'Twas ever thus;—from childhood's hour
I've seen my fondest hopes decay;—
I never loved a tree or flower,
But it was sure to fade away;
I never nursed a dear Gazelle,
To glad me with its dark-blue eye,
But, when it came to know me well,
And love me, it was sure to die.
"During my life I have remarked that fate has invariably chosen for the time of its severest visitations, those moments when my fortune seemed established on the firmest basis. In the friendship of M. de T——, and the tender affections of Manon, I imagined myself so thoroughly happy, that I could not harbour the slightest apprehension of any new misfortune: there was one, nevertheless, at this very period impending, which reduced me to the state in which you beheld me at Passy, and which eventually brought in its train miseries of so deplorable a nature, that you will have difficulty in believing the simple recital that follows.
"One evening, when M. de T—— remained to sup with us, we heard the sound of a carriage stopping at the door of the inn. Curiosity tempted us to see who it was that arrived at this hour. They told us it was young G—— M——, the son of our most vindictive enemy, of that debauched old sinner who had incarcerated me in St. Lazare, and Manon in the Hospital. His name made the blood mount to my cheeks. 'It is Providence that has led him here,' said I to M. de T——, that I may punish him for the cowardly baseness of his father. He shall not escape without our measuring swords at least.' M. de T——, who knew him, and was even one of his most intimate friends, tried to moderate my feelings of anger towards him. He assured me that he was a most amiable young man, and so little capable of countenancing his father's conduct, that I could not be many minutes in his society without feeling esteem and affection for him. After saying many more things in his praise, he begged my permission to invite him to come and sit in our apartment, as well as to share the remainder of our supper. As to the objection of Manon being exposed by this proceeding to any danger, he pledged his honour and good faith, that when once the young man became acquainted with us, we should find in him a most zealous defender. After such an assurance, I could offer no further opposition.
"M. de T—— did not introduce him without delaying a few moments outside, to let him know who we were. He certainly came in with an air that prepossessed us in his favour: he shook hands with me; we sat down; he admired Manon; he appeared pleased with me, and with everything that belonged to us; and he ate with an appetite that did abundant honour to our hospitality.
"When the table was cleared, our conversation became more serious. He hung down his head while he spoke of his father's conduct towards us. He made, on his own part, the most submissive excuses. 'I say the less upon the subject,' said he, 'because I do not wish to recall a circumstance that fills me with grief and shame.' If he were sincere in the beginning, he became much more so in the end, for the conversation had not lasted half an hour, when I perceived that Manon's charms had made a visible impression upon him. His looks and his manner became by degrees more tender. He, however, allowed no expression to escape him; but, without even the aid of jealousy, I had had experience enough in love affairs to discern what was passing.
"He remained with us till a late hour in the night, and before he took his leave, congratulated himself on having made our acquaintance, and begged permission to call and renew the offer of his services. He went off next morning with M. de T——, who accepted the offer of a seat in his carriage.
"I felt, as I before said, not the slightest symptom of jealousy I had a more foolish confidence than ever in Manon's vows. This dear creature had so absolute a dominion over my whole soul and affections, that I could give place to no other sentiment towards her than that of admiration and love. Far from considering it a crime that she should have pleased young G—— M——, I was gratified by the effect of her charms, and experienced only a feeling of pride in being loved by a girl whom the whole world found so enchanting. I did not even deem it worth while to mention my suspicions to her. We were for some days occupied in arranging her new wardrobe, and in considering whether we might venture to the theatre without the risk of being recognised. M. de T—— came again to see us before the end of the week, and we consulted him upon this point. He saw clearly that the way to please Manon was to say yes: we resolved to go all together that same evening.
"We were not able, however, to carry this intention into effect; for, having taken me aside, 'I have been in the greatest embarrassment,' said he to me, 'since I saw you, and that is the cause of my visiting you today. G—— M—— is in love with your mistress: he told me so in confidence; I am his intimate friend, and disposed to do him any service in my power; but I am not less devoted to you; his designs appeared to me unjustifiable, and I expressed my disapprobation of them; I should not have divulged his secret, if he had only intended to use fair and ordinary means for gaining Manon's affections; but he is aware of her capricious disposition; he has learned, God knows how, that her ruling passion is for affluence and pleasure; and, as he is already in possession of a considerable fortune, he declared his intention of tempting her at once with a present of great value, and the offer of an annuity of six thousand francs; if I had in all other points considered you both in an equal light, I should have had perhaps to do more violence to my feelings in betraying him: but a sense of justice as well as of friendship was on your side, and the more so from having been myself the imprudent, though unconscious, cause of his passion in introducing him here. I feel it my duty therefore to avert any evil consequences from the mischief I have inadvertently caused.
