The narrator begins the chapter by describing the desolate mood in the house of Morrel and Co., where there is almost no money in the cashbox. Morrel has had to pawn off some of the family’s silver to pay current debts, and only two employees remain: a one-eyed cashier of scrupulous accounting skills and great decency named Cocles, and a young man named Emmanuel, who has stayed in part because he wishes to marry Morrel’s daughter. The envoy from Thomson and French, fresh from his time spent with the inspector of prisons, arrives at the company that same day and asks to speak with the old man Morrel.
The financial straits of Morrel are Co. are truly devastating. The narrator attributes this situation simply to misfortune, as Morrel’s ships have tended to become lost at sea. There is no way of predicting or responding to this kind of luck – one can only send out more ships, and hope that future profits from trade will offset the sunk costs of the lost vessels. In this way, the good and bad luck of economics becomes a counterpoint to Dantes’ own share of good and bad luck in his young life.
When he is brought into Morrel’s study, the envoy doesn’t seem to recognize Morrel; Morrel has aged greatly in 14 years due to serious financial difficulties and the strife caused in his family (and, presumably, due to the disappearance of Dantes). The envoy asks Morrel to list his debts, and Morrel says that he has lost all his ships but one, the Pharaon. The Pharaon is supposed to be en route to Marseille from a supposed run in India, but Morrel fears it has been lost in a storm. If the Pharaon is gone, he will be bankrupted. The envoy listens impassively to this news, only to be interrupted by the sound of Julie, Morrel’s daughter, bursting into the office.
Just as Dantes’s face is nearly unrecognizable after his stint in the Chateau D’If, so too is Morrel greatly changed by age. His face is careworn, shaped by the same ill luck that Dantes has experienced (though in severer form) in prison. Thus the narrator seems to state that misfortune enacts physical changes on those who experience it. Bad luck, in other words, can cause one to assume a new “mask,” since it wreaks genuine deformation on the faces of people subjected to it.
Julie announces to her father, still in the presence of the envoy, that the Pharaon has been caught in a horrible storm. The contents of that ship have been lost, but the sailors, by a miracle, have survived and been picked up by another ship, which has lumbered into port at Marseille. An old sailor from that ship, a trusted man named Penelon, then enters the office and reports to the assembled crowd that, although the sailors tried, they could not save the cargo before abandoning the ship and hoping to be picked up.
Morrel has done nothing to deserve his bad luck. In fact, the narrator goes out of his way to explain that Morrel has always paid all debts, and that he has never written out a check he was not able to cash. But the loss of the Pharaon will stretch Old Morrel’s means to the absolute limit – causing him to face a moral quandary. Should Morrel write a check he’s not able to cash, as a way of skimming along until a new ship can bring in profits? Or should Morrel announce that he is bankrupt?
Morrel, deeply saddened at the thought that his last, best hope at financial solvency has been ruined, nevertheless thanks Penelon for his devotion and dismisses him, along with the other sailors, promising to pay their full salaries in installments as a further sign of his honor. Penelon thanks Morrel heartily on behalf of the other sailors, then departs, as does Julie, shaken by her father’s misfortune.
Morrel is so scrupulous a boss that he vows to pay these sailors even though he has nothing to pay them with. For, as Morrel says here and elsewhere, a contract is a contract, an agreement an agreement. If Morrel is to leave his employees unpaid or pretend to have money he does not actually have, he has lost the most important thing he owns – his good reputation.
It is now only the envoy and Morrel again in his office. The envoy reveals to Morrel that Thomson and French has bought up a substantial portion of Morrel’s debt, and that the firm is willing to extend Morrel’s credit by three months, till September of the same year, in order to allow Morrel to find a way to pay his debts on time without compromising his good name as a businessman. Morrel thanks the envoy heartily for his care and as the envoy leaves, he tells Julie in the hallway that she will, in September, receive a letter from a man named Sinbad the Sailor, which she is to open. Julie agrees and says she will look for the letter and follow its instructions. The envoy then finds Penelon outside, saying he has another task for the hardened and loyal sailor.
Dantes puts into action another plot for good. As with his reward for Caderousse, this payment to Morrel is designed to repay a debt, which Dantes believes he owes to Morrel for supporting him and his father both before and during his imprisonment. Dantes understands, too, that repaying Morrel’s debts is only part of the problem, for he must also find a way to allow Morrel to continue making a living now that the Pharaon is declared lost. That latter task is left for later chapters, but in this scene, Dantes has at least planned to take care of the immediate danger of Morrel’s bankruptcy.