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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 455

The Romance of the Forest is the wandering story of Pierre de la Motte and Adeline. Pierre is running from his debt and takes his wife south. While on the road, his coachman gets lost, and they must stop at a house that has lights on. When Pierre knocks on...

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The Romance of the Forest is the wandering story of Pierre de la Motte and Adeline. Pierre is running from his debt and takes his wife south. While on the road, his coachman gets lost, and they must stop at a house that has lights on. When Pierre knocks on the door for directions, they come to find out that a young woman is being held against her will inside. Pierre saves her, and she joins the family on their journey.

They come to a town where Pierre finds an abandoned and secluded abbey. The family is told that the abbey is haunted and never visited. This reassures Pierre that they can live without interruption there. However, Pierre’s mood at the abbey sways greatly. He is mostly depressed and is only made happy by Adeline. We come to learn that Adeline was born into a very wealthy family. However, when she refused to marry, her father sent her to the house where Pierre saved her. In Pierre’s fit of isolation, he explores different parts of the abbey. He discovers a skeleton and doesn’t tell his family.

Louise, Pierre’s son, joins the family and falls for Adeline. However, the feelings are not reciprocated, and Pierre’s wife starts to dislike Adeline. This causes Adeline to spend as much time as possible away from the abbey. While in the forest, she encounters a respectful young man. When she returns to the abbey, someone loudly knocks on the door. She faints and wakes to find the man she saw in the woods, Theodore Peyrou. He is accompanied by the owner of the abbey, Marquis de Montalt. The Marquis seems to befriend Pierre, and the two talk at length. He returns to the abbey regularly. Adeline falls in love with Theodore during their visits.

One night, the Marquis has plans to stay for the night. Adeline overhears his plan to take her. She asks Pierre for help, but he refuses. Adeline also finds out why the abbey is haunted. She discovers a note from a past prisoner of the Marquis. The coachman, Peter, agrees to help Adeline escape. Theodore flees with her.

During their escape, they are stopped by officers of the king. Theodore suffers an injury, and the Marquis orders that he be caught for treason. The Marquis orders Pierre to kill Adeline. Pierre is unable to do so and sends her with Peter. At this time, Pierre is sentenced to prison for robbing the Marquis.

After escaping, Adeline befriends Arnaud and Clara la Luc. It turns out that Theodore is really the son of Arnaud. The plot resolves when Thoedore’s charges are dropped. Pierre is exiled from England. Adeline and Theodore marry.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2602

On a tempestuous night, Pierre de la Motte leaves Paris to escape his creditors and prosecution by the law. Descended from an ancient house, he is a man whose passions often prove stronger than his conscience. Having dissipated his own fortune and that of his wife, he has engaged in various questionable schemes that have brought him at last to disgrace and made this flight necessary. Leaving Paris with his wife and two faithful servants, he hopes to find a refuge in some village of the southern provinces. The departure is so sudden that the couple have had no time to say farewell to their son Louis, who is on duty with his regiment in Germany.

Several leagues from the city, the coachman, Peter, loses his way while driving them across a wild heath. La Motte sees in the distance the lighted window of a small, ancient house. He dismounts and walks there in the hope of securing directions from the residents. A grim-visaged man opens the door at his knock, ushers him into a desolate apartment, and abruptly leaves, locking the door behind him. Over the howling of the wind, la Motte can hear rough voices close at hand and the muffled sobbing of a woman.

The door is at last unlocked, and the forbidding ruffian reappears, dragging by the hand a beautiful girl of about eighteen. The man puts a pistol to la Motte’s chest and offers him his choice between death or taking the girl with him. When the girl begs him to take pity on her, la Motte is moved by her tears as much as by his own danger, and he readily assents. Other men appear, and the now blindfolded prisoners are taken on horseback to the edge of the heath, where la Motte’s carriage waits. La Motte and the girl are put into the carriage, and Peter quickly drives them away from the threats and curses of the wild crew. The agitated girl, thrust so strangely into the company of la Motte and his wife, gives her name only as Adeline. Not wishing to add to her distress and filled with pity for her, they do not pursue any further questioning.

Several days later, the travelers reach the vast forest of Fontanville. As the sun is setting, they are awed to see against the ruddy sky the towers of an ancient abbey. Soon after, when one of the carriage wheels breaks and the vehicle is overturned, they decide to return to the abbey. During their explorations of the empty building, they discover a suite of apartments still habitable and of more modern date than the rest of the structure. Despite his wife’s misgivings, la Motte decides to make the secluded abbey his place of refuge.

Peter is dispatched to a nearby village for provisions and furniture, and he returns with the report that the ruins are the property of a nobleman living on a distant estate. The country people also claim that a mysterious prisoner was once confined there, and although no one knows his fate, his ghost is said to haunt the scene of his imprisonment. For seventeen years, the natives of the region have not dared to approach the old abbey.

