Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévost
. . . How chances mock,
"How inscrutably does Providence connect events! We had hardly proceeded for five minutes on our way, when a man, whose face I could not see, recognised Lescaut. He had no doubt been watching for him near his home, with the horrible intention which he now unhappily executed. 'It IS Lescaut!' said he, snapping a pistol at his head; 'he shall sup tonight with the angels!' He then instantly disappeared. Lescaut fell, without the least sign of life. I pressed Manon to fly, for we could be of no use to a dead man, and I feared being arrested by the police, who would certainly be soon upon the spot. I turned down the first narrow street with her and the servant: she was so overpowered by the scene she had just witnessed, that I could hardly support her. At last, at the end of the street, I perceived a hackney-coach; we got into it, but when the coachman asked whither he should drive, I was scarcely able to answer him. I had no certain asylum—no confidential friend to whom I could have recourse. I was almost destitute of money, having but one dollar left in my purse. Fright and fatigue had so unnerved Manon, that she was almost fainting at my side. My imagination too was full of the murder of Lescaut, and I was not without strong apprehensions of the patrol. What was to be done? I luckily remembered the inn at Chaillot, where we first went to reside in that village. I hoped to be not only secure, but to continue there for some time without being pressed for payment. 'Take us to Chaillot,' said I to the coachman. He refused to drive us so far at that late hour for less than twelve francs. A new embarrassment! At last we agreed for half that sum—all that my purse contained.
"I tried to console Manon as we went along, but despair was rankling in my own heart. I should have destroyed myself a thousand times over, if I had not felt that I held in my arms all that could attach me to life: this reflection reconciled me. 'I possess her at least,' said I; 'she loves me! she is mine! Vainly does Tiberge call this a mere phantom of happiness.' I could, without feeling interest or emotion, see the whole world besides perish around me. Why? Because I have in it no object of affection beyond her.
"This sentiment was true; however, while I so lightly esteemed the good things of the world, I felt that there was no doing without some little portion of them, were it only to inspire a more thorough contempt for the remainder. Love is more powerful than wealth—more attractive than grandeur or fame; but, alas! it cannot exist without certain artificial aids; and there is nothing more humiliating to the feelings, of a sensitive lover, than to find himself, by want of means, reduced to the level of the most vulgar minds.
"It was eleven o'clock when we arrived at Chaillot. They received us at the inn as old acquaintances, and expressed no sort of surprise at seeing Manon in male attire, for it was the custom in Paris and the environs to adopt all disguises. I took care to have her served with as much attention as if I had been in prosperous circumstances. She was ignorant of my poverty, and I carefully kept her so, being resolved to return alone the following day to Paris, to seek some cure for this vexatious kind of malady.
"At supper she appeared pale and thin; I had not observed this at the Hospital, as the room in which I saw her was badly lighted. I asked her if the excessive paleness were not caused by the shock of witnessing her brother's death? She assured me that, horrified as she naturally was at the event, her paleness was purely the effect of a three months' absence from me. 'You do love me then devotedly?' I exclaimed.
"'A thousand times more than I can tell!' was her reply.
"'You will never leave me again?' I added.
"'No! never, never!' answered she.
"This assurance was confirmed by so many caresses and vows, that it appeared impossible she could, to the end of time, forget them. I have never doubted that she was at that moment sincere. What motive could she have had for dissembling to such a degree? But she became afterwards still more volatile than ever, or rather she was no longer anything, and entirely forgot herself, when, in poverty and want, she saw other women living in abundance. I was now on the point of receiving a new proof of her inconstancy, which threw all that had passed into the shade, and which led to the strangest adventure that ever happened to a man of my birth and prospects.
"As I knew her disposition, I hastened the next day to Paris. The death of her brother, and the necessity of getting linen and clothes for her, were such good reasons, that I had no occasion for any further pretext. I left the inn, with the intention, as I told Manon and the landlord, of going in a hired carriage, but this was a mere flourish; necessity obliged me to travel on foot: I walked very fast as far as Cours-la-Reine, where I intended to rest. A moment of solitude and tranquillity was requisite to compose myself, and to consider what was to be done in Paris.
