Summary and Analysis
Part 3: Chapters 25-27
D'Artagnan decides to tell Treville the entire story of Constance Bonacieux's abduction. Afterward, Treville is certain that the entire matter was conceived by the cardinal. He tells d'Artagnan to leave Paris as soon as possible.
When d'Artagnan returns to his apartment, he is accosted by old Bonacieux, who tries to question him about his recent whereabouts. D'Artagnan notices the mud on Bonacieux's boots and is convinced that Bonacieux did indeed aid in kidnapping his own wife. Upstairs, Planchet tells d'Artagnan that the cardinal's captain of the guard, Monsieur de Cavois, stopped by to extend an invitation to d'Artagnan to visit the cardinal. Planchet wisely told the captain that d'Artagnan was out of town. They decide to leave immediately.
At the inn where they left Porthos, d'Artagnan orders some wine, which he shares with the innkeeper while discreetly trying to learn the whereabouts of Porthos. He learns that Porthos fought a duel and was seriously wounded, that he lost all of his money gambling, and that he has run up a large bill which he can't pay. In addition, Porthos gave the innkeeper a letter to be posted to Porthos's "duchess." The innkeeper ordered his servant to deliver the letter in person and discovered that the "duchess" was only Madame Coquenard — a plain, fiftyish, lawyer's wife.
When d'Artagnan goes to see Porthos, he pretends that he knows nothing about the dueling wound and listens attentively as Porthos fabricates a story about his tripping and hurting his knee. Obviously, he is being well cared for by his servant, Mousqueton, who knows all about poaching and getting wine by lassoing it through a small window. D'Artagnan bids farewell and tells Porthos that he will be back, about eight days later.
Lost in thought, d'Artagnan arrives at the inn in Crevecoeur where they left Aramis. He is told by the congenial hostess that Aramis is still there — at present, entertaining the local curate and the superior of the local Jesuits. When d'Artagnan approaches, Aramis's servant tries to block the door; Bazin is anxious to serve a religious master, and he fears that d'Artagnan will lure Aramis away from his current religious meditations and commitments.
When d'Artagnan enters the room, he is stunned by the stark simplicity of the room — only religious objects are to be seen. Aramis tries to draw d'Artagnan into a ridiculously esoteric religious question concerning whether a priest should bless the congregation with one hand, with two hands, or with his fingers. After the priests leave, Aramis tells d'Artagnan that he has foresworn the world, that he hates all wordly ties, that his friends are but shadows, that love has no meaning to him, and that the world is a tomb.
Aramis then confesses to d'Artagnan that he was brought up in a seminary and that everyone fully expected that he would become a priest. When he was nineteen, however, while he was reading to a beautiful young lady, he was ordered out of the house and threatened by another guest, a young officer who was jealous of the attention which the young lady bestowed upon Aramis. Aramis left the seminary, took fencing lessons for a year, tracked down the officer, challenged him, and killed him. Now he plans to return to the seminary.
Teasingly, d'Artagnan tells Aramis that if he is determined to return to a life of celibacy, he probably won't be interested in a perfumed letter that is sealed with a duchess's coronet and comes from the household of Madame de Chevreuse. Suddenly, Aramis has a change of heart. He grabs the letter, reads it, and becomes ecstatic. He embraces d'Artagnan — and all worldly matters. He can hardly wait to rejoin the musketeers. He tries to mount the magnificent horse that d'Artagnan brought him, but he is still too weak to ride, so d'Artagnan leaves him at the inn to practice riding until he is stronger.
D'Artagnan then rides on to find Athos, the musketeer for whom he has a special liking because Athos carries himself with such proud, noble grace and conducts himself with such aristocratic authority.
Remembering that the innkeeper accused Athos of trying to pass counterfeit money, d'Artagnan is filled with fresh indignation and anger when he arrives. The innkeeper begs to be listened to; he explains that he had been forewarned by the authorities that some men who fit the musketeers' descriptions were expected in the neighborhood and that they were criminals disguised as musketeers. He received a description of their uniforms, their servants, and their facial features. He tells d'Artagnan that Athos killed one of the men in the inn and seriously wounded two more; then he barricaded himself in the basement and threatened to kill anyone who tried to get near him. The innkeeper went to the police, but they wouldn't help him because the instructions concerning the fraudulent musketeers did not come from them. They refused to interfere and arrest someone who might be one of the King's Musketeers.
Athos remained in the basement, and now he has drunk over a hundred and fifty bottles of wine, he has eaten all the hams and sausages in the basement, and the innkeeper is almost financially ruined. Amends are finally made, however, and d'Artagnan and Athos leave Athos's old horse with the innkeeper to compensate his losses.
