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
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
"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 it!"
"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 operation!"
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
"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
"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 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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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, carrying his head
high, coming home from a fatiguing hunt and sitting by his son’s cradle;
and then also she remembered bitterly the jealous suspicions she had
conceived, the anger with which she had allowed them to escape her, the
consequent quarrel, followed by the disappearance of her offended
husband, and the eight succeeding years of solitude and mourning. She
wept over his desertion; over the desolation of her life, seeing around
her only indifferent or selfish people, and caring only to live for her
child’s sake, who gave her at least a shadowy reflection of the husband
she had lost. "Lost—yes, lost for ever!" she said to herself, sighing,
and looking again at the fields whence she had so often seen him coming
at this same twilight hour, returning to his home for the evening meal.
She cast a wandering eye on the distant hills, which showed a black
outline against a yet fiery western sky, then let it fall on a little
grove of olive trees planted on the farther side of the brook which
skirted her dwelling. Everything was calm; approaching night brought
silence along with darkness: it was exactly what she saw every evening,
but to leave which required always an effort.
She rose to re-enter the house, when her attention was caught by a
movement amongst the trees. For a moment she thought she was mistaken,
but the branches again rustled, then parted asunder, and the form of a
man appeared on the other side of the brook. Terrified, Bertrande tried
to scream, but not a sound escaped her lips; her voice seemed paralyzed
by terror, as in an evil dream. And she almost thought it was a dream,
for notwithstanding the dark shadows cast around this indistinct
semblance, she seemed to recognise features once dear to her. Had her
bitter reveries ended by making her the victim of a hallucination? She
thought her brain was giving way, and sank on her knees to pray for
help. But the figure remained; it stood motionless, with folded arms,
silently gazing at her! Then she thought of witchcraft, of evil demons,
and superstitious as every one was in those days, she kissed a crucifix
which hung from her neck, and fell fainting on the ground. With one
spring the phantom crossed the brook and stood beside her.
"Bertrande!" it said in a voice of emotion. She raised her head, uttered
a piercing cry, and was clasped in her husband’s arms.
The whole village became aware of this event that same evening. The
neighbours crowded round Bertrande’s door, Martin’s friends and
relations naturally wishing to see him after this miraculous
reappearance, while those who had never known him desired no less to
gratify their curiosity; so that the hero of the little drama, instead
of remaining quietly at home with his wife, was obliged to exhibit
himself publicly in a neighbouring barn. His four sisters burst through
the crowd and fell on his neck weeping; his uncle examined him
doubtfully at first, then extended his arms. Everybody recognised him,
beginning with the old servant Margherite, who had been with the young
couple ever since their wedding-day. People observed only that a riper
age had strengthened his features, and given more character to his
countenance and more development to his powerful figure; also that he
had a scar over the right eyebrow, and that he limped slightly. These
were the marks of wounds he had received, he said; which now no longer
troubled him. He appeared anxious to return to his wife and child, but
the crowd insisted on hearing the story of his adventures during his
voluntary absence, and he was obliged to satisfy them. Eight years ago,
he said, the desire to see more of the world had gained an irresistible
mastery over him; he yielded to it, and departed secretly. A natural
longing took him to his birthplace in Biscay, where he had seen his
surviving relatives. There he met the Cardinal of Burgos, who took him
into his service, promising him profit, hard knocks to give and take,
and plenty of adventure. Some time after, he left the cardinal’s
household for that of his brother, who, much against his will, compelled
him to follow him to the war and bear arms against the French. Thus he
found himself on the Spanish side on the day of St. Quentin, and
received a terrible gun-shot wound in the leg. Being carried into a
house a an adjoining village, he fell into the hands of a surgeon, who
insisted that the leg must be amputated immediately, but who left him
for a moment, and never returned. Then he encountered a good old woman,
who dressed his wound and nursed him night and day. So that in a few
weeks he recovered, and was able to set out for Artigues, too thankful
to return to his house and land, still more to his wife and child, and
fully resolved never to leave them again.
Having ended his story, he shook hands with his still wondering
neighbours, addressing by name some who had been very young when he
left, and who, hearing their names, came forward now as grown men,
hardly recognisable, but much pleased at being remembered. He returned
his sisters’ carresses, begged his uncle’s forgiveness for the trouble
he had given in his boyhood, recalling with mirth the various
corrections received. He mentioned also an Augustinian monk who had
taught him to read, and another reverend father, a Capuchin, whose
irregular conduct had caused much scandal in the neighbourhood. In
short, notwithstanding his prolonged absence, he seemed to have a
perfect recollection of places, persons, and things. The good people
overwhelmed him with congratulations, vying with one another in praising
him for having the good sense to come home, and in describing the grief
and the perfect virtue of his Bertrande. Emotion was excited, many wept,
and several bottles from Martin Guerre’s cellar were emptied. At length
the assembly dispersed, uttering many exclamations about the
extraordinary chances of Fate, and retired to their own homes, excited,
astonished, and gratified, with the one exception of old Pierre Guerre,
who had been struck by an unsatisfactory remark made by his nephew, and
who dreamed all night about the chances of pecuniary loss augured by the
It was midnight before the husband and wife were alone and able to give
vent to their feelings. Bertrande still felt half stupefied; she could
not believe her own eyes and ears, nor realise that she saw again in her
marriage chamber her husband of eight years ago, him for whom she had
wept; whose death she had deplored only a few hours previously. In the
sudden shock caused by so much joy succeeding so much grief, she had not
been able to express what she felt; her confused ideas were difficult to
explain, and she seemed deprived of the powers of speech and reflection.
When she became calmer and more capable of analysing her feelings, she
was astonished not to feel towards her husband the same affection which
had moved her so strongly a few hours before. It was certainly himself,
those were the same features, that was the man to whom she had willingly
given her hand, her heart, herself, and yet now that she saw him again a
cold barrier of shyness, of modesty, seemed to have risen between them.
His first kiss, even, had not made her happy: she blushed and felt
saddened—a curious result of the long absence! She could not define the
changes wrought by years in his appearance: his countenance seemed
harsher, yet the lines of his face, his outer man, his whole
personality, did not seem altered, but his soul had changed its nature,
a different mind looked forth from those eyes. Bertrande knew him for
her husband, and yet she hesitated. Even so Penelope, on the, return of
Ulysses, required a certain proof to confirm the evidence of her eyes,
and her long absent husband had to remind her of secrets known only to
Martin, however, as if he understood Bertrande’s feeling and divined
some secret mistrust, used the most tender and affectionate phrases, and
even the very pet names which close intimacy had formerly endeared to
"My queen," he said, "my beautiful dove, can you not lay aside your
resentment? Is it still so strong that no submission can soften it?
Cannot my repentance find grace in your eyes? My Bertrande, my Bertha,
my Bertranilla, as I used to call you."
