Stunned and almost suffocating, Dantès manages to rip open the shroud-sack with a knife, and then he cuts himself free from the cannon ball that is tied around his feet. But he is still not safe. The waves around him churn and rise like phantoms. Finally, however, Dantès is able to reach the small island of Tiboulen, where, exhausted, he falls asleep on its jagged, rocky shoreline. Briefly, he wakes long enough to see a small fishing boat smashed against the rocks, its crew lost. Then, in almost disbelief, he sees a single-masted Genoese ship approaching, and snatching up a cap from one of the drowned crew of the fishing ship, he hails the tartan and is taken aboard. He tells the captain that he is Maltese, and he explains that he has a six-inch beard and foot-long hair because of a vow that he made to Our Lady of Piedigrotta. He is given trousers and a shirt and is hired on as a sailor.
Fourteen years have passed since Dantès entered prison as a handsome young stripling of nineteen. He is now thirty-three. What has happened to his beloved Mercédès in these fourteen years? And what has happened to his father? to Danglars? Fernand and Villefort? His dark eyes flash with hatred at the thought of these last three names. His spirits brighten, though, when he suddenly sees an island appear amidst the soft pink rays of the rising sun. It is the Isle of Monte Cristo, the isle of his immense, secret fortune.
Two and a half months pass, and Dantès becomes a skillful smuggler (for the boat which rescued him was a smuggler's ship). His strategy is to remain a smuggler long enough so that he can avoid all suspicion when he finally decides to sail for Monte Cristo and claim his hidden fortune. Fate lends a hand to Dantès when the captain of the smuggling ship decides to dock at Monte Cristo and make an illegal exchange of goods with a ship from the Levant.
On the island, Dantès pretends to be hunting for goats, and he does actually kill one and sends it back to camp with Jacopo, a sailor who has befriended him. Then, in order to be able to remain on the island, Dantès pretends to have hurt his leg. Reluctantly, his comrades leave him, but as soon as their ship is at sea, Dantès searches for the treasure and, with difficulty, he finally finds it in a second cavern beyond the cave which he first entered. The cask which he unearths is filled with gold coins, unpolished golden ingots, and diamonds, pearls, emeralds, and rubies. Dantès is giddy and wild. He feels on the brink of madness. All of these incalculable, fabulous riches are for him and him alone!
Six days later, the smuggling ship returns, and Dantès boards it, carrying several carefully concealed diamonds. In port, he exchanges them for a small yacht, sails for Monte Cristo, and places his immense fortune in an especially built, secret compartment on board the yacht. Then he boldly sails into the port of Marseilles with an English passport.
The narrative now moves to the south of France, to an inn that is owned by Dantès' old neighbor, Caderousse. Caderousse is visited by Dantès, disguised now as Abbé Busoni, an inquisitive priest who says that he is the executor of Dantès' will; accordingly, he asks Caderousse numerous questions about what happened to Dantès' three "friends" — Caderousse, Danglars, and Fernand — and also about the fate of Mercédès, Dantès' former fiancée. Caderousse is cautioned by his wife not to be so candid, but Caderousse loves to talk; besides, he has become very cynical about life. Thus, not knowing that it is Dantès to whom he is speaking, he reveals that:
- Monsieur Morrel risked his life trying to legally set the "rabid Bonapartist" (Dantès) free.
- Dantès' father is dead, so he has no use for Dantès' money.
- Danglars was no friend to Dantès; in fact, he instigated Dantès' arrest; he doesn't deserve Dantès' money.
- Femand has been friendly with Danglars ever since he mailed Danglars' denunciation of Dantès; furthermore, he himself compromised all nationalistic and moralistic principles in order to have himself made a Count; he now lives in Paris with his wife, the beautiful Mercédès.
- Villefort married well, has received many honors, and is wealthy.
The "priest" (Dantès) tells Caderousse that "God's justice" demands that Caderousse be given a fabulous diamond, worth fifty thousand francs. In exchange, the "priest" asks for the "red silk purse" that Morrel, the shipowner, left full of money on Dantès' father's mantle, a purse that is now in Caderousse's possession. The "priest" then takes the purse and leaves, and Caderousse and his wife are dumbfounded at their sudden, miraculous good fortune.
