A ROMANCE OF THE FOREST
A Surprize — An Adventure — A Mystery.
The night passed without any alarm; Peter had remained upon his post, and heard nothing that prevented his sleeping. La Motte heard him, long before he saw him, most musically snoring; though it must be owned there was more of the bass, than of any other part of the gamut in his performance. He was soon roused by the bravura of La Motte, whose notes sounded discord to his ears, and destroyed the torpor of his tranquillity.
“God bless you, Master, what’s the matter?” cried Peter, waking, “are they come?”
“Yes, for aught you care, they might be come. Did I place you here to sleep, sirrah?”
“Bless you, Master,” returned Peter, “sleep is the only comfort to be had here; I’m sure I would not deny it to a dog in such a place as this.”
La Motte sternly questioned him concerning any noise he might have heard in the night; and Peter full as solemnly protested he had heard none; an assertion which was strictly true, for he had enjoyed the comfort of being asleep the whole time.
La Motte ascended to the trap-door and listened attentively. No sounds were heard, and, as he ventured to lift it, the full light of the sun burst upon his sight, the morning being now far advanced; he walked softly along the chambers, and looked through a window; no person was to be seen. Encouraged by this apparent security, he ventured down the stairs of the tower, and entered the first apartment. He was proceeding towards the second, when, suddenly recollecting himself, he first peeped through the crevice of the door, which stood half open. He looked, and distinctly saw a person sitting near the window, upon which his arm rested.
The discovery so much shocked him, that for a moment he lost all presence of mind, and was utterly unable to move from the spot. The person, whose back was towards him, arose, and turned his head. La Motte now recovered himself, and quitting the apartment as quickly, and, at the same time, as silently as possible, ascended to the closet. He raised the trap-door, but before he closed it, heard the footsteps of a person entering the outer chamber. Bolts, or other fastening to the trap there was none; and his security depended solely upon the exact correspondence of the boards. The outer door of the stone room had no means of defence; and the fastenings of the inner one were on the wrong side to afford security, even till some means of escape could be found.
When he reached this room, he paused, and heard distinctly, persons waling in the closet above. While he was listening, he heard a voice call him by name, and instantly fled to the cells below, expecting every moment to hear the trap lifted, and the footsteps of pursuit; but he was fled beyond the reach of hearing either. Having thrown himself on the ground, at the farthest extremity of the vaults, he lay for some time breathless with agitation. Madame La Motte and Adeline, in the utmost terror, inquired what had happened. It was some time before he could speak; when he did, it was almost unnecessary, for the distant noises, which sounded from above, informed his family of a part of the truth.
The sounds did not seem to approach, but Madame La Motte, unable to command her terror, shrieked aloud: this redoubled the distress of La Motte. “You have already destroyed me,” cried he; “that shriek has informed them where I am.” He traversed the cells with clasped hands and quick steps. Adeline stood pale and still as death, supporting Madame La Motte, whom, with difficulty, she prevented from fainting. “O! Dupras! Dupras! you are already avenged!” said he, in a voice that seemed to burst from his heart: there was a pause of silence. “But why should I deceive myself with a hope of escaping?” he resumed, “why do I wait here for their coming? Let me rather end these torturing pangs by throwing myself into their hands at once.”
As he spoke, he moved towards the door, but the distress of Madame La Motte arrested his steps. “Stay,” said she, “for my sake, stay; do not leave me thus, nor throw yourself voluntarily into destruction!”
“Surely, Sir,” said Adeline, “you are too precipitate; this despair is useless, as it is ill-founded. We hear no person approaching; if the officers had discovered the trap-door, they would certainly have been here before now.” The words of Adeline stilled the tumult of his mind: the agitation of terror subsided; and reason beamed a feeble ray upon his hopes. He listened attentively, and perceiving that all was silent, advanced with caution to the stone room; and thence to the foot of the stairs that led to the trap-door. It was closed: no sound was heard above.
He watched a long time, and the silence continuing, his hopes strengthened, and, at length, he began to believe that the officers had quitted the abbey; the day, however, was spent in anxious watchfulness. He did not dare to unclose the trap-door; and he frequently thought he heard distant noises. It was evident, however, that the secret of the closet had escaped discovery; and on this circumstance he justly founded his security. The following night was passed, like the day, in trembling hope, and incessant watching.
But the necessities of hunger now threatened them. The provisions, which had been distributed with the nicest economy, were nearly exhausted, and the most deplorable consequences might be expected from their remaining longer in concealment. Thus circumstanced, La Motte deliberated upon the most prudent method of proceeding. There appeared no other alternative, than to send Peter to Auboine, the only town from which he could return within the time prescribed by their necessities. There was game, indeed, in the forest; but Peter could neither handle a gun, or use a fishing rod to any advantage.
It was, therefore, agreed he should go to Auboine for a supply of provisions, and at the same time bring materials for mending the coach wheel, that they might have some ready conveyance from the forest. La Motte forbade Peter to ask any questions concerning the people who had inquired for him, or take any methods for discovering whether they had quitted the country, left his blunders should again betray him. He ordered him to be entirely silent as to these subjects, and to finish his business, and leave the place with all possible dispatch.
A difficulty yet remained to be overcome — Who should first venture abroad into the abbey, to learn, whether it was vacated by the officers of justice? La Motte considered, that if he was again seen, he should be effectually betrayed; which would not be so certain, if one of his family was observed, for they were all unknown to the officers. It was necessary, however, that the person he sent should have courage enough to go through with the inquiry, and wit enough to conduct it with caution. Peter, perhaps, had the first; but was certainly destitute of the last. Annette had neither. La Motte looked at his wife, and asked her, if, for his sake, she dared to venture. Her heart shrunk from the proposal, yet she was unwilling to refuse, or appear indifferent upon a point so essential to the safety of her husband. Adeline observed in her countenance the agitation of her mind, and, surmounting the fears, which had hitherto kept her silent, she offered herself to go.
