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List Of Contents | Contents of Martin Guerre, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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the idea of reviving him with a few drops of brandy, which quickly
brought back the fever, and excited his brain sufficiently to enable
him to answer fresh questions.  The doses of spirit were doubled
several times, at the risk of ending the unhappy man's days then and
there: Almost delirious, his head feeling as if on fire, his
sufferings gave way to a feverish excitement, which took him back to
other places and other times: he began to recall the days of his
youth and the country where he lived.  But his tongue was still
fettered by a kind of reserve: his secret thoughts, the private
details of his past life were not yet told, and it seemed as though
he might die at any moment.  Time was passing, night already coming
on, and it occurred to the merciless questioner to profit by the
gathering darkness.  By a few solemn words he aroused the religious
feelings of the sufferer, terrified him by speaking of the
punishments of another life and the flames of hell, until to the
delirious fancy of the sick man he took the form of a judge who could
either deliver him to eternal damnation or open the gates of heaven
to him.  At length, overwhelmed by a voice which resounded in his ear
like that of a minister of God, the dying man laid bare his inmost
soul before his tormentor, and made his last confession to him.

Yet a few moments, and the executioner--he deserves no other name--
hangs over his victim, opens his tunic, seizes some papers and a few
coins, half draws his dagger, but thinks better of it; then,
contemptuously spurning the victim, as the other surgeon had done--

"I might kill you," he says, "but it would be a useless murder; it
would only be hastening your last Sigh by an hour or two, and
advancing my claims to your inheritance by the same space of time."

And he adds mockingly:--

"Farewell, my brother!"

The wounded soldier utters a feeble groan; the adventurer leaves the
room.


Four months later, a woman sat at the door of a house at one end of
the village of Artigues, near Rieux, and played with a child about
nine or ten years of age.  Still young, she had the brown complexion
of Southern women, and her beautiful black hair fell in curls about
her face.  Her flashing eyes occasionally betrayed hidden passions,
concealed, however, beneath an apparent indifference and lassitude,
and her wasted form seemed to acknowledge the existence of some
secret grief.  An observer would have divined a shattered life, a
withered happiness, a soul grievously wounded.

Her dress was that of a wealthy peasant; and she wore one of the long
gowns with hanging sleeves which were in fashion in the sixteenth
century.  The house in front of which she sat belonged to her, so
also the immense field which adjoined the garden.  Her attention was
divided between the play of her son and the orders she was giving to
an old servant, when an exclamation from the child startled her.

"Mother!" he cried, "mother, there he is!"

She looked where the child pointed, and saw a young boy turning the
corner of the street.

"Yes," continued the child, "that is the lad who, when I was playing
with the other boys yesterday, called me all sorts of bad names."

"What sort of names, my child?"

"There was one I did not understand, but it must have been a very bad
one, for the other boys all pointed at me, and left me alone.  He
called me--and he said it was only what his mother had told him--he
called me a wicked bastard!"

His mother's face became purple with indignation.  "What!" she cried,
"they dared!  .  .  .  What an insult!"

"What does this bad word mean, mother?" asked the child, half
frightened by her anger.  "Is that what they call poor children who
have no father?"

His mother folded him in her arms.  "Oh!" she continued, "it is an
infamous slander!  These people never saw your father, they have only
been here six years, and this is the eighth since he went away, but
this is abominable!  We were married in that church, we came at once
to live in this house, which was my marriage portion, and my poor
Martin has relations and friends here who will not allow his wife to
be insulted--"

"Say rather, his widow," interrupted a solemn voice.

"Ah! uncle!" exclaimed the woman, turning towards an old man who had
just emerged from the house.

"Yes, Bertrande," continued the new-comer, "you must get reconciled
to the idea that my nephew has ceased to exist.  I am sure he was not
such a fool as to have remained all this time without letting us hear
from him.  He was not the fellow to go off at a tangent, on account
of a domestic quarrel which you have never vouchsafed to explain to
me, and to retain his anger during all these eight years!  Where did
he go?  What did he do?  We none of us know, neither you nor I, nor
anybody else.  He is assuredly dead, and lies in some graveyard far
enough from here.  May God have mercy on his soul!"

Bertrande, weeping, made the sign of the cross, and bowed her head
upon her hands.

