Part 5 out of 11
patron, saying that his business was finished, and that he would
return the next evening at nine o'clock.
Prosper was wretched. He would have given all he had to recover the
And he had cause for regret.
At that very hour M. Verduret was taking his seat in the cars at
Tarascon, meditating upon the most advantageous plan to be adopted in
pursuance of his discoveries.
For he had discovered everything, and now must bring matters to a
Adding to what he already knew, the story of an old nurse of Mlle. de
la Verberie, the affidavit of an old servant who had always lived in
the Clameran family, and the depositions of the Vesinet husband and
wife who attended M. Lagors at his country house, the latter having
been sent to him by Dubois (Fanferlot), with a good deal of
information obtained from the prefecture of police, he had worked up a
complete case, and could now act upon a chain of evidence without a
As he had predicted, he had been compelled to search into the distant
past for the first causes of the crime of which Prosper had been the
The following is the drama, as he wrote it out for the benefit of the
judge of instruction, knowing that it would contain grounds for an
indictment against the malefactors.
About two leagues from Tarascon, on the left bank of the Rhone, not
far from the wonderful gardens of M. Audibert, stood the chateau of
Clameran, a weather-stained, neglected, but massive structure.
Here lived, in 1841, the old Marquis de Clameran and his two sons,
Gaston and Louis.
The marquis was an eccentric old man. He belonged to the race of
nobles, now almost extinct, whose watches stopped in 1789, and who
kept time with the past century.
More attached to his illusions than to his life, the old marquis
insisted upon considering all the stirring events which had happened
since the first revolution as a series of deplorable practical jokes.
Emigrating with the Count d'Artois, he did not return to France until
1815, with the allies.
He should have been thankful to Heaven for the recovery of a portion
of his immense family estates; a comparatively small portion, to be
sure, but full enough to support him comfortably: he said, however,
that he did not think the few paltry acres were worth thanking God
At first, he tried every means to obtain an appointment at court; but
seeing all his efforts fail, he resolved to retire to his chateau,
which he did, after cursing and pitying his king, whom he had
He soon became accustomed to the free and indolent life of a country
Possessing fifteen thousand francs a year, he spent twenty-five or
thirty thousand, borrowing from every source, saying that a genuine
restoration would soon take place, and that then he would regain
possession of all his properties.
Following his example, his younger son lived extravagantly. Louis was
always in pursuit of adventure, and idled away his time in drinking
and gambling. The elder son, Gaston, anxious to participate in the
stirring events of the time, prepared himself for action by quietly
working, studying, and reading certain papers and pamphlets
surreptitiously received, the very mention of which was considered a
hanging matter by his father.
Altogether the old marquis was the happiest of mortals, living well,
drinking high, hunting much, tolerated by the peasants, and execrated
by the gentlemen of the neighborhood, who regarded him with contempt
Time never hung heavy on his hands, except in mid-summer, when the
valley of the Rhone was intensely hot; and even then he had infallible
means of amusement, always new, though ever the same.
He detested, above all, his neighbor the Countess de la Verberie.
The Countess de la Verberie, the "bete noire" of the marquis, as he
ungallantly termed her, was a tall, dry woman, angular in appearance
and character, cold and arrogant toward her equals, and domineering
over her inferiors.
Like her noble neighbor, she too had emigrated; and her husband was
afterward killed at Lutzen, but unfortunately not in the French ranks.
In 1815, the countess came back to France. But while the Marquis de
Clameran returned to comparative ease, she could obtain nothing from
royal munificence, but the small estate and chateau of La Verberie.
It is true that the chateau of La Verberie would have contented most
people; but the countess never ceased to complain of her unmerited
poverty, as she called it.
The pretty chateau was more modest in appearance than the manor of the
Clamerans; but it was equally comfortable, and much better regulated
by its proud mistress.
It was built in the middle of a beautiful park, one of the wonders of
that part of the country. It reached from the Beaucaire road to the
river-bank, a marvel of beauty, with its superb old oaks, yoke-elms,
and lovely groves, its meadow, and clear stream of water winding in
among the trees.
The countess had but one child--a lovely girl of eighteen, named
Valentine; fair, slender, and graceful, with large, soft eyes,
beautiful enough to make the stone saints of the village church thrill
in their niches, when she knelt piously at their feet.
The renown of her great beauty, carried on the rapid waters of the
Rhone, was spread far and wide.
Often the bargemen and the robust wagoners, driving their powerful
horses along the road, would stop to gaze with admiration upon
Valentine seated under some grand old tree on the banks of the river,
absorbed in her book.
At a distance her white dress and flowing tresses made her seem a
mysterious spirit from another world, these honest people said; they
thought it a good omen when they caught a glimpse of her as they
passed up the river. All along between Arles and Valence she was
spoken of as the "lovely fairy" of La Verberie.
If M. de Clameran detested the countess, Mme. de la Verberie execrated
the marquis. If he nicknamed her "the witch," she never called him
anything but "the old gander."
And yet they should have agreed, for at heart they cherished the same
opinions, with different ways of viewing them.
He considered himself a philosopher, scoffed at everything, and had an
excellent digestion. She nursed her rancor, and grew yellow and thin
from rage and envy.
Nevertheless, they might have spent many pleasant evenings together,
for, after all, they were neighbors. From Clameran could be seen
Valentine's greyhound running about the park of La Verberie; from La
Verberie glimpses were had of the lights in the dining-room windows of
And, as regularly as these lights appeared, every evening, the
countess would say, in a spiteful tone:
"Ah, now their orgies are about to commence!"
The two chateaux were only separated by the fast-flowing Rhone, which
at this spot was rather narrow.
But between the two families existed a hatred deeper and more
difficult to avert than the course of the Rhone.
What was the cause of this hatred?
The countess, no less than the marquis, would have found it difficult
It was said that under the reign of Henri IV. or Louis XIII. a La
Verberie betrayed the affections of a fair daughter of the Clamerans.
This misdeed led to a duel and bloodshed.
This groundwork of facts had been highly embellished by fiction;
handed down from generation to generation, it had now become a long
tragic history of robbery, murder, and rapine, which precluded any
intercourse between the two families.
The usual result followed, as it always does in real life, and often
in romances, which, however exaggerated they may be, generally
preserve a reflection of the truth which inspires them.
Gaston met Valentine at an entertainment; he fell in love with her at
Valentine saw Gaston, and from that moment his image filled her heart.
But so many obstacles separated them!
For over a year they both religiously guarded their secret, buried
like a treasure in the inmost recesses of their hearts.
And this year of charming, dangerous reveries decided their fate. To
the sweetness of the first impression succeeded a more tender
sentiment; then came love, each having endowed the other with
superhuman qualities and ideal perfections.
Deep, sincere passion can only expand in solitude; in the impure air
of a city it fades and dies, like the hardy plants which lose their
color and perfume when transplanted to hot-houses.
Gaston and Valentine had only seen each other once, but seeing was to
love; and, as the time passed, their love grew stronger, until at last
the fatality which had presided over their first meeting brought them
once more together.
They both happened to be spending the day with the old Duchess
d'Arlange, who had returned to the neighborhood to sell her property.
They spoke to each other, and like old friends, surprised to find that
they both entertained the same thoughts and echoed the same memories.
Again they were separated for months. But soon, as if by accident,
they happened to be at a certain hour on the banks of the Rhone, and
would sit and gaze across at each other.
Finally, one mild May evening, when Mme. de la Verberie had gone to
Beaucaire, Gaston ventured into the park, and appeared before
She was not surprised or indignant. Genuine innocence displays none of
the startled modesty assumed by conventional innocence. It never
occurred to Valentine that she ought to bid Gaston to leave her.
She leaned upon his arm, and strolled up and down the grand old avenue
of oaks. They did not say they loved each other, they felt it; but
they did say that their love was hopeless. They well knew that the
inveterate family feud could never be overcome, and that it would be
folly to attempt it. They swore never, never to forget each other, and
tearfully resolved never to meet again; never, not even once more!
Alas! Valentine was not without excuse. With a timid, loving heart,
her expansive affection was repressed and chilled by a harsh mother.
Never had there been one of those long private talks between the
Countess de la Verberie and Valentine which enabled a good mother to
read her daughter's heart like an open book.
Mme. de la Verberie saw nothing but her daughter's beauty. She was
wont to rub her hands, and say:
"Next winter I will borrow enough money to take the child to Paris,
and I am much mistaken if her beauty does not win her a rich husband
who will release me from poverty."
She called this loving her daughter!
