Why did he love her? Curious fool, be still! Is human love the fruit of human will? BYRON.
Just about six months before my departure for Spain, I first met the Chevalier des Grieux. Though I rarely quitted my retreat, still the interest I felt in my child's welfare induced me occasionally to undertake short journeys, which, however, I took good care to abridge as much as possible.
I was one day returning from Rouen, where I had been, at her request, to attend a cause then pending before the Parliament of Normandy, respecting an inheritance to which I had claims derived from my maternal grandfather. Having taken the road by Evreux, where I slept the first night, I on the following day, about dinner-time, reached Passy, a distance of five or six leagues. I was amazed, on entering this quiet town, to see all the inhabitants in commotion. They were pouring from their houses in crowds, towards the gate of a small inn, immediately before which two covered vans were drawn up. Their horses still in harness, and reeking from fatigue and heat, showed that the cortege had only just arrived. I stopped for a moment to learn the cause of the tumult, but could gain little information from the curious mob as they rushed by, heedless of my enquiries, and hastening impatiently towards the inn in the utmost confusion. At length an archer of the civic guard, wearing his bandolier, and carrying a carbine on his shoulder, appeared at the gate; so, beckoning him towards me, I begged to know the cause of the uproar. "Nothing, sir," said he, "but a dozen of the frail sisterhood, that I and my comrades are conducting to Havre-de-Grace, whence we are to ship them for America. There are one or two of them pretty enough; and it is that, apparently, which attracts the curiosity of these good people."
I should have passed on, satisfied with this explanation, if my attention had not been arrested by the cries of an old woman, who was coming out of the inn with her hands clasped, and exclaiming:
"A downright barbarity!—A scene to excite horror and compassion!" "What may this mean?" I enquired. "Oh! sir; go into the house yourself," said the woman, "and see if it is not a sight to rend your heart!" Curiosity made me dismount; and leaving my horse to the care of the ostler, I made my way with some difficulty through the crowd, and did indeed behold a scene sufficiently touching.
Among the twelve girls, who were chained together by the waist in two rows, there was one, whose whole air and figure seemed so ill-suited to her present condition, that under other circumstances I should not have hesitated to pronounce her a person of high birth. Her excessive grief, and even the wretchedness of her attire, detracted so little from her surpassing beauty, that at first sight of her I was inspired with a mingled feeling of respect and pity.
She tried, as well as the chain would permit her, to turn herself away, and hide her face from the rude gaze of the spectators. There was something so unaffected in the effort she made to escape observation, that it could but have sprung from natural and innate modesty alone.
As the six men who escorted the unhappy train were together in the room, I took the chief one aside and asked for information respecting this beautiful girl. All that he could supply was of the most vague kind. "We brought her," he said, "from the Hospital, by order of the lieutenant-general of police. There is no reason to suppose that she was shut up there for good conduct.
"I have questioned her often upon the road; but she persists in refusing even to answer me. Yet, although I received no orders to make any distinction between her and the others, I cannot help treating her differently, for she seems to me somewhat superior to her companions. Yonder is a young man," continued the archer, "who can tell you, better than I can, the cause of her misfortunes. He has followed her from Paris, and has scarcely dried his tears for a single moment. He must be either her brother or her lover."
I turned towards the corner of the room, where this young man was seated. He seemed buried in a profound reverie. Never did I behold a more affecting picture of grief. He was plainly dressed; but one may discover at the first glance a man of birth and education. As I approached him he rose, and there was so refined and noble an expression in his eyes, in his whole countenance, in his every movement, that I felt an involuntary impulse to render him any service in my power. "I am unwilling to intrude upon your sorrows," said I, taking a seat beside him, "but you will, perhaps, gratify the desire I feel to learn something about that beautiful girl, who seems little formed by nature for the miserable condition in which she is placed."
He answered me candidly, that he could not communicate her history without making himself known, and that he had urgent reasons for preserving his own incognito. "I may, however, tell you this much, for it is no longer a secret to these wretches," he continued, pointing to the guards,—"that I adore her with a passion so ardent and absorbing as to render me the most unhappy of human beings. I tried every means at Paris to effect her liberty. Petitions, artifice, force—all failed. Go where she may, I have resolved to follow her—to the extremity of the world. I shall embark with her and cross to America.
"But think of the brutal inhumanity of these cowardly ruffians," he added, speaking of the guards; "they will not allow me to approach her! I had planned an open attack upon them some leagues from Paris; having secured, as I thought, the aid of four men, who for a considerable sum hired me their services. The traitors, however, left me to execute my scheme single-handed, and decamped with my money. The impossibility of success made me of course abandon the attempt, I then implored of the guards permission to follow in their train, promising them a recompense. The love of money procured their consent; but as they required payment every time I was allowed to speak to her, my purse was speedily emptied; and now that I am utterly penniless, they are barbarous enough to repulse me brutally, whenever I make the slightest attempt to approach her. It is but a moment since, that venturing to do so, in spite of their threats, one of the fellows raised the butt-end of his musket. I am now driven by their exactions to dispose of the miserable horse that has brought me hither, and am preparing to continue the journey on foot."
