A ROMANCE OF THE FOREST
“While anxious doubt distracts the tortur’d heart.”
We now return to the course of the narrative, and to Adeline, who was carried from the court to the lodging of Madame De la Motte. Madame was, however, at the Chatalet with her husband, suffering all the distress which the sentence pronounced against him might be supposed to inflict. The feeble frame of Adeline, so long harassed by grief and fatigue, almost sunk under the agitation which the discovery of her birth excited. Her feelings on this occasion were too complex to be analysed. From an orphan, subsisting on the bounty of others, without family, with few friends, and pursued by a cruel and powerful enemy, she saw herself suddenly transformed to the daughter of an illustrious house, and the heiress of immense wealth. But she learned also that her father had been murdered — murdered in the prime of his days — murdered by means of his brother, against whom she must now appear, and in punishing the destroyer of her parent doom her uncle to death.
When she remembered the manuscript so singularly found, and considered that when she wept to the sufferings it described, her tears had flowed for those of her father, her emotion cannot easily be imagined. The circumstances attending the discovery of these papers no longer appeared to be a work of chance, but of a Power whose designs are great and just. “O my father!” she would exclaim, “your last wish is fulfilled — the pitying heart you wished might trace your sufferings shall avenge them.”
On the return of Madame La Motte Adeline endeavoured, as usual, to suppress her own emotions, that she might sooth the affliction of her friend. She related what had passed in the courts after the departure of La Motte, and thus excited, even in the sorrowful heart of Madame, a momentary gleam of satisfaction. Adeline determined to recover, if possible, the manuscript. On inquiry she learned that La Motte, in the confusion of his departure, had left it among other things at the Abbey. This circumstance much distressed her, the more so because she believed its appearance might be of importance on the approaching trial: she determined, however, if she should recover her rights, to have the manuscript sought for.
In the evening Louis joined this mournful party: he came immediately from his father, whom he left more tranquil than he had been since the fatal sentence was pronounced. After a silent and melancholy supper they separated for the night, and Adeline, in the solitude of her chamber, had leisure to meditate on the discoveries of this eventful day. The sufferings of her dead father, such as she had read them recorded by his own hand, pressed most forcibly to her thoughts. The narrative had formerly so much affected her heart, and interested her imagination, that her memory now faithfully reflected each particular circumstance there disclosed. But when she considered that she had been in the very chamber where her parent had suffered, where even his life had been sacrificed, and that she had probably seen the very dagger, seen it stained with rust, the rust of blood! by which he had fallen, the anguish and horror of her mind defied all control.
On the following day Adeline received orders to prepare for the prosecution of the Marquis de Montalt, which was to commence as soon as the requisite witnesses could be collected. Among these were the Abbess of the Convent, who had received her from the hands of d’Aunoy; Madame La Motte, who was present when Du Bosse compelled her husband to receive Adeline; and Peter, who had not only been witness to this circumstance, but who had conveyed her from the Abbey that she might escape the designs of the Marquis. La Motte, and Theodore La Luc, were incapacitated by the sentence of the law from appearing on the trial.
When La Motte was informed of the discovery of Adeline’s birth, and that her father had been murdered at the Abbey of St. Clair, he instantly remembered, and mentioned to his wife, the skeleton he found in the stone room leading to the subterranean cells. Neither of them doubted, from the situation in which it lay, hid in a chest in an obscure room strongly guarded, that La Motte had seen the remains of the late Marquis. Madame, however, determined not to shock Adeline with the mention of this circumstance till it should be necessary to declare it on the trial.
As the time of this trial drew near the distress and agitation of Adeline increased. Though justice demanded the life of the murderer, and though the tenderness and pity which the idea of her father called forth urged her to avenge his death, she could not, without horror, consider herself as the instrument of dispensing that justice which would deprive a fellow being of existence; and there were times when she wished the secret of her birth had never been revealed. If this sensibility was, in her peculiar circumstances, a weakness, it was at least an amiable one, and as such deserves to be reverenced.
The accounts she received from Vaceau of the health of M. La Luc did not contribute to tranquillize her mind. The symptoms described by Clara seemed to say that he was in the last stage of a consumption, and the grief of Theodore and herself on this occasion was expressed in her letters with the lively eloquence so natural to her. Adeline loved and revered La Luc for his own worth, and for the parental tenderness he had shewed her, but he was still dearer to her as the father of Theodore, and her concern for his declining state was not inferior to that of his children. It was increased by the reflection that she had probably been the means of shortening his life, for she too well knew that the distress occasioned him by the situation in which it had been her misfortune to involve Theodore, had shattered his frame to its present infirmity. The same cause also with-held him from seeking in the climate of Montpellier the relief he had formerly been taught to expect there. When she looked round on the condition of her friends, her heart was almost overwhelmed with the prospect; it seemed as if she was destined to involve all those most dear to her in calamity. With respect to La Motte, whatever were his vices, and whatever the designs in which he had formerly engaged against her, she forgot them all in the service he had finally rendered her, and considered it to be as much her duty, as she felt it to be her inclination, to intercede in his behalf. This, however, in her present situation, she could not do with any hope of success; but if the suit, upon which depended the establishment of her rank, her fortune, and consequently her influence, should be decided in her favour, she determined to throw herself at the king’s feet, and, when she pleaded the cause of Theodore, ask the life of La Motte.
