A ROMANCE OF THE FOREST
“And venom’d with disgrace the dart of Death.”
We now return to the Marquis de Montalt, who having seen La Motte safely lodged in the prison of D — y, and learning the trial would not come on immediately, had returned to his villa on the borders of the forest, where he expected to hear news of Adeline. It had been his intention to follow his servants to Lyons; but he now determined to wait a few days for letters, and he had little doubt that Adeline, since her flight had been so quickly purfued, would be overtaken, and probably before she could reach that city. In this expectation he had been miserably disappointed; for his servants informed him, that though they traced her thither, they had neither been able to follow her route beyond, nor to discover her at Lyons. This escape she probably owed to having embarked on the Rhone, for it does not appear that the Marquis’s people thought of seeking her on the course of that river.
His presence was soon after required at Vaceau, where the court martial was then sitting; thither, therefore, he went, with passions still more exasperated by his late disappointment, and procured the condemnation of Theodore. The sentence was universally lamented, for Theodore was much beloved in his regiment; and the occasion of the Marquis’s personal resentment towards him being known, every heart was interested in his cause.
Louis de la Motte happening at this time to be stationed in the same town, heard an imperfect account of his story, and being convinced that the prisoner was the young chevalier whom he had formerly seen with the Marquis at the Abbey, he was induced partly from compassion, and partly with a hope of hearing of his parents, to visit him. The compassionate sympathy which Louis expressed, and the zeal with which he tendered his services, affected Theodore, and excited in him a warm return of friendship. Louis made him frequent visits, did every thing that kindness could suggest to alleviate his sufferings, and a mutual esteem and confidence ensued.
Theodore at length communicated the chief subject of his concern to Louis, who discovered, with inexpressible grief, that it was Adeline whom the Marquis had thus cruelly persecuted, and Adeline for whose sake the generous Theodore was about to suffer. He soon perceived also that Theodore was his favoured rival; but he generously suppressed the jealous pang this discovery occasioned, and determined that no prejudice of passion should withdraw him from the duties of humanity and friendship. He eagerly inquired where Adeline then resided. “She is yet, I fear, in the power of the Marquis,” said Theodore, sighing deeply. “O God! — these chains!” — and he threw an agonizing glance upon them. Louis sat silent and thoughtful; at length starting from his reverie, he said he would go to the Marquis, and immediately quitted the prison. The Marquis was, however, already set off for Paris, where he had been summoned to appear at the approaching trial of La Motte; and Louis, yet ignorant of the late transactions at the Abbey, returned to the prison, where he endeavoured to forget that Theodore was the favoured rival of his love, and to remember him only as the defender of Adeline. So earnestly he pressed his offers of service, that Theodore, whom the silence of his father equally surprized and afflicted, and who was very anxious to see him once again, accepted his proposal of going himself to Savoy. “My letters I strongly suspect to have been intercepted by the Marquis,” said Theodore; “if so, my poor father will have the whole weight of this calamity to sustain at once, unless I avail myself of your kindness, and I shall neither see him nor hear from him before I die. Louis! there are moments when my fortitude shrinks from the conflict, and my senses threaten to desert me.”
No time was to be lost; the warrant for his execution had already received the king’s signature, and Louis immediately set forward for Savoy. The letters of Theodore had indeed been intercepted by order of the Marquis, who, in the hope of discovering the asylum of Adeline, had opened and afterwards deroyed them.