"Good-bye, Sanxi," said the uncle, tapping the child's,' cheek.
Sanxi turned sulkily away.

There was certainly nothing specially attractive about the uncle: he
belonged to a type which children instinctively dislike, false,
crafty, with squinting eyes which continually appeared to contradict
his honeyed tongue.

"Bertrande," he said, "your boy is like his father before him, and
only answers my kindness with rudeness."

"Forgive him," answered the mother; "he is very young, and does not
understand the respect due to his father's uncle.  I will teach him
better things; he will soon learn that he ought to be grateful for
the care you have taken of his little property."

"No doubt, no doubt," said the uncle, trying hard to smile.  "I will
give you a good account of it, for I shall only have to reckon with
you two in future.  Come, my dear, believe me, your husband is really
dead, and you have sorrowed quite enough for a good-for-nothing
fellow.  Think no more of him."

So saying, he departed, leaving the poor young woman a prey to the
saddest thoughts.

Bertrande de Rolls, naturally gifted with extreme sensibility, on
which a careful education had imposed due restraint, had barely
completed her twelfth year when she was married to Martin Guerre, a
boy of about the same age, such precocious unions being then not
uncommon, especially in the Southern provinces.  They were generally
settled by considerations of family interest, assisted by the
extremely early development habitual to the climate.  The young
couple lived for a long time as brother and sister, and Bertrande,
thus early familiar with the idea of domestic happiness, bestowed her
whole affection on the youth whom she had been taught to regard as
her life's companion.  He was the Alpha and Omega of her existence;
all her love, all her thoughts, were given to him, and when their
marriage was at length completed, the birth of a son seemed only
another link in the already long existing bond of union.  But, as
many wise men have remarked, a uniform happiness, which only attaches
women more and more, has often upon men a precisely contrary effect,
and so it was with Martin Guerre.  Of a lively and excitable
temperament, he wearied of a yoke which had been imposed so early,
and, anxious to see the world and enjoy some freedom, he one day took
advantage of a domestic difference, in which Bertrande owned herself
to have been wrong, and left his house and family.  He was sought and
awaited in vain.  Bertrande spent the first month in vainly expecting
his return, then she betook herself to prayer; but Heaven appeared
deaf to her supplications, the truant returned not.  She wished to go
in search of him, but the world is wide, and no single trace remained
to guide her.  What torture for a tender heart!  What suffering for a
soul thirsting for love!  What sleepless nights!  What restless
vigils!  Years passed thus; her son was growing up, yet not a word
reached her from the man she loved so much.  She spoke often of him
to the uncomprehending child, she sought to discover his features in
those of her boy, but though she endeavoured to concentrate her whole
affection on her son, she realised that there is suffering which
maternal love cannot console, and tears which it cannot dry.
Consumed by the strength of the sorrow which ever dwelt in her heart,
the poor woman was slowly wasting, worn out by the regrets of the
past, the vain desires of the present, and the dreary prospect of the
future.  And now she had been openly insulted, her feelings as a
mother wounded to the quirk; and her husband's uncle, instead of
defending and consoling her, could give only cold counsel and
unsympathetic words!

Pierre Guerre, indeed, was simply a thorough egotist.  In his youth
he had been charged with usury; no one knew by what means he had
become rich, for the little drapery trade which he called his
profession did not appear to be very profitable.

After his nephew's departure it seemed only natural that he should
pose as the family guardian, and he applied himself to the task of
increasing the little income, but without considering himself bound
to give any account to Bertrande.  So, once persuaded that Martin was
no more, he was apparently not unwilling to prolong a situation so
much to his own advantage.

Night was fast coming on; in the dim twilight distant objects became
confused and indistinct.  It was the end of autumn, that melancholy
season which suggests so many gloomy thoughts and recalls so many
blighted hopes.  The child had gone into the house.  Bertrande, still
sitting at the door, resting her forehead on her hand, thought sadly
of her uncle's words; recalling in imagination the past scenes which
they suggested, the time of their childhood, when, married so young,
they were as yet only playmates, prefacing the graver duties of life
by innocent pleasures; then of the love which grew with their
increasing age; then of how this love became altered, changing on her
side into passion, on his into indifference.  She tried to recollect
him as he had been on the eve of his departure, young and handsome,

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