“They will be less likely to offend me,” said she, “than a man.” Shame would not suffer La Motte to accept her offer; and Madame, touched by the magnanimity of her conduct, felt a momentary renewal of all her former kindness. Adeline pressed her proposal so warmly, and seemed so much in earnest, that La Motte began to hesitate. “You, Sir,” said she, “once preserved me from the most imminent danger, and your kindness has since protected me. Do not refuse me the satisfaction of deserving your goodness by a grateful return of it. Let me go into the abbey, and if, by so doing, I should preserve you from evil, I shall be sufficiently rewarded for what little danger I may incur, for my pleasure will be at least equal to yours.”
Madame La Motte could scarcely refrain from tears as Adeline spoke; and La Motte, sighing deeply, said, “Well, be it so; go, Adeline, and from this moment consider me as your debtor.” Adeline stayed not to reply, but taking a light, quitted the cells, La Motte following to raise the trap-door, and cautioning her to look, if possible, into every apartment, before she entered it. “If you should be seen,” said he, “you must account for your appearance so as not to discover me. Your own presence of mind may assist you, I cannot. — God bless you!”
When she was gone, Madame La Motte’s admiration of her conduct began to yield to other emotions. Distrust gradually undermined kindness, and jealousy raised suspicions. “It must be a sentiment more powerful than gratitude,” thought she, “that could teach Adeline to subdue her fears. What, but Love, could influence her to a conduct so generous!” Madame La Motte, when she found it impossible to account for Adeline’s conduct, without alledging some interested motives for it, however her suspicions might agree with the practice of the world, had surely forgotten how much she once admired the purity and disinterestedness of her young friend.
Adeline, mean while, ascended to the chambers: the cheerful beams of the sun played once more upon her sight, and re-animated her spirits; she walked lightly through the apartments, nor stopped till she came to the stairs of the tower. Here she stood for some time, but no sounds met her ear, save the sighing of the wind among the trees, and, at length, she descended. She passed the apartments below, without seeing any person; and the little furniture that remained, seemed to stand exactly as she had left it. She now ventured to look out from the tower: the only animate objects, that appeared, were the deer, quietly grazing under the shade of the woods. Her favourite little fawn distinguished Adeline, and came bounding towards her with strong marks of joy. She was somewhat alarmed left the animal, being observed, should betray her, and walked swiftly away through the cloisters.
She opened the door that led to the great hall of the abbey, but the passage was so gloomy and dark, that she feared to enter it, and started back. It was necessary, however, that she should examine farther, particularly on the opposite side of the ruin, of which she had hitherto had no view: but her fears returned when she recollected how far it would lead her from her only place of refuge, and how difficult it would be to retreat. She hesitated what to do; but when she recollected her obligations to La Motte, and considered this as, perhaps, her only opportunity of doing him a service, she determined to proceed.
As these thoughts passed rapidly over her mind, she raised her innocent looks to heaven, and breathed a silent prayer. With trembling steps she proceeded over fragments of the ruin, looking anxiously around, and often starting as the breeze rustled among the trees, mistaking it for the whisperings of men. She came to the lawn which fronted the fabric, but no person was to be seen, and her spirits revived. The great door of the hall she now endeavoured to open, but suddenly remembering that it was fastened by La Motte’s orders, she proceeded to the north end of the abbey, and, having surveyed the prospect around, as far as the thick foliage of the trees would permit, without perceiving any person, she turned her steps to the tower from which she had issued.
Adeline was now light of heart, and returned with impatience to inform La Motte of his security. In the cloisters she was again met by her little favourite, and stopped for a moment to caress it. The fawn seemed sensible to the sound of her voice, and discovered new joy; but while she spoke, it suddenly started from her hand, and looking up, she perceived the door of the passage, leading to the great hall, open, and a man in the habit of a soldier issue forth.
With the swiftness of an arrow she fled along the cloisters, nor once ventured to look back; but a voice called to her to stop, and she heard steps advancing quick in pursuit. Before she could reach the tower, her breath failed her, and she leaned against a pillar of the ruin, pale and exhausted. The man came up, and gazing at her with a strong expression of surprize and curiosity, he assumed a gentle manner, assured her she had nothing to fear, and inquired if she belonged to La Motte: observing that she still looked terrified and remained silent, he repeated his assurances and his question.
“I know that he is concealed within the ruin,” said the stranger; “the occasion of his concealment I also know; but it is of the utmost importance I should see him, and he will then be convinced he has nothing to fear from me.” Adeline trembled so excessively, that it was with difficulty she could support herself — she hesitated, and knew not what to reply. Her manner seemed to confirm the suspicions of the stranger, and her consciousness of this increased her embarrassment: he took advantage of it to press her farther. Adeline, at length, replied, that “La Motte had some time since resided at the abbey.” “And does still, Madam,” said the stranger; “lead me to where he may be found — I must see him, and” — “Never, Sir,” replied Adeline, “and I solemnly assure you, it will be in vain to search for him.”
“That I must try,” resumed he, “since you, Madam, will not assist me. I have already followed him to some chambers above, where I suddenly lost him: thereabouts he must be concealed, and it’s plain, therefore, they afford some secret passage.”
Without waiting Adeline’s reply, he sprung to the door of the tower. She now thought it would betray a consciousness of the truth of his conjecture to follow him, and resolved to remain below. But, upon farther consideration, it occurred to her, that he might steal silently into the closet, and possibly surprize La Motte at the door of the trap. She, therefore, hastened after him, that her voice might prevent the danger she apprehended. He was already in the second chamber, when she overtook him; she immediately began to speak aloud.