She tried to smile, but stopped short, puzzled; the names were the very
same, but the inflexion of voice quite different.
Martin took her hands in his. "What pretty hands! Do you still wear my
ring? Yes, here it is, and with it the sapphire ring I gave you the day
Sanxi was born."
Bertrande did not answer, but she took the child and placed him in his
Martin showered caresses on his son, and spoke of the time when he
carried him as a baby in the garden, lifting him up to the fruit trees,
so that he could reach and try to bite the fruit. He recollected one day
when the poor child got his leg terribly torn by thorns, and convinced
himself, not without emotion, that the scar could still be seen.
Bertrande was touched by this display of affectionate recollections, and
felt vexed at her own coldness. She came up to Martin and laid her hand
in his. He said gently—
"My departure caused you great grief: I now repent what I did. But I was
young, I was proud, and your reproaches were unjust."
"Ah," said she, "you have not forgotten the cause of our quarrel?"
"It was little Rose, our neighbour, whom you said I was making love to,
because you found us together at the spring in the little wood. I
explained that we met only by chance,—besides, she was only a child,—but
you would not listen, and in your anger—"
"Ah! forgive me, Martin, forgive me!" she interrupted, in confusion.
"In your blind anger you took up, I know not what, something which lay
handy, and flung it at me. And here is the mark," he continued, smiling,
"this scar, which is still to be seen."
"Oh, Martin!" Bertrande exclaimed, "can you ever forgive me?"
"As you see," Martin replied, kissing her tenderly.
Much moved, Bertrande swept aside his hair, and looked at the scar
visible on his forehead.
"But," she said, with surprise not free from alarm, "this scar seems to
me like a fresh one."
"Ah!" Martin explained, with a, little embarrassment; "it reopened
lately. But I had thought no more about it. Let us forget it, Bertrande;
I should not like a recollection which might make you think yourself
less dear to me than you once were."
And he drew her upon his knee. She repelled him gently.
"Send the child to bed," said Martin. "Tomorrow shall be for him;
to-night you have the first place, Bertrande, you only."
The boy kissed his father and went.
Bertrande came and knelt beside her husband, regarding him attentively
with an uneasy smile, which did not appear to please him by any means.
"What is the matter?" said he. "Why do you examine me thus?"
"I do not know—forgive me, oh! forgive me! . . . But the happiness of
seeing you was so great and unexpected, it is all like a dream. I must
try to become accustomed to it; give me some time to collect myself; let
me spend this night in prayer. I ought to offer my joy and my
thanksgiving to Almighty God—"
"Not so," interrupted her husband, passing his arms round her neck and
stroking her beautiful hair. "No; ’tis to me that your first thoughts
are due. After so much weariness, my rest is in again beholding you, and
my happiness after so many trials will be found in your love. That hope
has supported me throughout, and I long to be assured that it is no
illusion." So saying, he endeavoured to raise her.
"Oh," she murmured, "I pray you leave me."
"What!" he exclaimed angrily. "Bertrande, is this your love? Is it thus
you keep faith with me? You will make me doubt the evidence of your
friends; you will make me think that indifference, or even another
"You insult me," said Bertrande, rising to her feet.
He caught her in his arms. "No, no; I think nothing which could wound
you, my queen, and I believe your fidelity, even as before, you know, on
that first journey, when you wrote me these loving letters which I have
treasured ever since. Here they are." And he drew forth some papers, on
which Bertrande recognised her own handwriting. "Yes," he continued, "I
have read and—re-read them.... See, you spoke then of your love and the
sorrows of absence. But why all this trouble and terror? You tremble,
just as you did when I first received you from your father’s hands....
It was here, in this very room.... You begged me then to leave you, to
let you spend the night in prayer; but I insisted, do you remember? and
pressed you to my heart, as I do now."
"Oh," she murmured weakly, "have pity!"
But the words were intercepted by a kiss, and the remembrance of the
past, the happiness of the present, resumed their sway; the imaginary
terrors were forgotten, and the curtains closed around the marriage-bed.
The next day was a festival in the village of Artigues. Martin returned
the visits of all who had come to welcome him the previous night, and
there were endless recognitions and embracings. The young men remembered
that he had played with them when they were little; the old men, that
they had been at his wedding when he was only twelve.
The women remembered having envied Bertrande, especially the pretty
Rose, daughter of Marcel, the apothecary, she who had roused the demon
of jealousy in, the poor wife’s heart. And Rose knew quite well that the
jealousy was not without some cause; for Martin had indeed shown her
attention, and she was unable to see him again without emotion. She was
now the wife of a rich peasant, ugly, old, and jealous, and she
compared, sighing, her unhappy lot with that of her more fortunate
neighbour. Martin’s sisters detained him amongst them, and spoke of
their childish games and of their parents, both dead in Biscay. Martin
dried the tears which flowed at these recollections of the past, and
turned their thoughts to rejoicing. Banquets were given and received.
Martin invited all his relations and former friends; an easy gaiety
prevailed. It was remarked that the hero of the feast refrained from
wine; he was thereupon reproached, but answered that on account of the
wounds he had received he was obliged to avoid excess. The excuse was
admitted, the result of Martin’s precautions being that he kept a clear
head on his shoulders, while all the rest had their tongues loosed by
"Ah!" exclaimed one of the guests, who had studied a little medicine,
"Martin is quite right to be afraid of drink. Wounds which have
thoroughly healed may be reopened and inflamed by intemperance, and wine
in the case of recent wounds is deadly poison. Men have died on the
field of battle in an hour or two merely because they had swallowed a
Martin Guerre grew pale, and began a conversation with the pretty Rose,
his neighbour. Bertrande observed this, but without uneasiness; she had
suffered too much from her former suspicions, besides her husband showed
her so much affection that she was now quite happy.
When the first few days were over, Martin began to look into his
affairs. His property had suffered by his long absence, and he was
obliged to go to Biscay to claim his little estate there, the law having
already laid hands upon it. It was several months before, by dint of
making judicious sacrifices, he could regain possession of the house and
fields which had belonged to his father. This at last accomplished, he
returned to Artigues, in order to resume the management of his wife’s
property, and with this end in view, about eleven months after his
return, he paid a visit to his uncle Pierre.
Pierre was expecting him; he was extremely polite, desired Martin, to
sit down, overwhelmed him with compliments, knitting his brows as he
discovered that his nephew decidedly meant business. Martin broke
"Uncle," he said, "I come to thank you for the care you have taken of my
wife’s property; she could never have managed it alone. You have
received the income in the family interest: as a good guardian, I
expected no less from your affection. But now that I have returned, and
am free from other cares, we will go over the accounts, if you please."
His uncle coughed and cleared his voice before replying, then said
slowly, as if counting his words—
"It is all accounted for, my dear nephew; Heaven be praised! I don’t owe
"What!" exclaimed the astonished Martin, "but the whole income?"
