Infected with that leprosy of lust,
Which taints the hoariest years of vicious men
Making them ransack to the very last
The dregs of pleasure for their vanished joys.
"On sitting down to reflect upon this strange turn of fate, I found myself so perplexed, and consequently so incapable of arriving at any rational conclusion, that I allowed Lescaut to put repeated questions to me without in the slightest degree attending to their purport. It was then that honour and virtue made me feel the most poignant remorse, and that I recalled with bitterness Amiens, my father's house, St. Sulpice, and every spot where I had ever lived in happy innocence. By what a terrific interval was I now separated from that blessed state! I beheld it no longer but as a dim shadow in the distance, still attracting my regrets and desires, but without the power of rousing me to exertion. 'By what fatality,' said I, 'have I become thus degraded? Love is not a guilty passion! why then has it been to me the source of profligacy and distress? Who prevented me from leading a virtuous and tranquil life with Manon? Why did I not marry her before I obtained any concession from her love? Would not my father, who had the tenderest regard for me, have given his consent, if I had taken the fair and candid course of soliciting him? Yes, my father would himself have cherished her as one far too good to be his son's wife! I should have been happy in the love of Manon, in the affection of my father, in the esteem of the world, with a moderate portion of the good things of life, and above all with the consciousness of virtue. Disastrous change! Into what an infamous character is it here proposed that I should sink? To share—— But can I hesitate, if Manon herself suggests it, and if I am to lose her except upon such conditions? 'Lescaut,' said I, putting my hands to my eyes as if to shut out such a horrifying vision, 'if your intention was to render me a service, I give you thanks. You might perhaps have struck out a more reputable course, but it is so settled, is it not? Let us then only think of profiting by your labour, and fulfilling your engagements.'
"Lescaut, who had been considerably embarrassed, not only by my fury, but by the long silence which followed it, was too happy to see me now take a course so different from what he had anticipated. He had not a particle of courage, of which indeed I have, in the sequel of my story, abundant proof. 'Yes, yes,' he quickly answered, 'it is good service I have rendered you, and you will find that we shall derive infinitely more advantage from it than you now expect.' We consulted then as to the best mode of preventing the suspicions which G—— M—— might entertain of our relationship, when he found me older and of riper manhood than he probably imagined. The only plan we could hit upon was to assume in his presence an innocent and provincial air, and to persuade him that it was my intention to enter the Church, and that with that view I was obliged to go every day to the college. We also determined that I should appear as awkward as I possibly could the first time I was admitted to the honour of an introduction.
"He returned to town three or four days after, and at once conducted Manon to the house which his steward had in the meantime prepared. She immediately apprised Lescaut of her return, and he having informed me, we went together to her new abode. The old lover had already gone out.
"In spite of the submission with which I had resigned myself to her wishes, I could not, at our meeting, repress the compunctious visitings of my conscience. I appeared before her grieved and dejected. The joy I felt at seeing her once more could not altogether dispel my sorrow for her infidelity: she, on the contrary, appeared transported with the pleasure of seeing me. She accused me of coldness. I could not help muttering the words perfidious and unfaithful, though they were profusely mixed with sighs.
"At first she laughed at me for my simplicity; but when she found that I continued to look at her with an unchanging expression of melancholy, and that I could not bring myself to enter with alacrity into a scene so repugnant to all my feelings, she went alone into her boudoir. I very soon followed her, and then I found her in a flood of tears. I asked the cause of her sorrow. 'You can easily understand it,' said she; 'how can you wish me to live, if my presence can no longer have any other effect than to give you an air of sadness and chagrin? Not one kiss have you given me during the long hour you have been in the house, while you have received my caresses with the dignified indifference of a Grand Turk, receiving the forced homage of the Sultanas of his harem.'
"'Hearken to me, Manon,' said I, embracing her; 'I cannot conceal from you that my heart is bitterly afflicted. I do not now allude to the uneasiness your sudden flight caused me, nor to the unkindness of quitting me without a word of consolation, after having passed the night away from me. The pleasure of seeing you again would more than compensate for all; but do you imagine that I can reflect without sighs and tears upon the degrading and unhappy life which you now wish me to lead in this house? Say nothing of my birth, or of my feelings of honour; love like mine derives no aid from arguments of that feeble nature; but do you imagine that I can without emotion see my love so badly recompensed, or rather so cruelly treated, by an ungrateful and unfeeling mistress?'
