Caderousse begins by begging the Abbe never to speak a word of Caderousse’s story to anyone, and if he does, not to link the former tailor to the tale, since the men he describes are so “wealthy and powerful” they could destroy him and La Carconte. The Abbe agrees. Caderousse begins by describing what happened to Dantes’ father: after Dantes’ arrest, his father returned to his apartment and refused to leave it, wanting to be there in case Dantes were to return from jail. Old Dantes refused to eat, partially out of grief and partially to save money, and wound up pawning most of his goods. Mercedes came over many times to help him and offer to take care of him, and Morrel offered money. But Old Dantes insisted that he wanted to wait for Dantes on his own, until, at the very end, he allowed Mercedes to nurse him when he was in bed with gastroenteritis. Old Dantes died a week later, Caderousse reports, of starvation.
This beginning to the story reveals important information about the plotters and the relationship between Mercedes and Old Dantes. The plotters, as Caderousse asserts, have all become rich, famous, and influential – all, that is, except for Caderousse, who can barely make ends meet at the inn. The plotters seem to have succeeded in inverse proportion to the horrible deeds they’ve committed: the worse their actions, the more they’ve gained. Mercedes, on the other hand, demonstrated genuine devotion to and care of Old Dantes in his time of need, even though Old Dantes was unable to keep himself alive long enough to see his son return. Mercedes, for her part, is living a life as yet unknown to Dantes.
The story visibly affects the Abbe, who claims he is moved by it because it is, broadly speaking, moving and affecting. Caderousse goes on to describe the fortunes of Fernand and Danglars, who defrauded and imprisoned Dantes out of jealousy, for his fiancee and for his position as captain, respectively. The Abbe announces to himself that it’s just as Faria told him—Danglars and Fernand were responsible for his false indictment. Caderousse wonders at this declaration, but the Abbe recovers himself, before blurting out again that Caderousse, too, was present at the signing of the false document with Danglars’ left hand. Caderousse is amazed to hear that the Abbe knows this, and the Abbe again quickly recovers himself, saying that Caderousse could only know the story of the two other men if he had been there himself. Caderousse admits to everything. He says that he was present during this terrible plot, but that he was too drunk to do anything to stop it (which is true). Furthermore, the next day, when he wished to put an end to it, Danglars told him that anyone appearing to sympathize with a man accused of Bonapartism could himself be thrown in jail.
This will not be the first time in the novel that Dantes, having heard information pertinent to his own life, must hide his emotions as best he can. This is another of Dantes’ great strengths – his power to control himself, to subordinate the needs and desires of a moment to a longer-range plan. In this case, Dantes knows he must suppress his emotions to maintain the pretense that he is, in fact, the Abbe Busoni. This is in stark contrast to the behavior of other characters in the novel, like Caderousse, who seem incapable of subordinating their desires of the moment to longer-range plans. Dantes’ discipline, like the Abbe Faria’s, is one of his most remarkable characteristics.
Thus, Caderousse admits to the Abbe to being a coward in the face of false accusations against Dantes—to standing “idly by,” as the Abbe eventually puts it—but he claims that he has felt guilty for this cowardice for 15 years, and that he believes his current poverty, and his wife’s persistent fever and illness, are heavenly repayment for this sin of not stopping cruelty. The Abbe appears to sense that Caderousse is serious in his self-pity and recrimination for this misdeed, and tells him that, though he behaved without honor in the past, he is not as guilty as Fernand and Danglars are.
This is an important moment in Dantes’s development of a theory of justice. For, although he does not say it explicitly, he does seem to feel that Caderousse has paid sufficient penance for his misdeeds of fifteen years before—the financial agony Caderousse has endured has been genuine punishment. Thus the Abbe is willing to give Caderousse a jewel to offset some of this pain, and to allow the innkeeper to move on, having paid his debt for his crime.
The Abbe asks after Morrel, and Caderousse informs him that Morrel’s business has been faltering, that he has lost in storms all his ships save for the Pharaon, and that he has a son and daughter, both of whose lives are on hold owing to the family’s misfortunes. Morrel’s son has gone into the army to seek money for the family, and his daughter’s marriage is in jeopardy, because her fiancé’s family worries she will not be able to provide a substantial enough dowry.
Speaking of debts, the introduction of this new plotline involving the financial fortunes of the Morrel family will become an important next stop for Dantes on his mission en route to Rome and Paris. Morrel was responsible for helping Dantes to achieve his first job as a sailor, and Dantes wants to help Morrel in any way he can, now that he has the financial means to do so.
Caderousse reports that Danglars went swiftly to Spain after Dantes’ imprisonment, invested money in companies supplying the French army, and, through shrewd handling of those investments, made a giant fortune as a banker. He married a wealthy woman and then, after her death, another wealthy woman, and eventually installed himself, now elevated to the position of Baron, as one of the most influential bankers in Paris.
