Courtiers rush into the king’s study, where he is still standing with Villefort, to say that Napoleon has in fact returned to France from Elba. A rebellion really is in the offing. Villefort is as thunderstruck as anyone, though for a different reason: his notion of a “plot” was designed only to protect himself, to keep the evidence of his father’s communication with Bonaparte a secret via the imprisonment of the innocent Dantes. But Villefort, able and adroit, seizes on the moment and begins offering Louis XVIII military advice. Louis tells the courtiers, who are shocked at this young man’s instant influence with the king, to listen to Villefort, as he, more than any of them, has “understood” this “plot” from the beginning (though of course that is only a coincidence).
Here, Villefort is surprised to learn that Napoleon really has returned from his exile. This is perhaps the most notable coincidence in the novel so far – even more far-fetched than the idea that Villefort and Dantes are both celebrating their betrothals in Marseille at the same time. Here, then, Dantes is shown to be the victim of absolutely wretched misfortune. For not only has Villefort felt it necessary to imprison Dantes to save his own career, but Villefort’s very assurance that a Napoleonic plot was to be prevented – a fiction he created – is also borne out by actual events.
Louis is enraged that his ministers, including the Minister of Police, who is now present, were not able to learn of Bonaparte’s planned rebellion or his arrival in France. Villefort skillfully handles himself in his audience with Louis, the Minister of Police, and other courtiers, accepting Louis’s honors (including the cross of the Legion, a high rank) while also claiming that the other men present have done their best to serve the king. Thus, Villefort ingratiates himself with some of the disgraced courtiers who only now have delivered news of Bonaparte’s arrival. But Villefort is horrified to learn that the police are looking for a man fitting his father’s description on the Rue Saint-Jacques. Although Noirtier’s name is not mentioned, Villefort is terrified that, despite his efforts at destroying the letter to his father, the crown might discover Noirtier’s involvement in the plot to return Napoleon to the throne.
Villefort continues to maintain his cool, even as he realizes he has been dealt an extremely fortuitous hand. His behavior with the chastened official is just another example of Villefort’s calm under pressure. Villefort realizes that, in French politics, there is no such thing as an un-useful friend. Villefort wants to be sure that everyone feels indebted to him, that everyone has the idea that they owe him something. Thus the agent the king chastises is welcomed, by Villefort, back into the fold – and Villefort therefore insures his good standing not only with the king, but with the man whom the king had sought to blame. It’s a brilliant political maneuver.
Louis dismisses the men and sends Villefort back to Marseille, where he can be “of service” to the crown; the king tells Villefort to await his orders there. Villefort returns to his inn for a quick dinner before he is to ride home, but a servant interrupts the meal to say that a man is here to see him: it is Noirtier, his father, who is living in Paris, and whom Villefort did not wish to see.
Villefort will spend a good deal of the novel trying to avoid his father – but wherever Villefort goes, Noirtier is not far away. Noirtier’s involvement with Napoleonic politics is the one possible problem on his record from which Villefort is never quite able – despite all his efforts – to escape.