The second meeting was not the last. Gaston dared not trust to a
boatman, so he was obliged to walk a league in order to cross the
bridge. Then he thought it would be shorter to swim the river; but he
could not swim well, and to cross the Rhone where it ran so rapidly
was rash for the most skilful swimmers.
One evening, however, Valentine was startled by seeing him rise out of
the water at her feet.
She made him promise never to attempt this exploit again. He repeated
the feat and the promise the next evening and every successive
As Valentine always imagined he was being drowned in the furious
current, they agreed upon a signal. At the moment of starting, Gaston
would put a light in his window at Clameran, and in fifteen minutes he
would be at his idol's feet.
What were the projects and hopes of the lovers? Alas! they projected
nothing, they hoped for nothing.
Blindly, thoughtlessly, almost fearlessly, they abandoned themselves
to the dangerous happiness of a daily rendezvous; regardless of the
storm that must erelong burst over their devoted heads, they revelled
in their present bliss.
Is not every sincere passion thus? Passion subsists upon itself and in
itself; and the very things which ought to extinguish it, absence and
obstacles, only make it burn more fiercely. It is exclusive and
undisturbed; reflects neither of the past nor of the future; excepting
the present, it sees and cares for nothing.
Moreover, Valentine and Gaston believed everyone ignorant of their
They had always been so cautious! they had kept such strict watch!
They had flattered themselves that their conduct had been a
masterpiece of dissimulation and prudence.
Valentine had fixed upon the hour when she was certain her mother
would not miss her. Gaston had never confided to anyone, not even to
his brother Louis. They never breathed each other's name. They denied
themselves a last sweet word, a last kiss, when they felt it would be
Poor blind lovers! As if anything could be concealed from the idle
curiosity of country gossips; from the slanderous and ever-watchful
enemies who are incessantly on the lookout for some new bit of tittle-
tattle, good or bad, which they improve upon, and eagerly spread far
They believed their secret well kept, whereas it had long since been
made public; the story of their love, the particulars of their
rendezvous, were topics of conversation throughout the neighborhood.
Sometimes, at dusk, they would see a bark gliding along the water,
near the shore, and would say to each other:
"It is a belated fisherman, returning home."
They were mistaken. The boat contained malicious spies, who delighted
in having discovered them, and hastened to report, with a thousand
false additions, the result of their expedition.
One dreary November evening, Gaston was awakened to the true state of
affairs. The Rhone was so swollen by heavy rains that an inundation
was daily expected. To attempt to swim across this impetuous torrent,
would be tempting God. Therefore Gaston went to Tarascon, intending to
cross the bridge there, and walk along the bank to the usual place of
meeting at La Verberie. Valentine expected him at eleven o'clock.
Whenever Gaston went to Tarascon, he dined with a relative living
there; but on this occasion a strange fatality led him to accompany a
friend to the hotel of the "Three Emperors."
After dinner, they went not the Cafe Simon, their usual resort, but to
the little cafe in the market-place, where the fairs were held.
The small dining-hall was filled with young men. Gaston and his friend
called for a bottle of beer, and began to play billiards.
After they had been playing a short time, Gaston's attention was
attracted by peals of laughter from a party at the other end of the
From this moment, preoccupied by this continued laughter, of which he
was evidently the subject, he knocked the balls carelessly in every
direction. His conduct surprised his friend, who said to him:
"What is the matter? You are missing the simplest shots."
"It is nothing."
The game went on a while longer, when Gaston suddenly turned as white
as a sheet, and, throwing down his cue, strode toward the table which
was occupied by five young men, playing dominoes and drinking wine.
He addressed the eldest of the group, a handsome man of twenty-six,
with fierce-looking eyes, and a heavy black mustache, named Jules
"Repeat, if you dare," he said, in a voice trembling with passion,
"the remark you just now made!"
"I certainly will repeat it," said Lazet, calmly. "I said, and I say
it again, that a nobleman's daughter is no better than a mechanic's
daughter; that virtue does not always accompany a titled name."
"You mentioned a particular name!"
Lazet rose from his chair as if he knew his answer would exasperate
Gaston, and that from words they would come to blows.
"I did," he said, with an insolent smile: "I mentioned the name of the
pretty little fairy of La Verberie."
All the coffee-drinkers, and even two travelling agents who were
dining in the cafe, rose and surrounded the two young men.
The provoking looks, the murmurs, or rather shouts, which welcomed him
as he walked up to Lazet, proved to Gaston that he was surrounded by
The wickedness and evil tongue of the old marquis were bearing their
fruit. Rancor ferments quickly and fiercely among the people of
Gaston de Clameran was not a man to yield, even if his foes were a
hundred, instead of fifteen or twenty.
"No one but a coward," he said, in a clear, ringing voice, which the
pervading silence rendered almost startling, "no one but a
contemptible coward would be infamous enough to calumniate a young
girl who has neither father nor brother to defend her honor."
"If she has no father or brother," sneered Lazet, "she has her lovers,
and that suffices."
The insulting words, "her lovers," enraged Gaston beyond control; he
slapped Lazet violently in the face.
Everyone in the cafe simultaneously uttered a cry of terror. Lazet's
violence of character, his herculean strength and undaunted courage,
were well known. He sprang across the table between them, and seized
Gaston by the throat. Then arose a scene of excitement and confusion.
Clameran's friend, attempting to assist him, was knocked down with
billiard-cues, and kicked under a table.
Equally strong and agile, Gaston and Lazet struggled for some minutes
without either gaining an advantage.
Lazet, as loyal as he was courageous, would not accept assistance from
his friends. He continually called out:
"Keep away; let me fight it out alone!"
But the others were too excited to remain inactive spectators of the
"A quilt!" cried one of them, "a quilt to make the marquis jump!"
Five or six young men now rushed upon Gaston, and separated him from
Lazet. Some tried to throw him down, others to trip him up.
He defended himself with the energy of despair, exhibiting in his
furious struggles a strength of which he himself had not been
conscious. He struck right and left as he showered fierce epithets
upon his adversaries for being twelve against one.
He was endeavoring to get around the billiard-table so as to be near
the door, and had almost succeeded, when an exultant cry arose:
"Here is the quilt! the quilt!" they cried.
"Put him in the quilt, the pretty fairy's lover!"
Gaston heard these cries. He saw himself overcome, and suffering an
ignoble outrage at the hands of these enraged men.
By a dexterous movement he extricated himself from the grasp of the
three who were holding him, and felled a fourth to the ground.
His arms were free; but all his enemies returned to the charge.
Then he seemed to lose his head, and, seizing a knife which lay on the
table where the travelling agents had been dining, he plunged it into
the breast of the first man who rushed upon him.
This unfortunate man was Jules Lazet. He dropped to the ground.
There was a second of silent stupor.
Then four or five of the young men rushed forward to raise Lazet. The
landlady ran about wringing her hands, and screaming with fright. Some
of the assailants rushed into the street shouting, "Murder! Murder!"
The others once more turned upon Gaston with cries of "Vengeance! kill
He saw that he was lost. His enemies had seized the first objects they
could lay their hands upon, and he received several wounds. He jumped
upon the billiard-table, and, making a rapid spring, dashed through
the large glass window of the cafe. He was fearfully cut by the broken
glass and splinters, but he was free.
Gaston had escaped, but he was not yet saved. Astonished and
disconcerted at his desperate feat, the crowd for a moment were
stupefied; but, recovering their presence of mind, they started in
pursuit of him.
The weather was bad, the ground wet and muddy, and heavy black clouds
were rolling westward; but the night was not dark.
Gaston ran on from tree to tree, making frequent turnings, every
moment on the point of being seized and surrounded, and asking himself
what course he should take.
Finally he determined, if possible, to regain Clameran.
With incredible rapidity he darted diagonally across the fair-ground,
in the direction of the levee which protected the valley of Tarascon
Unfortunately, upon reaching this levee, planted with magnificent
trees which made it one of the most charming walks of Provence, Gaston
forgot that the entrance was closed by a gate with three steps, such
as are always placed before walks intended for foot-passengers, and
rushed against it with such violence that he was thrown back and badly
He quickly sprang up; but his pursuers were upon him.
This time he could expect no mercy. The infuriated men at his heels
yelled that fearful cry which in the evil days of lawless bloodshed
had often echoed in that valley: "In the Rhone with him! In the Rhone
with the marquis!"
His reason had abandoned him; he no longer knew what he did. His
forehead was cut, and the blood trickled from the wound into his eyes,
and blinded him.
He must escape, or die in the attempt.