Next day, Dantès, again in disguise, this time as an English gentleman, acts as a representative from the firm of Thomson and French and makes inquiries about the firm of Morrel and Son. He is told that they are rumored to be on the brink of bankruptcy. Therefore, Dantès purchases a very large account, which Morrel will soon have to pay off. Still in disguise, Dantès visits Morrel; during the visit, Morrel is told that his only remaining ship, the Pharaon, has sunk in a hurricane. The few half-naked sailors in Morrel's office are paid their wages and are discharged. Morrel can do no more. He has no money. But at that moment, the disguised Dantès tells Morrel that the bill which will soon be due does not have to be repaid until three months later. Morrel is so choked with emotion that he can barely speak. Before leaving, Dantès tells Julie, Morrel's daughter, that sometime in the future she will receive a message from "Sinbad the Sailor," and that she must do exactly as "Sinbad" tells her to do — "no matter how strange."
Because of the generous financial postponement offered him, Morrel is able to remain financially solvent, but only barely so. Therefore, he goes to Marseilles to ask the millionaire Danglars to guarantee a loan for him. Danglars refuses, and Morrel returns to Marseilles, overcome with humiliation and despair.
Morrel tells his family that this time, they're "lost," and Morrel fully intends to commit suicide; he tells his son, Maximilien, that if he were to live without paying his bills, he would be disgraced. If he kills himself, however, he will die — and be remembered — as "an unfortunate but honorable man." His son reluctantly understands and allows his father to be alone.
At the very moment that Morrel lifts a pistol to his mouth, his daughter cries out that they are saved! She says that she went to a house in the Allées de Meilhan, which the note from "Sinbad" asked her to do, and there she found an old red silk purse; inside it was a bill for two hundred and eighty-seven thousand, five hundred francs, marked paid! There was also a "diamond the size of a walnut" in the purse, alongside a small piece of parchment, which read "Julie's dowry." Then, suddenly, Julie and her father hear a voice crying out that the Pharaon is coming into port. Morrel's strength fails him, but the news is absolutely true: An exact duplicate of the lost Pharaon, with a full cargo, is ready to dock.
Unnoticed, a handsome and smiling gentleman calls out to Jacopo to bring a boat; then the two men row toward a beautifully rigged yacht. On board, the handsome gentleman looks out to sea and bids a formal farewell to "kindness, humanity and gratitude." Henceforth, he will be an agent of vengeance and will "punish the wicked." He gives a signal, and the yacht puts out to sea.
Even the most elemental reader will recognize the Romantic technique of having the hero escape during a storm — the cliché, of course, is that the storm outside is correlated with the storm raging in the breast of the hero. Here too, the noise of the storm ironically masks Edmond Dantès' cry for freedom, and it is also ironic that Dantès is rescued by smugglers and that the young smuggler Jacopo will ultimately become the captain of the yacht of the Count of Monte Cristo, another indication that the Count is always generous with those who have been kind to him.
Edmond Dantès has been in prison for fourteen years, and during that time he has not shaved nor had a haircut, yet he is able to successfully account for these matters by his ingenious story that he made a religious vow not to cut his hair for ten years.
When Dantès does cut his hair, he is drastically changed. He entered the Chateau d'If with the round and smiling face of a happy young man. Now his oval face has lengthened, his lips have taken on a line of firm resolution, and his eyebrows now possess a thoughtful wrinkle; his eyes are of deep sadness with occasional flashes of dark hatred, and his skin has grown wan and pale. Thus, Dantès' physical attributes have changed to the point that his old enemies will not recognize him, and, consequently, he will be able to move among them with complete anonymity, effecting his revenge without suspicion. (As we later discover, only Mercédès, the woman he was about to marry when he was arrested, recognizes him, and she does not reveal his secret.)
More important, Edmond Dantès has changed inwardly. Because of the tutelage of Abbé Faria, he has mastered many languages, he has learned much history and politics, he has studied mathematics and the sciences, and he has been exposed to treachery and betrayal by honorable men in high places. Thus, the deep learning that Dantès has acquired is now reflected in his face by an expression of intelligent self-confidence. Certainly, he is no longer the trusting and naive young man that he was at the beginning of his imprisonment fourteen years ago.
