A ROMANCE OF THE FOREST

CHAPTER 7

“Present ills
Are less than horrible imaginings.”

A Few days after the occurrence related in the preceding chapter, as Adeline was alone in her chamber, she was roused from a reverie by a trampling of horses near the gate, and, on looking from the casement, she saw the Marquis de Montalt enter the abbey. This circumstance surprized her, and an emotion, whose cause she did not trouble herself to inquire for, made her instantly retreat from the window. The same cause, however, led her thither again as hastily, but the object of her search did not appear, and she was in no haste to retire.

As she stood musing and disappointed, the Marquis came out with La Motte, and, immediately looking up, saw Adeline and bowed. She returned his compliment respectfully, and withdrew from the window, vexed at having been seen there. They went into the forest, but the Marquis’s attendants did not, as before, follow them thither. When they returned, which was not till after a considerable time, the Marquis immediately mounted his horse and rode away.

For the remainder of the day, La Motte appeared gloomy and silent, and was frequently lost in thought. Adeline observed him with particular attention and concern; she perceived that he was always more melancholy after an interview with the Marquis, and was now surprized to hear that the latter had appointed to dine the next day at the abbey.

When La Motte mentioned this, he added some high eulogiums on the character of the Marquis, and particularly praised his generosity and nobleness of soul. At this instant, Adeline recollected the anecdotes she had formerly heard concerning the abbey, and they threw a shadow over the brightness of that excellence, which La Motte now celebrated. The account, however, did not appear to deserve much credit; a part of it, as far as a negative will admit of demonstration, having been already proved false; for it had been reported, that the abbey was haunted, and no supernatural appearance had ever been observed by the present inhabitants.

Adeline, however, ventured to inquire, whether it was the present Marquis of whom those injurious reports had been raised? La Motte answered her with a smile of ridicule; “Stories of ghosts and hobgoblins have always been admired and cherished by the vulgar,” said he. “I am inclined to rely upon my own experience, at least as much as upon the accounts of these peasants. If you have seen any thing to corroborate these accounts, pray inform me of it, that I may establish my faith.”

“You mistake me, Sir,” said she, “it was not concerning supernatural agency that I would inquire: I alluded to a different part of the report, which hinted, that some person had been confined here, by order of the Marquis, who was said to have died unfairly. This was alledged as a reason for the Marquis’s having abandoned the abbey.”

“All the mere coinage of idleness,” said La Motte; “a romantic tale to excite wonder: to see the Marquis is alone sufficient to refute this; and if we credit half the number of those stories that spring from the same source, we prove ourselves little superior to the simpletons who invent them. Your good sense, Adeline, I think, will teach you the merit of disbelief.”

Adeline blushed and was silent; but La Motte’s defence of the Marquis appeared much warmer and more diffuse than was consistent with his own disposition, or required by the occasion. His former conversation with Louis occurred to her, and she was the more surprised at what passed at present.

She looked forward to the morrow with a mixture of pain and pleasure; the expectation of seeing again the young Chevalier occupying her thoughts, and agitating them with a various emotion: now she feared his presence, and now she doubted whether he would come. At length she observed this, and blushed to find how much he engaged her attention. The morrow arrived — the Marquis came — but he came alone; and the sunshine of Adeline’s mind was clouded, though she was able to wear her usual air of cheerfulness. The Marquis was polite, affable, and attentive: to manners the most easy and elegant, was added the last refinement of polished life. His conversation was lively, amusing, sometimes even witty; and discovered great knowledge of the world; or, what is often mistaken for it, an acquaintance with the higher circles, and with the topics of the day.

Here La Motte was also qualified to converse with him, and they entered into a discussion of the characters and manners of the age with great spirit, and some humour. Madame La Motte had not seen her husband so cheerful since they left Paris, and sometimes she could almost fancy she was there. Adeline listened, till the cheerfulness, which she had at first only assumed, became real. The address of the Marquis was so insinuating and affable, that her reserve insensibly gave way before it, and her natural vivacity resumed its long lost empire.

At parting, the Marquis told La Motte he rejoiced at having found so agreeable a neighbour. La Motte bowed. “I shall sometimes visit you,” continued he, “and I lament that I cannot at present invite Madame La Motte, and her fair friend to my chateau, but it is undergoing some repairs, which make it but an uncomfortable residence.”

The vivacity of La Motte disappeared. with his guest, and he soon’ relapsed into fits of silence and abstraction. “The Marquis is a very agreeable man,” said Madame La Motte. “Very agreeable,” replied he. “And seems to have an excellent heart,” she resumed. “An excellent one,” said La Motte.