Although he seemed to recite this story tranquilly enough, I observed the tears start to his eyes as he concluded. This adventure struck me as being not less singular than it was affecting. "I do not press you," said I to him, "to make me the confidant of your secrets; but if I can be of use to you in any way, I gladly tender you my services." "Alas!" replied he, "I see not the slightest ray of hope. I must reconcile myself to my destiny in all its rigour. I shall go to America: there, at least, I may be free to live with her I love. I have written to a friend, who will send me money to Havre-de-Grace. My only difficulty is to get so far, and to supply that poor creature," added he, as he cast a look of sorrow at his mistress, "with some few comforts upon the way." "Well!" said I to him, "I shall relieve you from that difficulty. Here is some money, of which I entreat your acceptance: I am only sorry that I can be of no greater service to you."
I gave him four louis-d'ors without being perceived by the guards; for I thought that if they knew he had this money, they might have raised the price of their concessions. It occurred to me, even, to come to an understanding with them, in order to secure for the young man the privilege of conversing with his mistress, during the rest of the journey to Havre, without hindrance. I beckoned the chief to approach, and made the proposition to him. It seemed to abash the ruffian, in spite of his habitual effrontery. "It is not, sir," said he, in an embarrassed tone, "that we refuse to let him speak to the girl, but he wishes to be always near her, which puts us to inconvenience; and it is just that we should be paid for the trouble he occasions." "Let us see!" said I to him, "what would suffice to prevent you from feeling the inconvenience?" He had the audacity to demand two louis. I gave them to him on the spot. "But have a care," said I to him, "that we have no foul play: for I shall give the young man my address, in order that he may write to me on his arrival; and be assured that I am not without the power to punish you." It cost me altogether six louis-d'ors.
The graceful manner and heartfelt gratitude with which the young unknown thanked me, confirmed my notion that he was of good birth and merited my kindness. I addressed a few words to his mistress before I left the room. She replied to me with a modesty so gentle and so charming that I could not help making, as I went out, a thousand reflections upon the incomprehensible character of women.
Returned to my retreat, I remained in ignorance of the result of this adventure; and ere two years had passed, it was completely blotted from my recollection, when chance brought me an opportunity of learning all the circumstances from beginning to end.
I arrived at Calais, from London, with my pupil, the Marquis of ——. We lodged, if I remember rightly, at the "Golden Lion," where, for some reason, we were obliged to spend the following day and night. Walking along the streets in the afternoon, I fancied I saw the same young man whom I had formerly met at Passy. He was miserably dressed, and much paler than when I first saw him. He carried on his arm an old portmanteau, having only just arrived in the town. However, there was an expression in his countenance too amiable not to be easily recognised, and which immediately brought his features to my recollection. "Observe that young man," said I to the Marquis; "we must accost him."
His joy was beyond expression when, in his turn, he recognised me.
"Ah, sir!" he cried, kissing my hand, "I have then once again an opportunity of testifying my eternal gratitude to you!" I enquired of him whence he came. He replied, that he had just arrived, by sea, from Havre, where he had lately landed from America. "You do not seem to be too well off for money," said I to him; "go on to the 'Golden Lion,' where I am lodging; I will join you in a moment."
I returned, in fact, full of impatience to learn the details of his misfortunes, and the circumstances of his voyage to America. I gave him a thousand welcomes, and ordered that they should supply him with everything he wanted. He did not wait to be solicited for the history of his life. "Sir," said he to me, "your conduct is so generous, that I should consider it base ingratitude to maintain any reserve towards you. You shall learn not only my misfortunes and sufferings, but my faults and most culpable weaknesses. I am sure that, even while you blame me, you will not refuse me your sympathy."
I should here inform the reader that I wrote down the story almost immediately after hearing it; and he may, therefore, be assured of the correctness and fidelity of the narrative. I use the word fidelity with reference to the substance of reflections and sentiments, which the young man conveyed in the most graceful language. Here, then, is his story, which in its progress I shall not encumber with a single observation that was not his own.
I loved Ophelia! forty thousand brothers Could not, with all their quantity of love, Make up my sum. SHAKESPEARE.
"I was seventeen years old, and was finishing my studies at Amiens, whither my parents, who belonged to one of the first families in Picardy, had sent me. I led a life so studious and well regulated, that my masters pointed to me as a model of conduct for the other scholars. Not that I made any extraordinary efforts to acquire this reputation, but my disposition was naturally tractable and tranquil; my inclinations led me to apply to study; and even the natural dislike I felt for vice was placed to my credit as positive proof of virtue. The successful progress of my studies, my birth, and some external advantages of person, made me a general favourite with the inhabitants of the town.