"She interrupted me. 'Stop, chevalier,' said she, 'it is useless to torture me with reproaches, which, coming from you, always pierce my heart. I see what annoys you. I had hoped that you would have agreed to the project which I had devised for mending our shattered fortunes, and it was from a feeling of delicacy to you that I began the execution of it without your assistance; but I give it up since it does not meet your approbation.' She added that she would now merely request a little patient forbearance during the remainder of the day; that she had already received five hundred crowns from the old gentleman, and that he had promised to bring her that evening a magnificent pearl necklace with other jewels, and, in advance, half of the yearly pension he had engaged to allow her. 'Leave me only time enough,' said she to me, to get possession of these presents; I promise you that he will have little to boast of from his connection with me, for in the country I repulsed all his advances, putting him off till our return to town. It is true that he has kissed my hand a thousand times over, and it is but just that he should pay for even this amusement: I am sure that, considering his riches as well as his age, five or six thousand francs is not an unreasonable price!'
"Her determination was of more value in my eyes than twenty thousand crowns. I could feel that I was not yet bereft of every sentiment of honour, by the satisfaction I experienced at escaping thus from infamy, But I was born for brief joys, and miseries of long duration. Fate never rescued me from one precipice, but to lead me to another. When I had expressed my delight to Manon at this change in her intentions, I told her she had better inform Lescaut of it, in order that we might take our measures in concert. At first he murmured, but the money in hand induced him to enter into our views. It was then determined that we should all meet at G—— M——'s supper table, and that, for two reasons: first, for the amusement of passing me off as a schoolboy, and brother to Manon; and secondly, to prevent the old profligate from taking any liberties with his mistress, on the strength of his liberal payments in advance. Lescaut and I were to retire, when he went to the room where he expected to pass the night; and Manon, instead of following him, promised to come out, and join us. Lescaut undertook to have a coach waiting at the door.
"The supper hour having arrived, M. G—— M—— made his appearance. Already Lescaut was with his sister in the supper room. The moment the lover entered, he presented his fair one with a complete set of pearls, necklaces, ear-rings, and bracelets, which must have cost at least a thousand crowns. He then placed on the table before her, in louis d'or, two thousand four hundred francs, the half of her year's allowance. He seasoned his present with many pretty speeches in the true style of the old court. Manon could not refuse him a few kisses: it was sealing her right to the money which he had just handed to her. I was at the door, and waiting for Lescaut's signal to enter the room.
"He approached to take me by the hand, while Manon was securing the money and jewels, and leading me towards M. G—— M——, he desired me to make my bow. I made two or three most profound ones. 'Pray excuse him, sir,' said Lescaut, 'he is a mere child. He has not yet acquired much of the ton of Paris; but no doubt with a little trouble we shall improve him. You will often have the honour of seeing that gentleman, here,' said he, turning towards me: 'take advantage of it, and endeavour to imitate so good a model.'
"The old libertine appeared to be pleased with me. He patted me on the cheek, saying that I was a fine boy, but that I should be on my guard in Paris, where young men were easily debauched. Lescaut assured him that I was naturally of so grave a character that I thought of nothing but becoming a clergyman, and that, even as a child, my favourite amusement was building little chapels. 'I fancy a likeness to Manon,' said the old gentleman, putting his hand under my chin. I answered him, with the most simple air— 'Sir, the fact is, that we are very closely connected, and I love my sister as another portion of myself.' 'Do you hear that,' said he to Lescaut; 'he is indeed a clever boy! It is a pity he should not see something of the world.' 'Oh, sir,' I replied, 'I have seen a great deal of it at home, attending church, and I believe I might find in Paris some greater fools than myself.' 'Listen,' said he; 'it is positively wonderful in a boy from the country.'
