Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévost
Now, by the strange enchantment that surrounds thee,
"While in my confinement Tiberge came one day to see me. I was surprised at the affectionate joy with which he saluted me. I had never, hitherto, observed any peculiar warmth in his friendship that could lead me to look upon it as anything more than the partiality common among boys of the same age. He was so altered, and had grown so manly during the five or six months since I had last seen him, that his expressive features and his manner of addressing me inspired me with a feeling of respect. He spoke more in the character of a mentor than a schoolfellow, lamented the delusion into which I had fallen, congratulated me on my reformation, which he believed was now sincere, and ended by exhorting me to profit by my youthful error, and open my eyes to the vanity of worldly pleasures. I looked at him with some astonishment, which he at once perceived.
"'My dear chevalier,' said he to me, 'you shall hear nothing but the strict truth, of which I have assured myself by the most serious examination. I had, perhaps, as strong an inclination for pleasure as you, but Heaven had at the same time, in its mercy, blessed me with a taste for virtue. I exercised my reason in comparing the consequences of the one with those of the other, and the divine aid was graciously vouchsafed to my reflections. I conceived for the world a contempt which nothing can equal. Can you guess what it is retains me in it now,' he added, 'and that prevents me from embracing a life of solitude? Simply the sincere friendship I bear towards you. I know the excellent qualities of both your heart and head. There is no good of which you may not render yourself capable. The blandishments of pleasure have momentarily drawn you aside. What detriment to the sacred cause of virtue! Your flight from Amiens gave me such intense sorrow, that I have not since known a moment's happiness. You may judge of this by the steps it induced me to take.' He then told me how, after discovering that I had deceived him, and gone off with my mistress, he procured horses for the purpose of pursuing me, but having the start of him by four or five hours, he found it impossible to overtake me; that he arrived, however, at St. Denis half an hour after I had left it; that, being very sure that I must have stopped in Paris, he spent six weeks there in a fruitless endeavour to discover me—visiting every place where he thought he should be likely to meet me, and that one evening he at length recognised my mistress at the play, where she was so gorgeously dressed, that he of course set it down to the account of some new lover; that he had followed her equipage to her house, and had there learned from a servant that she was entertained in this style by M. de B——. 'I did not stop here,' continued he; 'I returned next day to the house, to learn from her own lips what had become of you. She turned abruptly away when she heard the mention of your name, and I was obliged to return into the country without further information. I there learned the particulars of your adventure, and the extreme annoyance she had caused you; but I was unwilling to visit you until I could have assurance of your being in a more tranquil state.'
"'You have seen Manon then!' cried I, sighing. 'Alas! you are happier than I, who am doomed never again to behold her.' He rebuked me for this sigh, which still showed my weakness for the perfidious girl. He flattered me so adroitly upon the goodness of my mind and disposition, that he really inspired me, even on this first visit, with a strong inclination to renounce, as he had done, the pleasures of the world, and enter at once into holy orders.
"The idea was so suited to my present frame of mind, that when alone I thought of nothing else. I remembered the words of the Bishop of Amiens, who had given me the same advice, and thought only of the happiness which he predicted would result from my adoption of such a course. Piety itself took part in these suggestions. 'I shall lead a holy and a Christian life,' said I; 'I shall divide my time between study and religion, which will allow me no leisure for the perilous pleasures of love. I shall despise that which men ordinarily admire; and as I am conscious that my heart will desire nothing but what it can esteem, my cares will not be greater or more numerous than my wants and wishes.'
"I thereupon pictured to myself in anticipation a course of life peaceful and retired. I fancied a retreat embosomed in a wood, with a limpid stream of running water bounding my garden; a library, comprising the most select works; a limited circle of friends, virtuous and intellectual; a table neatly served, but frugal and temperate. To all these agremens I added a literary correspondence with a friend whose residence should be in Paris, who should give me occasional information upon public affairs, less for the gratification of my curiosity, than to afford a kind of relaxation by hearing of and lamenting the busy follies of men. 'Shall not I be happy?' added I; 'will not my utmost wishes be thus gratified?' This project flattered my inclinations extremely. But after all the details of this most admirable and prudent plan, I felt that my heart still yearned for something; and that in order to leave nothing to desire in this most enchanting retirement, one ought to be able to share it with Manon.
"However, Tiberge continuing to pay me frequent visits in order to strengthen me in the purpose with which he had inspired me, I took an opportunity of opening the subject to my father. He declared that his intention ever was to leave his children free to choose a profession, and that in whatever manner I should dispose of myself, all he wished to reserve was the right of aiding me with his counsel. On this occasion he gave me some of the wisest, which tended less to divert me from my project, than to convince me of my good father's sound judgment and discretion.
"The recommencement of the scholastic year being at hand, Tiberge and I agreed to enter ourselves together at St. Sulpice, he to pursue his theological studies, and I to begin mine. His merits, which were not unknown to the bishop of the diocese, procured him the promise of a living from that prelate before our departure.
"My father, thinking me quite cured of my passion, made no objection to my taking final leave. We arrived at Paris. The Cross of Malta gave place to the ecclesiastical habit, and the designation of the Abbe de Grieux was substituted for that of chevalier. I applied so diligently to study, that in a few months I had made extraordinary progress. I never lost a moment of the day, and employed even part of the night. I soon acquired such a reputation, that I was already congratulated upon the honours which I was sure of obtaining; and, without solicitation on my part, my name was inscribed on the list for a vacant benefice. Piety was by no means neglected, and I entered with ardent devotion into all the exercises of religion. Tiberge was proud of what he considered the work of his own hands, and many a time have I seen him shed tears of delight in noticing what he styled my perfect conversion.