"Was well and properly employed in the maintenance of your wife and
"What! a thousand livres for that? And Bertrande lived alone, so quietly
and simply! Nonsense! it is impossible."
"Any surplus," resumed the old man, quite unmoved,—"any surplus went to
pay the expenses of seed-time and harvest."
"What! at a time when labour costs next to nothing?"
"Here is the account," said Pierre.
"Then the account is a false one," returned his nephew.
Pierre thought it advisable to appear extremely offended and angry, and
Martin, exasperated at his evident dishonesty, took still higher ground,
and threatened to bring an action against him. Pierre ordered him to
leave the house, and suiting actions to words, took hold of his arm to
enforce his departure. Martin, furious, turned and raised his fist to
"What! strike your uncle, wretched boy!" exclaimed the old man.
Martin’s hand dropped, but he left the house uttering reproaches and
insults, among which Pierre distinguished—
"Cheat that you are!"
"That is a word I shall remember," cried the angry old man, slamming his
Martin brought an action before the judge at Rieux, and in course of
time obtained a decree, which, reviewing the accounts presented by
Pierre, disallowed them, and condemned the dishonest guardian to pay his
nephew four hundred livres for each year of his administration. The day
on which this sum had to be disbursed from his strong box the old usurer
vowed vengeance, but until he could gratify his hatred he was forced to
conceal it, and to receive attempts at reconciliation with a friendly
smile. It was not until six months later, on the occasion of a joyous
festivity, that Martin again set foot in his uncle’s house. The bells
were ringing for the birth of a child, there was great gaiety at
Bertrande’s house, where all the guests were waiting on the threshold
for the godfather in order to take the infant to church, and when Martin
appeared, escorting his uncle, who was adorned with a huge bouquet for
the occasion, and who now came forward and took the hand of Rose, the
pretty godmother, there were cries of joy on all sides. Bertrande was
delighted at this reconciliation, and dreamed only of happiness. She was
so happy now, her long sorrow was atoned for, her regret was at an end,
her prayers seemed to have been heard, the long interval between the
former delights and the present seemed wiped out as if the bond of union
had never been broken, and if she remembered her grief at all, it was
only to intensify the new joys by comparison. She loved her husband more
than ever; he was full of affection for her, and she was grateful for
his love. The past had now no shadow, the future no cloud, and the birth
of a daughter, drawing still closer the links which united them, seemed
a new pledge of felicity. Alas! the horizon which appeared so bright and
clear to the poor woman was doomed soon again to be overcast.
The very evening of the christening party, a band of musicians and
jugglers happened to pass through the village, and the inhabitants
showed themselves liberal. Pierre asked questions, and found that the
leader of the band was a Spaniard. He invited the man to his own house,
and remained closeted with him for nearly an hour, dismissing him at
length with a refilled purse. Two days later the old man announced to
the family that he was going to Picardy to see a former partner on a
matter of business, and he departed accordingly, saying he should return
The day on which Bertrande again saw her uncle was, indeed, a 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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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."
"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
"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
"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 prayers had no result. But
Heaven sent her an idea which she wondered had not occurred to her
sooner. "If the Tempter," she said to herself, "has taken the form of my
beloved husband, his power being supreme for evil, the resemblance would
be exact, and no difference, however slight, would exist. If, however,
it is only another man who resembles him, God must have made them with
some slight distinguishing marks."
She then remembered, what she had not thought of before, having been
quite unsuspicious before her uncle’s accusation, and nearly out of her
mind between mental and bodily suffering since. She remembered that on
her husband’s left shoulder, almost on the neck, there used to be one of
those small, almost imperceptible, but ineffaceable birthmarks. Martin
wore his hair very long, it was difficult to see if the mark were there
or not. One night, while he slept, Bertrande cut away a lock of hair
from the place where this sign ought to be—it was not there!
Convinced at length of the deception, Bertrande suffered inexpressible
anguish. This man whom she had loved and respected for two whole years,
whom she had taken to her heart as a husband bitterly mourned for—this
man was a cheat, an infamous impostor, and she, all unknowing, was yet a
guilty woman! Her child was illegitimate, and the curse of Heaven was
due to this sacrilegious union. To complete the misfortune, she was
already expecting another infant. She would have killed herself, but her
religion and the love of her children forbade it. Kneeling before her
child’s cradle, she entreated pardon from the father of the one for the
father of the other. She would not bring herself to proclaim aloud their
"Oh!" she said, "thou whom I loved, thou who art no more, thou knowest
no guilty thought ever entered my mind! When I saw this man, I thought I
beheld thee; when I was happy, I thought I owed it to thee; it was thee
whom I loved in him. Surely thou dost not desire that by a public avowal
I should bring shame and disgrace on these children and on myself."
She rose calm and strengthened: it seemed as if a heavenly inspiration
had marked out her duty. To suffer in silence, such was the course she
adopted,—a life of sacrifice and self-denial which she offered to God as
an expiation for her involuntary sin. But who can understand the
workings of the human heart? This man whom she ought to have loathed,
this man who had made her an innocent partner in his crime, this
unmasked impostor whom she should have beheld only with disgust,
she-loved him! The force of habit, the ascendancy he had obtained over
her, the love he had shown her, a thousand sympathies felt in her inmost
heart, all these had so much influence, that, instead of accusing and
cursing him, she sought to excuse him on the plea of a passion to which,
doubtless, he had yielded when usurping the name and place of another.
She feared punishment for him yet more than disgrace for herself, and
though resolved to no longer allow him the rights purchased by crime,
she yet trembled at the idea of losing his love. It was this above all
which decided her to keep eternal silence about her discovery; one
single word which proved that his imposture was known would raise an
insurmountable barrier between them.
To conceal her trouble entirely was, however, beyond her power; her eyes
frequently showed traces of her secret tears. Martin several times asked
the cause of her sorrow; she tried to smile and excuse herself, only
immediately sinking back into her gloomy thoughts. Martin thought it
mere caprice; he observed her loss of colour, her hollow cheeks, and
concluded that age was impairing her beauty, and became less attentive
to her. His absences became longer and more frequent, and he did not
conceal his impatience and annoyance at being watched; for her looks
hung upon his, and she observed his coldness and change with much grief.
Having sacrificed all in order to retain his love, she now saw it slowly
slipping away from her.
Another person also observed attentively. Pierre Guerre since his
explanation with Bertrande had apparently discovered no more evidence,
and did not dare to bring an accusation without some positive proofs.
