A ROMANCE OF THE FOREST
“Have you the heart? When your head did but ach,
“If the midnight bell
Meanwhile the persecuted Adeline continued to travel, with little interruption, all night. Her mind suffered such a tumult of grief, regret, despair, and terror, that she could not be said to think. The Marquis’s valet, who had placed himself in the chaise with her, at first seemed inclined to talk, but her inattention soon silenced him, and left her to the indulgence of her own misery.
They seemed to travel through obscure lanes and bye-ways, along which the carriage drove as furiously as the darkness would permit: when the dawn appeared, she perceived herself on the borders of a forest, and renewed her entreaties to know whither she was going. The man replied, he had no orders to tell, but she would soon see. Adeline, who had hitherto supposed they were carrying her to the villa, now began to doubt it; and as every place appeared less terrible to her imagination than that, her despair began to abate, and she thought only of the devoted Theodore, whom she knew to be the victim of malice and revenge.
They now entered upon the forest, and it occurred to her that she was going to the abbey; for though she had no remembrance of the scenery, through which she passed, it was not the less probable that this was the forest of Fontangville, whose boundaries were by much too extensive to have come within the circle of her former walks. This conjecture revived a terror, little inferior to that occasioned by the idea of going to the villa, for at the abbey she would be equally in the power of the Marquis, and also in that of her cruel enemy, La Motte. Her mind revolted at the picture her fancy drew, and as the carriage moved under the shades, she threw from the window a look of eager inquiry for some object which might confirm, or destroy her present surmise: she did not long look, before an opening in the forest shewed her the distant towers of the abbey — “I am, indeed, lost then!” said she, bursting into tears.
They were soon at the foot of the lawn, and Peter was seen running to open the gate, at which the carriage stopped. When he saw Adeline, he looked surprized and made an effort to speak, but the chaise now drove up to the abbey, where, at the door of the hall, La Motte himself appeared. As he advanced to take her from the carriage, an universal trembling seized her; it was with the utmost difficulty she supported herself, and for some moments she neither observed his countenance, nor heard his voice. He offered his arm to assist her into the abbey, which she at first refused, but having tottered a few paces, was obliged to accept; they then entered the vaulted room, where, sinking into a chair, a flood of tears came to her relief. La Motte did not interrupt the silence, which continued for some time, but paced the room in seeming agitation. When Adeline was sufficiently recovered to notice external objects, she observed his countenance, and there read the tumult of his soul, while he was struggling to assume a firmness, which his better feelings opposed.
La Motte now took her hand, and would have led her from the room, but she stopped, and, with a kind of desperate courage, made an effort to engage him to pity, and to save her. He interrupted her; “It is not in my power,” said he, in a voice of emotion; “I am not master of myself, or my conduct; inquire no farther — it is sufficient for you to know that I pity you; more I cannot do.” He gave her no time to reply, but, taking her hand, led her to the stairs of the tower, and from thence to the chamber she had formerly occupied.
“Here you must remain for the present,” said he, “in a confinement, which is, perhaps, almost as involuntary on my part as it can be on yours. I am willing to render it as easy as possible, and have, therefore, ordered some books to be brought you.”
Adeline made an effort to speak, but he hurried from the room, seemingly ashamed of the part he had undertaken, and unwilling to trust himself with her tears. She heard the door of the chamber locked, and then, looking towards the windows, perceived they were secured: the door that led to the other apartments was also fastened. Such preparation for security shocked her, and, hopeless as she had long believed herself, she now perceived her mind sink deeper in despair. When the tears she shed had somewhat relieved her, and her thoughts could turn from the subjects of her immediate concern, she was thankful for the total seclusion allotted her, since it would spare her the pain she must feel in the presence of Monsieur and Madame La Motte, and allow the unrestrained indulgence of her own sorrow and reflection; reflection which, however distressing, was preferable to the agony inflicted on the mind, when agitated by care and fear, it is obliged to assume an appearance of tranquillity.