"It has never been matter of wonder to me that human resolutions are liable to change; one passion gives them birth, another may destroy them; but when I reflect upon the sacredness of those motives that led me to St. Sulpice, and upon the heartfelt satisfaction I enjoyed while obeying their dictation, I shudder at the facility with which I outraged them all. If it be true that the benign succour afforded by Heaven is at all times equal to the strongest of man's pinions, I shall be glad to learn the nature of the deplorable ascendancy which causes us suddenly to swerve from the path of duty, without the power of offering the least resistance, and without even the slightest visitation of remorse.
"I now thought myself entirely safe from the dangers of love. I fancied that I could have preferred a single page of St. Augustine, or a quarter of an hour of Christian meditation, to every sensual gratification, not excepting any that I might have derived even from Manon's society. Nevertheless, one unlucky moment plunged me again headlong into the gulf; and my ruin was the more irreparable, because, falling at once to the same depth from whence I had been before rescued, each of the new disorders into which I now lapsed carried me deeper and deeper still down the profound abyss of vice. I had passed nearly a year at Paris without hearing of Manon. It cost me no slight effort to abstain from enquiry; but the unintermitting advice of Tiberge, and my own reflections, secured this victory over my wishes. The last months glided away so tranquilly, that I considered the memory of this charming but treacherous creature about to be consigned to eternal oblivion.
"The time arrived when I was to undergo a public examination in the class of theology: I invited several persons of consideration to honour me with their presence on the occasion. My name was mentioned in every quarter of Paris: it even reached the ears of her who had betrayed me. She had some difficulty in recognising it with the prefix of Abbe; but curiosity, or perhaps remorse for having been faithless to me (I could never after ascertain by which of these feelings she was actuated), made her at once take an interest in a name so like mine; and she came with several other women to the Sorbonne, where she was present at my examination, and had doubtless little trouble in recognising my person.
"I had not the remotest suspicion of her presence. It is well known that in these places there are private seats for ladies, where they remain screened by a curtain. I returned to St. Sulpice covered with honours and congratulations. It was six in the evening. The moment I returned, a lady was announced, who desired to speak with me. I went to meet her. Heavens! what a surprise!
"It was Manon. It was she indeed, but more bewitching and brilliant than I had ever beheld her. She was now in her eighteenth year. Her beauty beggars all description. The exquisite grace of her form, the mild sweetness of expression that animated her features, and her engaging air, made her seem the very personification of love. The vision was something too perfect for human beauty.
"I stood like one enchanted at beholding her. Unable to divine the object of her visit, I waited trembling and with downcast looks until she explained herself. At first, her embarrassment was equal to mine; but, seeing that I was not disposed to break silence, she raised her hand to her eyes to conceal a starting tear, and then, in a timid tone, said that she well knew she had justly earned my abhorrence by her infidelity; but that if I had ever really felt any love for her, there was not much kindness in allowing two long years to pass without enquiring after her, and as little now in seeing her in the state of mental distress in which she was, without condescending to bestow upon her a single word. I shall not attempt to describe what my feelings were as I listened to this reproof.
"She seated herself. I remained standing, with my face half turned aside, for I could not muster courage to meet her look. I several times commenced a reply without power to conclude it. At length I made an effort, and in a tone of poignant grief exclaimed: 'Perfidious Manon! perfidious, perfidious creature!' She had no wish, she repeated with a flood of tears, to attempt to justify her infidelity. 'What is your wish, then?' cried I. 'I wish to die,' she answered, 'if you will not give me back that heart, without which it is impossible to endure life.' 'Take my life too, then, faithless girl!' I exclaimed, in vain endeavouring to restrain my tears; 'take my life also! it is the sole sacrifice that remains for me to make, for my heart has never ceased to be thine.'
"I had hardly uttered these words, when she rose in a transport of joy, and approached to embrace me. She loaded me with a thousand caresses. She addressed me by all the endearing appellations with which love supplies his votaries, to enable them to express the most passionate fondness. I still answered with affected coldness; but the sudden transition from a state of quietude, such as that I had up to this moment enjoyed, to the agitation and tumult which were now kindled in my breast and tingled through my veins, thrilled me with a kind of horror, and impressed me with a vague sense that I was about to undergo some great transformation, and to enter upon a new existence.
"We sat down close by each other. I took her hand within mine, 'Ah! Manon,' said I, with a look of sorrow, 'I little thought that love like mine could have been repaid with treachery! It was a poor triumph to betray a heart of which you were the absolute mistress—whose sole happiness it was to gratify and obey you. Tell me if among others you have found any so affectionate and so devoted? No, no! I believe nature has cast few hearts in the same mould as mine. Tell me at least whether you have ever thought of me with regret! Can I have any reliance on the duration of the feeling that has brought you back to me today? I perceive too plainly that you are infinitely lovelier than ever: but I conjure you by all my past sufferings, dearest Manon, to tell me—can you in future be more faithful?'
"She gave me in reply such tender assurances of her repentance, and pledged her fidelity with such solemn protestations and vows, that I was inexpressibly affected. 'Beauteous Manon,' said I, with rather a profane mixture of amorous and theological expressions, 'you are too adorable for a created being. I feel my heart transported with triumphant rapture. It is folly to talk of liberty at St. Sulpice. Fortune and reputation are but slight sacrifices at such a shrine! I plainly foresee it: I can read my destiny in your bright eyes; but what abundant recompense shall I not find in your affections for any loss I may sustain! The favours of fortune have no influence over me: fame itself appears to me but a mockery; all my projects of a holy life were wild absurdities: in fact, any joys but those I may hope for at your side are fit objects of contempt. There are none that would not vanish into worthlessness before one single glance of thine!'
