Valentine heeds the Count’s advice and pretends to be asleep while the poisoner comes into her room that evening, ostensibly to give her more of a “healing draught” of medicine. It is Valentine’s stepmother, Heloise, and she appears to be holding something else in her hand—perhaps a dagger, as the Count warned her, in case the poison doesn’t “finish the job.”
Finally, both the reader and Valentine receive visual evidence of the fact that Mme de Villefort is the poisoner. This is perhaps no surprise to anyone reading the novel, but it is still an immense surprise to Valentine, who has been unwilling to ascribe ill intent to her stepmother.
Valentine stays still and her stepmother leaves. Within minutes, the Count returns silently to the room and tells Valentine that she must follow his advice exactly so that she lives. Valentine agrees to this, and the Count says he will protect her because she means the world to Maximilien, and because the Count adores Morrel and Valentine as if they were his children. Although Valentine cannot believe that her stepmother would want to disinherit Valentine and kill her to provide for Edouard, the Count chalks this up to Valentine’s innate goodness. He gives her a pill, one of his patented mixtures of hashish and opium, to help her sleep, and he asks for her total obedience and consent as he figures out a way to remove her safely from the Villefort home.
This begins perhaps one of the most unbelievable of the chain of events in the text. The Count, using the hashish-opium potion he introduced to Franz way back on the island of Monte Cristo, will in fact pretend that Valentine has died. He will make it seem that she is dead, when really she is only in what we would now call a medically-induced coma. Readers of today might find this plot outlandish, since surely people would know if Valentine were in a coma rather than dead. But medicine of the time was in its experimental and growing stages, and this kind of staged death is not so strange as it would be now.