"I sat down upon the grass. I plunged into a sea of thoughts and considerations, which at length resolved themselves into three principal heads. I had pressing want of an infinite number of absolute necessaries; I had to seek some mode of at least raising a hope for the future; and, though last, not least in importance, I had to gain information, and adopt measures, to secure Manon's safety and my own. After having exhausted myself in devising projects upon these three chief points, I was obliged to put out of view for the moment the two last. We were not ill sheltered from observation in the inn at Chaillot; and as to future wants, I thought it would be time enough to think about them when those of the moment were satisfied.
"The main object now was to replenish my purse. M. de T—— had once offered me his, but I had an extreme repugnance to mention the subject to him again. What a degradation to expose one's misery to a stranger, and to ask for charity: it must be either a man of low mind who would thus demean himself, and that from a baseness which must render him insensible to the degradation, or a humble Christian, from a consciousness of generosity in himself, which must put him above the sense of shame. I would have sacrificed half my life to be spared the humiliation.
"'Tiberge,' said I, 'kind Tiberge, will he refuse me what he has it in his power to grant? No, he will assuredly sympathise in my misery; but he will also torture me with his lectures! One must endure his reproaches, his exhortations, his threats: I shall have to purchase his assistance so dearly, that I would rather make any sacrifice than encounter this distressing scene, which cannot fail to leave me full of sorrow and remorse. Well,' thought I again, 'all hope must be relinquished, since no other course presents itself: so far am I from adopting either of these, that I would sooner shed half my blood than face one of these evils, or the last drop rather than encounter both. Yes, the very last drop,' I repeated after a moment's reflection, 'I would sacrifice willingly rather than submit to such base supplication!
"'But it is not in reality a question of my existence! Manon's life and maintenance, her love and her fidelity, are at stake! What consideration can outweigh that? In her are centred all my glory, happiness, and future fortune! There are doubtless many things that I would gladly give up my life to obtain, or to avoid; but to estimate a thing merely beyond the value of my own life, is not putting it on a par with that of Manon.' This idea soon decided me: I went on my way, resolved to go first to Tiberge, and afterwards to M. de T——.
"On entering Paris I took a hackney-coach, though I had not wherewithal to pay for it; I calculated on the loan I was going to solicit. I drove to the Luxembourg, whence I sent word to Tiberge that I was waiting for him. I had not to stay many minutes. I told him without hesitation the extremity of my wants. He asked if the fifty pounds which I had returned to him would suffice, and he at once went to fetch it with that generous air, that pleasure in bestowing which 'blesseth him that gives, and him that takes,' and which can only be known to love or to true friendship.
"Although I had never entertained a doubt of Tiberge's readiness to grant my request, yet I was surprised at having obtained it on such easy terms, that is to say, without a word of reprimand for my impenitence; but I was premature in fancying myself safe from his reproaches, for when he had counted out the money, and I was on the point of going away, he begged of me to take a walk with him in the garden. I had not mentioned Manon's name; he knew nothing of her escape; so that his lecture was merely upon my own rash flight from St. Lazare, and upon his apprehensions lest, instead of profiting by the lessons of morality which I had received there, I should again relapse into dissipation.
"He told me, that having gone to pay me a visit at St. Lazare, the day after my escape, he had been astonished beyond expression at hearing the mode in which I had effected it; that he had afterwards a conversation with the Superior; that the good Father had not quite recovered the shock; that he had, however, the generosity to conceal the real circumstances from the lieutenant-general of police, and that he had prevented the death of the porter from becoming known outside the walls; that I had, therefore, upon that score, no ground for alarm, but that, if I retained one grain of prudence, I should profit by this happy turn which Providence had given to my affairs, and begin by writing to my father, and reconciling myself to his favour; and finally that, if I would be guided by his advice, I should at once quit Paris, and return to the bosom of my family.
"I listened to him attentively till he had finished. There was much in what he said to gratify me. In the first place, I was delighted to learn that I had nothing to fear on account of St. Lazare—the streets of Paris at least were again open to me. Then I rejoiced to find that Tiberge had no suspicion of Manon's escape, and her return to my arms. I even remarked that he had not mentioned her name, probably from the idea that, by my seeming indifference to her, she had become less dear to my heart. I resolved, if not to return home, at least to write to my father, as he advised me, and to assure him that I was disposed to return to my duty, and consult his wishes. My intention was to urge him to send me money for the purpose of pursuing my ordinary studies at the University, for I should have found it difficult to persuade him that I had any inclination to resume my ecclesiastical habit. I was in truth not at all averse to what I was now going to promise him. On the contrary, I was ready to apply myself to some creditable and rational pursuit, so far as the occupation would be compatible with my love. I reckoned upon being able to live with my mistress, and at the same time continuing my studies. I saw no inconsistency in this plan.
