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List Of Contents | Contents of Martin Guerre, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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terrible one.  She was sitting by the cradle of the lately-born
infant, watching for its awakening, when the door opened, and Pierre
Guerre strode in.  Bertrande drew back with an instinct of terror as
soon as she saw him, for his expression was at once wicked and
joyful--an expression of gratified hate, of mingled rage and triumph,
and his smile was terrible to behold.  She did not venture to speak,
but motioned him to a seat.  He came straight up to her, and raising
his head, said loudly--

"Kneel down at once, madame--kneel down, and ask pardon from Almighty
God!"

"Are you mad, Pierre?" she replied, gazing at him in astonishment.

"You, at least, ought to know that I am not."

"Pray for forgiveness--I--! and what for, in Heaven's name?"

"For the crime in which you are an accomplice."

"Please explain yourself."

"Oh!" said Pierre, with bitter irony, "a woman always thinks herself
innocent as long as her sin is hidden; she thinks the truth will
never be known, and her conscience goes quietly to sleep, forgetting
her faults.  Here is a woman who thought her sins nicely concealed;
chance favoured her: an absent husband, probably no more; another man
so exactly like him in height, face, and manner that everyone else is
deceived!  Is it strange that a weak, sensitive woman, wearied of
widowhood, should willingly allow herself to be imposed on?"

Bertrande listened without understanding; she tried to interrupt, but
Pierre went on--

"It was easy to accept this stranger without having to blush for it,
easy to give him the name and the rights of a husband!  She could
even appear faithful while really guilty; she could seem constant,
though really fickle; and she could, under a veil of mystery, at once
reconcile her honour, her duty--perhaps even her love."

"What on earth do you mean?" cried Bertrande, wringing her hands in
terror.

"That you are countenancing an impostor who is not your husband."

Feeling as if the ground were passing from beneath her, Bertrande
staggered, and caught at the nearest piece of furniture to save
herself from falling; then, collecting all her strength to meet this
extraordinary attack, she faced the old man.

"What! my husband, your nephew, an impostor!"

"Don't you know it?"

"I!!"

This cry, which came from her heart, convinced Pierre that she did
not know, and that she had sustained a terrible shock.  He continued
more quietly--

"What, Bertrande, is it possible you were really deceived?"

"Pierre, you are killing me; your words are torture.  No more
mystery, I entreat.  What do you know?  What do you suspect?  Tell me
plainly at once."

"Have you courage to hear it?"

"I must," said the trembling woman.

"God is my witness that I would willingly have kept it from you, but
you must know; if only for the safety of your soul entangled in so
deadly a snare,...  there is yet time, if you follow my advice.
Listen: the man with whom you are living, who dares to call himself
Martin Guerre, is a cheat, an impostor----"

"How dare you say so?"

"Because I have discovered it.  Yes, I had always a vague suspicion,
an uneasy feeling, and in spite of the marvellous resemblance I could
never feel as if he were really my sister's child.  The day he raised
his hand to strike me--yes, that day I condemned him utterly....
Chance has justified me!  A wandering Spaniard, an old soldier, who
spent a night in the village here, was also present at the battle of
St. Quentin, and saw Martin Guerre receive a terrible gunshot wound
in the leg.  After the battle, being wounded, he betook himself to
the neighbouring village, and distinctly heard a surgeon in the next
room say that a wounded man must have his leg amputated, and would
very likely not survive the operation.  The door opened, he saw the
sufferer, and knew him for Martin Guerre.  So much the Spaniard told
me.  Acting on this information, I went on pretence of business to
the village he named, I questioned the inhabitants, and this is what
I learned."

"Well?" said Bertrande, pale, and gasping with emotion.

"I learned that the wounded man had his leg taken off, and, as the
surgeon predicted, he must have died in a few hours, for he was never
seen again."

Bertrande remained a few moments as if annihilated by this appalling
revelation; then, endeavoring to repel the horrible thought--

"No," she cried, "no, it is impossible!  It is a lie intended to ruin
him-to ruin us all."

"What!  you do not believe me?"

"No, never, never!"

"Say rather you pretend to disbelieve me: the truth has pierced your
heart, but you wish to deny it.  Think, however, of the danger to
your immortal soul."

"Silence, wretched man!...  No, God would not send me so terrible a
trial.  What proof can you show of the truth of your words?"

"The witnesses I have mentioned."