Consequently he lost no chance of watching the proceedings of his
supposed nephew, silently hoping that chance might put him on the track
of a discovery. He also concluded from Bertrande’s state of melancholy
that she had convinced herself of the fraud, but had resolved to conceal
Martin was then endeavoring to sell a part of his property, and this
necessitated frequent interviews with the lawyers of the neighbouring
town. Twice in the week he went to Rieux, and to make the journey
easier, used to start horseback about seven in the evening, sleep at
Rieux, and return the following afternoon. This arrangement did not
escape his enemy’s notice, who was not long in convincing himself that
part of the time ostensibly spent on this journey was otherwise
Towards ten o’clock on the evening of a dark night, the door of a small
house lying about half a gunshot from the village opened gently for the
exit of a man wrapped in a large cloak, followed by a young woman, who
accompanied him some distance. Arrived at the parting point, they
separated with a tender kiss and a few murmured words of adieu; the
lover took his horse, which was fastened to a tree, mounted, and rode
off towards Rieux. When the sounds died away, the woman turned slowly
and sadly towards her home, but as she approached the door a man
suddenly turned the corner of the house and barred her away. Terrified,
she was on the point of crying for help, when he seized her arm and
ordered her to be silent.
"Rose," he whispered, "I know everything: that man is your lover. In
order to receive him safely, you send your old husband to sleep by means
of a drug stolen from your father’s shop. This intrigue has been going
on for a month; twice a week, at seven o’clock, your door is opened to
this man, who does not proceed on his way to the town until ten. I know
your lover: he is my nephew."
Petrified with terror, Rose fell on her knees and implored mercy.
"Yes," replied Pierre, "you may well be frightened: I have your secret.
I have only to publish it and you are ruined for ever:"
You will not do it! "entreated the guilty woman, clasping her hands.
"I have only to tell your husband," continued Pierre, "that his wife has
dishonoured him, and to explain the reason of his unnaturally heavy
"He will kill me!"
"No doubt: he is jealous, he is an Italian, he will know how to avenge
himself—even as I do."
"But I never did you any harm," Rose cried in despair. "Oh! have pity,
have mercy, and spare me!"
"On one condition."
"What is it?"
"Come with me."
Terrified almost out of her mind, Rose allowed him to lead her away.
Bertrande had just finished her evening prayer, and was preparing for
bed, when she was startled by several knocks at her door. Thinking that
perhaps some neighbour was in need of help, she opened it immediately,
and to her astonishment beheld a dishevelled woman whom Pierre grasped
by the arm. He exclaimed vehemently—
"Here is thy judge! Now, confess all to Bertrande!"
Bertrande did not at once recognise the woman, who fell at her feet,
overcome by Pierre’s threats.
"Tell the truth here," he continued, "or I go and tell it to your
husband, at your own home!"—"Ah! madame, kill me," said the unhappy
creature, hiding her face; "let me rather die by your hand than his!"
Bertrande, bewildered, did not understand the position in the least, but
she recognised Rose—
"But what is the matter, madame? Why are you here at this hour, pale and
weeping? Why has my uncle dragged you hither? I am to judge you, does he
say? Of what crime are you guilty?"
"Martin might answer that, if he were here," remarked Pierre.
A lightning flash of jealousy shot through Bertrande’s soul at these
words, all her former suspicions revived.
"What!" she said, "my husband! What do you mean?"
"That he left this woman’s house only a little while ago, that for a
month they have been meeting secretly. You are betrayed: I have seen
them and she does not dare to deny it."
"Have mercy!" cried Rose, still kneeling.
The cry was a confession. Bertrande became pate as death. "O God!" she
murmured, "deceived, betrayed—and by him!"
"For a month past," repeated the old man.
"Oh! the wretch," she continued, with increasing passion; "then his
whole life is a lie! He has abused my credulity, he now abuses my love!
He does not know me! He thinks he can trample on me—me, in whose power
are his fortune, his honour, his very life itself!"
Then, turning to Rose—
"And you, miserable woman! by what unworthy artifice did you gain his
love? Was it by witchcraft? or some poisonous philtre learned from your
"Alas! no, madame; my weakness is my only crime, and also my only
excuse. I loved him, long ago, when I was only a young girl, and these
memories have been my ruin."
"Memories? What! did you also think you were loving the same man? Are
you also his dupe? Or are you only pretending, in order to find a rag of
excuse to cover your wickedness?"
It was now Rose who failed to understand; Bertrande continued, with
"Yes, it was not enough to usurp the rights of a husband and father, he
thought to play his part still better by deceiving the mistress also . .
. . Ah! it is amusing, is it not? You also, Rose, you thought he was
your old lover! Well, I at least am excusable, I the wife, who only
thought she was faithful to her husband!"
"What does it all mean?" asked the terrified Rose.
"It means that this man is an impostor and that I will unmask him.
Pierre came forward. "Bertrande," he said, "so long as I thought you
were happy, when I feared to disturb your peace, I was silent, I
repressed my just indignation, and I spared the usurper of the name and
rights of my nephew. Do you now give me leave to speak?"
"Yes," she replied in a hollow voice.
"You will not contradict me?"
By way of answer she sat down by the table and wrote a few hasty lines
with a trembling hand, then gave them to Pierre, whose eyes sparkled
"Yes," he said, "vengeance for him, but for her pity. Let this
humiliation be her only punishment. I promised silence in return for
confession, will you grant it?"
Bertrande assented with a contemptuous gesture.
"Go, fear not," said the old man, and Rose went out. Pierre also left
Left to herself, Bertrande felt utterly worn out by so much emotion;
indignation gave way to depression. She began to realise what she had
done, and the scandal which would fall on her own head. Just then her
baby awoke, and held out its arms, smiling, and calling for its father.
Its father, was he not a criminal? Yes! but was it for her to ruin him,
to invoke the law, to send him to death, after having taken him to her
heart, to deliver him to infamy which would recoil on her own head and
her child’s and on the infant which was yet unborn? If he had sinned
before God, was it not for God to punish him? If against herself, ought
she not rather to overwhelm him with contempt? But to invoke the help,
of strangers to expiate this offence; to lay bare the troubles of her
life, to unveil the sanctuary of the nuptial couch—in short, to summon
the whole world to behold this fatal scandal, was not that what in her
imprudent anger she had really done? She repented bitterly of her haste,
she sought to avert the consequences, and notwithstanding the night and
the bad weather, she hurried at once to Pierre’s dwelling, hoping at all
costs to withdraw her denunciation. He was not there: he had at once
taken a horse and started for Rieux. Her accusation was already on its
way to the magistrates!
At break of day the house where Martin Guerre lodged when at Rieux was
surrounded by soldiers. He came forward with confidence and inquired
what was wanted. On hearing the accusation, he changed colour slightly,
then collected himself, and made no resistance. When he came before the
judge, Bertrande’s petition was read to him, declaring him to be "an
impostor, who falsely, audaciously, and treacherously had deceived her
by taking the name and assuming the person of Martin Guerre," and
demanding that he should be required to entreat pardon from God, the
king, and herself.