In Chapter 15, we have the search for buried treasure. Here, Dumas appeals to a very basic instinct in human nature by having Edmond Dantès discover a secret treasure of untold value — diamonds, rubies, emeralds, pearls, and gold coins of immense value are now in his possession. The universality invoked is that most people have, at some time or other in their lives, harbored a dream of discovering a buried treasure, or else they have dreamed that they might, in some way, become the sudden recipient of untold wealth. This human desire can be found in works from Homer's Iliad (when the hero Achilles is offered all sorts of valuable prizes if he will return to war) to Stevenson's Treasure Island, and to modern-day TV shows, which give away large sums of money. The search for buried treasure is one of the many universals that Dumas uses to involve his reader in his exciting adventure story.
In order to stay on the island of Monte Cristo, Dantès has to create an ingenious ruse to persuade the smugglers to leave him there. But Dantès' plan almost fails because Jacopo wants to stay with him — even though that would mean that Jacopo would sacrifice his rather significant share in the smuggling profits. Thus, this particularly unselfish act is a correlation to Dantès' resolve to remain with the ailing Abbé Faria, and in a lesser way, Jacopo will also be rewarded for his unselfishness and for his devotion to Dantès; he will become the trusted servant and friend that Edmond Dantès needs so badly at this time in his life.
In Chapters 15 and 16, Dantès discovers what has transpired during his imprisonment. Then he goes to his old neighbor, Gaspard Caderousse, and all of the projections of Abbé Faria about Dantès' "friends" are confirmed by Caderousse — that is, Danglars wrote the letter of betrayal, and it was mailed by Fernand — both of whom are now wealthy and titled men of France. In addition, Dantès learns of all the wrongs which were perpetrated against him, and of the people like Monsieur Morrel who risked his own life trying to obtain Dantès' release.
This section illustrates particularly well how thoroughly Dantès has learned the basic psychology of mankind during his tutorials with Abbé Faria; that is, in his disguise as Abbé Busoni, Dantès shows a diamond worth fifty thousand francs to Caderousse, suggesting that the diamond is to be divided between Dantès' four old friends and Dantès' father. Dantès, however, is absolutely certain that Caderousse, because of greed, will tell the exact (and damning) truth about Danglars, Fernand, and Villefort. Dantès' father is dead and is of no matter to Caderousse. And, as is apparent to both the reader and to Dantès, Caderousse convicts himself of the most base treachery in his narration so as to get full and sole possession of the diamond; ultimately, he will murder a jeweler from Paris, as well as his own wife, and thereby enter upon a career of all sorts of crime until he is finally apprehended by Abbé Busoni (alias the Count of Monte Cristo).
Chapter 17 serves a double purpose. By buying financial notes (two hundred thousand francs worth) which would aid his old friend and benefactor (Monsieur Morrel) from the Director of Prisons, Monsieur de Boville, Dantès is able to gain access to all the prison records and thus confirm whose handwriting assigned him to supposedly life imprisonment; the handwriting is Villefort's.
During Caderousse's narration, it is furthermore discovered that all of Dantès' enemies have prospered and are now among the most powerful and the most wealthy men of France. It would have been an easy or simple task of revenge if all of his enemies had remained simple and unpretentious people. Instead, all except Caderousse have prospered tremendously, and thus, Dantès' task of revenge will be more involved. That is, their wealth, their political influence, and their power make the Count's task of revenge much more complicated and difficult, but also, to use the common cliché, "the bigger they are, the larder they fall." Dantès,of course, will finally be able to topple the most powerful, the most wealthy, and the most influential men of France by using slow and deliberate subterfuges. If readers are ever tempted to sympathize with the victims, they should always keep foremost in mind how Edmond Dantès suffered in prison for fourteen long and miserable years as the result of their treachery.
At the end of Chapter 19, Dantès has now used his wealth to perform all sorts of good deeds — to reinstate Monsieur Morrel and to re-establish the Morrel family name. The rest of the novel will show how Dantès (now about to assume the identity of the Count of Monte Cristo) effects his revenue upon his enemies. As Dantès himself expresses it: "And now farewell to kindness, humanity, and gratitude. Farewell to all sentiments that gladden the heart. I have substituted myself for Providence in rewarding the good. May the God of Vengeance now yield me His place to punish the wicked!"