"Nothing more?"

"No, not as yet."

"Fine proofs indeed!  The story of a vagabond who flattered your
hatred in hope of a reward, the gossip of a distant village, the
recollections of ten years back, and finally, your own word, the word
of a man who seeks only revenge, the word of a man who swore to make
Martin pay dearly for the results of his own avarice, a man of
furious passions such as yours!  No, Pierre, no, I do not believe
you, and I never will!"

"Other people may perhaps be less incredulous, and if I accuse him
publicly----"

"Then I shall contradict you publicly!  "And coming quickly forward,
her eyes shining with virtuous anger--

"Leave this house, go," she said; "it is you yourself who are the
impostor--go!"

"I shall yet know how to convince everyone, and will make you
acknowledge it," cried the furious old man.

He went out, and Bertrande sank exhausted into a chair.  All the
strength which had supported her against Pierre vanished as soon as
she was alone, and in spite of her resistance to suspicion, the
terrible light of doubt penetrated her heart, and extinguished the
pure torch of trustfulness which had guided her hitherto--a doubt,
alas!  which attacked at once her honour and her love, for she loved
with all a woman's tender affection.  Just as actual poison gradually
penetrates and circulates through the whole system, corrupting the
blood and affecting the very sources of life until it causes the
destruction of the whole body, so does that mental poison, suspicion,
extend its ravages in the soul which has received it.  Bertrande
remembered with terror her first feelings at the sight of the
returned Martin Guerre, her involuntary repugnance, her astonishment
at not feeling more in touch with the husband whom she had so
sincerely regretted.  She remembered also, as if she saw it for the
first time, that Martin, formerly quick, lively, and hasty tempered,
now seemed thoughtful, and fully master of himself.

This change of character she had supposed due to the natural
development of age, she now trembled at the idea of another possible
cause.  Some other little details began to occur to her mind--the
forgetfulness or abstraction of her husband as to a few insignificant
things; thus it sometimes happened that he did not answer to his name
of Martin, also that he mistook the road to a hermitage, formerly
well known to them both, and again that he could not answer when
addressed in Basque, although he him self had taught her the little
she knew of this language.  Besides, since his return, he would never
write in her presence, did he fear that she would notice some
difference?  She had paid little or no attention to these trifles;
now, pieced together, they assumed an alarming importance.  An
appalling terror seized Bertrande: was she to remain in this
uncertainty, or should she seek an explanation which might prove her
destruction?  And how discover the truth--by questioning the guilty
man, by noting his confusion, his change of colour, by forcing a
confession from him?  But she had lived with him for two years, he
was the father of her child, she could not ruin him without ruining
herself, and, an explanation once sought, she could neither punish
him and escape disgrace, nor pardon him without sharing his guilt.
To reproach him with his conduct and then keep silence would destroy
her peace for ever; to cause a scandal by denouncing him would bring
dishonour upon herself and her child.  Night found her involved in
these hideous perplexities, too weak to surmount them; an icy chill
came over her, she went to bed, and awoke in a high fever.  For
several days she hovered between life and death, and Martin Guerre
bestowed the most tender care upon her.  She was greatly moved
thereby, having one of those impressionable minds which recognise
kindness fully as much as injury.  When she was a little recovered
and her mental power began to return, she had only a vague
recollection of what had occurred, and thought she had had a
frightful dream.  She asked if Pierre Guerre had been to see her, and
found he had not been near the house.  This could only be explained
by the scene which had taken place, and she then recollected all the
accusation Pierre had made, her own observations which had confirmed
it, all her grief and trouble.  She inquired about the village news.
Pierre, evidently, had kept silence why?  Had he seen that his
suspicions were unjust, or was he only seeking further evidence?  She
sank back into her cruel uncertainty, and resolved to watch Martin
closely, before deciding as to his guilt or innocence.

How was she to suppose that God had created two faces so exactly
alike, two beings precisely similar, and then sent them together into
the world, and on the same track, merely to compass the ruin of an
unhappy woman!  A terrible idea took possession of her mind, an idea
not uncommon in an age of superstition, namely, that the Enemy
himself could assume human form, and could borrow the semblance of a
dead man in order to capture another soul for his infernal kingdom.
Acting on this idea, she hastened to the church, paid for masses to
be said, and prayed fervently.  She expected every day to see the
demon forsake the body he had animated, but her vows, offerings, and

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