This room he searched with the most scrupulous care, but finding no private door, or other outlet, he proceeded to the closet: then it was, that it required all her fortitude to conceal her agitation. He continued the search. “Within these chambers, I know he is concealed,” said he, “though hitherto I have not been able to discover how. It was hither I followed a man, whom I believe to be him, and he could not escape without a passage; I shall not quit the place till I have found it.”
He examined the walls and the boards, but without discovering the division of the floor, which, indeed, so exactly corresponded, that La Motte himself had not perceived it by the eye, but by the trembling of the floor beneath his feet. “Here is some mystery,” said the stranger, “which I cannot comprehend, and perhaps never shall.” He was turning to quit the closet, when, who can paint the distress of Adeline, upon seeing the trap-door gently raised, and La Motte himself appeared. “Hah!” cried the stranger, advancing eagerly to him. La Motte sprang forward, and they were locked in each other’s arms.
The astonishment of Adeline, for a moment, surpassed even her former distress; but a remembrance darted across her mind, which explained the present scene, and before La Motte could exclaim, “My son!” she knew the stranger as such. Peter, who stood at the foot of the stairs and heard what passed above, flew to acquaint his mistress with the joyful discovery, and, in a few moments, she was folded in the embrace of her son. This spot, so lately the mansion of despair, seemed metamorphosed into the palace of pleasure, and the walls echoed only to the accents of joy and congratulation.
The joy of Peter on this occasion was beyond expression: he acted a perfect pantomime — he capered about, clasped his hands — ran to his young master — shook him by the hand, in spite of the frowns of La Motte; ran every where, without knowing for what, and gave no rational answer to any thing that was said to him.
After their first emotions were subsided, La Motte, as if suddenly recollecting himself, resumed his wonted solemnity: “I am to blame,” said he, thus to give way to joy, when I am still, perhaps, surrounded by danger. Let us secure a retreat while it is yet in our power,” continued he, “in a few hours the King’s officers may search for me again.”
Louis comprehended his father’s words, and immediately relieved his apprehensions by the following relation:
“A letter from Monsieur Nemours, containing an account of your flight from Paris, reached me at Peronne, where I was then upon duty with my regiment. He mentioned, that you was gone towards the south of France, but as he had not since heard from you, he was ignorant of the place of your refuge. It was about this time that I was dispatched into Flanders; and, being unable to obtain farther intelligence of you, I passed some weeks of very painful solicitude. At the conclusion of the campaign, I obtained leave of absence, and immediately set out for Paris, hoping to learn from Nemours, where you had found an asylum.
“Of this, however, he was equally ignorant with myself. He informed me that you had once before written to him from D — , upon your second day’s journey from Paris, under an assumed name, as had been agreed upon; and that you then said the fear of discovery would prevent your hazarding another letter. He, therefore, remained ignorant of your abode, but said, he had no doubt you had continued your journey to the southward. Upon this slender information I quitted Paris in search of you, and proceeded immediately to V — , where my inquiries, concerning your farther progress, were successful as far as M — . There they told me you had staid some time, on account of the illness of a young lady; a circumstance which perplexed me much, as I could not imagine what young lady would accompany you. I proceeded, however, to L — ; but there all traces of you seemed to be lost. As I sat musing at the window of the inn, I observed some scribbling on the glass, and the curiosity of idleness prompted me to read it. I thought I knew the characters, and the lines I read confirmed my conjecture, for I remembered to have heard you often repeat them.
“Here I renewed my inquiries concerning your route, and at length I made the people of the inn recollect you, and traced you as far as Auboine. There I again lost you, till upon my return from a fruitless inquiry in the neighbourhood, the landlord of the little inn where I lodged, told me he believed he had heard news of you, and immediately recounted what had happened at a blacksmith’s shop a few hours before.
“His description of Peter was so exact, that I had not a doubt it was you who inhabited the abbey; and, as I knew your necessity for concealment, Peter’s denial did not shake my confidence. The next morning, with the assistance of my landlord, I found my way hither, and, having searched every visible part of the fabric, I began to credit Peter’s assertion; your appearance, however, destroyed this fear, by proving that the place was still inhabited, for you disappeared so instantaneously, that I was not certain it was you whom I had seen. I continued seeking you till near the close of day, and till then scarcely quitted the chambers whence you had disappeared. I called on you repeatedly, believing that my voice might convince you of your mistake. At length, I retired to pass the night at a cottage near the border of the forest.
“I came early this morning to renew my inquiries, and hoped that, believing yourself safe, you would emerge from concealment. But how was I disappointed to find the abbey as silent and solitary as I had left it the preceding evening! I was returning once more from the great hall, when the voice of this young lady caught my ear, and effected the discovery I had so anxiously sought.”
This little narrative entirely dissipated the late apprehensions of La Motte; but he now dreaded that the inquiries of his son, and his own obvious desire of concealment, might excite a curiosity amongst the people of Auboine, and lead to a discovery of his true circumstances. However, for the present he determined to dismiss all painful thoughts, and endeavour to enjoy the comfort which the presence of his son had brought him. The furniture was removed to a more habitable part of the abbey, and the cells were again abandoned to their own glooms.
The arrival of her son seemed to have animated Madame La Motte with new life, and all her afflictions were, for the present, absorbed in joy. She often gazed silently on him with a mother’s fondness, and her partiality heightened every improvement which time had wrought in his person and manner. He was now in his twenty-third year; his person was manly and his air military; his manners were unaffected and graceful, rather than dignified; and though his features were irregular, they composed a countenance, which, having seen it once, you would seek again.