“You seem discomposed, my dear; what has disturbed you?”

“Not in the least — I was only thinking, that with such agreeable talents, and such an excellent heart, it was a pity the Marquis should” — “What? my dear,” said Madame with impatience: “That the Marquis should — should suffer this abbey to fall into ruins,” replied La Motte.

“Is that all!” said Madame with disappointment. — “That is all, upon my honour,” said La Motte, and left the room.

Adeline’s spirits, no longer supported by the animated conversation of the Marquis, sunk into languor, and, when he departed, she walked pensively into the forest. She followed a little romantic path that wound along the margin of the stream, and was overhung with deep shades. The tranquillity of the scene, which autumn now touched with her sweetest tints, softened her mind to a tender kind of melancholy, and she suffered a tear, which, she knew not wherefore, had stolen into her eye, to tremble there unchecked. She came to a little lonely recess, formed by high trees; the wind sighed mournfully among the branches, and as it waved their lofty heads scattered their leaves to the ground. She seated herself on a bank beneath, and indulged the melancholy reflections that pressed on her mind.

“O! could I dive into futurity and behold the events which await me!” said she; “I should, perhaps, by constant contemplation, be enabled to meet them with fortitude. An orphan in this wide world — thrown upon the friendship of strangers for comfort, and upon their bounty for the very means of existence, what but evil have I to expect! Alas, my father! how could you thus abandon your child — how leave her to the storms of life — to sink, perhaps, beneath them? Alas, I have no friend!”

She was interrupted by a rustling among the fallen leaves; she turned her head, and perceiving the Marquis’s young friend, arose to depart. “Pardon this intrusion,” said he, “your voice attracted me hither, and your words detained me: my offence, however, brings with it its own punishment, having learned your sorrows — how can I help feeling them myself? would that my sympathy, or my suffering, could rescue you from them!” — He hesitated — “Would that I could deserve the title of your friend, and be thought worthy of it by yourself!”

The confusion of Adeline’s thoughts could scarcely permit her to reply; she trembled and gently withdrew her hand, which he had taken, while he spoke. “You have, perhaps, heard, Sir, more than is true: I am, indeed, not happy, but a moment of dejection has made me unjust, and I am less unfortunate than I have represented. When I said I had no friend, I was ungrateful to the kindness of Monsieur and Madame La Motte, who have been more than friends — have been as parents to me.”

“If so, I honour them,” cried Theodore with warmth; “and if I did not feel it to be presumption, I would ask why you are unhappy? — But” — He paused. Adeline, raising her eyes, saw him gazing upon her with intense and eager anxiety, and her looks were again fixed upon the ground. “I have pained you,” said Theodore, “by an improper request. Can you forgive me, and also when I add, that it was an interest in your welfare, which urged my inquiry?”

“Forgiveness, Sir, it is unnecessary to ask. I am certainly obliged by the compassion you express. But the evening is cold, if you please, we will walk towards the abbey.” As they moved on, Theodore was for some time silent. At length, “It was but lately that I solicited your pardon,” said he, “and I shall now, perhaps, have need of it again; but you will do me the justice to believe, that I have a strong, and, indeed, a pressing reason to inquire how nearly you are related to Monsieur La Motte.”

“We are not at all related,” said Adeline; “but the service he has done me I can never repay, and I hope my gratitude will teach me never to forget it.”

“Indeed!” said Theodore, surprized: “and may I ask how long you have known him?”

“Rather, Sir, let me ask, why these questions should be necessary?”

“You are just,” said he, with an air of self-condemnation, “my conduct has deserved this reproof; I should have been more explicit.” He looked as if his mind was labouring with something which he was unwilling to express. “But you know not how delicately I am circumstanced,” continued he, “yet I will aver, that my questions are prompted by the tenderest interest in your happiness — and even by my fears for your safety.” Adeline started. “I fear you are deceived,” said he, “I fear there’s danger near you.”

Adeline stopped, and, looking earnestly at him, begged he would explain himself. She suspected that some mischief threatened La Motte; and Theodore continuing silent, she repeated her request. “If La Motte is concerned in this danger,” said she, “let me entreat you to acquaint him with it immediately. He has but too many misfortunes to apprehend.”

“Excellent Adeline!” cried Theodore, “that heart must be adamant that would injure you. How shall I hint what I fear is too true, and how forbear to warn you of your danger without” — He was interrupted by a step among the trees, and presently after saw La Motte cross into the path they were in. Adeline felt confused at being thus seen with the Chevalier, and was hastening to join La Motte, but Theodore detained her, and entreated a moment’s attention. “There is now no time to explain myself,” said he; “yet what I would say is of the utmost consequence to yourself.”

