Twenty Years After relates the story of our Inseparables (how I love to call them that) twenty years after the end of the previous novel. Richelieu has been replaced by Mazarin, an Italian who is considered inferior than the late cardinal.
This less-favourite minister knows about D'Artagnan and asks him to support him. D'Artagnan agrees as long as he's paid, but he's not really in league with Mazarin. Mazarin asks him to join venture with his former group of four, but both Aramis and Athos refuses to do so. Only Porthos agrees to help Mazarin, with a promise that the minister will make him a Baron.
About the four friends. D'Artagnan is still a musketeer, Aramis is now Monsieur d'Herblay, an abbe with a heart of a musketeer, Porthos is a rich landlord, with three castles, and Athos a happy count living with his son, Raoul. Later in the novel, D'Artagnan and Porthos become a Mazarinist, because they serve Mazarin, and Athos and Aramis are Frondist. There is where the problem lies. They are not the men they were.
The four meet again fighting each other, but retreat the moment they realise who their opponents are. They then promise to hold a council in less intense circumstances, to talk about everything. Each comes with sword on his belt, and doubt in his heart. Will they still be friends? Do they still have faith in each other? It is very important because they still share one enemy – Milady's son who comes for vengeance.
I will not talk about the part I like best, but I will talk about the thing I hate the most from the novel. It's doubt. Doubt between those four that tortures me like a thorn in the flesh. There is this air of disbelief between them; everyone can feel that they are no more four heads and one heart. I don't mind their keeping secret from each other, but suspicions? I just don't know anymore.
This is the conversation between D'Artagnan and Porthos.
“Athos and Aramis have played a game with me which alarms me. We discovered yesterday the truth; what is the use of going to–day to learn something else?"
"You really have some distrust, then?" said Porthos.
"Of Aramis, yes, since he has become an abbe. You can't imagine, my dear fellow, the sort of man he is. He sees us on the road which leads him to a bishopric, and perhaps will not be sorry to get us out of his way."
At the same time, somewhere, Athos and Aramis are having this conversation.
"Oh, no, dear count!" cried Aramis, "is it not a warlike encounter that we are going to?"
"What do you mean, Aramis?"
"That the Place Royale is the termination to the main road to Vendomois, and nothing else."
"What! our friends?"
"Are become our most dangerous enemies, Athos. Let us be on our guard."
"Oh! my dear D'Herblay!"
"Who can say whether D'Artagnan may not have betrayed us to the cardinal? who can tell whether Mazarin may not take advantage of this rendezvous to seize us?"
"What! Aramis, you think that D'Artagnan, that Porthos, would lend their hands to such an infamy?"
"Among friends, my dear Athos, no, you are right; but among enemies it would be only a stratagem."
Needless to say, my heart bleeds when I read these things. As if these weren't enough, there are still more, and I put here another one, that hurts me more than the others, because it comes from the mouth of Athos, the dearest of all four to me.
Athos: (talking about D'Artagnan) "I saw him. He was in the front row of the crowd, admirably placed for seeing; and as on the whole the sight was curious, he probably wished to stay to the end."
D'Artagnan: "Ah Comte de la Fere, is it your habit to calumniate the absent?"
Athos: "I am not calumniating you, my friend. They were anxious about you here; I simply told them where you were. You didn't know King Charles; to you he was only a foreigner and you were not obliged to love him."
D'Artagnan: “Go, sir count. You see nothing to keep you a little longer in England? Well, for my part, I, a bloodthirsty ruffian, who can go and stand close to a scaffold, in order to have a better view of the king's execution—I remain.”
Nevertheless, I still love them all. As the story develops, it is shown more clearly that D'Artagnan is a smart and tricky person, Athos a mild but idealistic nobleman, Aramis a capricious and illegible half-abbe, and Porthos a strong and energetic friend. One last sentence: I encourage you to read it and see for yourself.