He had tightly clasped the bloody knife with which he had stabbed
Lazet. He struck his nearest foe; the man fell to the ground with a
A second blow gained him a moment's respite, which gave him time to
open the gate and rush along the levee.
Two men were kneeling over their wounded companion, and five others
resumed the pursuit.
But Gaston flew fast, for the horror of his situation tripled his
energy; excitement deadened the pain of his wounds; with elbows held
tight to his sides, and holding his breath, he went along at such a
speed that he soon distanced his pursuers; the noise of their feet
became gradually more indistinct, and finally ceased.
Gaston ran on for a mile, across fields and over hedges; fences and
ditches were leaped without effort and when he knew he was safe from
capture he sank down at the foot of a tree to rest.
This terrible scene had taken place with inconceivable rapidity. Only
forty minutes had elapsed since Gaston and his friend entered the
But during this short time how much had happened! These forty minutes
had given more cause for sorrow and remorse than the whole of his
previous life put together.
Entering this tavern with head erect and a happy heart, enjoying
present existence, and looking forward to a yet better future, he left
it ruined; for he was a murderer! Henceforth he would be under a ban--
He had killed a man, and still convulsively held the murderous
instrument; he cast it from him with horror.
He tried to account for the dreadful circumstances which had just
taken place; as if it were of any importance to a man lying at the
bottom of an abyss to know which stone had slipped, and precipitated
him from the summit.
Still, if he alone had been ruined! But Valentine was dragged down
with him: she was disgraced yet more than himself; her reputation was
gone. And it was his want of self-command which had cast to the winds
this honor, confided to his keeping, and which he held far dearer than
But he could not remain here bewailing his misfortune. The police must
soon be on his track. They would certainly go to the chateau of
Clameran to seek him; and before leaving home, perhaps forever, he
wished to say good-by to his father, and once more press Valentine to
He started to walk, but with great pain, for the reaction had come,
and his nerves and muscles, so violently strained, had now begun to
relax; the intense heat caused by his struggling and fast running was
replaced by a cold perspiration, aching limbs, and chattering teeth.
His hip and shoulder pained him almost beyond endurance. The cut on
his forehead had stopped bleeding, but the coagulated blood around his
eyes blinded him.
After a painful walk he reached his door at ten o'clock.
The old valet who admitted him started back terrified.
"Good heavens, monsieur! what is the matter?"
"Silence!" said Gaston in the brief, compressed tone always inspired
by imminent danger, "silence! where is my father?"
"M. the marquis is in his room with M. Louis. He has had a sudden
attack of the gout, and cannot put his foot to the ground; but you,
Gaston did not stop to listen further. He hurried to his father's
The old marquis, who was playing backgammon with Louis, dropped his
dice-box with a cry of horror, when he looked up and saw his eldest
son standing before him covered with blood.
"What is the matter? what have you been doing, Gaston?"
"I have come to embrace you for the last time, father, and to ask for
assistance to escape abroad."
"Do you wish to fly the country?"
"I must fly, father, and instantly; I am pursued, the police may be
here at any moment. I have killed two men."
The marquis was so shocked that he forgot the gout, and attempted to
rise; a violent twinge made him drop back in his chair.
"Where? When?" he gasped.
"At Tarascon, in a cafe, an hour ago; fifteen men attacked me, and I
seized a knife to defend myself."
"The old tricks of '93," said the marquis. "Did they insult you,
Gaston? What was the cause of the attack?"
"They insulted in my presence the name of a noble young girl."
"And you punished the rascals? Jarnibleu! You did well. Who ever heard
of a gentleman allowing insolent puppies to speak disrespectfully of a
lady of quality in his presence? But who was the lady you defended?"
"Mlle. Valentine de la Verberie."
"What!" cried the marquis, "what! the daughter of that old witch!
Those accursed de la Verberies have always brought misfortune upon
He certainly abominated the countess; but his respect for her noble
blood was greater than his resentment toward her individually, and he
"Nevertheless, Gaston, you did your duty."
Meanwhile, the curiosity of St. Jean, the marquis's old valet, made
him venture to open the door, and ask:
"Did M. the marquis ring?"
"No, you rascal," answered M. de Clameran: "you know very well I did
not. But, now you are here, be useful. Quickly bring some clothes for
M. Gaston, some fresh linen, and some warm water: hasten and dress his
These orders were promptly executed, and Gaston found he was not so
badly hurt as he had thought. With the exception of a deep stab in his
left shoulder, his wounds were not serious.
After receiving all the attentions which his condition required,
Gaston felt like a new man, ready to brave any peril. His eyes
sparkled with renewed energy and excitement.
The marquis made a sign to the servants to leave the room.
"Do you still think you ought to leave France?" he asked Gaston.
"My brother ought not to hesitate," interposed Louis: "he will be
arrested here, thrown into prison, vilified in court, and--who knows?"
"We all know well enough that he will be convicted," grumbled the old
marquis. "These are the benefits of the immortal revolution, as it is
called. Ah, in my day we three would have taken our swords, jumped on
our horses, and, dashing into Tarascon, would soon have--. But those
good old days are passed. To-day we have to run away."
"There is no time to lose," observed Louis.
"True," said the marquis, "but to fly, to go abroad, one must have
money; and I have none by me to give him."
"No, I have none. Ah, what a prodigal old fool I have been! If I only
had a hundred louis!"
Then he told Louis to open the secretary, and hand him the money-box.
The box contained only nine hundred and twenty francs in gold.
"Nine hundred and twenty francs," cried the marquis: "it will never do
for the eldest son of our house to fly the country with this paltry
He sat lost in reflection. Suddenly his brow cleared, and he told
Louis to open a secret drawer in the secretary, and bring him a small
Then the marquis took from his neck a black ribbon, to which was
suspended the key of the casket.
His sons observed with what deep emotion he unlocked it, and slowly
took out a necklace, a large cross, several rings, and other pieces of
His countenance assumed a solemn expression.
"Gaston, my dear son," he said, "at a time like this your life may
depend upon bought assistance; money is power."
"I am young, father, and have courage."
"Listen to me. The jewels belonged to the marquise, your sainted
mother, a noble, holy woman, who is now in heaven watching over us.
These jewels have never left me. During my days of misery and want,
when I was compelled to earn a livelihood by teaching music in London,
I piously treasured them. I never thought of selling them; and to
mortgage them, in the hour of direst need, would have seemed to be a
sacrilege. But now you must take them, my son, and sell them for
twenty thousand livres."
"No, father no; I cannot take them!"
"You must, Gaston. If your mother were on earth, she would tell you to
take them, as I do now. I command you to take and use them. The
salvation, the honor, of the heir of the house of Clameran, must not
be imperilled for want of a little gold."
With tearful eyes, Gaston sank on his knees, and, carrying his
father's hand to his lips, said:
"Thanks, father, thanks! In my heedless, ungrateful presumption I have
hitherto misjudged you. I did not know your noble character. Forgive
me. I accept; yes, I accept these jewels worn by my dear mother; but I
take them as a sacred deposit, confided to my honor, and for which I
will some day account to you."
In their emotion, the marquis and Gaston forgot the threatened danger.
But Louis was not touched by the affecting scene.
"Time presses," he said: "you had better hasten."
"He is right," cried the marquis: "go, Gaston, go, my son; and God
protect the heir of the Clamerans!"
Gaston slowly got up and said, with an embarrassed air:
"Before leaving you, my father, I must fulfil a sacred duty. I have
not told you everything. I love Valentine, the young girl whose honor
I defended this evening."
"Oh!" cried the marquis, thunderstruck, "oh, oh!"
"And I entreat you, father, to ask Mme. de la Verberie for the hand of
her daughter. Valentine will gladly join me abroad, and share my
Gaston stopped, frightened at the effect of his words. The old marquis
had become crimson, or rather purple, as if struck by apoplexy.
"Preposterous!" he gasped. "Impossible! Perfect folly!"
"I love her, father, and have promised her never to marry another."
"Then always remain a bachelor."
"I shall marry her!" cried Gaston, excitedly. "I shall marry her
because I have sworn I would, and I will not be so base as to desert
"I tell you, Mlle. de la Verberie must and shall be my wife. It is too
late for me to draw back. Even if I no longer loved her, I would still
marry her, because she has given herself to me; because, can't you
understand--what was said at the cafe to-night was true: I have but
one way of repairing the wrong I have done Valentine--by marrying
Gaston's confession, forced from him by circumstances, produced a very
different impression from that which he had expected. The enraged
marquis instantly became cool, and his mind seemed relieved of an
immense weight. A wicked joy sparkled in his eyes, as he replied:
"Ah, ha! she yielded to your entreaties, did she? Jarnibleu! I am
delighted. I congratulate you, Gaston: they say she is a pretty little
"Monsieur," interrupted Gaston, indignantly; "I have told you that I
love her, and have promised to marry her. You seem to forget."