"In promising her, however, a full remission of her past frailties, I enquired how she permitted herself to be led astray by B——. She informed me that having seen her at her window, he became passionately in love with her; that he made his advances in the true style of a mercantile cit;—that is to say, by giving her to understand in his letter, that his payments would be proportioned to her favours; that she had admitted his overtures at first with no other intention than that of getting from him such a sum as might enable us to live without inconvenience; but that he had so bewildered her with splendid promises, that she allowed herself to be misled by degrees. She added, that I ought to have formed some notion of the remorse she experienced, by her grief on the night of our separation; and assured me that, in spite of the splendour in which he maintained her, she had never known a moment's happiness with him, not only, she said, because he was utterly devoid of that delicacy of sentiment and of those agreeable manners which I possessed, but because even in the midst of the amusements which he unceasingly procured her, she could never shake off the recollection of my love, or her own ingratitude. She then spoke of Tiberge, and the extreme embarrassment his visit caused her. 'A dagger's point,' she added, 'could not have struck more terror to my heart. I turned from him, unable to sustain the interview for a moment.'
"She continued to inform me how she had been apprised of my residence at Paris, of the change in my condition, and of her witnessing my examination at the Sorbonne. She told me how agitated she had been during my intellectual conflict with the examiner; what difficulty she felt in restraining her tears as well as her sighs, which were more than once on the point of spurning all control, and bursting forth; that she was the last person to leave the hall of examination, for fear of betraying her distress, and that, following only the instinct of her own heart, and her ardent desires, she came direct to the seminary, with the firm resolution of surrendering life itself, if she found me cruel enough to withhold my forgiveness.
"Could any savage remain unmoved by such proofs of cordial repentance as those I had just witnessed? For my part, I felt at the moment that I could gladly have given up all the bishoprics in Christendom for Manon. I asked what course she would recommend in our present emergency. 'It is requisite,' she replied, 'at all events, to quit the seminary, and settle in some safer place.' I consented to everything she proposed. She got into her carriage to go and wait for me at the corner of the street. I escaped the next moment, without attracting the porter's notice. I entered the carriage, and we drove off to a Jew's. I there resumed my lay-dress and sword. Manon furnished the supplies, for I was without a sou, and fearing that I might meet with some new impediment, she would not consent to my returning to my room at St. Sulpice for my purse. My finances were in truth wretchedly low, and hers more than sufficiently enriched by the liberality of M. de B—— to make her think lightly of my loss. We consulted together at the Jew's as to the course we should now adopt.
"In order to enhance the sacrifice she had made for me of her late lover, she determined to treat him without the least ceremony. 'I shall leave him all his furniture,' she said; 'it belongs to him: but I shall assuredly carry off, as I have a right to do, the jewels, and about sixty thousand francs, which I have had from him in the last two years. I have given him no control over me,' she added, 'so that we may remain without apprehension in Paris, taking a convenient house, where we shall live, oh how happily together!'
"I represented to her that, although there might be no danger for her, there was a great deal for me, who must be sooner or later infallibly recognised, and continually exposed to a repetition of the trials I had before endured. She gave me to understand that she could not quit Paris without regret. I had such a dread of giving her annoyance, that there were no risks I would not have encountered for her sake. However, we compromised matters by resolving to take a house in some village near Paris, from whence it would be easy for us to come into town whenever pleasure or business required it. We fixed on Chaillot, which is at a convenient distance. Manon at once returned to her house, and I went to wait for her at a side-gate of the garden of the Tuileries.
"She returned an hour after, in a hired carriage, with a servant-maid, and several trunks, which contained her dresses, and everything she had of value.
"We were not long on our way to Chaillot. We lodged the first night at the inn, in order to have time to find a suitable house, or at least a commodious lodging. We found one to our taste the next morning.
"My happiness now appeared to be secured beyond the reach of fate. Manon was everything most sweet and amiable. She was so delicate and so unceasing in her attentions to me, that I deemed myself but too bountifully rewarded for all my past troubles. As we had both, by this time, acquired some experience, we discussed rationally the state of our finances. Sixty thousand francs (the amount of our wealth) was not a sum that could be expected to last our whole life; besides, we were neither of us much disposed to control our expenses. Manon's chief virtue assuredly was not economy, any more than it was mine. This was my proposition. 'Sixty thousand francs,' said I, 'may support us for ten years. Two thousand crowns a year will suffice, if we continue to live at Chaillot. We shall keep up appearances, but live frugally. Our only expense will be occasionally a carriage, and the theatres. We shall do everything in moderation. You like the opera; we shall go twice a week, in the season. As for play, we shall limit ourselves; so that our losses must never exceed three crowns. It is impossible but that in the space of ten years some change must occur in my family: my father is even now of an advanced age; he may die; in which event I must inherit a fortune, and we shall then be above all other fears.'
"This arrangement would not have been by any means the most silly act of my life, if we had only been prudent enough to persevere in its execution; but our resolutions hardly lasted longer than a month. Manon's passion was for amusement; she was the only object of mine. New temptations to expense constantly presented themselves, and far from regretting the money which she sometimes prodigally lavished, I was the first to procure for her everything likely to afford her pleasure. Our residence at Chaillot began even to appear tiresome.