But to return to La Luc, who now drew near Vaceau, and who his family observed to be greatly changed in his looks since he had heard the late calamitous intelligence; he uttered no complaint; but it was too obvious that his disorder had made a rapid progress. Louis, who, during the journey, proved the goodness of his disposition by the delicate attentions he paid this unhappy party, concealed his observation of the decline of La Luc, and, to support Adeline’s spirits, endeavoured to convince her that her apprehensions on this subject were groundless. Her spirits did indeed require support, for she was now within a few miles of the town that contained Theodore; and while her increasing perturbation almost overcome her, she yet tried to appear composed. When the carriage entered the town, she cast a timid and anxious glance from the window in search of the prison; but having passed through several streets without perceiving any building which corresponded with her idea of that she looked for, the coach stopped at the inn. The frequent changes in La Luc’s countenance betrayed the violent agitation of his mind, and when he attempted to alight, feeble and exhausted, he was compelled to accept the support of Louis, to whom he faintly said, as he passed to the parlour, “I am indeed sick at heart, but I trust the pain will not be long.” Louis pressed his hand without speaking, and hastened back for Adeline and Clara, who were already in the passage. La Luc wiped the tears from his eyes, (they were the first he had shed) as they entered the room. “I would go immediately to my poor boy,” said he to Louis; “yours, Sir, is a mournful office — be so good as to conduct me to him.” He rose to go, but, feeble and overcome with grief, again sat down. Adeline and Clara united in entreating that he would compose himself, and take some refreshment, and Louis urging the necessity of preparing Theodore for the interview, prevailed with him to delay it till his son should be informed of his arrival, and immediately quitted the inn for the prison of his friend. When he was gone, La Luc, as a duty he owed those he loved, tried to take some support, but the convulsions of his throat would not suffer him to swallow the wine he held to his parched lips, and he was now so much disordered, that he desired to retire to his chamber, where alone, and in prayer, he passed the dreadful interval of Louis’s absence.
Clara on the bosom of Adeline, who set in calm but deep distress, yielded to the violence of her grief. “I shall lose my dear father too,” said she; “I see it; I shall lose my father and my brother together.” Adeline wept with her friend for some time in silence; and then attempted to persuade her that La Luc was not so ill as she apprehended.
“Do not mislead me with hope,” “she replied, he will not survive the shock of this calamity — I saw it from the first.” Adeline knowing that La Luc’s distress would be heightened by the observance of his daughter’s, and that indulgence would only encrease its poignancy, endeavoured to rouse her to an exertion of fortitude by urging the necessity of commanding her emotion in the presence of her father. “This is possible,” added she, “however painful may be the effort. You must know, my dear, that my grief is not inferior to your own, yet I have hitherto been enabled to support my sufferings in silence, for M. La Luc I do, indeed, love and reverence as a parent.”
Louis meanwhile reached the prison of Theodore, who received him with an air of mingled surprize and impatience. “What brings you back so soon,” said he, “have you heard news of my father?” Louis now gradually unfolded the circumstances of their meeting, and La Luc’s arrival at Vaceau. A various emotion agitated the countenance of Theodore on receiving this intelligence. “My poor father!” said he, “he has then followed his son to this ignominious place! Little did I think when last we parted he would meet me in a prison, under condemnation!” This reflection roused an impetuosity of grief which deprived him for some time of speech. “But where is he?” said Theodore, recovering himself; “now he is come, I shrink from the interview I have so much wished for. The sight of his distress will be dreadful to me. Louis! when I am gone — comfort my poor father.” His voice was again interrupted by sobs; and Louis, who had been fearful of acquainting him at the same time of the arrival of La Luc, and the discovery of Adeline, now judged it proper to administer the cordial of this latter intelligence.
The glooms of a prison, and of calamity, vanished for a transient moment; those who had seen Theodore would have believed this to be the instant which gave him life and liberty. When his first emotions subsided, “I will not repine,” said he; “since I know that Adeline is preserved, and that I shall once more see my father, I will endeavour to die with resignation.” He enquired if La Luc was there in the prison; and was told he was at the inn with Clara and Adeline. “Adeline! Is Adeline there too! — This is beyond my hopes. Yet why do I rejoice? I must never see her more: this is no place for Adeline.” Again he relapsed into an agony of distress — and again repeated a thousand questions concerning Adeline, till he was reminded by Louis that his father was impatient to see him — when, shocked that he had so long detained his friend, he entreated him to conduct La Luc to the prison, and endeavoured to recollect fortitude for the approaching interview.