"I completed my public exercises with such general approbation, that the bishop of the diocese, who was present, proposed to me to enter the church, where I could not fail, he said, to acquire more distinction than in the Order of Malta, for which my parents had destined me. I was already decorated with the Cross, and called the Chevalier des Grieux. The vacation having arrived, I was preparing to return to my father, who had promised to send me soon to the Academy.
"My only regret on quitting Amiens arose from parting with a friend, some years older than myself, to whom I had always been tenderly attached. We had been brought up together; but from the straitened circumstances of his family, he was intended to take orders, and was to remain after me at Amiens to complete the requisite studies for his sacred calling. He had a thousand good qualities. You will recognise in him the very best during the course of my history, and above all, a zeal and fervour of friendship which surpass the most illustrious examples of antiquity. If I had at that time followed his advice, I should have always continued a discreet and happy man. If I had even taken counsel from his reproaches, when on the brink of that gulf into which my passions afterwards plunged me, I should have been spared the melancholy wreck of both fortune and reputation. But he was doomed to see his friendly admonitions disregarded; nay, even at times repaid by contempt from an ungrateful wretch, who often dared to treat his fraternal conduct as offensive and officious.
"I had fixed the day for my departure from Amiens. Alas! that I had not fixed it one day sooner! I should then have carried to my father's house my innocence untarnished.
"The very evening before my expected departure, as I was walking with my friend, whose name was Tiberge, we saw the Arras diligence arrive, and sauntered after it to the inn, at which these coaches stop. We had no other motive than curiosity. Some worn men alighted, and immediately retired into the inn. One remained behind: she was very young, and stood by herself in the court, while a man of advanced age, who appeared to have charge of her, was busy in getting her luggage from the vehicle. She struck me as being so extremely beautiful, that I, who had never before thought of the difference between the sexes, or looked on woman with the slightest attention—I, whose conduct had been hitherto the theme of universal admiration, felt myself, on the instant, deprived of my reason and self-control. I had been always excessively timid, and easily disconcerted; but now, instead of meeting with any impediment from this weakness, I advanced without the slightest reserve towards her, who had thus become, in a moment, the mistress of my heart.
"Although younger than myself, she received my civilities without embarrassment. I asked the cause of her journey to Amiens, and whether she had any acquaintances in the town. She ingenuously told me that she had been sent there by her parents, to commence her novitiate for taking the veil. Love had so quickened my perception, even in the short moment it had been enthroned, that I saw in this announcement a death-blow to my hopes. I spoke to her in a way that made her at once understand what was passing in my mind; for she had more experience than myself. It was against her consent that she was consigned to a convent, doubtless to repress that inclination for pleasure which had already become too manifest, and which caused, in the sequel, all her misfortunes and mine. I combated the cruel intention of her parents with all the arguments that my new-born passion and schoolboy eloquence could suggest. She affected neither austerity nor reserve. She told me, after a moment's silence, that she foresaw too clearly, what her unhappy fate must be; but that it was, apparently, the will of Heaven, since there were no means left her to avert it. The sweetness of her look, the air of sorrow with which she pronounced these words, or rather perhaps the controlling destiny which led me on to ruin, allowed me not an instant to weigh my answer. I assured her that if she would place reliance on my honour, and on the tender interest with which she had already inspired me, I would sacrifice my life to deliver her from the tyranny of her parents, and to render her happy. I have since been a thousand times astonished in reflecting upon it, to think how I could have expressed myself with so much boldness and facility; but love could never have become a divinity, if he had not often worked miracles.
"I made many other pressing and tender speeches; and my unknown fair one was perfectly aware that mine was not the age for deceit. She confessed to me that if I could see but a reasonable hope of being able to effect her enfranchisement, she should deem herself indebted for my kindness in more than life itself could pay. I repeated that I was ready to attempt anything in her behalf; but, not having sufficient experience at once to imagine any reasonable plan of serving her, I did not go beyond this general assurance, from which indeed little good could arise either to her or to myself. Her old guardian having by this time joined us, my hopes would have been blighted, but that she had tact enough to make amends for my stupidity. I was surprised, on his approaching us, to hear her call me her cousin, and say, without being in the slightest degree disconcerted, that as she had been so fortunate as to fall in with me at Amiens, she would not go into the convent until the next morning, in order to have the pleasure of meeting me at supper. Innocent as I was, I at once comprehended the meaning of this ruse; and proposed that she should lodge for the night at the house of an innkeeper, who, after being many years my father's coachman, had lately established himself at Amiens, and who was sincerely attached to me.