La Motte is well pleased with all that he hears; before long, he and his household have made their quarters comfortable. La Motte spends most of his mornings out of doors, either hunting or fishing, and his afternoons and evenings with his family. Sometimes he reads, but more often he simply sits in gloomy silence. Only Adeline has the power to enliven his spirits when he grows moody and depressed. She has fully recovered from her terrifying experience and has a sweet, lively disposition and diligent habits. After a time, she confides the story of her life to Madame de la Motte, whom she has begun to look upon as a mother.

She is the only child of the poor but reputable Chevalier de St. Pierre. With her mother dead, she was reared in a convent, after which her father had intended that she should marry. When she refused, he rebuked her for her obstinacy, and one day he took her not to his magnificent house in Paris but to that lonely house on the heath. There she had been turned over to the care of brutal keepers. Only the arrival of la Motte, she believes, saved her from an unknown but terrible fate.

After a month in the forest refuge, la Motte regains a measure of his tranquillity and even cheerfulness, much to the delight of his wife and their ward. Then his mood suddenly changes again. As if he were being preyed upon by some guilty secret or deep remorse, he avoids his family and spends many hours alone in the forest. Peter, the faithful servant, tries to follow his master on more than one occasion, but la Motte always eludes his follower and, at one particular place, disappears as if the trees and rocks have swallowed him. About that time, Peter brings a report from the village that a stranger in the neighborhood has been inquiring for his master. Greatly disturbed, la Motte remembers a trapdoor he had observed in one of the decaying chambers of the abbey. With the hope that it might lead to a good hiding place, he explores the passageway to which the trapdoor gives access and finally comes to a room containing a large chest of ancient design. Throwing open the lid, he is horrified to find a human skeleton. He insists that his family join him in the hidden apartments he has discovered, but he tells the others nothing about the gruesome remains in the chest.

When he ventures out of hiding the next day, la Motte sees a stranger in the abbey and returns quickly to his place of concealment. The group’s provisions are running low, however, and at last it is decided that Adeline should reconnoiter the ruins to learn whether the stranger, assumed to be an officer of the law, has gone away. In the cloisters, she encounters a young man in military uniform. Although she tries to flee, he overtakes her and demands to know the whereabouts of Pierre de la Motte. Adeline’s relief is as great as her joy when the stranger turns out to be Louis de la Motte, whose filial affection has drawn him to his father’s side.

Unfortunately, Louis’s growing fondness for Adeline completely destroys Madame de la Motte’s liking for her. To avoid the older woman’s coldness, Adeline begins to spend much of her time in the forest, where she composes poems inspired by the beauty of the landscape and her own gentle melancholy. One day, while she is singing some stanzas of her own composition, a strange voice echoes hers. Startled to find a young man in hunter’s dress close at hand, she is about to flee in fright when she realizes that the stranger has paused respectfully on seeing her agitation. As she leaves the forest, Adeline decides to refrain for a time from walking so far from the abbey. On her return to the abbey, Madame de la Motte adds to her confusion by greeting her suspiciously.

About a month later, a party of horsemen arrive at the abbey during a violent midnight storm. When no one responds to their knocking, they push the decayed door from its hinges and stalk into the hall. Overcome by fear for her benefactor, Adeline faints. When she revives, she finds the young man of the forest in the room and learns from the conversation that his name is Theodore Peyrou and that his older companion, a chevalier of haughty demeanor, is the Marquis de Montalt, the owner of the abbey, who is staying at his hunting lodge on the edge of the forest. La Motte, who had fled when the knocking began, returns to the room. Immediately, he and the marquis regard each other in great confusion, and the nobleman puts his hand threateningly on his sword. He agrees, however, when la Motte requests a private discussion in another room. Madame de la Motte overhears enough of their conversation to realize that there is some secret between the two men.

The marquis and his retinue depart early in the morning. Returning the next day, the nobleman, after inquiring for la Motte, pays courteous attention to Adeline. When he and la Motte have disappeared into the forest on an errand of their own, Theodore remains with the ladies. Adeline suddenly realizes that she is falling in love with the young man. Louis de la Motte prepares to return to his regiment. The marquis continues to visit the abbey almost every day. Adeline meets Theodore in the forest, and he promises to meet her again the next evening, but he is unable to do so when the marquis suddenly orders him to return to duty.

That night, Adeline dreams that she is in a strange chamber of the abbey, where a cloaked guide conducts her to a coffin covered with a pall. When her guide lifts the covering, she sees a dead man lying within, blood gushing from his side. The next day, the marquis comes for dinner and consents with reluctance to sleep at the abbey. A rearrangement of the private apartments is necessary to accommodate the guests, and Adeline retires to a small chamber usually occupied by Madame de la Motte’s maid. Behind a tapestry, she discovers a door that leads into the chamber she saw in her dream. A rusted dagger lies on the floor, and in a moldering bed, she finds a small roll of manuscript.

