Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévost
The pauses and intermissions of pain become positive pleasures; and have thus a power of shedding a satisfaction over the intervals of ease, which few enjoyments exceed.—PALEY.
"Riding towards the cortege at a slow pace, and with a sorrowful countenance, the guards could hardly see anything very terrific in my approach. They seemed, however, to expect an attack. 'Be persuaded, gentlemen,' said I to them, 'that I come not to wage war, but rather to ask favours.' I then begged of them to continue their progress without any distrust, and as we went along I made my solicitations. They consulted together to ascertain in what way they should entertain my request. The chief of them spoke for the rest. He said that the orders they had received to watch the prisoners vigilantly were of the strictest kind; that, however, I seemed so interesting a young man, that they might be induced to relax a little in their duty; but that I must know, of course, that this would cost me something. I had about sixteen pistoles left, and candidly told them what my purse contained. 'Well,' said the gendarme, 'we will act generously. It shall only cost you a crown an hour for conversing with any of our girls that you may prefer— that is the ordinary price in Paris.'
"I said not a word of Manon, because I did not wish to let them know of my passion. They at first supposed it was merely a boyish whim, that made me think of amusing myself with these creatures but when they discovered that I was in love, they increased their demands in such a way, that my purse was completely empty on leaving Mantes, where we had slept the night before our arrival at Passy.
"Shall I describe to you my heart-rending interviews with Manon during this journey, and what my sensations were when I obtained from the guards permission to approach her caravan? Oh! language never can adequately express the sentiments of the heart; but picture to yourself my poor mistress, with a chain round her waist, seated upon a handful of straw, her head resting languidly against the panel of the carriage, her face pale and bathed with tears, which forced a passage between her eyelids, although she kept them continually closed. She had not even the curiosity to open her eyes on hearing the bustle of the guards when they expected our attack. Her clothes were soiled, and in disorder; her delicate hands exposed to the rough air; in fine, her whole angelic form, that face, lovely enough to carry back the world to idolatry, presented a spectacle of distress and anguish utterly indescribable.
"I spent some moments gazing at her as I rode alongside the carriage. I had so lost my self-possession, that I was several times on the point of falling from my horse. My sighs and frequent exclamations at length attracted her attention. She looked at and recognised me, and I remarked that on the first impulse, she unconsciously tried to leap from the carriage towards me, but being checked by her chain, she fell into her former attitude.
"I begged of the guards to stop one moment for the sake of mercy; they consented for the sake of avarice. I dismounted to go and sit near her. She was so languid and feeble, that she was for some time without the power of speech, and could not raise her hands: I bathed them with my tears; and being myself unable to utter a word, we formed together as deplorable a picture of distress as could well be seen. When at length we were able to speak, our conversation was not less sorrowful. Manon said little: shame and grief appeared to have altered the character of her voice; its tone was feeble and tremulous.
"She thanked me for not having forgotten her, and for the comfort I gave her in allowing her to see me once more, and she then bade me a long and last farewell. But when I assured her that no power on earth could ever separate me from her, and that I was resolved to follow her to the extremity of the world—to watch over her—to guard her—to love her—and inseparably to unite my wretched destiny with hers, the poor girl gave way to such feelings of tenderness and grief, that I almost dreaded danger to her life from the violence of her emotion: the agitation of her whole soul seemed intensely concentrated in her eyes; she fixed them steadfastly upon me. She more than once opened her lips without the power of giving utterance to her thoughts. I could, however, catch some expressions that dropped from her, of admiration and wonder at my excessive love—of doubt that she could have been fortunate enough to inspire me with a passion so perfect—of earnest entreaty that I would abandon my intention of following her, and seek elsewhere a lot more worthy of me, and which, she said, I could never hope to find with her.
"In spite of the cruellest inflictions of Fate, I derived comfort from her looks, and from the conviction that I now possessed her undivided affection. I had in truth lost all that other men value; but I was the master of Manon's heart, the only possession that I prized. Whether in Europe or in America, of what moment to me was the place of my abode, provided I might live happy in the society of my mistress? Is not the universe the residence of two fond and faithful lovers? Does not each find in the other, father, mother, friends, relations, riches, felicity?
