The narrator describes a small, shabby inn in Beaucaire, which is styled with a sign of the Pont du Gard (a bridge in Paris), and is run by a small, nervous man, revealed to be Caderousse, and his wife, known by the nickname La Carconte (the town in which she was born). Caderousse worries about the inn’s finances and lack of guests, and La Carconte spends much of her time angry at Caderousse for the lack of guests at the inn. It is a cruel and unhappy marriage, and La Carconte is frequently ill with unnamed ailments.
There are perhaps no characters in the novel more bitter and abject than Caderousse and La Carconte. The inn they run has very little business, La Carconte is always sick, and Caderousse seems never to be able to catch a break in life. The two, in short, appear to suffer from a kind of fated bad luck. As will be revealed in this and the following chapter, this luck, Caderousse believes, seems to stem from mistakes he has made in his earlier life.
As Caderousse is waiting outside the door one day hoping a customer will stop by, he sees a horse and rider hurrying toward the inn. The rider is dressed richly as an Abbe (a man of the cloth with an official position in the government, like the former Abbe Faria), but his named is not provided. When the Abbe (Dantes) stops and speaks with Caderousse, he requests wine for refreshment, and the two begin a conversation in which the Abbe announces he has come to determine if Caderousse indeed used to live in the apartment next to Old Dantes.
It is worth noting that another of Dantes’ disguises – the Abbe, later referred to as Busoni – takes the same religious title as the Abbe Faria, his devoted friend in the Chateau D’If. Although Dantes never remarks on the coincidence between this title and Faria’s, it seems clear, at least implicitly, that the Abbe’s rectitude and serenity are a form of homage to his departed friend.
The mysterious Abbe then asks Caderousse if he knew young Dantes, and the Abbe admits that he once, briefly, envied the younger Dantes for his “good fortune” in being named captain and marrying Mercedes, and that Dantes was placed in prison for a crime he did not commit. Caderousse, without prompting, insists that what has happened to Dantes was a miscarriage of justice, without a doubt, and that the people responsible for Dantes’ imprisonment have not been punished. The Abbe, betraying no sign of recognition, tells Caderousse that he administered last rites to Dantes in prison and that he is bringing a message from Dantes. He insists that the young man died without ever knowing who placed the false charges against him or why.
Caderousse indicates that he has experienced a good deal of guilt and misgiving about his behavior toward Dantes many years before. Caderousse admits that he did not do enough to stop the plotters from carrying out their nefarious deeds, and even now he appears to carry with him the shame of this failure. The Abbe Busoni has come to the inn to determine the extent to which Caderousse deserves blame for his actions – thus beginning his “trial” and execution of revenge, which will span the remainder of the novel.
The Abbe says that he has a diamond from Dantes (which Dantes himself received in prison, from a fellow inmate, a rich Englishman) to be divided among Dantes’ “last friends on earth.” The Abbe claims these friends were: Caderousse, Danglars, Fernand, Mercedes, and Dantes’ father. The Abbe notes that Dantes’ father is dead, and that Mercedes can no longer be found, according to his sources. This leaves the three other men. On hearing this, Caderousse begins to seem flustered. When his wife, La Carconte, comes downstairs, she urges Caderousse to say nothing more and not to trust this mysterious Abbe who has come into their home.
This is another important instance of dramatic irony in the text, in which the reader knows information that another character (in this case, Caderousse) does not know. The Abbe is of course “trying” Caderousse, to see the extent to which the older man was responsible for the crimes committed against Dantes. But the Abbe does not do this directly; rather, he crafts a ruse in which he appears to believe that Caderousse, Villefort, Fernand, and Danglars are actually friends to Dantes.
But when the Abbe takes out the diamond, which is worth 50,000 francs, Caderousse realizes that he has much to gain in telling his story, since as he is about to report, Danglars and Fernand were really no friends at all to Dantes. La Carconte, still sitting on the steps and listening, is torn: on the one hand, she is immensely greedy, as her husband is, for the diamond. On the other hand, she wants to be protective of the strange story her husband seems increasingly willing to tell.
La Carconte’s internal debate is striking. She is perhaps one of the least compassionate, least likeable characters in the novel, and here she cannot decide which would be worse: sharing the guilty details of one’s life, or possibly forgoing a large sum of money. It will later be revealed the lengths to which La Carconte is willing to go to protect this money once she receives it.
Finally, however, Caderousse agrees to tell the Abbe the whole story of how Dantes landed in prison, convinced more by the idea of a full share of the 50,000-franc diamond than by the righteousness of describing the misdeeds done against Dantes. La Carconte, similarly swayed by Caderousse’s reasoning, though still distrustful of the stranger, allows her husband to continue in his tale, which begins in the next chapter.
As is often the case with Caderousse and La Carconte, considerations of money will sway all others. This prompts Caderousse to tell his story from the beginning, and though La Carconte grumbles at this, she is delighted at the prospect of receiving an enormous jewel for their trouble.