"Ta, ta ta!" cried the marquis, "your scruples are absurd. You know
full well that her great-grandfather led our great-grandmother astray.
Now we are quits! I am delighted at the retaliation, for the old
"I swear by the memory of my mother, that Valentine shall be my wife!"
"Do you dare assume that tone toward me?" cried the exasperated
marquis. "Never, understand me clearly; never will I give my consent.
You know how dear to me is the honor of our house. Well, I would
rather see you tried for murder, and even chained to the galleys, than
married to this worthless jade!"
This last word was too much for Gaston.
"Then your wish shall be gratified, monsieur. I will remain here, and
be arrested. I care not what becomes of me! What is life to me without
the hope of Valentine? Take back these jewels: they are useless now."
A terrible scene would have taken place between the father and son,
had they not been interrupted by a domestic who rushed into the room,
and excitedly cried:
"The gendarmes! here are the gendarmes!"
At this news the old marquis started up, and seemed to forget his
gout, which had yielded to more violent emotions.
"Gendarmes!" he cried, "in my house at Clameran! They shall pay dear
for their insolence! You will help me, will you not, my men?"
"Yes, yes," answered the servants. "Down with the gendarmes! down with
Fortunately Louis, during all this excitement, preserved his presence
"To resist would be folly," he said. "Even if we repulsed the
gendarmes to-night, they would return to-morrow with reinforcements."
"Louis is right," said the marquis, bitterly. "Might is right, as they
said in '93. The gendarmes are all powerful. Do they not even have the
impertinence to come up to me while I am hunting, and ask to see my
shooting-license?--I, a Clameran, show a license!"
"Where are they?" asked Louis of the servants.
"At the outer gate," answered La Verdure, one of the grooms. "Does not
monsieur hear the noise they are making with their sabres?"
"Then Gaston must escape over the garden wall."
"It is guarded, monsieur," said La Verdure, "and the little gate in
the park besides. There seems to be a regiment of them. They are even
stationed along the park walls."
This was only too true. The rumor of Lazet's death had spread like
wildfire throughout the town of Tarascon, and everybody was in a state
of excitement. Not only mounted gendarmes, but a platoon of hussars
from the garrison, had been sent in pursuit of the murderer.
At least twenty young men of Tarascon were volunteer guides to the
"Then," said the marquis, "we are surrounded?"
"Not a single chance for escape," groaned St. Jean.
"We shall see about that, Jarnibleu!" cried the marquis. "Ah, we are
not the strongest, but we can be the most adroit. Attention! Louis, my
son, you and La Verdure go down to the stable, and mount the fastest
horses; then as quietly as possible station yourselves, you, Louis, at
the park gate, and you, La Verdure, at the outer gate. Upon the signal
I shall give you by firing a pistol, let every door be instantly
opened, while Louis and Verdure dash through the gates, and make the
gendarmes pursue them."
"I will make them fly," said La Verdure.
"Listen. During this time, Gaston, aided by St. Jean, will scale the
park wall, and hasten along the river to the cabin of Pilorel, the
fisherman. He is an old sailor of the republic, and devoted to our
house. He will take Gaston in his boat; and, when they are once on the
Rhone, there is nothing to be feared save the wrath of God. Now go,
all of you: fly!"
Left alone with his son, the old man slipped the jewelry into a silk
purse, and, handing them once more to Gaston, said, as he stretched
out his arms toward him:
"Come here, my son, and let me embrace you, and bestow my blessing."
"Come," insisted the old man in broken tones, "I must embrace you for
the last time: I may never see you again. Save yourself, save your
name, Gaston, and then--you know how I love you, my son: take back the
For an instant the father and son clung to each other, overpowered by
But the continued noise at the gates now reaches their ears.
"We must part!" said M. de Clameran, "go!" And, taking from his desk a
little pair of pistols, he handed them to his son, and added, with
averted eyes, "You must not be captured alive, Gaston!"
Gaston did not immediately descend to the park.
He yearned to see Valentine, and give her one last kiss before leaving
France, and determined to persuade Pilorel to stop the boat as they
went by the park of La Verberie.
He hastened to his room, placed the signal in the window so that
Valentine might know he was coming, and waited for an answering light.
"Come, M. Gaston," entreated old St. Jean, who could not understand
the strange conduct. "For God's sake make haste! your life is at
At last he came running down the stairs, and had just reached the
vestibule when a pistol-shot, the signal given by the marquis, was
The loud swinging open of the large gate, the rattling of the sabres
of the gendarmes, the furious galloping of many horses, and a chorus
of loud shouts and angry oaths, were next heard.
Leaning against the window, his brow beaded with cold perspiration,
the Marquis de Clameran breathlessly awaited the issue of this
expedient, upon which depended the life of his eldest son.
His measures were excellent, and deserved success. As he had ordered,
Louis and La Verdure dashed out through the gate, one to the right,
the other to the left, each one pursued by a dozen mounted men. Their
horses flew like arrows, and kept far ahead of the pursuers.
Gaston would have been saved, but for the interference of fate; but
was it fate, or was it malice?
Suddenly Louis's horse stumbled, and fell to the ground with his
rider. The gendarmes rode up, and at once recognized the second son of
M. de Clameran.
"This is not the assassin!" they cried. "Let us hurry back, else he
They returned just in time to see, by the uncertain light of the moon
peeping from behind a cloud, Gaston climbing the garden wall.
"There is our man!" exclaimed the corporal. "Keep your eyes open, and
gallop after him!"
They spurred their horses, and hastened to the spot where Gaston had
jumped from the wall.
On a wooded piece of ground, even if it be hilly, an agile man, if he
preserves his presence of mind, can escape a number of horsemen. The
ground on this side of the park was favorable to Gaston. He found
himself in an immense madder-field; and, as is well known, as this
valuable root must remain in the ground three years, the furrows are
necessarily ploughed very deep. Horses cannot even walk over its
uneven surface; indeed, they can scarcely stand steadily upon it.
This circumstance brought the gendarmes to a dead halt.
Four rash hussars ventured in the field, but they and their beasts
were soon rolling between hillocks.
Jumping from ridge to ridge, Gaston soon reached a large field,
freshly ploughed, and planted with young chestnuts.
As his chances of escape increased, the excitement grew more intense.
The pursuers urged each other on, and called out to head him off,
every time they saw Gaston run from one clump of trees to another.
Being familiar with the country, young De Clameran was confident of
eluding his pursuers. He knew that the next field was a thistle-field,
and was separated from the chestnut by a long, deep ditch.
He resolved to jump into this ditch, run along the bottom, and climb
out at the farther end, while they were looking for him among the
But he had forgotten the swelling of the river. Upon reaching the
ditch, he found it full of water.
Discouraged but not disconcerted, he was about to jump across, when
three horsemen appeared on the opposite side.
They were gendarmes who had ridden around the madder-field and
chestnut-trees, knowing they could easily catch him on the level
ground of the thistle-field.
At the sight of these three men, Gaston stood perplexed.
He should certainly be captured if he attempted to run through the
field, at the end of which he could see the cabin of Pilorel the
To retrace his steps would be surrendering to the hussars.
At a little distance on his right was a forest, but he was separated
from it by a road upon which he heard the sound of approaching horses.
He would certainly be caught there.
Foes in front of him, foes behind him, foes on the right of him! What
was on his left?
On his left was the surging, foaming river.
What hope was left? The circle of which he was the centre was fast
Must he, then, fall back upon suicide? Here in an open field, tracked
by police like a wild beast, must he blow his brains out? What a death
for a De Clameran!
No! He would seize the one chance of salvation left him: a forlorn,
desperate, perilous chance, but still a chance--the river.
Holding a pistol in either hand, he ran and leaped upon the edge of a
little promontory, projecting three yards into the Rhone.
This cape of refuge was formed by the immense trunk of a fallen tree.
The tree swayed and cracked fearfully under Gaston's weight, as he
stood on the extreme end, and looked around upon his pursuers; there
were fifteen of them, some on the right, some on the left, all
uttering cries of joy.
"Do you surrender?" called out the corporal.
Gaston did not answer; he was weighing his chances. He was above the
park of La Verberie; would he be able to swim there, granting that he
was not swept away and drowned the instant he plunged into the angry
torrent before him?
