Make your own free website on

List Of Contents | Contents of Martin Guerre, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
Next Page > >



We are sometimes astonished at the striking resemblance existing
between two persons who are absolute strangers to each other, but in
fact it is the opposite which ought to surprise us.  Indeed, why
should we not rather admire a Creative Power so infinite in its
variety that it never ceases to produce entirely different
combinations with precisely the same elements?  The more one
considers this prodigious versatility of form, the more overwhelming
it appears.

To begin with, each nation has its own distinct and characteristic
type, separating it from other races of men.  Thus there are the
English, Spanish, German, or Slavonic types; again, in each nation we
find families distinguished from each other by less general but still
well-pronounced features; and lastly, the individuals of each family,
differing again in more or less marked gradations.  What a multitude
of physiognomies!  What variety of impression from the innumerable
stamps of the human countenance!  What millions of models and no
copies!  Considering this ever changing spectacle, which ought to
inspire us with most astonishment--the perpetual difference of faces
or the accidental resemblance of a few individuals?  Is it impossible
that in the whole wide world there should be found by chance two
people whose features are cast in one and the same mould?  Certainly
not; therefore that which ought to surprise us is not that these
duplicates exist here and there upon the earth, but that they are to
be met with in the same place, and appear together before our eyes,
little accustomed to see such resemblances.  From Amphitryon down to
our own days, many fables have owed their origin to this fact, and
history also has provided a few examples, such as the false Demetrius
in Russia, the English Perkin Warbeck, and several other celebrated
impostors, whilst the story we now present to our readers is no less
curious and strange.

On the 10th of, August 1557, an inauspicious day in the history of
France, the roar of cannon was still heard at six in the evening in
the plains of St. Quentin; where the French army had just been
destroyed by the united troops of England and Spain, commanded by the
famous Captain Emanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy.  An utterly beaten
infantry, the Constable Montmorency and several generals taken
prisoner, the Duke d'Enghien mortally wounded, the flower of the
nobility cut down like grass,--such were the terrible results of a
battle which plunged France into mourning, and which would have been
a blot on the reign of Henry II, had not the Duke of Guise obtained a
brilliant revenge the following year.

In a little village less than a mile from the field of battle were to
be heard the groans of the wounded and dying, who had been carried
thither from the field of battle.  The inhabitants had given up their
houses to be used as hospitals, and two or three barber surgeons went
hither and thither, hastily ordering operations which they left to
their assistants, and driving out fugitives who had contrived to
accompany the wounded under pretence of assisting friends or near
relations.  They had already expelled a good number of these poor
fellows, when, opening the door of a small room, they found a soldier
soaked in blood lying on a rough mat, and another soldier apparently
attending on him with the utmost care.

"Who are you?" said one of the surgeons to the sufferer.  "I don't
think you belong to our French troops."

"Help!" cried the soldier, "only help me! and may God bless you for

"From the colour of that tunic," remarked the other surgeon, "I
should wager the rascal belongs to some Spanish gentleman.  By what
blunder was he brought here?"

"For pity's sake! murmured the poor fellow, "I am in such pain."

"Die, wretch!" responded the last speaker, pushing him with his foot.
"Die, like the dog you are!"

But this brutality, answered as it was by an agonised groan,
disgusted the other surgeon.

"After all, he is a man, and a wounded man who implores help.  Leave
him to me, Rene."

Rene went out grumbling, and the one who remained proceeded to
examine the wound.  A terrible arquebus-shot had passed through the
leg, shattering the bone: amputation was absolutely necessary.

Before proceeding to the operation, the surgeon turned to the other
soldier, who had retired into the darkest corner of the room.

"And you, who may you be?" he asked.

The man replied by coming forward into the light: no other answer was
needed.  He resembled his companion so closely that no one could
doubt they were brothers-twin brothers, probably.  Both were above
middle height; both had olive-brown complexions, black eyes, hooked
noses, pointed chins, a slightly projecting lower lip; both were
round-shouldered, though this defect did not amount to disfigurement:
the whole personality suggested strength, and was not destitute of
masculine beauty.  So strong a likeness is hardly ever seen; even
their ages appeared to agree, for one would not have supposed either
to be more than thirty-two; and the only difference noticeable,
besides the pale countenance of the wounded man, was that he was thin
as compared with the moderate fleshiness of the other, also that he
had a large scar over the right eyebrow.