"Winter was approaching, and the whole world returning to town; the country had a deserted look. She proposed to me to take a house in Paris. I did not approve of this; but, in order partly at least to satisfy her, I said that we might hire furnished apartments, and that we might sleep there whenever we were late in quitting the assembly, whither we often went; for the inconvenience of returning so late to Chaillot was her excuse for wishing to leave it. We had thus two dwellings, one in town and the other in the country. This change soon threw our affairs into confusion, and led to two adventures, which eventually caused our ruin.
"Manon had a brother in the Guards. He unfortunately lived in the very street in which we had taken lodgings. He one day recognised his sister at the window, and hastened over to us. He was a fellow of the rudest manners, and without the slightest principle of honour. He entered the room swearing in the most horrible way; and as he knew part of his sister's history, he loaded her with abuse and reproaches.
"I had gone out the moment before, which was doubtless fortunate for either him or me, for I was little disposed to brook an insult. I only returned to the lodgings after he had left them. The low spirits in which I found Manon convinced me at once that something extraordinary had occurred. She told me of the provoking scene she had just gone through, and of the brutal threats of her brother. I felt such indignation, that I wished to proceed at once to avenge her, when she entreated me with tears to desist.
"While we were still talking of the adventure, the guardsman again entered the room in which we sat, without even waiting to be announced. Had I known him, he should not have met from me as civil a reception as he did; but saluting us with a smile upon his countenance, he addressed himself to Manon, and said, he was come to make excuses for his violence; that he had supposed her to be living a life of shame and disgrace, and it was this notion that excited his rage; but having since made enquiry from one of our servants, he had learned such a character of me, that his only wish was now to be on terms with us both.
"Although this admission, of having gone for information to one of my own servants, had in it something ludicrous as well as indelicate, I acknowledged his compliments with civility, I thought by doing so to please Manon, and I was not deceived—she was delighted at the reconciliation. We made him stay to dine with us.
"In a little time he became so familiar, that hearing us speak of our return to Chaillot, he insisted on accompanying us. We were obliged to give him a seat in our carriage. This was in fact putting him into possession, for he soon began to feel so much pleasure in our company, that he made our house his home, and made himself in some measure master of all that belonged to us. He called me his brother, and, under the semblance of fraternal freedom, he put himself on such a footing as to introduce all his friends without ceremony into our house at Chaillot, and there entertain them at our expense. His magnificent uniforms were procured of my tailor and charged to me, and he even contrived to make Manon and me responsible for all his debts. I pretended to be blind to this system of tyranny, rather than annoy Manon, and even to take no notice of the sums of money which from time to time he received from her. No doubt, as he played very deep, he was honest enough to repay her a part sometimes, when luck turned in his favour; but our finances were utterly inadequate to supply, for any length of time, demands of such magnitude and frequency.
"I was on the point of coming to an understanding with him, in order to put an end to the system, when an unfortunate accident saved me that trouble, by involving us in inextricable ruin.
"One night we stopped in Paris to sleep, as it had now indeed become our constant habit. The servant-maid who on such occasions remained alone at Chaillot, came early the next morning to inform me that our house had taken fire in the night, and that the flames had been extinguished with great difficulty. I asked whether the furniture had suffered. She answered, that there had been such confusion, owing to the multitude of strangers who came to offer assistance, that she could hardly ascertain what damage had been done. I was principally uneasy about our money, which had been locked up in a little box. I went off in haste to Chaillot. Vain hope! the box had disappeared!
"I discovered that one could love money without being a miser. This loss afflicted me to such a degree that I was almost out of my mind. I saw at one glance to what new calamities I should be exposed: poverty was the least of them. I knew Manon thoroughly; I had already had abundant proof that, although faithful and attached to me under happier circumstances, she could not be depended upon in want: pleasure and plenty she loved too well to sacrifice them for my sake. 'I shall lose her!' I cried; 'miserable chevalier! you are about then to lose all that you love on earth!' This thought agitated me to such a degree that I actually for some moments considered whether it would not be best for me to end at once all my miseries by death. I however preserved presence of mind enough to reflect whether I was entirely without resource, and an idea occurred to me which quieted my despair. It would not be impossible, I thought, to conceal our loss from Manon; and I might perhaps discover some ways and means of supplying her, so as to ward off the inconveniences of poverty.
"I had calculated in endeavouring to comfort myself, that twenty thousand crowns would support us for ten years. Suppose that these ten years had now elapsed, and that none of the events which I had looked for in my family had occurred. What then would have been my course? I hardly know; but whatever I should then have done, why may I not do now? How many are there in Paris, who have neither my talents, nor the natural advantages I possess, and who, notwithstanding, owe their support to the exercise of their talents, such as they are?
"'Has not Providence,' I added, while reflecting on the different conditions of life, 'arranged things wisely?' The greater number of the powerful and the rich are fools. No one who knows anything of the world can doubt that. How admirable is the compensating justice thereof! If wealth brought with it talent also, the rich would be too happy, and other men too wretched. To these latter are given personal advantages and genius, to help them out of misery and want. Some of them share the riches of the wealthy by administering to their pleasures, or by making them their dupes; others afford them instruction, and endeavour to make them decent members of society; to be sure, they do not always succeed; but that was probably not the intention of the divine wisdom. In every case they derive a benefit from their labours by living at the expense of their pupils; and, in whatever point of view it is considered, the follies of the rich are a bountiful source of revenue to the humbler classes.