He pictured Valentine, at this very moment, watching, waiting, and
praying for him on the other shore.
"For the last time I command you to surrender!" cried the corporal.
The unfortunate man did not hear; he was deafened by the waters which
were roaring and rushing around him.
In a supreme moment like this, with his foot upon the threshold of
another world, a man sees his past life rise before him, and seldom
does he find cause for self-approval.
Although death stared him in the face, Gaston calmly considered which
would be the best spot to plunge into, and commended his soul to God.
"He will stand there until we go after him," said a gendarme: "so we
might as well advance."
Gaston had finished his prayer.
He flung his pistols in the direction of the gendarmes: he was ready.
He made the sign of the cross, then, with outstretched arms, dashed
head foremost into the Rhone.
The violence of his spring detached the few remaining roots of the old
tree; it oscillated a moment, whirled over, and then drifted away.
The spectators uttered a cry of horror and pity; anger seemed to have
deserted them in their turn.
"That is an end of him," muttered one of the gendarmes. "It is useless
for one to fight against the Rhone; his body will be picked up at
The hussars seemed really remorseful at the tragic fate of the brave,
handsome young man, whom a moment before they had pursued with so much
bitter zeal. They admired his spirited resistance, his courage, and
especially his resignation, his resolution to die.
True French soldiers, their sympathies were now all upon the side of
the vanquished, and every man of them would have done all in his power
to assist in saving the drowning man, and aiding his escape.
"An ugly piece of work!" grumbled the old quartermaster who had
command of the hussars.
"Bast!" exclaimed the philosophic corporal, "the Rhone is no worse
than the court of assizes: the result would be the same. Right about,
men; march! The thing that troubles me is the idea of that poor old
man waiting to hear his son's fate. I would not be the one to tell him
what has happened. March!"
Valentine knew, that fatal evening, that Gaston would have to walk to
Tarascon, to cross the bridge over the Rhone which connected Tarascon
with Beaucaire, and did not expect to see him until eleven o'clock,
the hour which they had fixed upon the previous evening.
But, happening to look up at the windows of Clameran, she saw lights
hurrying to and fro in an unusual manner, even in rooms that she knew
to be unoccupied.
A presentiment of impending misfortune chilled her blood, and stopped
the beatings of her heart.
A secret and imperious voice within told her that something
extraordinary was going on at the chateau of Clameran.
What was it? She could not imagine; but she knew, she felt, that some
dreadful misfortune had happened.
With her eyes fastened upon the dark mass of stone looming in the
distance, she watched the going and coming of the lights, as if their
movements would give her a clew to what was taking place within those
She raised her window, and tried to listen, fancying she could hear an
unusual sound, even at such a distance. Alas! she heard nothing but
the rushing roar of the angry river.
Her anxiety grew more insufferable every moment; and she felt as if
she would faint were this torturing suspense to last much longer, when
the well-known, beloved signal appeared suddenly in Gaston's window,
and told her that her lover was about to swim across the Rhone.
She could scarcely believe her eyes; she must be under the influence
of a dream; her amazement prevented her answering the signal, until it
had been repeated three times.
Then, more dead than alive, with trembling limbs she hastened along
the park to the river-bank.
Never had she seen the Rhone so furious. Since Gaston was risking his
life in order to see her, she could no longer doubt that something
fearful had occurred at Clameran.
She fell on her knees, and with clasped hands, and her wild eyes fixed
upon the dark waters, besought the pitiless waves to yield up her dear
Every dark object which she could distinguish floating in the middle
of the torrent assumed the shape of a human form.
At one time, she thought she heard, above the roaring of the water,
the terrible, agonized cry of a drowning man.
She watched and prayed, but her lover came not.
Still she waited.
While the gendarmes and hussars slowly and silently returned to the
chateau of Clameran, Gaston experienced one of those miracles which
would seem incredible were they not confirmed by the most convincing
When he first plunged into the river, he rolled over five or six
times, and was then drawn toward the bottom. In a swollen river the
current is unequal, being much stronger in some places than in others;
hence the great danger.
Gaston knew it, and guarded against it. Instead of wasting his
strength in vain struggles, he held his breath, and kept still. About
twenty-five yards from the spot where he had plunged in, he made a
violent spring which brought him to the surface.
Rapidly drifting by him was the old tree.
For an instant, he was entangled in the mass of weeds and debris which
clung to its roots, and followed in its wake; an eddy set him free.
The tree and its clinging weeds swept on. It was the last familiar
Gaston dared not attempt to reach the opposite shore. He would have to
land where the waves dashed him.
With great presence of mind he put forth all his strength and
dexterity to slowly take an oblique course, knowing well that there
was no hope for him if the current took him crosswise.
This fearful current is as capricious as a woman, which accounts for
the strange effects of inundations; sometimes it rushes to the right,
sometimes to the left, sparing one shore and ravaging the other.
Gaston was familiar with every turn of the river; he knew that just
below Clameran was an abrupt turning, and relied upon the eddy formed
thereby, to sweep him in the direction of La Verberie.
His hopes were not deceived. An oblique current suddenly swept him
toward the right shore, and, if he had not been on his guard, would
have sunk him.
But the eddy did not reach as far as Gaston supposed, and he was still
some distance from the shore, when, with the rapidity of lightning, he
was swept by the park of La Verberie.
As he floated by, he caught a glimpse of a white shadow among the
trees; Valentine still waited for him.
He was gradually approaching the bank, as he reached the end of La
Verberie, and attempted to land.
Feeling a foothold, he stood up twice, and each time was thrown down
by the violence of the waves. He escaped being swept away by seizing
some willow branches, and, clinging to them, raised himself, and
climbed up the steep bank.
He was safe at last.
Without taking time to breathe, he darted in the direction of the
He came just in time. Overcome by the intensity of her emotions,
Valentine had fainted, and lay apparently lifeless on the damp river-
Gaston's entreaties and kisses aroused her from her stupor.
"Gaston!" she cried, in a tone that revealed all the love she felt for
him. "Is it indeed you? Then God heard my prayers, and had pity on
"No, Valentine," he murmured. "God has had no pity."
The sad tones of Gaston's voice convinced her that her presentiment of
evil was true.
"What new misfortune strikes us now?" she cried. "Why have you thus
risked your life--a life far dearer to me than my own? What has
"This is what has happened, Valentine: our love-affair is the jest of
the country around; our secret is a secret no longer."
She shrank back, and, burying her face in her hands, moaned piteously.
"This," said Gaston, forgetting everything but his present misery,
"this is the result of the blind enmity of our families. Our noble and
pure love, which ought to be a glory in the eyes of God and man, has
to be concealed, and, when discovered, becomes a reproach as though it
were some evil deed."
"Then all is known--all is discovered!" murmured Valentine. "Oh,
While struggling for his life against furious men and angry elements,
Gaston had preserved his self-possession; but the heart-broken tone of
his beloved Valentine overcame him. He swung his arms above his head,
"Yes, they know it; and oh, why could I not crush the villains for
daring to utter your adored name? Ah, why did I only kill two of the
"Have you killed someone, Gaston?"
Valentine's tone of horror gave Gaston a ray of reason.
"Yes," he replied with bitterness, "I have killed two men. It was for
that that I have crossed the Rhone. I could not have my father's name
disgraced by being tried and convicted for murder. I have been tracked
like a wild beast by mounted police. I have escaped them, and now I am
flying my country."
Valentine struggled to preserve her composure under this last
"Where do you hope to find an asylum?" she asked.
"I know not. Where I am to go, what will become of me, God only knows!
I only know that I am going to some strange land, to assume a false
name and a disguise. I shall seek some lawless country which offers a
refuge to murderers."
Gaston waited for an answer to this speech. None came, and he resumed
"And before disappearing, Valentine, I wished to see you, because now,
when I am abandoned by everyone else, I have relied upon you, and had
faith in your love. A tie unites us, my darling, stronger and more
indissoluble than all earthly ties--the tie of love. I love you more
than life itself, my Valentine; before God you are my wife; I am yours
and you are mine, for ever and ever! Would you let me fly alone,
Valentine? To the pain and toil of exile, to the sharp regrets of a
ruined life, would you, could you, add the torture of separation?"
"Gaston, I implore you--"
"Ah, I knew it," he interrupted, mistaking the sense of her
exclamation; "I knew you would not let me go off alone. I knew your
sympathetic heart would long to share the burden of my miseries. This
moment effaces the wretched suffering I have endured. Let us go!