In about a quarter of an hour, her chamber door was unlocked, and Annette appeared with refreshments and books: she expressed satisfaction at seeing Adeline again, but seemed fearful of speaking, knowing, probably, that it was contrary to the orders of La Motte, who, she said, was waiting at the bottom of the stairs. When Annette was gone, Adeline took some refreshment, which was indeed necessary; for she had tasted nothing since she left the inn. She was pleased, but not surprized, that Madame La Motte did not appear, who, it was evident, shunned her from a consciousness of her own ungenerous conduct, a consciousness, which offered some presumption, that she was still not wholly unfriendly to her. She reflected upon the words of La Motte, “I am not master of myself, or my conduct,” and though they afforded her no hope, she derived some comfort, poor as it was, from the belief that he pitied her. After some time spent in miserable reflection and various conjectures, her long-agitated spirits seemed to demand repose, and she laid down to sleep.
Adeline slept quietly for several hours, and awoke with a mind refreshed and tranquillized. To prolong this temporary peace, and to prevent, therefore, the intrusion of her own thoughts, she examined the books La Motte had sent her: among these she found some that in happier times had elevated her mind and interested her heart; their effect was now weakened, they were still, however, able to soften for a time the sense of her misfortunes.
But this Lethean medicine to a wounded mind was but a temporary blessing; the entrance of La Motte dissolved the illusions of the page, and awakened her to a sense of her own situation. He came with food, and having placed it on the table, left the room without speaking. Again she endeavoured to read, but his appearance had broken the enchantment — bitter reflection returned to her mind, and brought with it the image of Theodore — of Theodore lost to her for ever!
La Motte, mean while, experienced all the terrors that could be inflicted by a conscience not wholly hardened to guilt. He had been led on by passion to dissipation — and from dissipation to vice; but having once touched the borders of infamy, the progressive steps followed each other fast, and he now saw himself the pander of a villain, and the betrayer of an innocent girl, whom every plea of justice and humanity called upon him to protect. He contemplated his picture — he shrunk from it, but he could change its deformity only by an effort too nobly daring for a mind already effeminated by vice. He viewed the dangerous labyrinth into which he was led, and perceived, as if for the first time, the progression of his guilt; from this labyrinth he weakly imagined farther guilt could alone extricate him. Instead of employing his mind upon the means of saving Adeline from destruction, and himself from being instrumental to it, he endeavoured only to lull the pangs of conscience and to persuade himself into a belief that he must proceed in the course he had begun. He knew himself to be in the power of the Marquis, and he dreaded that power more than the sure, though distant punishment that awaits upon guilt. The honour of Adeline and the quiet of his own conscience he consented to barter for a few years of existence.
He was ignorant of the present illness of the Marquis, or he would have perceived that there was a chance of escaping the threatened punishment at a price less enormous than infamy, and he would, perhaps, have endeavoured to save Adeline and himself by flight. But the Marquis, foreseeing the possibility of this, had ordered his servants carefully to conceal the circumstance which detained him, and to acquaint La Motte that he should be at the abbey in a few days, at the same time directing his valet to await him there. Adeline, as he expected, had neither inclination nor opportunity to mention it, and thus La Motte remained ignorant of the circumstance, which might have preserved him from farther guilt and Adeline from misery.
Most unwillingly had La Motte made his wife acquainted with the action, which had made him absolutely dependent upon the will of the Marquis, but the perturbation of his mind partly betrayed him: frequently in his sleep he muttered incoherent sentences, and frequently would start from his slumber and call, in passionate exclamation, upon Adeline. These instances of a disturbed mind had alarmed and terrified Madame La Motte, who watched while he slept and soon gathered from his words a confused idea of the Marquis’s designs.