"The whole conversation during supper was of the same kind. Manon, with her usual gaiety, was several times on the point of spoiling the joke by her bursts of laughter. I contrived, while eating, to recount his own identical history, and to paint even the fate that awaited him. Lescaut and Manon were in an agony of fear during my recital, especially while I was drawing his portrait to the life: but his own vanity prevented him from recognising it, and I did it so well that he was the first to pronounce it extremely laughable. You will allow that I had reason for dwelling on this ridiculous scene.
"At length it was time to retire. He hinted at the impatience of love. Lescaut and I took our departure. G—— M—— went to his room, and Manon, making some excuse for her absence, came to join us at the gate. The coach, that was waiting for us a few doors off, drove up towards us, and we were out of the street in an instant.
"Although I must confess that this proceeding appeared to me little short of actual robbery, it was not the most dishonest one with which I thought I had to reproach myself. I had more scruples about the money which I had won at play. However, we derived as little advantage from one as from the other; and Heaven sometimes ordains that the lightest fault shall meet the severest punishment.
"M. G—— M—— was not long in finding out that he had been duped. I am not sure whether he took any steps that night to discover us, but he had influence enough to ensure an effectual pursuit, and we were sufficiently imprudent to rely upon the extent of Paris and the distance between our residence and his. Not only did he discover our abode and our circumstances, but also who I was—the life that I had led in Paris—Manon's former connection with B——,—the manner in which she had deceived him: in a word, all the scandalous facts of our history. He therefore resolved to have us apprehended, and treated less as criminals than as vagabonds. An officer came abruptly one morning into our bedroom, with half a dozen archers of the guard. They first took possession of our money, or I should rather say, of G——M——'s. They made us quickly get up, and conducted us to the door, where we found two coaches, into one of which they forced poor Manon, without any explanation, and I was taken in the other to St. Lazare.
"One must have experienced this kind of reverse, to understand the despair that is caused by it. The police were savage enough to deny me the consolation of embracing Manon, or of bidding her farewell. I remained for a long time ignorant of her fate. It was perhaps fortunate for me that I was kept in a state of ignorance, for had I known what she suffered, I should have lost my senses, probably my life.
"My unhappy mistress was dragged then from my presence, and taken to a place the very name of which fills me with horror to remember. This to be the lot of a creature the most perfect, who must have shared the most splendid throne on earth, if other men had only seen and felt as I did! She was not treated harshly there, but was shut up in a narrow prison, and obliged, in solitary confinement, to perform a certain quantity of work each day, as a necessary condition for obtaining the most unpalatable food. I did not learn this till a long time after, when I had myself endured some months of rough and cruel treatment.
"My guards not having told me where it was that they had been ordered to conduct me, it was only on my arrival at St. Lazare that I learned my destination. I would have preferred death, at that moment, to the state into which I believed myself about to be thrown. I had the utmost terror of this place. My misery was increased by the guards on my entrance, examining once more my pockets, to ascertain whether I had about me any arms or weapons of defence.
"The governor appeared. He had been informed of my apprehension. He saluted me with great mildness. 'Do not, my good sir,' said I to him, 'allow me to be treated with indignity. I would suffer a hundred deaths rather than quietly submit to degrading treatment.' 'No, no,' he replied, 'you will act quietly and prudently, and we shall be mutually content with each other.' He begged of me to ascend to one of the highest rooms; I followed him without a murmur. The archers accompanied us to the door, and the governor, entering the room, made a sign for them to depart. 'I am your prisoner, I suppose?' said I; 'well, what do you intend to do with me?' He said, he was delighted to see me adopt so reasonable a tone; that it would be his duty to endeavour to inspire me with a taste for virtue and religion, and mine to profit by his exhortations and advice: that lightly as I might be disposed to rate his attentions to me, I should find nothing but enjoyment in my solitude. 'Ah, enjoyment, indeed!' replied I; 'you do not know, my good sir, the only thing on earth that could afford me enjoyment.' 'I know it,' said he, 'but I trust your inclinations will change.' His answer showed that he had heard of my adventures, and perhaps of my name. I begged to know if such were the fact. He told me candidly that they had informed him of every particular.
