I quote here a paragraph from the Three Musketeers (chapter II, Penguin). I am confused about how the game really works. I checked other translations but found they are not clear as well at least to me.

If the players standing on the lower steps (who are trying to go up) are hit, they will leave and join the queue to come back again? How about the player (defender) standing on the higher step gets hit? He is chosen at the beginning of the game because he is good?

The fellow occupying the upper step at that moment was wonderfully adept at keeping his adversaries at arm’s length. A circle formed around them. The rules were that every time someone was hit, he would leave the game and surrender his turn on Monsieur de Tréville’s waiting list to the scorer. Within five minutes, the defender of the step had nicked three of his attackers, one on the wrist, another on the chin, and another on the ear, without getting a scratch in return – a display of skill which, according to the conventions, meant he jumped three places in the queue.

  • The French isn't any clearer. I'm not at all sure such a game could work in practice, or whether it's just an unworkable invention of Dumas'.
    – Peter Shor
    Nov 15, 2022 at 1:28

1 Answer 1


This sounds fairly similar to how modern sport fencing is done. There you score a point whenever you tip/ hit your opponent and the higher score wins. In the book they simply switch out one player everytime their opponent scores a hit. If the different fencers are of approximately equal skill this is a fair competition and in spite of the rapier being a weapon usually nobody gets seriously hurt if they do this for sport.

Standing on a slightly elevated position relative to your opponent gives you an advantage, so part of the displayed skill is choosing and defending a favorable position.

If I recall the book correctly the queue being referred to doesn't relate to the fencing directly, it is rather the stake they are playing for. You play at the fencing competition for the chance to jump ahead in the queue.

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