"I conducted her there myself, at which the old Argus appeared to grumble a little; and my friend Tiberge, who was puzzled by the whole scene, followed, without uttering a word. He had not heard our conversation, having walked up and down the court while I was talking of love to my angelic mistress. As I had some doubts of his discretion, I got rid of him, by begging that he would execute a commission for me. I had thus the happiness, on arriving at the inn, of entertaining alone the sovereign of my heart.
"I soon learned that I was less a child than I had before imagined. My heart expanded to a thousand sentiments of pleasure, of which I had not before the remotest idea. A delicious consciousness of enjoyment diffused itself through my whole mind and soul. I sank into a kind of ecstasy, which deprived me for a time of the power of utterance, and which found vent only in a flood of tears.
"Manon Lescaut (this she told me was her name) seemed gratified by the visible effect of her own charms. She appeared to me not less excited than myself. She acknowledged that she was greatly pleased with me, and that she should be enchanted to owe to me her freedom and future happiness. She would insist on hearing who I was, and the knowledge only augmented her affection; for, being herself of humble birth, she was flattered by securing for her lover a man of family.
"After many reflections we could discover no other resource than in flight. To effect this it would be requisite to cheat the vigilance of Manon's guardian, who required management, although he was but a servant. We determined, therefore, that, during the night, I should procure a post-chaise, and return with it at break of day to the inn, before he was awake; that we should steal away quietly, and go straight to Paris, where we might be married on our arrival. I had about fifty crowns in my pocket, the fruit of my little savings at school; and she had about twice as much. We imagined, like inexperienced children, that such a sum could never be exhausted, and we counted, with equal confidence, upon the success of our other schemes.
"After having supped, with certainly more satisfaction than I had ever before experienced, I retired to prepare for our project. All my arrangements were the more easy, because, for the purpose of returning on the morrow to my father's, my luggage had been already packed. I had, therefore, no difficulty in removing my trunk, and having a chaise prepared for five o'clock in the morning, at which hour the gates of the town would be opened; but I encountered an obstacle which I was little prepared for, and which nearly upset all my plans.
"Tiberge, although only three years older than myself, was a youth of unusually strong mind, and of the best regulated conduct. He loved me with singular affection. The sight of so lovely a girl as Manon, my ill-disguised impatience to conduct her to the inn, and the anxiety I betrayed to get rid of him, had excited in his mind some suspicions of my passion. He had not ventured to return to the inn where he had left me, for fear of my being annoyed at his doing so; but went to wait for me at my lodgings, where, although it was ten o'clock at night, I found him on my arrival. His presence annoyed me, and he soon perceived the restraint which it imposed. 'I am certain,' he said to me, without any disguise, 'that you have some plan in contemplation which you will not confide to me; I see it by your manner.' I answered him rather abruptly, that I was not bound to render him an account of all my movements. 'Certainly not!' he replied; 'but you have always, hitherto, treated me as a friend, and that appellation implies a certain degree of confidence and candour.' He pressed me so much and so earnestly to discover my secret, that, having never up to that moment felt the slightest reserve towards him, I confided to him now the whole history of my passion. He heard it with an appearance of disapprobation, which made me tremble; and I immediately repented of my indiscretion, in telling him of my intended elopement. He told me he was too sincerely my friend not to oppose every obstacle in his power to such a scheme; that he would first try all other means of turning me from such a purpose, but that if I refused to renounce so fatal a resolution, he assuredly would inform some persons of my intention, who would be able to defeat it. He held forth upon the subject for a full quarter of an hour, in the most serious tone, and ended by again threatening to inform against me, if I did not pledge him my word that I would return to the paths of discretion and reason.
"I was in despair at having so awkwardly betrayed myself. However, love having wonderfully sharpened my intellect during the last two or three hours, I recollected that I had not yet told him of its being my intention to execute my project on the following morning, and I at once determined to deceive him by a little equivocation.
"'Tiberge,' said I to him, 'up to the present moment I thought you were my friend; and I wished to prove it by the test of confidence. It is true, I am in love; I have not deceived you: but with regard to my flight, that is a project not to be undertaken without deliberation. Call for me tomorrow at nine o'clock: you shall see my mistress, if it be possible, and then judge whether she is not worthy of any risk or sacrifice on my part.' He left me, with a thousand protestations of friendship.
"I employed the night in preparing for the journey, and on repairing to the inn at early dawn, I found Manon waiting my arrival. She was at her window, which looked upon the street, and perceiving my approach, she came down and opened the door herself. We took our departure silently, and without creating the least alarm. She merely brought away a small portion of her apparel, of which I took charge. The chaise was in readiness, and we were soon at a distance from the town.
"You will learn in the sequel what was the conduct of Tiberge when he discovered that I had deceived him; that his zeal to serve me suffered no diminution; and you will observe to what lengths his devotion carried him. How ought I to grieve, when I reflect on the base ingratitude with which his affection was always repaid!