The prisoner listened calmly to the charge, and met it courageously,
only evincing profound surprise at such a step being taken by a wife who
had lived with him for two years since his return, and who only now
thought of disputing the rights he had so long enjoyed. As he was
ignorant both of Bertrande’s suspicions and their confirmation, and also
of the jealousy which had inspired her accusation, his astonishment was
perfectly natural, and did not at all appear to be assumed. He
attributed the whole charge to the machinations of his uncle, Pierre
Guerre; an old man, he said, who, being governed entirely by avarice and
the desire of revenge, now disputed his name and rights, in order the
better to deprive him of his property, which might be worth from sixteen
to eighteen hundred livres. In order to attain his end, this wicked man
had not hesitated to pervert his wife’s mind, and at the risk of her own
dishonour had instigated this calumnious charge—a horrible and
unheard-of thing in the mouth of a lawful wife. "Ah! I do not blame
her," he cried; "she must suffer more than I do, if she really
entertains doubts such as these; but I deplore her readiness to listen
to these extraordinary calumnies originated by my enemy."
The judge was a good deal impressed by so much assurance. The accused
was relegated to prison, whence he was brought two days later to
encounter a formal examination.
He began by explaining the cause of his long absence, originating, he
said, in a domestic quarrel, as his wife well remembered. He there
related his life during these eight years. At first he wandered over the
country, wherever his curiosity and the love of travel led him. He then
had crossed the frontier, revisited Biscay, where he was born, and
having entered the service of the Cardinal of Burgos, he passed thence
into the army of the King of Spain. He was wounded at the battle of St.
Quentin, conveyed to a neighbouring village, where he recovered,
although threatened with amputation. Anxious to again behold his wife
and child, his other relations and the land of his adoption, he returned
to Artigues, where he was immediately recognised by everyone, including
the identical Pierre Guerre, his uncle, who now had the cruelty to
disavow him. In fact, the latter had shown him special affection up to
the day when Martin required an account of his stewardship. Had he only
had the cowardice to sacrifice his money and thereby defraud his
children, he would not to-day be charged as an impostor. "But,"
continued Martin, "I resisted, and a violent quarrel ensued, in which
anger perhaps carried me too far; Pierre Guerre, cunning and revengeful,
has waited in silence. He has taken his time and his measures to
organise this plot, hoping thereby to obtain his ends, to bring justice
to the help of his avarice, and to acquire the spoils he coveted, and
revenge for his defeat, by means of a sentence obtained from the
scruples of the judges." Besides these explanations, which did not
appear wanting in probability, Martin vehemently protested his
innocence, demanding that his wife should be confronted with him, and
declaring that in his presence she would not sustain the charge of
personation brought against him, and that her mind not being animated by
the blind hatred which dominated his persecutor, the truth would
He now, in his turn, demanded that the judge should acknowledge his
innocence, and prove it by condemning his calumniators to the punishment
invoked against himself; that his wife, Bertrande de Rolls, should be
secluded in some house where her mind could no longer be perverted, and,
finally, that his innocence should be declared, and expenses and
compensations awarded him.
After this speech, delivered with warmth, and with every token of
sincerity, he answered without difficulty all the interrogations of the
judge. The following are some of the questions and answers, just as they
have come down to us:—
"In what part of Biscay were you born?"
"In the village of Aymes, province of Guipuscoa."
"What were the names of your parents?"
"Antonio Guerre and Marie Toreada."
"Are they still living?"
"My father died June 15th, 1530; my mother survived him three years and
"Have you any brothers and sisters?"
"I had one brother, who only lived three months. My four sisters, Inez,
Dorothea, Marietta, and Pedrina, all came to live at Artigues when I
did; they are there still, and they all recognised me."
"What is the date of your marriage?"
"January 10, 1539."
"Who were present at the ceremony?"
"My father-in-law, my mother-in-law, my uncle, my two sisters, Maitre
Marcel and his daughter Rose; a neighbour called Claude Perrin, who got
drunk at the wedding feast; also Giraud, the poet, who composed verses
in our honour."
"Who was the priest who married you?"
"The old cure, Pascal Guerin, whom I did not find alive when I
"What special circumstances occurred on the wedding-day?"
"At midnight exactly, our neighbour, Catherine Boere, brought us the
repast which is known as ’medianoche.’ This woman has recognised me, as
also our old Marguerite, who has remained with us ever since the
"What is the date of your son’s birth?"
"February 10, 1548, nine years after our marriage. I was only twelve
when the ceremony took place, and did not arrive at manhood till several
"Give the date of your leaving Artigues."
"It was in August 1549. As I left the village, I met Claude Perrin and
the cure Pascal, and took leave of them. I went towards Beauvais, end I
passed through Orleans, Bourges, Limoges, Bordeaux, and Toulouse. If you
want the names of people whom I saw and to whom I spoke, you can have
them. What more can I say?"
Never, indeed, was there a more apparently veracious statement! All the
doings of Martin Guerre seemed to be most faithfully described, and
surely only himself could thus narrate his own actions. As the historian
remarks, alluding to the story of Amphitryon, Mercury himself could not
better reproduce all Sosia’s actions, gestures, and words, than did the
false Martin Guerre those of the real one.
In accordance with the demand of the accused, Bertrande de Rolls was
detained in seclusion, in order to remove her from the influence of
Pierre Guerre. The latter, however, did not waste time, and during the
month spent in examining the witnesses cited by Martin, his diligent
enemy, guided by some vague traces, departed on a journey, from which he
did not return alone.
All the witnesses bore out the statement of the accused; the latter
heard this in prison, and rejoiced, hoping for a speedy release. Before
long he was again brought before the judge, who told him that his
deposition had been confirmed by all the witnesses examined.
"Do you know of no others?" continued the magistrate. "Have you no
relatives except those you have mentioned?"
"I have no others," answered the prisoner.
"Then what do you say to this man?" said the judge, opening a door.
An old man issued forth, who fell on the prisoner’s neck, exclaiming,
Martin trembled in every limb, but only for a moment. Promptly
recovering himself, and gazing calmly at the newcomer, he asked coolly—
"And who may you be?"
"What!" said the old man, "do you not know me? Dare you deny me?—me,
your mother’s brother, Carbon Barreau, the old soldier! Me, who dandled
you on my knee in your infancy; me, who taught you later to carry a
musket; me, who met you during the war at an inn in Picardy, when you
fled secretly. Since then I have sought you everywhere; I have spoken of
you, and described your face and person, until a worthy inhabitant of
this country offered to bring me hither, where indeed I did not expect
to find my sister’s son imprisoned and fettered as a malefactor. What is
his crime, may it please your honour?"
"You shall hear," replied the magistrate. "Then you identify the
prisoner as your nephew? You affirm his name to be—-?"
"Arnauld du Thill, also called ’Pansette,’ after his father, Jacques
Pansa. His mother was Therese Barreau, my sister, and he was born in the
village of Sagias."
"What have you to say?" demanded the judge, turning to the accused.
