Gendarmes move Dantes to a small jail on the mainland, where Dantes expects, per Villefort’s word, that he will be released the next morning after the matter of his supposed “crimes” is cleared up. Late that night, however, gendarmes return and move Dantes out of the jail and to the port, then onto a small boat, which the gendarmes row. Dantes asks where they are going, but the gendarmes say they can tell Dantes nothing.
Dantes has no idea where he is to be taken, and neither does the reader. Dumas and his narrator present certain moments of dramatic irony in which the reader knows something that a main character does not know—but also other moments in which the characters and the reader are equally in the dark as to what’s going on.
After they row out into the port’s waters a fair distance, Dantes begs them to tell him what’s going on, since he thought that he was going to be set free. The men admit that he is not being set free but, instead, taken to the dread Chateau D’If, an impregnable fortress prison on an island out in the far waters off Marseille. Hearing this, Dantes tries to leap out of the boat to escape, but the police subdue him and drag him inside.
Dantes realizes that he has been tricked by Villefort – that the prosecutor, promising he will be set free, instead has condemned him to a more horrid fate than Dantes could have previously imagined. This is one of the few instances in the novel in which Dantes loses control of himself, here almost drowning himself to avoid being sent to so fearsome a prison.
Dantes barely eats or sleeps for a night and a day, and when the prison warden comes in to ask if he needs anything (meaning a little more bread or water), Dantes asks, over and over, to speak with the Governor of the prison. The warden tells Dantes this is “impossible,” and after Dantes threatens to hit him with his small stool, he is taken to the “dungeons” at the bottom of the prison, which are dark caves. Dantes hears, down there, about a “mad” prisoner who is his neighbor, a former abbe (or religious official) who has been incarcerated for years. The narrator says that Dantes himself is on the verge of madness after his days spent in the horrid conditions of the Chateau D’If, thinking only of Mercedes and his father.
The early events of the novel proceed at a rapid pace, and the narrator provides important details at each stage – as in the twenty-four hours after Dantes is thrown into jail and then into the prison of the Chateau D’If. But there are other parts of the novel in which months or even years pass in as little as a paragraph or two. This play with the nature of time allows Dumas to condense certain activities, to speed up others, and to focus on moments of keen interest to the characters and his readers – as when Dantes is first imprisoned, or when he is finally able to escape.