"We made such speed on our journey that before night we reached St. Denis. I rode alongside of the chaise, which gave us little opportunity for conversation, except while changing horses; but when we found ourselves so near Paris, and out of the reach of danger, we allowed ourselves time for refreshment, not having tasted food since we quitted Amiens. Passionately in love as I felt with Manon, she knew how to convince me that she was equally so with me. So little did we restrain our fondness, that we had not even patience to reserve our caresses till we were alone. The postilions and innkeepers stared at us with wonder, and I remarked that they appeared surprised at such uncontrollable love in children of our age.
"Our project of marriage was forgotten at St. Denis; we defrauded the Church of her rights; and found ourselves united as man and wife without reflecting on the consequences. It is certain that with my easy and constant disposition, I should have been happy for my whole life, if Manon had remained faithful to me. The more I saw of her, the more I discovered in her new perfections. Her mind, her heart, her gentleness and beauty, formed a chain at once so binding and so agreeable, that I could have found perfect happiness in its enduring influence. Terrible fatality? that which has been the source of my despair, might, under a slight change of circumstances, have constituted my happiness. I find myself the most wretched of mankind, by the force of that very constancy from which I might have fairly expected to derive the most serene of human blisses, and the most perfect recompense of love.
"We took a furnished apartment at Paris, in the Rue V——, and, as it afterwards turned out, to my sorrow, close to the house of M. de B——, the famous Fermier-general. Three weeks passed, during which I was so absorbed in my passion, that I never gave a thought to my family, nor dreamed of the distress which my father probably felt at my absence. However, as there was yet nothing of profligacy about me, and as Manon conducted herself with the strictest propriety, the tranquil life we led served to restore me by degrees to a sense of duty.
"I resolved to effect, if possible, a reconciliation with my parent. My mistress was to me so perfectly lovable, that I could not a doubt her power of captivating my father, if I could only find the means of making him acquainted with her good conduct and merit. In a word, I relied on obtaining his consent to our marriage, having given up all idea of accomplishing it without his approval. I mentioned the project to Manon, and explained to her that, besides every motive of filial love and duty, the weightier one of necessity should also have some influence; for our finances were sadly reduced, and I began to see the folly of thinking them, as I once did, inexhaustible.
"Manon received the proposition with considerable coldness. However, the difficulties she made, being apparently the suggestions of tenderness alone, or as arising from the natural fear of losing me, if my father, after learning our address, should refuse his assent to our union, I had not the smallest suspicion of the cruel blow she was at the very time preparing to inflict. As to the argument of necessity, she replied that we had still abundant means of living for some weeks longer, and that she would then find a resource in the kindness of some relations in the country, to whom she should write. She tempered her opposition by caresses so tender and impassioned, that I, who lived only for her, and who never had the slightest misgiving as to her love, applauded at once her arguments and her resolutions.
"To Manon I had committed the care of our finances, and the house-hold arrangements. In a short time, I observed that our style of living was improved, and that she had treated herself to more expensive dresses. As I calculated that we could hardly have at this period more than fifteen or twenty crowns remaining, I did not conceal my surprise at this mysterious augmentation of our wealth. She begged of me, with a smile, to give myself no trouble on that head. 'Did I not promise you,' said she, 'that I would find resources?' I loved her too purely to experience the slightest suspicion.
"One day, having gone out in the afternoon, and told her that I should not be at home so early as usual, I was astonished, on my return, at being detained several minutes at the door. Our only servant was a young girl about our own age. On her letting me in at last, I asked why she had detained me so long? She replied in an embarrassed tone, that she did not hear me knock. 'I only knocked once,' said I; 'so if you did not hear me, why come to open the door at all?' This query disconcerted her so visibly, that losing her presence of mind, she began to cry, assuring me that it was not her fault; and that her mistress had desired her not to open the door until M. de B——had had time to go down by the back staircase. I was so confounded by this information as to be utterly unable to proceed to our apartment; and was obliged to leave the house, under the pretext of an appointment. I desired the girl, therefore, to let her mistress know that I should return in a few minutes, but on no account to say that she had spoken to me of M. de B——.
"My horror was so great, that I shed tears as I went along, hardly knowing from what feeling they flowed. I entered a coffee-house close by, and placing myself at a table, I buried my face between my hands, as though I would turn my eyes inward to ascertain what was passing in my heart. Still, I dared not recall what I had heard the moment before. I strove to look upon it as a dream; and was more than once on the point of returning to my lodgings, determined to attach no importance to what I had heard.
"It appeared to me so impossible that Manon could have been unfaithful, that I feared even to wrong her by a suspicion. I adored her—that was too certain; I had not on my part given her more proofs of my love than I had received of hers; why then should I charge her with being less sincere and constant than myself? What reason could she have to deceive me? Not three hours before, she had lavished upon me the most tender caresses, and had received mine with transport: I knew her heart as thoroughly as my own. 'No, no!' I said, 'it is not possible that Manon can have deceived me. She well knows that I live but for her; that I adore her: upon that point I can have no reason to be unhappy.'