"Three things," replied the latter, unabashed, "this man is either mad,
or he has been suborned to tell lies, or he is simply mistaken."
The old man was struck dumb with astonishment. But his supposed nephew’s
start of terror had not been lost upon the judge, also much impressed by
the straightforward frankness of Carbon Barreau. He caused fresh
investigations to be made, and other inhabitants of Sagias were summoned
to Rieux, who one and all agreed in identifying the accused as the same
Arnauld du Thill who had been born and had grown up under their very
eyes. Several deposed that as he grew up he had taken to evil courses,
and become an adept in theft and lying, not fearing even to take the
sacred name of God in vain, in order to cover the untruth of his daring
assertions. From such testimony the judge naturally concluded that
Arnauld du Thill was quite capable of carrying on, an imposture, and
that the impudence which he displayed was natural to his character.
Moreover, he noted that the prisoner, who averred that he was born in
Biscay, knew only a few words of the Basque language, and used these
quite wrongly. He heard later another witness who deposed that the
original Martin Guerre was a good wrestler and skilled in the art of
fence, whereas the prisoner, having wished to try what he could do,
showed no skill whatever. Finally, a shoemaker was interrogated, and his
evidence was not the least damning. Martin Guerre, he declared, required
twelve holes to lace his boots, and his surprise had been great when he
found those of the prisoner had only nine. Considering all these points,
and the cumulative evidence, the judge of Rieux set aside the favourable
testimony, which he concluded had been the outcome of general credulity,
imposed on by an extraordinary resemblance. He gave due weight also to
Bertrande’s accusation, although she had never confirmed it, and now
maintained an obstinate silence; and he pronounced a judgment by which
Arnauld du Thill was declared "attainted and convicted of imposture, and
was therefore condemned to be beheaded; after which his body should be
divided into four quarters, and exposed at the four corners of the
This sentence, as soon as it was known, caused much diversity of opinion
in the town. The prisoner’s enemies praised the wisdom of the judge, and
those less prejudiced condemned his decision; as such conflicting
testimony left room for doubt. Besides, it was thought that the
possession of property and the future of the children required much
consideration, also that the most absolute certainty was demanded before
annulling a past of two whole years, untroubled by any counter claim
The condemned man appealed from this sentence to the Parliament of
Toulouse. This court decided that the case required more careful
consideration than had yet been given to it, and began by ordering
Arnauld du Thill to be confronted with Pierre Guerre and Bertrande de
Who can say what feelings animate a man who, already once condemned,
finds himself subjected to a second trial? The torture scarcely ended
begins again, and Hope, though reduced to a shadow, regains her sway
over his imagination, which clings to her skirts, as it were, with
desperation. The exhausting efforts must be recommenced; it is the last
struggle—a struggle which is more desperate in proportion as there is
less strength to maintain it. In this case the defendant was not one of
those who are easily cast down; he collected all his energy, all his
courage, hoping to come victoriously out of the new combat which lay
The magistrates assembled in the great hall of the Parliament, and the
prisoner appeared before them. He had first to deal with Pierre, and
confronted him calmly, letting him speak, without showing any emotion.
He then replied with indignant reproaches, dwelling on Pierre’s greed
and avarice, his vows of vengeance, the means employed to work upon
Bertrande, his secret manoeuvres in order to gain his ends, and the
unheard-of animosity displayed in hunting up accusers, witnesses, and
calumniators. He defied Pierre to prove that he was not Martin Guerre,
his nephew, inasmuch as Pierre had publicly acknowledged and embraced
him, and his tardy suspicions only dated from the time of their violent
quarrel. His language was so strong and vehement, that Pierre became
confused and was unable to answer, and the encounter turned entirely in
Arnauld’s favour, who seemed to overawe his adversary from a height of
injured innocence, while the latter appeared as a disconcerted
The scene of his confrontation with Bertrande took a wholly different
character. The poor woman, pale, cast down, worn by sorrow, came
staggering before the tribunal, in an almost fainting condition. She
endeavoured to collect herself, but as soon as she saw the prisoner she
hung her head and covered her face with her hands. He approached her and
besought her in the gentlest accents not to persist in an accusation
which might send him to the scaffold, not thus to avenge any sins he
might have committed against her, although he could not reproach himself
with any really serious fault.
Bertrande started, and murmured in a whisper, "And Rose?"
"Ah!" Arnauld exclaimed, astonished at this revelation.
His part was instantly taken. Turning to the judges—
"Gentlemen," he said, "my wife is a jealous woman! Ten years ago, when I
left her, she had formed these suspicions; they were the cause of my
voluntary exile. To-day she again accuses me of, guilty relations with
the same person; I neither deny nor acknowledge them, but I affirm that
it is the blind passion of jealousy which, aided by my uncle’s
suggestions, guided my wife’s hand when she signed this denunciation."
Bertrande remained silent.
"Do you dare," he continued, turning towards her,—"do you dare to swear
before God that jealousy did not inspire you with the wish to ruin me?"
"And you," she replied, "dare you swear that I was deceived in my
"You see, gentlemen," exclaimed the prisoner triumphantly, "her jealousy
breaks forth before your eyes. Whether I am, or am not, guilty of the
sin she attributes to me, is not the question for you to decide. Can you
conscientiously admit the testimony of a woman who, after publicly
acknowledging me, after receiving me in her house, after living two
years in perfect amity with me, has, in a fit of angry vengeance,
thought she could give the lie to all her wards and actions? Ah!
Bertrande," he continued, "if it only concerned my life I think I could
forgive a madness of which your love is both the cause and the excuse,
but you are a mother, think of that! My punishment will recoil on the
head of my daughter, who is unhappy enough to have been born since our
reunion, and also on our unborn child, which you condemn beforehand to
curse the union which gave it being. Think of this, Bertrande, you will
have to answer before God for what you are now doing!"
The unhappy woman fell on her knees, weeping.
"I adjure you," he continued solemnly, "you, my wife, Bertrande de
Rolls, to swear now, here, on the crucifix, that I am an impostor and a
A crucifix was placed before Bertrande; she made a sign as if to push it
away, endeavoured to speak, and feebly exclaimed, "No," then fell to the
ground, and was carried out insensible.
This scene considerably shook the opinion of the magistrates. They could
not believe that an impostor, whatever he might be, would have
sufficient daring and presence of mind thus to turn into mockery all
that was most sacred. They set a new inquiry on foot, which, instead of
producing enlightenment, only plunged them into still greater obscurity.
