In a flash, in the water, Dantes manages to cut his way out of the sack with his knife, and then to cut the heavy cannonball from around his feet. He begins to swim away from the Chateau D’If, but it is dark and a storm is brewing, and he realizes it must be at least a league until he reaches the island of Tiboulen, which he knows to be deserted of people and therefore safe as a place of refuge in the storm. He continues swimming, pleased to see that he has kept up his strength in prison. After going against the wind for what seems like many hours, he bumps up against the rocky shores of Tiboulen.
This instance of almost superhuman strength seems, perhaps, too fantastical to be believed. And indeed the events of the novel at times do verge on the fantastic. But some of this “unbelievability” is built into the book by way of characters’ reactions to the figure of the Count. That is, the Count himself seems larger than life – other characters wonder at where he’s come from and whence his wealth derives. This, then, is an early instance of the kind of radical adventures that seem to follow the Count wherever he goes.
Dantes understands that he cannot stay on the island long, but he hides under a rock, drinks some rainwater, and watches as the storm calms. He knows that, after a couple hours, the wardens will see that he is gone and will send out search parties throughout the waters near Marseille to track him down. While he is turning over his options in his mind, he looks out and spies a ship setting out from Marseille. He realizes that he can pretend to be a shipwrecked man from the previous night (he watched a ship, far off, go under the waves during the height of the storm), and he finds a sailor’s cap on the rocky shore of Tiboulen that allows him to play the part. He grabs onto a bit of flotsam and swims back out into the water, to hail the passing vessel.
Dantes’ physical stamina in this passage is noteworthy. After years in prison, he wonders if he will be able to survive in the open ocean – if, for example, he can still swim as strongly as he was once able to. He can, but once again he is also saved by fortuitous circumstances – in this case, the presence of the flotsam on which he can rest his body and of the rescuing vessel that pulls him from the water. Without these interventions, Dantes probably would have drowned.
Although Dantes nearly drowns while back in the water, he manages to tread water on the flotsam long enough to be dragged onto the little sailing ship. The crew gives him rum and asks him who he is, and Dantes replies that he is a Maltese seaman wrecked in the previous night’s storm. Although some of the sailors wonder at the length of Dantes’ beard and hair, they believe him when they see he has experience on ships; he demonstrates his skill in steering the vessel enough for the captain to offer him a low-paying position on board. They head to the port of Leghorn.
Dantes does not have to work very hard to convince his fellow sailors that he knows how to operate a boat. What Dantes must do, however, is pretend that he is not Dantes, but another man – and he does this effectively, foreshadowing the later changes of identity and costumes that will come to characterize his time as the Count of Monte Cristo in Rome and Paris.
As they’re sailing, the crew notices that a cannon has been fired from the Chateau D’If, indicating that a prisoner has escaped. The captain of the small ship looks again at Dantes, who maintains his cool perfectly. The captain thinks to himself that either Dantes really is a Maltese lost at sea, or he’s the escaped prisoner—and still too valuable a man aboard the ship to hand over to the authorities. So Dantes stays on-board with nothing said between sailors. Dantes swears to himself that he will find his father and Mercedes, and seek revenge on Fernand, Danglars, Caderousse, and Villefort.
Having gained access to the captain’s thoughts, the narrator tells that reader that, perhaps, the captain really did believe that Dantes was the escaped man, but that Dantes has proved himself so nimble on-board the ship that the captain cannot bear the thought of losing him. Thus the narrator indicates that things are not as fantastical as they might seem – Dantes has not so much tricked the captain as made himself an invaluable part of the ship’s crew.