"This blow was the severest of any I had yet experienced. I literally shed a torrent of tears, in all the bitterness of unmixed despair; I could not reconcile myself to the humiliation which would make me a proverb to all my acquaintances, and the disgrace of my family. I passed a week in the most profound dejection, without being capable of gaining any information, or of occupying myself with anything but my own degradation. The remembrance even of Manon added nothing to my grief; it only occurred to me as a circumstance that had preceded my new sorrow; and the sense of shame and confusion was at present the all-absorbing passion.
"There are few persons who have experienced the force of these special workings of the mind. The generality of men are only sensible of five or six passions, in the limited round of which they pass their lives, and within which all their agitations are confined. Remove them from the influence of love and hate, pleasure and pain, hope and fear, and they have no further feeling. But persons of a finer cast can be affected in a thousand different ways; it would almost seem that they had more than five senses, and that they are accessible to ideas and sensations which far exceed the ordinary faculties of human nature; and, conscious that they possess a capacity which raises them above the common herd, there is nothing of which they are more jealous. Hence springs their impatience under contempt and ridicule; and hence it is that a sense of debasement is perhaps the most violent of all their emotions.
"I had this melancholy advantage at St. Lazare. My grief appeared to the governor so excessive, that, dreading the consequences, he thought he was bound to treat me with more mildness and indulgence. He visited me two or three times a day; he often made me take a turn with him in the garden, and showed his interest for me in his exhortations and good advice. I listened always attentively; and warmly expressed my sense of his kindness, from which he derived hopes of my ultimate conversion.
"'You appear to me,' said he one day, 'of a disposition so mild and tractable, that I cannot comprehend the excesses into which you have fallen. Two things astonish me: one is, how, with your good qualities, you could have ever abandoned yourself to vice; and the other, which amazes me still more, is, how you can receive with such perfect temper my advice and instructions, after having lived so long in a course of debauchery. If it be sincere repentance, you present a singular example of the benign mercy of Heaven; if it proceed from the natural goodness of your disposition, then you certainly have that within you which warrants the hope that a protracted residence in this place will not be required to bring you back to a regular and respectable life.'
"I was delighted to find that he had such an opinion of me. I resolved to strengthen it by a continuance of good conduct, convinced that it was the surest means of abridging the term of my confinement. I begged of him to furnish me with books. He was agreeably surprised to find that when he requested me to say what I should prefer, I mentioned only some religious and instructive works. I pretended to devote myself assiduously to study, and I thus gave him convincing proof of the moral reformation he was so anxious to bring about. It was nothing, however, but rank hypocrisy—I blush to confess it. Instead of studying, when alone I did nothing but curse my destiny. I lavished the bitterest execrations on my prison, and the tyrants who detained me there. If I ceased for a moment from these lamentations, it was only to relapse into the tormenting remembrance of my fatal and unhappy love. Manon's absence—the mystery in which her fate was veiled—the dread of never again beholding her; these formed the subject of my melancholy thoughts. I fancied her in the arms of G—— M——. Far from imagining that he could have been brute enough to subject her to the same treatment to which I was condemned, I felt persuaded that he had only procured my removal, in order that he might possess her in undisturbed enjoyment.
"Oh! how miserable were the days and nights I thus passed! They seemed to be of endless duration. My only hope of escape now, was in hypocrisy; I scrutinised the countenance, and carefully marked every observation that fell from the governor, in order to ascertain what he really thought of me; and looking on him as the sole arbiter of my future fate, I made it my study to win, if possible, his favour. I soon had the satisfaction to find that I was firmly established in his good graces, and no longer doubted his disposition to befriend me.
"I, one day, ventured to ask him whether my liberation depended on him. He replied that it was not altogether in his hands, but that he had no doubt that on his representation M. G—— M——, at whose instance the lieutenant-general of police had ordered me to be confined, would consent to my being set at liberty. 'May I flatter myself,' rejoined I, in the mildest tone, 'that he will consider two months, which I have now spent in this prison, as a sufficient atonement?' He offered to speak to him, if I wished it. I implored him without delay to do me that favour.
