The Count pays another visit to the Madame de Villefort, Heloise. After Edouard interrupts them for a time by spouting facts he’s learned from his tutor, the Count announces that, in fact, he has met the two of them before two years ago in Perugia. At this, Heloise recalls that she did speak to a man there, who called himself a doctor, and who was acquainted with many of the chemicals of the far East—chemicals that, as the Count said then and reminds her now, can be either medicine or poison, depending on how they are administered.
This is an extremely important conversation, for thematic reasons. Poison in the novel works both ways – as something that can kill because it is toxic, and as something that can bolster one’s immunity against further harm. Poison will be used in both ways in the text, and the Count is acquainted with both these methods. Although Heloise might wonder how the Count knows these things, the reader is not surprised, as we have seen how invested the Count is in methods of violent revenge.
Heloise seems enormously interested in this topic, and the Count notes that, in Eastern poisonings (as opposed to the theatrical poisonings of, say, the French opera), a man can seem perfectly healthy for some time, only to keel over dead after a month, appearing to have died not from poisoning at all, but rather from an apoplectic stroke. Heloise asks for a small amount of some of the poisons the Count describes to her, partially out of curiosity––because she has read a great deal about Eastern chemistry—and partly, it seems, because she has some unnamed use for those medicines, or poisons, in mind. The next day the Count remarks to himself that his discussion of “toxicology” seems not have fallen on “barren soil,” but is instead a seed that will sprout and grow in Heloise’s mind.
This is one of the more morally ambiguous sections of the text. It’s not clear whether the Count really intends to encourage Heloise to perform poisonings in her own home, or whether the Count senses that Heloise already has this predilection. But of course, Heloise will go on to do this poisoning herself, and so she becomes a part of the Count’s larger revenge plot. But, as will be related many chapters down the line, these poisonings will begin to claim innocent victims, and the Count will have to question the methods he has used: has he gone too far, and harmed too many innocent people, in his quest for a “just” vengeance?