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 Arles to-morrow.”
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.