She made eager inquiries after the friends she had left at Paris, and learned, that within the few months of her absence, some had died and others quitted the place. La Motte also learned, that a very strenuous search for him had been prosecuted at Paris; and, though this intelligence was only what he had before expected, it shocked him so much, that he now declared it would be expedient to remove to a distant country. Louis did not scruple to say, that he thought he would be as safe at the abbey as at any other place; and repeated what Nemours had said, that the King’s officers had been unable to trace any part of his route from Paris.
“Besides,” resumed Louis, “this abbey is protected by a supernatural power, and none of the country people dare approach it.”
“Please you, my young master,” said Peter who was waiting in the room, we were frightened enough the first night we came here, and I, myself, God forgive me! thought the place was inhabited by devils, but they were only owls, and such like, after all.”
“Your opinion was not asked,” said La Motte, “learn to be silent.”
Peter was abashed. When he had quitted the room, La Motte asked his son with seeming carelessness, what were the reports circulated by the country people? “O! Sir,” replied Louis, “I cannot recollect half of them. I remember, however, they said, that, many years ago, a person (but nobody had ever seen him, so we may judge how far the report ought to be credited) a person was privately brought to this abbey, and confined in some part of it, and that there were strong reasons to believe he came unfairly to his end.”
La Motte sighed “They farther said,” continued Louis, “that the spectre of the deceased had ever since watched nightly among the ruins: and to make the story more wonderful, for the marvellous is the delight of the vulgar, they added, that there was a certain part of the ruin, from whence no person that had dared to explore it, had ever returned. Thus people, who have few objects of real interest to engage their thoughts, conjure up for themselves imaginary ones.”
La Motte sat musing. “And what were the reasons,” said he, at length awaking from his reverie, “they pretended to assign, for believing the person confined here was murdered?”
“They did not use a term so positive as that,” replied Louis.
“True,” said La Motte, recollecting himself, “they only said he came unfairly to his end.”
“That is a nice distinction,” said Adeline.
“Why I could not well comprehend what these reasons were,” resumed Louis, “the people indeed say, that the person, who was brought here, was never known to depart, but I do not find it certain that he ever arrived; that there was strange privacy and mystery observed, while he was here, and that the abbey has never since been inhabited by its owner. There seems, however, to be nothing in all this that deserves to be remembered.” La Motte raised his head, as if to reply, when the entrance of Madame turned the discourse upon a new subject, and it was not resumed that day.
Peter was now dispatched for provisions, while La Motte and Louis retired to consider how far it was safe for them to continue at the abbey. La Motte, notwithstanding the assurances lately given him, could not but think that Peter’s blunders and his son’s inquiries might lead to a discovery of his residence. He revolved this in his mind for some time, but at length a thought struck him, that the latter of these circumstances might considerably contribute to his security. “If you,” said he to Louis, “return to the inn at Auboine, from whence you were directed here, and without seeming to intend giving intelligence, do give the landlord an account of your having found the abbey uninhabited, and then add, that you had discovered the residence of the person you sought in some distant town, it would suppress any reports that may at present exist, and prevent the belief of any in future. And if, after all this, you can trust yourself for presence of mind and command of countenance, so far as to describe some dreadful apparition, I think these circumstances, together with the distance of the Abbey, and the intricacies of the forest, could entitle me to consider this place as my castle.”
Louis agreed to all that his father had proposed, and, on the following day executed his commission with such success, that the tranquillity of the abbey may be then said to have been entirely restored.
Thus ended this adventure, the only one that had occurred to disturb the family, during their residence in the forest. Adeline, removed from the apprehension of those evils, with which the late situation of La Motte had threatened her, and from the depression which her interest in his occasioned her, now experienced, a more than usual complacency of mind. She thought too that she observed in Madame La Motte a renewal of her former kindness, and this circumstance awakened all her gratitude, and imparted to her a pleasure as lively as it was innocent. The satisfaction with which the presence of her son inspired Madame La Motte, Adeline mistook for kindness to herself, and she exerted her whole attention in an endeavour to become worthy of it.
But the joy which his unexpected arrival had given to La Motte quickly began to evaporate, and the gloom of despondency again settled on his countenance. He returned frequently to his haunt in the forest — the same mysterious sadness tinctured his manner and revived the anxiety of Madame La Motte, who was resolved to acquaint her son with this subject of distress, and solicit his assistance to penetrate its source.
Her jealousy of Adeline, however, she could not communicate, though it again tormented her, and taught her to misconstrue with wonderful ingenuity every look and word of La Motte, and often to mistake the artless expressions of Adeline’s gratitude and regard for those of warmer tenderness. Adeline had formerly accustomed herself to long walks in the forest, and the design Madame had formed of watching her steps, had been frustrated by the late circumstances, and was now entirely overcome by her sense of its difficulty and danger. To employ Peter in the affair, would be to acquaint him with her fears, and to follow her herself, would most probably betray her scheme, by making Adeline aware of her jealousy. Being thus restrained by pride and delicacy, she was obliged to endure the pangs of uncertainty concerning the greatest part of her suspicions.
To Louis, however, she related the mysterious change in his father’s temper. He listened to her account with very earnest attention, and the surprize and concern impressed upon his countenance spoke how much his heart was interested. He was, however, involved in equal perplexity with herself upon this subject, and readily undertook to observe the motions of La Motte, believing his interference likely to be of equal service both to his father and his mother. He, saw in some degree, the suspicions of his mother, but as he thought she wished to disguise her feelings, he suffered her to believe that she succeeded.