"He told me two days afterwards that G—— M—— was so sensibly affected by what he had heard, that he not only was ready to consent to my liberation, but that he had even expressed a strong desire to become better acquainted with me, and that he himself purposed to pay me a visit in prison. Although his presence could not afford me much pleasure, I looked upon it as a certain prelude to my liberation.
"He accordingly came to St. Lazare. I met him with an air more grave and certainly less silly than I had exhibited at his house with Manon. He spoke reasonably enough of my former bad conduct. He added, as if to excuse his own delinquencies, that it was graciously permitted to the weakness of man to indulge in certain pleasures, almost, indeed, prompted by nature, but that dishonesty and such shameful practices ought to be, and always would be, inexorably punished.
"I listened to all he said with an air of submission, which quite charmed him. I betrayed no symptoms of annoyance even at some jokes in which he indulged about my relationship with Manon and Lescaut, and about the little chapels of which he supposed I must have had time to erect a great many in St. Lazare, as I was so fond of that occupation. But he happened, unluckily both for me and for himself, to add, that he hoped Manon had also employed herself in the same edifying manner at the Magdalen. Notwithstanding the thrill of horror I felt at the sound of the name, I had still presence of mind enough to beg, in the gentlest manner, that he would explain himself. 'Oh! yes,' he replied, 'she has been these last two months at the Magdalen learning to be prudent, and I trust she has improved herself as much there, as you have done at St. Lazare!'
"If an eternal imprisonment, or death itself, had been presented to my view, I could not have restrained the excitement into which this afflicting announcement threw me. I flung myself upon him in so violent a rage that half my strength was exhausted by the effort. I had, however, more than enough left to drag him to the ground, and grasp him by the throat. I should infallibly have strangled him, if his fall, and the half-stifled cries which he had still the power to utter, had not attracted the governor and several of the priests to my room. They rescued him from my fury.
"I was, myself, breathless and almost impotent from rage. 'Oh God!' I cried—'Heavenly justice! Must I survive this infamy?' I tried again to seize the barbarian who had thus roused my indignation—they prevented me. My despair—my cries—my tears, exceeded all belief: I raved in so incoherent a manner that all the bystanders, who were ignorant of the cause, looked at each other with as much dread as surprise.
"G—— M—— in the meantime adjusted his wig and cravat, and in his anger at having been so ill-treated, ordered me to be kept under more severe restraint than before, and to be punished in the manner usual with offenders in St. Lazare. 'No, sir!' said the governor, 'it is not with a person of his birth that we are in the habit of using such means of coercion; besides, he is habitually so mild and well-conducted, that I cannot but think you must have given provocation for such excessive violence.' This reply disconcerted G—— M—— beyond measure and he went away, declaring that he knew how to be revenged on the governor, as well as on me, and everyone else who dared to thwart him.
"The Superior, having ordered some of the brotherhood to escort him out of the prison, remained alone with me. He conjured me to tell him at once what was the cause of the fracas.—'Oh, my good sir!' said I to him, continuing to cry like a child, 'imagine the most horrible cruelty, figure to yourself the most inhuman of atrocities—that is what G—— M—— has had the cowardly baseness to perpetrate: he has pierced my heart. Never shall I recover from this blow! I would gladly tell you the whole circumstance,' added I, sobbing with grief; 'you are kind-hearted, and cannot fail to pity me.'
"I gave him, as briefly as I could, a history of my long-standing and insurmountable passion for Manon, of the flourishing condition of our fortunes previous to the robbery committed by our servants, of the offers which G—— M—— had made to my mistress, of the understanding they had come to, and the manner in which it had been defeated. To be sure, I represented things to him in as favourable a light for us as possible. 'Now you can comprehend,' continued I, 'the source of M. G—— M——'s holy zeal for my conversion. He has had influence enough to have me shut up here, out of mere revenge. That I can pardon; but, my good sir, that is not all. He has taken from me my heart's blood: he has had Manon shamefully incarcerated in the Magdalen; and had the effrontery to announce it to me this day with his own lips. In the Magdalen, good sir! Oh heavens! my adorable mistress, my beloved Manon, a degraded inmate of the Hospital! How shall I command strength of mind enough to survive this grief and shame!'
