When the lovers speak, Valentine relays that, though there is nothing she can do to help it, she will be forced to sign a marriage contract with Franz as soon as he enters Paris, since it is the wish of her grandmother. Maximilien replies that Franz has just that day arrived in Paris, and so the contract will be signed as quickly as possible, then. He asks that Valentine elope with him, but she says she cannot go against her father’s and grandmother’s wishes; that she must do as the family demands. At this, Maximilien says that the only honorable course for him is to commit suicide.
Valentine loves Maximilien, but her loyalty to her father and family’s wishes are also deeply important to her. In other words, she is being made to choose between these different devotions, and she is not sure to whom she should accord her utmost loyalty. It is striking that, as a response, Maximilien says exactly what his father said, many years ago – that, in order to avoid dishonor, he must take his own life.
At this, however, Valentine says that she will in fact elope with Maximilien—that she cannot be responsible for his death, and that she is struck by his honor. She plans to meet with him at 9 pm the next night, by the garden wall, and he will escort her away in a carriage where they can be wed outside Paris. They part without even a kiss, and Morrel goes about the next day worrying that the plan will not in fact take place.
Just as Old Morrel did not commit suicide and was saved from ruin, Maximilien is saved, too, this time by Valentine’s kindness. Valentine believes that, though it will be terrible to disobey her father, it would be worse to force Maximilien to kill himself (although one might also argue that he is emotionally blackmailing her with his threat of suicide).
The next night, Maximilien waits outside the wall until 9:30 and then realizes that something must have gone wrong—he worries that the marriage contract has been signed with Franz after all. He climbs over the wall near the Villeforts’ home, where he hears the crown prosecutor talking with the doctor who has been tending to Valentine’s grandmother. The doctor reports that the grandmother is now dead, and that, though he announced in the room that she died of tetanus, the doctor tells the crown prosecutor that he fears poisoning is to blame. Villefort is shocked at this idea and wonders if a servant has perhaps raided some of the medicine from Noirtier’s room, as this medicine can both treat strokes and, in large enough doses, cause them.
This is another reference to the twinned idea of poisoning, as the Count laid out to Mme de Villefort many chapters previously. For, as the Count noted then, poison can occasionally, in small and spaced-out doses, be used to inoculate someone against future attacks. Thus Villefort recognizes that it is probably someone within his own house who is committing these crimes, although he pins them on a servant and not on his wife, whom the reader is inclined to suspect. It is unclear whether Villefort has enough evidence to distrust his wife, however, and is simply unwilling to believe that she could be the culprit.
Villefort believes that everything in his family is falling apart. At this, he goes back inside and Maximilien, seizing his opportunity, climbs into the house and finds Valentine kneeling, praying, by the bed of her late grandmother. It is the first time Morrel has been in the home, this close to Valentine, and they go into Noirtier’s room, both to escape Villefort’s attention and so that her grandfather might sanction their romance and prevent Valentine’s marriage to Franz.
Maximilien is in some ways a young stand-in for Dantes. The Count seems to recognize this, and increasingly to treat Young Morrel like a son, and try to give him the happiness that Dantes himself was denied. Here, Maximilien behaves as Dantes might have in his youth – he decides to take fate into his own hands.
The pair make their case to Noirtier, and then Maximilien asks to speak with him alone. Morrel asks what he can do—whether he should elope with Valentine, or perhaps fight Franz in a duel. But Noirtier, through his system of signs, indicates that neither of these options is acceptable. Morrel deduces that Noirtier wishes to stand in the way of the marriage by preventing the signing of the contract. Morrel cannot believe his good fortune—that Noirtier is willing to defend his love for Valentine—and he thanks Noirtier many times before promising he will neither interfere with the wedding plans nor fight Franz, but simply wait for Noirtier to intercede on his behalf. He leaves the house without running this change of plans by Valentine.
Although it is immensely difficult for Young Morrel to accept Noirtier’s words, he, like Valentine, believes that he must respect the wishes of Valentine’s family if he is to achieve the marriage he desires. He and Valentine both see their loyalties as divided ones – they each wish to respect family and their own love – even as they believe it is their love that is, finally, more important to them. Noirtier essentially asks Young Morrel to be patient and optimistic, thus mirroring and foreshadowing the advice the Count will give the young man at the close of the novel.