“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 Rhone?”
“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.