She hinted her suspicions to La Motte, who reproved her for having entertained them, but his manner, instead of repressing, increased her fears for Adeline; fears, which the conduct of the Marquis soon confirmed. On the night that he slept at the abbey, it had occurred to her, that whatever scheme was in agitation would now most probably be discussed, and anxiety for Adeline made her stoop to a meanness, which, in other circumstances, would have been despicable. She quitted her room, and, concealing herself in an apartment adjoining that in which she had left the Marquis and her husband, listened to their discourse. It turned upon the subject she had expected, and disclosed to her the full extent of their designs. Terrified for Adeline, and shocked at the guilty weakness of La Motte, she was for some time incapable of thinking, or determining how to proceed. She knew her husband to be under great obligation to the Marquis, whose territory thus afforded him a shelter from the world, and that it was in the power of the former to betray him into the hands of his enemies. She believed also that the Marquis would do this, if provoked, yet she thought, upon such an occasion, La Motte might find some way of appeasing the Marquis, without subjecting himself to dishonour. After some farther reflection, her mind became more composed, and she returned to her chamber, where La Motte soon followed. Her spirits, however, were not now in a state to encounter either his displeasure, or his opposition, which she had too much reason to expect, whenever she should mention the subject of her concern, and she, therefore, resolved not to notice it till the morrow.
On the morrow, she told La Motte all he had uttered in his dreams, and mentioned other circumstances, which convinced him it was in vain any longer to deny the truth of her apprehensions. His wife then represented to him how possible it was to avoid the infamy, into which he was about to plunge, by quitting the territories of the Marquis, and pleaded so warmly for Adeline, that La Motte, in sullen silence, appeared to meditate upon the plan. His thoughts were, however, very differently engaged. He was conscious of having deserved from the Marquis a dreadful punishment, and knew that if he exasperated him by refusing to acquiesce with his wishes, he had little to expect from flight, for the eye of justice and revenge would pursue him with indefatigable research.
La Motte meditated how to break this to his wife, for he perceived that there was no other method of counteracting her virtuous compassion for Adeline, and the dangerous consequences to be expected from it, than by opposing it with terror for his safety, and this could be done only by shewing her the full extent of the evils that must attend the resentment of the Marquis. Vice had not yet so entirely darkened his conscience, but that the blush of shame stained his cheek, and his tongue faltered when he would have told his guilt. At length, finding it impossible to mention particulars, he told her that, on account of an affair, which no entreaties should ever induce him to explain, his life was in the power of the Marquis. “You see the alternative,” said he, “take your choice of evils, and, if you can, tell Adeline of her danger, and sacrifice my life to save her from a situation, which many would be ambitious to obtain.” — Madame La Motte, condemned to the horrible alternative of permitting the seduction of innocence, or of dooming her husband to destruction, suffered a distraction of thought, which defied all controul. Perceiving, however, that an opposition to the designs of the Marquis would ruin La Motte and avail Adeline little, she determined to yield and endure in silence.
At the time when Adeline was planning her escape from the abbey, the significant looks of Peter had led La Motte to suspect the truth and to observe them more closely. He had seen them separate in the hall in apparent confusion, and had afterwards observed them conversing together in the cloisters. Circumstances so unusual left him not a doubt that Adeline had discovered her danger, and was concerting with Peter some means of escape. Affecting, therefore, to be informed of the whole affair, he charged Peter with treachery towards himself, and threatened him with the vengeance of the Marquis if he did not disclose all he knew. The menace intimidated Peter, and, supposing that all chance of assisting Adeline was gone, he made a circumstantial confession, and promised to forbear acquainting Adeline with the discovery of the scheme. In this promise he was seconded by inclination, for he feared to meet the displeasure, which Adeline, believing he had betrayed her, might express.
On the evening of the day, on which Adeline’s intended escape was discovered, the Marquis designed to come to the abbey, and it had been agreed that he should then take Adeline to his villa. La Motte had immediately perceived the advantage of permitting Adeline to repair, in the belief of being undiscovered, to the tomb. It would prevent much disturbance and opposition, and spare himself the pain he must feel in her presence, when she should know that he had betrayed her. A servant of the Marquis might go, at the appointed hour, to the tomb, and wrapt in the disguise of night, might take her quietly thence in the character of Peter. Thus, without resistance, she would be carried to the villa, nor discover her mistake till it was too late to prevent its consequence.
When the Marquis did arrive, La Motte, who was not so much intoxicated by the wine he had drank, as to forget his prudence, informed him of what had happened and what he had planned, and the Marquis approving it, his servant was made acquainted with the signal, which afterwards betrayed Adeline to his power.