Having our happiness to defend, having you to protect, I fear nothing;
I can brave all, conquer all. Come, my Valentine, we will escape, or
die together! This is the long-dreamed-of happiness! The glorious
future of love and liberty open before us!"
He had worked himself into a state of delirious excitement. He seized
Valentine around the waist, and tried to draw her toward the gate.
As Gaston's exaltation increased, Valentine became composed and almost
stolid in her forced calmness.
Gently, but with a quiet firmness, she withdrew herself from his
embrace, and said sadly, but resolutely:
"What you wish is impossible, Gaston!"
This cold, inexplicable resistance confounded her lover.
"Impossible? Why, Valentine----"
"You know me well enough, Gaston, to be convinced that sharing the
greatest hardships with you would to me be the height of happiness.
But above the tones of your voice to which I fain would yield, above
the voice of my own heart which urges me to follow the one being upon
whom all its affections are centred, there is another voice--a
powerful, imperious voice--which bids me to stay: the voice of duty."
"What! Would you think of remaining here after the horrible affair of
to-night, after the scandal that will be spread to-morrow?"
"What do you mean? That I am lost, dishonored? Am I any more so to-day
than I was yesterday? Do you think that the jeers and scoffs of the
world could make me suffer more than do the pangs of my guilty
conscience? I have long since passed judgment upon myself, Gaston;
and, although the sound of your voice and the touch of your hand would
make me forget all save the bliss of your love, no sooner were you
away than I would weep tears of shame and remorse."
Gaston listened immovable, stupefied. He seemed to see a new Valentine
standing before him, an entirely different woman from the one whose
tender soul he thought he knew so well.
"Your mother, what will she say?" he asked.
"It is my duty to her that keeps me here. Do you wish me to prove an
unnatural daughter, and desert a poor, lonely, friendless old woman,
who has nothing but me to cling to? Could I abandon her to follow a
"But our enemies will inform her of everything, Valentine, and think
how she will make you suffer!"
"No matter. The dictates of conscience must be obeyed. Ah, why can I
not, at the price of my life, spare her the agony of hearing that her
only daughter, her Valentine, has disgraced her name? She may be hard,
cruel, pitiless toward me; but have I not deserved it? Oh, my only
friend, we have been revelling in a dream too beautiful to last! I
have long dreaded this awakening. Like two weak, credulous fools we
imagined that happiness could exist beyond the pale of duty. Sooner or
later stolen joys must be dearly paid for. After the sweet comes the
bitter; we must bow our heads, and drink the cup to the dregs."
This cold reasoning, this sad resignation, was more than the fiery
nature of Gaston could bear.
"You shall not talk thus!" he cried. "Can you not feel that the bare
idea of your suffering humiliation drives me mad?"
"Alas! I see nothing but disgrace, the most fearful disgrace, staring
me in the face."
"What do you mean, Valentine?"
"I have not told you, Gaston, I am----"
Here she stopped, hesitated, and then added:
"Nothing! I am a fool."
Had Gaston been less excited, he would have suspected some new
misfortune beneath this reticence of Valentine; but his mind was too
full of one idea--that of possessing her.
"All hope is not lost," he continued. "My father is kind-hearted, and
was touched by my love and despair. I am sure that my letters, added
to the intercession of my brother Louis, will induce him to ask Mme.
de la Verberie for your hand."
This proposition seemed to frighten Valentine.
"Heaven forbid that the marquis should take this rash step!"
"Because my mother would reject his offer; because, I must confess it
now, she has sworn I shall marry none but a rich man; and your father
is not rich, Gaston, so you will have very little."
"Good heavens!" cried Gaston, with disgust, "is it to such an
unnatural mother that you sacrifice me?"
"She is my mother; that is sufficient. I have not the right to judge
her. My duty is to remain with her, and remain I shall."
Valentine's manner showed such determined resolution, that Gaston saw
that further prayers would be in vain.
"Alas!" he cried, as he wrung his hands with despair, "you do not love
me; you have never loved me!"
"Gaston, Gaston! you do not think what you say! Have you no mercy?"
"If you loved me," he cried, "you could never, at this moment of
separation, have the cruel courage to coldly reason and calculate. Ah,
far different is my love for you. Without you the world is void; to
lose you is to die. What have I to live for? Let the Rhone take back
this worthless life, so miraculously saved; it is now a burden to me!"
And he rushed toward the river, determined to bury his sorrow beneath
its waves; Valentine seized his arm, and held him back.
"Is this the way to show your love for me?" she asked.
Gaston was absolutely discouraged.
"What is the use of living?" he said, dejectedly. "What is left to me
"God is left to us, Gaston; and in his hands lies our future."
As a shipwrecked man seizes a rotten plank in his desperation, so
Gaston eagerly caught at the word "/future/," as a beacon in the
gloomy darkness surrounding him.
"Your commands shall be obeyed," he cried with enthusiasm. "Away with
weakness! Yes, I will live, and struggle, and triumph. Mme. de la
Verberie wants gold; well, she shall have it; in three years I will be
rich, or I shall be dead."
With clasped hands Valentine thanked Heaven for this sudden
determination, which was more than she had dared hope for.
"But," said Gaston, "before going away I wish to confide to you a
He drew from his pocket the purse of jewels, and, handing them to
"These jewels belonged to my poor mother; you, my angel, are alone
worthy of wearing them. I thought of you when I accepted them from my
father. I felt that you, as my affianced wife, were the proper person
to have them."
Valentine refused to accept them.
"Take them, my darling, as a pledge of my return. If I do not come
back within three years, you may know that I am dead, and then you
must keep them as a souvenir of him who so much loved you."
She burst into tears, and took the purse.
"And now," said Gaston, "I have a last request to make. Everybody
believes me dead, but I cannot let my poor old father labor under this
impression. Swear to me that you will go yourself to-morrow morning,
and tell him that I am still alive."
"I will tell him, myself," she said.
Gaston felt that he must now tear himself away before his courage
failed him; each moment he was more loath to leave the only being who
bound him to this world; he enveloped Valentine in a last fond
embrace, and started up.
"What is your plan of escape?" she asked.
"I shall go to Marseilles, and hide in a friend's house until I can
procure a passage to America."
"You must have assistance; I will secure you a guide in whom I have
unbounded confidence; old Menoul, the ferryman, who lives near us. He
owns the boat which he plies on the Rhone."
The lovers passed through the little park gate, of which Gaston had
the key, and soon reached the boatman's cabin.
He was asleep in an easy-chair by the fire. When Valentine stood
before him with Gaston, the old man jumped up, and kept rubbing his
eyes, thinking it must be a dream.
"Pere Menoul," said Valentine, "M. Gaston is compelled to fly the
country; he wants to be rowed out to sea, so that he can secretly
embark. Can you take him in your boat as far as the mouth of the
"It is impossible," said the old man, shaking his head; "I would not
dare venture on the river in its present state."
"But, Pere Menoul, it would be of immense service to me; would you not
venture for my sake?"
"For your sake? certainly I would, Mlle. Valentine: I will do anything
to gratify you. I am ready to start."
He looked at Gaston, and, seeing his clothes wet and covered with mud,
said to him:
"Allow me to offer you my dead son's clothes, monsieur; they will
serve as a disguise: come this way."
In a few minutes Pere Menoul returned with Gaston, whom no one would
have recognized in his sailor dress.
Valentine went with them to the place where the boat was moored. While
the old man was unfastening it, the disconsolate lovers tearfully
embraced each other for the last time.
"In three years, my own Valentine; promise to wait three years for me!
If alive, I will then see you."
"Adieu, mademoiselle," interrupted the boatman; "and you, monsieur,
hold fast, and keep steady."
Then with a vigorous stroke of the boat-hook he sent the bark into the
middle of the stream.
Three days later, thanks to the assistance of Pere Menoul, Gaston was
concealed on the three-masted American vessel, Tom Jones, which was to
start the next day for Valparaiso.
Cold and white as a marble statue, Valentine stood on the bank of the
river, watching the frail bark which was carrying her lover away. It
flew along the Rhone like a bird in a tempest, and after a few seconds
appeared like a black speck in the midst of the heavy fog which
floated over the water, then was lost to view.
Now that Gaston was gone, Valentine had no motive for concealing her
despair; she wrung her hands and sobbed as if her heart would break.
All her forced calmness, her bravery and hopefulness, were gone. She
felt crushed and lost, as if the sharp pain in her heart was the
forerunner of the torture in store for her; as if that swiftly gliding
bark had carried off the better part of herself.