"Notwithstanding these reflections, the visit of M. de B——, and his secret departure, gave me some uneasiness. I remembered, too, the little purchases she had lately made, which seemed beyond our present means. This looked like the liberality of a new lover. And the confidence with which she had foretold resources which were to me unknown? I had some difficulty in solving these mysteries in as favourable a manner as my heart desired.
"On the other hand, she had been hardly out of my sight since we entered Paris. However occupied, in our walks, in all our amusements, she was ever at my side. Heavens! even a momentary separation would have been too painful. I could not therefore imagine how Manon could, to any other person, have devoted a single instant.
"At last I thought I had discovered a clue to the mystery. 'M. de B——' said I to myself, 'is a man extensively engaged in commercial affairs; and Manon's relations have no doubt remitted her money through his house. She has probably already received some from him, and he is come today to bring her more. She wishes, perhaps, to derive amusement by and by, from an agreeable surprise, by keeping me at present in the dark. She would doubtless have at once told me all, if I had gone in as usual, instead of coming here to distress myself: at all events, she will not conceal it from me when I broach the subject myself.'
"I cherished this idea so willingly, that it considerably lightened my grief. I immediately returned to my lodgings, and embraced Manon as tenderly as ever. She received me as usual. At first I was tempted to mention my conjectures, which I now, more than ever, looked upon as certain; but I restrained myself in the hope that she might render it unnecessary by informing me of all that had passed.
"Supper was served. Assuming an air of gaiety, I took my seat at table; but by the light of the candles which were between us, I fancied I perceived an air of melancholy about the eyes and countenance of my beloved mistress. The very thought soon damped my gaiety. I remarked that her looks wore an unusual expression, and although nothing could be more soft or languishing, I was at a loss to discover whether they conveyed more of love than of compassion. I gazed at her with equal earnestness, and she perhaps had no less difficulty in comprehending from my countenance what was passing in my heart. We neither spoke nor ate. At length I saw tears starting from her beauteous eyes—perfidious tears! 'Oh heavens!' I cried, 'my dearest Manon, why allow your sorrows to afflict you to this degree without imparting their cause to me?' She answered me only with sighs, which increased my misery. I arose trembling from my seat: I conjured her, with all the urgent earnestness of love, to let me know the cause of her grief: I wept in endeavouring to soothe her sorrows: I was more dead than alive. A barbarian would have pitied my sufferings as I stood trembling with grief and apprehension.
"While my attention was thus confined to her, I heard people coming upstairs. They tapped gently at the door. Manon gave me a kiss, and escaping from my arms, quickly entered the boudoir, turning the key after her. I imagined that, not being dressed to receive strangers, she was unwilling to meet the persons who had knocked; I went to let them in.
"I had hardly opened the door, when I found myself seized by three men, whom I recognised as my father's servants. They offered not the least violence, but two of them taking me by the arms, the third examined my pockets, and took out a small knife, the only weapon I had about me. They begged pardon for the necessity they were under of treating me with apparent disrespect; telling me frankly that they were acting by the orders of my father, and that my eldest brother was in a carriage below waiting to receive me. My feelings were so overpowered, that I allowed myself to be led away without making either reply or resistance. I found my brother waiting for me as they had stated. They placed me by his side, and the coachman immediately drove, by his orders, towards St. Denis.
"My brother embraced me most affectionately, but during our ride, he uttered not a word, so that, as I was not inclined for conversation, I had as much leisure as I could desire to reflect upon my misfortunes."
That we can call these delicate creatures ours, And not their appetites. SHAKESPEARE.
"The whole affair was so involved in obscurity that I could not see my way even to a reasonable conjecture. I was cruelly betrayed—that was certain; but by whom? Tiberge first occurred to me. 'Tiberge!' said I, 'it is as much as thy life is worth, if my suspicions turn out to be well founded.' However, I recollected that he could not by possibility know my abode; and therefore, he could not have furnished the information. To accuse Manon was more than my heart was capable of. The unusual melancholy with which she had lately seemed weighed down, her tears, the tender kiss she gave me in parting, made it all as yet a mystery to me. I could only look upon her recent melancholy as a presentiment of our common misfortune; and while I was deploring the event which tore me from her, I was credulous enough to consider her fate as much deserving of pity as my own.
"The result of my reflections was, that I had been seen and followed in the streets of Paris by some persons of my acquaintance, who had conveyed the information to my father. This idea comforted me. I made up my mind to encounter some reproaches, or perhaps harsh treatment, for having outraged the paternal authority. I resolved, however, to suffer with patience, and to promise all that might be required of me, in order to facilitate my speedy return to Paris, that I might restore life and happiness to my dear Manon.
