Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Adventure classics -- Young man sets out to seek his fortune

The Three Musketeers

by Alexandre Dumas


“What are you reading?” the younger man asked his father.

“The Musketeers. I always promised myself that when I was old, I would find out for myself what it was worth. Do you know what it’s about?”

The younger man shrugged. He had come to ask his father a question dear to his heart, whether, now that the old man’s most recent lover had deserted him, would he consider marrying his son’s mother? But he’d humor the old man for a few moments.

The old man shut the book. “It’s about a young man from the country who came to Paris to make his fortune. Something like I did, myself. And very nearly the same age. I wasn’t quite twenty-one at the time. And he had nothing to make his fortune with except a letter to an old friend of his father’s--something like me. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.”

“No, please go on. No one can tell a tale like you,” the son said.

“Well, this young man--his name is d’Artagnan--an aristocratic name, like ours was before my father gave it up to make his way in the world. This d’Artagnan, as I was saying, has nothing to his name except his letter and some skill with his sword. The story opens in 1625, so I thought swordsmanship would be more appropriate than penmanship, which was my particular skill as a youngster. On the way to Paris, d’Artagnan meets a fascinating woman, Milady de Winter, whose noble husband cast her off, for reasons I won’t disclose just yet. She is also a spy for Cardinal Richelieu--not that d’Artagnan knows that at first, or he would never have become involved with her.”

“So there are women in this story?”

“What else? There must be women. There’s Milady, and the Queen--Anne of Austria--you know how badly she and her husband, Louis XIII, got along.”

“Please tell me d’Artagnan doesn’t become involved with the Queen,” the son said.

“Of course not. She’s in love with the Duke of Buckingham.”

“Who is English, like Milady, I assume?”

“Of course Buckingham is English. What was silly question. And he possesses a set of diamonds the Queen gave him. But the Queen’s jealous husband suddenly takes into his head--not without help from the Cardinal, of course--to demand from her. It’s the diamonds or the Queen’s honor, the diamonds or her life, and she has no one but d’Artagnan and his three musketeer friends to turn to for help.”

“But how did the Queen become acquainted with d’Artagnan?”

“Haven’t you paid attention? The Queen doesn’t know d’Artagnan. The person who knows d’Artagnan is the woman he loves, the Queen’s seamstress, Constance. I thought for a while of naming her Catharine like your mother, but she might not have appreciated the compliment. Although Constance is quite lovely, like your mother was. And tied to a miserable husband, as your mother was, or at least as she told me she was when we met.”

This story filled with estranged husbands and wives, the son thought, did not bode well for reconciliation between his parents. Not that his mother would probably agree anyway. “Remember that I am over seventy,” she had told him. “I am always ailing and live very simply. Your father would blow my small apartment to smithereens.”

“And Constance, I take it,” the son asked, “tells the Queen about the wonderful young man, d’Artagnan, and urges her lady to put her faith in him? So, how far have you got in your reading?”

“I’ve finished it,” the old man said.

“And what is your considered view?”

“It’s good.”

This dialogue was adapted from a conversation between the author of The Three Musketeers and his son, Alexandre Dumas fils, in 1868, near the end of the father’s life.

(Next Wednesday, Adventure classics continues a March of thrillers and suspense with James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice.)

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