When Louis returned to the inn La Luc was still in his chamber, and Clara quitting the room to call him, Adeline seized with trembling impatience the opportunity to enquire more particularly concerning Theodore, than the chose to do in the presence of his unhappy sister. Lewis represented him to be much more tranquil than he really was: Adeline was somewhat soothed by the account; and her tears, hitherto restrained, flowed silently and fast, till La Luc appeared. His countenance had recovered its serenity, but was impressed with a deep and steady sorrow, which excited in the beholder a mingled emotion of pity and reverence. “How is my son? sir,” said he as he entered the room. “We will go to him immediately.”
Clara renewed the entreaties that had been already rejected, to accompany her father, who persisted in a refusal. “To-morrow you shall see him, added he;” “but our first meeting must be alone. Stay with your friend, my dear; she has need of consolation.” When La Luc was gone, Adeline, unable longer to struggle against the force of grief, retired to her chamber and her bed.
La Luc walked silently towards the prison, resting on the arm of Lewis. It was now night: a dim lamp that hung above shewed them the gates, and Louis rung a bell; La Luc, almost overcome with agitation, leaned against the postern till the porter appeared. He enquired for Theodore, and followed the man; but when he reached the second court yard he seemed ready to faint, and again stopped. Louis desired the porter would fetch some water; but La Luc, recovering his voice, said he should soon be better, and would not suffer him to go. In a few minutes he was able to follow Louis, who led him through several dark passages, and up a flight of steps to a door, which being unbarred, disclosed to him the prison of his son. He was seated at a small table, on which stood a lamp that threw a feeble light across the place sufficient only to shew its desolation and wretchedness. When he perceived La Luc he sprung from his chair, and in the next moment was in his arms. “My father!” said he in a tremulous voice. “My son!” exclaimed La Luc; and they were for some time silent, and locked in each other’s embrace. At length Theodore led him to the only chair the room afforded, and seating himself with Louis at the foot of the bed, had leisure to observe the ravages which illness and calamity had made on the features of his parent. La Luc made several efforts to speak, but unable to articulate, laid his hand upon his breast and sighed deeply. Fearful of the consequence of so affecting a scene on his shattered frame, Lewis endeavoured to call off his attention from the immediate object of his distress, and interrupted the silence; but La Luc shuddering, and complaining he was very cold, sunk back in his chair. His condition roused Theodore from the stupor of despair; and while he flew to support his father, Louis ran out for other assistance. — “I shall soon be better, Theodore,” said La Luc, unclosing his eye, “the faintness is already going off. I have not been well of late; and this sad meeting!” Unable any longer to command himself, Theodore wrung his hand, and the distress which had long struggled for utterance burst in convulsive sobs from his breast. La Luc gradually revived, and exerted himself to calm the transports of his son; but the fortitude of the latter had now entirely forsaken him, and he could only utter exclamation and complaint. “Ah! little did I think we should ever meet under circumstances so dreadful as the present! But I have not deserved them, my father! the motives of my conduct have still been just.”
“That is my supreme consolation,” said La Luc, “and ought to support you in this hour of trial. The Almighty God, who is the judge of hearts, will reward you hereafter. Trust in him, my son; I look to him with no feeble hope, but with a firm reliance on his justice!” La Luc’s voice faultered; he raised his eyes to heaven with an expression of meek devotion, while the tears of humanity fell slowly on his cheek.
Still more affected by his last words, Theodore turned from him, and paced the room with quick steps: the entrance of Louis was a very seasonable relief to La Luc, who, taking a cordial he had brought, was soon sufficiently restored to discourse on the subject most interesting to him. Theodore tried to attain a command of his feelings, and succeeded. He conversed with tolerable composure for above an hour, during which La Luc endeavoured to elevate, by religious hope, the mind of his son, and to enable him to meet with fortitude the aweful hour that approached. But the appearance of resignation which Theodore attained always vanished when he reflected that he was going to leave his father a prey to grief, and his beloved Adeline for ever. When La Luc was about to depart he again mentioned her. “Afflicting as an interview must be in our present circumstances,” said he, I cannot bear the thought of quitting the world without seeing her once again; yet I know not how to ask her to encounter, for my sake, the misery of a parting scene. Tell her that my thoughts never, for a moment, leave her; that” — La Luc interrupted, and assured him, that since he so much wished it, he should see her, though a meeting could serve only to heighten the mutual anguish of a final separation.