A deep consciousness of the unworthy neutrality she had observed in Adeline’s concerns, made Madame La Motte anxiously avoid seeing her now that she was again in the abbey. Adeline understood this conduct, and she rejoiced that she was spared the anguish of meeting her as an enemy, whom she had once considered as a friend. Several days now passed in solitude, in miserable retrospection, and dreadful expectation. The perilous situation of Theodore was almost the constant subject of her thoughts. Often did she breathe an agonizing wish for his safety, and often look round the sphere of possibility in search of hope: but hope had almost left the horizon of her prospect, and when it did appear, it sprung only from the death of the Marquis, whose vengeance threatened most certain destruction.
The Marquis, mean while, lay at the inn at Baux, in a state of very doubtful recovery. The physician and surgeon, neither of whom he would dismiss, nor suffer to leave the village, proceeded upon contrary principles, and the good effect of what the one prescribed, was frequently counteracted by the injudicious treatment of the other. Humanity alone prevailed on the physician to continue his attendance. The malady of the Marquis was also heightened by the impatience of his temper, the terrors of death, and the irritation of his passions. One moment he believed himself dying, another he could scarcely be prevented from attempting to follow Adeline to the abbey. So various were the fluctuations of his mind, and so rapid the schemes that succeeded each other, that his passions were in a continual state of conflict. The physician attempted to persuade him, that his recovery greatly depended upon tranquillity, and to prevail upon him to attempt, at least, some command of his feelings, but he was soon silenced, in hopeless disgust, by the impatient answers of the Marquis.
At length the servant, who had carried off Adeline, returned, and the Marquis having ordered him into his chamber, asked so many questions in a breath, that the man knew not which to answer. At length he pulled a folded paper from his pocket, which he said had been dropped in the chaise by Mademoiselle Adeline, and as he thought his lordship would like to see it, he had taken care of it. The Marquis stretched forth his hand with eagerness and received a note addressed to Theodore. On perceiving the superscription, the agitation of jealous rage for a moment overcame him, and he held it in his hand unable to open it.
He, however, broke the the seal, and found it to be a note of inquiry, written by Adeline to Theodore during his illness, and which, from some accident she had been prevented from sending him. The tender solicitude it expressed for his recovery stung the soul of the Marquis, and drew from him a comparison of her feelings on the illness of his rival and that of himself. “She could be solicitous for his recovery,” said he, “but for mine, she only dreads it.” As if willing to prolong the pain this little billet had excited, he then read it again. Again he cursed his fate and execrated his rival, giving himself up, as usual, to the transports of his passion. He was going to throw it from him, when his eyes caught the seal, and he looked earnestly at it. His anger seemed now to have subsided, he deposited the note carefully in his pocket-book, and was, for some time, lost in thought.
After many days of hopes and fears, the strength of his constitution overcame his illness, and he was well enough to write several letters, one of which he immediately sent off to prepare La Motte for his reception. The same policy, which had prompted him to conceal his illness from La Motte, now urged him to say, what he knew would not happen, that he should reach the abbey on the day after his servant. He repeated this injunction, that Adeline should be strictly guarded, and renewed his promises of reward for the future services of La Motte.
La Motte, to whom each succeeding day had brought new surprize and perplexity concerning the absence of the Marquis, received this notice with uneasiness, for he had begun to hope that the Marquis had altered his intentions concerning Adeline, being either engaged in some new adventure, or obliged to visit his estates in some distant province: he would have been willing thus to have got rid of an affair, which was to reflect so much dishonour on himself.
This hope was now vanished, and he directed Madame to prepare for the reception of the Marquis. Adeline passed these days in a state of suspense, which was now cheered by hope, and now darkened by despair. This delay, so much exceeding her expectation, seemed to prove that the illness of the Marquis was dangerous; and when she looked forward to the consequences of his recovery, she could not be sorry that it was so. So odious was the idea of him to her mind, that she would not suffer her lips to pronounce his name, nor make the inquiry of Annette, which was of such consequence to her peace.