On her return to her room, Adeline hears voices coming from the room below. To her horror, she hears the marquis declare his passionate intention to make her his. She retires in great distress of mind, to be aroused again when the nobleman, in evident alarm, leaves the abbey unceremoniously before daybreak. Later that same morning, the marquis returns and, over Adeline’s protests, declares his suit. When she turns to la Motte for aid, he assures her that he is unable to help her, because his safety depends on the nobleman. So great is Adeline’s despair that she almost forgets about the manuscript she found in the abandoned room. She has read enough of the despairing document, however, to realize that it was written by the mysterious prisoner of the abbey, who had been a victim of the marquis. She also learns from Peter that the marquis has a wife still living.

To save the helpless young woman, Peter promises to take her to his native village in Savoy. She is to meet him at an old tomb in the forest, but when she arrives there, a strange horseman appears and, despite her struggles, captures her and carries her to the marquis’s hunting lodge. She manages to escape from the lodge through a window, and Theodore, who returned from his regiment when he learned of the marquis’s evil plans, joins her in her flight. In a carriage that he had waiting, they drive all night in the direction of the frontier. When they stop at an inn for some refreshment, they are overtaken by officers who try to arrest Theodore in the king’s name. Resisting, he receives a saber cut in the head. He has almost recovered from his wound when the Marquis de Montalt appears and orders his men to seize Theodore on a charge of treason. Theodore, snatching up a sergeant’s cutlass, wounds the marquis. During the confusion, Adeline is hustled into a chaise and driven back to the abbey, where la Motte locks her in her room. Anxious for word of Theodore, she is told a short time later that the young officer has been returned under arrest to his regiment.

By the time the marquis is able to travel, his passion for Adeline has turned to hate, and he orders la Motte to kill the girl. The unscrupulous nobleman’s hold over la Motte is strong, for during his early days at the abbey, driven to desperation by his lack of funds, la Motte had robbed the marquis, whom he mistook for a chance traveler. Although he is completely in the marquis’s power, la Motte refuses to stain his hands with blood. Instead, he orders the faithful Peter to take Adeline to Leloncourt, in Savoy, where she will be safe from the marquis’s agents. When her flight is revealed, the nobleman has la Motte arrested for highway robbery and imprisoned.

Shortly after her arrival in Leloncourt, Adeline becomes ill, and Arnaud la Luc, a scholarly clergyman, takes her into his home. During her convalescence, she forms a close friendship with his daughter, Clara. Her grief over Theodore is so deep that she never mentions him to her new friends. Then la Luc’s health begins to fail, and Adeline and Clara accompany him to the Mediterranean seacoast. There Adeline encounters Louis de la Motte and learns that he is on his way to Leloncourt on an errand for Theodore. To her great surprise, it is revealed that the man she knows as Theodore Peyrou is in reality the son of Arnaud la Luc. The travelers immediately hasten to Vaceau, where the young officer is being held under sentence of death.

Meanwhile, la Motte has been taken to Paris for trial on the charges brought against him by the marquis. The prisoner is in despair when an unexpected witness appears in his behalf. The man is Du Bosse, one of the ruffians hired to dispose of Adeline while she was held prisoner in the lonely house on the heath. His story starts an investigation that reveals that Adeline may be the natural daughter of the Marquis de Montalt, who had never seen the girl before he met her at the ruined abbey. In the past, one of his agents had always played the part of her father. The marquis is arrested, and Adeline is summoned to Paris for his trial. With the marquis’s arrest, other activities he has engaged in come to light. He ordered the murder of his older brother, whose skeleton la Motte found in the abbey. The confederate also testifies that Adeline is not the nobleman’s natural daughter but his older brother’s legitimate child, an heir whom the marquis had tried to conceal from the world. The manuscript Adeline found in the abbey provides further evidence of her uncle’s villainy. He is sentenced to death for his crimes.

When the extent of the marquis’s evil schemes becomes known, Theodore receives a royal pardon and is restored to his military rank. Pierre de la Motte is sentenced to exile in England, and with her newfound inheritance, Adeline is able to provide for his comfort and that of his wife in their old age. She arranges for the burial of her father’s skeleton, with all respect, in the vault of his ancestors. A short time later, she and Theodore marry and go to live at Leloncourt. Clara marries Monsieur Verneuil, Adeline’s distant kinsman, who has been helpful to her and the la Lucs during the time of their distress over Theodore and la Motte. Before many years have passed, Louis de la Motte and his bride settle in a house nearby, and there in Leloncourt the three deserving couples live out their lives in happiness and prosperity.

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