"These thoughts were so satisfactory to my mind, that I promised Tiberge to dispatch a letter by that day's post to my father: in fact, on leaving him, I went into a scrivener's, and wrote in such a submissive and dutiful tone, that, on reading over my own letter, I anticipated the triumph I was going to achieve over my father's heart.
"Although I had money enough to pay for a hackney-coach after my interview with Tiberge, I felt a pleasure in walking independently through the streets to M. de T——'s house. There was great comfort in this unaccustomed exercise of my liberty, as to which my friend had assured me I had nothing now to apprehend. However, it suddenly occurred to me, that he had been only referring to St. Lazare, and that I had the other affair of the Hospital on my hands; being implicated, if not as an accomplice, at all events as a witness. This thought alarmed me so much, that I slipped down the first narrow street, and called a coach. I went at once to M. de T——'s, and he laughed at my apprehensions. I myself thought them ridiculous enough, when he informed me that there was no more danger from Lescaut's affray, than from the Hospital adventure. He told me that, from the fear of their suspecting that he had a hand in Manon's escape, he had gone that morning to the Hospital and asked to see her, pretending not to know anything of what had happened; that they were so far from entertaining the least suspicion of either of us, that they lost no time in relating the adventure as a piece of news to him; and that they wondered how so pretty a girl as Manon Lescaut could have thought of eloping with a servant: that he replied with seeming indifference, that it by no means astonished him, for people would do anything for the sake of liberty.
"He continued to tell me how he then went to Lescaut's apartments, in the hope of finding me there with my dear mistress; that the master of the house, who was a coachmaker, protested he had seen neither me nor Manon; but that it was no wonder that we had not appeared there, if our object was to see Lescaut, for that we must have doubtless heard of his having been assassinated about the very same time; upon which, he related all that he knew of the cause and circumstances of the murder.
"About two hours previously, a guardsman of Lescaut's acquaintance had come to see him, and proposed play. Lescaut had such a rapid and extravagant run of luck, that in an hour the young man was minus twelve hundred francs—all the money he had. Finding himself without a sou, he begged of Lescaut to lend him half the sum he had lost; and there being some difficulty on this point, an angry quarrel arose between them. Lescaut had refused to give him the required satisfaction, and the other swore, on quitting him, that he would take his life; a threat which he carried into execution the same night. M. de T—— was kind enough to add, that he had felt the utmost anxiety on our account, and that, such as they were, he should gladly continue to us his services. I at once told him the place of our retreat. He begged of me to allow him to sup with us.
"As I had nothing more to do than to procure the linen and clothes for Manon, I told him that we might start almost immediately, if he would be so good as to wait for me a moment while I went into one or two shops. I know not whether he suspected that I made this proposition with the view of calling his generosity into play, or whether it was by the mere impulse of a kind heart; but, having consented to start immediately, he took me to a shopkeeper, who had lately furnished his house. He there made me select several articles of a much higher price than I had proposed to myself; and when I was about paying the bill, he desired the man not to take a sou from me. This he did so gracefully, that I felt no shame in accepting his present. We then took the road to Chaillot together, where I arrived much more easy in mind than when I had left it that morning.
"My return and the polite attentions of M. de T—— dispelled all Manon's melancholy. 'Let us forget our past annoyances, my dear soul,' said I to her, 'and endeavour to live a still happier life than before. After all, there are worse masters than love: fate cannot subject us to as much sorrow as love enables us to taste of happiness.' Our supper was a true scene of joy.
"In possession of Manon and of twelve hundred and fifty francs, I was prouder and more contented than the richest voluptuary of Paris with untold treasures. Wealth should be measured by the means it affords us of satisfying our desires. There did not remain to me at this moment a single wish unaccomplished. Even the future gave me little concern. I felt a hope, amounting almost to certainty, that my father would allow me the means of living respectably in Paris, because I had become entitled, on entering upon my twentieth year, to a share of my mother's fortune. I did not conceal from Manon what was the extent of my present wealth; but I added, that it might suffice to support us until our fortune was bettered, either by the inheritance I have just alluded to, or by the resources of the hazard-table."