The narrator briefly describes Villefort as twenty-six, about to marry into a Royalist family, eager to advance in his role within the government, and even more eager to prove that he is a committed Royalist. Before he enters his drawing room to speak to Dantes, Villefort encounters Morrel, who has come to his house to defend Dantes. Villefort, however, is haughty with Morrel, whom he considers middle-class and vaguely linked, therefore, to “Bonapartist” ideas. Villefort tells Morrel he will be fair to Dantes, but that if Dantes is in fact a conspirator, then woe to Morrel, who could be implicated as his ally. Morrel leaves and Villefort heads into his office, where Dantes is brought in to meet him.
In this section, the narrator shows what a snob Villefort is – and explains why Villefort is afraid of the “middle-class” element of which he believes Morrel to be a part. Though he has aspirations within the Royalist faction, Villefort is still tied to a father who is himself middle-class and a supporter of Napoleon’s, who also came from middle-class origins in Corsica. Thus, Villefort, who is marrying into the noble Saint-Meran family, does everything he can to separate himself from the bourgeois life in which he was raised.
Villefort is struck by Dantes’ apparent intelligence, which he sees in the young man’s eyes. Dantes identifies himself as being nineteen years old, and when Villefort asks him if he has political opinions in favor of Bonaparte, Dantes replies that, in a sense, he has no opinions at all, that he is ignorant of the plot against him. Dantes also tells Villefort that he was celebrating his betrothal at the time of his arrest, and Villefort is struck by the “coincidence” of that and his own betrothal feast. He imagines himself telling Renee this detail and he remembers her advice. This convinces him that Dantes is telling the truth, that the charges are false and he should be freed.
What is perhaps most striking about this interaction is Villefort’s belief that Dantes really has done nothing wrong. Dantes, as the narrator remarks throughout the novel, has something powerful, intelligent, and convincing about his very behavior – people tend to trust him, to believe him, to want to do what he says. But Villefort is not swayed by these aspects of Dantes’s personality, because he has his own considerations in mind. It is, in other words, more important for Villefort to protect his own career than to keep an innocent man out of prison.
Villefort, however, does not free Dantes right away, but instead asks him his version of the events on the ship. Dantes repeats that Leclere gave him an item before his death: a packet with a ring. Because it was Leclere’s dying wish to bring the package to Elba, he did so, and Dantes received in return, as Leclere said he would, a letter from Napoleon, which is with him on the table, along with other documents related to his arrest. Villefort admits that Dantes is only guilty of “imprudence” in conveying a package to Napoleon and a letter from him, but since it was his commanding officer’s “dying wish,” this is excusable behavior. Villefort asks to whom the letter has been addressed, and Dantes notes that it is someone he does not know, but apparently someone close to Leclere: a man named M. Noirtier.
This is another important coincidence in the novel, as both Villefort and Dantes have been removed from their respective betrothal feasts to be present at this very meeting. This parallelism becomes all the more striking as Villefort’s and Dantes’ lives diverge from this point forward. Both men, in the narrator’s presentation, are ruthless in their own way. The difference, as the narrator suggests, arrives in the comparative morality of their ruthlessness. Whereas Villefort is willing to let Dantes go to prison despite believing him to be innocent, Dantes only commits himself to vengeance once he realizes that Villefort is guilty of treachery regarding his own case.
Villefort is aghast at this revelation, as Noirtier is his own father, though Villefort says nothing of this to Dantes. Any letter from Napoleon to his father would link his father to the Bonapartist side and would ruin Villefort’s career. Villefort asks if Dantes has read the letter, and Dantes swears he hasn’t. Dantes is also the only person who knows if this letter’s existence (so Dantes thinks, not knowing that Danglars might suspect it) and so, in an instant, Villefort develops a devious plan.
This coincidence – that Dantes’s letter is addressed to Noirtier – is equaled by the convenient fact that no other interrogator or official has any knowledge of the letter – meaning that Villefort can conceal it and keep his own name from being associated with Napoleonic criminality. The novel is filled with these conveniences, which allow for its complex plot to continue functioning, from coincidence to coincidence.
After reading the letter, Villefort says that some serious evidence might be found within it against Dantes’ case. And so Villefort throws the letter in the fire and tells Dantes that he is helping Dantes’ cause by doing so. He tells Dantes not to mention the letter or its destruction to anyone, and that he, Villefort, will shepherd Dantes through the criminal system after another night in jail. Dantes is then escorted out by guards, and Villefort remarks to himself how lucky he is that the head crown prosecutor was out of town and that he was able to intercept this letter without damaging his career. He leaves his home to return to Renee’s side.
Villefort is doubly cruel here. First, it is unjust for Villefort to send Dantes to prison for a crime he has not committed. But it is even more unjust that Villefort does this while reassuring Dantes that he is his friend and confidant, and that everything will be all right for Dantes after another night in jail. It is this false assurance of friendship that Dantes/the Count finds so troubling, too, in his eventual arrival in Parisian society, where individuals seem always to be scheming against one another while pretending to be each other’s friends.