Among picnics on the battlefield the déjeuner sur l’herbe in The Three Musketeers sets the pattern for sardonic humor. It’s meant as yet another instance of the Musketeers’ bravado, but Alexandre Dumas and Auguste Maquet (his co-author) add comic relief to the serious Siege of La Rochelle, and the Musketeers urgency for adventure.
During a lull in battle, Athos incredulously makes a bet that he, d’Artagnan, Porthos, and Aramis will have a successful dejeuner sur l’herbe in the Bastion Saint Gervais. Of course this is meant to be ironic, for the bastion is in a hotly contested no mans’ land, and it’s Athos’ whacky idea of a “safe” place to conduct a sensitive discussion away from Cardinal Richelieu’s spies. (Dumas and Maquet maintain the distinction that a déjeuner sur l’herbe is outdoors and a pique-nique is indoors).
Grimaud, Athos’ servant, lugs a heavy basket, panier, of cutlets and chicken, bread and wine (lots of it). When he’s finished laying a cloth on the earthen floor, the Musketeers sit with legs crossed like Turks or tailors. Though the tower is permeated with the smell of the twelve decomposing soldiers, the Musketeers are undeterred from feasting.
When the bastion is attacked, Grimaud is ordered to tie a napkin to a pike and plant it at the top of the bastion. Though attacked by superior force, the undaunted Musketeers rout out their enemy. With victory assured, they count how many they have killed (at least fifteen?), and plan to return to their own camp. As they leave, however, Aramis jests that they have forgotten the white napkin. But Athos does not get the joke. “The white flag, morbleu!,” he says, “We must not leave a flag in the hands of the enemy, even if that flag be but a napkin.” So defying musket balls whizzing about him, Athos rushes back and retrieves his, serviette. Bravo, Musketeers!
Featured Image: Jean Achille Pouget. The picnic at Bastion Saint-Gervais. Pouget takes the liberty of having the quartet is shown here at their déjeuner sur l’herbe, though in fact Dumas has it inside of the tower—and there is no grass. And they are not sitting like Turks or tailors.
Maurice Leloir. “Athos waved his flag, turning his back to the city guards and saluting those of the camp.” In Alexandre Dumas. Les Trois Mousquetaires. Paris: Calman Lévy, 1894. Athos raises his white napkin ending the Musketeers picnic at Bastion Saint-Gervais., Athos’ servant Grimaud carrying the picnic basket hastens to return to safety.
PS: The Siege of La Rochelle in 1627/28 ended when King Louis III, a Catholic, defeated the French Huguenots.
See: Alexandre Dumas and Auguste Maquet. Les Trois Musquetaires. Paris: Le Siècle, 1844; Alexandre Dumas. The Three Musketeers. Ed. Translated by Richard Pevear. New York: Penguin Books, 2007; Alexandre Dumas. Oeuvres Illustrés. 2 vols. Paris: Calmann Lévy and Lecrivain and Toubon; Alexandre Dumas. The Three Musketeers. Translated by William Robson. Illustrated by Maurice Leloir. Engraved by J. Huytot. London: George Routledge and Sons, 1922. Rpt. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1895