“Promise, therefore, to meet me in some part of the forest at about this time to-morrow evening, you will then, I hope, be convinced, that my conduct is directed, neither by common circumstances, nor common regard.” Adeline shuddered at the idea of making an appointment; she hesitated, and at length entreated Theodore not to delay till to-morrow an explanation, which appeared to be so important, but to follow La Motte and inform him of his danger immediately. “It is not with La Motte I would speak,” replied Theodore; “I know of no danger that threatens him — but he approaches, be quick, lovely Adeline, and promise to meet me.”

“I do promise,” said Adeline, with a faltering voice; “I will come to the spot where you found me this evening, an hour earlier to-morrow.” Saying this, she withdrew her trembling hand, which Theodore had pressed to his lips in token of acknowledgement, and he immediately disappeared.

La Motte now approached Adeline, who, fearing that he had seen Theodore, was in some confusion. “Whither is Louis gone so fast?” said La Motte. She rejoiced to find his mistake, and suffered him to remain in it. They walked pensively towards the abbey, where Adeline, too much occupied by her own thoughts to bear company, retired to her chamber. She ruminated upon the words of Theodore, and, the more she considered them, the more she was perplexed. Sometimes she blamed herself for having made an appointment, doubting whether he had not solicited it for the purpose of pleading a passion; and now delicacy checked this thought, and made her vexed that she had presumed upon having inspired one. She recollected the serious earnestness of his voice and manner, when he entreated her to meet him; and as they convinced her of the importance of the subject, she shuddered at a danger, which she could not comprehend, looking forward to the morrow with anxious impatience.

Sometimes too a remembrance of the tender interest he had expressed for her welfare, and of his correspondent look and air, would steal across her memory, awakening a pleasing emotion and a latent hope that she was not indifferent to him. From reflections like these she was roused by a summons to supper: the repast was a melancholy one, it being the last evening of Louis’s stay at the abbey. Adeline, who esteemed him, regretted his departure, while his eyes were often bent on her with a look, which seemed to express that he was about to leave the object of his affection. She endeavoured by her cheerfulness to re-animate the whole party, and especially Madame La Motte, who frequently shed tears.

“We shall soon meet again,” said Adeline, “I trust, in happier circumstances.” La Motte sighed. The countenance of Louis brightened at her words, “Do you wish it?” said he, with peculiar emphasis. “Most certainly I do,” she replied. “Can you doubt my regard for my best friends?”

“I cannot doubt any thing that is good of you,” said he.

“You forget you have left Paris,” said La Motte to his son, while a faint smile crossed his face, “such a compliment would there be in character with the place — in these solitary woods it is quite outré.”

“The language of admiration is not always that of compliment, Sir,” said Louis. Adeline, willing to change the discourse, asked, to what part of France he was going. He replied, that his regiment was now at Peronne, and he should go immediately thither. After some mention of indifferent subjects, the family withdrew for the night to their several chambers.

The approaching departure of her son occupied the thoughts of Madame La Motte, and she appeared at breakfast with eyes swoln with weeping. The pale countenance of Louis seemed to indicate that he had rested no better than his mother. When breakfast was over, Adeline retired for a while, that she might not interrupt, by her presence, their last conversation. As she walked on the lawn before the abbey she returned in thought to the occurrence of yesterday evening, and her impatience for the appointed interview increased. She was soon joined by Louis. “It was unkind of you to leave us,” said he, “in the last moments of my stay. Could I hope that you would sometimes remember me, when I am far away, I should depart with less sorrow.” He then expressed his concern at leaving her, and though he had hitherto armed himself with resolution to forbear a direct avowal of an attachment, which must be fruitless, his heart now yielded to the force of passion, and he told what Adeline every moment feared to hear.

“This declaration,” said Adeline, endeavouring to overcome the agitation it excited, “gives me inexpressible concern.”