It was about a week after the receipt of the Marquis’s letter, that Adeline one day saw from her window a party of horsemen enter the avenue, and knew them to be the Marquis and his attendants. She retired from the window in a state of mind not to be described, and, sinking into a chair, was for some time scarcely conscious of the objects around her. When she had recovered from the first terror, which his appearance excited, she again tottered to the window; the party was not in sight, but she heard the trampling of horses, and knew that the Marquis had wound round to the great gate of the abbey. She addressed herself to Heaven for support and protection, and her mind being now somewhat composed, sat down to wait the event.
La Motte received the Marquis with expressions of surprize at his long absence, and the latter, merely saying he had been detained by illness, proceeded to inquire for Adeline. He was told she was in her chamber, from whence she might be summoned if he wished to see her. The Marquis hesitated, and at length excused himself, but desired she might be strictly watched. “Perhaps, my Lord,” said La Motte smiling, “Adeline’s obstinacy has been too powerful for your passion; you seem less interested concerning her than formerly.”
“O! by no means,” replied the Marquis; “she interests me, if possible, more than ever; so much, indeed, that I cannot have her too closely guarded; and I, therefore, beg La Motte, that you will suffer no body to attend her, but when you can observe them yourself. Is the room where she is confined sufficiently secure?” La Motte assured him it was; but at the same time expressed his wish that she was removed to the villa. “If by any means,” said he, “she should contrive to escape, I know what I must expect from your displeasure; and this reflection keeps my mind in continual anxiety.”
“This removal cannot be at present,” said the Marquis; “she is safer here, and you do wrong to disturb yourself with any apprehension of her escape, if her chamber is really so secure, as you represent it.”
“I can have no motive for deceiving you, my Lord, in this point.”
“I do not suspect you of any,” said the Marquis; “guard her carefully, and trust me, she will not escape. I can rely upon my valet, and if you wish it, he shall remain here.” La Motte thought there could be no occasion for him, and it was agreed that the man should go home.
The Marquis, after remaining about half an hour in conversation with La Motte, left the abbey, and Adeline saw him depart with a mixture of surprize and thankfulness that almost overcame her. She had waited in momentary expectation of being summoned to appear, and had been endeavouring to arm herself with resolution to support his presence. She had listened to every voice that sounded from below, and at every step that crossed the passage, her heart had palpitated with dread, lest it should be La Motte coming to lead her to the Marquis. This state of suffering had been prolonged almost beyond her power of enduring it, when she heard voices under her window, and rising, saw the Marquis ride away. After giving way to the joy and thankfulness that swelled her heart, she endeavoured to account for this circumstance, which, considering what had passed, was certainly very strange. It appeared, indeed, wholly inexplicable, and, after much fruitless inquiry, she quitted the subject, endeavouring to persuade herself that it could only portend good.
The time of La Motte’s usual visitation now drew near, and Adeline expected it in the trembling hope of hearing that the Marquis had ceased his persecution; but he was, as usual, sullen and silent, and it was not till he was about to quit the room, that Adeline had the courage to inquire, when the Marquis was expected again? La Motte, opening the door to depart, replied, “On the following day,” and Adeline, whom fear and delicacy embarrassed, saw she could obtain no intelligence of Theodore but by a direct question; she looked earnestly, as if she would have spoke, and he stopped, but she blushed and was still silent, till upon his again attempting to leave the room, she faintly called him back.
“I would ask,” said she, “after that unfortunate chevalier who has incurred the resentment of the Marquis by endeavouring to serve me. Has the Marquis mentioned him?”
“He has,” replied La Motte; “and your indifference towards the Marquis is now fully explained.”
“Since I must feel resentment towards those who injure me,” said Adeline, “I may surely be allowed to be grateful towards those who serve me. Had the Marquis deserved my esteem, he would, probably, have possessed it.”
“Well, well,” said La Motte, “this young hero, who, it seems, has been brave enough to lift his arm against his Colonel, is taken care of, and, I doubt not, will soon be sensible of the value of his quixotism.” Indignation, grief, and fear, struggled in the bosom of Adeline; she disdained to give La Motte an opportunity of again pronouncing the name of Theodore; yet the uncertainty under which she laboured, urged her to inquire, whether the Marquis had heard of him since he left Caux? “Yes,” said La Motte, “he has been safely carried to his regiment, where he is confined till the Marquis can attend to appear against him.”