Danglars’ career and personal life, as Caderousse narrates them, have been characterized by shrewd decision-making. As a banker, Danglars has seemed to know when to buy stocks and bonds and when to sell them. As a husband, he has seemed willing to marry for some combination of social status and wealth.
Fernand made a career as a soldier, first called into duty with Napoleon’s army, and then, seeing that Napoleon was to lose at Waterloo, defecting to the English side, which enabled him to claim a higher position in the ensuing Royalist army after the Second Restoration. Being a Spaniard by blood, and able to speak the language, Fernand then fought for the French against the Spanish in a later war in 1823, only to meet up with Danglars, whose banking career in Spain was just beginning. After some shrewd investing, Fernand too made a small fortune, owing to his connections to Danglars.
Fernand’s behavior during these wars will later become the subject of much intrigue in Parisian society, as the Count goes about systematically undermining his reputation. But at this point, Caderousse reports that Fernand has achieved a great deal of renown for his behavior during these same wars, and that this renown has led to an estimable position in French society, if less income than the wildly successful Danglars enjoys.
At this, Fernand found yet another fighting post, for the Ali Pasha in Greece, a man to whom Fernand ingratiated himself. When the Ali Pasha died, he left Fernand an enormous sum of money, which he used to return to Paris and establish himself, as Danglars did, in a giant home and with a royal title for himself: the Count de Morcerf.
The reference to the Ali Pasha seems at this point to be in passing, as it’s not clear who this man is, or how he will factor into the narrative. This demonstrates just how important the plotting of the text is – how far in advance Dumas has seen and arranged some of the threads necessary to craft his complex tale.
Caderousse goes on to say that Mercedes was eventually won over by Fernand, who continually returned to her in Les Catalans. As his position grew in the Spanish and then foreign armies, he began wooing her all the more concertedly, telling her that Dantes was dead and never to return. After the death of Old Dantes, Mercedes finally did marry the now-Count de Morcerf, and he took her away from Marseille, installing her in a home in Spain and then eventually in Paris, with their son Albert. Caderousse says that Mercedes, now the Countess de Morcerf, has become one of the great educated and cultured ladies of Paris, having learned to draw and read and speak many languages, and that her son Albert, too, is a gentleman.
Mercedes’ behavior and attitude are perhaps two of the more complex sub-narratives in the novel. Mercedes is clearly devoted to Dantes, and she only marries Fernand once she is convinced that Dantes is never going to return. But Mercedes’ life with Fernand is far from a simple or quiet one – they are an extremely prominent couple in high-society Paris, and Mercedes grows devoted to her only son, Albert. Thus Mercedes has made a life for herself as best she can, and she appears comfortable with aspects of that life, even though it’s founded on the great tragedy of her existence – her separation from her true love.
The Abbe closes his line of questioning by asking about Villefort, if Caderousse has any news of the man. Caderousse replies that he does not, that he and Villefort were never friends, but that he expects Villefort, like Danglars and Fernand, has found fortune from Dantes’ misfortune. Having heard enough, the Abbe hands over the entire diamond to Caderousse, who can hardly believe his luck. The Abbe says that he is now going to “retire” from the world of men “who do so much harm to one another.” Caderousse replies that the Abbe could simply have kept Dantes’ diamond for himself, rather than carrying out the dying man’s wishes. The Abbe mutters to himself that such cowardice is “exactly what the tailor would have done.”
The Abbe’s statement here must be interpreted ironically, for Dantes does something quite different from “retiring” from this world – instead, he goes about inserting himself into Parisian society as a way of impacting and changing this world, to make sure that those responsible for his imprisonment are punished. On another level, however, the Abbe’s statement is not entirely misleading, as the Count really does “retire” at the end of the novel, sailing off into a new life and leaving a good deal of his money behind. Thus the Count’s relationship to the society he at once conquers and scorns is a complex one throughout the text.
The Abbe leaves on his horse, and Caderousse reports to his wife, who has been half-eavesdropping, all that has transpired with the Abbe. La Carconte immediately distrusts the Abbe, wondering if the diamond is in fact real, and she goes off to find a jeweler at the fair who can appraise it for them. La Carconte seems already to be laying some evil plot, saying to herself that a 50,000-franc diamond is a large sum of money, but it is, as yet, “no fortune.”
La Carconte seems incapable of accepting good fortune when it occurs. She is distrustful of the Abbe (as it turns out, with good reason), but she is also distrustful of the value of the diamond, which does indeed turn out to be real and worth an enormous amount of money. La Carconte’s devotion only to herself – and her unwillingness to trust others – will lead to her demise later in the text.