He now inquired concerning Adeline, and listened to her little history, of which his mother gave a brief relation, with great apparent interest. So much pity did he express for her condition, and so much indignation at the unnatural conduct of her father, that the apprehensions which Madame La Motte began to form, of his having discovered her jealousy, yielded to those of a different kind. She perceived that the beauty of Adeline had already fascinated his imagination, and she feared that her amiable manners would soon impress his heart. Had her first fondness for Adeline continued, she would still have looked with displeasure upon their attachment, as an obstacle to the promotion and the fortune she hoped to see one day enjoyed by her son. On these she rested all her future hopes of prosperity, and regarded the matrimonial alliance which he might form as the only means of extricating his family from their present difficulties. She, therefore, touched lightly upon Adeline’s merit, joined coolly with Louis in compassionating her misfortunes, and with her censure of the father’s conduct, mixed an implied suspicion of that of Adeline’s. The means she employed to repress the passions of her son, had a contrary effect. The indifference, which she repressed towards Adeline, increased his pity for her destitute condition, and the tenderness, with which she affected to judge the father, heightened his honest indignation at his character.
As he quitted Madame La Motte, he saw his father cross the lawn and enter the deep shade of the forest on the left. He judged this to be a good opportunity of commencing his plan, and, quitting the abbey, slowly followed at a distance. La Motte continued to walk straight forward, and seemed so deeply wrapt in thought, that he looked neither to the right or left, and scarcely lifted his head from the ground. Louis had followed him near half a mile, when he saw him suddenly strike into an avenue of the forest, which took a different direction from the way he had hitherto gone. He quickened his steps that he might not lose sight of him, but, having reached the avenue, found the trees so thickly interwoven, that La Motte was already hid from his view.
He continued, however, to pursue the way before him: it conducted him through the most gloomy part of the forest he had yet seen, till at length it terminated in an obscure recess, overarched with high trees, whose interwoven branches secluded the direct rays of the sun, and admitted only a sort of solemn twilight. Louis looked around in search of La Motte, but he was no where to be seen. While he stood surveying the place, and considering what farther should be done, he observed, through the gloom, an object at some distance, but the deep shadow that fell around prevented his distinguishing what it was.
In advancing, he perceived the ruins of a small building, which, from the traces that remained, appeared to have been a tomb. As he gazed upon it, “Here,” said he, “are probably deposited the ashes of some ancient monk, once an inhabitant of the abbey; perhaps, of the founder, who, after having spent a life of abstinence and prayer, sought in heaven the reward of his forbearance upon earth. Peace be to his soul! but did he think a life of mere negative virtue deserved an eternal reward? Mistaken man! reason, had you trusted to its dictates, would have informed you, that the active virtues, the adherence to the golden rule, ‘Do as you would be done unto,’ could alone deserve the favour of a Deity, whose glory is benevolence.”
He remained with his eyes fixed upon the spot, and presently saw a figure arise under the arch of the sepulchre. It started, as if on perceiving him, and immediately disappeared. Louis, though unused to fear, felt at that moment an uneasy sensation, but almost it immediately struck him that this was La Motte himself. He advanced to the ruin and called him. No answer was returned, and he repeated the call, but all was yet still as the grave. He then went up to the arch-way and endeavoured to examine the place where he had disappeared, but the shadowy obscurity rendered the attempt fruitless. He observed, however, a little to the right, an entrance to the ruin, and advanced some steps down a kind dark of passage, when, recollecting that this place might be the haunt of banditti, his danger alarmed him, and he retreated with precipitation.
He walked toward the abbey by the way he came, and finding no person followed him, and believing himself again in safety, his former surmise returned, and he thought it was La Motte he had seen. He mused upon this strange possibility, and endeavoured to assign a reason for so mysterious a conduct, but in vain. Notwithstanding this, his belief of it strengthened, and he entered the abbey under as full a conviction as the circumstances would admit of, that it was his father who had appeared in the sepulchre. On entering what was now used as a parlour, he was much surprised to find him quietly seated there with Madame La Motte and Adeline, and conversing as if he had been returned some time.
He took the first opportunity of acquainting his mother with his late adventure, and of inquiring how long La Motte had been returned before him, when, learning that it was near half an hour, his surprise increased, and he knew not what to conclude.
Meanwhile, a perception of the growing partiality of Louis co-operated with the canker of suspicion, to destroy in Madame La Motte that affection which pity and esteem had formerly excited for Adeline. Her unkindness was now too obvious to escape the notice of her to whom it was directed, and, being noticed, it occasioned an anguish which Adeline found it very difficult to endure. With the warmth and candour of youth, she sought an explanation of this change of behaviour, and an opportunity of exculpating herself from any intention of provoking it. But this Madame La Motte artfully evaded, while at the same time she threw out hints, that involved Adeline in deeper perplexity, and served to make her present affliction more intolerable.
“I have lost that affection,” she would say, “which was my all. It was my only comfort — yet I have lost it — and this without even knowing my offence. But I am thankful I have not merited unkindness, and, though she has abandoned me, I shall always love her.”
Thus distressed, she would frequently leave the parlour, and, retiring to her chamber, would yield to a despondency, which she had never known till now.
One morning, being unable to sleep, she arose at a very early hour. The faint light of day now trembled through the clouds, and, gradually spreading from the horizon, announced the rising sun. Every feature of the landscape was slowly unveiled, moist with the dews of night, and brightening with the dawn, till at length the sun appeared and shed the full flood of day. The beauty of the hour invited her to walk, and she went forth into the forest to taste the sweets of morning. The carols of new-waked birds saluted her as she passed, and the fresh gale came scented with the breath of flowers, whose tints glowed more vivid through the dew drops that hung on then leaves.