"The good Father, seeing me in such affliction, endeavoured to console me. He told me that he had never understood my history, as I just now related it; he had of course known that I led a dissolute life, but he had imagined that M. G—— M——'s interest about me was the result of his esteem and friendship for my family; that it was in this sense he had explained the matter to him; that what I had now told him should assuredly produce a change in my treatment, and that he had no doubt but the accurate detail which he should immediately transmit to the lieutenant-general of police would bring about my liberation.
"He then enquired why I had never thought of informing my family of what had taken place, since they had not been instrumental to my incarceration. I satisfactorily answered this by stating my unwillingness to cause my father pain, or to bring upon myself the humiliation of such an exposure. In the end, he promised to go directly to the lieutenant-general of police if it were only, said he, to be beforehand with M. G—— M——, who went off in such a rage, and who had sufficient influence to make himself formidable.
"I looked for the good Father's return with all the suspense of a man expecting sentence of death. It was torture to me to think of Manon at the Magdalen. Besides the infamy of such a prison, I knew not how she might be treated there; and the recollection of some particulars I had formerly heard of this horrible place, incessantly renewed my misery. Cost what it might, I was so bent upon relieving her by some means or other, that I should assuredly have set fire to St. Lazare, if no other mode of escape had presented itself.
"I considered what chances would remain to me if the lieutenant-general still kept me in confinement. I taxed my ingenuity: I scanned every imaginable gleam of hope—I could discover nothing that gave me any prospect of escape, and I feared that I should experience only more rigid confinement, if I made an unsuccessful attempt. I thought of some friends from whom I might hope for aid, but then, how was I to make them aware of my situation? At length I fancied that I had hit upon a plan so ingenious, as to offer a fair probability of success. I postponed the details of its arrangement until after the Superior's return, in case of his having failed in the object of his visit.
"He soon arrived: I did not observe upon his countenance any of those marks of joy that indicate good news. 'I have spoken,' said he, 'to the lieutenant-general of police, but I was too late, M. G—— M—— went straight to him after quitting us, and so prejudiced him against you, that he was on the point of sending me fresh instructions to subject you to closer confinement.
"'However, when I let him know the truth of your story, he reconsidered the matter, and, smiling at the incontinence of old G—— M——, he said it would be necessary to keep you here for six months longer, in order to pacify him; the less to be lamented,' he added, 'because your morals would be sure to benefit by your residence here. He desired that I would show you every kindness and attention, and I need not assure you that you shall have no reason to complain of your treatment.'
"This speech of the Superior's was long enough to afford me time to form a prudent resolution. I saw that by betraying too strong an impatience for my liberty, I should probably be upsetting all my projects. I acknowledged to him, that, as it was necessary to me to remain, it was an infinite comfort to know that I possessed a place in his esteem. I then requested, and with unaffected sincerity, a favour, which could be of no consequence to others, and which would contribute much to my peace of mind; it was to inform a friend of mine, a devout clergyman, who lived at St. Sulpice, that I was at St. Lazare, and to permit me occasionally to receive his visits.
"This was of course my friend Tiberge; not that I could hope from him the assistance necessary for effecting my liberty; but I wished to make him the unconscious instrument of my designs. In a word, this was my project: I wished to write to Lescaut, and to charge him and our common friends with the task of my deliverance. The first difficulty was to have my letter conveyed to him: this should be Tiberge's office. However, as he knew him to be Manon's brother, I doubted whether he would take charge of this commission. My plan was to enclose my letter to Lescaut in another to some respectable man of my acquaintance, begging of him to transmit the first to its address without delay; and as it was necessary that I should have personal communication with Lescaut, in order to arrange our proceedings, I told him to call on me at St. Lazare, and assume the name of my eldest brother, as if he had come to Paris expressly to see me. I postponed till our meeting all mention of the safest and most expeditious course I intended to suggest for our future conduct. The governor informed Tiberge of my wish to see him. This ever-faithful friend had not so entirely lost sight of me as to be ignorant of my present abode, and it is probable that, in his heart, he did not regret the circumstance, from an idea that it might furnish the means of my moral regeneration. He lost no time in paying me the desired visit."