"These thoughts restored me a little to my spirits and to my reason. I determined first to consult M. Lescaut, the brother of Manon. He knew Paris perfectly; and I had too many opportunities of learning that it was neither from his own estates, nor from the king's pay, that he derived the principal portion of his income. I had about thirty-three crowns left, which I fortunately happened to have about me. I showed him my purse, and explained to him my misfortune and my fears, and then asked him whether I had any alternative between starvation and blowing out my brains in despair. He coolly replied that suicide was the resource of fools. As to dying of want, there were hundreds of men of genius who found themselves reduced to that state when they would not employ their talents; that it was for myself to discover what I was capable of doing, and he told me to reckon upon his assistance and his advice in any enterprise I might undertake.
"'Vague enough, M. Lescaut!' said I to him: 'my wants demand a more speedy remedy; for what am I to say to Manon?' 'Apropos of Manon,' replied he, 'what is it that annoys you about her? Cannot you always find in her wherewithal to meet your wants, when you wish it? Such a person ought to support us all, you and me as well as herself.' He cut short the answer which I was about to give to such unfeeling and brutal impertinence, by going on to say, that before night he would ensure me a thousand crowns to divide between us, if I would only follow his advice; that he was acquainted with a nobleman, who was so liberal in affairs of the kind, that he was certain he would not hesitate for a moment to give the sum named for the favours of such a girl as Manon.
"I stopped him. 'I had a better opinion of you,' said I; 'I had imagined that your motive for bestowing your friendship upon me was very different indeed from the one you now betray.' With the greatest effrontery he acknowledged that he had been always of the same mind, and that his sister having once sacrificed her virtue, though it might be to the man she most loved, he would never have consented to a reconciliation with her, but with the hope of deriving some advantage from her past misconduct.
"It was easy to see that we had been hitherto his dupes. Notwithstanding the disgust with which his proposition inspired me, still, as I felt that I had occasion for his services, I said, with apparent complacency, that we ought only to entertain such a plan as a last resource. I begged of him to suggest some other.
"He proposed to me to turn my youth and the good looks nature had bestowed upon me to some account, by establishing a liaison with some generous old dame. This was just as little to my taste, for it would necessarily have rendered me unfaithful to Manon.
"I mentioned play as the easiest scheme, and the most suitable to my present situation. He admitted that play certainly was a resource, but that it was necessary to consider the point well. 'Mere play,' said he, 'with its ordinary chances, is the certain road to ruin; and as for attempting, alone and without an ally, to employ the little means an adroit man has for correcting the vagaries of luck, it would be too dangerous an experiment.' There was, he stated, a third course, which was to enter into what he called a partnership; but he feared his confederates would consider my youth an objection to my admittance. He, however, promised to use his influence with them; and, what was more than I expected at his hands, he said that he would supply me with a little money whenever I had pressing occasion for any. The only favour I then asked of him was to say nothing to Manon of the loss I had experienced, nor of the subject of our conversation.
"I certainly derived little comfort from my visit to Lescaut; I felt even sorry for having confided my secret to him: not a single thing had he done for me that I might not just as well have done for myself, without troubling him; and I could not help dreading that he would violate his promise to keep the secret from Manon. I had also reason to apprehend, from his late avowals, that he might form the design of making use of her for his own vile purposes, or at least of advising her to quit me for some happier and more wealthy lover. This idea brought in its train a thousand reflections, which had no other effect than to torment me, and throw me again into the state of despair in which I had passed the morning. It occurred to me, more than once, to write to my father; and to pretend a new reformation, in order to obtain some pecuniary assistance from him; but I could not forget that, notwithstanding all his natural love and affection for me, he had shut me up for six months in a confined room for my first transgression; and I was certain that, after the scandalous sensation caused by my flight from St. Sulpice, he would be sure to treat me with infinitely more rigour now.
"At length, out of this chaos of fancies came an idea that all at once restored ease to my mind, and which I was surprised at not having hit upon sooner; this was, to go again to my friend Tiberge, in whom I might be always sure of finding the same unfailing zeal and friendship. There is nothing more glorious—nothing that does more honour to true virtue, than the confidence with which one approaches a friend of tried integrity; no apprehension, no risk of unkind repulse: if it be not always in his power to afford the required succour, one is sure at least of meeting kindness and compassion. The heart of the poor supplicant, which remains impenetrably closed to the rest of the world, opens in his presence, as a flower expands before the orb of day, from which it instinctively knows it can derive a cheering and benign influence only.
"I consider it a blessing to have thought so apropos of Tiberge, and resolved to take measures to find him before evening. I returned at once to my lodgings to write him a line, and fix a convenient place for our meeting. I requested secrecy and discretion, as the most important service he could render me under present circumstances.
"The pleasure I derived from the prospect of seeing Tiberge dissipated every trace of melancholy, which Manon would not have failed otherwise to detect in my countenance. I described our misfortune at Chaillot as a trifle which ought not to annoy her; and Paris being the spot she liked best in the world, she was not sorry to hear me say that it would be necessary for us to remain there entirely, until the little damage was repaired which had been caused by the fire at Chaillot.
"In an hour I received an answer from Tiberge, who promised to be at the appointed rendezvous. I went there punctually. I certainly felt some shame at encountering a friend whose presence alone ought to be a reproach to my iniquities; but I was supported by the opinion I had of the goodness of his heart, as well as by my anxiety about Manon.