She wandered on without noticing the distance, and, following the windings of the river, came to a dewy glade, whose woods, sweeping down to the very edge of the water, formed a scene so sweetly romantic, that she seated herself at the foot of a tree, to contemplate its beauty. These images insensibly soothed her sorrow, and inspired her with that soft and pleasing melancholy, so dear to the feeling mind. For some time she sat lost in a reverie, while the flowers that grew on the banks beside her seemed to smile in new life, and drew from her a comparison with her own condition. She mused and sighed, and then, in a voice, whose charming melody was modulated by the tenderness of her heart, she sung the following words:
SONNET, To the Lilly.
Soft silken flow’r! that in the dewy vale Unfolds thy modest beauties to the morn, And breath’st thy fragrance on her wand’ring gale, O’er earth’s green hills and shadowy vallies born;
When day has closed his dazzling eye, And dying gales sink soft away; When eve steals down the western sky, And mountains, woods, and vales decay;
Thy tender cups, that graceful swell, Droop sad beneath her chilly dews; Thy odours seek their silken cell, And twilight veils thy languid hues.
But soon, fair flow’r! the morn shall rise, And rear again thy pensive head; Again unveil thy snowy dyes, Again thy velvet foliage spread.
Sweet child of Spring! like thee, in sorrow’s shade, Full oft I mourn in tears, and droop forlorn: And O! like thine, may light my glooms pervade, And Sorrow fly before Joy’s living morn!
A distant echo lengthened out her tones, and she sat listening to the soft response, till repeating the last stanza of the Sonnet, she was answered by a voice almost as tender, and less distant. She looked round in surprise, and saw a young man in a hunter’s dress, leaning against a tree, and gazing on her with that deep attention, which marks an enraptured mind.
A thousand apprehensions shot athwart her busy thought; and she now first remembered her distance from the abbey. She rose in haste to be gone, when the stranger respectfully advanced; but, observing her timid looks and retiring steps, he paused. She pursued her way towards the abbey; and, though many reasons made her anxious to know whether she was followed, delicacy forbade her to look back. When she reached the abbey, finding the family was not yet assembled to breakfast, she retired to her chamber, where her whole thoughts were employed in conjectures concerning the stranger; believing that she was interested on this point, no farther than as it concerned the safety of La Motte, she indulged, without scruple, the remembrance of that dignified air and manner which so much distinguished the youth she had seen. After revolving the circumstance more deeply, she believed it impossible that a person of his appearance should be engaged in a stratagem to betray a fellow creature; and though she was destitute of a single circumstance that might assist her surmises of who he was, or what was his business in an unfrequented forest, she rejected, unconsciously, every suspicion injurious to his character. Upon farther deliberation, therefore, she resolved not to mention this little circumstance to La Motte; well knowing, that though his danger might be imaginary, his apprehensions would be real, and would renew all the sufferings and perplexity, from which he was but just released. She resolved, however, to refrain, for some time, walking in the forest.
When she came down to breakfast, she observed Madame La Motte to be more than usually reserved. La Motte entered the room soon after her, and made some trifling observations on the weather; and, having endeavoured to support an effort at cheerfulness, sunk into his usual melancholy. Adeline watched the countenance of Madame with anxiety; and when there appeared in it a gleam of kindness, it was as sunshine to her soul: but she very seldom suffered Adeline thus to flatter herself. Her conversation was restrained, and often pointed at something more than could be understood. The entrance of Louis was a very seasonable relief to Adeline, who almost feared to trust her voice with a sentence, lest its trembling accents should betray her uneasiness.
“This charming morning drew you early from your chamber,” said Louis, addressing Adeline. “You had, no doubt, a pleasant companion too,” said Madame La Motte, “a solitary walk is seldom agreeable.”
“I was alone, Madam,” replied Adeline.
“Indeed! your own thoughts must be highly pleasing then.”
“Alas!” returned Adeline, a tear, spite of her efforts, starting to her eye, “there are now few subjects of pleasure left for them.”
“That is very surprising,” pursued Madame La Motte.
“Is it, indeed, surprising, Madam, for those who have lost their last friend to be unhappy?”
Madame La Motte’s conscience acknowledged the rebuke and she blushed. “Well,” resumed she, after a short pause, “that is not your situation, Adeline;” looking earnestly at La Motte. Adeline, whose innocence protected her from suspicion, did not regard this circumstance; but, smiling through her tears, said, she rejoiced to hear her say so. During this conversation, La Motte had remained absorbed in his own thoughts; and Louis, unable to guess at what it pointed, looked alternately at his mother and Adeline for an explanation. The latter he regarded with an expression so full of tender compassion, that it revealed at once to Madame La Motte the sentiments of his soul; and she immediately replied to the last words of Adeline with a very serious air; “A friend is only estimable when our conduct deserves one; the friendship that survives the merit of its object, is a disgrace, instead of an honour, to both parties.”
The manner and emphasis with which she delivered these words, again alarmed Adeline, who mildly said, “she hoped she should never deserve such censure.” Madame was silent; but Adeline was so much shocked by what had already passed, that tears sprung from her eyes, and she hid her face with her handkerchief.
Louis now rose with some emotion; and La Motte, roused from his reverie, inquired what was the matter; but, before he could receive an answer, he seemed to have forgot that he had asked the question. “Adeline may give you her own account,” said Madam La Motte. “I have not deserved this,” said Adeline, rising, “but since my presence is displeasing, I will retire.”
She moved toward the door, when Louis, who was pacing the room in apparent agitation, gently took her hand, saying, “Here is some unhappy mistake,” and would have led her to the seat; but her spirits were too much depressed to endure longer restraint; and, withdrawing her hand, “Suffer me to go;” said she, “if there is any mistake, I am unable to explain it.” Saying this, she quitted the room. Louis followed her with his eyes to the door; when, turning to his mother, “Surely, Madam,” said he, “you are to blame: my life on it, she deserves your warmest tenderness.”