"I thanked M. de T—— for rendering me so important a service, and confessed to him, in a like spirit of confidence, that Manon's disposition was precisely what G—— M—— had imagined; that is to say, that she was incapable of enduring even the thought of poverty. 'However,' said I to him, 'when it is a mere question of more or less, I do not believe that she would give me up for any other person; I can afford to let her want for nothing, and I have from day to day reason to hope that my fortune will improve; I only dread one thing,' continued I, 'which is, that G—— M—— may take unfair advantage of the knowledge he has of our place of residence, and bring us into trouble by disclosing it.'
"M. de T—— assured me that I might be perfectly easy upon that head; that G—— M—— might be capable of a silly passion, but not of an act of baseness; that if he ever could be villain enough for such a thing, he, de T——, would be the first to punish him, and by that means make reparation for the mischief he had occasioned. 'I feel grateful for what you say,' said I, 'but the mischief will have been all done, and the remedy even seems doubtful; the wisest plan therefore will be to quit Chaillot, and go to reside elsewhere.' 'Very true,' said M. de T——, 'but you will not be able to do it quickly enough, for G—— M—— is to be here at noon; he told me so yesterday, and it was that intelligence that made me come so early this morning to inform you of his intentions. You may expect him every moment.'"
"The urgency of the occasion made me view this matter in a more serious light. As it seemed to me impossible to escape the visit of G—— M——, and perhaps equally so to prevent him from making his declaration to Manon, I resolved to tell her beforehand of the designs of my new rival. I fancied that when she knew I was aware of the offers that would be made to her, and made probably in my presence, she would be the more likely to reject them. I told M. de T—— of my intention, and he observed that he thought it a matter of extreme delicacy. 'I admit it,' said I, 'but no man ever had more reason for confiding in a mistress, than I have for relying on the affection of mine. The only thing that could possibly for a moment blind her, is the splendour of his offers; no doubt she loves her ease, but she loves me also; and in my present circumstances, I cannot believe that she would abandon me for the son of the man who had incarcerated her in the Magdalen.' In fine, I persisted in my intentions, and taking Manon aside, I candidly told her what I had learned.
"She thanked me for the good opinion I entertained of her, and promised to receive G—— M——'s offers in a way that should prevent a repetition of them. 'No,' said I, 'you must not irritate him by incivility: he has it in his power to injure us. But you know well enough, you little rogue,' continued I, smiling, 'how to rid yourself of a disagreeable or useless lover!' After a moment's pause she said: 'I have just thought of an admirable plan, and I certainly have a fertile invention. G—— M—— is the son of our bitterest enemy: we must avenge ourselves on the father, not through the son's person, but through his purse. My plan is to listen to his proposals, accept his presents, and then laugh at him.'
"'The project is not a bad one,' said I to her; 'but you forget, my dear child, that it is precisely the same course that conducted us formerly to the penitentiary.' I represented to her the danger of such an enterprise; she replied, that the only thing necessary was to take our measures with caution, and she found an answer to every objection I started. 'Show me the lover who does not blindly humour every whim of an adored mistress, and I will then allow that I was wrong in yielding so easily on this occasion.' The resolution was taken to make a dupe of G——M——, and by an unforeseen and unlucky turn of fortune, I became the victim myself.
"About eleven o'clock his carriage drove up to the door. He made the most complaisant and refined speeches upon the liberty he had taken of coming to dine with us uninvited. He was not surprised at meeting M. de T——, who had the night before promised to meet him there, and who had, under some pretext or other, refused a seat in his carriage. Although there was not a single person in the party who was not at heart meditating treachery, we all sat down with an air of mutual confidence and friendship. G—— M—— easily found an opportunity of declaring his sentiments to Manon. I did not wish to annoy him by appearing vigilant, so I left the room purposely for several minutes.
"I perceived on my return that he had not had to encounter any very discouraging austerity on Manon's part, for he was in the best possible spirits. I affected good humour also. He was laughing in his mind at my simplicity, while I was not less diverted by his own. During the whole evening we were thus supplying to each other an inexhaustible fund of amusement. I contrived, before his departure, to let him have Manon for another moment to himself; so that he had reason to applaud my complaisance, as well as the hospitable reception I had given him.
"As soon as he got into his carriage with M. de T——, Manon ran towards me with extended arms, and embraced me; laughing all the while immoderately. She repeated all his speeches and proposals, without altering a word. This was the substance: He of course adored her; and wished to share with her a large fortune of which he was already in possession, without counting what he was to inherit at his father's death. She should be sole mistress of his heart and fortune; and as an immediate token of his liberality, he was ready at once to supply her with an equipage, a furnished house, a lady's maid, three footmen, and a man-cook.
"'There is indeed a son,' said I, 'very different from his father! But tell me truly, now, does not such an offer tempt you?' 'Me!' she replied, adapting to the idea two verses from Racine—
Moi! vous me soupconnez de cette perfidie?