"I had begged of him to meet me in the garden of the Palais Royal. He was there before me. He hastened towards me, the moment he saw me approach and shook me warmly by both hands. I said that I could not help feeling perfectly ashamed to meet him, and that I was weighed down by a sense of my ingratitude; that the first thing I implored of him was to tell me whether I might still consider him my friend, after having so justly incurred the loss of his esteem and affection. He replied, in the kindest possible manner, that it was not in the nature of things to destroy his regard for me; that my misfortunes even, or, if he might so call them, my faults and transgressions, had but increased the interest he felt for me; but that he must confess his affection was not unalloyed by a sentiment of the liveliest sorrow, such as a person may be supposed to feel at seeing a beloved object on the brink of ruin, and beyond the reach of his assistance.
"We sat down upon a bench. 'Alas!' said I with a deep sigh, 'your compassion must be indeed great, my dear Tiberge, if you assure me it is equal to my sufferings. I am almost ashamed to recount them, for I confess they have been brought on by no very creditable course of conduct: the results, however, are so truly melancholy, that a friend even less attached than you would be affected by the recital.'
"He then begged of me, in proof of friendship, to let him know, without any disguise, all that had occurred to me since my departure from St. Sulpice. I gratified him; and so far from concealing anything, or attempting to extenuate my faults, I spoke of my passion with all the ardour with which it still inspired me. I represented it to him as one of those especial visitations of fate, which draw on the devoted victim to his ruin, and which it is as impossible for virtue itself to resist, as for human wisdom to foresee. I painted to him in the most vivid colours, my excitement, my fears, the state of despair in which I had been two hours before I saw him, and into which I should be again plunged, if I found my friends as relentless as fate had been. I at length made such an impression upon poor Tiberge, that I saw he was as much affected by compassion, as I by the recollection of my sufferings.
"He took my hand, and exhorted me to have courage and be comforted; but, as he seemed to consider it settled that Manon and I were to separate, I gave him at once to understand that it was that very separation I considered as the most intolerable of all my misfortunes; and that I was ready to endure not only the last degree of misery, but death itself, of the cruellest kind, rather than seek relief in a remedy worse than the whole accumulation of my woes.
"'Explain yourself, then,' said he to me; 'what assistance can I afford you, if you reject everything I propose?' I had not courage to tell him that it was from his purse I wanted relief. He, however, comprehended it in the end; and acknowledging that he believed he now understood me, he remained for a moment in an attitude of thought, with the air of a person revolving something in his mind. 'Do not imagine,' he presently said, 'that my hesitation arises from any diminution of my zeal and friendship; but to what an alternative do you now reduce me, since I must either refuse you the assistance you ask, or violate my most sacred duty in affording it! For is it not participating in your sin to furnish you with the means of continuing its indulgence?'
"'However,' continued he, after a moment's thought, 'it is perhaps the excited state into which want has thrown you, that denies you now the liberty of choosing the proper path. Man's mind must be at rest, to know the luxury of wisdom and virtue. I can afford to let you have some money; and permit me, my dear chevalier, to impose but one condition; that is, that you let me know the place of your abode, and allow me the opportunity of using my exertions to reclaim you. I know that there is in your heart a love of virtue, and that you have been only led astray by the violence of your passions.'
"I, of course, agreed to everything he asked, and only begged of him to deplore the malign destiny which rendered me callous to the counsels of so virtuous a friend. He then took me to a banker of his acquaintance, who gave one hundred and seventy crowns for his note of hand, which was taken as cash. I have already said that he was not rich. His living was worth about six thousand francs a year, but as this was the first year since his induction, he had as yet touched none of the receipts, and it was out of the future income that he made me this advance.
"I felt the full force of his generosity, even to such a degree as almost to deplore the fatal passion which thus led me to break through all the restraints of duty. Virtue had for a moment the ascendancy in my heart, and made me sensible of my shame and degradation. But this was soon over. For Manon I could have given up my hopes of heaven, and when I again found myself at her side, I wondered how I could for an instant have considered myself degraded by my passion for this enchanting girl.
"Manon was a creature of most extraordinary disposition. Never had mortal a greater contempt for money, and yet she was haunted by perpetual dread of wanting it. Her only desire was for pleasure and amusement. She would never have wished to possess a sou, if pleasure could be procured without money. She never even cared what our purse contained, provided she could pass the day agreeably; so that, being neither fond of play nor at all dazzled by the desire of great wealth, nothing was more easy than to satisfy her, by daily finding out amusements suited to her moderate wishes. But it became by habit a thing so absolutely necessary for her to have her mind thus occupied, that, without it, it was impossible to exercise the smallest influence over her temper or inclinations. Although she loved me tenderly, and I was the only person, as she often declared, in whose society she could ever find the pure enjoyments of love, yet I felt thoroughly convinced that her attachment could not withstand certain apprehensions. She would have preferred me, even with a moderate fortune, to the whole world; but I had no kind of doubt that she would, on the other hand, abandon me for some new M. de B——, when I had nothing more to offer her than fidelity and love.
"I resolved therefore so to curtail my own individual expenses, as to be able always to meet hers, and rather to deprive myself of a thousand necessaries than even to limit her extravagance. The carriage made me more uneasy than anything else, for I saw no chance of being able to maintain either coachman or horses.
"I told M. Lescaut of my difficulties, and did not conceal from him that I had received a thousand francs from a friend. He repeated, that if I wished to try the chances of the gaming-table, he was not without hopes that, by spending a few crowns in entertaining his associates, I might be, on his recommendation, admitted into the association. With all my repugnance to cheating, I yielded to dire necessity.
