The Abbe demonstrates for Dantes some of the wonders in his cell. These include a functioning sundial; his “great work” on the monarchy of Italy; pens and a penknife; melted fat from meat used to make candles; sulfur to make matches; and a ladder used to climb up to the barred window. Dantes asks how the Abbe was able to accomplish so much in his isolation, despite his limitations, and the Abbe replies that these limitations have allowed him to harness and focus his energies, which might otherwise have “dissipated” in the outside world. Dantes also tells the Abbe that the Abbe doesn’t know anything about his (Dantes’s) life. Dantes then recounts the story of his first-mateship aboard the Pharaon, his return, betrothal, and arrest.
The marvels in the Abbe’s cell form an interesting complement to the wonders in Dantes’s own “cabinet” – the cave at Monte Cristo, in which he entertains Franz some chapters later. The Abbe’s cell and the cave at Monte Cristo are spaces in the novel that seem to follow their own rules. Each is a space controlled by a man of great intellect, and each seems to encourage creative and “impossible” thinking. Thus the Abbe shows Dantes the inventions he’s been able to cobble together in prison, and Dantes later shows Franz the vast array of items he’s collected from around the world.
After Dantes tells his tale, the Abbe wonders aloud who might have had a grudge against Dantes, for after all, he figures, a crime such as was committed against Dantes needs to have a cause. Together, the Abbe and Dantes go through his story again, focusing on the captaincy of the Pharaon, and the Abbe pieces together that Danglars must have caught sight of the letter from Napoleon to Noirtier and used this letter, its contents unknown, to begin manipulating Dantes. The Abbe demonstrates that all handwriting done with left hand looks the same, thus giving further evidence that Danglars was behind the plot: that the letter Dantes saw in Villefort’s office was written by a man trying to conceal his hand. The Abbe helps Dantes also to see that Fernand and Caderousse were involved in the drafting of the false letter, by prompting in Dantes the memory of his conversation with the three men at the inn.
Interestingly enough, the Abbe is the first person to realize that Dantes’ imprisonment is no accident – that it has not occurred because of, say, an honest clerical error. The Abbe instead detects that a man, or a group of men, have tried to put Dantes in prison to “punish” him, although for what crime the two men must guess. Thus the Abbe is responsible for beginning Dantes’s quest for revenge, as he shows to Dantes that there are men in the outside world who might be punished in order to somehow provide payment for his many years in the Chateau D’If. And Dantes listens patiently as the Abbe deduces exactly this state of affairs.
The Abbe further unspools Noirtier and Villefort’s relationship, for he knows that they are father and son, thus revealing for Dantes that Villefort, far from protecting him, actually condemned him to a life of imprisonment to hide his father’s Girondin past. Devastated by these revelations, Dantes returns to his cell to be alone. When he recovers himself, he asks the Abbe to be his teacher. The Abbe agrees that he will instruct Dantes in languages, mathematics, geography, history, and the literature the Abbe has managed, more or less, to memorize. The Abbe says that these are the principles Dantes will need, and he implies that Dantes already has the capacity, via something called his “philosophy,” to understand these matters. When the Abbe worries aloud that Dantes is plotting revenge against Villefort, Danglars, Fernand, and Caderousse, Dantes begs him to speak on the subject no more, and the Abbe agrees.
This is another very important moment in the novel. The reader does not see, and the narrator does not explicitly narrate, the moment in which Dantes initially processes the information Abbe Faria has deduced on his behalf. Instead, Dantes removes himself to his own cell and thinks on his own before returning to the Abbe with his resolution made. It is, in essence, this resolution, made without the intrusion of the reader or narrator, that will form the energetic core of the remainder of the novel. The unspeakability of this revenge is echoed in the unspeakable knowledge, possessed by Mercedes for many months, that the Count of Monte Cristo is really Dantes.
After one of their tutoring sessions, the Abbe reveals that he is still thinking of plans for escape, even though he’s told Dantes that he would be unwilling to kill the sentry outside in order to make the leap into the sea. Dantes finally convinces the Abbe, with some persistence, that the killing of the sentry would be done “only as a last resort,” and to this the Abbe agrees. At this the Abbe relays his most recent plan: the two men will dig under the sentry’s parapet, which extends beyond both their walls, using the Abbe’s tools. They will then have a tunnel, which they can loosen when the sentry is above it, stunning him into submission. They will subsequently use the Abbe’s rope ladder to escape from the hole and leap into the sea, swimming to freedom.
Dantes’s bond with the Abbe in prison is founded upon a mutual trust and care. But it is also born of both men’s desire to be free of the horrible conditions of the Chateau D’If. Thus, without needing to mention it, the men continue stewing over this plan, until the Abbe acknowledges that he has found something suitable, and which will result in injury to a guard only if accident requires it. Dantes’ and the Abbe’s desire for freedom is as unquenchable as Dantes’ desire to avenge himself against those who falsely imprisoned him.
Dantes is awed by the simplicity of the plan and he tells the Abbe he is committed to it. They work for over fifteen months, continuing their lessons as they go, and by the end of that time, the tunnel extends all the way under the parapet, entirely hidden from the jailers. But just as the two men are making their final preparations for escape, the Abbe falls ill with a paralytic shock, the effects of which he is half-able to narrate to Dantes as they occur. He tells Dantes that it is his second such stroke in his life, and that the third shall kill him, as a stroke killed his father and grandfather. He begs Dantes to administer a small tincture to him to ease his suffering, and Dantes vows to stay with the Abbe, who now cannot escape, until the final stroke takes him to heaven. The Abbe tells Dantes to seal the tunnel they’ve made in order to avoid suspicion from the guards who hear the hollowness of the floor, and then to return to him, for he (Faria) has another story he wants to tell Dantes.
The introduction of the Abbe’s illness is an important moment in the narrative. Dantes realizes that the Abbe really is an old man, like his own father, and both these men are in frail health. The idea of a medicine, or tincture, that can save the Abbe will become important later during the Parisian episodes of the novel, as here the book takes up the idea of poison and its antidote as an important symbol. Here, the tincture that can stop symptoms of stroke can also, as is revealed later, cause stroke and paralysis in larger doses. Thus medicine—a substance that can save a patient—and poison—a substance that can kill him—are closely related in the text.