"Look well after your brother's soul," said the surgeon to the
soldier, who remained standing; "if it is in no better case than his
body, it is much to be pitied."

"Is there no hope?" inquired the Sosia of the wounded man.

"The wound is too large and too deep," replied the man of science,
"to be cauterised with boiling oil, according to the ancient method.
'Delenda est causa mali,' the source of evil must be destroyed, as
says the learned Ambrose Pare; I ought therefore 'secareferro,'--that
is to say, take off the leg.  May God grant that he survive the

While seeking his instruments, he looked the supposed brother full in
the face, and added--

"But how is it that you are carrying muskets in opposing armies, for
I see that you belong to us, while this poor fellow wears Spanish

"Oh, that would be a long story to tell," replied the soldier,
shaking his head.  "As for me, I followed the career which was open
to me, and took service of my own free will under the banner of our
lord king, Henry II.  This man, whom you rightly suppose to be my
brother, was born in Biscay, and became attached to the household of
the Cardinal of Burgos, and afterwards to the cardinal's brother,
whom he was obliged to follow to the war.  I recognised him on the
battle-field just as he fell; I dragged him out of a heap of dead,
and brought him here."

During his recital this individual's features betrayed considerable
agitation, but the surgeon did not heed it.  Not finding some
necessary instruments, "My colleague," he exclaimed, "must have
carried them off.  He constantly does this, out of jealousy of my
reputation; but I will be even with him yet!  Such splendid
instruments!  They will almost work of themselves, and are capable of
imparting some skill even to him, dunce as he is!...  I shall be back
in an hour or two; he must rest, sleep, have nothing to excite him,
nothing to inflame the wound; and when the operation is well over, we
shall see!  May the Lord be gracious to him!"

Then he went to the door, leaving the poor wretch to the care of his
supposed brother.

"My God!" he added, shaking his head, "if he survive, it will be by
the help of a miracle."

Scarcely had he left the room, when the unwounded soldier carefully
examined the features of the wounded one.

"Yes," he murmured between his teeth, "they were right in saying that
my exact double was to be found in the hostile army .  .  .  .  Truly
one would not know us apart!  .  .  .  I might be surveying myself in
a mirror.  I did well to look for him in the rear of the Spanish
army, and, thanks to the fellow who rolled him over so conveniently
with that arquebus-shot; I was able to escape the dangers of the
melee by carrying him out of it."

"But that's not all," he thought, still carefully studying the
tortured face of the unhappy sufferer; "it is not enough to have got
out of that.  I have absolutely nothing in the world, no home, no
resources.  Beggar by birth, adventurer by fortune, I have enlisted,
and have consumed my pay; I hoped for plunder, and here we are in
full flight!  What am I to do?  Go and drown myself?  No, certainly
a cannon-ball would be as good as that.  But can't I profit by this
chance, and obtain a decent position by turning to my own advantage
this curious resemblance, and making some use of this man whom Fate
has thrown in my way, and who has but a short time to live?"

Arguing thus, he bent over the prostrate man with a cynical laugh:
one might have thought he was Satan watching the departure of a soul
too utterly lost to escape him.

"Alas! alas!" cried the sufferer; "may God have mercy on me!  I feel
my end is near."

"Bah! comrade, drive away these dismal thoughts.  Your leg pains you
--well they will cut it off!  Think only of the other one, and trust
in Providence!"

"Water, a drop of water, for Heaven's sake!" The sufferer was in a
high fever.  The would-be nurse looked round and saw a jug of water,
towards which the dying man extended a trembling hand.  A truly
infernal idea entered his mind.  He poured some water into a gourd
which hung from his belt, held it to the lips of the wounded man, and
then withdrew it.

"Oh!  I thirst-that water!  .  .  .  For pity's sake, give me some!"

"Yes, but on one condition you must tell me your whole history."

"Yes .  .  .  but give me water!"

His tormentor allowed him to swallow a mouthful, then overwhelmed him
with questions as to his family, his friends and fortune, and
compelled him to answer by keeping before his eyes the water which
alone could relieve the fever which devoured him.  After this often
interrupted interrogation, the sufferer sank back exhausted, and
almost insensible.  But, not yet satisfied, his companion conceived

Next Page > >

Other sites: