On February 24, 1815, a three-masted boat, the Pharaon, arrives in the harbor of Marseille, France.
A group of onlookers gathers; they can see that the boat is moving slowly, almost mournfully. They wonder if something has happened onboard.
Still, the boat's clearly being handled with care; a young man can be seen standing beside the harbor pilot, who has just come aboard to safely guide the boat into port, keeping a lookout and making sure the crew is doing everything they're told.
One of the spectators jumps into a small boat, and has himself rowed toward the Pharaon.
We get our first glimpse of the young sailor when he comes to greet the man in the boat. He's young – just barely out of his teens, if that – tall, slim, and handsome, with dark eyes and dark hair. Oh, and he's calm and collected and pretty much as cool as can be.
The man in the boat calls out to him, calls him Dantès – Edmond Dantès to be more specific, although he's one of those guys who's known mostly by his last name; he wants to know what's happened onboard.
Dantès tells the man, Monsieur Morrel, that the ship's captain, Captain Leclère, came down with an "apoplectic fever" and died. Morrel is sad to hear this, but he's also visibly relieved to find out that the cargo's safe. He is a businessman after all.
Dantès goes on to explain that the captain came down with a fever soon after the ship left Naples and was dead within twenty-four hours. He was given a burial at sea, and his most prized possessions – his medal and sword from his time in the Napoleonic army – have been brought back for his widow. (More on this Napoleon stuff in a little bit.)
When Morrel again asks if the cargo is all accounted for, Dantès takes him aboard to see the supercargo – think of him as the ship's accountant – Danglars, a solemn-looking dude in his mid-twenties who nobody on the crew particularly likes.
Danglars tells Morrel that, just after the captain's death, Dantès made an unscheduled stop at the island of Elba and wasted a day and a half; as far as he's concerned, Dantès just made the stop on a lark. Danglars is jealous of Dantès, jealous that he, so young, will probably be promoted from first mate to captain, and he makes his jealousy known.
Morrel calls Edmond over and asks him for an explanation.
Dantès tells Morrel that he was carrying out the wishes of Captain Leclère. Leclère, it seems had asked him to deliver a package to Marshal Bertrand, one of Napoleon's Marshals – "Marshal" being the highest possible rank in the Napoleonic army. (Now, you can read more about Napoleon in the "Setting" section, but the whole situation deserves a little more explanation. As of February 24, 1815, Napoleon and other high-ranking officials from his army had been exiled on the island of Elba, a short distance off the coast of Tuscany, for a little over a year.)
Morrel asks Dantès if he saw the "Grand Marshal," Napoleon. Dantès replies that, in fact, Napoleon spoke to him, asking questions about the ship, its schedule, etc. Napoleon even seems to remember the Morrel family; it seems Policar, Morrel's Uncle, once served alongside Napoleon.
Morrel is overjoyed to hear this, but he takes care to warn Dantès. You did the right thing delivering the message to Elba, he says, but don't let anybody know you did so.
Dantès doesn't understand Morrel's warning, and he's soon back to work on the ship.
Danglars asks Morrel if Dantès had a good explanation; Morrel tells him that yes, he did.
Danglars, still clearly a little angry, lets it slip that Dantès is in possession of another letter, one that he just happened to see Captain Leclère give to Edmond as he was passing by the dying captain's cabin.
Danglars tells him that he must have been wrong, and he leaves just as Dantès comes back to Morrel.
With everything now taken care of, Morrel invites Dantès to dinner.
Dantès declines, telling him that he must go see his father. Morrel allows him to do so, but insists that he come visit after he has finished with his father, until he remembers that Edmond has another person to visit: his fiancée Mercédès.
Morrel gives Dantès permission to go, then stops him. He asks if he received any kind of letter from Captain Leclère.
Dantès tells him no, then asks him a question of his own. He requests a fortnight's leave in order that he might get married, then go to Paris.
Morrel tells Dantès that he can take as much time as he wants, provided he's back in three months to guide the Pharaon on its next voyage. He then asks Edmond one final question: Were you happy with Danglars?
Edmond tells him that the two do not get along very well. At one point during the voyage they had some kind of dispute, and Dantès suggested they stop on the island of Monte Cristo to "settle" it – that is, duel – but he admits that he was wrong to do so. Other than that, he says, Danglars was a fine supercargo. In short, he says, if you wanted to keep Danglars as supercargo, I would trust in your decision.