Moi! je pourrais souffrir un visage odieux,
Qui rappelle toujours l'Hopital a mes yeux?
'No!' replied I, continuing the parody—
J'aurais peine a penser que l'Hopital, madame,
Fut un trait dont l'amour l'eut grave dans votre ame.
'But it assuredly is a temptation—a furnished house, a lady's maid, a cook, a carriage, and three servants—gallantry can offer but few more seductive temptations.'
"She protested that her heart was entirely mine, and that it was for the future only open to the impressions I chose to make upon it. 'I look upon his promises,' said she, 'as an instrument for revenge, rather than as a mark of love.' I asked her if she thought of accepting the hotel and the carriage. She replied that his money was all she wanted."
The difficulty was, how to obtain the one without the other; we resolved to wait for a detailed explanation of the whole project in a letter which G—— M—— promised to write to her, and which in fact she received next morning by a servant out of livery, who, very cleverly, contrived an opportunity of speaking to her alone.
She told him to wait for an answer, and immediately brought the letter to me: we opened it together.
"Passing over the usual commonplace expressions of tenderness, it gave a particular detail of my rival's promises. There were no limits to the expense. He engaged to pay her down ten thousand francs on her taking possession of the hotel, and to supply her expenditure in such a way as that she should never have less than that sum at her command. The appointed day for her entering into possession was close at hand. He only required two days for all his preparations, and he mentioned the name of the street and the hotel, where he promised to be in waiting for her in the afternoon of the second day, if she could manage to escape my vigilance. That was the only point upon which he begged of her to relieve his uneasiness; he seemed to be quite satisfied upon every other: but he added that, if she apprehended any difficulty in escaping from me, he could find sure means for facilitating her flight.
"G—— M—— the younger was more cunning than the old gentleman. He wanted to secure his prey before he counted out the cash. We considered what course Manon should adopt. I made another effort to induce her to give up the scheme, and strongly represented all its dangers; nothing, however, could shake her determination.
"Her answer to G—— M—— was brief, merely assuring him that she could be, without the least difficulty, in Paris on the appointed day and that he might expect her with certainty.
"We then resolved, that I should instantly hire lodgings in some village on the other side of Paris, and that I should take our luggage with me; that in the afternoon of the following day, which was the time appointed, she should go to Paris; that, after receiving G—— M——'s presents, she should earnestly entreat him to take her to the theatre; that she should carry with her as large a portion of the money as she could, and charge my servant with the remainder, for it was agreed that he was to accompany her. He was the man who had rescued her from the Magdalen, and he was devotedly attached to us. I was to be with a hackney-coach at the end of the street of St. Andre-des-arcs, and to leave it there about seven o'clock, while I stole, under cover of the twilight, to the door of the theatre. Manon promised to make some excuse for quitting her box for a moment, when she would come down and join me. The rest could be easily done. We were then to return to my hackney-coach, and quit Paris by the Faubourg St. Antoine, which was the road to our new residence.
"This plan, extravagant as it was, appeared to us satisfactorily arranged. But our greatest folly was in imagining that, succeed as we might in its execution, it would be possible for us to escape the consequences. Nevertheless, we exposed ourselves to all risk with the blindest confidence. Manon took her departure with Marcel—so was the servant called. I could not help feeling a pang as she took leave of me. 'Manon,' said I, 'do not deceive me; will you be faithful to me?' She complained, in the tenderest tone, of my want of confidence, and renewed all her protestations of eternal love.
"She was to be in Paris at three o'clock. I went some time after. I spent the remainder of the afternoon moping in the Cafe de Fere, near the Pont St. Michel. I remained there till nightfall. I then hired a hackney-coach, which I placed, according to our plan, at the end of the street of St. Andre-des-arcs, and went on foot to the door of the theatre. I was surprised at not seeing Marcel, who was to have been there waiting for me. I waited patiently for a full hour, standing among a crowd of lackeys, and gazing at every person that passed. At length, seven o'clock having struck, without my being able to discover anything or any person connected with our project, I procured a pit ticket, in order to ascertain if Manon and G—— M—— were in the boxes. Neither one nor the other could I find. I returned to the door, where I again stopped for a quarter of an hour, in an agony of impatience and uneasiness. No person appeared, and I went back to the coach, without knowing what to conjecture. The coachman, seeing me, advanced a few paces towards me, and said, with a mysterious air, that a very handsome young person had been waiting more than an hour for me in the coach; that she described me so exactly that he could not be mistaken, and having learned that I intended to return, she said she would enter the coach and wait with patience.
