Welcome to the last part of this series and the thrilling conclusion of the book! If you happen to be reading this in the future and missed the first three parts, I’ll leave links to those here so you can catch up: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. Obviously if you don’t want to see how the book ends, avoid this part for the sake of spoilers. I also wanted to put a trigger warning at the beginning of this one for suicide. It’s been mentioned before in the book, but one actually does occur in this part, so steer clear if that’ll be troubling for you. Stay safe, my friends!
When we last left off, the pieces were in place, the secrets known and ready for release, and the undoings begun! The coward Caderousse was murdered by Benedetto – Villefort and Madame Danglar’s illegitimate son, now masquerading as an Italian nobleman named Andrea Cavalcanti thanks to the Count’s patronage. Danglars is teetering on financial ruin after losing a million francs in the stock market, so he’s set up a marriage between his daughter Eugenie and Andrea to get his money. Noirtier’s Bonapartist political affiliations ruined an unwanted arranged marriage between Valentine and Franz, and potentially his son’s Royalist political career, but instead of now being free to marry her true love Maximilian Morrel, she’s been framed as a poisoner. Meanwhile, the Count still can’t figure out his feelings for Mercedes, and news about Fernand de Morcerf’s military scandal in Greece was leaked to a local newspaper. Though it was missing any connection to the family name, Albert was still concerned, and asked his friend Beauchamp to investigate.
The Morcef Mess, Chapters 85-93
This chapter opens with Beauchamp arriving at Albert’s home to tell him the bad news that he has solid proof of his father’s crimes in Greece. Because the original story didn’t have a direct link to the Morcerf family however, this news can still be suppressed, and Beauchamp promises no to release it because of his friendship with Albert. He thanks his friend and visits with the Count for a vacation at the beach. Three days later however, the story is published in a rival newspaper linking Morcerf with the whole scandal and Albert rushes back to Paris to do damage control and hear the whole story. Fernand belonged to the government Chamber, and after the news got out, they ordered a trial and extensive investigation into the betrayal. At the trial, Haydee appeared and testified to the murder, as well as how Fernand sold herself and her mother into slavery and presenting evidence in the form of the selling/buying contracts from Monte Cristo.
Albert realizes that the Count must have known this whole time while pretending to be their friend, so he rushes off to challenge Monte Cristo to a duel. He’s ashamed of his father’s actions, but he’s determined to protect his family’s honor. The Count has decided not to take any visitors today though, so Albert just has to wait until that night when he’ll be at the Opera. He asks Franz, Debray, and Maximilian to meet him at the opera and storms home where he asks his mother what the Count has against his father. Mercedes begs Albert not to pick a fight with Monte Cristo because he’s not their enemy, but he doesn’t listen. That night at the opera, he public ally insults the Count and challenges him to a duel the next morning at 8:00. The Count casually accepts, and asks Maximilian and Emmanuel (his brother-in-law) to be his seconds at the duel, which they agree even though they’re torn between their alliances.
Just as Maximilian and Emmanuel are conflicted over how to approach this duel, so is the reader and the Count at this point, despite his outward coolness. When he first met Albert in Italy, Edmond didn’t trust him because he was Fernand’s son, but over the course of the story, they’ve grown close. Albert is admirably loyal to his mother, a good friend, and overall noble man, so he shouldn’t be held accountable for his father’s wrongdoings, but he’s also trying to kill Edmond and get in the way of the justice that Fernand deserves. In the end, Edmond’s willing to kill him, though he pities Albert and feels bad about it. As a reader, we’ve grown to like, or at least have a begrudging respect for, both Albert and the Count. Neither is the villain here, and this duel is going to be tragic and messy no matter which way it goes.
And that’s when Mercedes takes action. She desperately confronts Monte Cristo and begs him not to kill her son. When he shows her the false accusation from all those years ago, he speaks as if killing Albert is just a matter-of-fact part of his plan. But then she calls Edmond by his true name. She declares that she’s always loved him, and thought him dead, and only married Fernand because she really had no other choice. She appeals that he only take out his revenge on the one who deserves it. She reaches past the 20+ years of pain and anger to the just and honest man he used to be, and pulls him out again. Edmond swears he will pardon Albert’s life, but since he still has to show up at the duel, he’ll let himself be killed instead. He’s prepared to die for Mercedes.
When he arrives at the duel the next day, Albert refuses to draw his pistol. He apologizes to Edmond, and explains that Mercedes told him the whole story last night after she returned from visiting the Count, and he understands everything now. They reconcile, and Albert returns home to his mother. Together, they pack up their things and leave Fernand, instead returning to Mercedes and Dantes old home in Marseilles where Edmond leaves them the money he’d intended to give her at their marriage. Monte Cristo goes home to Haydee, who’s thrilled to see him return alive and safe, and now that he’s put the past (mostly) behind him, he starts to recognize her affection and realize that he might love her too, one day.
Then, Fernand arrives, furious at Albert’s refusal to follow through on the duel. His career is ruined, he’s lost his family, and he demands to know who the Count really is with a dueling challenge of his own. The Count retreats to his rooms for a moment to “make preparations,” and returns wearing his old sailor’s uniform. That’s when Fernand finally recognizes Edmond, and realizes what he’s done. He flees back to his home, finds it empty, and in despair, commits suicide.
Mercedes cuts to the heart of the lies that Edmond has been telling himself the whole book. He believes that she became a greedy aristocrat just like the rest, but she’s the only one smart enough to see through his acts, and noble enough to forgive him for everything he’s done and persuade Albert to save his life in return. Mercedes never became the “Countess de Morcef.” She’s always been herself, and her son has always been innocent. Justice does triumph here, maybe not in the way the Count of Monte Cristo expected, but in the end, evil is punished and good is freed. That doesn’t mean the Count is done with the revenge though, and the next several chapters are split between the Villefort and Danglars stories, which at this point, have become so intertwined it’s somewhat impossible to separate…