A few days preceding that of the trial Adeline was informed a stranger desired to speak with her, and on going to the room where he was she found M. Vernueil. Her countenance expressed both surprize and satisfaction at this unexpected meeting, and she inquired, though with little expectation of an affirmative, if he had heard of M. La Luc. “I have seen him,” said M. Vernueil; “I am just come from Vaceau. But I am sorry I cannot give you a better account of his health. He is greatly altered since I saw him before.”
Adeline could scarcely refrain from tears at the recollection these words revived of the calamities which had occasiond this lamented change. M. Verneuil delivered her a packet from Clara; as he presented it he said, “Beside this introduction to your notice, I have a claim of a different kind, which I am proud to assert, and which will perhaps justify the permission I ask of speaking upon your affairs.” — Adeline bowed, and M. Verneuil, with a countenance expressive of the most tender solicitude, added that he had heard of the late proceeding of the parliament of Paris, and of the discoveries that so intimately concerned her. “I know not,” continued he, “whether I ought to congratulate or condole with you on this trying occasion. That I sincerely sympathize in all that concerns you I hope you will believe, and I cannot deny myself the pleasure of telling you that I am related, though distantly, to the late Marchioness, your mother, for that she was your mother I cannot doubt.”
Adeline rose hastily and advanced towards M. Verneuil; surprize and satisfaction re-animated her features. “Do I indeed see a relation?” said she in a sweet and tremulous voice, “and one whom I can welcome as a friend?” Tears trembled in her eyes; and she received M. Verneuil’s embrace in silence. It was some time before her emotion would permit her to speak.
To Adeline, who from her earliest infancy had been abandoned to strangers, a forlorn and helpless orphan; who had never till lately known a relation, and who then found one in the person of an inveterate enemy, to her this discovery was as delightful as unexpected. But after struggling for some time with the various emotions that pressed upon her heart, she begged M. Verneuil permission to withdraw till she could recover composure. He would have taken leave, but she entreated him not to go.
The interest which M. Verneuil took in the concerns of La Luc, which was strengthened by his increasing regard for Clara, had drawn him to Vaceau, where he was informed of the family and peculiar circumstances of Adeline. On receiving this intelligence he immediately set out for Paris to offer his protection and assistance to his newly-discovered relation, and to aid, if possible, the cause of Theodore.
Adeline in a short time returned, and could then bear to converse on the subject of her family. M. Verneuil offered her his support and assistance, if they should be found necessary. “But I trust,” added he, “to the justness of your cause, and hope it will not require any adventitious aid. To those who remember the late Marchioness, your features bring sufficient evidence of your birth. As a proof that my judgement in this instance is not biassed by prejudice, the resemblance struck me when I was in Savoy, though I knew the Marchioness only by her portrait; and I believe I mentioned to M. La Luc that you often reminded me of a deceased relation. You may form some judgement of this yourself,” added M. Verneuil, taking a miniature from his pocket. “This was your amiable mother.”
Adeline’s countenance changed; she received the picture eagerly, gazed on it for a long time in silence, and her eyes filled with tears. It was not the resemblance she studied, but the countenance — the mild and beautiful countenance of her parent, whose blue eyes, full of tender sweetness, seemed bent upon her’s; while a soft smile played on her lips; Adeline pressed the picture to her’s, and again gazed in silent reverie. At length, with a deep sigh, she said, “This surely was my mother. Had she but lived, O my poor father! you had been spared.” This reflection quite overcame her, and she burst into tears. M. Verneuil did not interrupt her grief but took her hand and sat by her without speaking till she became more composed. Again kissing the picture, she held it out to him with a hesitating look. “No,” said he, “it is already with its true owner.” She thanked him with a smile of ineffable sweetness, and after some conversation on the subject of the approaching trial, on which occasion she requested M. Verneuil would support her by his presence, he withdrew, having begged leave to repeat his visit on the following day.
Adeline now opened her packet, and saw once more the well-know characters of Theodore; for a moment she felt as if in his presence, and the conscious blush overspread her cheek; with a trembling hand she broke the seal, and read the tenderest assurances and solicitudes of his love; she often paused that she might prolong the sweet emotions which these assurances awakened, but while tears of tenderness stood trembling on her eyelids, the bitter recollection of his situation would return, and they fell in anguish on her bosom.
He congratulated her, and with peculiar delicacy, on the prospects of life which were opening to her; said every thing that might tend to animate and support her, but avoid dwelling on his own circumstances, except by expressing his sense of the zeal and kindness of his commanding officer, and adding, that he did not despair of finally obtaining a pardon.
This hope, though but faintly expressed, and written evidently for the purpose of consoling Adeline, did not entirely fail of the desired effect. She yielded to its enchanting influence, and forgot for a while the many subjects of care and anxiety which surrounded her. Theodore said little of his father’s health; what he did say was by no means so discouraging as the accounts of Clara, who, less anxious to conceal a truth that must give pain to Adeline, expressed, without reserve, all her apprehension and concern.