While Gaston treasured in the bottom of his heart a ray of hope, she
felt there was nothing to look forward to but shame and sorrow.
The horrible facts which stared her in the face convinced her that
happiness in this life was over; the future was worse than blank. She
wept and shuddered at the prospect.
She slowly retraced her footsteps through the friendly little gate
which had so often admitted poor Gaston; and, as she closed it behind
her, she seemed to be placing an impassable barrier between herself
Before entering, Valentine walked around the chateau, and looked up at
the windows of her mother's chamber.
They were brilliantly lighted, as usual at this hour, for Mme. de la
Verberie passed half the night in reading, and slept till late in the
Enjoying the comforts of life, which are little costly in the country,
the selfish countess disturbed herself very little about her daughter.
Fearing no danger in their isolation, she left her at perfect liberty;
and day and night Valentine might go and come, take long walks, and
sit under trees for hours at a time, without restriction.
But on this night Valentine feared being seen. She would be called
upon to explain the torn, muddy condition of her dress, and what
answer could she give?
Fortunately she could reach her room without meeting anyone.
She needed solitude in order to collect her thoughts, and to pray for
strength to bear the heavy burden of her sorrows, and to withstand the
angry storm about to burst over her head.
Seated before her little work-table, she emptied the purse of jewels,
and mechanically examined them.
It would be a sweet, sad comfort to wear the simplest of the rings,
she thought, as she slipped the sparkling gem on her finger; but her
mother would ask her where it came from. What answer could she give?
She kissed the purse, in memory of Gaston, and then concealed the
sacred deposit in her bureau.
When she thought of going to Clameran, to inform the old marquis of
the miraculous preservation of his son's life, her heart sank.
Blinded by his passion, Gaston did not think, when he requested this
service, of the obstacles and dangers to be braved in its performance.
But Valentine saw them only too clearly; yet it did not occur to her
for an instant to break her promise by sending another, or by delaying
to go herself.
At sunrise she dressed herself.
When the bell was ringing for early mass, she thought it a good time
to start on her errand.
The servants were all up, and one of them named Mihonne, who always
waited on Valentine, was scrubbing the vestibule.
"If mother asks for me," said Valentine to the girl, "tell her I have
gone to early mass."
She often went to church at this hour, so there was nothing to be
feared thus far; Mihonne looked at her sadly, but said nothing.
Valentine knew that she would have difficulty in returning to
breakfast. She would have to walk a league before reaching the bridge,
and it was another league thence to Clameran; in all she must walk
She set forth at a rapid pace. The consciousness of performing an
extraordinary action, the feverish anxiety of peril incurred,
increased her haste. She forgot that she had worn herself out weeping
all night; that this fictitious strength could not last.
In spite of her efforts, it was after eight o'clock when she reached
the long avenue leading to the main entrance of the chateau of
She had only proceeded a few steps, when she saw old St. Jean coming
down the path.
She stopped and waited for him; he hastened his steps at sight of her,
as if having something to tell her.
He was very much excited, and his eyes were swollen with weeping.
To Valentine's surprise, he did not take off his hat to bow, and when
he came up to her, he said, rudely:
"Are you going up to the chateau, mademoiselle?"
"If you are going after M. Gaston," said the servant, with an insolent
sneer, "you are taking useless trouble. M. the count is dead,
mademoiselle; he sacrificed himself for the sake of a worthless
Valentine turned white at this insult, but took no notice of it. St.
Jean, who expected to see her overcome by the dreadful news, was
bewildered at her composure.
"I am going to the chateau," she said, quietly, "to speak to the
St. Jean stifled a sob, and said:
"Then it is not worth while to go any farther."
"Because the Marquis of Clameran died at five o'clock this morning."
Valentine leaned against a tree to prevent herself from falling.
"Dead!" she gasped.
"Yes," said St. Jean, fiercely; "yes, dead!"
A faithful servant of the old regime, St. Jean shared all the
passions, weaknesses, friendships, and enmities of his master. He had
a horror of the La Verberies. And now he saw in Valentine the woman
who had caused the death of the marquis whom he had served for forty
years, and of Gaston whom he worshipped.
"I will tell you how he died," said the bitter old man. "Yesterday
evening, when those hounds came and told the marquis that his eldest
son was dead, he who was as hardy as an oak, and could face any
danger, instantly gave way, and dropped as if struck by lightning. I
was there. He wildly beat the air with his hands, and fell without
opening his lips; not one word did he utter. We put him to bed, and M.
Louis galloped into Tarascon for a doctor. But the blow had struck too
deeply. When Dr. Raget arrived he said there was no hope.
"At daybreak, the marquis recovered consciousness enough to ask for M.
Louis, with whom he remained alone for some minutes. The last words he
uttered were, 'Father and son the same day; there will be rejoicing at
Valentine might have soothed the sorrow of the faithful servant, by
telling him Gaston still lived; but she feared it would be indiscreet,
and, unfortunately, said nothing.
"Can I see M. Louis?" she asked after a long silence.
This question seemed to arouse all the anger slumbering in the breast
of poor St. Jean.
"You! You would dare take such a step, Mlle. de la Verberie? What!
would you presume to appear before him after what has happened? I will
never allow it! And you had best, moreover, take my advice, and return
home at once. I will not answer for the tongues of the servants here,
when they see you."
And, without waiting for an answer, he hurried away.
What could Valentine do? Humiliated and miserable, she could only
wearily drag her aching limbs back the way she had so rapidly come
early that morning. On the road, she met many people coming from the
town, where they had heard of the events of the previous night; and
the poor girl was obliged to keep her eyes fastened to the ground in
order to escape the insulting looks and mocking salutations with which
the gossips passed her.
When Valentine reached La Verberie, she found Mihonne waiting for her.
"Ah, mademoiselle," she said, "make haste, and go in the house. Madame
had a visitor this morning, and ever since she left has been crying
out for you. Hurry; and take care what you say to her, for she is in a
Much has been said in favor of the patriarchal manners of our
Their manners may have been patriarchal years and years ago; but our
mothers and wives nowadays certainly have not such ready hands and
quick tongues, and are sometimes, at least, elegant in manner, and
choice in their language.
Mme. de La Verberie had preserved the manners of the good old times,
when grand ladies swore like troopers, and impressed their remarks by
slaps in the face.
When Valentine appeared, she was overwhelmed with coarse epithets and
The countess had been informed of everything, with many gross
additions added by public scandal. An old dowager, her most intimate
friend, had hurried over early in the morning, to offer her this
poisoned dish of gossip, seasoned with her own pretended condolences.
In this sad affair, Mme. de la Verberie mourned less over her
daughter's loss of reputation, than over the ruin of her own projects
--projects of going to Paris, making a grand marriage for Valentine,
and living in luxury the rest of her days.
A young girl so compromised would not find it easy to get a husband.
It would now be necessary to keep her two years longer in the country,
before introducing her into Parisian society. The world must have time
to forget this scandal.
"You worthless wretch!" cried the countess with fury; "is it thus you
respect the noble traditions of our family? Heretofore it has never
been considered necessary to watch the La Verberies; they could take
care of their honor: but you must take advantage of your liberty to
cover our name with disgrace!"
With a sinking heart, Valentine had foreseen this tirade. She felt
that it was only a just punishment for her conduct. Knowing that the
indignation of her mother was just, she meekly hung her head like a
repentant sinner at the bar of justice.
But this submissive silence only exasperated the angry countess.
"Why do you not answer me?" she screamed with flashing eyes and a
threatening gesture. "Speak! you----"
"What can I say, mother?"
"Say, miserable girl? Say that they lied when they accused a La
Verberie of disgracing her name! Speak: defend yourself!"
Valentine mournfully shook her head, but said nothing.
"It is true, then?" shrieked the countess, beside herself with rage;
"what they said is true?"
"Forgive me, mother: have mercy! I am so miserable!" moaned the poor
"Forgive! have mercy! Do you dare to tell me I have not been deceived
by this gossip to-day? Do you have the insolence to stand there and
glory in your shame? Whose blood flows in your veins? You seem to be
ignorant that some faults should be persistently denied, no matter how
glaring the evidence against them. And you are my daughter! Can you
not understand that an ignominious confession like this should never
be forced from a woman by any human power? But no, you have lovers,
and unblushingly avow it. Why not run over the town and tell
everybody? Boast of it, glory in it: it would be something new!"
"Alas! you are pitiless, mother!"