"Lescaut presented me that night as a relation of his own. He added, that I was the more likely to succeed in my new profession, from wanting the favours of fortune. However, to show them that I was not quite reduced to the lowest ebb, he said it was my intention to treat them with a supper. The offer was accepted, and I entertained them en prince. They talked a good deal about my fashionable appearance and the apparent amiability of my disposition; they said that the best hopes might be entertained of me, because there was something in my countenance that bespoke the gentleman, and no one therefore could have a suspicion of my honesty: they voted thanks to Lescaut for having introduced so promising a novice, and deputed one of the members to instruct me for some days in the necessary manoeuvres.
"The principal scene of my exploits was the hotel of Transylvania, where there was a faro table in one room, and other games of cards and dice in the gallery. This academy was kept by the Prince of R——, who then lived at Clagny, and most of his officers belonged to our society. Shall I mention it to my shame? I profited quickly by my instructor's tuition. I acquired an amazing facility in sleight of hand tricks, and learned in perfection to sauter le coup; with the help of a pair of long ruffles, I shuffled so adroitly as to defy the quickest observer, and I ruined several fair players. My unrivalled skill so quickened the progress of my fortunes, that I found myself master, in a few weeks, of very considerable sums, besides what I divided in good faith with my companions.
"I had no longer any fear of communicating to Manon the extent of our loss at Chaillot, and, to console her on the announcement of such disastrous news, I took a furnished house, where we established ourselves in all the pride of opulence and security.
"Tiberge was in the habit, at this period, of paying me frequent visits. He was never tired of his moral lectures. Over and over again did he represent to me the injury I was inflicting upon my conscience, my honour, and my fortune. I received all his advice kindly, and although I had not the smallest inclination to adopt it, I had no doubt of its sincerity, for I knew its source. Sometimes I rallied him good-humouredly, and entreated him not to be more tight-laced than some other priests were, and even bishops, who by no means considered a mistress incompatible with a good and holy life.' 'Look,' I said, 'at Manon's eyes, and tell me if there is one in the long catalogue of sins that might not there find a plea of justification.' He bore these sallies patiently, and carried his forbearance almost too far: but when he saw my funds increase, and that I had not only returned him the hundred and seventy crowns, but having hired a new house and trebled my expenses, I had plunged deeper than ever into a life of pleasure, he changed his tone and manner towards me. He lamented my obduracy. He warned me against the chastisement of the Divine wrath, and predicted some of the miseries with which indeed I was shortly afterwards visited. 'It is impossible,' he said, 'that the money which now serves to support your debaucheries can have been acquired honourably. You have come by it unjustly, and in the same way shall it be taken from you. The most awful punishment Heaven could inflict would be to allow you the undisturbed enjoyment of it. All my advice,' he added, 'has been useless; I too plainly perceive that it will shortly become troublesome to you. I now take my leave; you are a weak, as well as an ungrateful friend! May your criminal enjoyments vanish as a shadow! may your ill-gotten wealth leave you without a resource; and may you yourself remain alone and deserted, to learn the vanity of these things, which now divert you from better pursuits! When that time arrives, you will find me disposed to love and to serve you; this day ends our intercourse, and I once for all avow my horror of the life you are leading.'
"It was in my room and in Manon's presence that he delivered this apostolical harangue. He rose to depart. I was about to detain him; but was prevented by Manon, who said it was better to let the madman go.
"What he said, however, did not fail to make some impression upon me. I notice these brief passages of my life when I experienced a returning sentiment of virtue, because it was to those traces, however light, that I was afterwards indebted for whatever of fortitude I displayed under the most trying circumstances.
"Manon's caresses soon dissipated the annoyance this scene had caused me. We continued to lead a life entirely devoted to pleasure and love. The increase of our wealth only redoubled our affection. There none happier among all the devotees of Venus and Fortune. Heavens! why call this a world of misery, when it can furnish a life of such rapturous enjoyment? But alas, it is too soon over! For what ought man to sigh, could such felicity but last for ever? Ours shared the common fate—in being of short duration, and followed by lasting regrets.
"I had realised by play such a considerable sum of money, that I thought of investing a portion of it. My servants were not ignorant of my good luck, particularly my valet and Manon's own maid, before whom we often talked without any reserve. The maid was handsome, and my valet in love with her. They knew they had to deal with a young and inexperienced couple, whom they fancied they could impose upon without much difficulty. They laid a plan, and executed it with so much skill, that they reduced us to a state from which it was never afterwards possible for us to extricate ourselves.
"Having supped one evening at Lescaut's, it was about midnight when we returned home. I asked for my valet, and Manon for her maid; neither one nor the other could be found. They had not been seen in the house since eight o'clock, and had gone out, after having some cases carried before them, according to orders which they pretended to have received from me. I at once foresaw a part of the truth, but my suspicions were infinitely surpassed by what presented itself on going into my room. The lock of my closet had been forced, and my cash as well as my best clothes were gone. While I stood stupefied with amazement, Manon came, in the greatest alarm, to inform me that her apartment had been rifled in the same manner.
"This blow was so perfectly astounding, so cruel, that it was with difficulty I could refrain from tears. The dread of infecting Manon with my despair made me assume a more contented air. I said, smiling, that I should avenge myself upon some unhappy dupe at the hotel of Transylvania. However, she appeared so sensibly affected, that her grief increased my sorrow infinitely more than my attempt succeeded in supporting her spirits. 'We are destroyed!' said she, with tears in her eyes. I endeavoured, in vain, by my entreaties and caresses, to console her. My own lamentations betrayed my distress and despair. In fact, we were so completely ruined, that we were bereft almost of decent covering.