“O, say not so!” interrupted Louis, “but give me some slender hope to support me in the miseries of absence. Say that you do not hate me — Say” — “That I do most readily say,” replied Adeline, in a tremulous voice; “if it will give you pleasure to be assured of my esteem and friendship — receive this assurance: — as the son of my best benefactors, you are entitled to” — “Name not benefits,” said Louis, “your merits outrun them all: and suffer me to hope for a sentiment less cool than that of friendship, as well as to believe that I do not owe your approbation of me to the actions of others. I have long borne my passion in silence, because I foresaw the difficulties that would attend it, nay, I have even dared to endeavour to overcome it: I have dared to believe it possible, forgive the supposition, that I could forget you — and” — “You distress me,” interrupted Adeline; “this is a conversation which I ought not to hear. I am above disguise, and, therefore, assure you, that, though your virtues will always command my esteem, you have nothing to hope from my love. Were it even otherwise, our circumstances would effectually decide for us. If you are really my friend, you will rejoice that I am spared this struggle between affection and prudence. Let me hope also, that time will teach you to reduce love within the limits of friendship.”

“Never!” cried Louis vehemently: “Were this possible, my passion would be unworthy of its object.” While he spoke, Adeline’s favourite fawn came bounding towards her. This circumstance affected Louis even to tears. “This little animal,” said he, after a short pause, “first conducted me to you: it was witness to that happy moment when I first saw you, surrounded by attractions too powerful for my heart; that moment is now fresh in my memory, and the creature comes even to witness this sad one of my departure.” Grief interrupted his utterance.

When he recovered his voice, he said, “Adeline! when you look upon your little favourite and caress it, remember the unhappy Louis, who will then be far — far from you. Do not deny me the poor consolation of believing this!”

“I shall not require such a monitor to remind me of you,” said Adeline with a smile; “your excellent parents and your own merits have sufficient claim upon my remembrance. Could I see your natural good sense resume its influence over passion, my satisfaction would equal my esteem for you.”

“Do not hope it,” said Louis, “nor will I wish it — for passion here is virtue.” As he spoke, he saw La Motte turn round an angle of the abbey. “The moments are precious,” said he, “I am interrupted. O! Adeline, farewell! and say, that you will sometimes think of me.”

“Farewell,” said Adeline, who was affected by his distress — “farewell! and peace attend you. I will think of you with the affection of a sister.” — He sighed deeply, and pressed her hand; when La Motte, winding round another projection of the ruin, again appeared: Adeline left them together, and withdrew to her chamber, oppressed by the scene. Louis’s passion and her esteem were too sincere not to inspire her with a strong degree of pity for his unhappy attachment. She remained in her chamber till he had quitted the abbey, unwilling to subject him or herself to the pain of a formal parting.

As evening and the hour of appointment drew nigh, Adeline’s impatience increased; yet, when the time arrived, her resolution failed, and she faltered from her purpose. There was something of indelicacy and dissimulation in an appointed interview, on her part, that shocked her. She recollected the tenderness of Theodore’s manner, and several little circumstances which seemed to indicate that his heart was not unconcerned in the event. Again she was inclined to doubt, whether he had not obtained her consent to this meeting upon some groundless suspicion; and she almost determined not to go: yet it was possible Theodore’s assertion might be sincere, and her danger real; the chance of this made her delicate scruples appear ridiculous; she wondered that she had for a moment suffered them to weigh against so serious an interest, and, blaming herself for the delay they had occasioned, hastened to the place of appointment.

The little path, which led to this spot, was silent and solitary, and when she reached the recess, Theodore had not arrived. A transient pride made her unwilling he should find that she was more punctual to his appointment than himself; and she turned from the recess into a track, which wound among the trees to the right. Having walked some way, without seeing any person, or hearing a footstep, she returned; but he was not come, and she again left the place. A second time she came back, and Theodore was still absent. Recollecting the time at which she had quitted the abbey, she grew uneasy, and calculated that the hour appointed was now much exceeded. She was offended and perplexed; but she seated herself on the turf, and was resolved to wait the event. After remaining here till the fall of twilight in fruitless expectation, her pride became more alarmed; she feared that he had discovered something of the partiality he had inspired, and believing that he now treated her with purposed neglect, she quitted the place with disgust and self-accusation.

When these emotions subsided, and reason resumed its influence, she blushed for what she termed this childish effervescence of self-love. She recollected, as if for the first time, these words of Theodore: “I fear you are deceived, and that some danger is near you.” Her judgement now acquitted the offender, and she saw only the friend. The import of these words, whose truth she no longer doubted, again alarmed her. Why did he trouble himself to come from the chateau, on purpose to hint her danger, if he did not wish to preserve her? And if he wished to preserve her, what but necessity could have withheld him from the appointment?