Adeline had neither power nor inclination to inquire farther, and La Motte quitting the chamber, she was left to the misery he had renewed. Though this information contained no new circumstance of misfortune, (for she now heard confirmed what she had always expected) a weight of new sorrow seemed to fall upon her heart, and she perceived that she had unconsciously cherished a latent hope of Theodore’s escape before he reached the place of his destination. All hope was now, however, gone; he was suffering the miseries of a prison, and the tortures of apprehension both for his own life and her safety. She pictured to herself the dark damp dungeon where he lay, loaded with chains, and pale with sickness and grief; she heard him, in a voice that thrilled her heart, call upon her name, and raise his eyes to Heaven in silent supplication: she saw the anguish of his countenance, the tears that fell slowly on his cheek, and remembering, at the same time, the generous conduct that had brought him to this abyss of misery, and that it was for her sake he suffered, grief resolved itself into despair, her tears ceased to flow, and she sunk silently into a state of dreadful torpor.
On the morrow the Marquis arrived, and departed as before. Several days then elapsed, and he did not appear, till one evening, as La Motte and his wife were in their usual sitting-room, he entered, and conversed for some time upon general subjects, from which, however, he by degrees fell into a reverie, and, after a pause of silence, he rose and drew La Motte to the window. “I would speak with you alone,” said he, “if you are at leisure; if not, another time will do.” La Motte, assuring him he was perfectly so, would have conducted him to another room, but the Marquis proposed a walk in the forest. They went out together, and when they had reached a solitary glade, where the spreading branches of the beech and oak deepened the shades of twilight, and threw a solemn obscurity around, the Marquis turned to La Motte, and addressed him: “Your condition, La Motte, is unhappy; this abbey is a melancholy residence for a man like you fond of society, and like you also qualified to adorn it.” La Motte bowed. “I wish it was in my power to restore you to the world,” continued the Marquis; “perhaps, if I knew the particulars of the affair which has driven you from it, I might perceive that my interest could effectually serve you. I think I have heard you hint it was an affair of honour.” La Motte was silent. “I mean not to distress you, however; nor is it common curiosity that prompts this inquiry, but a sincere desire to befriend you. You have already informed me of some particulars of your misfortunes. I think the liberality of your temper led you into expences which you afterwards endeavoured to retrieve by gaming.”
“Yes, my Lord,” said La Motte, “’tis true that I dissipated the greater part of an affluent fortune in luxurious indulgences, and that I afterwards took unworthy means to recover it: but I wish to be spared upon this subject. I would, if possible, lose the remembrance of a transaction which must for ever stain my character, and the rigorous effect of which, I fear, it is not in your power, my Lord, to soften.”
“You may be mistaken on this point,” replied the Marquis; “my interest at Court is by no means inconsiderable. Fear not from me any severity of censure; I am not at all inclined to judge harshly of the faults of others. I well know how to allow for the emergency of circumstances; and, I think, La Motte, you have hitherto found me your friend.”
“I have, my Lord.”
“And when you recollect, that I have forgiven a certain transaction of late date — ”
“It is true, my Lord; and allow me to say, I have a just sense of your generosity. The transaction you allude to is by far the worst of my life; and what I have to relate cannot, therefore, lower me in your opinion. When I had dissipated the greatest part of my property in habits of voluptuous pleasure, I had recourse to gaming to supply the means of continuing them. A run of good luck, for some time, enabled me to do this, and encouraging my most sanguine expectations, I continued in the same career of success.
“Soon after this a sudden turn of fortune destroyed my hopes, and reduced me to the most desperate extremity. In one night my money was lowered to the sum of two hundred hundred louis. These I resolved to stake also, and with them my life; for it was my resolution not to survive their loss. Never shall I forget the horrors of that moment on which hung my fate, nor the deadly anguish that seized my heart when my last stake was gone. I stood for some time in a state of stupefaction, till roused to a sense of my misfortune, my passion made me pour forth execrations on my more fortunate rivals, and act all the frenzy of despair. During this paroxysm of madness, a gentleman, who had been a silent observer of all that passed, approached me. — Your are unfortunate, Sir, said he. — I need not be informed of that, Sir, I replied.
