Laurence Sterne,-A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy

 
-1-----

[54]

THE SWORD.

RENNES.

WHEN states and empires have
their periods of declension,
and feel in their turns what distress
and poverty is—I stop not to tell
the causes which gradually brought
the house d'E**** in Britanny
into decay. The Marquis d'E****
had fought up against his condition
with great firmness ; wishing to pre-
serve, and still shew to the world
some little fragments of what his an-
cestors had been— their indiscretions
had put it out of his power. There

     2                 was

[55]

was enough left for the little exigen-
cies of obscurity—But he had two boys
who look'd up to him for light—he
thought they deserved it. He had
tried his sword—it could not open
the way—the mounting was too ex-pensive—and simple economy was
not a match for it—there was no re-
source but commerce.

     In any other province in France,
save Britany, this was smiting the
root for ever of the little tree his
pride and affection wish'd to see re-
blossom—But in Britany, there being
a provision for this, he avail'd himself
of it ; and taking an occasion when
the states were assembled at Rennes,

            E 4          the

[56]

the Marquis, attended with his two
boys, enter'd the court ; and having
pleaded the right of an ancient law
of the duchy, which, though seldom
claim'd, he said, was no less in force ;
he took the sword from his side—Here
said hetake it ; and be trusty
guardians of it, till better times put me in condition to reclaim it.

     The president accepted the Marquis's sword—he staid a few minutes to see it deposited in the archives of his house, and departed.

     The Marquis and his whole family embarked the next day for Martinico, and in about nineteen or twenty years of successful application to bu-

                     siness,

[57]

siness, with some unlook'd for be-
quests from distant branches of his
housereturn'd home to reclaim his
nobility and to support it.

     It was an incident of good fortune which will never happen to any
traveller, but a sentimental one, that
I should be at Rennes at the very
time of this solemn requisition : I
call it solemn— it was so to me.

     The Marquis enter'd the court with
his whole family : he supported his lady—his eldest son supported his
sister, and his youngest was at the other
extreme of the line next his mother.
—He put his handkerchief to his
face twice—

                     —There

[58]

     —There was a dead silence. When
the Marquis had approach'd within
six paces of the tribunal, he gave the
Marchioness to his youngest son, and
advancing three steps before his fa-
mily—he reclaim'd his sword. His
sword was given him, and the moment
he got it into his hand he drew it al-
most out of the scabbard—'twas the
shining face of a friend he had once
given up—he look'd attentively along
it, beginning at the hilt, as if to see
whether it was the same—when ob-
serving a little rust which it had con-
tracted near the point, he brought it
near his eye, and bending his head
down over it— I think I saw a tear
fall upon the place : I could not be
deceived by what followed.

                     " I shall

[59]

" I shall find,' said he, 'some other
" way
to get it off.'

     When the Marquis had said this,
he return'd his sword into its scabbard,
made a bow to the guardians of it—
and, with his wife and daughter and
his two sons following him, walk'd
out.

     O how I envied him his feelings!

                     THE


next section