These reflections decided her at once. She resolved to repair on the following day at the same hour to the recess, whither the interest, which she believed him to take in her fate, would no doubt conduct him in the hope of meeting her. That some evil hovered over her she could not disbelieve, but what it might be, she was unable to guess. Monsieur and Madame La Motte were her friends, and who else, removed, as she now thought herself, beyond the reach of her father, could injure her? But why did Theodore say she was deceived? She found it impossible to extricate herself from the labyrinth of conjecture, but endeavoured to command her anxiety till the following evening. In the mean time she engaged herself in efforts to amuse Madame La Motte, who required some relief, after the departure of her son.

Thus oppressed by her own cares and interested by those of Madame La Motte, Adeline retired to rest. She soon lost her recollection, but it was only to fall into harrassed slumbers, such as but too often haunt the couch of the unhappy. At length her perturbed fancy suggested the following dream.

She thought she was in a large old chamber belonging to the abbey, more ancient and desolate, though in part furnished, than any she had yet seen. It was strongly barricadoed, yet no person appeared. While she stood musing and surveying the apartment, she heard a low voice call her, and, looking towards the place whence it came, she perceived by the dim light of a lamp a figure stretched on a bed that lay on the floor. The voice called again, and, approaching the bed, she distinctly saw the features of a man who appeared to be dying. A ghastly paleness overspread his countenance, yet there was an expression of mildness and dignity in it, which strongly interested her.

While she looked on him, his features changed and seemed convulsed in the agonies of death. The spectacle shocked her, and she started back, but he suddenly stretched forth his hand, and seizing her’s, grasped it with violence: she struggled in terror to disengage herself, and again looking on his face, saw a man, who appeared to be about thirty, with the same features, but in full health, and of a most benign countenance. He smiled tenderly upon her and moved his lips, as if to speak, when the floor of the chamber suddenly opened and he sunk from her view. The effort she made to save herself from following awoke her. — This dream had so strongly impressed her fancy, that it was some time before she could overcome the terror it occasioned, or even be perfectly convinced she was in her own apartment. At length, however, she composed herself to sleep; again she fell into a dream.

She thought she was bewildered in some winding passages of the abbey; that it was almost dark, and that she wandered about a considerable time, without being able to find a door. Suddenly she heard a bell toll from above, and soon after a confusion of distant voices. She redoubled her efforts to extricate herself. Presently all was still, and, at length, wearied with the search, she sat down on a step that crossed the passage. She had not been long here, when she saw a light glimmer at a distance on the walls, but a turn in the passage, which was very long, prevented her seeing from what it proceeded. It continued to glimmer faintly for some time and then grew stronger, when she saw a man enter the passage, habited in a long black cloak, like those usually worn by attendants at funerals, and bearing a torch. He called to her to follow him, and led her through a long passage to the foot of a staircase. Here she feared to proceed, and was running back, when the man suddenly turned to pursue her, and with the terror, which this occasioned, she awoke.

Shocked by these visions, and more so by their seeming connection, which now struck her, she endeavoured to continue awake, left their terrific images should again haunt her mind: after some time, however, her harrassed spirits again sunk into slumber, though not to repose.

She now thought herself in a large old gallery, and saw at one end of it a chamber door standing a little open and a light within: she went towards it, and perceived the man she had before seen, standing at the door and beckoning her towards him. With the inconsistency so common in dreams she no longer endeavoured to avoid him, but advancing, followed him into a suite of very ancient apartments, hung with black, and lighted up as if for a funeral. Still he led her on, till she found herself in the same chamber she remembered to have seen in her former dream: a coffin, covered with a pall, stood at the farther end of the room; some lights, and several persons surrounded it, who appeared to be in great distress.

Suddenly, she thought these persons were all gone, and that she was left alone; that she went up to the coffin, and while she gazed upon it, she heard a voice speak, as if from within, but saw nobody. The man she had before seen, soon after stood by the coffin, and, lifting the pall, she saw beneath it a dead person, whom she thought to be the dying Chevalier she had seen in her former dream: his features were sunk in death, but they were yet serene. While she looked at him, a stream of blood gushed from his side, and descending to the floor, the whole chamber was overflowed; at the same time some words were uttered in the voice she heard before; but the horror of the scene so entirely overcame her, that she started and awoke.

When she had recovered her recollection, she raised herself in the bed, to be convinced it was a dream she had witnessed, and the agitation of her spirits was so great, that she feared to be alone, and almost determined to call Annette. The features of the deceased person, and the chamber where he lay, were strongly impressed upon her memory, and she still thought she heard the voice and saw the countenance which her dream represented. The longer she considered these dreams, the more she was surprized: they were so very terrible, returned so often, and seemed to be so connected with each other, that she could scarcely think them accidental; yet, why they should be supernatural, she could not tell. She slept no more that night.



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