“You are very eloquent in her cause, Sir,” said Madame, “may I presume to ask what has interested you thus in her favour?”
“Her own amiable manners,” rejoined Louis, “which no one can observe without esteeming them.”
“But you may presume too much on your own observations; it is possible these amiable manners may deceive you.”
“Your pardon, Madam; I may, without presumption, affirm they cannot deceive me.”
“You have, no doubt, good reasons for this assertion, and I perceive, by your admiration of this artless innocent, she has succeeded in her design of entrapping your heart.”
“Without designing it, she has won my admiration, which would not have been the case, had she been capable of the conduct you mention.”
Madame La Motte was going to reply, but was prevented by her husband, who, again roused from his reverie, inquired into the cause of dispute; “Away with this ridiculous behaviour,” said he, in a voice of displeasure. “Adeline has omitted some household duty I suppose, and an offence so heinous deserves severe punishment, no doubt; but let me be no more disturbed with your petty quarrels; if you must be tyrannical, Madam, indulge your humour in private.”
Saying this, he abruptly quitted the room, and Louis immediately following, Madame was left to her own unpleasant reflections. Her ill-humour proceeded from the usual cause. She had heard of Adeline’s walk; and La Motte having gone forth into the forest at an early hour, her imagination, heated by the broodings of jealousy suggested that they had appointed a meeting. This was confirmed to her by the entrance of Adeline, quickly followed by La Motte; and her perceptions thus jaundiced by passion, neither the presence of her son, nor her usual attention to good manners, had been able to restrain her emotions. The behaviour of Adeline, in the late scene, she considered as a refined piece of art; and the indifference of La Motte asaffected. So true is it, that
— “Trifles, light as air, Are, to the jealous, confirmations strong As proof of Holy Writ.”
And so ingenious was she “to twist the true cause the “wrong way.”
Adeline had retired to her chamber to weep. When her first agitations were subsided, she took an ample view of her conduct; and perceiving nothing of which she could accuse herself, she became more satisfied; deriving her best comfort from the integrity of her intentions. In the moment of accusation, innocence may sometimes be oppressed with the punishment due only to guilt; but reflection dissolves the illusion of terror, and brings to the aching bosom the consolations of virtue.
When La Motte quitted the room, he had gone into the forest, which Louis observing, he followed and joined him, with an intention of touching upon the subject of his melancholy. “It is a fine morning, Sir,” said Louis, “if you will give me leave, I will walk with you.” La Motte, though, dissatisfied, did not object; and after they had proceeded some way, he changed the course of his walk, striking into a path, contrary to that which Louis had observed him take on the foregoing day.
Louis remarked, that the avenue they had quitted was “more shady, and, therefore, more pleasant.” La Motte not seeming to notice this remark, “It leads to a singular spot,” continued he, “which I discovered yesterday.” La Motte raised his head; Louis proceeded to describe the tomb, and the adventure he had met with: during this relation, La Motte regarded him with attention, while his own countenance suffered various changes. When he had concluded, “You were very daring,” said La Motte, “to examine that place, particularly when you ventured down the passage: I would advise you to be more cautious how you penetrate the depths of this forest. I, myself, have not ventured beyond a certain boundary; and am, therefore, uninformed what inhabitants it may harbour. Your account has alarmed me,” continued he, “for if banditti are in the neighbourhood, I am not safe from their their depredations: ’tis true, I have but little to lose, except my life.”
“And the lives of your family,” rejoined Louis, — “Of course,” said La Motte.
“It would be well to have more certainty upon that head,” rejoined Louis, I am considering how we may obtain it.”
“’Tis useless to consider that,” said La Motte, “the inquiry itself brings danger with it; your life would, perhaps, be paid for the indulgence of your curiosity; our only chance of safety is by endeavouring to remain undiscovered. Let us move towards the abbey.”
Louis knew not what to think, but said no more upon the subject. La Motte soon after relapsed into a fit of musing; and his son now took occasion to lament that depression of spirits, which he had lately observed in him. “Rather lament the cause of it,” said La Motte with a sigh; “That I do, most sincerely, whatever it may be. May I venture to inquire, Sir, what is this cause?”
“Are, then, my misfortunes so little known to you,” rejoined La Motte, as to make that question necessary? Am I not driven from my home, from my friends, and almost from my country? And shall it be asked why I am afflicted?” Louis felt the justice of this reproof, and was a moment filent. “That you are afflicted, Sir, does not excite my surprise;” resumed he, “it would, indeed, be strange, were you not.”
“What then does excite your surprise?”
“The air of cheerfulness you wore when I first came hither.”
“You lately lamented that I was afflicted,” said La Motte, “and now seem not very well pleased that I once was cheerful. What is the meaning of this?”
“You much mistake me,” said his son, nothing could give me so much satisfaction as to see that cheerfulness renewed: the same cause of sorrow existed at that time, yet you was then cheerful.”
“That I was then cheerful,” said La Motte, “you might, without flattery, have attributed to yourself; your presence revived me, and I was relieved at the same time from a load of apprehensions.”
“Why, then, as the same cause exists, are you not still cheerful?”
“And why do you not recollect that it is your father you thus speak to?”
“I do, Sir, and nothing but anxiety for my father, could have urged me thus far: it is with inexpressible concern I perceive you have some secret cause of uneasiness; reveal it, Sir, to those who claim a share in all your affliction, and suffer them, by participation, to soften its severity.” Louis looked up, and observed the countenance of his father, pale as death: his lips trembled while he spoke. “Your penetration, however, you may rely upon it, has, in the present instance, deceived you. I have no subject of distress, but what you are already acquainted with, and I desire this conversation may never be renewed.”