“You have, perhaps, been ill used, resumed he. — Yes, Sir, I am ruined, and, therefore, it may be said, I am ill used.
“Do you know the people you have played with?
“No; but I have met them in the first circles.
“Then I am, probably, mistaken, said he, and walked away. His last words roused me, and raised a hope that my money had not been fairly lost. Wishing for farther information, I went in search of the gentleman, but he had left the rooms; I, however, stifled my transports, returned to the table where I had lost my money, placed myself behind the chair of one of the persons who had won it, and closely watched the game. For some time I saw nothing that could confirm my suspicions, but was at length convinced they were just.
“When the game was ended I called one of my adversaries out of the room, and telling him what I had observed, threatened instantly to expose him if he did not restore my property. The man was, for some time, as positive as myself; and, assuming the bully, threatened me with chastisement for my scandalous assertions. I was not, however, in a state of mind to be frightened, and his manner served only to exasperate my temper, already sufficiently inflamed by misfortune. After retorting his threats, I was about to return to the apartment we had left, and expose what had passed, when, with an insidious smile and a softened voice, he begged I would favour him with a few moments attention, and allow him to speak with the gentleman his partner. To the latter part of his request I hesitated, but, in the mean time, the gentleman himself entered the room. His partner related to him, in few words, what had passed between us, and the terror that appeared in his countenance sufficiently declared his consciousness of guilt.
“They then drew aside, and remained a few minutes in conversation together, after which they approached me with an offer, as they phrased it, of a compromise. I declared, however, against any thing of this kind, and swore, nothing less than the whole sum I had lost should content me. — Is it not possible, Monsieur, that you may be offered something as advantageous as the whole? — I did not understand their meaning, but, after they had continued for some time to give distant hints of the same sort, they proceeded to explain.
“Perceiving their characters wholly in my power, they wished to secure my interest to their party, and, therefore, informing me, that they belonged to an association of persons, who lived upon the folly and inexperience of others, they offered me a a share in their concern. My fortunes were desperate, and the proposal now made me would not only produce an immediate supply, but enable me to return to those scenes of dissipated pleasure, to which passion had at first, and long habit afterwards, attached me. I closed with the offer, and thus sunk from dissipation into infamy.”
La Motte paused, as if the recollection of these times filled him with remorse. The Marquis understood his feelings. “You judge too rigorously of yourself,” said he; “there are few persons, let their appearance of honesty be what it may, who, in such circumstances, would have acted better than you have done. Had I been in your situation, I know not how I might have acted. That rigid virtue which shall condemn you, may dignify itself with the appellation of wisdom, but I wish not to possess it; let it still reside, where it generally is to be found, in the cold bosoms of those, who, wanting feeling to be men, dignify themselves with the title of philosophers. But pray proceed.”
“Our success was for some time unlimited, for we held the wheel of fortune, and trusted not to her caprice. Thoughtless and voluptuous by nature, my expences fully kept pace with my income. An unlucky discovery of the practices of our party was at length made by a young nobleman, which obliged us to act for some time with the utmost circumspection. It would be tedious to relate the particulars, which made us at length so suspected, that the distant civility and cold reserve of our acquaintance rendered the frequenting public assemblies both painful and unprofitable. We turned our thoughts to other modes of obtaining money, and a swindling transaction, in which I engaged, to a very large amount, soon compelled me to leave Paris. You know the rest, my Lord.”
La Motte was now silent, and the Marquis continued for some time musing. “You perceive, my Lord,” at length resumed La Motte, “you perceive that my case is hopeless.”
“It is bad, indeed, but not entirely hopeless. From my soul I pity you. Yet, if you should return to the world, and incur the danger of prosecution, I think my interest with the Minister might save you from any severe punishment. You seem, however, to have lost your relish for society, and, perhaps, do not wish to return to it.”