"I determined to send off at once for Lescaut. He advised me to go immediately to the lieutenant of police, and to give information also to the Grand Provost of Paris. I went, but it was to add to my calamities only; for, independently of my visit producing not the smallest good effect, I, by my absence, allowed Lescaut time for discussion with his sister, during which he did not fail to inspire her with the most horrible resolutions. He spoke to her about M. G—— M——, an old voluptuary, who paid prodigally for his pleasures; he so glowingly described the advantages of such a connection, that she entered into all his plans. This discreditable arrangement was all concluded before my return, and the execution of it only postponed till the next morning, after Lescaut should have apprised G—— M——.
"I found him, on my return, waiting for me at my house; but Manon had retired to her own apartment, and she had desired the footman to tell me that, having need of repose, she hoped she should not be disturbed that night. Lescaut left me, after offering me a few crowns which I accepted.
"It was nearly four o'clock when I retired to bed; and having revolved in my mind various schemes for retrieving my fortunes, I fell asleep so late that I did not awake till between eleven and twelve o'clock. I rose at once to enquire after Manon's health; they told me that she had gone out an hour before with her brother, who had come for her in a hired carriage. Although there appeared something mysterious in such a proceeding, I endeavoured to check my rising suspicions. I allowed some hours to pass, during which I amused myself with reading. At length, being unable any longer to stifle my uneasiness, I paced up and down the apartments. A sealed letter upon Manon's table at last caught my eye. It was addressed to me, and in her handwriting. I felt my blood freeze as I opened it; it was in these words:
I protest to you, dearest chevalier, that you are the idol of my heart, and that you are the only being on earth whom I can truly love; but do you not see, my own poor dear chevalier, that in the situation to which we are now reduced, fidelity would be worse than madness? Do you think tenderness possibly compatible with starvation? For my part, hunger would be sure to drive me to some fatal end. Heaving some day a sigh for love, I should find it was my last. I adore you, rely upon that; but leave to me, for a short while, the management of our fortunes. God help the man who falls into my hands. My only wish is to render my chevalier rich and happy. My brother will tell you about me; he can vouch for my grief in yielding to the necessity of parting from you.
"I remained, after reading this, in a state which it would be difficult to describe; for even now I know not the nature of the feelings which then agitated me. It was one of those unique situations of which others can never have experienced anything even approaching to similarity. It is impossible to explain it, because other persons can have no idea of its nature; and one can hardly even analyse it to oneself. Memory furnishes nothing that will connect it with the past, and therefore ordinary language is inadequate to describe it. Whatever was its nature, however, it is certain that grief, hate, jealousy, and shame entered into its composition. Fortunate would it have proved for me if love also had not been a component part!
"'That she loves me,' I exclaimed, 'I can believe; but could she, without being a monster, hate me? What right can man ever have to woman's affections which I had not to Manon's? What is left to me, after all the sacrifices I have made for her sake? Yet she abandons me, and the ungrateful creature thinks to screen herself from my reproaches by professions of love! She pretends to dread starvation! God of love, what grossness of sentiment! What an answer to the refinement of my adoration! I had no dread of that kind; I, who have almost sought starvation for her sake, by renouncing fortune and the comforts of my father's house! I, who denied myself actual necessaries, in order to gratify her little whims and caprices! She adores me, she says. If you adored me, ungrateful creature, I well know what course you would have taken; you would never have quitted me, at least without saying adieu. It is only I who can tell the pangs and torments, of being separated from all one loves. I must have taken leave of my senses, to have voluntarily brought all this misery upon myself.'
"My lamentations were interrupted by a visit I little expected; it was from Lescaut. 'Assassin!' cried I, putting my hand upon my sword, 'where is Manon? what have you done with her?' My agitation startled him. He replied, that if this was the reception he was to meet, when he came to offer me the most essential service it was in his power to render me, he should take his leave, and never again cross my threshold. I ran to the door of the apartment, which I shut. 'Do not imagine,' I said, turning towards him, 'that you can once more make a dupe of me with your lies and inventions. Either defend your life, or tell me where I can find Manon.' 'How impatient you are!' replied he; 'that was in reality the object of my visit. I came to announce a piece of good fortune which you little expected, and for which you will probably feel somewhat grateful.' My curiosity was at once excited.
"He informed me that Manon, totally unable to endure the dread of want, and, above all, the certainty of being at once obliged to dispense with her equipage, had begged of him to make her acquainted with M. G—— M——, who had a character for liberality. He carefully avoided telling me that this was the result of his own advice, and that he had prepared the way before he introduced his sister. 'I took her there this morning,' said he, 'and the fellow was so enchanted with her looks that he at once invited her to accompany him to his country seat, where he is gone to pass some days. As I plainly perceived,' said Lescaut, 'the advantage it may be to you, I took care to let him know that she had lately experienced very considerable losses; and I so piqued his generosity that he began by giving her four hundred crowns. I told him that was well enough for a commencement, but that my sister would have, for the future, many demands for money; that she had the charge of a young brother, who had been thrown upon her hands since the death of our parents; and that, if he wished to prove himself worthy of her affections, he would not allow her to suffer uneasiness upon account of this child, whom she regarded as part of herself. This speech produced its effect, he at once promised to take a house for you and Manon, for you must know that you are the poor little orphan. He undertook to set you up in furniture, and to give you four hundred livres a month, which if I calculate rightly, will amount to four thousand eight hundred per annum. He left orders with his steward to look out for a house, and to have it in readiness by the time he returned. You will soon, therefore, again see Manon, who begged of me to give you a thousand tender messages, and to assure you that she loves you more dearly than ever.'"