“If it is your desire, of course, I obey,” said Louis; “but, pardon me, Sir, if” — “I will not pardon you, Sir,” interrupted La Motte, “let the discourse end here.” Saying this, he quickened his steps, and Louis, not daring to pursue, walked quietly on till he reached the abbey.
Adeline passed the greatest part of the day alone in her chamber, where, having examined her conduct, she endeavoured to fortify her heart against the unmerited displeasure of Madame La Motte. This was a task more difficult than that of self acquittance. She loved her, and had relied on her friendship, which, notwithstanding the conduct of Madame, still appeared valuable to her. It was true, she had not deserved to lose it, but Madame was so averse to explanation, that there was little probability of recovering it, however ill-founded might be the cause of her dislike. At length, she reasoned, or rather, perhaps, persuaded herself into tolerable composure; for to resign a real good with contentment, is less an effort of reason than of temper.
For many hours she busied herself upon a piece of work, which she had undertaken for Madame La Motte; and this she did, without the least intention of conciliating her favour, but because she felt there was something in thus repaying unkindness, which was suitable to her own temper, her sentiments, and her pride. Self-love may be the center, round which the human affections move, for whatever motive conduces to self-gratification may be resolved into self-love; yet some of these affections are in their nature so refined — that though we cannot deny their origin, they almost deserve the name of virtue. Of this species was that of Adeline.
In this employment and in reading Adeline passed as much of the day as possible. From books, indeed, she had constantly derived her chief information and amusement: those belonging to La Motte were few, but well chosen; and Adeline could find pleasure in reading them more than once. When her mind was discomposed by the behaviour of Madame La Motte, or by a retrospection of her early misfortunes, a book was the opiate that lulled it to repose. La Motte had several of the best English poets, a language which Adeline had learned in the convent; their beauties, therefore, she was capable of tasting, and they often inspired her with enthusiastic delight.
At the decline of day, she quitted her chamber to enjoy the sweet evening hour, but strayed no farther than an avenue near the abbey, which fronted the west. She read a little, but, finding it impossible any longer to abstract her attention from the scene around, she closed the book, and yielded to the sweet complacent melancholy which the hour inspired. The air was still, the sun, sinking below the distant hill, spread a purple glow over the landscape, and touched the forest glades with softer light. A dewy freshness was diffused upon the air. As the sun descended, the dusk came silently on, and the scene assumed a solemn grandeur. As she mused, she recollected and repeated the following stanzas:
Now Ev’ning fades! her pensive step retires, And Night leads on the dews, and shadowy hours; Her awful pomp of planetary fires, And all her train of visionary pow’rs.
These paint with fleeting shapes the dream of sleep, These swell the waking soul with pleasing dread; These through the glooms in forms terrific sweep, And rouse the thrilling horrors of the dead!
Queen of the solemn thought — mysterious Night! Whose step is darkness, and whose voice is fear! Thy shades I welcome with severe delight, And hail thy hollow gales, that sigh so drear!
When, wrapt in clouds, and riding in the blast, Thou roll’st the storm along the sounding shore, I love to watch the whelming billows cast On rocks below, and listen to the roar.
Thy milder terrors, Night, I frequent woo, Thy silent lightnings, and thy meteor’s glare, Thy northern fires, bright with ensanguine hue, That light in heaven’s high vault the fervid air.
But chief I love thee, when thy lucid car Sheds through the fleecy clouds a trembling gleam, And shews the misty mountain from afar, The nearer forest, and the valley’s stream:
And nameless objects in the vale below, That floating dimly to the musing eye, Assume, at Fancy’s touch, fantastic shew, And raise her sweet romantic visions high.
Then let me stand amidst thy glooms profound On some wild woody steep, and hear the breeze That swells in mournful melody around, And faintly dies upon the distant trees.
What melancholy charm steals o’er the mind! What hallow’d tears the rising rapture greet! While many a viewless spirit in the wind, Sighs to the lonely hour in accents sweet!
Ah! who the dear illusions pleas’d would yield, Which Fancy wakes from silence and from shades, For all the sober forms of Truth reveal’d, For all the scenes that Day’s bright eye pervades!
On her return to the abbey she was joined by Louis, who, after some conversation, said, “I am much grieved by the scene to which I was witness this morning, and have longed for an opportunity of telling you so. My mother’s behaviour is too mysterious to be accounted for, but it is not difficult to perceive she labours under some mistake. What I have to request is, that whenever I can be of service to you, you will command me.”
Adeline thanked him for this friendly offer, which she felt more sensibly than she chose to express. “I am unconscious,” said she, “of any offence that may have deserved Madame La Motte’s displeasure, and am, therefore, totally unable to account for it. I have repeatedly sought an explanation, which she has as anxiously avoided; it is better, therefore, to press the subject no farther. At the same time, Sir, suffer me to assure you, I have a just sense of your goodness.” Louis sighed, and was silent. At length, “I wish you would permit me,” resumed he, “to speak with my mother upon this subject. I am sure I could convince her of her error.”
“By no means,” replied Adeline, Madame La Motte’s displeasure has given me inexpressible concern; but to compel her to an explanation, would only increase this displeasure, instead of removing it. Let me beg of you not to attempt it.”
“I submit to your judgement,” said Louis, “but, for once, it is with reluctance. I should esteem myself most happy, if I could be of service to you.” He spoke this with an accent so tender, that Adeline, for the first time, perceived the sentiments of his heart. A mind more fraught with vanity than her’s would have taught her long ago to regard the attentions of Louis, as the result of something more than well-bred gallantry. She did not appear to notice his last words, but remained silent, and involuntarily quickened her pace. Louis said no more, but seemed sunk in thought; and this silence remained uninterrupted, till they entered the abbey.