The Count and Mercedes walk outside together and into a greenhouse on the Morcerf property. There Mercedes asks the Count if he’s suffered many “sorrows,” and to this the Count assents, saying that he once loved a woman in Malta, that he went away to war and, when he returned, she was married to another—but that this is a “common story.” Mercedes seems affected by this answer, but she says little. She also begs the Count to eat with her, some grapes from the greenhouse or other fruits, but he says no, that he cannot. Nevertheless, he says, they are and will remain friends.
Here, Mercedes really does put into practice her avowed test, and indeed the Count claims there is nothing he can do about it—he cannot eat in front of her—but he wishes that they remain civil to one another. In a strange double twist of dramatic irony, the reader intuits that both Mercedes and the Count know each others’ true identities, but neither is willing to speak this truth aloud in the context of the ball, thus adding to the tension of the conversation.
At this Albert comes into the greenhouse saying that a disaster has occurred: Valentine de Villefort’s grandfather has passed away. Mercedes goes back inside to calm the guests, and Albert asks if something has passed between his mother and the Count, but the Count says that they are good friends and have only had a little chat.
The drama unfolding in the Villefort family will become one of the primary preoccupations of the final quarter of the novel. Albert, for his part, seems to have sensed that something has passed between his mother and the Count, though he is unsure what that might be.