"I felt confident that it was Manon. I approached. I beheld a very pretty face, certainly, but alas, not hers. The lady asked, in a voice that I had never before heard, whether she had the honour of speaking to the Chevalier des Grieux? I answered, 'That is my name.' 'I have a letter for you,' said she, 'which will tell you what has brought me here, and by what means I learned your name.' I begged she would allow me a few moments to read it in an adjoining cafe. She proposed to follow me, and advised me to ask for a private room, to which I consented. 'Who is the writer of this letter?' I enquired. She referred me to the letter itself.
"I recognised Manon's hand. This is nearly the substance of the letter: G—— M—— had received her with a politeness and magnificence beyond anything she had previously conceived. He had loaded her with the most gorgeous presents. She had the prospect of almost imperial splendour. She assured me, however, that she could not forget me amidst all this magnificence; but that, not being able to prevail on G—— M—— to take her that evening to the play, she was obliged to defer the pleasure of seeing me; and that, as a slight consolation for the disappointment which she feared this might cause me, she had found a messenger in one of the loveliest girls in all Paris. She signed herself, 'Your loving and constant, MANON LESCAUT.'
"There was something so cruel and so insulting in the letter, that, what between indignation and grief, I resolutely determined to forget eternally my ungrateful and perjured mistress. I looked at the young woman who stood before me: she was exceedingly pretty, and I could have wished that she had been sufficiently so to render me inconstant in my turn. But there were wanting those lovely and languishing eyes, that divine gracefulness, that exquisite complexion, in fine, those innumerable charms which nature had so profusely lavished upon the perfidious Manon. 'No, no,' said I, turning away from her; 'the ungrateful wretch who sent you knew in her heart that she was sending you on a useless errand. Return to her; and tell her from me, to triumph in her crime, and enjoy it, if she can, without remorse. I abandon her in despair, and, at the same time, renounce all women, who, without her fascination, are no doubt her equals in baseness and infidelity.'
"I was then on the point of going away, determined never to bestow another thought on Manon: the mortal jealousy that was racking my heart lay concealed under a dark and sullen melancholy, and I fancied, because I felt none of those violent emotions which I had experienced upon former occasions, that I had shaken off my thraldom. Alas! I was even at that moment infinitely more the dupe of love, than of G—— M—— and Manon.
"The girl who had brought the letter, seeing me about to depart, asked me what I wished her to say to M. G—— M——, and to the lady who was with him? At this question, I stepped back again into the room, and by one of those unaccountable transitions that are only known to the victims of violent passion, I passed in an instant from the state of subdued tranquillity which I have just described, into an ungovernable fury 'Away!' said I to her, 'tell the traitor G—— M——and his abandoned mistress the state of despair into which your accursed mission has cast me; but warn them that it shall not be long a source of amusement to them, and that my own hands shall be warmed with the heart's blood of both!' I sank back upon a chair; my hat fell on one side, and my cane upon the other: torrents of bitter tears rolled down my cheeks. The paroxysm of rage changed into a profound and silent grief: I did nothing but weep and sigh. 'Approach, my child, approach,' said I to the young girl; 'approach, since it is you they have sent to bring me comfort; tell me whether you have any balm to administer for the pangs of despair and rage—any argument to offer against the crime of self-destruction, which I have resolved upon, after ridding the world of two perfidious monsters. Yes, approach,' continued I, perceiving that she advanced with timid and doubtful steps; 'come and dry my sorrows; come and restore peace to my mind; come and tell me that at least you love me: you are handsome—I may perhaps love you in return.' The poor child, who was only sixteen or seventeen years of age, and who appeared more modest than girls of her class generally are, was thunderstruck at this unusual scene. She however gently approached to caress me, when with uplifted hands I rudely repulsed her. 'What do you wish with me?' exclaimed I to her. 'Ah! you are a woman, and of a sex I abhor, and can no longer tolerate; the very gentleness of your look threatens me with some new treason. Go, leave me here alone!' She made me a curtsy without uttering a word, and turned to go out. I called to her to stop: 'Tell me at least,' said I, 'wherefore— how—with what design they sent you here? how did you discover my name, or the place where you could find me?'
"She told me that she had long known M. G—— M——; that he had sent for her that evening about five o'clock; and that, having followed the servant who had been dispatched to her, she was shown into a large house, where she found him playing at picquet with a beautiful young woman; and that they both charged her to deliver the letter into my hands, after telling her that she would find me in a hackney-coach at the bottom of the street of St. Andre. I asked if they had said nothing more. She blushed while she replied, that they had certainly made her believe that I should be glad of her society. 'They have deceived you too,' said I, 'my poor girl—they have deceived you; you are a woman, and probably wish for a lover; but you must find one who is rich and happy, and it is not here you will find him. Return, return to M. G—— M——; he possesses everything requisite to make a man beloved. He has furnished houses and equipages to bestow, while I, who have nothing but constancy of love to offer, am despised for my poverty, and laughed at for my simplicity.'