“Oh! my Lord, can you doubt this? — But I am overcome with the excess of your goodness; would to Heaven it were in my power to prove the gratitude it inspires.”
“Talk not of goodness,” said the Marquis; “I will not pretend that my desire of serving you is unalloyed by any degree of self-interest. I will not affect to be more than man, and trust me those who do are less. It is in your power to testify your gratitude, and bind me to your interest for ever.” He paused. “Name but the means,” cried La Motte, “name but the means, and if they are within the compass of possibility they shall be executed.” The Marquis was still silent. “Do you doubt my sincerity, my Lord, that you are yet silent? Do you fear to repose a confidence in the man whom you have already loaded with obligation? who lives by your mercy, and almost by your means.” The Marquis looked earnestly at him, but did not speak. “I have not deserved this of you, my Lord; speak, I entreat you.”
“There are certain prejudices attached to the human mind,” said the Marquis in a slow and solemn voice, “which it requires all our wisdom to keep from interfering with our happiness; certain set notions, acquired in infancy, and cherished involuntarily by age, which grow up and assume a gloss so plausible, that few minds, in what is called a civilized country, can afterwards overcome them. Truth is often perverted by education. While the refined Europeans boast a standard of honour, and a sublimity of virtue, which often leads them from pleasure to misery, and from nature to error, the simple, uninformed American follows the impulse of his heart, and obeys the inspiration of wisdom.” The Marquis paused, and La Motte continued to listen in eager expectation.
“Nature, uncontaminated by false refinement,” “resumed the Marquis, every where acts alike in the great occurrences of life. The Indian discovers his friend to be perfidious, and he kills him; the wild Asiatic does the same; the Turk, when ambition fires, or revenge provokes, gratifies his passion at the expence of life, and does not call it murder. Even the polished Italian, distracted by jealousy, or tempted by a strong circumstance of advantage, draws his stilletto, and accomplishes his purpose. It is the first proof of a superior mind to liberate itself from prejudices of country, or of education. You are silent, La Motte; are you not of my opinion?”
“I am attending, my Lord, to your reasoning.”
“There are, I repeat it,” said the Marquis, “people of minds so weak, as to shrink from acts they have been accustomed to hold wrong, however advantageous. They never suffer themselves to be guided by circumstances, but fix for life upon a certain standard, from which they will, on no account, depart. Self-preservation is the great law of nature; when a reptile hurts us, or an animal of prey threatens us, we think no farther, but endeavour to annihilate it. When my life, or what may be essential to my life, requires the sacrifice of another, or even if some passion, wholly unconquerable, requires it, I should be a madman to hesitate. La Motte, I think I may confide in you — there are ways of doing certain things — you understand me. There are times, and circumstances, and opportunities — you comprehend my meaning.”
“Explain yourself, my Lord.”
“Kind services that — in short there are services, which excite all our gratitude, and which we can never think repaid. It is in your power to place me in such a situation.”
“Indeed! my Lord, name the means.”
“I have already named them. This abbey well suits the purpose; it is shut up from the eye of observation; any transaction may be concealed within its walls; the hour of midnight may witness the deed, and the morn shall not dawn to disclose it; these woods tell no tales. Ah! La Motte, am I right in trusting this business with you; may I believe you are desirous of serving me, and of preserving yourself?” The Marquis paused, and looked stedfastly at La Motte, whose countenance was almost concealed by the gloom of evening.
“My Lord, you may trust me in any thing; explain yourself more fully.”
“What security will you give me for your faithfulness?”
“My life, my Lord; is it not already in your power?” The Marquis hesitated, and then said, “To-morrow, about this time, I shall return to the abbey, and will then explain my meaning, if, indeed, you shall not already have understood it. You, in the mean time, will consider your own powers of resolution, and be prepared either to adopt the purpose I shall suggest, or to declare you will not.” La Motte made some confused reply. “Farewel till to-morrow,” said the Marquis; “remember that freedom and affluence are now before you.” He moved towards the abbey, and, mounting his horse, rode off with his attendants. La Motte walked slowly home, musing on the late conversation.