"If anything caused me uneasiness, it was the fear of seeing Manon exposed to want. I fancied myself already with her in a barbarous country, inhabited by savages. 'I am quite certain,' said I, 'there will be none there more cruel than G—— M—— and my father. They will, at least, allow us to live in peace. If the accounts we read of savages be true, they obey the laws of nature: they neither know the mean rapacity of avarice, nor the false and fantastic notions of dignity, which have raised me up an enemy in my own father. They will not harass and persecute two lovers, when they see us adopt their own simple habits.' I was therefore at ease upon that point.
"But my romantic ideas were not formed with a proper view to the ordinary wants of life. I had too often found that there were necessaries which could not be dispensed with, particularly by a young and delicate woman, accustomed to comfort and abundance. I was in despair at having so fruitlessly emptied my purse, and the little money that now remained was about being forced from me by the rascally imposition of the gendarmes. I imagined that a very trifling sum would suffice for our support for some time in America, where money was scarce, and might also enable me to form some undertaking there for our permanent establishment.
"This idea made me resolve on writing to Tiberge, whom I had ever found ready to hold out the generous hand of friendship. I wrote from the first town we passed through. I only alluded to the destitute condition in which I foresaw that I should find myself on arriving at Havre-de-Grace, to which place I acknowledged that I was accompanying Manon. I asked him for only fifty pistoles. 'You can remit it to me,' said I to him, 'through the hands of the postmaster. You must perceive that it is the last time I can by possibility trespass on your friendly kindness; and my poor unhappy mistress being about to be exiled from her country for ever, I cannot let her depart without supplying her with some few comforts, to soften the sufferings of her lot, as well as to assuage my own sorrows.'
"The gendarmes became so rapacious when they saw the violence of my passion, continually increasing their demands for the slightest favours, that they soon left me penniless. Love did not permit me to put any bounds to my liberality. At Manon's side I was not master of myself; and it was no longer by the hour that time was measured; rather by the duration of whole days. At length, my funds being completely exhausted, I found myself exposed to the brutal caprice of these six wretches who treated me with intolerable rudeness—you yourself witnessed it at Passy. My meeting with you was a momentary relaxation accorded me by fate. Your compassion at the sight of my sufferings was my only recommendation to your generous nature. The assistance which you so liberally extended, enabled me to reach Havre, and the guards kept their promise more faithfully than I had ventured to hope.
"We arrived at Havre. I went to the post-office: Tiberge had not yet had time to answer my letter. I ascertained the earliest day I might reckon upon his answer: it could not possibly arrive for two days longer; and by an extraordinary fatality, our vessel was to sail on the very morning of the day when the letter might be expected. I cannot give you an idea of my despair. 'Alas!' cried I, 'even amongst the unfortunate, I am to be ever the most wretched!'
"Manon replied: 'Alas! does a life so thoroughly miserable deserve the care we bestow on ours? Let us die at Havre, dearest chevalier! Let death at once put an end to our afflictions! Shall we persevere, and go to drag on this hopeless existence in an unknown land, where we shall, no doubt, have to encounter the most horrible pains, since it has been their object to punish me by exile? Let us die,' she repeated, 'or do at least in mercy rid me of life, and then you can seek another lot in the arms of some happier lover.'
"'No, no, Manon,' said I; 'it is but too enviable a lot, in my estimation, to be allowed to share your misfortunes.'
"Her observations made me tremble. I saw that she was overpowered by her afflictions. I tried to assume a more tranquil air, in order to dissipate such melancholy thoughts of death and despair.
"I resolved to adopt the same course in future; and I learned by the results, that nothing is more calculated to inspire a woman with courage than the demonstration of intrepidity in the man she loves.
"When I lost all hope of receiving the expected assistance from Tiberge, I sold my horse; the money it brought, joined to what remained of your generous gift, amounted to the small sum of forty pistoles; I expended eight in the purchase of some necessary articles for Manon; and I put the remainder by, as the capital upon which we were to rest our hopes and raise our fortunes in America. I had no difficulty in getting admitted on board the vessel. They were at the time looking for young men as voluntary emigrants to the colony. The passage and provisions were supplied gratis. I left a letter for Tiberge, which was to go by the post next morning to Paris. It was no doubt written in a tone calculated to affect him deeply, since it induced him to form a resolution, which could only be carried into execution by the tenderest and most generous sympathy for his unhappy friend.