"I continued in a tone of sorrow or violence, as these feelings alternately took possession of my mind. However, by the very excess of my agitation, I became gradually so subdued as to be able calmly to reflect upon the situation of affairs. I compared this new misfortune with those which I had already experienced of the same kind, and I could not perceive that there was any more reason for despair now, than upon former occasions. I knew Manon: why then distress myself on account of a calamity which I could not but have plainly foreseen? Why not rather think of seeking a remedy? there was yet time; I at least ought not to spare my own exertions, if I wished to avoid the bitter reproach of having contributed, by my own indolence, to my misery. I thereupon set about considering every means of raising a gleam of hope.
"To attempt to take her by main force from the hands of G——M—— was too desperate a project, calculated only to ruin me, and without the slightest probability of succeeding. But it seemed to me that if I could ensure a moment's interview with her, I could not fail to regain my influence over her affections. I so well knew how to excite her sensibilities! I was so confident of her love for me! The very whim even of sending me a pretty woman by way of consoling me, I would stake my existence, was her idea, and that it was the suggestion of her own sincere sympathy for my sufferings.
"I resolved to exert every nerve to procure an interview. After a multitude of plans which I canvassed one after another, I fixed upon the following: M. de T—— had shown so much sincerity in the services he had rendered me, that I could not entertain a doubt of his zeal and good faith. I proposed to call upon him at once, and make him send for G—— M——, under pretence of some important business. Half an hour would suffice to enable me to see Manon. I thought it would not be difficult to get introduced into her apartment during G—— M——'s absence.
"This determination pacified me, and I gave a liberal present to the girl, who was still with me; and in order to prevent her from returning to those who had sent her, I took down her address, and half promised to call upon her at a later hour. I then got into the hackney-coach, and drove quickly to M. de T——'s. I was fortunate enough to find him at home. I had been apprehensive upon this point as I went along. A single sentence put him in possession of the whole case, as well of my sufferings, as of the friendly service I had come to supplicate at his hands.
"He was so astonished to learn that G—— M—— had been able to seduce Manon from me, that, not being aware that I had myself lent a hand to my own misfortune, he generously offered to assemble his friends, and evoke their aid for the deliverance of my mistress. I told him that such a proceeding might by its publicity be attended with danger to Manon and to me. 'Let us risk our lives,' said I, 'only as a last resource. My plan is of a more peaceful nature, and promising at least equal success.' He entered without a murmur into all that I proposed; so again stating that all I required was, that he should send for G—— M——, and contrive to keep him an hour or two from home, we at once set about our operations.
"We first of all considered what expedient we could make use of for keeping him out so long a time. I proposed that he should write a note dated from a cafe, begging of him to come there as soon as possible upon an affair of too urgent importance to admit of delay. 'I will watch,' added I, 'the moment he quits the house, and introduce myself without any difficulty, being only known to Manon, and my servant Marcel. You can at the same time tell G—— M——, that the important affair upon which you wished to see him was the immediate want of a sum of money; that you had just emptied your purse at play, and that you had played on, with continued bad luck, upon credit. He will require some time to take you to his father's house, where he keeps his money, and I shall have quite sufficient for the execution of my plan.'
"M. de T—— minutely adhered to these directions. I left him in a cafe, where he at once wrote his letter. I took my station close by Manon's house. I saw de T——'s messenger arrive, and G—— M—— come out the next moment, followed by a servant. Allowing him barely time to get out of the street, I advanced to my deceiver's door, and notwithstanding the anger I felt, I knocked with as much respect as at the portal of a church. Fortunately it was Marcel who opened for me. Although I had nothing to apprehend from the other servants, I asked him in a low voice if he could conduct me unseen into the room in which Manon was. He said that was easily done, by merely ascending the great staircase. 'Come then at once,' said I to him, 'and endeavour to prevent anyone from coming up while I am there.' I reached the apartment without any difficulty.
"Manon was reading. I had there an opportunity of admiring the singular character of this girl. Instead of being nervous or alarmed at my appearance, she scarcely betrayed a symptom of surprise, which few persons, however indifferent, could restrain, on seeing one whom they imagined to be far distant. 'Ah! it is you, my dear love,' said she, approaching to embrace me with her usual tenderness. 'Good heavens, how venturesome and foolhardy you are! Who could have expected to see you in this place!' Instead of embracing her in return, I repulsed her with indignation, and retreated two or three paces from her. This evidently disconcerted her. She remained immovable, and fixed her eyes on me, while she changed colour.
"I was in reality so delighted to behold her once more, that, with so much real cause for anger, I could hardly bring my lips to upbraid her. My heart, however, felt the cruel outrage she had inflicted upon me. I endeavoured to revive the recollection of it in my own mind, in order to excite my feelings, and put on a look of stern indignation. I remained silent for a few moments, when I remarked that she observed my agitation, and trembled: apparently the effect of her fears.
