D’Artagnan, a young swordsman intent on joining the king’s musketeers, becomes embroiled in court intrigues, international politics, and ill-fated affairs between royal lovers. The book at hand is the second volume of the third serial. Louis XIV is well past the age where he should rule, but the ailing Cardinal Mazarin refuses to relinquish the reins of power. Meanwhile, Charles II, a king without a country, travels Europe seeking aid from his fellow monarchs. Athos still resides at La Fère while his son, Raoul de Bragelonne, has entered into the service in the household of M. le Prince. As for Raoul, he has his eyes on an entirely different object than his father – his childhood companion, Louise de la Valliere, with whom he is hopelessly in love. Porthos, now a baron, is off on some mysterious mission along with Aramis, who is now the Bishop of Vannes.
The reader guesses beforehand whom the usher preceded in announcing the courier from Bretagne. This messenger was easily recognized. It was D’Artagnan, his clothes dusty, his face inflamed, his hair dripping with sweat, his legs stiff; he lifted his feet painfully at every step, on which resounded the clink of his blood–stained spurs. He perceived in the doorway he was passing through, the superintendent coming out. Fouquet bowed with a smile to him who, an hour before, was bringing him ruin and death. D’Artagnan found in his goodness of heart, and in his inexhaustible vigor of body, enough presence of mind to remember the kind reception of this man; he bowed then, also, much more from benevolence and compassion, than from respect. He felt upon his lips the word which had so many times been repeated to the Duc de Guise: “Fly.” But to pronounce that word would have been to betray his cause; to speak that word in the cabinet of the king, and before an usher, would have been to ruin himself gratuitously, and could save nobody. D’Artagnan then, contented himself with bowing to Fouquet and entered. At this moment the king floated between the joy the last words of Fouquet had given him, and his pleasure at the return of D’Artagnan. Without being a courtier, D’Artagnan had a glance as sure and as rapid as if he had been one. He read, on his entrance, devouring humiliation on the countenance of Colbert. He even heard the king say these words to him:—
“Ah! Monsieur Colbert; you have then nine hundred thousand livres at the intendance?” Colbert, suffocated, bowed but made no reply. All this scene entered into the mind of D’Artagnan, by the eyes and ears, at once.
The first word of Louis to his musketeer, as if he wished it to contrast with what he was saying at the moment, was a kind “good day.” His second was to send away Colbert. The latter left the king’s cabinet, pallid and tottering, whilst D’Artagnan twisted up the ends of his mustache.