"We soon arrived at St. Denis. My brother, surprised at my long silence, thought it the effect of fear. He assured me that I had nothing to apprehend from my father's severity, provided I showed a disposition to return quietly to the path of duty, and prove myself worthy of his affection. He made me pass the night at St. Denis, merely taking the precaution of putting the three lackeys to sleep in my room. It cost me a pang to find myself in the same inn where I had stopped with Manon on our way from Amiens to Paris. The innkeeper and his servants recognised me, and guessed at once the truth of my history. I overheard them say, 'Ah! that's the handsome young gentleman who travelled this road about a month ago, with the beautiful girl he appeared so much in love with! How pretty she was! The poor young things, how they caressed each other! Pity if they have been separated!' I pretended not to hear, and kept as much out of sight as possible.
"At St. Denis my brother had a chariot waiting for us, in which we started early the next morning, and arrived at home before night.
"He saw my father first, in order to make a favourable impression by telling him how quietly I had allowed myself to be brought away, so that his reception of me was less austere than I had expected. He merely rebuked me in general terms for the offence I had committed, by absenting myself without his permission. As for my mistress, he said I richly deserved what had happened to me, for abandoning myself to a person utterly unknown; that he had entertained a better opinion of my discretion; but that he hoped this little adventure would make me wiser. I took the whole lecture only in the sense that accorded with my own notions. I thanked my father for his indulgence, and promised that I would in future observe a better regulated and more obedient course of conduct. I felt that I had secured a triumph; for, from the present aspect of affairs, there was no doubt that I should be free to effect my escape from the house even before the night was over.
"We sat down to supper. They rallied me about my Amiens conquest, and my flight with that paragon of fidelity. I took their jokes in good part, glad enough at being permitted to revolve in my mind the plans I had meditated; but some words which fell from my father made me listen with earnest attention. He spoke of perfidy, and the not disinterested kindness he had received at the hands of M. de B——. I was almost paralysed on hearing the name, and begged of my father to explain himself. He turned to my brother, to ask if he had not told me the whole story. My brother answered, that I appeared to him so tranquil upon the road, that he did not suppose I required this remedy to cure me of my folly. I remarked that my father was doubtful whether he should give me the explanation or not. I entreated him so earnestly that he satisfied me, or I should rather say tortured me, with the following most horrible narration.
"He began by asking me whether I was really simple enough to believe that I had been really loved by the girl. I told him confidently that I was perfectly sure of it, and that nothing could make me for a moment doubt it. 'Ha, ha, ha!' said he, with a loud laugh; 'that is excellent! you are a pretty dupe! Admirable idea! 'Twould be a thousand pities, my poor chevalier, to make you a Knight of Malta, with all the requisites you possess for a patient and accommodating husband.' He continued in the same tone to ridicule what he was pleased to call my dullness and credulity.
"He concluded, while I maintained a profound silence, by saying that, according to the nicest calculation he could make of the time since my departure from Amiens, Manon must have been in love with me about twelve days; 'for,' said he, 'I know that you left Amiens on the 28th of last month; this is, the 29th of the present; it is eleven days since M. de B—— wrote to me; I suppose he required eight days to establish a perfect understanding with your mistress; so that, take eight and eleven from thirty-one days, the time between the 28th of one month and the 29th of the next, there remains twelve, more or less!' This joke was followed by shouts of laughter.
"I heard it all with a kind of sinking of the heart that I thought I could not bear up against, until he finished. 'You must know then,' continued my father, 'since you appear as yet ignorant of it, that M. de B—— has won the affections of your idol; for he can't be serious in pretending that it is his disinterested regard for me that has induced him to take her from you. It would be absurd to expect such noble sentiments from a man of his description, and one, besides, who is a perfect stranger to me. He knew that you were my son, and in order to get rid of you, he wrote to inform me of your abode, and of the life you led; saying, at the same time, that strong measures would be necessary to secure you.
"He offered to procure me the means of laying hold of you; and it was by his direction, as well as that of your mistress herself, that your brother hit upon the moment for catching you unawares. Now, you may congratulate yourself upon the duration of your triumph. You know how to conquer, rapid enough; but you have yet to learn how to secure your conquests.'
"I could no longer endure these remarks, every one of which struck a dagger to my heart. I arose from the table, and had not advanced four steps towards the door, when I fell upon the floor, perfectly senseless. By prompt applications they soon brought me to myself. My eyes opened only to shed a torrent of tears, and my lips to utter the most sorrowful and heartrending complaints. My father, who always loved me most affectionately, tried every means to console me. I listened to him, but his words were without effect. I threw myself at his feet, in the attitude of prayer, conjuring him to let me return to Paris, and destroy the monster B——. 'No!' cried I; 'he has not gained Manon's heart; he may have seduced her by charms, or by drugs; he may have even brutally violated her. Manon loves me. Do I not know that well? He must have terrified her with a poniard, to induce her to abandon me.' What must he not have done to have robbed me of my angelic mistress? Oh Heaven! Heaven! can it be possible that Manon deceived me, or that she has ceased to love me!