"I could not longer endure this spectacle. 'Ah! Manon,' said I to her in the mildest tone, 'faithless and perjured Manon! How am I to complain of your conduct? I see you pale and trembling, and I am still so much alive to your slightest sufferings, that I am unwilling to add to them by my reproaches. But, Manon, I tell you that my heart is pierced with sorrow at your treatment of me—treatment that is seldom inflicted but with the purpose of destroying one's life. This is the third time, Manon; I have kept a correct account; it is impossible to forget that. It is now for you to consider what course you will adopt; for my afflicted heart is no longer capable of sustaining such shocks. I know and feel that it must give way, and it is at this moment ready to burst with grief. I can say no more,' added I, throwing myself into a chair; 'I have hardly strength to speak, or to support myself.'
"She made me no reply; but when I was seated, she sank down upon her knees, and rested her head upon my lap, covering her face with her hands. I perceived in a moment that she was shedding floods of tears. Heavens! with what conflicting sensations was I at that instant agitated! 'Ah! Manon, Manon,' said I, sighing, 'it is too late to give me tears after the death-blow you have inflicted. You affect a sorrow which you cannot feel. The greatest of your misfortunes is no doubt my presence, which has been always an obstacle to your happiness. Open your eyes; look up and see who it is that is here; you will not throw away tears of tenderness upon an unhappy wretch whom you have betrayed and abandoned.'
"She kissed my hands without changing her position. 'Inconstant Manon,' said I again, 'ungrateful and faithless girl, where now are all your promises and your vows? Capricious and cruel that you are! what has now become of the love that you protested for me this very day? Just Heavens,' added I, 'is it thus you permit a traitor to mock you, after having called you so solemnly to witness her vows! Recompense and reward then are for the perjured! Despair and neglect are the lot of fidelity and truth!'
"These words conveyed even to my own mind a sentiment so bitterly severe, that, in spite of myself, some tears escaped from me. Manon perceived this by the change in my voice. She at length spoke. 'I must have indeed done something most culpable,' said she, sobbing with grief, 'to have excited and annoyed you to this degree; but, I call Heaven to attest my utter unconsciousness of crime, and my innocence of all criminal intention!'
"This speech struck me as so devoid of reason and of truth, that I could not restrain a lively feeling of anger. 'Horrible hypocrisy!' cried I; 'I see more plainly than ever that you are dishonest and treacherous. Now at length I learn your wretched disposition. Adieu, base creature,' said I, rising from my seat; 'I would prefer death a thousand times rather than continue to hold the slightest communication with you. May Heaven punish me, if I ever again waste upon you the smallest regard! Live on with your new lover—renounce all feelings of honour—detest me—your love is now a matter to me of utter insignificance!'
"Manon was so terrified by the violence of my anger, that, remaining on her knees by the chair from which I had just before risen, breathless and trembling, she fixed her eyes upon me. I advanced a little farther towards the door, but, unless I had lost the last spark of humanity, I could not continue longer unmoved by such a spectacle.
"So far, indeed, was I from this kind of stoical indifference, that, rushing at once into the very opposite extreme, I returned, or rather flew back to her without an instant's reflection. I lifted her in my arms; I gave her a thousand tender kisses; I implored her to pardon my ungovernable temper; I confessed that I was an absolute brute, and unworthy of being loved by such an angel.
"I made her sit down, and throwing myself, in my turn, upon my knees, I conjured her to listen to me in that attitude. Then I briefly expressed all that a submissive and impassioned lover could say most tender and respectful. I supplicated her pardon. She let her arms fall over my neck, as she said that it was she who stood in need of forgiveness, and begged of me in mercy to forget all the annoyances she had caused me, and that she began, with reason, to fear that I should not approve of what she had to say in her justification. 'Me!' said I interrupting her impatiently; 'I require no justification; I approve of all you have done. It is not for me to demand excuses for anything you do; I am but too happy, too contented, if my dear Manon will only leave me master of her affections! But,' continued I, remembering that it was the crisis of my fate, 'may I not, Manon, all-powerful Manon, you who wield at your pleasure my joys and sorrows, may I not be permitted, after having conciliated you by my submission and all the signs of repentance, to speak to you now of my misery and distress? May I now learn from your own lips what my destiny is to be, and whether you are resolved to sign my death-warrant, by spending even a single night with my rival?'
"She considered a moment before she replied. 'My good chevalier,' said she, resuming the most tranquil tone, 'if you had only at first explained yourself thus distinctly, you would have spared yourself a world of trouble, and prevented a scene that has really annoyed me. Since your distress is the result of jealousy, I could at first have cured that by offering to accompany you where you pleased. But I imagined it was caused by the letter which I was obliged to write in the presence of G—— M——, and of the girl whom we sent with it. I thought you might have construed that letter into a mockery; and have fancied that, by sending such a messenger, I meant to announce my abandonment of you for the sake of G—— M——. It was this idea that at once overwhelmed me with grief; for, innocent as I knew myself to be, I could not but allow that appearances were against me. However,' continued she, 'I will leave you to judge of my conduct, after I shall have explained the whole truth.'
