Chapter One: The Three Presents of D’Artagnan the Elder
We start our tale with a historical info-dump.
It’s the first Monday of April, 1625, and we’re in a small town experiencing a lot of pandemonium.
This kind of activity is apparently quite usual, and we get a quick overview of the types of conflict common at this point in history: nobles vs. nobles, King vs. Cardinal, Spain vs. King, lots of bad people vs. citizens.
This story is also taking place in France.
The cause of all the chaos is a young man the narrator describes as a "Don Quixote of eighteen." If you’re not up on your Spanish literature, Don Quixote is this ordinary guy who starts believing he’s a gallant knight, so in other words, the young man in our story looks like an idealistic (though intelligent) fool. It’s also clear, from his massive jawbone that he’s from Gascony. According to our annotated edition, that means he’s likely to have a quick temper and lots of courage.
The narrator tells us that the young man would likely be taken for a farmer’s son if it wasn’t for the sword he (inexpertly) carries.
The young man rides an old yellow horse with no hair in its tail; the old horse also walks funny.
In short, the young man (who we finally learn is named D’Artagnan) is riding the 17th century equivalent of a Ford Edsel.
It turns out the horse is a gift from his father (also known as D’Artagnan the elder).
We get a flashback to the day dad gave away the horse. He tells D’Artagnan the younger to never sell the horse and to take care of it like an old servant.
He then launches into a long lecture which can be summed up like this: honor; courage; obey the Cardinal and the King; go out and have lots of adventures and pick a lot of fights even though they’re illegal; here are fifteen crowns, a horse, and my advice; your mother is including some balsam which will take care of all the injuries you’re going to have.
D’Artagnan the elder adds that he’s buddy-buddy with a really important guy at court named Monsieur de Tréville, (also referred to as M. de Tréville or just Tréville), whom he’s recommending as the role model for his son. He gives his D’Artagnan the younger a letter of introduction, which reads something like: hello old friend, the guy who just handed you this letter is my son, please treat him well.
D’Artagnan the elder outfits his son with a sword and wishes him luck.
Then D’Artagnan (the younger) goes to say good-bye to his mom. They both cry. This doesn’t indicate that D’Artagnan is weak, just that he really loves his mom. Aww.
And then our hero’s off! He has fifteen crowns, a horse, and a letter of introduction (the three presents mentioned in the title of this chapter).
During his journey, D’Artagnan is always raring for a fight (because everyone keeps laughing at his ridiculous horse), but he manages to make it to Meung (another city in France) in one piece.
He gets to an inn called the Jolly Miller, and as he’s getting down from the horse he spies an authoritative man telling jokes to two other men.
D’Artagnan’s horse is the joke.
D’Artagnan stares at the guy in charge for a good long while memorizing the his looks: he’s about forty, with black eyes and fair skin.
D’Artagnan walks over to the man with his hand on his sword. He’s ready for a big, eloquent speech but instead blurts out: "What you laughing at?" Or something like that.
The stranger replies, "Did I look like I was talking to you?"
D’Artagnan comes back with, "But I’m talking to you!"
The stranger ignores him.
D’Artagnan pulls out his sword.
The stranger continues making fun of D’Artagnan’s horse. D’Artagnan continues to threaten him, and the stranger continues to be polite and scornful at the same time. D’Artagnan continues to demand a fight.
The stranger sighs and says D’Artagnan should really be a Musketeer if he wants to be so brave.
D’Artagnan nearly skewers the stranger.
Finally, the stranger draws his sword.
Before we get to see a swordfight, the innkeeper and the two men start beating on D’Artagnan with "sticks, shovels, and tongs."
The stranger says that they should just shove D’Artagnan back on the funny horse and send him on his way.
As three men beat him with sticks, shovels, and tongs, D’Artagnan says to the stranger, "I’m not leaving until you’re dead."
The stranger tells the three men to continue beating D’Artagnan, figuring that the fight will end soon enough.
D’Artagnan continues to stand there and take the beating. His sword breaks in two. Finally, someone cracks him on the head and he falls over.
The innkeeper takes him to the kitchen for some first aid.
The innkeeper goes back to ask the stranger (who’s apparently kind of a big deal) if he’s okay. Because the stranger was totally involved in the "fighting."
The stranger says that he’s fine, and asks how D’Artagnan is doing.
The innkeeper says that the young man has fainted again, but not before swearing to kill the stranger. Again.
The stranger exclaims that D’Artagnan must be the devil.
No, says the innkeeper, we went through his stuff and found a shirt and some money. (Which means D’Artagnan is definitely not the devil…?)
The innkeeper tells the stranger that D’Artagnan stuck his hand into his pocket and mentioned the name of M. de Tréville. The innkeeper saw that D’Artagnan has a letter addressed to Tréville.
The stranger gets all excited, then goes to the window and mutters under his breath, "Could M. de Tréville have sent this crazy young man here to kill me?" He stares out the window contemplating the possibilities before finally turning back to the innkeeper and asking him to get rid of D’Artagnan.
The stranger orders his horses ready for his departure.
We learn that D’Artagnan has been taken to another room to have his wounds treated.
The stranger continues to mutter to himself, so we get to hear his dastardly plans: he doesn’t want Milady to be seen by D’Artagnan, and he is interested in seeing this letter addressed to Tréville.
The innkeeper blames D’Artagnan for the departure of the noble stranger; he goes straight to D’Artagnan and insists that he leave the inn immediately.
D’Artagnan, still wounded, struggles to his feet and steps out of the room.
The first thing he sees is the stranger talking to someone sitting in a carriage.
This someone happens to be a beautiful young woman: blonde haired, blue-eyed, and with skin like alabaster. The stranger is relaying a set of orders to her. When she asks him if he’s going to punish the "insolent boy" (meaning D’Artagnan), D’Artagnan has to pipe up, "Are you talking about me?"
D’Artagnan is convinced that the stranger would not dare to flee from a fight in front of a lady.
The stranger does just that—he gallops away on his horse as the innkeeper screams out, "What about your bill?!?!"
The stranger yells for one of his servants to pay the innkeeper. D’Artagnan chases after the stranger yelling "Base Coward! False Gentleman!"
Then his head injuries get the best of him and he collapses.
The innkeeper tries to make nice with D’Artagnan since the other guy turned out to be a jerk.
D’Artagnan regains consciousness long enough to talk about the beautiful woman, then faints again.
The innkeeper feels better when he anticipates that D’Artagnan must stay at the inn and recuperate for quite some time.
D’Artagnan gets together the ingredients for his mother’s balsam, and is essentially cured within two days.
When he goes to pay for his lodging and meals, D’Artagnan discovers that his letter of introduction to M. de Tréville is missing.
He flies into a rage and demands that it be found. He does this over and over again until everyone grabs the sticks, shovels, and tongs they used earlier. They don’t beat him quite yet, but they’re close.
D’Artagnan pulls out his sword, forgetting that two inches of metal does not constitute a sword. (It was broken in the earlier fight, remember?)
The narrator points out that this would probably not prevent D’Artagnan from continuing to threaten the inn employees. Luckily, something penetrates the innkeeper’s brain. He lowers his stick and asks rhetorically, "But where is your letter?"
After putting their heads together, the innkeeper finally has an "Aha!" moment and tells D’Artagnan that the stranger from earlier must have taken it.
D’Artagnan pays the innkeeper and sets off for Paris so he can complain to M. de Tréville.
Once in Paris, D’Artagnan sells off his horse (so much for listening to his old man!), rents a tiny garret, and falls asleep perfectly happy with his previous conduct.