“I know it — I know it too well,” said Theodore; “yet I cannot resolve to see her no more, and thus spare her the pain this interview must inflict. O my father! when I think of those whom I must soon leave for ever, my heart breaks. But I will indeed try to profit by your precept and example, and shew that your paternal care has not been in vain. My good Louis, go with my father — he has need of support. How much I owe this generous friend,” added Theodore, “you well know, Sir.” — “I do, in truth,” replied La Luc, “and can never repay his kindness to you. He has contributed to support us all; but you require comfort more than myself — he shall remain with you — I will go alone.”
This Theodore would not suffer; and La Luc no longer opposing him, they affectionately embraced, and separated for the night.
When they reached the inn La Luc consulted with Louis on the possibility of addressing a petition to the sovereign time enough to save Theodore. His distance from Paris, and the short interval before the period fixed for the execution of the sentence, made this design difficult; but believing it was practicable, La Luc, incapable as he appeared of performing so long a journey, determined to attempt it. Louis, thinking that the undertaking would prove fatal to the father, without benefiting the son, endeavoured, though faintly, to dissuade him from it — but his resolution was fixed. — “If I sacrifice the small remains of my life in the service of my child,” said he, “I shall lose little: if I save him, I shall gain every thing. There is no time to be lost — I will set off immediately.”
He would have ordered post horses, but Louis, and Clara, who was now come from the bed-side of her friend, urged the necessity of his taking a few hours repose: he was at length compelled to acknowledge himself unequal to the immediate exertion which parental anxiety prompted, and consented to seek rest.
When he had retired to his chamber, Clara lamented the condition of her father. — “He will not bear the journey,” said she; “he is greatly changed within these few days.” — Louis was so entirely of her opinion, that he could not disguise it, even to flatter her with a hope. She added, what did not contribute to raise his spirits, that Adeline was so much indisposed by her grief for the situation of Theodore, and the sufferings of La Luc, that she dreaded the consequence.
It has been seen that the passion of young La Motte had suffered no abatement from time or absence; on the contrary, the persecution and the dangers which had pursued Adeline awakened all his tenderness, and drew her nearer to his heart. When he had discovered that Theodore loved her, and was beloved again, he experienced all the anguish of jealousy and disappointment; for though she had forbade him to hope, he found it too painful an effort to obey her, and had secretly cherished the flame which he ought to have stisled. His heart was, however, too noble to suffer his zeal for Theodore to abate because he was his favoured rival, and his mind too strong not to conceal the anguish this certainty occasioned. The attachment which Theodore had testified towards Adeline even endeared him to Louis, when he had recovered from the first shock of disappointment, and that conquest over jealousy which originated in principle, and was pursued with difficulty, became afterwards his pride and his glory. When, however, he again saw Adeline — saw her in the mild dignity of sorrow more interesting than ever — saw her, though sinking beneath its pressure, yet tender and solicitous to soften the afflictions of those around her — it was with the utmost difficulty he preserved his resolution, and forbore to express the sentiments she inspired. When he farther considered that her acute sufferings arose from the strength of her affection, he more than ever wished himself the object of a heart capable of so tender a regard, and Theodore in prison and in chains was a momentary object of envy.
In the morning, when La Luc arose from short and disturbed slumbers, he found Louis, Clara, and Adeline, whom indisposition could not prevent from paying him this testimony of respect and affection, assembled in the parlour of the inn to see him depart. After a slight breakfast, during which his feelings permitted him to say little, he bade his friends a sad farewell, and stepped into the carriage, followed by their tears and prayers. — Adeline immediately retired to her chamber which she was too ill to quit that day. In the evening Clara left her friend, and, conducted by Louis, went to visit her brother, whose emotions, on hearing of his father’s departure, were various and strong.