In the port of Marseilles, France, an eager crowd watches as a ship called the Pharaon pulls into dock. The ship’s owner, Monsieur Morrel, is greeted with sad news: the ship’s captain has died at sea. The nineteen-year-old first mate, Edmond Dantès, reassures Morrel that despite the loss of the captain, the trip went smoothly and all the cargo arrived safely. Morrel is impressed with the young man’s performance as temporary captain.
Danglars, the ship’s supercargo, who is responsible for all financial matters, attempts to undermine Morrel’s good opinion of Dantès. Morrel boards the ship and Danglars tells him that Dantès forced the ship to stop at the Isle of Elba, which cost them precious time. When Morrel confronts Dantès with this accusation, Dantès explains that he stopped the ship at Elba in order to carry out his captain’s dying request: to deliver a package to an exiled grand-marshal, Maréchal Bertrand. He says that while he was on the island he spoke with Napoleon, the deposed emperor of France.
With this matter cleared up, Morrel asks Dantès for his opinion of Danglars. Dantès answers honestly, explaining that he has a personal dislike for Danglars but that Danglars does his work very well. Morrel approves of Dantès’s behavior at Elba, of his honest assessment of an enemy, and of his character in general. Morrel declares that after he consults with his partner, Dantès will be named the new captain of the Pharaon, despite his young age. Dantès is ecstatic, while Danglars is beside himself with envy.
Leaving the docks, Dantès goes straight to see his father. He is shocked by the old man’s physical deterioration and soon discovers its cause: his father has been starving for the past few months. Though Dantès left his father with 200 francs, the tailor Caderousse demanded that the elder Dantès pay him a debt that his son owed, which left the old man with only sixty francs on which to live. Dantès tells his father the good news of his promotion and hands him a modest pile of gold, telling him to buy himself all the provisions he needs.
Caderousse then enters the small room to welcome Dantès home. Dantès receives Caderousse politely, telling himself “he is a neighbour who has done us a service . . . so he’s welcome.” Caderousse has already heard the news of Dantès’s promotion and congratulates him. Caderousse then leaves the father and son and goes downstairs, where Danglars is waiting for him. The two men discuss their dislike for Dantès and accuse him of being arrogant. Caderousse reveals that Dantès’s good luck might be about to change: the woman he loves, Mercédès, has been seen in the company of another man. Danglars and Caderousse, hoping for the worst, decide to wait by the road near Mercédès’s house, in order to determine whether Dantès has really been jilted.
As expected, Dantès next goes to visit Mercédès, a beautiful girl who belongs to the Spanish community of Catalans. He finds Mercédès in the company of Fernand Mondego, her lovestruck cousin, who has been trying for years to make her his wife. Mercédès welcomes Dantès with a passionate embrace, and Fernand stalks off, enraged. Fernand passes Danglars and Caderousse drinking wine by the side of the road, and they call him over. As the three men drink together, Danglars and Caderousse try to whip Fernand up into a frenzy of envy and anger much like their own. Dantès and Mercédès appear, blissfully oblivious to the malice directed toward them. The couple tells Fernand, Caderousse, and Danglars that they plan to be married the next day because Dantès must travel to Paris to fulfill the last commission of his dead captain. Though Dantès does not state explicitly why he is going to Paris, Danglars suspects Dantès is delivering a letter that has been entrusted to him by Napoleon to Bonapartist plotters—supporters of Napoleon who are helping him plan to overthrow the French government. The allusion to the letter sparks an evil idea in Danglars’s mind.