"She then told me all that had occurred to her after joining G—— M——, whom she found punctually awaiting her arrival. He had in fact received her in the most princely style. He showed her through all the apartments, which were fitted up in the neatest and most correct taste. He had counted out to her in her boudoir ten thousand francs, as well as a quantity of jewels, amongst which were the identical pearl necklace and bracelets which she had once before received as a present from his father. He then led her into a splendid room, which she had not before seen, and in which an exquisite collation was served; she was waited upon by the new servants, whom he had hired purposely for her, and whom he now desired to consider themselves as exclusively her attendants; the carriage and the horses were afterwards paraded, and he then proposed a game of cards, until supper should be announced.
"'I acknowledge,' continued Manon, 'that I was dazzled by all this magnificence. It struck me that it would be madness to sacrifice at once so many good things for the mere sake of carrying off the money and the jewels already in my possession; that it was a certain fortune made for both you and me, and that we might pass the remainder of our lives most agreeably and comfortably at the expense of G—— M——.
"'Instead of proposing the theatre, I thought it more prudent to sound his feelings with regard to you, in order to ascertain what facilities we should have for meeting in future, on the supposition that I could carry my project into effect. I found him of a most tractable disposition. He asked me how I felt towards you, and if I had not experienced some compunction at quitting you. I told him that you were so truly amiable, and had ever treated me with such undeviating kindness, that it was impossible I could hate you. He admitted that you were a man of merit, and expressed an ardent desire to gain your friendship.
"'He was anxious to know how I thought you would take my elopement, particularly when you should learn that I was in his hands. I answered, that our love was of such long standing as to have had time to moderate a little; that, besides, you were not in very easy circumstances, and would probably not consider my departure as any severe misfortune, inasmuch as it would relieve you from a burden of no very insignificant nature. I added that, being perfectly convinced you would take the whole matter rationally, I had not hesitated to tell you that I had some business in Paris; but you had at once consented, and that having accompanied me yourself, you did not seem very uneasy when we separated.
"'If I thought,' said he to me, 'that he could bring himself to live on good terms with me, I should be too happy to make him a tender of my services and attentions.' I assured him that, from what I knew of your disposition, I had no doubt you would acknowledge his kindness in a congenial spirit: especially, I added, if he could assist you in your affairs, which had become embarrassed since your disagreement with your family. He interrupted me by declaring, that he would gladly render you any service in his power, and that if you were disposed to form a new attachment, he would introduce you to an extremely pretty woman, whom he had just given up for me.
"'I approved of all he said,' she added, 'for fear of exciting any suspicions; and being more and more satisfied of the feasibility of my scheme, I only longed for an opportunity of letting you into it, lest you should be alarmed at my not keeping my appointment. With this view I suggested the idea of sending this young lady to you, in order to have an opportunity of writing; I was obliged to have recourse to this plan, because I could not see a chance of his leaving me to myself for a moment.'
"'He was greatly amused with my proposition; he called his valet, and asking him whether he could immediately find his late mistress, he dispatched him at once in search of her. He imagined that she would have to go to Chaillot to meet you, but I told him that, when we parted, I promised to meet you again at the theatre, or that, if anything should prevent me from going there, you were to wait for me in a coach at the end of the street of St. Andre; that consequently it would be best to send your new love there, if it were only to save you from the misery of suspense during the whole night. I said it would be also necessary to write you a line of explanation, without which you would probably be puzzled by the whole transaction. He consented; but I was obliged to write in his presence; and I took especial care not to explain matters too palpably in my letter.
"'This is the history,' said Manon, 'of the entire affair. I conceal nothing from you, of either my conduct or my intentions. The girl arrived; I thought her handsome; and as I doubted not that you would be mortified by my absence, I did most sincerely hope that she would be able to dissipate something of your ennui: for it is the fidelity of the heart alone that I value. I should have been too delighted to have sent Marcel, but I could not for a single instant find an opportunity of telling him what I wished to communicate to you.' She finished her story by describing the embarrassment into which M. de T——'s letter had thrown G—— M——; 'he hesitated,' said she, 'about leaving, and assured me that he should not be long absent; and it is on this account that I am uneasy at seeing you here, and that I betrayed, at your appearance, some slight feeling of surprise.'
