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The death of the Prince of Conde,which occurred in the spring of 1588,by depriving me of my only patron,reduced me to such straits that the winter of that year,which saw the King of Navarre come to spend his Christmas at St.Jean d'Angely,saw also the nadir of my fortunes.I did not know at this time--Imay confess it to-day without shame--wither to turn for a gold crown or a new scabbard,and neither had nor discerned any hope of employment.The peace lately patched up at Blois between the King of France and the League persuaded many of the Huguenots that their final ruin was at hand;but it could not fill their exhausted treasury or enable them to put fresh troops into the field.
The death of the Prince had left the King of Navarre without a rival in the affections of the Huguenots;the Vicomte de Turenne,whose turbulent;ambition already began to make itself felt,and M.de Chatillon,ranking next to him.It was my ill-fortune,however,to be equally unknown to all three leaders,and as the month of December which saw me thus miserably straitened saw me reach the age of forty,which I regard,differing in that from many,as the grand climacteric of a man's life,it will be believed that I had need of all the courage which religion and a campaigner's life could supply.
I had been compelled some time before to sell all my horses except the black Sardinian with the white spot on its forehead;and I now found myself obliged to part also with my valet de chambre and groom,whom I dismissed on the same day,paying them their wages with the last links of gold chain left to me.It was not without grief and dismay that I saw myself thus stripped of the appurtenances of a man of birth,and driven to groom my own horse under cover of night.But this was not the worst.My dress,which suffered inevitably from this menial employment,began in no long time to bear witness to the change in my circumstances;so that on the day of the King of Navarre's entrance into St.Jean I dared not face the crowd,always quick to remark the poverty of those above them,but was fain to keep within doors and wear out my patience in the garret of the cutler's house in the Rue de la Coutellerie,which was all the lodging I could now afford.
Pardieu,'tis a strange world!Strange that time seems to me;more strange compared with this.My reflections on that day,Iremember,were of the most melancholy.Look at it how I would,Icould not but see that my life's spring was over.The crows'feet were gathering about my eyes,and my moustachios,which seemed with each day of ill-fortune to stand out more fiercely in proportion as my face grew leaner,were already grey.I was out at elbows,with empty pockets,and a sword which peered through the sheath.The meanest ruffler who,with broken feather and tarnished lace,swaggered at the heels of Turenne,was scarcely to be distinguished from me.I had still,it is true,a rock and a few barren acres in Brittany,the last remains of the family property;but the small small sums which the peasants could afford to pay were sent annually to Paris,to my mother,who had no other dower.And this I would not touch,being minded to die a gentleman,even if I could not live in that estate.
Small as were my expectations of success,since I had no one at the king's side to push my business,nor any friend at Court,Inevertheless did all I could,in the only way that occurred to me.I drew up a petition,and lying in wait one day for M.
Forget,the King of Navarre's secretary,placed it in his hand,begging him to lay it before that prince.He took it,and promised to do so,smoothly,and with as much lip-civility as Ihad a right to expect.But the careless manner in which he doubled up and thrust away the paper on which I had spent so much labour,no less than the covert sneer of his valet,who ran after me to get the customary present--and ran,as I still blush to remember,in vain--warned me to refrain from hope.
In this,however,having little save hope left,I failed so signally as to spend the next day and the day after in a fever of alternate confidence and despair,the cold fit following the hot with perfect regularity.At length,on the morning of the third day--I remember it lacked but three of Christmas--I heard a step on the stairs.My landlord living in his shop,and the two intervening floors being empty,I had no doubt the message was for me,and went outside the door to receive it,my first glance at the messenger confirming me in my highest hopes,as well as in all I had ever heard of the generosity of the King of Navarre.
For by chance I knew the youth to be one of the royal pages;a saucy fellow who had a day or two before cried 'Old Clothes'after me in the street.I was very far from resenting this now,however,nor did he appear to recall it;so that I drew the happiest augury as to the contents of the note he bore from the politeness with which he presented it to me.
I would not,however,run the risk of a mistake,and before holding out my hand,I asked him directly and with formality if it was for me.
He answered,with the utmost respect,that it was for the Sieur de Marsac,and for me if I were he.
'There is an answer,perhaps?'I said,seeing that he lingered.
'The King of Navarre,sir,'he replied,with a low bow,'will receive your answer in person,I believe.'And with that,replacing the hat which he had doffed out of respect to me,he turned and went down the stairs.