Out of thirty witnesses heard, more than three-quarters agreed in
identifying as Martin Guerre the man who claimed his name. Never was
greater perplexity caused by more extraordinary appearances. The
remarkable resemblance upset all reasoning: some recognised him as
Arnauld du Thill, and others asserted the exact contrary. He could
hardly understand Basque, some said, though born in Biscay, was that
astonishing, seeing he was only three when he left the country? He could
neither wrestle nor fence well, but having no occasion to practise these
exercises he might well have forgotten them. The shoemaker—who made his
shoes afore-time, thought he took another measure, but he might have
made a mistake before or be mistaken now. The prisoner further defended
himself by recapitulating the circumstances of his first meeting with
Bertrande, on his return, the thousand and one little details he had
mentioned which he only could have known, also the letters in his
possession, all of which could only be explained by the assumption that
he was the veritable Martin Guerre. Was it likely that he would be
wounded over the left eye and leg as the missing man was supposed to be?
Was it likely that the old servant, that the four sisters, his uncle
Pierre, many persons to whom he had related facts known only to himself,
that all the community in short, would have recognised him? And even the
very intrigue suspected by Bertrande, which had aroused her jealous
anger, this very intrigue, if it really existed, was it not another
proof of the verity of his claim, since the person concerned, as
interested and as penetrating as the legitimate wife; had also accepted
him as her former lover? Surely here was a mass of evidence sufficient
to cast light on the case. Imagine an impostor arriving for the first
time in a place where all the inhabitants are unknown to him, and
attempting to personate a man who had dwelt there, who would have
connections of all kinds, who would have played his part in a thousand
different scenes, who would have confided his secrets, his opinions, to
relations, friends, acquaintances, to all sorts of people; who had also
a wife—that is to say, a person under whose eyes nearly his whole life
would be passed, a person would study him perpetually, with whom he
would be continually conversing on every sort of subject. Could such an
impostor sustain his impersonation for a single day, without his memory
playing him false? From the physical and moral impossibility of playing
such a part, was it not reasonable to conclude that the accused, who had
maintained it for more than two years, was the true Martin Guerre?
There seemed, in fact, to be nothing which could account for such an
attempt being successfully made unless recourse was had to an accusation
of sorcery. The idea of handing him over to the ecclesiastical
authorities was briefly discussed, but proofs were necessary, and the
judges hesitated. It is a principle of justice, which has become a
precept in law, that in cases of uncertainty the accused has the benefit
of the doubt; but at the period of which we are writing, these truths
were far from being acknowledged; guilt was presumed rather than
innocence; and torture, instituted to force confession from those who
could not otherwise be convicted, is only explicable by supposing the
judges convinced of the actual guilt of the accused; for no one would
have thought of subjecting a possibly innocent person to this suffering.
However, notwithstanding this prejudice, which has been handed down to
us by some organs of the public ministry always disposed to assume the
guilt of a suspected person,—notwithstanding this prejudice, the judges
in this case neither ventured to condemn Martin Guerre themselves as an
impostor, nor to demand the intervention of the Church. In this conflict
of contrary testimony, which seemed to reveal the truth only to
immediately obscure it again, in this chaos of arguments and conjectures
which showed flashes of light only to extinguish them in greater
darkness, consideration for the family prevailed. The sincerity of
Bertrande, the future of the children, seemed reasons for proceeding
with extreme caution, and this once admitted, could only yield to
conclusive evidence. Consequently the Parliament adjourned the case,
matters remaining in ’statu quo’, pending a more exhaustive inquiry.
Meanwhile, the accused, for whom several relations and friends gave
surety, was allowed to be at liberty at Artigues, though remaining under
Bertrande therefore again saw him an inmate of the house, as if no
doubts had ever been cast on the legitimacy of their union. What
thoughts passed through her mind during the long ’tete-a-tete’? She had
accused this man of imposture, and now, notwithstanding her secret
conviction, she was obliged to appear as if she had no suspicion, as if
she had been mistaken, to humiliate herself before the impostor, and ask
forgiveness for the insanity of her conduct; for, having publicly
renounced her accusation by refusing to swear to it, she had no
alternative left. In order to sustain her part and to save the honour of
her children, she must treat this man as her husband and appear
submissive and repentant; she must show him entire confidence, as the
only means of rehabilitating him and lulling the vigilance of justice.
What the widow of Martin Guerre must have suffered in this life of
effort was a secret between God and herself, but she looked at her
little daughter, she thought of her fast approaching confinement, and
One evening, towards nightfall, she was sitting near him in the most
private corner of the garden, with her little child on her knee, whilst
the adventurer, sunk in gloomy thoughts, absently stroked Sanxi’s fair
head. Both were silent, for at the bottom of their hearts each knew the
other’s thoughts, and, no longer able to talk familiarly, nor daring to
appear estranged, they spent, when alone together, long hours of silent
All at once a loud uproar broke the silence of their retreat; they heard
the exclamations of many persons, cries of surprise mixed with angry
tones, hasty footsteps, then the garden gate was flung violently open,
and old Marguerite appeared, pale, gasping, almost breathless. Bertrande
hastened towards her in astonishment, followed by her husband, but when
near enough to speak she could only answer with inarticulate sounds,
pointing with terror to the courtyard of the house. They looked in this
direction, and saw a man standing at the threshold; they approached him.
He stepped forward, as if to place himself between them. He was tall,
dark; his clothes were torn; he had a wooden leg; his countenance was
stern. He surveyed Bertrande with a gloomy look: she cried aloud, and
fell back insensible; . . . she recognised her real husband!
Arnauld du Thill stood petrified. While Marguerite, distracted herself,
endeavoured to revive her mistress, the neighbours, attracted by the
noise, invaded the house, and stopped, gazing with stupefaction at this
astonishing resemblance. The two men had the same features, the same
height, the same bearing, and suggested one being in two persons. They
gazed at each other in terror, and in that superstitious age the idea of
sorcery and of infernal intervention naturally occurred to those
present. All crossed themselves, expecting every moment to see fire from
heaven strike one or other of the two men, or that the earth would
engulf one of them. Nothing happened, however, except that both were
promptly arrested, in order that the strange mystery might be cleared
The wearer of the wooden leg, interrogated by the judges, related that
he came from Spain, where first the healing of his wound, and then the
want of money, had detained him hitherto. He had travelled on foot,
almost a beggar. He gave exactly the same reasons for leaving Artigues
as had been given by the other Martin Guerre, namely, a domestic quarrel
caused by jealous suspicion, the desire of seeing other countries, and
an adventurous disposition. He had gone back to his birthplace, in
Biscay; thence he entered the service of the Cardinal of Burgos; then
the cardinal’s brother had taken him to the war, and he had served with
the Spanish troops; at the battle of St. Quentiny—his leg had been
shattered by an arquebus ball. So far his recital was the counterpart of
the one already heard by the judges from the other man. Now, they began
to differ. Martin Guerre stated that he had been conveyed to a house by
a man whose features he did not distinguish, that he thought he was
dying, and that several hours elapsed of which he could give no account,
being probably delirious; that he suffered later intolerable pain, and
on coming to himself, found that his leg had been amputated. He remained
long between life and death, but he was cared for by peasants who
probably saved his life; his recovery was very slow. He discovered that
in the interval between being struck down in the battle and recovering
his senses, his papers had disappeared, but it was impossible to suspect
the people who had nursed him with such generous kindness of theft.
