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Laurence Sterne. (1713–1768). A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.

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 Brittany into decay. The Marquis d’E—— had fought up against his condition with great firmness; wishing to preserve, and still show to the world some little fragments of what his ancestors had been—their indiscretions had put it out of his power. There was enough left for the little exigencies 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 expensive—and simple economy was not a match for it—there was no resource but commerce.

In any other province in France, save Brittany, this was smiting the root forever of the little tree his pride and affection wish’d to see reblossom—But in Brittany, there being a provision for this, he avail’d himself of it; and taking an occasion when the states were assembled at Rennes, 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 his sword from his side—Here—said he—take 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 stay’d 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 business, with some unlook’d-for bequests from distant branches of his house—return’d home to reclaim his nobility and to support it.

It was an incident of good fortune which will never happen to any traveler, 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 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 family—he reclaim’d his sword. His sword was given him, and the moment he got it into his hand, he drew it almost out of the scabbard—’t was 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 observing a little rust which it had contracted 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 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!