"As I continued to rave about returning at once to Paris, and was perpetually starting up with that purpose, my father clearly saw that while the paroxysm lasted, no arguments could pacify me. He conducted me to one of the upper rooms, and left two servants to keep constant watch over me. I was completely bewildered. I would have given a thousand lives to be but for one quarter of an hour in Paris. I had sense enough, however, to know that having so openly declared my intention, they would not easily allow me to quit my chamber. I looked at the height of the windows. Seeing no possibility of escaping that way, I addressed the servants in the most tranquil tone. I promised, with the most solemn vows, to make at some future day their fortunes, if they would but consent to my escape. I entreated them; I tried caresses, and lastly threats; but all were unavailing. I gave myself up to despair. I resolved to die; and threw myself upon the bed, with a firm determination to quit it only with my life. In this situation I passed the night and the following day. I refused the nourishment that was brought to me next morning.
"My father came to see me in the afternoon. He tried in the most affectionate manner, to soothe my grief. He desired me so urgently to take some refreshment, that, to gratify him, I obeyed his wishes. Several days passed, during which I took nothing but in his presence, and at his special request. He continued to furnish new arguments to restore me to my proper senses, and to inspire me with merited contempt for the faithless Manon. I certainly had lost all esteem for her: how could I esteem the most fickle and perfidious of created beings! But her image—those exquisite features, which were engraven on my heart's core, were still uneffaced. I understood my own feelings: 'I may die,' said I, 'and I ought to die after so much shame and grief; but I might suffer a thousand deaths without being able to forget the ingrate Manon.'
"My father was surprised at my still continuing so powerfully affected. He knew that I was imbued with the principles of honour; and not doubting that her infidelity must make me despise her, fancied that my obstinacy proceeded less from this particular passion, than from a general inclination towards the sex. This idea so took possession of his mind, that, prompted only by his affection for me, he came one day to reveal his thoughts. 'Chevalier,' said he to me, 'it has been hitherto my intention to make you bear the Cross of Malta: I now see that your inclinations do not bend that way. You are an admirer of beauty. I shall be able to find you a wife to your taste. Let me candidly know how you feel upon the subject.'
"I answered that I could never again see the slightest difference amongst women, and that after the misfortune I had experienced, I detested them all equally. 'I will find you one,' replied my father, smiling, 'who shall resemble Manon in beauty, but who shall be more faithful.' 'Ah! if you have any mercy,' said I, 'you will restore my Manon to me. Be assured, my dear father, that she has not betrayed me; she is incapable of such base and cruel treachery. It is the perfidious B—— who deceives both her and me. If you could form an idea of her tenderness and her sincerity—if you only knew her, you yourself would love her!' 'You are absolutely a child,' replied my father. 'How can you so delude yourself, after what I have told you about her? It was she who actually delivered you up to your brother. You ought to obliterate even her name from your memory, and take advantage, if you are wise, of the indulgence I am showing you.'
"I very clearly perceived that my father was right. It was an involuntary emotion that made me thus take part with the traitor. 'Alas!' replied I, after a moment's silence, 'it is but too true that I am the unhappy victim of the vilest perfidy. Yes,' I continued, while shedding tears of anger, 'I too clearly perceive that I am indeed but a child. Credulity like mine was easily gulled; but I shall be at no loss to revenge myself.' My father enquired of me my intentions: 'I will go to Paris,' I said, 'set fire to B——'s house, and immolate him and the perfidious Manon together.' This burst made my father laugh, and had only the effect of causing me to be more vigilantly watched in my cell.
"I thus passed six long months; during the first of which my mind underwent little change. My feelings were in a state of perpetual alternation between hate and love; between hope and despair; according as, the tendency of each passing thought brought Manon back to my recollection. At one time, I could see in her the most delightful of women only, and sigh for the pleasure of beholding her once more; at another, I felt she was the most unworthy and perfidious of mistresses, and I would on these occasions swear never again to seek her, but for the purpose of revenge.
"I was supplied with books, which served to restore my peace of mind. I read once again all my favourite authors; and I became acquainted with new ones. All my former taste for study was revived. You will see of what use this was to me in the sequel. The light I had already derived from love, enabled me to comprehend many passages in Horace and Virgil which had before appeared obscure. I wrote an amatory commentary upon the fourth book of the AEneid. I intend one day to publish it, and I flatter myself it will be popular.
"'Alas!' I used to exclaim, 'whilst employed on that work, it was for a heart like mine the faithful Dido sighed, and sighed in vain!'
Now, by the strange enchantment that surrounds thee, There's nothing—nothing thou shalt ask in vain. ESSEX.
"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.