After his recovery, being absolutely destitute, he sought to return to
France and again see his wife and child: he had endured all sorts of
privations and fatigues, and at length, exhausted, but rejoicing at
being near the end of his troubles, he arrived, suspecting nothing, at
his own door. Then the terror of the old servant, a few broken words,
made him guess at some misfortune, and the appearance of his wife and of
a man so exactly like himself stupefied him. Matters had now been
explained, and he only regretted that his wound had not at once ended
The whole story bore the impress of truth, but when the other prisoner
was asked what he had to say he adhered to his first answers,
maintaining their correctness, and again asserted that he was the real
Martin Guerre, and that the new claimant could only be Arnauld du Thill,
the clever impostor, who was said to resemble himself so much that the
inhabitants of Sagias had agreed in mistaking him for the said Arnauld.
The two Martin Guerres were then confronted without changing the
situation in the least; the first showing the same assurance, the same
bold and confident bearing; while the second, calling on God and men to
bear witness to his sincerity, deplored his misfortune in the most
The judge’s perplexity was great: the affair became more and more
complicated, the question remained as difficult, as uncertain as ever.
All the appearances and evidences were at variance; probability seemed
to incline towards one, sympathy was more in favour of the other, but
actual proof was still wanting.
At length a member of the Parliament, M. de Coras, proposed as a last
chance before resorting to torture, that final means of examination in a
barbarous age, that Bertrande should be placed between the two rivals,
trusting, he said, that in such a case a woman’s instinct would divine
the truth. Consequently the two Martin Guerres were brought before the
Parliament, and a few moments after Bertrande was led in, weak, pale,
hardly able to stand, being worn out by suffering and advanced
pregnancy. Her appearance excited compassion, and all watched anxiously
to see what she would do. She looked at the two men, who had been placed
at different ends of the hall, and turning from him who was nearest to
her, went and knelt silently before the man with the wooden leg; then,
joining her hands as if praying for mercy, she wept bitterly. So simple
and touching an action roused the sympathy of all present; Arnauld du
Thill grew pale, and everyone expected that Martin Guerre, rejoiced at
being vindicated by this public acknowledgment, would raise his wife and
embrace her. But he remained cold and stern, and in a contemptuous tone—
"Your tears, madame," he said; "they do not move me in the least,
neither can you seek to excuse your credulity by the examples of my
sisters and my uncle. A wife knows her husband more intimately than his
other relations, as you prove by your present action, and if she is
deceived it is because she consents to the deception. You are the sole
cause of the misfortunes of my house, and to you only shall I ever
Thunderstruck by this reproach, the poor woman had no strength to reply,
and was taken home more dead than alive.
The dignified language of this injured husband made another point in his
favour. Much pity was felt for Bertrande, as being the victim of an
audacious deception; but everybody agreed that thus it beseemed the real
Martin Guerre to have spoken. After the ordeal gone through by the wife
had been also essayed by the sisters and other relatives, who one and
all followed Bertrande’s example and accepted the new-comer, the court,
having fully deliberated, passed the following sentence, which we
"Having reviewed the trial of Arnauld du Thill or Pansette, calling
himself Martin Guerre, a prisoner in the Conciergerie, who appeals from
the decision of the judge of Rieux, etc.
"We declare that this court negatives the appeal and defence of the said
Arnauld du Thill; and as punishment and amends for the imposture,
deception, assumption of name and of person, adultery, rape, sacrilege,
theft, larceny, and other deeds committed by the aforesaid du Thill, and
causing the above-mentioned trial; this court has condemned and condemns
him to do penance before the church of Artigue, kneeling, clad in his
shirt only, bareheaded and barefoot, a halter on his neck, and a burning
torch in his hand, and there he shall ask pardon from God, from the
King, and from justice, from the said Martin Guerre and Bertrande de
Rolls, husband and wife: and this done, the aforesaid du Thill shall be
delivered into the hands of the executioners of the King’s justice, who
shall lead him through the customary streets and crossroads of the
aforesaid place of Artigues, and, the halter on his neck, shall bring
him before the house of the aforesaid Martin Guerre, where he shall be
hung and strangled upon a gibbet erected for this purpose, after which
his body shall be burnt: and for various reasons and considerations
thereunto moving the court, it has awarded and awards the goods of the
aforesaid Arnauld du Thill, apart from the expenses of justice, to the
daughter born unto him by the aforesaid Bertrande de Rolls, under
pretence of marriage falsely asserted by him, having thereto assumed the
name and person of the aforesaid Martin Guerre, by this mans deceiving
the aforesaid de Rolls; and moreover the court has exempted and exempts
from this trial the aforesaid Martin Guerre and Bertrande de Rolls, also
the said Pierre Guerre, uncle of the aforesaid Martin, and has remitted
and remits the aforesaid Arnauld du Thill to the aforesaid judge of
Rieux, in order that the present sentence may be executed according to
its form and tenor. Pronounced judicially this 12th day of September
This sentence substituted the gallows for the decapitation decreed by
the first judge, inasmuch as the latter punishment was reserved for
criminals of noble birth, while hanging was inflicted on meaner persons.
When once his fate was decided, Arnauld du Thill lost all his audacity.
Sent back to Artigues, he was interrogated in prison by the judge of
Rieux, and confessed his imposture at great length. He said the idea
first occurred to him when, having returned from the camp in Picardy, he
was addressed as Martin Guerre by several intimate friends of the
latter. He then inquired as to the sort of life, the habits and
relations of, this man, and having contrived to be near him, had watched
him closely during the battle. He saw him fall, carried him away, and
then, as the reader has already seen, excited his delirium to the utmost
in order to obtain possession of his secrets. Having thus explained his
successful imposture by natural causes, which excluded any idea of magic
or sorcery, he protested his penitence, implored the mercy of God, and
prepared himself for execution as became a Christian.
The next day, while the populace, collecting from the whole
neighbourhood, had assembled before the parish church of Artigues in
order to behold the penance of the criminal, who, barefoot, attired in a
shirt, and holding a lighted torch in his hand, knelt at the entrance of
the church, another scene, no less painful, took place in the house of
Martin Guerre. Exhausted by her suffering, which had caused a premature
confinement, Bertrande lay on her couch of pain, and besought pardon
from him whom she had innocently wronged, entreating him also to pray
for her soul. Martin Guerre, sitting at her bedside, extended his hand
and blessed her. She took his hand and held it to her lips; she could no
longer speak. All at once a loud noise was heard outside: the guilty man
had just been executed in front of the house. When finally attached to
the gallows, he uttered a terrible cry, which was answered by another
from inside the house. The same evening, while the body of the
malefactor was being consumed by fire, the remains of a mother and child
were laid to rest in consecrated ground.