At supper that night, Athos becomes very drunk and tells d'Artagnan who is bemoaning the fate of his beloved Constance Bonacieux, about his own misfortunes in love. Pretending that he is telling the story of "a young friend," he explains that this "friend" once met a beautiful sixteen-year-old girl, fell in love with her and married her; later, while the "friend" and his young wife were out riding, she fell and, while trying to help her regain consciousness, the "friend" loosened the upper part of her dress and discovered that she had been branded on the shoulder with a fleur-de-lis, a sign that she was a convicted criminal. Athos says that his "friend" immediately hanged his young wife.
Essentially these three chapters serve to tell us more about each of the three musketeers. Chapter 25 gives us additional information about the vain Porthos, Chapter 26 shows us Ararmis's conflict between love and religion, and Chapter 27 tells us more about Athos's past, which haunts him and drives him to excessive drinking.
While reading Chapter 25, we should remember that d'Artagnan first encountered Porthos when he collided with him on a stairwell and, by accident, it was revealed that Porthos was wearing a golden shoulder belt that was only half gilded. In that encounter, injured vanity was the principal reason why Porthos challenged d'Artagnan to a duel. Likewise, in this chapter, the emphasis is again on Porthos's extreme vanity. As noted in the summary, Porthos cannot admit that he was bested in a duel. Likewise, he feels that he needs to brag about his young and beautiful "duchess" when, in reality, his "duchess" is a fiftyish wife of a lawyer. Yet note that d'Artagnan although a young man, is astute enough not to mention the truth to Porthos; he allows Porthos to continue with his fantasies.
Although Dumas revealed to us earlier that Monsieur Bonacieux assisted in his wife's abduction, it is only in Chapter 25 that d'Artagnan becomes fully aware of this fact. Remembering the description given to him of the fat little man, he looks at Bonacieux's shoes and realizes that he and Bonacieux have the same kind of red mud on their shoes. "At the same time he also noticed Bonacieux's shoes and stockings: they were spotted with exactly the same kind of mud. An idea flashed into his mind: that short, fat, gray-haired man, treated without respect by the noblemen who abducted Madame Bonacieux, was Bonacieux himself! The husband had taken part in his wife's abduction!" D'Artagnan concludes that Bonacieux is a miserable scoundrel.
Chapter 26 reveals the whereabouts of Aramis and focuses on the conflict between love and religion. As long as a person loves, and is loved in return, and knows the whereabouts of his beloved, religious matters rarely fill one with anguish. But if one feels rejected in love, as does Aramis, then a viable alternative to love in this world is a religious life in a monastery. That is, when Aramis thinks that he has been rejected, he turns to religion for solace.
However, when Aramis receives a letter from his beloved — Madame de Chevreuse, the friend of the queen whom the king suspected of connivance and banished to Tours — Aramis becomes ecstatic. He immediately disavows his religious plans and tells d'Artagnan that he is bursting with happiness. He rejects the religiously correct meal of spinach and eggs, and, instead, he orders meat, game, fowl, and the bottle of wine which he rejected only moments earlier. Here, in this typical romantic novel, the power of love once again triumphs.
While d'Artagnan is on his way to find Athos, he wonders why he feels closer to Athos than he does to the other two musketeers; clearly he and Athos are the furthest apart in age. He concludes that he is attracted to Athos because Athos seems so noble in his conduct, has such a distinguished air, and has such sudden flashes of grandeur.
Also, Athos's face suggests a striking sense of majesty combined with graciousness. At this point, d'Artagnan does not know that Athos is descended from nobility, but he can nevertheless recognize that Athos seems to have noble heritage. Later in the novel, d'Artagnan will not be too surprised when he learns about Athos's nobility.
Athos, however, does not always "act noble." Dumas continually characterizes him as a heavy drinker, and part of the humor in Chapter 27 is derived from Athos's barricading himself, by accident, in a wine cellar. Clearly, Athos does not suffer unduly during his two weeks there; we see that he survives on hams and sausages and consumes over one hundred and fifty bottles of wine. (His servant drinks only from the casks.)
Later, when Athos tells d'Artagnan a story about a young lord who once married a beautiful sixteen-year-old girl, he is, of course, telling his own story. But not until the last part of the novel will we discover that this beautiful girl is Milady, Lady de Winter — the evil nemesis to all of the loyalists. The only false part of Athos's story is his report that he hanged her and that she is dead. Foreshadowings such as this are virtual proof that Dumas had his novel well plotted and did not write, as some critics believe, without knowing where he was going next.