"Did you ever have any pity on me, my dutiful daughter? Did it ever
occur to you that your disgrace would kill me? No: I suppose you and
your lover have often laughed at my blind confidence; for I had
confidence in you: I had perfect faith in you. I believed you to be as
innocent as when you lay in your cradle. And it has come to this:
drunken men make a jest of your name in a billiard-room, then fight
about you, and kill each other. I intrusted to you the honor of our
name, and what did you do with it? You handed it over to the first-
This was too much for Valentine. The words, "first-comer," wounded her
pride more than all the other abuse heaped upon her. She tried to
protest against this unmerited insult.
"Ah, I have made a mistake in supposing this to be the first one,"
said the countess. "Among your many lovers, you choose the heir of our
worst enemy, the son of those detested Clamerans. Among all, you
select a coward who publicly boasted of your favors; a wretch who
tried to avenge himself for the heroism of our ancestors by ruining
you and me--an old woman and a child!"
"No, mother, you do him wrong. He loved me, and hopes for your
"Wants to marry you, does he? Never, never shall that come to pass! I
would rather see you lower than you are, in the gutter, laid in your
coffin, than see you the wife of that man!"
Thus the hatred of the countess was expressed very much in the terms
which the old marquis had used to his son.
"Besides," she added, with a ferocity of which only a bad woman is
capable, "your lover is drowned, and the old marquis is dead. God is
just; we are avenged."
The words of St. Jean, "There will be rejoicing at La Verberie," rung
in Valentine's ears, as she saw the countess's eyes sparkle with
This was too much for the unfortunate girl.
For half an hour she had been exerting all of her strength to bear
this cruel violence from her mother; but her physical endurance was
not equal to the task. She turned pale, and with half-closed eyes
tried to seize a table, as she felt herself falling; but her head fell
against a bracket, and with bleeding forehead she dropped at her
The cold-hearted countess felt no revival of maternal love, as she
looked at her daughter's lifeless form. Her vanity was wounded, but no
other emotion disturbed her. Hers was a heart so full of anger and
hatred that there was no room for any nobler sentiment.
She rang the bell; and the affrighted servants, who were trembling in
the passage at the loud and angry tones of that voice, of which they
all stood in terror, came running in.
"Carry mademoiselle to her room," she ordered: "lock her up, and bring
me the key."
The countess intended keeping Valentine a close prisoner for a long
She well knew the mischievous, gossiping propensities of country
people, who, from mere idleness, indulge in limitless scandal. A poor
fallen girl must either leave the country, or drink to the very dregs
the chalice of premeditated humiliations, heaped up and offered her by
her neighbors. Each clown delights in casting a stone at her.
The plans of the countess were destined to be disconcerted.
The servants came to tell her that Valentine was restored to
consciousness, but seemed to be very ill.
She replied that she would not listen to such absurdities, that it was
all affectation; but Mihonne insisted upon her going up and judging
for herself. She unwillingly went to her daughter's room, and saw that
her life was in danger.
The countess betrayed no apprehension, but sent to Tarascon for Dr.
Raget, who was the oracle of the neighborhood; he was with the Marquis
of Clameran when he died.
Dr. Raget was one of those men who leave a blessed memory, which lives
long after they have left this world.
Intelligent, noble-hearted, and wealthy, he devoted his life to his
art; going from the mansions of the rich to the hovels of the poor,
without ever accepting remuneration for his services.
At all hours of the night and day, his gray horse and old buggy might
be seen, with a basket of wine and soup under the seat, for his poorer
He was a little, bald-headed man of fifty, with a quick, bright eye,
and pleasant face.
The servant fortunately found him at home; and he was soon standing at
Valentine's bed-side, with a grave, perplexed look upon his usually
Endowed with profound perspicacity, quickened by practice, he studied
Valentine and her mother alternately; and the penetrating gaze which
he fastened on the old countess so disconcerted her that she felt her
wrinkled face turning very red.
"This child is very ill," he abruptly said.
Mme. de la Verberie made no reply.
"I desire," continued the doctor, "to remain alone with her for a few
The countess dared not resist the authority of a man of Dr. Raget's
character, and retired to the next room, apparently calm, but in
reality disturbed by the most gloomy forebodings.
At the end of half an hour--it seemed a century--the doctor entered
the room where she was waiting. He, who had witnessed so much
suffering and misery all his life, was agitated and nervous after
talking with Valentine.
"Well," said the countess, "what is the matter?"
"Summon all your courage, madame," he answered sadly, "and be prepared
to grant indulgence and pardon to your suffering child. Mlle.
Valentine will soon become a mother."
"The worthless creature! I feared as much."
The doctor was shocked at this dreadful expression of the countess's
eye. He laid his hand on her arm, and gave her a penetrating look,
beneath which she instantly quailed.
The doctor's suspicions were correct.
A dreadful idea had flashed across Mme. de la Verberie's mind--the
idea of destroying this child which would be a living proof of
Feeling that her evil intention was divined, the proud woman's eyes
fell beneath the doctor's obstinate gaze.
"I do not understand you, Dr. Raget," she murmured.
"But I understand you, madame; and I simply tell you that a crime does
not obliterate a fault."
"I merely say what I think, madame. If I am mistaken in my impression,
so much the better for you. At present, the condition of your daughter
is serious, but not dangerous. Excitement and distress of mind have
unstrung her nerves, and she now has a high fever; but I hope by great
care and good nursing that she will soon recover."
The countess saw that the good doctor's suspicions were not
dissipated; so she thought she would try affectionate anxiety, and
"At least, doctor, you can assure me that the dear child's life is not
"No, madame," answered Dr. Raget with cutting irony, "your maternal
tenderness need not be alarmed. All the poor child needs is rest of
mind, which you alone can give her. A few kind words from you will do
her more good than all of my prescriptions. But remember, madame, that
the least shock or nervous excitement will produce the most fatal
"I am aware of that," said the hypocritical countess, "and shall be
very careful. I must confess that I was unable to control my anger
upon first hearing your announcement."
"But now that the first shock is over, madame, being a mother and a
Christian, you will do your duty. My duty is to save your daughter and
her child. I will call to-morrow."
Mme. de la Verberie had no idea of having the doctor go off in this
way. She called him back, and, without reflecting that she was
betraying herself, cried out:
"Do you pretend to say, monsieur, that you will prevent my taking
every means to conceal this terrible misfortune that has fallen upon
me? Do you wish our shame to be made public, to make me the laughing-
stock of the neighborhood?"
The doctor reflected without answering; the condition of affairs was
"No, madame," he finally said; "I cannot prevent your leaving La
Verberie: that would be overstepping my powers. But it is my duty to
hold you to account for the child. You are at liberty to go where you
please; but you must give me proof of the child's living, or at least
that no attempts have been made against its life."
After uttering these threatening words he left the house, and it was
in good time; for the countess was choking with suppressed rage.
"Insolent upstart!" she said, "to presume to dictate to a woman of my
rank! Ah, if I were not completely at his mercy!"
But she was at his mercy, and she knew well enough that it would be
safest to obey.
She stamped her foot with anger, as she thought that all her ambitious
plans were dashed to the ground.
No more hopes of luxury, of a millionaire son-in-law, of splendid
carriages, rich dresses, and charming card-parties where she could
lose money all night without disturbing her mind.
She would have to die as she had lived, neglected and poor; and this
future life of deprivation would be harder to bear than the past,
because she no longer had bright prospects to look forward to. It was
a cruel awakening from her golden dreams.
And it was Valentine who brought this misery upon her.
This reflection aroused all her inherent bitterness, and she felt
toward her daughter one of those implacable hatreds which, instead of
being quenched, are strengthened by time.
She wished she could see Valentine lying dead before her; above all
would she like the accursed infant to come to grief.
But the doctor's threatening look was still before her, and she dared
not attempt her wicked plans. She even forced herself to go and say a
few forgiving words to Valentine, and then left her to the care of the
Poor Valentine! she prayed that death might kindly end her sufferings.
She had neither the moral nor physical courage to fight against her
fate, but hopelessly sank beneath the first blow, and made no attempt
to rally herself.
She was, however, getting better. She felt that dull, heavy sensation
which always follows violent mental or physical suffering; she was
still able to reflect, and thought:
"Well, it is over; my mother knows everything. I no longer have her
anger to fear, and must trust to time for her forgiveness."
This was the secret which Valentine had refused to reveal to Gaston,
because she feared that he would refuse to leave her if he knew it;
and she wished him to escape at any price of suffering to herself.
Even now she did not regret having followed the dictates of duty, and
remained at home.
The only thought which distressed her was Gaston's danger. Had he