"I listened to her with great patience. There were certainly parts of her recital sufficiently cruel and mortifying; for the intention, at least, of the infidelity was so obvious, that she had not even taken the trouble to disguise it. She could never have imagined that G—— M—— meant to venerate her as a vestal. She must therefore clearly have made up her mind to pass at least one night with him. What an avowal for a lover's ears! However, I considered myself as partly the cause of her guilt, by having been the first to let her know G—— M——'s sentiments towards her, and by the silly readiness with which I entered into this rash project. Besides, by a natural bent of my mind, peculiar I believe to myself, I was duped by the ingenuousness of her story—by that open and winning manner with which she related even the circumstances most calculated to annoy me. 'There is nothing of wanton vice,' said I to myself, 'in her transgressions; she is volatile and imprudent, but she is sincere and affectionate.' My love alone rendered me blind to all her faults. I was enchanted at the prospect of rescuing her that very night from my rival. I said to her: 'With whom do you mean to pass the night?' She was evidently disconcerted by the question, and answered me in an embarrassed manner with BUTS and IFS.
"I felt for her, and interrupted her by saying that I at once expected her to accompany me.
"'Nothing can give me more pleasure,' said she; 'but you don't approve then of my project?'
"'Is it not enough,' replied I, 'that I approve of all that you have, up to this moment, done?'
"'What,' said she, 'are we not even to take the ten thousand francs with us? Why, he gave me the money; it is mine.'
"I advised her to leave everything, and let us think only of escaping for although I had been hardly half an hour with her, I began to dread the return of G—— M——. However, she so earnestly urged me to consent to our going out with something in our pockets, that I thought myself bound to make her, on my part, some concession, in return for all she yielded to me.
"While we were getting ready for our departure, I heard someone knock at the street door. I felt convinced that it must be G—— M——; and in the heat of the moment, I told Manon, that as sure as he appeared I would take his life. In truth, I felt that I was not sufficiently recovered from my late excitement to be able to restrain my fury if I met him. Marcel put an end to my uneasiness, by handing me a letter which he had received for me at the door; it was from M. de T——.
"He told me that, as G—— M—— had gone to his father's house for the money which he wanted, he had taken advantage of his absence to communicate to me an amusing idea that had just come into his head; that it appeared to him, I could not possibly take a more agreeable revenge upon my rival, than by eating his supper, and spending the night in the very bed which he had hoped to share with my mistress; all this seemed to him easy enough, if I could only find two or three men upon whom I could depend, of courage sufficient to stop him in the street, and detain him in custody until next morning; that he would undertake to keep him occupied for another hour at least, under some pretext, which he could devise before G—— M——'s return.
"I showed the note to Manon; I told her at the same time of the manner in which I had procured the interview with her. My scheme, as well as the new one of M. de T——'s, delighted her: we laughed heartily at it for some minutes; but when I treated it as a mere joke, I was surprised at her insisting seriously upon it, as a thing perfectly practicable, and too delightful to be neglected. In vain I enquired where she thought I could possibly find, on a sudden, men fit for such an adventure? and on whom I could rely for keeping G—— M—— in strict custody? She said that I should at least try, as M. de T—— ensured us yet a full hour; and as to my other objections, she said that I was playing the tyrant, and did not show the slightest indulgence to her fancies. She said that it was impossible there could be a more enchanting project. 'You will have his place at supper; you will sleep in his bed; and tomorrow, as early as you like, you can walk off with both his mistress and his money. You may thus, at one blow, be amply revenged upon father and son.'
"I yielded to her entreaties, in spite of the secret misgivings of my own mind, which seemed to forebode the unhappy catastrophe that afterwards befell me. I went out with the intention of asking two or three guardsmen, with whom Lescaut had made me acquainted, to undertake the arrest of G—— M——. I found only one of them at home, but he was a fellow ripe for any adventure; and he no sooner heard our plan, than he assured me of certain success: all he required were six pistoles, to reward the three private soldiers whom he determined to employ in the business. I begged of him to lose no time. He got them together in less than a quarter of in hour. I waited at his lodgings till he returned with them, and then conducted him to the corner of a street through which I knew G—— M—— must pass an going back to Manon's house. I requested him not to treat G—— M—— roughly, but to keep him confined, and so strictly watched, until seven o'clock next morning, that I might be free from all apprehension of his escape. He told me his intention was to bring him a prisoner to his own room, and make him undress and sleep in his bed, while he and his gallant comrades should spend the night in drinking and playing.
"I remained with them until we saw G—— M—— returning homewards; and I then withdrew a few steps into a dark recess in the street, to enjoy so entertaining and extraordinary a scene. The officer challenged him with a pistol to his breast, and then told him, in a civil tone, that he did not want either his money or his life; but that if he hesitated to follow him, or if he gave the slightest alarm, he would blow his brains out. G—— M——, seeing that his assailant was supported by three soldiers, and perhaps not uninfluenced by a dread of the pistol, yielded without further resistance. I saw him led away like a lamb."