiphany. Maximilian’s love for Valentine opens up a possibility that Monte Cristo has never bothered to consider—that Valentine is innocent and does not deserve to die for her father’s crimes. Until now, he has thought of Valentine as a placeholder, the child of Villefort, the “daughter of an accursed race.” He is now forced to acknowledge that she is an independent, good person, bound up in her own life and in the lives of other good people. Though at this point Monte Cristo is still a firm believer in the justice of his cause, this episode is the first indication that he might not have quite enough knowledge to pull off his scheme perfectly. We see that he does not know everything about the people who will be affected by his actions.
Danglars and Benedetto, who are nearly joined as father and son-in-law, make a surprisingly well-suited unit. They share many of the same pathologies, caring about nothing except for money and willing to betray anyone who stands in their way of personal fortune. Danglars has no more qualms about selling Eugénie into a loveless marriage than he has earlier about sending Dantès to a life in prison. Benedetto, for his part, has been capable of torturing and killing the woman who raised him for the sake of a few gold coins. He has also showed readiness to kill the man he thinks is his father—Monte Cristo—in order to receive what he expects to be a vast inheritance.
Both Danglars and Benedetto are very adept at playing roles, pretending to be much better people than they truly are. We first saw Danglars’s playacting in his interaction with Morrel, whom he manages to fool thoroughly enough to win a recommendation into the Spanish banking house where he wins his fortune. In Chapter 96, we learn that Danglars continues to play a part: “to the world and to his servants Danglars assumed the good-natured man and the weak father . . . in private . . . the brutal husband and domineering father.” Likewise, Benedetto brings phoniness to a whole new level, becoming an actual impostor in his guise as Andrea Cavalcanti. Soon after, Benedetto behaves in a misleading manner similar to Danglars’s, speaking “in the tone in which he had heard Dorante or Valère reply to Alceste in the Théâtre Français.” The juxtaposition of their behaviors makes a clear point: these two greedy and deceptive men deserve to be each other’s ruin.
In contrast to the conniving Danglars and Benedetto, Valentine is so guileless that she is incapable of grasping evil motives. When faced with the fact that her stepmother is trying to kill her, she cannot even begin to figure out why. Monte Cristo is forced to remind her that if she dies, all of her inheritance would go to Edward. Valentine’s confusion signals her complete and trusting innocence and is reminiscent of Dantès’s initial inability to understand how or why is imprisoned. However, whereas Dantès becomes vengeful when he discovers that he has enemies, Valentine does not. In fact, she so lacks a desire for revenge that she cannot even find it within herself to denounce the woman trying to murder her. Unlike Dantès’s innocence, which passes quickly, Valentine’s seems almost indestructible. Her innocence is not merely a function of youth and inexperience but an essential character trait that she simply cannot overcome. This trait, presumably, is one reason Valentine is consistently referred to as an “angel.”
Eugénie poses a sharp and interesting contrast to Valentine’s innocent passivity. Both Eugénie and Valentine long for the same thing—the freedom to choose how they live their own lives—yet each woman goes about achieving this goal in a very different way. Valentine balks at even the idea of opposing her father’s will, and it takes an enormous amount of persuasion on Maximilian’s part to persuade her to run away with him. That Valentine ultimately manages to marry the man she loves has nothing to do with her own actions, but depends entirely on the clever ruses devised by other people, namely Noirtier and Monte Cristo. Eugénie, by contrast, has no trouble standing up to her father, speaking boldly and calmly about her refusal to follow his orders. She displays no fear at all as she prepares to run away with Louise d’Armilly, enthusiastically embracing the prospect of finding her own way through Europe and making a career as an artist. Whereas Valentine lives an entirely passive life, depending upon other people to help her overcome any difficulties, Eugénie takes an active part in shaping her own destiny. Like Monte Cristo and Albert, she refuses to be a pawn of fate or any other external force, such as the expectations of her father or of society as a whole.